april 18, 2001

Next, I wanted to tell a couple stories about the challenge that my walks offered to the people I met. This is a classic from the second year. It illustrates several of the kinds of responses I got from people:

Last night, I found a little Lutheran church right where I needed it, but there was a meeting going on, so I waited. When I asked the first ones out about sleeping outside the church, they sounded doubtful. One went back to ask the pastor. When he came back out, he shook his head. "I know this doesn't sound very Christian... I know this sounds like we're sending you away...," he said.

But I called him on it. "It doesn't just sound unchristian; it doesn't just sound like you're sending me away. You are sending me away." He talked about insurance and the sheriff, and something vague about vagrancy laws. I said I would leave, but reminded him of Matthew 25. Then he got defensive and said that Paul told us to obey the authorities, which are instituted by God. His knowledge of scripture was weak and his position was indefensible, but I didn't argue with him. These words just popped out: "It seems God has put you in quite a quandary, hasn't he?" "Yes, he has," the man said quietly, as he walked away with his head down.

But there's more. As I was gathering my stuff to leave, the pastor came out, with several other people. "You understand the situation..." the pastor began. He also mentioned insurance, and what the sheriff would do if he found me there. "What the sheriff does is up to the sheriff. I'm more interested in what you will do," I replied. A bold man stepped up, claiming to be in charge of church security, and was eager to take full responsibility for sending me packing. He mentioned laws and vagrancy, saying, "I don't mean to insult you..." And again a reply jumped out of my mouth: "Jesus was not ashamed to be homeless--and neither am I."

Then a little old lady, the pastor's wife, stepped in. She had finally sized up the situation. "Do you need a place to stay? We can take you down to the place down the road..." She looked at her husband, "You know, the motel down there..." And the pastor immediately assented. The church "security guard" was struck silent and seemed to fade from the scene. Peace. Then we were at the motel, with the room paid for, and I was thanking the pastor's wife. "He's really a good man," she said. "Sometimes our advisors lead us astray," I replied, "I'm just glad for him and for the church that he has you for an advisor."