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.


  1. Kim , the picture you painted was so vivid I felt like I was there with you. I agree with you that the Church has good intentions but they are turning the masses off. We don't have to tell people about God if they see him in us they will be lead by the spirit to ask more about what makes us so peculiar. The people know they are from a church or good organization already. How about giving it all out and then who ever wants to stay and sing can. How about giving it out with a bible and a business card where the people can call or go to for help. Yes, there are so many ways of doing it with love. See they don't know because they are on the other side of the fence. Gary my husband and I show Gods love by feeding people. If you put food in someone's belly it always puts a smile on their face and gives you a chance to share Gods love if asked or the opportunity presents itself. - Thanks Kim for the insight this is good stuff!

  2. Bridgett,

    Thanks so much for your comments. I think we all have a lot to learn from each other.

  3. As I read this I felt trapped myself and embarrassed...oh, the things we do without thinking through the consequences! Here's to praying we get a clue as Christians how to meet needs and share the Gospel effectively at the same time!

    1. Janet,

      There really is a lot to think through in order to be most effective. Much prayer required.

  4. I was really hoping the church was just going to hand them out. When we were in Gainesville, the men staying in the emergency shelter were required to attend Sunday church. Our church. When we hired a new director she informed us of that (I naively thought they wanted to come) and we changed the rule. I thought some would still come. They didn't. I was disappointed and our numbers took a beating but it was the right thing do.

    There's a time and need for both. A time to give with no strings and a time to consider is the best help always giving. It's hard to argue giving food and blankets. Money to one on the corner? Probably not a good idea. (Although I have my favorite little man I slip a dollar to now and then)

    I do think you're in the right church. The one on the "pew" next to Pops.

    1. I think the city would rather no one give food and blankets to the park dwellers. I know there are laws governing park use. I read somewhere that the city proclaimed the homeless could stay in one of two places....... a shelter or jail.