November 1, 2005

A Mile in Their Shoes

After waking up this morning, my wife turns to me and says (after good morning), “honey, why don’t you come to downtown and volunteer instead of sitting around?” Now, I wasn’t sure what to make of that, because when I’m there I don’t really feel like I sit around all the time – I do help out when she asks – so I said so; “I do volunteer … why would you think I don’t?” And so she says “well … yes … sort of … but you really just kind of sit there until I have to ask you to do something.”

While I was glad we were on the same page, her tone of voice bothered me – she sounded like she thought that was bad. “What’s wrong with that?” I asked. “You sit there,” she said, “and play on your little shiny laptop while all these poor people come in to get food. Well, maybe not play, I know you’re doing work, but it’s still on a shiny laptop.” After I realized what she was saying, being the gallant man I am, I told her I’d think about it.

And the more I thought about it, the worse I felt. I usually feel pretty good about being there, because I don’t get in the way, and I get to be near my wife while I write the music I’d otherwise be writing alone at home. I felt like I had a pretty good deal. And yet, whenever she asks me to work with a client, it usually ends up being the part where I get their food and not the part where I have to talk with them. And then I thought about compassion – what do I feel when I see these people that makes me want to get their food and not talk with them like another human being. I mean, I’m not a shy kind of guy usually, but for some reason, in these settings (which are in some ways just like the coffee shops and restaurants that I’ve worked in), I get nervous to the point where I’d prefer to focus on my laptop and shut out the world around me.

And I came to the conclusion that I really don’t feel much of anything for those people; no compassion, no kindness, no mercy … not really even pity. In fact, I feel disdain towards many (not all, I’m not a monster) of them, looking at their bad choices and thinking that if they really cared, they could always go get a job and they wouldn’t need our help. They must just be lazy and trying to take advantage of the system instead of working for what they want.

And many of them are – I see people come from Eddie O’Brien’s (a bar and restaurant across the street) where they just had lunch, over to the food pantry to get food, where they annoy the volunteers by telling them exactly (to the brand-name and flavor) what they want, and that nothing else will do. They carry cell phones and wear nice enough clothing (not usually very stylish, but sometimes). I see those people and all I think of is that justice is not being done, that they shouldn’t be getting food from us, that the food should be saved for people who really need it.

And the more I thought about it, the more I began to hate my attitude. They’re God’s children too, just like me, only their bad choices focused around their finances or their education or maybe – just maybe – they didn’t make a bad choice at all and yet the world still chose them to be the brunt of ill luck. Maybe lots of those people really are just doing what they know and have never had anyone to invest in them – parents, grandparents, friends, anyone – to show them that there’s a better way, a more satisfying way to live life.

And it occurs to me, after reading
Greg’s post, that (as I said in my comment) it takes the relationship to understand a person’s true needs – and to walk a mile or maybe a few in their shoes. Maybe the reason that people like me have no compassion is that we haven’t walked in the shoes of these people at all. We’ve never been poor, not really, and we didn’t grow up in the sort of homes they did, we didn’t lose the sort of things they lost, we didn’t not-have the sorts of things they didn’t.

We’re spoiled.

Or maybe they’re “underprivileged” or whatever. Political-correctness aside, I’m to the point where I have a choice to make – do I walk in their shoes or don’t I? It means putting a lot of stuff aside (my shiny laptop maybe?) or getting rid of altogether. It means wandering way out of my comfort zone and doing stuff I’m not used to and I don’t think I’ll like very much – like going hungry; like humiliating myself by searching for low-level fast-food jobs or garbage-jobs or things like that. I can’t take away my education, sadly, but I don’t have to mention it when I interview.

Or maybe I’ll keep on doing what I’m doing and after this all passes, find myself back where I started, no more humble and no more patient and no more compassionate than I was when I started … or maybe I’ll learn something from all this and find my God-given compassion.
"As for those who seemed to be important — whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance — those men added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do." [Galatians 2:6-10]

4 comments:

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Alisa said...

In my opinion, which you did ask for just by having a comment section open on this post by the way, you ought to quit wining about it and lilsten to your heart. 1) Is that where God wants you, feeding the hungry? If God has not put a call on your heart, don't fake it or force it. and 2) Weather or not they are mis-using the gift isn't your business. When you give, it should be because the Father told you to do it. If a drunk puchases whiskey with your $5.00, that's between him and God. You did what He told you to do. God could very possibly be creating a 'place for wrath' by which God can later say to one, "See here, remember when it was given to you....".

I would recommend that you examine your motives for going and doing.

But that's just my opinion :)
Blessings, Alisa

Chris said...

Thanks for reading :) I think that the blog was about examining motives … that it was the very purpose for writing it, in fact. In some manner, I think I go to Downtown because I’m trying to be obedient, since God tells us to feed the poor and clothe the hungry [side note: Downtown is the only pantry in our city that doesn’t require proof of income or that sort of thing, called by the other “Christians” in the community a ‘grocery store’ because we always have bare shelves from handing out so much food]. And the question remains, if my motives are entirely about obedience and/or guilt, do I stop going? At what point are my motives “pure” to serve? Is it willing myself to obey (and thus giving up my self-control) that allows God to shape me into someone with pure or more-pure motives?

Alisa said...

Chris,

WOW. You're fast!

Where exactly do you read that Jesus tells us to feed the poor?

Jesus touched those that came into His way, His life or His walk. He never went looking for the needy. And just because He restored the sight of one blind man, didn't obligate Him to restore the sight of all who were blind.

I do not believe in setting up soup kitchens under 'Christian' leadership. If governments want to head up such a project, go for it, but for Jesus Followers to invest such time and resources and grief (and it is grievous for those with their whole heart in it)...

I just see it as a losing battle because Jesus already told us "The poor you will have with you always". [that sounds pretty definite]

Besides, Jesus said "My yoke is easy and my burden is light" and housing the homeless and feeding the poor is neither of those things. And it's an impossible task right from the get go when
He said it would be so.

I believe that if someone, such as a Susie, asks us for help, we are obligated to do what we can do for them.

In Matthew 5, Jesus was pretty clear on how to treat a non-believer, or even an enemy. Whatever they ask, give it to them and then some. [How much more so for a fellow follwer?]

Blessings, Alisa