Standing As Equals

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In my last blog, where I referenced the book “Not Just A One Night Stand; Ministry With The Homeless”, I took issue with the authors writing that “alcoholism” is a disease.  It is not.  

A few pages later in the book, however, an anecdote where the homeless advocate brings some homeless friends to a swanky chamber of commerce luncheon illustrates that alcohol abuse is not a disease. The tickets for the homeless were paid for but there was a stipulation that these friends not show up drunk. And they came to the luncheon sober! Addiction is a choice! And one of the homeless guests got to speak to the audience!  And he clearly articulated what it is like to be homeless and what their needs are. 

Alcohol abuse can prevent people from accomplishing their goals. In Mel Brook’s “Silent Movie”, to keep small movie producer Mel Funn, who had a drinking problem, from buying their studio and producing his movie, big movie producer Engulf & Devour hired a beautiful woman to pretend to be in love with Funn and break his heart. She did, and he started going back to the bottle. In one scene, Mel sees a neon sign of a giant bottle of liquor in a store window. Lines from Handel’s “Messiah” sounds out “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords…”  Churches need to direct people away from idols such as alcohol, and towards God.

The book illustrates how some folks who want to help the homeless really don’t understand the homeless or homelessness. They go to classes on the homeless. I agree with the authors that the homeless can teach us, not just what homelessness is really about and about the homeless themselves, but they can teach us about life.   

I subscribe to the slogan coined by a group of homeless people “Don’t Talk About Us; Talk With Us”. We need, however, to use our best judgment to discern who is being straight with us and who is conning us. This is true outside the homeless community.  

What Not Just A One Night Stand rightly points out is that the homeless not only need food and shelter, but productive activities such as reading and work.  They also need to be fed spiritually. The homeless need to be accepted as equals and appreciated that they have value, made in the image of God, like the rest of us.  

In the greater Levittown, PA area, which is the focus of my book on homelessness, homeless people come to the library and read books, look for jobs, and do other productive activities. Some of them just come to fool around, though. The best we can do is give them the opportunity to improve themselves. As I point out in my book, two people in a similar situation handle their circumstances two different ways. Some move up, others don’t.  The homeless need a hand up, not just a hand out. 

Some of the guests who frequent the shared meals in Bucks County display their character when they put themselves first, display bad manners and try to hog the food.  Most of them are not homeless, but in the “needy” category of the meals for the homeless and needy. Yes, these meals are for the homeless and needy; not the homeless and greedy! 

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 8Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.” Isaiah 58: 6-8