After I talked with Steve last week (see my previous posting–“Drama on Court Street”), I thought how I’d been affected by seeing him and then talking with him. I wanted to engage him, to see what he really wanted. I believe God expects me to respect everyone’s humanity, no matter their station in life.
When you see street people, very likely you feel an emotional response to them. Regardless if you verbalize your feelings, they confront who you are in relationship to yourself, to God, and to others. This can be difficult. First, we don’t like to be confronted, even indirectly. Second, the presence of the street people calls into question the depth of our “goodness,” for lack of a better word.
I’d like you to look at the following bulleted questions as if they were posed by someone living on the street. Decide if you would say “yes” or “no” to each question. (This is not scientific. I’m not an expert pollster; these are simply questions I made up.)
For each “no” answer, I’ve made an observation of what that answer might be saying about you (and me, too).
• Do you see me, or am I invisible to you? We shut out things and people we’d rather not deal with.
• Do I matter? It’s all about us. –or—That person’s pain is too much for us to bear.
• Do you see me as human? If we see “them” as subhuman, it’s easier to ignore them.
• Will you share with me? Consider your reason for saying “no”–you are stingy, insecure, judgmental or fearful –or–You have nothing to give.
• Can you take time out of your schedule? You and I may simply be too busy to give time to this needy person, which says something about you and me and our priorities.
• Do you object to my presence on the street? If we refuse the homeless a place on the street, we’ve taken away what few rights and bargaining power they might have.
• Do you believe I’m really in need? We can’t take a person at face value. –or—We’re not willing to suspend judgment. –or—We’ve become so cynical that we’re hardened against helping the needy.
• Do you think I’m deserving of a handout from you? When we say “no” to these unfortunates, we are judging them. True, sometimes that judgment tells us not to be enablers. Many of the so-called homeless are really con artists, preying upon the gullible.
• Do you care that I’m down on my luck? We want to care but we don’t want to be manipulated.
• Will you respect me even though I feel awful having to ask you to help me? We can’t suspend judgment of a person who can’t respect himself.
• Does my condition make you feel thankful for what you have? If we don’t feel thankful, it could be because we feel guilty for what we have.
Some questions don’t lend themselves to “yes” or “no” answers; following are a few questions we should still ask ourselves when confronted with people in extreme want.
1. What does God want me to do regarding this person? Every interaction is based on how we view God.
2. Do I really believe that person wants to be on the street corner?
3. Do I believe that person is getting what he or she deserves?
4. Why you and not me?
5. Does this person remind me of someone I care about? Do you have a loved one roaming the streets of some unknown city?
6. What does this person’s need tell me about God? about myself?
Throughout the Old Testament, the people are admonished to “care for the aliens, the widows and orphans (the fatherless).”
Tell me your thoughts. Tell me if you’d add other questions to my modest list.
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