Sitting behind me in that photo is Sitting Bull.
He is one of the icons in history that helps guide my actions.
He prophesied the annihilation of Custer’s battalion at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
The secret to his prophecy was that he was able to unite tribes that never were able to see eye to eye before.
Over the course of the first half of 1876, Sitting Bull’s camp continually expanded, as natives joined him for safety in numbers. His leadership had attracted warriors and families, creating an extensive village estimated at more than 10,000 people.
That’s how they defeated Custer. Uniting is incredibly powerful.
Whether we know it or not, the poor stay poor because we divide them and demoralize them and generally look down on them.
If I’ve heard it one time I’ve heard it a hundred times: Panhandlers are scamming us. They drive luxury cars, wear designer clothes and live the easy life “pretending” to be needy.
You might as well say:
- Scantily clothed women are asking to be raped.
- There isn’t racism. Black people are just looking for a handout.
- Guns don’t kill. People kill.
All of these clever statements simplify and largely misdirect the issue at hand.
Every time one of these statements is uttered it is an artillery shell that explodes the core issue.
- Women are being raped.
- There is racism against blacks.
- Guns are used in murders.
- Poor people are poor.
But the simplistic statements do a great job of redirecting the conversation to some sort of politically charged fight.
It’s really brilliant when you think about it. People start arguing about whether or not the words are true and immediately forget the issue at hand.
If the conversation ever happens to get back to the main issue both sides will quickly agree they don’t know what the answer is. Or that the answer rests in someone else’s hands. We liberals often put all the weight on the government thereby conveniently avoiding actually helping the issue at hand.
I mean really: If you hate gun violence so much why don’t you raise money for gun locks instead of just whining on Facebook. And on the other side, if you love your guns so much why don’t you advocate with your fellow gun lovers to keep those things locked up.
All these fights do is make the subject of the fight want to shrink away and disappear.
Today the hashtag #MeToo is trending on Twitter.
It’s highlighting the sexual harassment of women.
It’s a big deal because women have felt like all this sexual harassment is just the way it is. Maybe they are being prude and wrong for not liking being groped and catcalled.
Finally they can come together on this topic.
Until now they lived with this reality alone and isolated. And it’s quite possible after all this dies down things will go back to the way they were and women will continue to be sexually harassed. It might even get worse because they chose to stand up for themselves. I guarantee some asshole guy is out there right now telling women they are just cry babies.
All of these bigoted kinds of thinking are powerful forces of disenfranchisement. The words and thoughts are easy to say. But the results are powerful and hugely destructive.
We constantly ask ourselves: when has charity gone from being useful to being enabling?
If we give the poor too much aren’t they going to just take the handout and do nothing?
That sentiment comes from people that have never had to take handouts before.
In the depression my grandfather refused to take free food or any other services offered. He was too proud to take a handout.
It’s an American pride that feels that way. You might even think highly of him for making that “noble” choice.
But in reality it made the life of his 3 daughters and wife incredibly stressful and hard. Food was rare. Life was brutal.
Another way of looking at his choice was that it was selfish. He couldn’t stand in a breadline for his family. He would rather they not have food.
It is incredibly difficult to always being on the receiving end of a handout. You feel terrible.
You feel worthless. You feel like you are just a parasite.
Mind you, almost every single person we deal with that is currently homeless had a career. They were hard workers. They were pulling their own.
I see people every single day come to us embarrassed and ashamed they have gotten to the point where they have to ask for a free tent.
We have to ask ourselves who we are. What is our moral compass? I ask this particularly of Christians. What does it mean to you to be a Christian? Is it just that you said the magic words to get into heaven? Or do the teachings of Jesus guide you?
I don’t care which answer you choose. I would just ask that you consciously decide what being a Christian means in your life.
For me being a Christian focuses on 1 Corinthians 13:13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
I choose to focus on Love. (Please don’t tell me I’m wrong in how I choose to view Christianity. I seriously considered leaving this entire thought out just because of the controversy it’s sure to dig up. It’s what I believe. And that’s that. I just felt it important to say this so you can get a sense of my core motivations.)
I am not concerned about “indulging” the poor. Am I enabling them? I guess actually I am. I’m enabling them to get some stability and safety in their lives. Our food pantry gives them food to eat every day. Our tarps keep them dry in the rain. Our shower keeps them clean. Our laundry washes their clothes.
And those items together create an even more indulgent enabler. Because it is a self-run facility they ALL have to contribute to the community. This makes them useful and valuable which then leads to a purpose-driven life which creates dignity.
Could it be possible that we make it so comfortable in our tent city that someone chooses to live out the rest of their days with us? If they continue to contribute to the community and continue to move forward in their personal lives, which are both requirements to stay with us, then I guess the answer is yes.
Ask me in 5 years if people love their year round tent living in Northeast Ohio so much they just never leave.
My focus on love leaves no space in my mind and heart about whether or not our tent village is “enabling” people. That’s not my concern.
All I know is that there are people living like animals in the woods. They don’t live there because they want to live that way. They live there because they have nowhere else to go. That’s my only concern. I want to fix that.
We are so far away from helping the poorest of the poor in America we really don’t need to spend any mental and emotional hand-wringing energy wondering if we’re giving them too much. We are nowhere near the point of having that conversation.
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