The Immigration Crisis, Right to Life, and Birthdays.

Really, there are times in my life when I know better than to go on Facebook.  Lately I’ve been having to bite my lip and quickly scroll past angry screeds about the recent immigration crisis, followed by the usual pictures of aborted fetuses and cheery Right-to-Life posts that say things like “everyone deserves to have a birthday!  Vote for life!”

And I find my patience quickly dwindling down to nothing.  Let me tell you a story:  5 years ago now, I was the site supervisor for a homeless shelter.  One of our families had a child who had a birthday while they were still our guests.  Her parents, feeling horrible about the fact that she couldn’t really have friends over for a sleepover like other young girls, went all out.  They used their electronic benefits to buy cake and cookies and balloons and presents, and they treated her like a princess.  I was telling someone about this, thinking it was a touching story of finding hope in the midst of hopelessness, and that person responded:

“If they had money, why didn’t they use it to get out of there?”

Well, there are a few responses to that.  One is that the amount of money spent on that party, which couldn’t have amounted to much more than what I have in a coin jar on my dresser on any given day, wouldn’t have been enough to pay for an apartment.  The other, more important response, is:  doesn’t every child have a right to have some pleasant memories in their life?  Do you really want to give a child the memory of no party, no desert, no presents, simply because their parent was poor?  Do you want a child to have the memory of crying themselves to sleep in a homeless shelter?  Is that really what we want?

Every child deserves to celebrate a birthday, huh?

So this immigration crisis, or refugee crisis, or what have you.  These 50,000 young children here in America, parentless, because their countries are awash in crime and poverty and chaos- do they deserve birthdays?  Or are they, like the child of the homeless couple, doomed to be judge as worthy of experiencing pain because it is a just punishment for the wrongs of their forefathers?

Truly, I do not understand the overwhelming attitude of intolerance and rage that is being expressed by people who are otherwise caring individuals.  I do get the sentiment that every child deserves a birthday.  People imagine a sort of dream life that aborted babies are missing out on- a life that involves loving parents, birthday parties, being wanted and needed and celebrated.  To have that potential extinguished is certainly a painful conceit.  So I do understand, I do.  I find it hard to comprehend how such tender-hearted people cannot concieve of the fact that such potential was surely lost from the time the proverbial pee stick turned blue, as this child was neither wanted nor celebrated from the start, and simply being born is no guarantee of that sad fact changing.

Take the refugee children, for example.  Are they celebrated?  Wanted?  Needed?  Their parents loved them enough to face the fact that they may never again see them, but to at least risk the possibility of a secure future elsewhere, far away from their now empty arms.  But what future is that?

Given the fact that they are being deported back to homes which may now be empty as a result of the drug wars, it’s not a future of birthdays.

Now, back to the homeless girl’s birthday:  I’m sure that no one really wanted her to cry herself to sleep.  What anyone whom I asked said was that her parents should be more responsible.  “I want her to have the kind of parents who get her out of that life!”  Ah, yes, of course.  If only we could take the generations of poverty, distress, maltreatment, lack of education and societal disregard that landed her there in the first place, she’d have a proper birthday!  The sentiment, once picked apart, is that her birthday shouldn’t come at taxpayer expense.  Someone *else* needs to be responsible, am I right?

There’s a fundamental injustice, though.  We can’t have it both ways.  We can’t say, “every child deserves a life of being wanted and celebrated” and then say, “but if the people in their life are not providing that it’s not MY fault.”

If we truly believe that there is a baseline, a basic life of pleasure and comforts that every child should have, don’t we have a responsibility to secure that?  Even if it hurts our pocketbooks?

When I hear people saying that it is the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico that are to blame for the plight of children and THOSE people should be responsible for securing the children’s futures, I burn.

I burn.

I am consumed.

If there is a moral imperative of which WE are conscious which OTHERS ignore, guess whose responsibility it is to secure it?  Ours.  That is like watching an old lady walk into traffic blind, then pointing at the other onlookers and saying, “YOU should have known to give her your hand.”

NO.  NO.  NO.

