Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Do you remember that one specific time when someone said something that made life much more complicated? In my youth, I had always heard that homeless people were lazy, because in America, we have lots of choices that we can make in order for us to buy homes, have traditional families, always have a job ... the big bootstrap was wrapped tightly around my brain. College history taught this to me as well. How many times did I hear about the achievers like Ben Franklin, Wilma Rudolph, Lewis & Clark, the Rockefellers, the Presidents, the Inventors, the Poets, the Astronauts? If these people made a mark then so can'st you, was preached cheerfully to me. As an idealist by nature, I loved it. And, for the most part, it's a good, inspirational message to the youth. However, now I realize that it promotes a certain disdain for those on the underbelly of society who have not risen, but sunk. (Btw, there's a book by Theodore Dalrymple which I want to read on this topic called "Life At the Bottom." Anyone recommend it?) So, my moment of complexity arrived when a college friend and I saw a begging man. It was a first for me, and I automatically muttered something about him needing to just get a job. The typical non-compassionate response. My wealthy 71 year old uncle still retorts with this. Fortunately, my friend couldn't let that pass and gave me a compassionate perspective; he listed all of the possibilities that might be preventing this man from being like me or other successful others; he listed all the reasons why Christ would not reject him for being on the bottom of the social rung. Basically, I was stopped and stunned by my ignorance on the matter. In the same way, I am reading mind-opening material in Jim Wallis' book in which he espouses a political stance which incorporates an "integral link between personal ethics and social justice." This means to me that a person should be able to be conservative on issues like marriage, child rearing, entertainment values, pro-life, etc, but still have a viable political option which takes care of the other things that we're given stewardship for as Christians: poverty issues, environmental, peacemaking, race equality, a non-special interest group (or corporate) agenda, fair and quality education. The latter issues in particular are why I couldn't vote for Bush. He didn't convince me that he would take care of these, and with tax cuts for the wealthy, and with war without UN approval, and the disapproval of multiple national church leaders .... Yet, the Democrates "had nothing to offer the American people as an alternative..." says Wallis. This is why I couldn't vote for Kerry. Wallis talks about an option which allows the full Christian agenda to be addressed, not just particle pieces. It's a blended agenda which comes from people with "strong moral conviction and [longings] for a political commitment that reflects them." Well, well, I agree, but the road is still muddy right now. Life becomes more complex, and, daresay, more full of compassionate implications and responsibilities. Hmmmm... I'm reading on with open, yet critical mind...... We'll see.

2 comments:

lady laura said...

I was raised with the same mindset: my grandpa was homeless and raised himself from the age of 12, during the Depression, on the streets of Miami. He would tell of being hungry and going to every shopkeeper along the road, offering to sweep out their store or stock their shelves, what-have-you, for a nickel. He had open and hostile disdain for begging of any sort until the day he died.

As you know, my brother was homeless for 2 years, living on the streets or in shelters most of that time. He never once begged or panhandled. He wouldn't have dreamed of it, the main reason being that he chose to be homeless and believes that every other homeless person he knew did also. In his experience, those who panhandle are the most consistently employed of all homeless people; it is their full-time job. And they still took advantage of every soup kitchen, free-clothing service, and free-clinic available, thereby using their non-taxed income for cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, etc, not the basics of life that people think they are helping provide by giving them money.

Additionally, I once drove by the same homeless man everyday on my way to work. He had a commonly seen sign that read:"Will work for food. God bless" One day I went to the store and bought a few non-perishable food items. When I approached him saying, "I don't have any work for you, but I got you these", he was angry. He did not want food. And he knew that no one was likely to give him work to get any food. He wanted money.

And finally, I know of several "social service" workers who lament the funds that go un-utilized every year and tell of how often the help that is available to the homeless or critically poor are refused because such help comes with the requirement of job-skills-building classes or random drug testing.

For me, how to best serve those who are homeless IS complicated.

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