The Rev. David Buck sits next to the Jesus the Homeless statue that was installed in front of his church, St. Alban’s Episcopal, in Davidson, N.C.
This statue of a homeless Jesus disturbed many in Davidson, N.C. Read the whole story at NPR. My favorite quote:
“One woman from the neighborhood actually called police the first time she drove by,” says David Boraks, editor of DavidsonNews.net. “She thought it was an actual homeless person.”
That’s right. Somebody called the cops on Jesus.
But Jesus was homeless. “And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20, KJV)
And many, many others – far too many in my own country – also have not where to lay their heads, and the problem continues to get worse, and it’s a difficult issue. A recent article by KSL, Utah’s dominant news source, investigated the seemingly ubiquitous panhandlers with cardboard signs. Their findings were unsettling: many supposed “homeless” were not.
For Utahns, this becomes an even thornier question when their own scriptures speak so powerfully about sharing what we have with the poor:
And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? – Book of Mormon, Mosiah 4:16-19
I’ve been approached by many panhandlers. Sometimes I’ve given, and too generously for my own budget; other times, I have not – and have always felt badly that I couldn’t help. But I know that along the way, I’ve been stung by con-men and scammers, and they can be so very aggressive, and at the same time so very convincing. It’s very hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Unfortunately, unlike modern online games, people don’t have little bars floating over their heads to show how much health they have left. You have to trust, and that’s not always easy; Frank Crane has been attributed as saying, “You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.”
For the day-to-day encounters, there’s no easy answer. For myself, I give when I can. When I can’t, I try to keep in mind that “I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.” But even that is cold comfort, because for so many, the need is real. Read up on 7 Myths About the Homeless that have been debunked. It’s not at all clear-cut.
As a society, we tend to filter out the homeless; the above video illustrates the problem in a very moving way.
For me, the issue strikes very close to home. One of my children has been living rough for almost half her life. I want nothing more for her than to have a stable, peaceful existence where she can provide for herself and have enough. I can’t just take her in – it’s not as simple as that. And I’m not in the financial position to be able to support her externally except on occasion. It is a serious dilemma.
There are valid ways of helping the homeless. Giving money directly is generally discouraged, simply because there is no guarantee that panhandlers will spend it in ways that increase the quality of their lives. But it’s important to remember that the availability of social services is not equal for all; single white females who are not drug addicts or otherwise handicapped find the social net is full of holes.
I’m not a sociologist, or a wealthy philanthropist (much to my chagrin.) I have no sweeping, long-term answers. But I see the problem and wish that I could do more. From where I sit, spending a hell of a lot less on fruitless and interminable military campaigns and instead redirecting those resources to raising the standard of living of our own people would be a good place to start.
The Old Wolf has spoken.