It happened over a month ago. I've not wanted to write about what I observed, but something tells me that I should.
What is it about churches?
Don't get me wrong, I appreciate and benefit from my church. I'm there most Sundays. It provides me great encouragement and inspiration. For me, church on Sundays at this point in my life serves as a true Sabbath, a time of rest, renewal and regeneration.
In short, Sunday turns out to be a very selfish day for me. I'm not a very good church member. I just attend, soak it in and then hit it hard again on Monday.
But, I'm avoiding the matter at hand.
On the Sunday I have in mind, I dropped Brenda off at the front door, parked the car and walked across to the church.
As I walked up to the side door, I spotted one of the ministers. He appeared to be involved in a rather animated conversation with another man. Getting closer to the sidewalk in front of the door, I realized he was talking to a homeless man, dirty, ragged and needing some assistance.
I'm not sure what transpired before I drew within earshot of the conversation. As I came close enough to over hear what was being said, I realized that my minister friend was in the midst of a rather stern lecture to the fellow.
"And, don't be asking our members for money when they come out of church," I heard him say to the man.
The man's reply was inaudible, but his face seemed sad, reflecting resignation to treatment to which he'd grown accustomed over his years on the street.
"Just go on down the street, now, just go on," the minister ordered the man.
I wish I'd not seen the encounter.
Oh, I know and understand the position of the minister. I've been there myself. I've been a lot tougher on people who've come to me seeking assistance. At times, I know I responded in the correct manner. At other times I know that I flat blew it.
The situation with homeless people trying to squeeze out an existence on the street is so fraught with trouble and complexity that I can't sit in judgment of either the minister or the poor man.
It is the church and its systems that trouble me as I think about all I observed on that Sunday. And, I expect it is my own failure in the moment and in other moments like it that troubles me.
Churches just don't organize themselves to handle the rough, deeply troubling, messy, dirty, smelly, rotten circumstances of life, especially on the spur of the moment, you know at those times when people show up at the end of their rope and cry out for real help just when you're about to do something "really important." Or, maybe it's just that the needs of the organized religious community, especially on Sundays, trump the real time challenges of the street poor.
I walked past the two men that morning. Maybe I should have intervened. Honestly, I didn't want to come off as thinking I knew best or better than my friend. Maybe that's just another cop-out on my part.
What I do know is this: I went into the church, received a good dose of inspiration, went out to eat a nice lunch and came home and watched a football game.
The dirty street person did as he was told, he went right "on down the street," not bothering anyone.
But, I can't shake what I saw.
The sadness in his face, that dirty, scarred, rough face looking out from under a filthy, green hoody--I have this feeling it was the face of God that I saw there on the sidewalk outside my church.
That's what really unsettles me.