End of the world

End of the world

I was talking with a group of homeless folks on Friday afternoon. It was pouring down rain and everyone was anxious. The city keeps telling homeless people they need to move, but there is no place for them to go. Packing and unpacking your stuff in the rain is exhausting. They ask, “Where should we go?” I have no good answer for this question. The shelter system is overburdened, and affordable housing is nonexistent. I try to keep the conversation focused on the positive and hopeful. It is amazing how people on the street survive. Living on the food people throw away and trying to navigate the system of human services must be demoralizing. Carter tells me about all the stuff he finds in the garbage. Watches, antique radios, and cash are some of his favorites. He wears a reflective vest when he dumpster dives so people don’t think he is car prowling. “Why would I try to be visible if I were up to no good?” Even with the vest, people have threatened him with violence and murder. People on the street live between the margins of law and justice. “No one cares if we go missing or die.” I tell Carter that I always thank God I know so many homeless people. If the world ends, they will be the only ones who know how to survive. I believe Carter and his friends would take care of me and my family.

A couple is franticly packing up their tent and sleeping bags. The business owners don’t want them making the storefront their home. Who can blame them? “Don’t you know people die out here? What are you going to do to help us?” Again, I have no good answer for this question. I listen to his desperation and anxiety. To his mental health crisis and drug abuse. As I listen, our conversation becomes less confrontational. I am not the bad guy, and I agree with lots of his frustration. He offers me a beer and I respectfully decline. His crippling paranoia has him thinking there is a government conspiracy trying to exterminate the homeless. He tells me an elaborate scheme involving food served at shelters. “It’s prepared with a chemical that causes organ failure.” He tells me how the blankets that people pass out to the homeless cause cancer. I encourage him in his ability to survive: “It’s good to be in the land of the living!” The couple packs up and is ready to move. We part ways and I wonder how long I would last sleeping outside.

My friend Ryan comes to my church and loves to talk about the end of the world. He feels it is his duty to warn people about the final judgment on earth. He isn’t interested in conversation. He likes to corner people with his monologue of fear. This week I confronted him and told him that people might be interested in getting to know him. That his message may be more meaningful to people if they knew him. Not realizing all the ways that God can transform us through our neighbors might be real end of the world! “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalms 116:9).

Michael Cox

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