I live in Nashville, TN. Over the last couple of years, I have noticed a new development. We have homeless people at many intersections selling a “homeless newspaper” called The Contributor. I don’t know much about this newspaper, who puts it out, what the purpose is, or where the money goes. Frankly, I’ve never bothered to find out.
I must admit my reaction to these guys has been, “Well, they found a new way to panhandle.” I have given them a dollar a couple of times, but most of the time I just look the other way or drive on by. Why? I ask myself, “How do I know where the money goes?” or “How do I know the guy isn’t just going to buy booze or drugs with the money?” And I guess on the surface those are legitimate questions. I don’t want to be guilty of blindly supporting something that is only enabling their dysfunction and addiction. I generally do want to give money to a place where I know it’s going to be used wisely, and that’s why I support my local rescue mission.
But I’ve been thinking and questioning my heart lately. It’s only a dollar. I won’t really miss it. And what if the money is going to something legit? What if the money is really helping to develop productive work in those who would otherwise be standing on a corner with a “will work for food” sign? What if it’s really helping homeless people overcome their dysfunction and return to society? I wouldn’t know because I’ve never bothered to ask. It’s been easier to just look the other way and be safe in my assumptions.
You see, it’s not really about that homeless guy selling The Contributor. It’s not about the principle, and it’s not even about the dollar. It’s about me. It’s about how easy it is for me to write something and someone off that I don’t know anything about. It’s about my safe zone. I’m willing to live with my preconceptions because they protect me from having to climb into the world of a homeless guy and find out what he and his newspaper are all about. It’s easier to drive on by than to recognize that it’s not just a homeless guy holding that newspaper, it’s a human being. A human being Jesus died for.
Maybe I’m right. Maybe The Contributor is just another clever cover for panhandling in 2011. Maybe the guy is going to take my dollar and go buy something cheap and numbing. And maybe I’ve been hiding behind words like responsibility and accountability so I just don’t have to get involved. Maybe this is what God told Israel in Zechariah 7,
Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion, everyone to his brother.
So I’m not going to stop making excuses. I’m going to give the guy a dollar any time I have one in my wallet, then I’m going to pray for that guy and trust that God will use my dollar to make an impact in his life. If I’m going to be wrong, I’m at least going to do it with my eyes and heart open, my head upright and not buried in the sand.
After all, maybe it’s Jesus standing on that corner.
#1 by Jennifer on June 16, 2011 - 7:27 AM
Amen! exactly! God is concerned with MY heart, not their actions. Because He is concerned with their hearts too. I have noticed that lots of street people really do know God more closely than those of us who hand them a buck. They are more fully aware of their sinful nature then we are. They are also more keenly aware of His grace.
Take some time to ask them how they are, when was their last meal, do they have any family? These people are just that, people, not animals living on basic instinct. And God has forgiven them already too!
#2 by Dave Kirby on June 16, 2011 - 1:31 PM
There’s an idea. Don’t just give him a dollar. Stop my car, get out, and talk to him like a human being. Look beyond the label to the heart. Often, when I do that, I find that my heart changes more than theirs does.
Thanks for that encouragement!
#3 by Rick McConnell on June 16, 2011 - 9:55 AM
Wise comments Dave!
#4 by Bill Carl on June 16, 2011 - 2:26 PM
Bingo. It’s about what God calls me to give …He never calls me to judge what others do with my gifts or to withhold with the excuse that the recipient probably won’t use it properly. If God thought that way, He’d be right and we’d STILL be lost.
#5 by Dave Kirby on June 16, 2011 - 3:20 PM
By it’s definition, MERCY means it is not deserved. That’s why it’s called MERCY.
#6 by Erica on June 16, 2011 - 7:54 PM
If you do decide to get out and talk to one of the homeless — I would love to know how it goes and what you learned.
#7 by Erica on June 17, 2011 - 2:50 PM
Another thought… If someone is uncomfortable giving money to the homeless, perhaps a nutritional meal given would be a great idea. Fast food won’t really meet the nutritional needs of the homeless, who are likely already depleted in nutrients — but what about giving healthy food if one is able to take the time to get food and bring it back to these folks? Things that can be eaten readily (like a sandwich or burrito) or things that don’t need refrigeration (like bananas). I tend go back and forth on this issue as those I know who work directly with the homeless through an outreach center, for example, have told me that it is usually better to refer these folks to a homeless center for help than to give money which may feed addictions (if they have any) and that the best help is typically giving food directly to the homeless or referring them for ministry services. My grandmother used to let these folks sleep in the back room of her downtown restaurant overnight rather than seeing them sleep on the streets. I met some of these grateful people at her funeral and could learn so much from her example.
#8 by Erica on June 17, 2011 - 2:54 PM
Interesting, too — my grandmother got a lot of criticism from people in her church for associating with drunks and “sinners”. I’m glad she ignored their criticism, showing mercy and grace to those down and out.
#9 by Bohemian Bowman on June 17, 2011 - 9:36 PM
Sigh. I know what you mean.
#10 by Tasha on June 20, 2011 - 10:03 AM
Thank you for linking us to your blog, Dave. It sounds like you still have a lot of questions about who we are and what we do. Please visit our site at http://www.thecontributor.org and call me any time 615-499-6829. I’d be happy to answer any questions!
#11 by Dave Kirby on June 20, 2011 - 10:15 AM
After I wrote the post, I did investigate who you are more thoroughly, and I love the concept. Thanks for helping to create positive forward motion for those who have been stuck in neutral. I’ve worked and helped at the Nashville Rescue Mission on many occasions, and really appreciate those who are facilitating real change in those who need that helping hand to get their lives headed in the right direction. Let me know how I can help you more.
Thanks for reading the post and responding!