So I was thinking about making two posts on the same day, but I think I’ll just stick with 1 post, and will get around to making the other post in the next day or so. This might ramble a little. I apologize in advance.
Yesterday as I was walking out of church (I went to the early service at Reunion), I rounded the corner onto Mass Ave, and right at the corner of the bridge there was a white woman sitting in a chair with a sign that said “Laid Off.” I glanced at the sign, but didn’t read much more than this, and as an idea came into the back of my mind to ask her if she wanted to eat lunch at Wendy’s with me (which was right across the street), I pushed the idea aside and kept walking to the subway station so that I could pick up my car where I left it at Andrew station, go grocery shopping, and cook myself a meal at home.
As I pulled out of the parking lot of the Stop & Shop in the South Bay Shopping Center, there was a white guy begging in the middle of the street. As I sat there in my air-conditioned car with tons of groceries at my feet, I hesitated. Finally, what seemed like years later, I rolled down the window and yelled “Sir” and grabbed a box of granola bars I had just bought and offered them to him.
He declined, saying he didn’t have bottom teeth. I didn’t believe him, rolled up my window, and pulled out onto the street.
Instances like these are certainly not a rare phenomenon in Boston – especially in Dorchester. Yes, yesterday was the first time I actually rolled down my window to talk to one of these beggars, but being asked for money is not new. I have made it a habit of never giving any money to anyone who asks for it on the street. This is only good stewardship. Chances are good that the person – I will refrain from saying “beggar” from now on – that makes him/her sound like a nobody, which they’re not – as I was saying, chances are good that the person will use the money not for food or clothing or shelter, but for a drug or alcohol dependency.
If I give money on the street, I send a message to the receiver that says “I don’t care about you, because all I’m doing is giving you money just to make me feel good about myself. If I really cared about you, I’d sit and have lunch with you.” I also help to feed that good chance of a dependence on a bad habit.
So what to do? As any American will tell you, time is of the essence. We want to take the easy way out, pull out a couple of dollars, and be on our way. But this only furthers dependency. “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime” as the saying goes. Translate this into inner-city America: Give a man a few dollars, and he (probably) spends it all on drugs. Build a relationship with the man, and he (hopefully) builds a relationship with God and kicks that dependency in the butt.
See what I’m saying? Community Development is NOT easy. But as Bryan Myers points out in his book, “Walking With the Poor,” poverty is fundamentally a result of broken relationships. Relationships are not easy! But we must be willing to invest.
So this lingering guilty feeling that I had from passing the woman on the corner of the bridge on Mass Ave right before getting to the whatever-it’s-called Convent Center Subway Stop: What am I going to do about it?
When we build relationships with people, and empower them to lift THEMSELVES out of poverty, we are teaching that person to fish, using the God-given talents and abilities that they have been blessed with.
As for the title of my blog, how do we know that the problem we are presented with is the truth? We don’t know. And actually, we have a gut feeling that it’s not true (because most of the time, the problem that is presented to us is indeed absolutely false). Does this mean that we should just ignore the person? Not at all! I am writing as a “reading break” from Brennan Manning’s Abba’s Child. Just a few minutes ago, I read:
What makes the Kingdom come is heartfelt compassion: a way of tenderness that knows no frontiers, no lables, no compartmentalizing, and no sectarian divisions. Jesus, the human Face of God, invites us to deep reflection on the nature of true discipleship and the radical lifestyle of Abba’s child.
So I leave myself, and you, my readers, with this thought?
What does compassion to others look like? Are we really willing to invest, and *gasp* spend TIME with others on their journey of life? Oh, that I may live a life of true compassion: Helping, without Hurting. Building relationships, and not simply throwing out money handouts.
PS: Feel free to comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.