I walk the line

Where do you draw the line at christian charity, that of god in others, and safety? As a single woman in this day and age this is a question I have wrestled with before. However, in the last few months I have been presented with several instances where I have had to make those decisions immediately.

I worship with a small group of Friends in the heart of Baltimore's inner-city. One First Day in April, I knew that several of our regular attenders would not be coming to Meeting. It was a weird day were the Evangelical Black Church that meets in the same space as us was having an extra long service. As a result we had to meet in the class room building nearby. I placed a sign on the door of the Meetinghouse, and went to meet with the leader of the NA meeting that was finishing up in the class room building to make sure I knew how to lock up the building. It was a nice cool spring day. I decided to wait outside to make sure anyone coming to meeting would not be confused by the locale change. One of the guys from NA stayed around. He seemed to be carrying on a full-blown conversation with someone only he could see. I had a feeling he and his friends did not have anywhere to go.

I waited outside for about 25 minutes, no one showed. I went into the classroom building to read and optimistically hope someone would show up to worship. The building is older, and has few windows, even fewer people walk by it or come in during the weekend. It is very secluded in its own way. The man from NA came in and sat in the back, I figured he was as cold as I was and he seemed to know I was waiting for other church members. I figured he seemed pretty harmless. We sat in silence, with his occasional mutterings to his friends. Another man entered with some take out food from a chicken place nearby. He made himself comfortable at one of the tables and asked what we were doing. I explained that I was waiting for people from my worship group. He started talking about his divorce, but it was in that way to say, "I am single and you are pretty." It was getting close to an hour of waiting. The man finished his food and began to ask me questions about myself. I continued to talk about the worship group. I was getting increasingly uneasy.

I texted "Elizabeth Bathurst", asking where the line was between christian charity and safety. She replied, "where three are gathered in my name…." but then added that if I was uncomfortable I should leave. Part of me was rather irritated with our regular attenders, no one had showed up and I was alone in a situation such as this. That there is an expectation that since I am "clerk" I have to show up every week and they can show up as they choose. That as a result of this I as now alone in what could be a dangerous situation, though, thus far it was fine.
I decided to ask the guys in the building with me if they wanted to learn more about Quakers and perhaps participate in Worship together. They both said no and both got out of the building pretty fast after that. I had a twinge of guilt for putting the guy from NA out on the street, but I also couldn't just sit there all night.

Maybe this was an opportunity to minister to these men and I did not follow through due to my own fears of being alone with strange men in a secluded building. Does this make me a bad Christian? Or am I a bad Christian, because I decided to go to my favorite bar/restaraunt for dinner and a drink afterward?

This weekend I had the strangest day I had in Baltimore in a long time. I walked by a man twice, we said hi both times. The second time he noticed my tattoo and suddenly we were engaged in a rather deep conversation about spirituality. He was homeless. Though he made a comment about how men with men made him uncomfortable and half of our attenders are gay, I invited him to worship. Should he ever find himself down that way on a Sunday afternoon. He seemed like he wanted to have more discussions about how the spirit manifests. I felt like the cosmos were testing me. However, then he started telling me how he could fall in love with me. Why does it always devolve into that? Kindness is often mistaken as weakness or as sexual invitation.
So now what do I do if he comes to Meeting? And what do I do if I am in a situation where it is just he and I in Meeting? Do I assume that God has my back? How does one tread that line of Christian love and charity, finding that of God in others, and staying safe?


Lone Star Ma said...

This one is really hard. For me, I usually draw the line at my kids' safety. I will be "un-sensible" if it's just me, and talk to most anyone, unless they are obviously starting to have issues, in which case I will try to excuse myself politely but firmly - I've even given people I really didn't know who were down on their luck rides at times when alone. I am usually with my daughters, though, and I am much more cautious (about everything) if I have them in tow. I know this is selfish, but I am selfish about always putting their well being first and there are a lot of flaws I plant to work on before that one(:

Martin Kelley said...

I have nothing particularly clever to add other than the observation that one fo the gifts God has given us is common sense. Another way of thinking about this is that by getting yourself to safety you're reducing the temptation of someone who might be on shaky grounds.

As you might remember, my wife Julie was a bit skeeved out when she was outside your meetinghouse with our two sons. She used to work at a juvenile residential facility and has pretty good instincts. I like the "when three are gathered" redux--charity with a bit of backup!

