It’s poetic that Lawrence would write yesterday about the life of his mother and challenging us all to look at the homeless in a different light – because before I ever read that post, I began writing some thoughts around the questions of “Should we give money to panhandlers?”
I hear the argument for and against all the time. The justifications of why we shouldn’t make a lot of sense. Theological and systemic arguments even. But they never settle well with my heart.
I started reading “Theirs is the Kingdom” by Robert D. Lupton. I might be A LITTLE behind. The book came out in 1989. But to be fair, I wasn’t all that into reading when I was 6, so I feel I have a good excuse.
This book is great though! I love the unique angle he takes in talking about life and ministry in urban settings. Most of the book is just stories. And a whole lot of it is about failing. Wrong decisions, mistakes, struggles and fears. The book is raw, honest, challenging and convicting…
There is a chapter titled “Kurt” and it is about a man he got to know in his neighborhood who had a really difficult story. His mom was murdered, he had tried to take revenge and had suffered the ramifications of trying to take things into his own hands (beaten in skull with a baseball bat for one thing!). He was an alcoholic and drug abuser but was trying to (and seeming to succeed in his efforts to) turn his life around.
He had gotten a job and needed money for the bus fare. So Robert gave him that money. Only problem was Kurt ended up purchasing liquor instead.
Robert was devastated. He felt used. Lied to. Stupid.
I think I deal with these thoughts, reservations, and this skeptical outlook often as we work with the women out on the track with After Hours Ministry. I hear a lot of really sad stories. A lot of seemingly helpless situations – but I often wonder how true they are. When it seems like all they need is some money for formula and diapers – I wonder how true that is. If I were to give them that money – would that really solve anything? Would the money really go to buy diapers? By giving them money am I really just feeding into a more systemic issue of dependency and chronic homelessness?
Robert goes on to say “I can see the conditions I place on my giving, my own subtle forms of manipulation. I am confronted with my pride that requires others to conform to my image. I see my need to control, to meter out love in exchange for the responses I desire. I will opt to be manipulated in person. For somewhere concealed in these painful interactions are the key to my own freedom.”
I was in class in February and one of the other students told a story about Mother Theresa handing out food on the street. Several of the people were going through the line three or four times! One of the volunteers came up to Mother and told her that someone should regulate the process better because these people were taking more than their fair share and trying to go around the corner and sell it! Mothers response? “The rich get spoiled so often, it’s about time someone spoiled the poor.”
I know there is so much more to this conversation and it is such a fine line (giving without regard and caring about unhealthy behaviors) – but I think I agree with Robert’s line of thinking. I would rather be manipulated in person. I would rather build relationships, and listen to the half truths that spring from the deep need that resides within. Maybe the money or resources don’t always go to where I wish they would or where I would choose – but the first step is presence. Consistency. Love. And then freedom.
I don’t know – maybe this doesn’t make sense. But this is what I’m chewing on for the day….chew with me. And pick up the book if you get a chance. We can dialogue more.