Saturday, January 19, 2013

In The Park

I had a dream the other night that went like this:  A group of widows, including myself (I don’t know how I knew they were widows, I just knew) was standing around the conveyer belt in baggage claim at the airport. The belt started moving and out came the “baggage”.  There were no suitcases, just piles of men flopped on top of one another, squirming around like giant scifi maggots as they passed before us. It was an awful sight.

I’m no Daniel when it comes to dream interpretation, but this one seemed like a no-brainer. Kristen and I had just come back from Williams Park where we spent the afternoon with the homeless.  It was the epitome of baggage and much more. There were a few disabled and elderly guys who tugged at my heart strings, but mostly drugs dealers and scary people. We sat with Pops as if we were on a church picnic… snacking on peanuts and french fries, tossing bits to the pigeons, picking out gang symbols (well maybe your church doesn’t do this). Pops was obviously a fixture as he was warmly greeted by everyone who passed. We asked lots of questions about where people go at night, where they go to the bathroom, do they skip from park to park or mark their own territories. 

One young man told us he was selling……he named two street drugs that I’d never heard of and then, surprisingly, looked at us with a twinge of something that might have resembled remorse. He said he knew it was wrong to be doing this and thought of stopping. But he knew someone else would do it anyway so why not get the profit for himself.  Funny, when he said that I felt a twinge of something that might have resembled remorse. I believe I have justified my actions before, using that same reasoning. The mother in me wanted to shake a finger at him, but I knew the drug dealer in him also had a working finger, and I reminded myself I was just there to observe.

About 3:00 Pops nudged me and drew my attention to the stage area. A church van was unpacking rolled up blankets and care packages.  They had a microphone and announced their gifts to the masses. People started heading that way and lining up. Pops told me to go undercover, line up and see how it felt. I did but was immediately asked by a “resident” if I was REALLY going to take stuff. Wow…..busted before I even got started! Pops said I should have worn rattier clothes, but I explained to him that these WERE my rattier clothes.

I have to say I was proud at that moment to be associated with the Christians, who were putting their faith into action, displaying the compassionate heart of Christ through their generosity. But then the scene changed.  Instead of passing out the gifts to the patiently waiting, the leader announced we’d have a chorus of Amazing Grace, which ran into four or five badly sung verses. I saw a few of us politely trying to sing along. Then there was another hymn or two that were less familiar. All this time the blankets and care packages were stacked in the background, hostages waiting for the end of these negotiations.

Then…… a sermon…..a long one………one that was hard for me to follow…… involving Bible characters I can’t remember.  Still everyone stood in line… staring with blank expressions (I think they were used to this drill)……as the blankets stared back. I wanted to shout out, “GIVE UP THE GOODS OR GET OUT!!!!!!!!!!” Gee, was I becoming absorbed into the collective…even with my good clothes?????

I had to walk away. Then Kristin and I vented our frustration with the well-meaning Christians and how we would have done it differently. But… we weren’t doing it.  And I don’t know anyone else who is. And I’m not sure they should really. The question is raised, when does Christian charity become enabling destructive behaviors?  You’ve asked yourself that when you’ve slipped a 20 to a man on the corner with a sign. Or maybe you haven’t .  I don’t know.  There are lots of questions.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

New Adventure

So this was a very unusual week for me. I actually worked……..all five days!  By Friday night I was spent but my crisp new paycheck wasn’t. So today in Home Depot when I saw the round rug I’d been looking for since last January…..well, do you like it?

There was a tiny little moral dilemma rolled up in its Belgian threads. You see, I have been spending some time with Linda, who is the semi-homeless woman we met on the street in front of my house the night we went caroling. As you recall,  she walked around singing with us then came in for cider and presents. I remember thinking at the time……this MIGHT not be a good thing! But what do you do when a homeless woman appears on your doorstep during Christmas and wants to join in the fun? Uhhhhhhh…..

I’ve been giving her a little money here and there and some food and toiletries, and then reading online that giving handouts to the homeless is a bad idea. But she tries to work when she can (cleaning houses) and is living at a “no-tell motel” down the road. That seems to be a common practice of the impoverished. They can’t come up with first and last month’s rent and security deposit, so they pay a fortune to stay at a motel at a daily or weekly rate. Does that make sense?

Today I had lunch with Kristen, the young woman who had assisted Linda before, and “Pops”, a local semi-homeless man (moteler) who has been an outspoken advocate for homeless rights. Kristen and I are taking a crash course in Homeless Issues 101 in hopes of helping Linda and maybe others as well. Pops is taking us to Williams Park tomorrow where the seriously homeless hang out.  It will be an adventure on par with Alaska, I’m afraid.

So what’s the dilemma? Oh, you know. Just thinking how decadent it is to spend so much on a rug, when there are neighbors who can’t afford a floor. When I stand at the pearly gates, is St. Peter going to have a photo of my lovely new rug in the power point presentation…..the one entitled, “Why Should I Let You In?”

Talk about contrasts (see previous post)!!!!  I have all these beautiful THINGS to enjoy AND a full week’s work behind me.  I’m squirming!  The good little angel on my shoulder reminds me that Abraham and all the Old Testament guys were blessed with stuff from God (goat rugs and such) and He enjoyed watching them enjoy it. On the other hand, Paul and the New Testament guys apparently took on poverty as an example to us of the righteous living Christ expects.

Sheesh! I’m filtering. Looking for that comfortable place between the testaments. Too bad there isn’t a “Middle Age” Testament  between the old and new, like with people.  I’d be there about now.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


I have begun to think more and more about the circumstances of life in terms of contrast (I know you and the Chinese were already doing this and I am just learning it late). Things don’t always make sense until you flip the pancake. For instance, “up” would have no meaning without “down”.  “Go” doesn’t mean anything unless you know to “come”. When we teach little children to read (which is mainly teaching them to think linguistically), we always start with those basic concepts. Even before a child can sound out “big” and “small” phonetically, he can read a little story with picture clues if the concepts are familiar: “The elephant is big” only because “the snail is small.”

The world presents itself to us in dichotomy. Some places are brutally hot and some are deathly cold. For every tree that is old and rotting, there is a seedling that springs new and vital. Then there are those physics laws which we are glad someone discovered but we can no longer recite: For every action there is some kind of reaction of some sort that has an equal opportunity to be opposite. Close enough?

These realities of nature act as basal readers (remember those: Run Spot Run…) to prepare us for our earthly schooling. Sometimes I feel like what I’m going through can only be understood in terms of an opposite. King Solomon (who’s fame lies in naming my blog) got it right when he said that for everything (Turn Turn Turn) there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven. He goes on to name some of those seasons: a time to be born, a time to die, a time to love, a time to hate, a time to scatter, a time to gather together, etc.  And you and I both know those seasons intermingle and overlap.

This morning I was reading the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. I think God can match Tolkien in storytelling (although God doesn’t use as much detail, but His stories are true). Joseph, as you may know, went through some very horrific struggles, being sold by his brothers into slavery then imprisoned on false charges (not unlike Jean Valjean who’s movie I saw yesterday and I highly recommend although the singing is a little off). Joseph was delivered from his enemies, appointed Pharoah’s right hand man and became very prosperous and happy. He named his son Ephraim because “God made me fruitful in the land of my suffering”.

Fruitful in the land of suffering. That was my meditation this morning. Greg died 5 years ago today. This “season” of my life has been a land of suffering at times.  And yet fruit has always covered my table and more than ever I am savoring the sweetness. I relish it because I have tasted the bitter.

It seems the design of the world allows for, and even demands, that opposites coexist. It’s God’s way.