Leslie said...

I think in my earlier years I was "charitable" to the point of being foolhardy. When I had children though, I became more cautious and eventually more wise. I simply couldn't bring my self to put them in danger, to me they were a gift from God, and were not given for me to gamble with.
I believe 'that of God' within us can tell us when we are at risk, and if we feel uncomfortable in a situation the faithful response is to Get Out of the situation. If we can do this gracefully that is nice, but if rudeness is required then just Get The Hell Out!

I did have to smile when I read the question,"Why does it always devolve into that?"
I'm sure the man in question wouldn't have used the word devolve....men in general seem to see the possibility of sex as a step upward ; )

Can you avoid such an awkward situation by getting someone else from your meeting to go with you on these irregular First Days, just to assure that you won't get stuck at the building alone again?

Anonymous said...

I've worked in programs for homeless people over the past 9 years. I've experienced some pretty intense situations. In my early years of this work I did not value my own well-being at all -- caring for others in a martyr-like way was my primary value.

Now I am at a place where I value my own well-being and the sacredness of my own self. It's been an incredibly important party of my spiritual journey. I now trust that I will take care of myself. I know I will not abandon myself.

I find myself being much more direct and honest with clients and other people. This is fundementally relational and my sense is that my clients experience this as respect.

Not long ago a client with many mental health and addiction issues asked me if I was married as we were standing in the elevator. "No," I said, simply and straightforwardly. "Are you going to come to my place?" he asked. "Nope. Have a good afternoon." And I got off the elevator at my stop, not threatened, simply clear. What I am trying to say is that being able to be clear, direct and set limits has made a big difference in my ability to interact with this population.

If you are afraid to stand up for your own wellbeing by saying no to people and being clear about your boundaries, you will need to stay far away from them or risk getting hurt. The more you can set good boundaries, the more you will be able to interact with this population in ways that are safe and healthy for all parties. Self sacrifice does not honor them any more than it honors you. Homeless folks need more from us than interactions rooted in pity or self sacrifice. They need realness, just like the rest of us.

There is room in this life for more abundance, for all of us to be okay in each moment. This is one of the things that walking in the light means to me, trusting in the possiblity of abundance. If I find myself caught in black and white thinking -- thinking that this is a zero sum game -- that if I attend to my own needs, then this person will not have what they need -- then this is a sign that I have become spiritually ungrounded.

For some of us the journey is more about learning to love ourselves as our neighbor, rather than the other way around.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your reflections. The earlier comments addressed the issues of your nudgings toward personal safety. I wanted to respond to your musing: "Part of me was rather irritated with our regular attenders, no one had showed up and I was alone in a situation such as this. That there is an expectation that since I am "clerk" I have to show up every week and they can show up as they choose."

This is an issue I also struggle with--having accepted what seemed like leadings to take leadership, then sometimes feeling left in the lurch. Leslie's suggestion "can you get someone else from your Meeting..." feels to me to be the essence there--perhaps in situations where there are few of us, our "work" needs to be to continue to tell our other Friends how much we need accompaniment -- that their presence is a gift we rely upon.

Paula Roberts said...

The saying, "Trust in God but tie up your camel" speaks to me. I would say this; do not let guilt (racial, economic, spiritual, etc) place you in dangerous situations as some form of penance. We live in a real world and Thee must have sense. This is my opinion.

Ann Marie said...

I know this is a bit late to the game but remember simplicity and truth. Set boundaries plainly. Be truthful with yourself. No dancing around, misleding, confusing. (Not saying you did, but for future reference, I am also the one who opens the door, often alone, every week, in our small group.) If you are honest and speak plainly/simply/clearly, then you've laid a good foundation for dealing with things.

Robson Freire said...


Miss Mixie said...

I can't comment on what the Christian thing to do, because I don't really know anything about such matter. However, I can comment on what you should do to make sure you keep yourself safe. As far as I can tell, your problem is that you don't feel comfortable asserting yourself. If you're in a situation that gives you a gut-feeling of discomfort and worry, get out. Most often, it wasn't anything big, but you don't want to be there when you *are* in the building with someone who wants to hurt you. (Please don't feel that my offering advice is presumptuous or critical. It's just that I've been in situations where I felt like it would be impolite to leave, and I let myself be taken advantage of. I don't want that to happen to you.)