If you believe every child deserves to be loved, every child deserves a future, every child deserves a birthday cake- don’t point your fingers elsewhere and say that it can’t be our responsibility to open our borders and our homes.  It has to be.

It just has to be.

If you want every child to have a birthday, you’d better start learning Spanish well enough to sing “Las Mañanitas” and get to baking cakes.

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Societal oppression, dish soap, and knives.

The last few weeks I’ve been working on an essay project that has to do with societal oppression and the Bible.  (I’ll post the full text at some point.)  Of course throughout the whole thing I find myself ruminating about the families in poverty I work with.  Couple this with ongoing political debates about the Affordable Care Act, and I’ve felt like an emotional cocktail for the last month.  Of course, emotional cocktail means blog post eventually, because why feel and think about all of this stuff if not to lay it at your ever-patient feet?

The first thing I was thinking about was dish soap.  For the average family, dish soap is something you use to wash dishes.  You know you’re poor when you realize it also cleans floors, can be used as a body wash in a pinch (but not your privates- that stings), as a laundry detergent, to clean floors, and to bathe puppies.  Oh, yes.  When I was working at the shelter, we used to have families that didn’t like the Tide detergent we provided for free (for use in a High Efficiency front loading washer) and would use dish soap instead.  The first time I had to mop several gallons of soapy water off the floor because the seal started to leak I thought it was mildly amusing.  The fifth time, I was spitting angry and already knew to wipe the seal down with baking soda first, then with canola oil, then to run canola oil and baking soda through the dispenser to kill the suds.

The dish soap would leak out from the shower, too.

Dish soap is only the first thing which people in extreme poverty have special knowledge about.  The other is knives.  Not hunting knives.  Kitchen knives.  Did you know that if you don’t have kitchen scissors, steak knives work well on cardboard and tearing open freezer bags?  They do.  And a thin fillet knife is just the thing for opening a can of beans if you don’t have a can opener.  I, personally, wouldn’t have realized that a can opener is a luxury.  But yet I cannot tell you how many times I was supervising lunch prep and someone went at a can with a fillet knife before I even knew what had happened.  It didn’t occur to them that we would have a can opener, they didn’t even know what one looked like.

The normal person is blissfully unaware that there are everyday habits we engage in as members of the middle class that people in poverty do not know because they’ve never had the opportunity to engage with them.  Our clothes washers need fussy soap.  We have kitchen utensils which only have one purpose.  Some people have ten, fifteen things in their kitchen that can only be used for one thingIf you have to pick pennies out of your couch to scrape together the money to ride the bus to work, you do not own single-use utensils unless someone else bought them for you.  Garlic crusher?  Fuh.  No.  Juicer?  What the…? No.  Cappuccino machine?  It is to laugh.

It’s interesting to me when people disparage the poor, saying things like they aren’t smart enough to be rich.  Sorry, buddy, you ain’t smart enough to be poor.  The people who stayed at the shelter had MAD skills.  They memorized bus schedules, they knew who gave what away on what day and what thrift stores dependably had what kind of stuff.  “Don’t go to Salvation Army for kids clothes, they never have any.  This store drops prices towards the end of the month.  Go there in the evening, sometimes you catch that store right when they are throwing out the day old bread and it’s still good for a while…”  And on, and on.  Repositories of knowledge that people with cash in their pockets simply don’t ever need.

And the middle class has it’s own rules.  Knowing what is good debt and what is bad.  Knowing what the hell a Roth IRA is and why you would want one.  Knowing where to get secondhand clothes with good labels and what stores discount what clothes in what season.  Learning those skills can be the hardest part of transitioning to a new class.  The quiet judgment of the women who wonder why you got your kids clothes there.  The panic the first time someone asks you to bring a cold plate for brunch.  (Why does the plate have to be cold?  What do you put on it?  If you go into Kroger and ask for a cold plate will they know what it is?)  There are a million things that people take for granted as a part of their lives, as common knowledge, simply because it’s what they grew up with.  And asking?  Asking is the worst kind of shame because it tells the world that you don’t really belong.  If you belonged, you would know.

