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As a pastor I think I’ve erred on the side of giving people too much credit when it comes to poverty. I always assumed that people had a heart for the homeless, or those less fortunate than us. Given our extreme wealth it goes without saying that to those whom much has been given, much can be expected.
In reality the way people in our city, most notably Christians, view the homeless isn’t quite what I assumed it would be.
It would seem that I’ve ignored some tensions people have. What I thought was widespread empathy is in fact widespread apathy. Where I thought obvious resonance exists quite the opposite has taken place.
For many, we’ve been jaded by singular experiences that have ended up defining our overall response to the poverty.
I want to suggest a change. But first, a story.
Here is a story, a perception, some observations if you will, from one person who reflects a pretty common view in our city.
I am all for helping the homeless and am glad that agencies in our city like the Drop-in Center, Dream Center, the Mustard Seed, and Inn From the Cold,
I am sorry to say that my heart does not cry for the homeless of our city.
One of my friends chose to live in a car by the river because her parents didn’t like her boyfriend.
I have a friend whose son lives on the street not because he can’t live at home but because drugs call him and despite several trips to various rehabilitation programs he can’t resist the call.
It is not that I do not care, I do.
I have no sympathy for people who choose to live on the streets and many of them out there do choose to be there. I had a conversation once with a man on the C-train platform. He was very happy to be on the streets and always had a warm bed and a meal at either the drop in centre or the mustard seed and was blaming temp agencies giving short-term jobs as a part of the homeless problem.
I have a theory that the way that we handle the homeless situation as a society (agencies to feed and shelter them) perpetuates it to some degree. There becomes no reason to work and earn money to get a person out of a situation if they are supplied everything that they need. I don’t have a better idea, I just think it helps with survival but perpetuates the problem. It’s funny how even homeless people seem to have money to feed their addictions. Maybe if they stopped spending money on drugs, alcohol and cigarettes they might have enough to actually be able to feed themselves.
Isn’t there a saying that, “the Lord helps those who help themselves?” Maybe my perspective will change when I see the homeless actually trying to help themselves. (1)
Do you echo any of these sentiments?
Here’s what we know. The Bible never says the ‘Lord helps those who help themselves’. That’s probably some form of capitalist zeal that chose to co-opt Scripture to fit its own means.
Here’s what else we know. Homelessness, and all the different forms attributed to it, is COMPLEX. It is rare to find someone suddenly and haphazardly wind up on the street. It usually includes years, perhaps a lifetime, of some sort of neglect and tough luck to teeter on rock bottom.
Conversely, it takes an equally long time to rebuild and reconcile someone who’s hit or approached despair.
Christians aren’t called to judge conditions. We are called to serve.
In fact, did you know that NOT acting to help the least among us is a GRAVE sin? Have a read and tell me what happens to those who know what they ought to do but chose not to do it. Matthew 25:31-46
If you truly want to follow Jesus then take the plunge into the mess. Anything else appears to be incompatible with God’s dream to usher in his Kingdom on earth.
(1) Portions adapted from http://culturerelbel.com