My weekend was a busy one; I don’t typically observe Easter these days, at least not as a religious holiday. I normally celebrate the Passover with Jewish friends. Easter, by historical definition, is not a Christian holiday. It was originally a celebration of Eostre, believed to be the Germanic goddess of the dawn, and the Easter bunny and Easter eggs–all of it–came from those pagan traditions. Don’t get me wrong; I do like Easter, I just don’t celebrate it the way most Western Christians do, and it kinda irritates me that they’ll throw everything into celebrating Easter the way they do and then turn around and refuse to celebrate Halloween because it was a pagan holiday. Go figure.
Speaking of irritations…I feel the need to bring up an issue that I never really thought about before. When I was a teenager, it was a big thing to get a bunch of us together, make sack lunches and go feed the homeless. Down on 12th Avenue and Jefferson in downtown Phoenix, there is a big homeless shelter (rebuilt since the time I was a teenager) that churches send groups of all ages to armed with food and drinks–and, of course, bibles and religious tracts–to hand out to the droves of homeless people who constantly swarm the area. I remember once being met by police officers who told us we weren’t allowed to pass food out. After they turned us around and sent us back to our church, we complained about it the whole way back (a good 45-minute drive). Our issue? We believed the government just didn’t want us preaching.
How wrong I was.
Now, as an adult, having worked in EMS for a while, I see things differently. I know some of the people who run the shelters. I’ve seen the facilities they have and the resources available to the homeless in my city. The people who populate that spot on 12th Avenue have no shortage of food; they’re actually quite well-fed. They have access to three meals a day, a post office, job training, mental health help–pretty much anything they need. It may not be what you and I would like, but they are provided for. Here, it is actually illegal to come onto the grounds of a homeless shelter and hand out anything. Why? Because anything they’re given becomes litter. Some food is tossed away, attracting all manner of birds and rodents. The trash they leave in the streets hurts what little ecosystem is there. It also puts people who are untrained and ill-equipped to deal with a crisis in a precarious situation. What if one of the residents becomes agitated and openly hostile? It happens. The problems the homeless here in my city face are not hunger or lack of shelter. Today it’s funding for the programs that provide those things. Social workers at the shelters have come out and talked to the religious groups, inviting them to work alongside the programs in the shelters. In every single case the “Christians” have refused. They just want to pass out food and literature.
That is very frustrating. Coming from that culture, I can already tell what their reasoning would be: if we work with a government organization, we won’t be allowed to share the gospel, so we’ll keep doing what we want to do whether it’s illegal or not. Jesus told us to spread the word, and that’s what we’re doing!
No, it’s not. I had an interesting conversation with one of those people not long ago. She approached me (standing next to a city vehicle, in uniform) and handed me a tract. She asked me what I were taught were the “diagnostic questions”–are you certain you’re going to heaven, and in either case, why. I politely listened to her for a moment, remembering my time doing that very same thing. Since I am not a cop, it’s not my place to tell these folks that they have to leave, so I just listened before telling her that I had my faith and, as a rule, I didn’t discuss it while working. She gave me that “oh, you’re one of THOSE people” look, a mixture of pity and contempt, a way of expressing the idea that I wasn’t truly happy as a believer (at least not in her estimation). She asked me exactly what I believed, and I said, “to each their own.” I ended it by getting in my vehicle and shutting the door, hoping she wouldn’t try to hijack my partner when he came back outside.
I used to see this kind of thing all the time. We’d go out to do what this group was doing and come back and share our stories, and every time one of us would tell a story like that we’d all stop and pray for that poor, lost soul. Now I see just how demeaning that kind of attitude can be. I still believe, and the bible says that there are many different ways to minister to others. The way I see it now, it’s not my place to make somebody listen to my beliefs. That’s the quickest way to make them want to tune you out. I figure if I live my life well, other people will see that and will want to be a part of it. The best witness I’ve ever seen is that of a person who realizes that sometimes God’s children should be seen and not heard.
Sometimes, regardless of whether it involves religion or politics, we don’t realize just how wrong we can be when making assumptions. People from all walks of life have made such errors and they are always surrounded by misinterpretation. If a police officer tells you to move on, that you can’t pass out food and books to the homeless, it’s not persecution. If a political figure you love is being investigated, it’s not necessarily because the opposing party is on a witch hunt. Take great care when accusing a person or group of people of these kinds of things, because if you’re wrong, you’re only perpetuating the cycle of the hate you say you wish to stop.