They say that there is always someone richer.  You tell someone who makes $60,000 that they aren’t too bad off and they’ll point to the person who makes $100,000.  Tell that person they are doing really well and they’ll point to the person who makes $200,000.  Tell that person they are really quite fortunate and they’ll point to the millionaire, who points to the multi-millionaire, who points to Bill Gates, who I’m sure is jealous of someone.

When you’ve got a family of five and you feel lucky to break $30,000, everyone is rich.

When you’re homeless, anyone with a roof of their own is a lucky bastard.

We all have things we take for granted that we shouldn’t.

But the thing that bothers me the most right now?  Last week I washed a few loads of laundry in dish soap and baking soda, because I had made buying my kids warm clothes for winter a priority.  And in the midst of all the political arguments, I kept wanting to tell people I just couldn’t listen to them because they didn’t know about dish soap and knives.

What they picture as poor doesn’t reflect the effort and knowledge and work that goes into being poor.  Food stamps will keep you fed, if you’re smart about how you use them, but they won’t keep you from scrubbing your rump with dish soap when you run out of body wash.

It won’t keep you from opening the can of beans with a knife.

It won’t keep you from shaking out the couch cushions for the money to ride the bus.

It won’t let you take a single thing for granted, like the majority of this country does every day.

Let’s talk about healthcare, please.

I support the Affordable Care Act because I believe it will help our Gross Domestic Profit go up, and because I believe in social justice.  Let’s talk about it.

I spent a year working as the site supervisor for a homeless shelter, and then a year and a half as a “float” between several residential mental health facilities, so I’ve seen my share of people who have no choice but to rely on the state.  Any time an issue about state benefits come up, my mind immediately flashes back to my experiences there and I judge everything I hear not of how it affects me personally, but how it would change the situation for the people I have served.

Please, give me a few moments of your time.

Working with the homeless, I saw a side of the mental health industry that was chilling.  A large proportion of the guests at the homeless shelter had mental health problems.  Bipolar syndrome was a constant theme.  Why?  Because it, like schizophrenia, tends to manifest in adulthood rather than childhood.  The first symptoms don’t show up until someone is in their mid-twenties or later.  If you’re in college, in an office job, or in another supportive environment where you have a lot of hands-on supervision when the symptoms start to show, you have a good chance of being referred to help before it derails your life.  If, on the other hand, you are flipping burgers or nailing window panes on a factory floor, it’s far more likely that the first “incident” that lands you in front of someone who could help you isn’t going to be mild, it’ll be extreme.  More often than not the outbursts that can characterize mania (or the paranoia of schizophrenia) are misinterpreted as aggression or something more extreme.  There are books, and volumes, and scads, and rants, and epics of information on why it is that poor people with mental health problems seem to inevitably end up in jail or residential treatment for the rest of their lives.  But the truth is the answer is very straightforward:  right now, that’s just what the system is.  If you are poor, the only way you can stay medicated is if you are in jail or residential therapy indefinitely.  That means if you’re in your mid twenties and married with children when you first have an aggressive manic episode on a factory floor, not only is that the only route available to you, but it is the only route available to your family.

Ask yourself if that is just, or even necessary.  Is that the society you want to live in?

Addiction operates in much the same way.  White collar addicts can get chain prescriptions for pain killers, and there are many supports there to act as a barrier between the addict and extreme consequences.  For the poor, reality is again far more harsh.  Unless there is insurance coverage for treatment expenses, chances are treatment will happen when the addict is caught in an illegal action and sent to jail, or their children are taken away and rehab is proscribed by the state as a requirement for reunion.

Is that justice?  Is it necessary?  As the self-ascribed “greatest society”, is that how we should live?

Despite any issues that there may be with the Affordable Care Act, there are a few things it does which are absolutely necessary if there is to be any sense of social justice in the United States.  It makes it so that the poor can have preventative and maintenance mental health care, meaning that problems like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can be treated before they become debilitating, and poor people with those illnesses can remain productive members of society and their families are not torn apart.  It also means that people with addictions can be helped before their addiction becomes so severe it becomes a legal matter instead of a personal one.  Even if you have absolutely no interest in those issues as a social justice matter, think about the expense.  How expensive is it to maintain treatment for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia through the jail system and residential programs as opposed to having insurance cover medications?  How expensive is it to treat addiction as a legal matter- court fees, jail costs, state paying for rehab- as opposed to treating it through insurance as a private matter?

