Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fraud

Do you ever feel like one? A fraud, I mean? I was not going to write about this, but then I read this post on one of InterVarsity Press's blogs, and it reminded me . . .

I had a tremendously lovely day off yesterday. After being at Starbucks from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Tuesday (minus two hours when I drove to the small and annoying mall down the street because I just couldn't take it anymore), having worked a full shift and then sticking around for the world-famous meeting, I felt I deserved a day off. I would have lain in bed luxuriantly for hours, except that my body was so exhausted it couldn't actually rest, and woke me up at 7, and so I got up. I had breakfast. And coffee. And finished Harry Potter #3, which I then took back to the library.

After that I did what I have been waiting over a month to do, and have been prevented by weather and illness from doing: I went to Barnes and Noble to use the gift card my aunt had given me. I bought a piece of Cheesecake Factory cheesecake, and a cup of tea, and sat in a comfy chair in the cafe and read intermittently out of two books, trying to decide which one I was going to take home with me. (I ended up deciding on The Last Unicorn because it's way better than I remember it being when I was 11, and also because it was hardcover and beautiful and cost the same as the amount of my gift card.) I sat in there and read for about three hours, and had a slightly bizarre and interesting conversation with a person sitting in the comfy chair on the other side of my table (about which I may write some other time).

Also, I had a phone call from my friend Rebecca, whose mother is in town and who wanted to know if I would like to join the two of them for dinner.

I was feeling refreshed and content as I drove to the restaurant for dinner. Then I pulled off the highway. At the stoplight at the end of the exit ramp was a person with a sign. The kind of person it was is often derogatorily referred to as a "panhandler," and this particular person's sign made no bones of the fact that he or she was there for a hand-out. I said "he or she" because I don't actually know the gender of this person--not because it was unclear, but because I was trying very hard not to make eye-contact.

Which is ironic, since "Twenty-First Time" had, just sixty seconds before, been playing on the radio (you can listen to it if you follow the link). I sat in my car, at a very long red light, trying to justify to myself the fact that I was not going to roll down my window and hand over the $5 worth of change I had in my wallet. We all know the arguments for keeping the window up, so I will not enumerate them here.

Then I thought, "Well, if I had something else to give them . . . but I don't." I did, however, have a warm car, and it was quite literally freezing outside. Also, I had just spent the afternoon somewhat decadently, and I was about to go have dinner at a restaurant. I had a momentary flash of inspiration. What if I brought this person to dinner?

Well? What if I did?

But I didn't, of course. Social convention and all that. I had never met Rebecca's mom before. I didn't expect her to treat this person, but what if she wasn't, you know, cool with picking people up off the streets? It would certainly change dynamics. Plus, I'm a woman, alone, in my car.

These are all considerations, certainly. But sometimes I wonder if Jesus thinks they're kind of lame. At least, maybe in some circumstances they're kind of lame. I don't know what I should have done, but I'm pretty sure that in that particular instance, at least, "nothing" was not it.

That's what I did though. It bothered me enough that today, on the way home from work, I gave my wad of change to the guy standing in the median strip at the five-way stop. Even though, you know, he was probably going to use it for drugs or something. That's what they tell us . . .

But, as Zimmer-Man reminds us, someone else said, "Go and do likewise." So . . . what exactly is "likewise"?

11 comments:

Annelise said...

Since you know your mother fairly well, you can imagine my reaction to this post! :-) I am emphatically thankful that you didn't pick up the person! Since we know we can't help everyone, Dad has a rule with beggars, that if someone is actually selling something, or offering to do work, for pay, he'll help them. If it's a hand-out he usually (not always) won't. So we generally buy these rather pathetic magazines from people, because they are trying, in spite of their circumstances, to work in some way. Now, there are plenty of needy people that we could invite for dinner (when we're treating), that are the needy people we know, but just don't resonate with--or we think they're pathetic. We can "go and do likewise" with them, and perhaps make more of an impact on them and ourselves. I've got ladies coming for Bible study, so I've got to run....

heather said...

Here's what an old roommate taught me--always keep bottled water and nonperishables in your car (like those peanut butter crackers or something), so that you always have a bit of love to give to someone. It may not be much, but it's something.
I used to do this when I lived in the city and got to know Keith that way. Eventually, I started pulling into the gas station to chat with Keith for a minute when I gave him the food and peanut butter crackers. I don't know that I ever did anything important for Keith. I don't know that I'll see him in the resurrection or that I got him off the street. But I hope that at least he saw someone who was willing to stop for him. That he was more than some handicap on the corner.
I'll say this much--Keith taught me a lot.

pastormarty said...

Great thought Jenn. Thanks for sharing it, you hypocrite you.
And good to see you blog again.

The Cubicle Reverend said...

