I have been writing here on this blog for well over a year, and no one has ever pointed out to me in this forum that not all homeless people are simply innocent victims of circumstance. In fact quite often they are jerks too.
I am well aware that my writings offer a certain kind of lens (or that they have a tendency to show only limited viewpoints) which effectively turn a blind eye on some ugly aspects. And I guess this post is meant, in part, to apologize (make defense) for that, but also to acknowledge work that needs to be done in those other areas as well. This blog is not intended to be comprehensive in the most exhaustive ways, but perhaps a post here and there giving voice to those less attended areas will lend weight to reconciliation.
First the caveat:
In general, and almost entirely, this blog demonstrates that Jesus, the Lord and Savior of Holy Scriptures – the one so highly esteemed Sunday mornings across this city – identifies himself with the poor and vulnerable – “the least of these” – which certainly includes the street homeless. And he makes no distinction between the “deserving” poor and homeless and the “undeserving”. Those are terms our society brings to the table which I believe will backfire on those who use them in the coming Judgment of the goats and sheep where Jesus makes this identification known (Matt. 25). Thus, even the scoundrels among those lower ranks are apt to be him, as far as we are concerned, and since this blog always orients remarks around Jesus, there is little reason to point out that some of those poor souls are jerks.
But THEY ARE JERKS IN PLENTY and they themselves will tell you as much.
One of the saddest aspects of my ministry is listening. You know – that skill that makes for a good friend? Yes, that one. Because sooooooo often when I listen to the homeless, they complain at length about other homeless! And if you hang out among them very long, you begin to see why. And honestly, I really think they are giving voice to the same irritations that most White, middle-class folk just drive past or lock their doors to keep outside. The difference is that the homeless are stuck with each other and must deal with each other rather than ignore each other.
Some of these bums are mean drunks that will hurt you. Others are messy drunks that will leave their nastiness strewn all over the lawn, the park, the parking lot – wherever! And I really sympathize with this complaint! I know lots of relatively responsible homeless people who find a good spot to crash repeatedly and who arrive late, leave early, pick up after themselves so as not to draw negative attention, but once their spot is exposed to these clowns, the public ire gets drawn unfairly on the “good” and “deserving” ones! And there’s not any rules or laws that help that. The public will lump them all together for scorn, and then the “responsible” ones have to lump it with the rest.
That is just one small example among many I could offer along that line, but I think you get the gist of it.
Then there are those who want to argue against me. This kind just astound me. I recall an episode last year when some other street ministers caught wind of a new policy enacted at one of the bigger churches downtown to reject the homeless from joining their worship. (I will keep that church nameless in this post.) It actually was unclear whether the church had really enacted such a policy, but the fact that it was rumored was enough to prompt a handful of these street ministers to pay that worship service a visit WITH SOME HOMELESS FRIENDS COMING ALONG TOO.
The local media was contacted. Even the mayor’s office supposedly was watching this closely (at first this was merely rumored too, but the strong police presence that Sunday morning suggested that it was true). And I was invited to come as well, which I did – BUT – Because I had officially been kicked out of the Premier Homeless Church (which was a subsidiary, we might say, of the big church the group was focused on) I decided to participate by outfitting the group of invaders with bright Fat Beggars tee shirts so that they looked like neon Easter eggs parading into that church while I obeyed the restriction placed on me.
Now, you would think that the homeless would look at this and see their opportunity to flex a moral muscle.
You would think. I can easily imagine the faint of heart opting out, but there is a lot of anger out there, and this provided a constructive avenue for it. The plan was quite simple. The street ministers and a handful of homeless would attempt to enter the worship service and participate as equals with everyone else. If access was allowed, there would be no story and the media would have no reason to cover it, but the homeless would now know they are welcome. If they were denied access, the media would have a story and the church would be shamed by its un-Christian policy being exposed before the whole world.
But some of the homeless told us that the leadership at the Premier Homeless Church had gotten wind of the intervention and disapproved. These homeless claimed that the staff there warned of sanctions and reprisals if anyone participated.
While I did not actually verify any of those claims personally, I did encounter a handful of homeless people who turned out on the streets to preach against us! What a trip that was! Homeless jerks accusing us of dividing the church when our mission was quite the opposite; it was one of inclusion! But these homeless preachers were very shrill and boisterous as they denounced us. You could try to talk with them, but they were shouting at us! What was most saddening was how that almost became the media story!
And it reminded me of Moses in the brickyard announcing to Pharaoh’s task masters and the Hebrew laborers that YHWH has blown in off the desert with a message: Let My people go! And almost immediately the task masters and Pharaoh take offense, which is no surprise, but also the Hebrews complain and thus begins their habit of murmuring, which of course earns them no points with God! (See Exodus 5).
I point out this long story to say: Yes. Homeless people can be jerks too. And while the usual kind of stuff is relatively easy for a guy like me to blow off, this example really hit close to home.
(Just so you know, the big church did allow access to the poor. If there ever was such a policy, this publicity stunt nipped it in the bud. However, it is possible that there never was one, and that it was only rumored. Of course, that begs the question about how so much hoopla got stirred up over it, but nevertheless no such policy was ever proven to my satisfaction, and the whole stink blew over in a matter of days.)
So, back to my point.
Homeless people can be jerks too. And I am quite certain that more than one ministry staff in this town thinks I am a jerk as well. This blog rarely features the short-comings of the poor, not because they don’t exist, not because I am unaware of them, but because dwelling on them does little to serve my purpose. However, we all must acknowledge our sins, and that goes for the poor as well as the rich. This is part of the recipe for reconciliation.
And to that I will return in part II.