American Poverty: How the Homeless Feed the Rich
I’ll admit it.
I get suddenly uncomfortable when stopped at a traffic light with someone standing on the corner next to me, begging for money.
It's worse when the barrier of my vehicle walls are gone, and I'm approached while walking down the sidewalk. I'm a tiny woman. And I am usually not prepared with fast food gift cards on hand, like some of my more prudent friends have instructed me to do. So I'm stuck with the options of either being a callous jerk, or a sucker who buys drugs with her kindness. It's just so complicated.
But even more alarming than the needy appearing within our otherwise comfortable settings is visiting the places they go to once they leave those street corners and sidewalks. You might find yourself somehow standing under a bridge lined with makeshift shelters and scattered possessions, and then it hits you...
People live here. And it is not a home. But it's close to yours.
Under the bridge where Veterans Pkwy goes over railroad tracks near downtown.
Last week, I was assigned to a story with the County Marshal who was taking a group of middle school kids, the Junior Marshals, to give out blankets and hygiene products to the homeless in our area. The event took me and a bunch of other local journalists to places in our city we’ve never seen in person before. These are the places where homelessness is not just some abstract concept to have an opinion about; it is reality.
As a product of the Evangelical Christian youth culture, I’ve seen this level of poverty on mission trips to third world countries before... Plenty of times! I've also gone to soup kitchens and fed American homeless people in places where they come to us.
But going to them, entering their hidden world that exists under bridges we drive over everyday while lost in thoughts about our first world problems... I couldn't help but feel that I have been driving with my eyes closed.
We have a way that we think America is. But this is also America.
And are we really surprised?
No one on earth knows more about poverty than Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and she had this to say about our culture:
It is too easy simply to talk or concern ourselves with the poor who are far away. It is much harder and, perhaps, more challenging to turn our attention and concern toward the poor who live right next door to us.
When I pick up a hungry person from the streets, I give him rice and bread, and I have satisfied that hunger. But a person who is shut out, feels unwanted by society, unloved and terrified--how much more difficult is it to remove that hunger?
You in the West have the spiritually poorest of the poor much more than you have the physically poor. Often among the rich are very spiritually poor people. I find it easy to give a plate of rice to a hungry person, to furnish a bed to a person who has no bed, but to console or to remove the bitterness, anger, and loneliness that comes from being spiritually deprived, that takes a long time.
-Mother Teresa, No Greater Love
The next day was Sunday.
At Mass, when we got to the part where we say, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof,” I saw that my “roof”, my self, is about as worthy of Christ as those makeshift shelters under the bridge are worthy of a King.
"But only say the word, and my soul shall be healed."
He keeps coming for me anyway. He can't help it. He is Love.
.Before God, we are all empty-handed beggars, in need, vulnerable, and entirely dependent on what only He can give. There is no room for selfish pride. Nothing to give back. Only thanks, and ourselves.
Sometimes, though, we can convince ourselves we don't need Him, because we've got all this stuff, see?
One of many random piles of stuff under the bridge.
After church, Josh and I went and got a whole bunch of fried chicken, chips, cookies, bananas, apples and water, and brought it to one of the more open places where I remembered several homeless people stay. We fed lunch to maybe a dozen and a half or so people. We stood among them, looked them in the eye, shook their hands, and treated them with respect as if they were Jesus himself, with hopes that maybe something inside of them would remember, if even for a second, that they too bear the image of God in their very existence. It was a small drop of water in the desert of their poverty, and of our own, but it was better than simply commenting on the dryness and wishing it would rain.
Every morning, if we have the courage to get out of bed, we find ourselves engaged in a world that is starving. For fried chicken. For a genuine handshake. For the Truth about who we are. For Love and acceptance. Such a world may be a little grouchy in its hunger ("Hangry" if you will), but if we get out of bed, and actually wake up in the process, we will see it for what it is.
Maybe we will realize that we don't have what it needs. We don't even have what we need. Not in ourselves, anyway. But this King keeps showing up at our makeshift shelters...
May we let go of the brokenness we cling to in order to receive every grace and spiritual gift that God wants to give us.
And may we receive so much extra grace from Him, because He knows He can trust us to give it away to others who need it as well.