Yesterday’s meeting was both painful and discouraging. Personal accusations against my character were most difficult for me. Lots of ugly things said about and to us.
The “problem” as they laid it out is that I have welcomed what they called “stray cats.” They said that when you feed stray cats, of course they will want to stay around, and they said, “We don’t want them to stay around. We don’t want them in our neighborhood.” I asked for definition of who they were calling “stray cats,” and they defined four categories: sex offenders, felons, crazy people and transients. They accused me of having brought these people into their town.
When I pointed out that these people were already here, many of them residents of the town itself, they said, “Well, we want them to feel unwelcome here. If you continue to make life easier for them they will stay here, and we’d rather that they just move along out of our community.
As best as one can, I guess we tried to anticipate the things that would be said in the meeting and what our response would be. However, the most surprising element was when a woman took out her Bible, unzipped its cover, and began to read the words of Jesus from Matthew: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
I asked who she was referring to, and she said, “Those criminals.” I asked if that was what she thought I should be doing—putting millstones around people’s necks. She said, “Well, those are the words of Jesus. At least you shouldn’t be helping them!”
Another man claimed that there is no way that we are Christians because we have a smoke break in the middle of our services on Sunday (It really is the traditional break to greet one another and get some more coffee, but yes, lots of people run outside to get a quick smoke, so they can make it through the rest of the service.)
In response to stories that I told of people receiving help from us, another man who claimed to be a Christian himself, said, “I’m all for people getting saved, but I think you need to just give them the free stuff that you do, and then send them on their way.”
The problem is that we allow these people to congregate.
Although it was clearly stated that this was not an “official meeting,” and that noone in a legal, authority position has made a ruling, it was clearly laid out for us that if we continue to allow these kinds of people to hang out in our coffee shop, they will shut us down.
The personal injuries aside, I was deeply offended for our people. The “least of these” are not even considered human. The people who were making these comments are not “wealthy” themselves. They live in this poor part of town. But in their own judgment, they are “not like those people.” Specific statements were made about individuals in our Joe’s Community—”crazy people,” “criminals,” “addicts,” “murderers”—people that we deeply love and value as family.
So, bottom line: Even if I were to try to comply with their request, there is no way to measure or monitor it. We are a coffee shop. How long is a person allowed to “hang out.” Do I go to them after they have eaten their sandwich and say, “You’re done with your meal, so you need to leave now.” How do I determine which ones qualify for this status? How do I determine who are the ones who are worthy of hanging out and using the free wi-fi, and who are not? If a person goes outside to smoke and they are seen by town officials, will that indicate that I am allowing the “riff raff” to hang out, instead of sending them on their way?
Their case is sealed and determined. Please pray for me. I am grieving terribly over the potential loss that moving feels like—even if it is just a short distance away. I am hurting over their false accusations and misperceptions of me and of our people. I am alternating between sadness and anger, and then moments of faith for resurrection and possible greater blessing and widening of our ministry and influence (as I imagine this is so often God’s method).
We are hearing God’s voice of comfort and direction, even as we are in the midst of this experience, and we trust that it is a beautiful part of the story that He is writing through our lives. But I so do not enjoy pain . . .
When I came home from the meeting yesterday, broken and exhausted, I opened my email and saw a blog post that I regularly receive. I thought, “Well, let’s see what Rachel is saying today. . .” Here is what she wrote, yesterday of all days. God’s words for me: