For the past few days a car has been parked in my neighborhood by the park, trash and debris spilling out all around it. To be honest I am struggling with my response. The 'neighbor' in me wants to keep the park clean, wants to make sure my neighborhood stays safe and my lifestyle is not questioned. The 'activist' in me wants to meet the people have a conversation, find out what is happening and fix it. The 'nice pseudo christian' in me wants to let them be, give them space, be nice and bring some food.
So, how do I respond? The issue of homelessness is so very complex. It does not take much to end up on the street. A broken family situation, a loss of a job, an addiction that started by self-medicating to get over a deep hurt. Yes, there are people who choose to be homeless, but I wonder how many of them are just tired of the many attempts to change something.
My life goal is to "to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God" (which comes from the Bible in Micah 6:8). I almost need to turn that around: because without God as my anchor, I tend to be rather selfish, self-absorbed with a tendency to have way to many ulterior motives (some of them very noble!). Only when I get my own heart in order can I step into the arena of balancing between mercy and justice.
So tonight when I get home, I might need to just connect with the person(s) living in the car (unless one of my neighbors called the police on them). I want to just sit with them (if they let me) and be a person without judgement. Maybe I know a couple of resources that might help. Maybe they just need some water and food to remind them of their humanity. Maybe I will tell them that their presence is making it difficult for kids to come out and enjoy the park. Maybe I chicken out.
There are no easy answers to the brokenness in our world. But often one gesture of kindness be the start of joint learning and growing.
While this is just a drop in the bucket, it is a step, a step out of my comfortable life, a step into a world I'd rather not know again, a kindness that reminds me that we are all human.
But it cannot end with that. Mercy AND justice needs to happen. We need to create pathways for people to reenter society. We need an economy where people where we have affordable rent, we need places where people can find hope and a future. There are thousands of people in Merced who are making a difference, in their jobs, their homes, churches, mosques and other places of worship. Together we can make a difference, we can move from mercy to justice, - from relief to development, from hand-outs to hand-ups.