"All words are symbols that represent unspeakable realities. Which is also why words are magical." (Donald Miller tweet)

Friday, November 07, 2014

breaking rules

Yesterday, I got outraged fairly early in the day. Not crazy mad. But annoyed.


Which is pretty dramatic for a Canadian.

It was because of this. A 90-year-old man and two pastors were charged and fined for feeding "the homeless".


Do I need to point out again that the label only works
if we call everyone else "the homed"?

Then someone followed up by sending me this. More cities which ban sharing food with the homeless. It's like a "don't feed the animals" sign and now I'm getting outraged all over again just talking about it.

Honestly, I know someone will tell me about
the various risks and liabilities and reasons
that explain why this rule is acceptable,
but sometimes I stand back
and look at the human race as a whole,
and think, "Really? REALLY??"

Do we really believe
that the way to build a healthy, happy society
is to penalize the decent human beings
who are simply helping other human beings??

So I was irked.


(Again - dramatic for a Canadian.)

---

Several hours later, the doorbell at the church rang. The doors are always locked, where we are. Always. At the door was a young man, politely asking for food. He didn't ask for money. He didn't have any attitude. He was simply hungry. And so very tired. I brought him my lunch, and he hesitated.

"But what will you eat?"

"I'm fine," I said.

"Let's share it," he offered. I smiled and shook my head. He caught me off guard when he took his hat off, bowed his head and offered a prayer of thanks for the food. We exchanged names and chatted a bit, outside the door.

After a few minutes he said, "My feet hurt so much. I've been walking for two days. Could I ... would you let me ... could I come in and wash my feet?"

I hesitated. There are rules, and I know them well. I tell everyone else to follow them, and I follow them myself.


(A few weeks ago,
a young lady under the influence of
- something -
got in by mistake
and was settling in to stay
by the time I got there.
It took us nearly an hour to talk her out again.)

So there are rules. Be generous, be kind, yes - and be smart. Be safe. Be tough. Don't be conned. Don't be naive.

"Are you clean? No drugs?"

He shook his head. "No. I respect this place."

"I don't want any drugs in my church."

"Neither do I," he said.

"No weapons either," I said.

"No," he answered and voluntarily emptied his pockets to show me.

I took him upstairs and showed him the washroom, quietly letting my office volunteer know what was happening, and what she should do if anything went wrong. The young man kept the door open while he washed his feet. He wasn't eager to leave, and I gently reminded him from across the hall that he could only stay for a few minutes.

"Have you ever been homeless?" No accusation, just curiosity.

"No," I said. "But I know a lot of people who have."

"I guess you would," he said. "You know what the worst is? ... People don't look at you. No one ever talks to you. It's like you're invisible. That's what terrifies my buddy...." and he drifted less coherently for a few minutes.

He came out and sat on the floor, holding up his socks, in tatters. "Do you happen to have any extra socks?"

"Sorry, no."

"Ok." He tucked them in his bag, and wrapped his feet in paper towels before putting his shoes back on, gasping a bit at the pain from the blisters.

"How do you help someone understand that the Creator is all around you? How do I convince my buddy?" he asked, looking me square in the eye.

"Well, he probably doesn't want to be preached at," I said. "What do you think?"

He thought about it. "Show him?"

"Yep," I said.

As he left, he thanked me politely. I didn't even ask him if he had a place to go.

There was no point. I knew he didn't.

---

There are rules. Reasons why we say things should be done a certain way. Because experience and wisdom teach you that things can go horribly wrong, so you set up rules to make sure they don't.

But ... but ... sometimes ... it's just another human being. And you decide to trust your gut. And break the rules. And give someone food.

Because you have some.
And they're hungry.

May your Friday include some rule-breaking.
And may it be outrage-free.

3 comments:

old_black said...

I liked this post, because it acknowledges the complexity of the situation, while still arguing strongly in favour of an underlying principle. I'm sure many of us feel the tension of the situation you've just described. In my city (Sydney, Australia) beggars on the street are often being as manipulative as possible. I give to some beggars but I'm suspicious of those who hold up signs saying "God bless" and prostrating themselves in apparently submissive postures designed to maximize pity. How do I show love, and yet not be conned and not be naive?

Patti said...

hi old black :) I get asked that a lot.

#1 I never give money at the door, unless it's someone I know and I happen to have a bit of cash on me (which is rare). If I have food, or bus tickets, or a grocery gift card - that's what I give. If they don't want that - well, that's all I have. I definitely don't open my purse or wallet on the street.

#2 My fantastic husband and sister-in-law both have spontaneously offered to buy a slice of pizza or a small bit of groceries for someone on the street who has asked. It's a way to treat someone with dignity, if you're OK doing that.

#3 In Canada, you can still give eye contact and a smile to people, even while saying, "sorry, I don't have anything".

#4 You can give to soup kitchens or food banks or shelters.

#5 (my favourite) :) You can decide not to care if you get conned every now and then. I decided some time ago that I'd rather be a person who errs on the side of generosity and love, rather than suspicion. I do try to act with wisdom, but I figure every now and then I get conned - I shrug my shoulders and move on. Even if I do get conned - I have a great life. And I'm thankful for it.

:)

old_black said...

Brilliant, Patti! All 5 of those points seem good to me. You've obviously thought more than me about this :-)