The Affordable Care Act isn’t about coddling the poor, it is about saving money, saving lives, and keeping people economically stable and productive instead of burdening society with unnecessary expense and unnecessarily broken people.

If you don’t believe me, go to your nearest residential mental health treatment facility and talk to the people there about how they ended up in that situation.  Hear them talk about how schizophrenia made them homeless and years of going without medication or health care on the streets broke their bodies and caused so many complications they could no longer care for themselves or became suicidal, and the state remanded them to residential care.  Here them talk about how they ended up in jail because they punched their boss but now they know aggression is a symptom of their illness.  “I can’t live without the lorazepam, without it I am violent, but I can’t buy it unless I’m here, so the state says I’m a threat to others.”  Hear their stories, and realize that if we defund the Affordable Care Act, there are only two options open to the very poor who have abnormal mental conditions:  jail, or residential care.  Neither of those options are freedom.

Then ask yourself if that is the society you want to live in.  If you want my generation, and the generation of my children, to send a significant segment of their population to be jailed by the state either literally or with high doses of medication administered several times a day, because their brains are wired differently and we can’t be bothered the expense of keeping them productive.

Think about it.

And when you get that statement in the mail saying your copay is going up to provide full coverage, realize this:  every time a copay goes up, a bipolar factory worker gets to stay on his medication.  Indirectly, your money isn’t going to brigands or scum or people who can’t be bothered to get better jobs; actually, it is going to keep people working and improve the Gross Domestic Profit.

Everybody wins.

In all seriousness, what would Jesus do?

Sometimes I feel like I get upset about the wrong things.  Let me explain, there’s this meme going around that talks about a new pastor’s first sermon to his shiny megachurch.  The story goes that the pastor pretended to be a homeless man and everyone ignored him, even when he begged for money.  He was asked to stand in the back of the church, and when he was finally introduced everyone was horrified, until he preached a really scathing sermon which culminated in his asking the congregation if they were ever going to choose to be disciples.

It seems like most of my Christian friends have been forwarding this meme around.  A lot of people say things like, “wow,” or “so humbling!”

My first reaction to it was to be sick to my stomach.  Then, I was angry.  Then, I was angry-sad.  Then, I had a headache.

There’s a part of me that thinks we all need reminders that Jesus told us that we would be judged by how we treat “the least of these.”  So why don’t I like that meme?

Okay, let’s go through it step by step:

