Friday, February 20, 2009

Thought of the Day...

"The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want."
-Mark 14:7

Here in Greece, there are lots of beggars. Every day I walk down Ermou, the main vendor street, and my heart breaks. I see men and women with horrible disfigurations, children being held limp from malnutrition and fatigue in their parents arms, and men and women dying from addictions. All of these people are holding out cups begging for change in Greek and I honestly don't know what to do.

I'm an action-oriented person when it comes to faith. Every day I pray to God that I might see the world the way God sees the world, that God would fill me with an overwhelming compassion for God's people. People all over the world need help. And I'm not talking about "saving souls," whatever that means, I'm talking about bringing people out of the cold. It's tough though, right? How do we do that?

I had a conversation with my friend Διμίτρις (Dimitri) about it the other day, and apparently everyone is perplexed by this phenomenon. You see, if you don't give them change, you basically feel like a bastard. On the other hand, if you DO give these people change, you're only addressing a symptom of the problem and ultimately you're enabling this lifestyle of begging. You encourage it, you know?

It's a big problem all over the world. People are starving. People can't put a roof over their children's heads. People can't afford clothing. The list goes on. Jesus tells us that the poor will always be with us, so apparently this isn't any kind of new problem. Still, that doesn't excuse us from our obligation to reach out and be the hands and feet of Christ in this world. The next question is this: How the HELL do we even start?


Anonymous said...

Some people are homeless and poor by choice... believe it or not. In Hawaii there were plenty of people like that and some were offended if your tried to help them.

To "assume" they wanted your charity or pity.

Some people are poor/homeless because they are mentally unstable. Unable (refuse to take it) or incapable (cant afford it) of getting medicine.

Others are either addicted to illegal drugs or simply ostricized in their culture. In some cases if you grew up in the slums or brothels, even when offered schooling, you dont have the emotional or mental resolve to carry "through" education.

We take for granted all the time how easy some things come to us because we had parents who could give us healthy/balanced childhoods.

Some homeless people are the nicest people you'll ever meet... and some are crazy and violent. Just like "people" in general.

The best thing, I think, in light of homelessness that you could feel... is severe gratitude for your own blessings in life.

I think its easy to pity some poor folks... all the while we assume the man with the mansion has a richer and fuller life/soul because he has stuff... and thats not necisarrily the case.

In places like NY you can make major bank by pretending youre poor,handicapped, war veteran... which does happen.


JustJess said...

I do think that God wants us to put our faith into action by helping people. At the same time, I think it's important that our actions are premeditated. Sometimes, giving to an organization that helps the homeless can do much more for good than just giving to one or two beggars. The programs they use are there to help those that need and want the help.

In Columbia, our town actually asks us to give to organizations (Central MO Food Bank, Homeless Shelter) as opposed to giving to the beggars. Sure, the beggars need the money. But the organizations will work on helping all of the needs of the person and can even help with psychological issues that won't get help if you merely give to someone on the street.

Similarly, the person above me posted about people who beg "for a living" so to speak. Giving to charitable organizations instead of the beggars themselves stops this cycle. When the beggars aren't given money to do as they please, they must go to the helpful places. Those places can assist with the needs instead of just handing out food, drugs, or alcohol.

There is no easy answer. And it is important that we help in some way. I just think some help is more helpful than others. But I am always a proponent of giving away my leftover pizza.

Mark said...

You guys have pointed out some of the major concerns I have with giving money to the poor themselves. The issues are so complicated that I can't really begin to address them. Everything's so situational.

The solution I've found is by going up to people and asking if they want food. I don't really like giving money because I don't know where they'll spend it and what they'll spend it on, so I just go buy them a meal. At the end of the day I feel better about it at least.

Lady A-
It's interesting that you point out the fact that our initial reaction is pity. I'd never really contemplated the idea that there are better ways to react. I don't really think that those who have money are any happier than those who don't, but I guess I have always seen homelessness as "the bottom of the barrel," you know? Thanks for putting things in a more optimistic perspective!

Anonymous said...

I was told a story once of a woman who was very charitable and kind- who wished that every homeless person that resided in Waikiki- would have a Thanksgiving meal.

Many people were pleased to have a free meal handed to them in one of the parks (lord knows I love free meals)... however when she approached one lady with a plate, the woman smacked the plate from her hand.

"Who do you think you are?!" or something similar was said from the homeless woman.

It was obvious it was a bag lady, she was dirty, pushed around a big cart... and she was majorly offended.

I suppose it was all because- of her state in the world, people "assumed" she wanted help. Needed help. How could she not... right?

It's still an odd thing to consider.

I met many Brazilians, many of which who grew up with literally nothing, or had family members still making do in Brazil... however they have one of the BEST outlooks on life I've ever encountered.

In our society we think we can be happy with "things". But many poor people have discovered- as uncomfortable as it may be at times, you can still be happy without a house, food, or shoes.

It is also because of their beautiful outlooks on life that made me realize one doesnt need all the fanfare, education, rites of passage, and careers one thinks they need in America... to be happy or worthy of life.

Many couldnt afford an education if they tried. So they dont ask what you do for a living... they want to know if you are a good person with a big heart. Seriously!

That's not to say violence and crime doesnt occur in Brazil... it can be pretty bad. But I would say the Brazilians have something Americans dont... for sure.

-Lady A

Mozart said...

Coming from a middle-class American perspective, I get depressed and ill just thinking about all this abject poverty. Like you say, where the hell do we even start?

However, like Lady A points out, the thing to keep in mind is that not everyone has this same mindset. Indians, for example, coming from their Hindu-caste perspective, simply accept their situation as their lot in life. They "deserve" it for whatever reason and can do nothing to change it, so they make do with what they have and don't complain. It's considered bad taste for the wealthy to help the poor, because each is in their "proper" position in life--it is the will of the gods. This seems very strange to us Westerners, I guess, but that's just the way it is....I suppose that just because people are poor doesn't necessarily mean they're unhappy or miserable.