Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Can You Spare Some Grace?

A child of God

For the past two years now I have lived or worked in the city. From the fall of 2003 til the summer of 2004 I lived and worked in New York City. From the fall of 2004 til the summer of 2005 I worked in downtown Cincinnati. Now in the fall of 2005 I work and live in downtown Birmingham. There is a common thread with each of these cities where I have spent consider time living and working. What links each of these urban cities is the huge number of homeless people that dwell on the streets and sidewalks. So today's post is an education for those who live and work in the suburbs that have no idea what I am talking about. The only times residents of the wealthy subdivision see homeless people are in the movies, but to those who live downtown the interaction with the homeless is a daily experience. Sadly, the most callous treatment of the homeless comes from surbanite Christians who think the homeless are just faking it or just lazy addicts. Again, today's post is an education.

I currently live on the campus of UAB located in the Five Points South area of downtown Birmingham. I encounter the homeless every time I venture to Starbucks for a cup of coffee or to Jim-N-Nick's for the best grilled catfish. It has been growing experience for me. At first I had to fight the urge taught to me by society of just ignoring their pleas for change, but after giving change the first couple times it felt good to give these people whatever I had on me. Most times it's a dollar or two, but sometimes I have a $5. It's tempting to break the $5 up at the restaurant and then give him or her the dollar, but I now hand over the $5 without much thought. I even had the bizarre opportunity to pay for a homeless man's Subway footlong. Though he ordered the sub before he asked me to pay, but whatever.

Why do we as Christians hesitate to give change to the homeless who ask us? Am I the only one to have struggled with this feeling? First, the individual must stop looking at the big picture of homelessness. It may seem like my giving of change are futile efforts that do nothing to solve the problems that cause homelessness. True, but as an individual I am not responsible for coming up with grand solutions to end homelessness. It is the responsibility of the Church as a unified whole to develop productive programs that help bring an end to homelessness. The homeless themselves are not looking for well constructed programs to help them out of poverty. The homeless are just trying to make it to the next day. So if my little amount of change can get them a small bite or drink that helps them make it to next day, then I feel my futile efforts have purpose.

Second, we must deny the temptation to wonder what they might do with our change. Most people deny the homeless their change because they fear it might be used to buy drugs or alcohol. The idea that the change would go to drugs it pretty silly because most hard drugs are pretty expensive and not within the homeless man's budget. The worry it might go to alcohol is more reasonable. Right or wrong, my brother had an interesting observation to my change possibly going to alcohol, "when you have to sleep on the cold concrete, it's nice have a drink to keep you warm." Regardless of my worries it's really none of my business what the homeless do with the money. Once the hotel gives me my paycheck it's no longer their money and it is none of their business how I spend my paycheck. The same is true with the money I give to the homeless. Once the money leaves my hand it becomes their money and none of my business. I hope they choose a Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger over a bottle of Jack Daniels, but I can't make the choices for them. I can only try to help them get to the next day.

Third, we worry too much that we might get taken advantage of. What if they are faking it? What if they are lying to me? What if they are trying to trick me? All I have to say to such questions is, So What? If a homeless person lies or takes advantage of you, then so what? Let me ask you a question now. Either regrettably or shamefully, how many times have you taken advantage of the grace of Christ? How many times have you given into your selfish desires thinking you could use the grace of Christ clean up any mess left behind? How many times a day do you abuse the grace of Christ for the sake of your pride or lust? If Christ were merely human, then he would cut off the supply to grace a long time ago. But thankfully he is also divine and embodies the divine unconditional love of God. Thankfully we are made in the image of God and also posses the ability to express the divine unconditional love we do not deserve.

So this coming week I encourage those who live in the city to change their ideas about the giving of change to the homeless. Think of it not as giving change, but as giving grace. If God grants us more grace than we deserve, then how can we deny the homeless who are the most void of grace. For those living in the suburbs I encourage to visit the downtown and have your stereotypes completely blown away. Some might label downtown as nothing more than a wretched jungle, but the homeless call it home. Some might think of the homeless as lazy animals, but I tend to think of the homeless as children of God. As children of God I find both of us asking Christ, can you spare some grace?


Coming Next Week: Losing The Love Of Your Life


Jennifer,  3:55 PM  

I am amazed that you give every time you pass a homeless person. My immediate thought was how that would be a large percentage of my already stretched weekly budget.

I know I am just being defensive, but I believe it was my business when the homeless person who staked claim out side of my apartment used the money to buy cheap beer at the corner deli and then leave the cans and paper bags on the side walk for me to step over every morning. I was not going to help him litter my already dirty street.

I wish I could say I gave more change or dollar bills, but I have become almost immune. I have picked up the habit of most everyone else in my city and just walk by, maybe giving a little smile. Thanks for making me re-think my atitude.

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