Blogger’s Note: This incident took place in 2006. The situation for homeless people in Dallas has improved considerably since then, particularly with the advent of our new homeless assistance center, the Bridge, in May, 2008. Also, I believe that the current city administration is sensitive to and proactive in finding solutions to the issues surrounding homelessness. KS
The Poorest of the Poor and Forgiveness
“…to love Him in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.”
On Wednesday, I went out with David Timothy of SoupMobile and another volunteer to feed several hundred people at the Day Resource Center, currently the City of Dallas’s only designated site for groups feeding the homeless. (The other volunteer was a columnist from the Dallas Observer researching an article on the homeless encampments.)
The feeding went smoothly, and people were able to come through the line several times times before we ran out of hot dogs — a hugely popular item: they’re meat, and they’re hot food. Most of the people appeared to be ‘chronically homeless’, in pretty rough condition, and are no doubt the ones who were spending the night inside the Day Resource Center prior to the new ruling forbidding sleeping there.
Next we went to the I-45 bridge homeless encampment, where about one hundred people have formed a stable community under the freeway bridge, so the reporter could interview an individual who lives in the camp and is its de facto leader, helping to maintain order there. We pulled up to the chainlink fence surrounding the camp on a dirt road next to a motel. The interviewee works at the motel, and the three of us waited in the van for him to get off work.
People kept stopping by the van to say hi to David and to see if we had food to give out. The street people seem to love and even revere him. He told them we weren’t allowed to feed there anymore — if we did we could incur a $2000-per-incident fine. Soon a nice-looking man named Slim stopped to talk to us; he doesn’t live at the camp but comes around daily and is friends with many of the residents.
While the reporter went into the heart of the camp to conduct his interview, David and I talked to Slim. The subjects came up of the new strict enforcement of regulations on groups feeding the homeless and the closing of the Day Resource Center as a night shelter. A prominent public official was mentioned, and I said I was having a hard time not being quite angry with her for her part in the way homeless citizens in Dallas are being treated. I said that a couple who live in a homeless camp in the woods near my home said that before this woman was elected, she used to routinely give money to panhandlers, courting the homeless vote, then turned the tables on them once she was in office.
Right away, Slim began to talk in Biblical terms about love, forgiveness, and turning the other cheek. What he said was profound and learned, but even more important, he hit upon truths that I had been missing. I have a tendency to ‘hate the haters,’ often expressing my outrage at injustice in terms of anger, and he said in a loving and understanding way: “Satan has thrown a veil over [this politician’s] eyes, so that she doesn’t see the harm she’s doing, but is deluded by her power and that of those she’s trying to please.” This good man, who stays among the homeless and is their friend, was preaching love and forgiveness towards those who persecute them!
I hear this sort of faithfulness all the time when I’m with the homeless population. The men and women I’ve met on the street are the most spiritual people I’ve ever known, and here was another example of that faithfulness, embodied in Slim, now teaching me, the middle-class advocate, the true meaning of Christian love, which should be so evident to me, but which I find so easy to forget: LOVE YOUR ENEMIES. How hard is this to do???? But here was a man who, along with his friends, is constantly persecuted by city and state officials, and he is reminding me about the heart of Christian love.
“Slim, this is unbelievable,” I said to him. “This is just what I needed to hear! I am so focused on the problems in Dallas right now [ie, what you resist persists!], and your message of love and compassion for those in power, even in their misguided actions, is something I’d totally missed. Thank you.”
It was a powerful message. I feel Slim was ‘sent’ to gently remind me that, even if I can’t love a particular politician at the moment, to focus all my attention on my frustration with what’s going on with the city and the homeless may be missing the point. While I don’t have to ignore injustice, perhaps this represents a call for me to go deeper within myself with this work, and to be as good as the street people I want to stand alongside. I can focus more on the solutions and less on the problems, if for no other reason than that focusing on the problems dissipates my energy, taking it away from loving, helping and serving and into the ‘combat zone.’ I have to continue to fight injustice, yes, but maybe in a different way than letting it anger and frustrate me so much. The battle is within myself, and it is there that I need to look: for guidance, for love towards all sides. Perhaps that’s how healing will come. I don’t have to agree, and I can still speak out about the actions of people who I feel are persecuting the homeless, but I am called at the same time to embrace them with love. Not an easy thing. The more deeply I go into this work, the more it challenges me to grow — in unexpected ways.