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Not My Place [*]

“Didn’t his mama teach him anything?” “Doesn’t he know he shouldn’t be doing that?” “Who are they to tell me what to do?” “You do your thing and I’ll do my thing.” “I know I’m going to the good place when I die. I’m a good person. …Most of the time.” “Hey. You. Those two guys you were just talking to. They’re gay.” All these statements have at least two things in common. The obvious commonality is that they are statements about right and wrong and about impressing one’s sense of right and wrong on another person. More than that though, I heard all of these statements at the same place from the same group of people during the course of the past few weeks. Take a moment to think about where I might have heard this stuff… In a church perhaps. At the state capital building. At a dance studio. In a bar. Downtown. A pool hall. The gym. One of these answers is correct but probably not in the way you think. I heard all these statements at a church, during their weekly homeless outreach event. All these statements were made by homeless people about themselves and their peers.

On most Saturday mornings you can find me at a church downtown hanging out with people who are less fortunate than I. I dare say that the people I prefer to associate with most on these mornings are the people that mainstream society would consider to be the least worthy of my respect. Diseased. Dirty. Smelly. Degenerate. Castaway. Untouchable. Hopeless. These are all words used to describe this particular class of people. And not just by the whitewashed aristocrats. These people often see themselves this way. And it’s no wonder. Once you’ve heard something enough times, you begin to accept it as reality.

A few weeks ago, I met “Ms. Annette”. Ms. Annette is actually a man whose real name is Kenny. When I first approached Ms. Annette, she was all done up. Make up. Hair. Nails. As I tried to sit between her and someone I already knew, she politely said with a subtle southern accent, “Oh honey, you don’t want to sit here. We be talking ’bout things that are too much for your sensitive ears to handle.” I sat anyway. Moments later she was showing me family photos and reminiscing about her days as a showgirl and a prostitute. When Ms. Annette and I made eye contact from across the room this morning, she smiled and waved at me. So I went and sat with her and her friends. Just like the first time, she warned me that the current discussion topic was too much for my sensitive ears, but a few moments later I was showing her my family photos and she was sharing her favorite food recipes. On both occasions, without any prodding from me, Ms. Annette volunteered one of those quotes I used above: “I know I’m going to the good place when I die. I’m a good person.”

Ms. Annette and I have different views about right and wrong. Also, I am sure that society as a whole sees us as being very different types of people, one being “better” than the other. By whose standard? God’s? The Bible says all have sinned and that by having done so we have all failed God’s judgment. We have all failed. Society’s standard? What does a society that has abandoned absolutes know about right and wrong? What I do know is that there is a standard of right and wrong that I am accountable to and that I consistently fall short of that standard. Ms. Annette may have a standard that looks different than mine, but I am sure if you’d ask her that she’d be the first to admit that she falls short too.

The Bible lays out high standards of morality that no human is capable of fully achieving. More to the point, these standards did not originate with me nor is it my responsibility to impress them upon others outside of my immediate family. To oversimplify, my role in this life, I believe, is to strive for perfection in my own life, accept my own failures as inevitable, and to love others unconditionally. It’s this last point that is the most important here. My job is to love others regardless of whether they are “good” or “bad”. My job is not to condemn or shun them for their sins. That is God’s job. I have enough sins of my own to work through.

If you disagree with anything I have just said, that’s okay. I won’t judge you. 🙂

“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” ~Albert Einstein

“I am, as I am; whether hideous, or handsome, depends upon who is made judge.” ~Herman Melville

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