  •  It isn’t true.  This is a story that someone made up, probably to try to put some of the things that Jesus said into a more modern day context, making the church analogous to the pharisees.  I’ve made that analogy myself, so why does it bother me so much in this context?  While I am a little bothered by the meme’s assertion that only a handful of people out of 10,000 would acknowledge the pastor’s presence, I’m more bothered by the pastor himself.  Here we have a well-to-do man with his suit and tie concealed under homeless man’s clothes.  He isn’t really a man of the street that lives off charity, but he pretends to be one.  When Christ said, “What you do to the least of these you do to me” he wasn’t saying it from a comfortable position as a pastor of a megachurch whose tailored suit was hidden under beggar’s clothes- he was saying it as a beggar.  He lived off of the charity and hospitality of others, so when he said, “do it as you would to me” that could be taken quite literally.  If you would welcome Jesus into your home, welcome the beggars in.  If you had food to share with Jesus you had food to share with the lame.  If you would offer Jesus a cup of water, offer it to the sick.  Every offering as such Jesus would accept as an offering to his own person- not because Jesus didn’t need the offerings, but because he did.  These days, we as Christians are far distanced from the reality which Jesus had to live.  I don’t know if we really understand the fact that Jesus didn’t have a pension plan, couldn’t file unemployment, and couldn’t ply his trade while traveling and teaching.  He didn’t have a trust fun he was living off of, he lived off of the goodwill of others.  When we feed the hungry and care for the sick and give room to the homeless, we are remembering that God himself once shared their lot.  This meme?  It doesn’t seem like a humble reminder of that reality, it feels like the opposite.  It treats the reality of Christ’s life that he lived for us as a charade, to be put on and then taken off at the most humiliating moment.
  • It’s a “GOTCHA” moment, not a humble reminder.  Jesus doesn’t deal in shame, so why should we praise those who do?  This isn’t the case of a pastor humbly searching for truth in the guise of a homeless man, like this one, this is a pastor knowingly setting a trap to catch his congregation in.  The whole story hinges off of the judgment that Christians, as a whole, aren’t choosing to be disciples.  That churches do ignore people who aren’t dressed right.  That parishioners with cash in their pockets for the offering basket would give no change to a hungry, needy man sharing their pews.  The pastor, prior to ever preaching a sermon to his new congregation, has already decided they aren’t following Christ and need a scolding.  And rather than, say, inviting actual homeless people in to be cared for, he pretends to be one just to hammer a point home.  No, no thank you.  Jesus didn’t contrive situations to shame his followers.  He lived his life as a genuine example.  Those teachable moments the Bible is full of?  They happened as a natural consequence of how Christ lived.  The only time he set up “traps” for anyone was in response to the traps that had been set up for him.  Jesus didn’t trade in shaming his followers, so neither should we.
  • Who made it up?  What was their motive? We don’t know.  Rather than putting their own name and face to the tale, someone made up a story just to prove their point.  I’m all for parables, Jesus himself was known for them, but this doesn’t feel like that.  This is a lie parading as the truth.  The internet, yes, is full of such things.  Pictures of babies born with deformities meant to shame you if you don’t share them.  Mangled fetuses.  Abused dogs and cats for whom some unnamed stranger will donate a dollar per “like.”  To put it plainly, bullshit.  But this bullshit I’ll take personally, because this bullshit is about the church.  This bullshit about the church hinges off of the fact that no one will question the idea that a congregation of ten thousand are ready and willing to reject a homeless man.

So what does that tell us about the person who wrote the story, and what does it say about those who share it?

Judgment, and shame.  We’ve all judged the church as having fallen on it’s sword, and we all believe that it needs to be shamed.

What.

 

The.

 

Hell?

 

I spent one of the most fulfilling years of my life working as the site supervisor for a homeless shelter.  That shelter operated based off of the goodwill and cooperation of a couple of handfuls of churches surrounding a relatively small, but active, community.  Volunteers stayed with our guests overnight to make sure their needs were met.  Volunteers prepared and delivered hot meals for them twice a day.  Volunteers cleaned up after them.  Volunteers often picked them up and drove them to church on Sunday mornings.  Volunteers talked to them.  Volunteers let them know about job openings in the community, sometimes offered them small jobs, brought gently used clothing to hand out, made Easter and Christmas baskets, and donated thousands of dollars every night to pay the staff who served them.

None of those churches would have ignored a homeless person on a Sunday morning.  Quite the opposite.  Their attention and interest brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it to this day.

Let’s be evenhanded.  If we all agree that most churches don’t give a crap about the people who walk in their doors, what does that say about us?  Our faith?  Or, even more important, what does it say about our belief in God?

Essentially, what that meme says is not that we need to be reminded that Jesus asks us to care for the “least of these”;  what it says is that faith is pointless.  That no one is getting anywhere.  That two thousand years after Christ’s death, the church is useless.  That Christians are, as a whole, hypocrites.  (With the exception of a few self-righteous pricks waiting around for “gotcha” moments to humiliate us all and remind us how little we’ve grown.)  The meme doesn’t remind us of Christ’s love, it reminds us of our own selfishness.  What it offers isn’t hope but condemnation.

I have seen a pastor preaching shirtless in the streets because he gave the shirt off his back (literally) to a street kid.  I’ve seen a poor woman wander into a church in the middle of a service and seen everything stop while the congregation found out what she needed and got her help- including people running to the store to buy her baby diapers and formulas, and her having so many lunch invitations she had to choose who to turn down.

