So many of my friends and family look at homelessness and ask: Why don’t these people get a job? Don’t these people really WANT to live like that?
And then after asking such questions, they let their care for the poor slip through their fingers. And their questions set up the issue – their questions frame it – in a certain worldview that puts the will and even desires of the poor on trial, finds them guilty, and then leaves them to a supposedly self-imposed sentence.
But I don’t see the issue framed that way. I hold a Christian worldview which dictates the rule of LOVE.
Consider the Slave to the Grind
I remember as far back as 1984, sitting in a high school Psychology class where our teacher asked us to consider what drives a man to take a job he hates (or comes to hate over time) and keep it – maybe even excel at it? We could rephrase it as: Why go on?
And a room full of innocent teenagers talking it out began formulating a picture of our fathers slaving to the grind so that we could live in fine homes, wear new clothes to school each year, eat plenty of quality food, and even “keep up with the Jonses.” In that day and age, we were still “living the American Dream” and reaping the by-product of having a “better life” given to us than previous generations – and certainly better than people of other nations. And our fathers, some of them at least, had left home each day to toil hours and years of their lives away for the purpose of generating that gift for their loved ones.
Nearly 25 years later, when I found myself divorced and my personal/spiritual life in crisis, I remember the consoling words from four of my church brothers one night who seemed adamant that I was now poised to change my work life, if I so desired. These family men were still locked into career paths they had chosen in their early twenties, paths that they wished they could change, but due to marriage commitments, mortgages, and a sense of providing for their families… the option(s) no longer existed for them. They actually envied me!
Let’s change the metaphor from Slavery to Combat.
One of the lesser celebrated songs (and album) of the classic rock band, Kansas, depicts the same dynamic at work in a soldier facing combat. Check out this lyric:
(The Bells of St. James by Kansas)
Her letters gave me purpose
Her letters gave me pride
Armies far across the ocean
Guns and letters by our side
It was someone else’s homeland
It was someone else’s war
But at the line of the 38th parallel
It was her I fought them for…
And of course, as you surely can imagine, the rest of the song describes how the soldier musters on after he discovers his wife is no longer true to him.
In recent months, I have discovered a blog by a soldier who survived combat in Iraq only to see his faith in God die and be resurrected. And actually, he struggles deeply with God to maintain that faith. (It is one of my favorite websites.) And while there are profound differences between slaving at the grind and fighting in combat, there are a couple of important points of contact between them which point to my question and worldview through which to look at homeless.
Why go on?
In our day and age, chances are good that if you are reading here you are a survivor of divorce – either your own, that of your parents, or both. In fact there is a good chance that your home has been broken more than once. One of my early posts (Brok-n-homeless) on this blog joined the issues of divorce with homeless – a notion I have yet to see joined together in any literature, studies, lectures or research that I have encountered. But I think without it, we have not yet framed the issue of homelessness.
All the fretting in the world about giving a few dollars to a bum, and fearing that he/she “will just use it on booze or dope” only serves to justify not caring. But if you have lost your home, the question becomes: Why go on? Not, How do I get a job? Not, How do I spend this $5 wisely? Not, How do I show my thanks for this charity?
Instead, the worldview there supports the idea that now, thanks to this $5, I can numb my pain instead of kill myself. And these worldview issues are likely too deep for most people to plainly see and examine in some rational way – especially while they are existing day to day in alleys and back lots without a shower or a place to lay their head. They no longer have that family to work for or fight for. They see themselves as their own black holes in outer space sucking everything (including light and your spare change) into its vortex for destruction, with barely a shred of humanity that stubbornly has its appetites for numbing pleasures and novelties.
I think I am describing the worldview of the broader culture from the back side. My friends and family see life from the angle that seem to be printed in proverbial brochures, while the homeless see life through the other end of the same worldview lens. (Beware of mixed metaphors; but if St Paul did it – so can I.)
I do not mean to suggest that there is something wrong with work, providing for a family, or even gifting the next generation with grace earned through sacrificial commitments. In fact, I see that as the truly good part of the American Dream. But somehow it has been hijacked and put in service to the marketplace of lesser gods. The American Dream is based on a constitution that, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, separated church and state – thus cutting the Christian God out of the decision-making and power process by design. And filling that vacuum we find the gods of every whim and fancy, every Freudian or Nietzschean philosophy. And in the resulting worldview, homeless people deserve their plight, and the impotent church colludes with that idea.
But, if you take that homeless person before they reach maturity – in fact take that same person as an innocent, infant baby – and leave them on a street corner – they will die. That baby needs a HOME. In a HOME, that person will grow and mature. In a HOME, that person will heal – if healing can be had. In a HOME, that person will become fully human.
And in my Christian worldview, the only HOME capable of that is THE HOUSE OF GOD.
Jesus is the carpenter. His is a HOUSE that cannot be divided. May we approach him like little children!
Hear O Israel! YHWH, The LORD our God, IS ONE!
(I’m sure I’ve read that somewhere…)