Friday, July 01, 2005

Homeless Feast at Groomless Wedding

Would-be bride throws homeless a party;

When a would-be bride called off her wedding 12 days before the big event, she threw a party anyway -- and invited the homeless.

Residents of the Interfaith Family Shelter attended the bash thrown by Katie Hosking, 22, a medical assistant, and her parents...
An unusual solution, but there is a precedent for such behavior;

"A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for all is now ready.' But they all alike began to make excuses... So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.' And the servant said, 'Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' And the master said to the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.'"
- Luke 14
I'm sure the folks from the shelter appreciated the party, but I can't help wondering how they felt about it when they woke up the next day in the shelter, once again faced with the daily struggle to simply exist.

For some, the experience of an extravagant banquet may encourage them to work even harder to improve their situation, in the hope that one day they might host such a feast. But for others, a taste of the good life can be cause for becoming even more discouraged, and even bitter. The difficulty of the climb out of poverty becomes even more vivid by glimpsing how the other side lives. A one-time flood of generosity is not always the best way to address the needs of those living on the edge of desperation.

People are generous during the season of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Food and toys pour in for the poor. Such generosity is a wonderful thing. But, consider what might be done with those resources if they were spread out over a few months, instead of one deluge of charity that will bring relief for a few days. Sometimes I wonder if people give during the holidays more out of a need to feel good about themselves rather than a serious attempt to address the issues of hunger and homelessness. I suggested this once to a Captain in the Salvation Army . He was in charge of the shelter at which I was the Program Director. I almost lost my job on the spot. I suppose I understand why he got so upset. A couple of huge one-time donations are better than small ones trickling in throughout the year. Something is better than nothing. But is it?

Most of the poor in this country try as much as possible to stay invisible. It is considered un-American to be poor. They are ashamed. They feel like they have some flaw, some missing piece, that keeps them down. They are unworthy of a handout. When they accept one, they feel like a parasite, a drag on society.

If it wasn't for the shame, they would speak up and tell us that they'd rather have a job offer than a turkey on Thanksgiving. They'd rather have the security deposit for an apartment instead of plastic toys for the kids on Christmas. But they don't. They keep their eyes lowered, say thank you, and disappear as quickly as possible.

The US Department of Health and Human Services tells us that as many as 600,000 men, women and children go homeless each night in the wealthiest nation of the world. In New York City, estimates are that 30,000 people live in emergency shelters.

What are the solutions to this? There are plenty of good ideas floating around. But, I think the first step has to be to recognize that some people will always need a hand up. I'd estimate that about half of the homeless suffer from mental illness and drug abuse, or both. They need to get access to professional help for these problems. But, in the meantime, they need to be cared for.

Unfortunately, some of the more "successful" programs will not take residents with these kinds of problems. They cream the crop, taking only those who are employable, thus assuring they keep their stats up. The donors don't object to this practice, and the public seem to pay little attention to it. Why? Because of the almost universal, yet often unspoken, premise that help should only be given to those who prove they are worthy.

Any solution that consciously or unconsciously follows that premise will not solve the problem. As Christians, we should understand this. None of us are worthy of God's grace, God's unmerited favor. It is a free gift. Freely we have received, and freely we give.

We don't offer a hand up to those in need because they deserve it. We offer our hand to them because they are human, created in the image of God, and so members of our family. We don't offer our help out of our need to be generous, but as a response to their need, their current crisis, which might not always fall on Thanksgiving or Christmas.


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