That’s my faith.

I’ve seen people give away the dinner they just cooked for their family and have toast for dinner instead because they heard that someone down the street lost their job and couldn’t get groceries.

That’s my faith.

I’ve seen families take in kids whose parents were arrested so that those kids wouldn’t have to go into foster care.

That’s my faith.

I’ve seen so many people show up at the hospital to pray for a sick relative that some of them never even got in the room.

That’s my faith.

That’s my church.  And I’m not just speaking about one church, but many.  All of the truly genuine people whose example brought me back to the feet of God after I thought I’d left him forever.  I may speak about the judgment of the church making me question my faith in God, but never let it be forgotten that it was the genuine love of the church that brought me back to him.  This is a sword that cuts both ways and cannot be ignored.  Yes, some Christians are assholes.  But there are still many who truly seek to follow Christ and emulate his love, and the only cure for the one is the praise of the other.

If we want people to stop being assholes, we shouldn’t be assholes towards them.  We should seek to be as loving, open, genuine, and kind as they are not.

The solution for a church that ignores the homeless isn’t a heaping helping of condemnation- it’s a loving example of the proper way.

*

Do I sometimes have harsh things to say to other Christians?  Yes.  I believe some of the attitudes I’ve seen towards the poor, towards single mothers, towards gay people, are incredibly destructive.  But I speak against it not because I believe the majority of Christians are selfish assholes but because I believe the opposite.  I believe that if most Christians realized the impact their attitudes had on others, they would willingly and quickly change.  And guess what?  In the six years I have helmed this blog that is what I’ve seen, time and time again.  I have so many stories of hope and change and trust and love that I could spend the rest of my life writing about them, and I’m only just getting started.

So, yeah, I had an allergic reaction to this particular meme.

That’s not my faith.

You, dear reader, you are my faith.  And you deserve better than to be shamed by a lie.

*This cannot be overstated.  If you want a church to take interest in the homeless, the best way is to bring the actual homeless into the church and take care of them.  People respond to love with love, and when they see you loving others their natural response is to do the same.  This is far more effective than shame could ever be.  Give the church an example to be like Christ, and if the church is full of Christians, it’ll happen.

 

hurts like Heaven.

I love my job.

But there are days that I really, really hate my job.  For the most part I work with people who have had a lot of bad things happen to them.  Sometimes it’s really awful- the kind of stuff that seems more at place in a horror novel then a quiet midwestern town.  Sometimes, it’s the kind of stuff that leads to me locking myself in the bathroom for a time out.  The worst part of it isn’t the fact that I’m a visual person by nature and thus struggle with visualizing the badness and taking it home in the form of nightmares.  The worst part is that often I’m dealing with people whose lives have trained them to believe that they deserve no better, they will get no better, and the best that they can hope for themselves is to grow thick enough skins that they become numb to the pain.

There are men who learn that “real” manliness is fighting back and fighting dirtier.  Women who think that they need to trade sex for safety.  Kids who think that learning is for nerds and losers and the way to get ahead in life is to punch the other guy first.  Mothers who reject their children because responding with sympathy to a babies neediness makes them vulnerable.  Men who reject their pregnant wives for the same reason.  The world is full of people who know nothing other than cycles of poverty and pain, people who see daily happiness as just as much of a fantasy as the whole family getting along over the holidays.  The world has a seedy underbelly of pain and discontent that so many are blissfully unaware of- but for the people who live there, that is the entire world.

Pain, heartbreak, rejection and more pain.  The smart ones learn to reject before they can be rejected, to cut more quickly and more deeply, to make sure that everyone else owes them more than they owe anyone.

It’s hard to remember that there’s hope beyond all hopes, that there is a love that conquers fear, that there is a peace that surpasses all understanding.  It’s hard to remember, but most of the time I manage to.  And I do my best to continue to be God’s hands and feet in this world.  I offer love, and then I experience the greatest heartbreak of all: love rejected with a wary eye.  Love mistrusted.  Love responded to with anger and fear.

