The other night coming home from work I experienced a moment of great tension.
I was later leaving than I really needed to be and with twilight coming on earlier and earlier the sun was near the horizon by the time I began pedaling home on my bike. The greenway is closed after dark so I was anxious to be home before it got completely dark.
Well, then there was a train. And not a train I could go around, but a train, slowly chugging along across my path, eating up precious minutes of light. When the last car finally lurched past I hopped back on my bike and pedaled furiously.
Then, I’ll be damned if that stupid train wasn’t STOPPED on the tracks further down at the other point at which the greenway and train tracks intersect. DEAD stopped. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not get home before dark. Siiiigh…
I had two choices at that point. I could either backtrack a bit up the road and go aaaalll the way around and over a bridge (in traffic) OR I could push my bike down the small path that went underneath the little viaduct. I opted for number two, thinking nobody would be down there and it would be way faster than going the long way.
Well, imagine my surprise when I saw three dark shapes sitting hunched in the corner. “What do you want?!” demanded a raspy man’s voice. Frightened, I squeaked out, “Just passing through, there’s a train across the tracks…” and the moment they heard my voice they seemed to relax. “Oh, come on through, be careful not to slip.” His words were slurred, and as I scurried by I saw that they were two men and a woman, clearly homeless. They had a sign with them but I didn’t see what it said. They seemed okay but I went as quickly as I could and looked over my shoulder the whole way home.
The moment of tension came when I tried to tell myself that as a Christian I should not judge these people for being homeless, or assume that they were going to hurt me, or think of them as anything less than the beloved children of God that they are. But then, as a young woman by herself, where do I draw the line between being safe and being “a good person”? Does not Jesus command us to love our neighbors? Am I really loving them if I run away when confronted with homelessness? (I’m sure Jesus would not want me to endanger myself, but this is the gut reaction I had, so bear with me.)
There are similar, less extreme situations I find myself in. I interact with people from different socio-economic backgrounds, different cultures, different states, cities, churches, etc. There is no fear in love–so if I have a fear based reaction to someone, am I being unloving? What if this person really needs my help, or if I could in some way ease their burden?
What all this boils down to are symptoms of the broken, sad world we live in. A world with poverty and injustice and hunger and fear. I try to help people when I can and in ways I feel are appropriate–what else can I do? I pray for reconciliation and healing, for that glorious day of Kingdom Come. Until then, I guess I make my way in the tension of this world and do my best.