In May of this year we started a ministry called Coffee and Prayer, CP for short. Every Monday and Wednesday from 7 AM to 10 AM my friend Kathy and I plant ourselves in the church parking lot. We give away free coffee and pray with whoever wants to pray. The coolest part about CP is the diversity of the people who come, many of them not even caring about the coffee. We get: young people, old people, healthy people, dying people. Jewish. Atheist. Legalists. Liberals. Guys. Girls. Gays. Straights. Everything in between.
We have also had a few homeless. One guy said, “Yeah, I’m familiar with this church. I’ve spent many a night under that eight-one-three-three on your building.” His statement gave me a sad, cozy feeling. I was sad he didn’t have a home, but I was glad our church could be a safe place for the night. Unfortunately, when you’re a safe place for the night you acquire some baggage.
The first Sunday in November, there were a handful of people in front of the church —unusual even if it were not chilly and a full hour before Bible study. Miss Viv, a sweet and spitfirey lady, ushered to me with frantic arms and said,
“There are two people sleepin’ aroun’ that corner. Don’t go over there.”
Of course, I went over there.
In one of the four alcoves off our building, next to a big role of carpet for which we have had big plans for ages, was a lumpy spread of blanket with feet poking out the end. I didn’t do anything. I just thought, hmmm, that’s probably where I would sleep…if I had to. Then I went inside. Later, I learned the lumps with feet were a man and a woman. She had a home, but her dad didn’t like her boyfriend, so they were sleeping next to our old rolled up carpet.
On Monday, I got to the church to set up for CP. Our new tenants were right next to the room housing all the CP stuff. The alcove is somewhat closed off from the elements, it retains some heat and…smell. This morning it smelled like sex, food with a hint of the un-bathed. After I had wo-manned my station in the parking lot, they got up and walked to the gas station on the corner. They didn’t want any CP.
By Thursday our tenants left a mess in the alcove. I grabbed a giant black garbage bag, oversized yellow rubber gloves and stepped gingerly into the alcove. A couple of used condoms (kind of a relief to find I have to say). Blood and other fluid staining the cement (hurl). Porn, tons of cigarette butts with the empty carton, a plastic cup, food wrappers, crumbs, some pennies, a nickel and a house key. I tossed the trash, left the change and put the key on top of the carpet.
There is something very intimate about being in someone’s space, knowing what he or she has been doing based on the trash. I wanted to meet them and I didn’t at the same time, but it didn’t matter because last Sunday we evicted our tenants. They had made the alcove their toilet as well as their bedroom. It was foul. It made me think about where to draw the line. I was pretty sure I drew my line at piles of poo, and yet I didn’t like having to kick them out.
I don’t know where the line should be, and maybe the line’s not important. Accepting people, loving them, means dealing with their shit. Thankfully, it won’t always be so literal… Even so, I know I am often the homeless person making a mess of the alcove. If the alcove is life and my garbage (or other such things) are the ways in which I fall short, and we all do, well… I’m thankful there is a God who doesn’t just come in with rubber gloves and a garbage bag. He’s there in the mess, working in it, using it.