Mattresses, clothes, a baby crib. Bookshelf, rocking chair, lamp, microwave. All things that immediately identify regular, everyday living, things that most of us have in our homes and closets, on our shelves, in our kitchens.
We shop for them at thrift stores and on Craigslist; receive them at wedding showers and baby showers; get them as hand-me-downs from grandparents and aunts. Their usefulness goes unnoticed most days, as we rise up and sit back down in the same old chair, re-heat our leftovers every day at lunch, drift off to sleep night after night, some more restless than others.
But when stacked on the curb, near the intersection of Holmes and Walnut Grove, any passerby knows it means one thing only: eviction.
My coffee was only $2.68. Unlimited refills. That’s worth it to me, when I’ve set up shop here at this local cafe, knowing I should be buying food (and often, I do).
I’ve got a five-dollar bill left, one I’m half-prepared to give to the woman on the corner a half-mile back, the one holding the sign while smiling at me as I turned at the light, making my way here.
It’s not that I’m always compassionate; I love excuses.
“She’s probably lying to me.” (Yes, there’s a good chance of that.)
“She probably keeps making bad decisions.” (Also a good chance of that. A lot of people who make bad decisions, including myself, still have a roof over their head. So, what?)
“I’ve seen her before; why hasn’t anything changed?” (Because most people only give her five-dollar bills and then drive away never to think twice about her.)
What I know is that she needs more than a five-dollar bill, and that is what’s hard to address. What she needs is to be looked in the eyes and asked, “What is your name?”
That is scarier, harder, asks more of me, like getting out of my car on [what a south Mississippi-born gal considers to be] a bitterly cold day. It means she might ask for more. It means she might have the opportunity to lie to me. Or to tell me the truth.
And the truth usually asks much more of me than a lie.
As I think about the invisible family who got evicted less than a mile from my house and the woman on the corner less than a mile from my mind, I’m struck by the power of community.
Are these families, made of mothers and sons, grandmothers and goddaughters, connected to a community? What kind of community?
In my Christian community, one where we seek to know, support and love each other more richly than a success and power-driven culture might have us do, we talk about community a lot. I think we’ve concluded that it’s not community if we just hang out, if we aren’t going deeper, if we aren’t seeking God together.
And I agree: that is a good, rich definition of community.
But that’s our definition of community, that when we've finally reached "real community" it's good, and hard, and rich.
Almost everyone is a part of a community: the homeless community, a family community, a religious community. It can be healthy, or it can be toxic. It can be life-giving, or it can be demanding and controlling. Almost always there is some community at work in someone’s decisions, health and well-being, or lack thereof. Community is, indeed, powerful, whether for good or bad.
But my gut says that there is a truly good community yet to be found, a community of hospitality, of welcome and love that says come as you are. A community that has been welcomed first by the One who dwelt in flesh, living among wanderers who lived on every extreme of the spectrums: from fishermen to rabbis, from powerful men to weak and property-less women, from legalistic leaders to faith-filled tax collectors who invited Him in for dinner.
I was given a home, an identity, a purpose, even with all my crap on the curb and my little lies just to get a handout or two to make myself feel better for about 24 hours.
And now, I am to go and do likewise.