When you work with or for or alongside people on the streets, things can get tricky. Some folks have either royally messed up their life or have had their life messed up by someone else. Often times, it's a mix of both. In any case, we care. We try not be judgmental, acknowledging that for many of us, keeping judgmental attitudes at bay is a weak point.
But sometimes a judgment call has to be made. Sometimes that can even mean directly addressing one of our guest's behavior and determining what consequences will follow. Weighing behavior and assigning consequences; if that doesn't sound like judgment, I don't know what does. But it seems needed at times.
You see, we share the HUB (Huge Underground Building) with dozens of other microchurch and Underground staff and volunteers. Some of the people involved with the microchurches are themselves in a process of recovery or restoration, and they may be in a delicate place in their life, putting the pieces back together. Of course, you don't have to be in a delicate place or be particularly sensitive to be upset by a man wailing obscenities at you and threatening you with a pipe bomb. But hey, ministry happens. And with our crowd of people, it has to be expected, and we are expected to respond and protect the other people at the HUB. Recently this has meant banning a regular guest who I personally like a lot.
It feels like a failure somehow when we have to ask someone not to come back, because we should always be eager for them to come back, always ready to welcome them back. When we can't, it's like love has been thwarted or derailed. There's nothing left to do but remember the offending behavior and think, "It was his own fault." But maybe it doesn't have to be that way. Even when someone has permanently worn out their welcome (and for good reason), mercy can be creative enough to find another route to the person we miss.
Right now we're learning ways to stay in relationship with people who we cannot in good conscience allow to come to the HUB. Instead of resigning ourselves to saying about the person, "He had it coming," or "It was his choice" and leaving it at that, we can learn new ways of thinking, ways that do not look away from a person and speak about him or her, but that still look and speak to our friend, our neighbor and say, "Just send someone in and have him give us your name--we'll give him whatever you need." Or, "Where are you staying? I'll drop some things by after work today." Or, "Facebook me so we can keep up." Or simply, "I miss you, man."
We are learning how to make the love expressed in relationship important enough to preserve. We are learning that honoring our neighbors in the building doesn't have to mean rejecting our neighbors on the streets, even when their behavior seems to provoke it.
We are learning that mercy triumphs over judgment.