Saturday, January 19, 2013
In The Park
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.