July 7, 2012
"And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.'"
Reflection by Donna Schaper
"Think of the earnest liberal who encounters a panhandler, is moved to pity by the man's obvious destitution, but refrains from offering a quarter—since the hobo might, after all, spend the money on booze . . . . .Remember Chastity training, 250 million dollars over five years for poor single mothers, included in the original welfare bill signed by Bill Clinton . . . . Poverty is not after all a cultural aberration or a character flaw. Poverty is a shortage of money."
Barbara Ehrenreich, THE NATION, April 2, 2012
You see him on the street, long before he sees you. His posture is bent, as though he is looking for the courage to emerge. "Spare change?" he mumbles.
A talented beggar will make eye contact; a novice will try but fail to hook eye to eye. Some beggars have internalized the shame thrown at them; others have mastered it and throw it back on the world. It will be hard to say who is most embarrassed, as most progressives are embarrassed by the persistence of poverty, just as the poor are shamed by their poverty.
My friend brags about not sparing change to people who ask for it on the streets. She says a clear no. "I only give to systemic change." Another keeps all the pocket change from the week on her dresser and gathers it up to give away on her Sabbath. "I give ritually, because I want to, because I would want someone to give to me." I only initiate eye contact, smile and say "I wish I could." Is that the right way to not spare change? I have no idea. It's just what I do, actually what I not do.
Underneath the vest I wear to protect myself from the pain of poverty, I recall what I can and do. I organize. I occupy. I counsel and keep others from having to hit the street. I build congregations that build people so they don't have to beg for jobs or for booze. I give to systemic change and tithe my income, large as it is compared to his. I realize not one of these is enough. Foxes and birds have a place. Jesus doesn't, especially because I can't spare or dare any change.
God of home and castle, foxhole and street, help us to not just spare change but also to insist on it. Amen.
About the Author
Donna Schaper is the Senior Minister of Judson Memorial Church in New York City. Her latest work is 20 Ways to Keep Sabbath, from The Pilgrim Press. Check out her work at www.judson.org.
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