To Those Without Homes: An Apology

 

peterparksafp1I was sitting in Palo Alto tonight working on a talk that I am going to give a week from tomorrow at Stanford University. It is not a lecture or anything that the academic people there are sponsoring; it’s a talk for the students who come to the campus ministry in which I work.   

Anyway, most of that information isn’t really important … what is important is that I, as a Christian, am going to be teaching Christian students … and what I am going to be teaching them about is also important.   

The talk about who Jesus is and who He isn’t (as if I have some great handle on this …), but indirectly it is about our worldview; what does it mean to be a Christian in this world?  How do we interact with the world and the culture around us? 

The talk isn’t finished yet, but I have a closing that I’m happy with.  The conclusion of the talk, in so many words, says that our problem is not that our world is just doomed and there is nothing that we can do about it, but that the Kingdom of God is available here and now, but no one is choosing to do anything about it.  We don’t really care about people suffering as long as those people aren’t us, and it is much easier to just live with an escapist worldview than it is to engage the real problems of the world … problems like homelessness, hunger, war, & sickness (physical, emotional, mental, and otherwise). 

The point is that the real Jesus wasn’t an escapist … he was incarnational.  He engaged the issues and sent us into the world to do the same thing, not to drag people into the fluffy-cloud Heaven of gnosticism and out of the “evil, dying, physical world.” 

Jesus fed the hungry, clothed the naked, healed the sick, and included the outcasts … what do we do? 

Shit, I’m teaching it … what do I do? 

As I left the coffee shop tonight I approached the corner of University Ave. and whatever street I was on.  There was a lady sitting up against a tree with a hand-written, cardboard sign and a paper cup.  She had been silent, but as she noticed my approach she spoke, just loud enough so that I could hear her.  She was not actually speaking to me … just for me: 

“It’s freezing” 

I didn’t acknowledge her.  As I got ready to turn the corner and put the uncomfortable sight behind me, at least for the night, she spoke again, this time to me. 

“Hello.” 

I responded: “Hello” but i didn’t slow down.  I had no intention of making this a real interaction, but out of habit said “how are you doing?” 

Big mistake.  I was not being honest is expressing any concern for her or how she was doing; I just assumed that she would lie right back to me and tell me that she was doing fine … then I could go on with my night and feel ok because I hadn’t totally ignored this woman … just her actual needs. 

This did not happen.  She spoke to my departing back: 

“Not good” … 

*pause to take in the hopelessness that I had forced her to embrace* … 

“Pray for me …” 

I did not turn around.

I did not speak. 

I got in my car, drove by her, and went to my home, food, bed, etc. 

WTF?!? 

When did I stop caring?  I know that I used to care for people.  How hard would it have been to go back and pray with her, or give her my jacket, or buy her a slice of pizza? 

As I drove away I though about going back and speaking with her as if she was actually a child of God like I am and other upper-middle class people are … but I did not go back.  Somehow my guilt from not doing anything when the opportunity was right in front of me was able to keep me from returning to that opportunity, as if I had just missed my chance to be a good person and it was now too late for me to do anything. 

Guilt is such a problem because it shifts the focus from the real issue to the person who is experiencing the guilty conscience.  My feelings and whether or not I am a good person becomes the issue with which I am concerned … it no longer has anything to do with the real-life person who has real-life needs.  I am beginning to understand why people say that guilt is not from God. 

I am writing this for a few reasons: 

1. The issue is more complicated and, at the same time, simpler than it feels.  I don’t know if that is possible except that sometimes it seems so simple and two seconds later it seems incredibly complicated.  We can easily become crippled by how complicated the issue of homelessness & poverty can seem and simple answers aren’t going to fix the problem.  On the other hand, in my more simplistic moments, it is not my problem to solve, but simply to engage; but to engage thoughtfully and not carelessly.  The point of this seemingly endless rant is that the conversation will continue and more people need to be a part of that conversation in purposeful, forward-moving ways.  Sometimes it will seem too simple and other times will feel hopelessly complicated, but what we must not do is pretend that there is no lady leaning up against that tree.  We are part of creating a reality that we must live in. 

2. To apologize to my students, friends, family, & co-workers, but mainly to people who live in poverty, on the streets whom I have simply ignored.  I am a hypocrite who abuses the name of Jesus and misrepresents Him and His message.  I always have been, sometimes more blatantly than others, and I will most likely continue that pattern.  I pray that I would not, but if my past is any indication of my future it would not be wise for anyone to trust my promise to change once and for all.   

I am sorry.  

I have no excuse. 

3. To bring to light an issue that should be (though it has not proven to be) impossible to ignore, and to invite others to join me in conversation and accountability surrounding the issues of homelessness, poverty, and hunger.

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~ by Will Norman on October 30, 2007.

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