Envision yourself alone. Sitting in saggy filthed cloths slightly damp, you wonder at your past. Your family is estranged; your children have lost their care and respect for you. You have a roommate at the shelter that is angry and vile. All you can think of is getting out of the cold; a beer to ease the pain. You do not dream anymore.
Passersby are like logs in a stream; coming from somewhere moving into the distance. You wonder “How long this will go on?” “It’s warmer in Jail.” you brood. But you won’t do it, it’s hard to find the energy for crime when you’re so depressed.
In his shoes, what would you want? Sure; food, clothing, a roof are amongst the needs. But what would really help?
Now let us place ourselves in the position of those flowing by. We have the necessities met, we struggle with life like everyone else. The spouse and the kids all pose challenges. Nose to the ground you think “My boss is a jerk, I do not know if I’ll get the promotion.” You see red on the sidewalk “Oh, homeless.” You step acting as if you didn’t notice. “Bums! Why don’t they just get a job?” swiftly drifting by.
“I should have given him some money.” passes your mind. “Whatever! I gotta get home, dinners almost ready and there is a shelter anyway.” you cool your conscience. You flow one step to the next, distancing yourself from the brief obstruction “Man my boss is an idiot!”
In this scenes there are two players. What do you want if you’re in the hopeless despair? What should you do when you see a need? We know the answers don’t we? If quizzed we would get an “A.”
“Love your neighbor as yourselves” is a perfect statement. We can’t miss its meaning. It is complete. But when we mix our bias’, desire, and comfort, the water muddies; not so clear anymore, huh? Our vision is obscured; fogged glasses.
Let’s go back to the lab. Let’s look at this technically, scientifically, objectively without obscuration. That man on the street needs food, a home, clothes, hope, vision and mostly a true loving friend. Right?
But, an unloving, institutional mindset does nothing and placates it’s conscience knowing the needy can go to a shelter. This mindset feels justified by simply knowing there is a place to go. Sometimes we throw them a few dollars which helps the self-esteem also.
Remember the research done on babies? In Psychology 101 they showed us the data that babies in orphanages were more likely to die than others for lack of touch. People need people; food and shelter are not enough. Where did this institutional mentality come from then? How could we hold on to these ideas with so much love in our hearts? I argue that it is the institution. When we start institutions we obliterate personal care. We have solved the problem. We can give a few bucks and move on with our lives. We feel comfortable opting out.
When we pay taxes and tithes feel we have done our part in helping the poor. We can comfort ourselves with “My church helps the poor.” We feel justified “Look at all the programs the government has instituted.” So now we can walk by the with impunity. “They are there because of their sin, and there are lots of programs for them.” From this mindset comes a series of unquestioned ideas. They affect how we see the real needs of real people:
1) Not my ministry
2) That’s why I tithe
3) That’s why I pay taxes
4) They can go to the shelter
5) They can eat at the feeding prgm
6) They can go to the clinic
7) They can go to the old-folks home
8) They can go to foster care
9) They have a program for that at Social Services
10) He can go to a mental health facility
11) They can go to AA/NA
12) They can get on food stamps
13) They can get counseling
14) not my gift
The implications are obvious. When “We gave at the office.” we need not act in love. When we showed our care with a check, if that, we can walk by the needs with personal, public and Christian approval. We bought our pass! No one scrutinizes our behavior “Everyone does it.” But this God sees. And the world will know us by: no interest, no responsibility, no action, no guilt and no love.
Action is all that counts. The Holy Spirit never quit calling us to mercy. He is always calling. He is love.
Today my friend was at what is called “The Peer Connection” this is a drop-in-center for the homeless and the mentally-ill. He goes there periodically. He met Richard again, Cody has visited with him before. This time Richard was ready. He eyed Cody “I’m callin you out!” He and Cody walked out of the facility. All eyes joyously pealed, wondering why they were going to fight. But, no fight today. Richard was just messing around. The staff and clients wouldn’t have been surprised at a fight. The facility gets to see a lot of activity. He asked Cody “Are you for real?” “Are really going to take me home?”
They arrived at my house an hour later; me the big blogger, pastor, farmer and radio guy setting in a cold attic with a mic and a lap top. I went down stairs and got them coffee and a little chewing tobacco. Richard liked it because he couldn’t smoke inside. We talked about his life, leaving home at fourteen after much abuse. He lost in marriage and fate had taken his only son of 14 years. The great Skagit River had buried him in its torrents, in Mount Vernon, Washington. He showed us the lost child of hope; his son’s face on a crinkled photo protected by his wallet.
We told him of the contract; what he must due to earn his help. There is always a catch; nothing is for free. “We’ll keep our end if you keep yours.” I said. “If you take your next steps, moving your life forward, we will let you live with us as family. But you quit and the contract is broken, you’ll need to leave.” “If you win we win, that’s what is in it for us.”
He wants to take his GED test. We told him a hopeful story of jobs coming available in the trades. We shared how a man we had helped for 4 years had just graduated. He is now a welder and just got a job locally for $16/hr. We don’t help the later anymore; he is now one of us. A good man, a visionary partner in Christ for life; No one works harder.
“We are going to help you, so you just take your next step.” I chattered. He couldn’t believe it. He was so happily surprised at the reception.
But we’ll see. He is going to have about three days of Hell, coming down from the alcohol. It won’t be easy. I once had a guy go into convulsions. The first time, I found him humped over a bale of hay twitching. Pretty crazy stuff! He left and came back multiple times breaking the contract and then re-uping. I hear he is doing well now and following Christ somewhere in the county.
Back to Richard, he now has hope, help and a family. He may not make it, that is true. Tomorrow morning he may sit back down on the walk again, wondering if jail might be better. But we’ll still be here. We are the hand of Christ offering hope. We are “Jesus” to the world; little christs: Christians. We are left to do the work he left for us.