And I lock myself in the bathroom again.  And sitting there, in the dark and heat (because for some odd reason our bathroom is the hottest room in the building, like a sauna, suffocatingly hot) listening to the sound of the radiator rattling like Marley’s ghost, I realize that what I am experiencing is only a fraction of the heartbreak that the Spirit feels every day when we mistrust God’s love for us, when we respond to salvation with cynism, when we judge others before they can judge us.

The answer is simple:  love more strongly.  Believe with more conviction.  Offer more grace.  Create an overflow of mercy and affection so strong that it washes away even the most stubborn of barriers.  Live every second of your life in the hope of salvation.  Pick up the shield of faith, wear the belt of truth, set your feet in the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace.

We already have earned our reward if we only love those who want to be loved.

We have to love the way God loves.

And God just… loves.  Everyone.  Constantly.

I would say it hurts like Hell, but that’s a misnomer.  It hurts like Heaven, but that’s the kind of hurt that’s worth carrying with you.

It could change the world.

Let me tell you what you need.

Working in a homeless shelter has led to a lot of interesting experiences and observations.  Four months in I feel like I could write a book on the subject.  Maybe that book will be written someday, who knows.  But for the time being, I thought I’d herald my return to blogging with some observations about our perceptions of other people’s needs.

I came across this odd phenomenon through working with the homeless, but honestly I’m noticing it now everywhere.  I’ll start with a fairly inocuous example:  some guests needed winter clothes.  We had a grant for after-hours care to provide them with winter clothes.  A discussion arose over how we’d go about meeting that need.  Do we take them to Wal-Mart?  Sears?  Macy’s?  The high-end resale store downtown?  There’s a limit to how much money we can spend, but we want them to have good things.  We also want to demonstrate that one should think critically about how one spends money.  Is anyone noticing the problem, yet?  It’s a little sneaky, but somewhere in the conversation, we went from talking about meeting the guests’ needs to talking about changing them.  We want to change them, but honestly they don’t want to be changed.  Is there really anything wrong with buying a coat from Wal-Mart (where all of our guests are comfortable shopping and feel at home and unnoticed) when you’re on a budget and are hoping to get pants and sneakers too?  Maybe a middle class person would approach the problem from a different angle (wanting the coat from Macy’s and hoping they could find it gently used at the resale store thus allowing them to get jeans and sneakers, too) but the fact that a middle class person would approach it from a different angle doesn’t mean that the choices made by a person in poverty are inherently wrong.  In most cases, the choices made by a person in poverty are made from a survivalist standpoint.  I need a coat, now.  I need a CHEAP coat, now.  I need a cheap coat, now, and the bus stops in front of Wal-Mart so I won’t have to bum a ride.  No one in Wal-mart will notice that it’s mid-November and all I have to wear is a mini skirt.  Score.  I am shopping at Wal-Mart.

The internal dialogue that guides my choices isn’t even on the radar for them, so why judge them and try to force them to change based on my own experiences?  Just because my experiences are different and were fulfilling to me, that doesn’t mean that their experiences are worthless or ought to be devalued in favor of inserting my own will.

Faithful readers- you may be wondering what any of this has to do with the normal tone of my blog.  Hopefully that last line reassured you that the old Lindsey is still here plugging away.  See, we all have experiences.  Many of us have a lifestyle and worldview that is fulfilling to us.  Some of us want to spread our contentment with our choices by trying to force other people to make the same ones.

We really are very silly creatures.

If I, as a person who once experienced poverty but is making a successful transition to “middle class”, try to force my lifestyle and choices on the homeless, I’m making a huge mistake.  I can model my own happiness, but if I try to force my hand I alienate the people I’m trying to help.  The same thing goes for Christians trying to evangelize to people who really don’t want to hear about God’s love (but could maybe use a free ham for Christmas or help fixing their car) and heterosexuals who decide that what lesbians really need is to hear how awesome the penis is.

Seriously, folks- we can model good choices all we want.  That’s life.  You can radiate your own happiness.  But don’t assume that your brand of happiness will taste the same to everyone else.  For some people, it’s going to taste awfully bitter.

And that’s okay.