My time thus far at Feed My Sheep has reminded me of many things, one of the most important things being this: truly loving people--acknowledging and honoring the dignity of every person--is messy. In working with the homeless, I will often get my hopes only to have them disappointed: the chronic alcoholic will make it 15 days sober, then come in slobbering drunk one day. The woman who shows signs of making changes will fall for one more invitation to spend the night with an abusive man. And the woman who seemed to be calm and collected will suddenly deteriorate into fits of disturbing and scary schizophrenia. There will be success stories, of course. We serve a God of overcoming. Yet we dwell among a people prone to self-destruction. Truly loving people means journeying across both sides of that coin of relationship between God and humanity.
The messiness of this thing called love, epsecially love for those with whom we would like to disassociate, makes most people avoid the task at all. To my great disgust, I recently sat at a meeting full of community leaders and listened to voices asserting that we ought to just pack that worthless bunch we call homeless onto a bus and send them out of town. Let them be someone else's problem, they say. Let someone else do the messy work of offering dignity to the dirty. While such an attitude disturbs me, it calls me to ask myself whom I regard in such a way. I may embrace the homeless and despise the rich. It is no better.
Loving people is messy because we must acknowledge that so little distance lies between our situation and that of any other human being on earth: the geography of our birthplace, a parent who offered some guidance, one little chemical in the brain, a stable job market, or the propensity for addiction. To truly love, we must give up the right to disassociate. We must surrender us-and-them. It is a gargantuan calling for any of us to aspire to, myself included.
What I am called to remember is that, on the inside, we're walking in similiar shoes. All of us homeless until we find a home in him. All of us a slave to something until we let him free us. All of us filthy and unkempt until he purifies our hearts. To love one another is to embrace the common mess. It is hard. And it is the highest calling of our faith, save for loving God himself. And just so we wouldn't cop out and say that loving God is all we need, he told us that they are one and the same: "For whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."