That is a difficult question to answer. I read a few books recently about people leaving all to live with the poor of an innercity. Not a bad idea. One that sounds a bit appealling in the fact it's a difficult way to follow the gospel. Then I ask myself what about the people in the middle classes and above? How then shall we reach them if all christians are moving to the inner city? ahhh the connundrum!

Rhonda said...

oh my! your post was perfect for me today. I hate to say it but I'm comforted by your difficult questions...
I've been asking myself so many of the same things as you have here and I've yet to come up with an "easy" answer.
You are not a fraud you are on a journey like the rest of us!
Thanks for this post.

Jenn said...

Mom--um, yes. I thought you might say something like that. I'm not altogether sure I agree completely (though partially)--but you no doubt knew I would say THAT. ;)

Heather--I like your story the best. That is so great. Thanks for sharing it.

PastorMarty--thanks?

CubeRev--sometimes I have difficulty deciding the "wheres." More often it's harder for me to know "what," when I get there, wherever "there" ends up being. But you're absolutely right about suburban evangelism also being necessary.

Rhonda--thanks for the encouragement. It's good to know people are resonating!

Christianne said...

what a great post. i love visiting your space here because you 1) tell great stories, 2) ask great questions, and 3) have a terrific way of thinking through things as you think them out loud here, in front of us. it's so great. i love it.

i don't have easy answers. i've wrestled with the same things you've shared and for the same reasons.

one thing i will say is that my mom has gained so much respect from me for something she does every tuesday, without fail, for the past two years.

there is this great fast-food mexican place in california called del taco. (they sell the best crinkle-cut fries, but that is besides the point. and before you ask what a mexican food place is doing selling crinkle-cut french fries, i'll blow your expectations even further and tell you that they also sell a really great cheeseburger. but again, this is besides the point.)

del taco has something called taco tuesdays. every tuesday, you can get three hard tacos for 99 cents. my mom goes through the drive-thru every tuesday and gets, like, five dollars worth of tacos. she keeps three for herself for dinner, and then she gives the rest away. to the people always waiting at the bottom of the off-ramp on her regular way home from work. she has a particular route that she drives on this particular day that allows her to give some of those tacos to a few extra people along the way, people who are always hanging out in the same spots.

it's really cool, and it's something kinda outside the box in this area. she gets to stay in the safety of her car, but she also gets to become a regular face to these people, always blessing them with the grace of God as she hands them a warm and yummy meal for the night.

pretty cool, huh?

jasdye said...

i sometimes struggle with what i think we could best offer the homeless we come in contact with - contact. and i think it's for many of the same reasons you mentioned: confusion about what to do, comfort, shame, worry that they're there to harass people to give them money so that they can buy drugs.

it's very confusing, i'd say. but i don't think we do much favors when we give out willy-nilly w/o some sort of community-building going on. and for that, i think Heather, Christianne's mom and the community that dave-cube-rev was talking about are all onto something big and, hopefully, life-transforming.

or, at the very least, good.

Jenn said...

Christianne--I love THAT story, too!

Jasdye--I think you're absolutely right. I just think that sometimes when we feel powerless to help a situation, we kind of knee-jerk-react (or at least, I do), like handing over my handful of change. There was a homeless guy who used to come to our Starbucks every morning, buy (somehow) a venti drip coffee, hang out in one of the comfy chairs and make stupid jokes. It was sort of cool, but some enmity developed between him and one of our employees, and he doesn't come so much anymore. I think he is also no longer homeless (which is good), but the last time I saw him, he had come in at night with his son and some other younger people. They were high as kites, and they proceeded to very loudly annoy the rest of our customers for about an hour and a half. Not a reason against community--but a reason community is sometimes difficult.

Inihtar said...

Jenn, I've felt so guilty after walking away from someone who needs help, sometimes for no reason other than that I was too lazy to put my hand into my purse and take out some money. And picking someone up is risky. But I read the blog of someone (a non-Christian) who backpacked around the world and he traveled around mostly by hitchhiking. I commented once that as a woman, I would be afraid to pick up a hitchhiker, to which he replied, well, you say you're a Christian. Aren't you supposed to help other people? I know that doing that indiscriminately is really asking for trouble, but I do wonder. . . how far do we go? And where do we draw the line between self-preservation and helping someone else? After all, Jesus did say love you neighbour AS YOURSELF. hmmm. . . more of a musing than any concrete response I guess.

PS: Miss you on Facebook! Hope the break is doing for you what you wanted from it. . .

Jenn said...

Ini--thanks for the thoughts. I think I remember reading that comment on your blog and feeling a similar psychological squirminess. Which I also felt during this incident, obviously. I still don't know what the answer really is--but experimenting yesterday ended up being a blessing . . .

As for facebook, yeah, I gave it up for Lent so that I could finish the first draft of a novel I've been working on for years, by Easter. It does seem to be helping somewhat. I think I might actually make it! But I'll see you back there on Easter Monday or something! ;)

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