How Wrong We Can Be

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.

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6 thoughts on “How Wrong We Can Be

  1. My favorite quote is from St. Francis of Assisi:

    “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”

    I try to take it to heart. I believe. My family believes. We do a family prayer time/bible reading every day. We pray before meals. But we do NOT ask people about their relationship with Jesus. If they want that information from us, they will ask.

    I have never changed my mind on anything because someone knocked on my door and interrupted my day. Nor have I ever felt filled by the Holy Spirit because someone accosted me on the street to talk about being lost and found.

    But I have questioned my own behavior and beliefs many many times when I see someone who lives a good life, someone happy, someone I would like to be. I want to know why they are so fulfilled. I want to change the world like they do.

    I think that practice is the best preaching.

  2. thanks for your post. It’s thought provoking, but something you said did concern me. You are right – assumptions are not good.

    Is there something I could say so you wouldn’t assume every faith-based person that discusses belief in God is trying to force-feed you their beliefs. I know there are alot of people out there that do that – just don’t assume its all of us. I like to think I’m not accosting people when engaging them in conversation about God. (but I don’t know for sure) And I do believe I’m called to share the Good News and be concerned with salvation other than my own. I would have asked you – would want to know – how is your relationship with God? If you told me you worked at having a relationship with Him, no matter how it differed from mine, I would have genuinely complimented and encouraged you. If you said you didn’t, I would just ask you to speak (pray) to Him sometime.

    do you ever wonder why, with all the homeless initiatives, shelters, programs and such – why we have such a huge homeless population in the US?

    I have many friends that consistantly go out to feed the homeless. I go myself, too. It may be an assumption that we don’t work with a government agency because we won’t be able to preach. Some of us don’t work through the government agencies because we understand that some homeless are the ones that have fallen through the cracks, and the agencies don’t get to them, for various reasons.

    I admit I do use these opportunities to talk to the homeless about God. Not because I think they must be awfully sinful people to be homeless, but because research has shown, most programs that are faith-based have a higher success rate. I attribute that to God’s restoring power.

    I hope you don’t feel that by me sharing my opinion with you that I have a demeaning attitude. That was not my intention. And I can respect that you prefer not to preach to people.

    Take care…

  3. Any opinion shared with respect is welcome.

    That said, any person who didn’t know me and automatically asked me about my relationship with God would draw my ire. To me, it’s my business; if I wish to talk to someone about it, I go to one of my friends whom I trust. I’ve met other Christians, too, who are uncomfortable when asked that question, so I won’t even ask it of others myself because I don’t feel as though it’s my place.

    The incident I refer to happens regularly. The problem that I have is not that these folks want to help the homeless; that’s a fantastic ideal. But they were feeding people who had already eaten twice that day and within twenty minutes there was trash and discarded food strewn everywhere. More than one resident of the shelter got angry that the people there didn’t have the kind of food they wanted (“that other church brought thus-and-so” was a popular thing to say).

    The homeless in any major metropolitan area know where to go to get food. Aside from that fact, it is unsafe for you to keep doing that. It’s best to contact the shelters and ask what programs they offer and get involved that way. As I said, the biggest problem those programs have is funding. They never have enough. Most city homeless shelters allow faith-based programs to operate, too, so it’s worth looking into.

  4. “Most city homeless shelters allow faith-based programs to operate, too, so it’s worth looking into.”

    Our parish works with our local homeless shelter. Once a month we go in with meals we’ve prepard and supplement the meals the shelter provides. This helps save the shelter money.

    The residents of the shelter know we are from a church. We do not need to tell them that. We do not preach to them. They don’t want to hear it.

    Rather we let our actions speak. They like getting home cooked meals. They like the annual holiday sock drive and getting clean new socks. They like the bingo game we put on with small cash prizes so they can get money for incidental things.

    So far not one person has gotten off the streets, into a home AND into our parish. But, that is not why we do what we do.

    As AFW quoted with St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”

  5. Our church works with a local street ministry: http://rministries.wordpress.com/

    I’ve been helping the guy that runs it, Brian, for years. My husband is an ex-cop, and we only go on the route Brian has been doing (for 9 yrs). Because of this, I feel I am relatively safe. I agree it’s important to make sure you are helping out in a safe manner.

    A couple years ago, we went out to distribute coats and bibles. It was a pleasant, but uneventful night. Last year, as I was helping at a NA meeting, I ran into a guy that told me I had given him a bible and a coat the previous year. He began to read the bible, writing out passages to remember them better. He would then give them to other homeless people. The scriptures started working on his heart and he started the process of getting clean from his addiction. He had been clean and not homeless for almost a year when I ran into him there.

    Another time, we struck up a conversation with a homeless guy that was in really bad physical shape. He had been beaten in the head with a pipe one night. Over the course of 2 weeks we were able to search for and locate his family he hadn’t seen in 20 yrs in Austin (we’re in San Antonio). We were able to reunite him with his family and they got him healthy, he goes to college and is doing well. (as well as he can after a life of homelessness and the injuries)

    God does amazing things every day. Sometimes He asks us to help him.

    You have an excellent forum here. And while you may not jump out and get excited about feeding homeless from my comments, I hope it gives you insight to experiences others may have had that were positive.

    Thanks…

  6. Ah, San Antonio…man, I miss Texas!

    I’m not dogging the idea of feeding the homeless. My biggest gripe is with those who do what they do with complete disregard for the law. I know some who help the faith-based programs that support the homeless shelter, and they have plenty of positive examples, too–it’s the majority here who refuse to work in line with what the law says that get under my skin.

    The last thing I ever want to hear is that some well-meaning soul has been harmed by someone at that shelter.

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