Sometimes people think I am homeless.
Yes. When you sit on a street corner eating a sandwich, ride a bike across town with a placard that says “Pray for the Homeless”, or spend the night in the park next to a dumpster, the people who see you there are apt to think you are homeless. And since I have done all those things, people have often thought I was homeless.
It is humbling.
I hear people say they are “humbled” by being honored sometimes. The football coach wins a championship, and then post-season they throw him a banquet where he gives a speech and says he is “humbled” by all the support or by the honor bestowed etc. Sometimes politicians talk that way. Sometimes celebrities talk that way. And I gotta say, I don’t really get it. Because I have frequently been confused with the homeless, and that is quite a different experience – one I would describe as “HUMBLING”!
I read a post by a Christian lady early this morning where she talked about her concern for the homeless and how her care is complicated with worries over whether her spare change will fund bad behaviors and addiction or whether the beggar wearing new shoes is even homeless at all. And I think to myself, yeah, she might have seen me there on that corner (except she is not from my town).
Let me stipulate, I do not beg for money on the streets. I never have. It is true that people have given me money on a few occasions. A couple of times, individuals gave $20, others have given $5 or $1 or $2. But I never solicited such, and always protested the gift, except the time the guy walked up and tucked it in my pocket and then walked away. So, yeah, it is possible that the person you give money to is not really even homeless, but so what? If you give, you will not lose your reward! (Mark 9:41/Matt. 10:42). The real restriction Jesus puts on your giving is not how much or how it will be used/misused, but whether you do it to be seen by others! (Matt. 6:1-3). So blogging about it later is where the problem really arises.
But back to my real point: I have walked a block in the shoes of the homeless, I have experienced the shame of being mistaken as one of them; I have experienced the shame of receiving alms. That is an embrace of humiliation and shame (think of St. Paul’s instruction to the Philippians to have this attitude (Phil. 2:5-8). It is a complete change in perspective to stand on a street corner beneath your contempt!
And you don’t even think it is beneath your contempt, but that is what you are actually wrestling with when you post your concerns on the blogs or facebook. You take a break from your talk about recipes, vacations, favorite shopping experiences, political opinions and all that to exercise your demons, your worries about that stranger at the red light you see out your car window on your daily commute that haunts your conscience while day in and day out you try to ignore him. And you soothe your conscience by discussing how you think giving him money will probably actually do him harm or questioning how you could actually know whether he is really homeless anyway. And then you give a little change, maybe get his name even, sometimes go so far as to pray for him or whatever, and though your experience isn’t worthy of a feature-length, Hollywood movie (think The Soloist, for instance), you share it on social media and feign some high moralist position afterward. Thus you mask your own contempt and think you have made a difference after all.
Yeah, this whole blog is rumbling around beneath that contempt. And I don’t want to discourage you by pointing this out at all. I actually want to encourage you instead. You are just beginning to wrestle with your own contempt, and that is a good start! Keep wrestling that angel until the morning and you just might prevail with God and get your blessing! (Gen. 32).
I have been mistaken for homeless. It changes your perspective at a fundamental place. I mean, I used to work in the Psych Ward with mental patients, many of whom reside on the streets, and I met this one young man with wild hair and bad delusions who I tried to emulate. And sure enough after a few months of growing my hair out, one day my wife, with contempt in her voice told me I looked “like a mental patient”, which is exactly what I was going for! And then as I came home one morning from an all-night ministry outing, stopping by the beauty-products store to pick up an item for my wife, arriving early before it actually opened, taking a seat on the bench out front to wait, and then entering to ask the clerk for the special mascara and seeing myself through her very worried and suspicious eyes, I had a new perspective!
Yeah, that is a long complex sentence, but it is a life-changing, perspective-changing moment recounted. It was a journey from the place of relative comfort, which it turns out is more smug than I had ever realized, to the place of casual and unreflective scorn and contempt in the community I otherwise call HOME. And I gotta say, if that were my daily experience, and if I felt powerless to get out of it, I really think my self-perception would suffer deeply from the phenom psychologists and sociologists call “The Looking Glass Self“.
This is a whole other level of depth for discussing homelessness – one I don’t really see in any of the literature or on the blogs or facebook. But it is one I invite you to consider. I encourage you to humble yourself before the Lord, to wrestle the angel, and then go out and love that neighbor who appears homeless.