The brokenness and homelessness in this city is tearing me to pieces.
I went to bible study at St. Ebbe's last night, which was stellar, and met a lot of lovely people. One girl in particular, Lucy, who is one of the small group leaders, is just a dear, and took me into her friendship and sat with me for the evening. And afterward, I think I met a prophetess. Her name is Sharon, and she's apparently kind of the director of the women's side of college/young adult ministries. She sat down next to me and is one of the incredibly rare people who are able to skip the small talk of school and studies and hometown and age and all that and dive straight into exactly where my heart was at: the vulnerability of change, the grace of leaving your community behind and being alone with God, when the reality of a new place begins to stab through the vision. She looked at me like she was peering straight into my heart, but through a sheen of a love and mercy from Christ so that she could only see the tiny beautiful parts of it. What a crazy gift. I think that counts as a variety of prophecy: a supernatural insight.
Anyway, on my way to the bible study, I stopped to talk to a couple of the people out on the streets. There are so many people in the city centre area playing instruments, juggling, selling magazines, just sitting and asking for money. I was walking straight past the juggler and he said softly as I was almost past, "Might you spare a penny, miss?" And once again, my heart fell out of my body right onto the sidewalk. I stopped to talk to him while I fished all of my change out of my wallet. He told me about how he used to just beg, but picked up juggling a couple years ago from someone else and can do both the normal pins and balls. He can also juggle with fire, but he says the stuff you use to light them is too expensive. He thanked me and I moved on, a little more slowly, my eyes no longer fixed straight ahead.
I passed a few more homeless men and women, but the next one to stop me was "Big Issue? Please? It's my last one." He appeared to be in his twenties, tired and desperate, with matted red hair. I think it's a neat program, so I stopped to buy one, but all I had was a ten pound note, so I asked him for change. He went to get change from his girl, who was sitting drawing on the sidewalk with a big shoebox of chalk bits. "How much change you want? Fiver alright?" and I nodded. She fished a crumpled bill out of her pocket and handed it to me. I thanked her and stretched out my hand to take the magazine, but he stepped back, clutching it tightly. "Do ya mind if I keep it?" "Well, I'd like to read it," I responded, baffled. "But it's my last one," he whined, "and I'm trying to get enough money for my girl and I to stay somewhere warm tonight." He told me about how they'd been beaten up and robbed earlier in the week and so his girlfriend was now limping. About how he wanted to get off the streets, but right now all he could think about was tonight. About how long he'd been out there. I listened, because that's all I knew how to do for him.
On the way back from Ebbes two and a half hours later I ran into him again, in the middle of Cornmarket. "Big Issue? It's my last one." I half-smiled, "I've already bought one from you tonight." "Not possible, I'd have remembered you for sure. Please, Big Issue?" "No, I really did," I reminded him. He gave in, "Well, can you spare some change then?" I lied and told him I didn't have any more money, the fiver smouldering in my wallet. I began asking him questions, quietly, humbly, nonconfrontationally, trying to engage him like a real person. He told me some about his life, about his struggles, about trying to provide for his girl. And then we parted ways again. I was on Banbury Road when I started crying. How dare I judge his brokenness? How dare I judge him for having a girlfriend when he can't even take care of himself? How dare I judge his tangled hair, shifty eyes? How dare I lie to him? How dare I not give to him everything I have? How dare I assume that the crumpled note she handed me was probably a one, not the fiver I'd asked for? How dare I not use my social resources for him, take them back to St. Ebbes and get them some of the leftover food, ask around if anyone knew of anywhere they could stay? Why hadn't I thought of it? How dare I think that I was loving him well by conversing with him, when I had failed to do more that I could have done?
I stopped in front of my house and pulled out my wallet to examine the note in the moonlight. A fiver nestled in my hand.
I loved better today than yesterday.
I must love better tomorrow.
"Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Luke 6:30-38
Can we be good without God?
2 years ago