Respect and a story that’s (not really) about Hell

Regularly in this line of work I have those moments of cognitive disconnect. More often than not it takes the form of me being struck dumb by the ways and the degree to which those who live inside can dismiss some of our friends and neighbors outside. It’s a problem that I gather many of us have when we are confronted by sexism or racism or a long list of other ways we might downplay the value of one another.
Let me just give today’s example: there is a young woman who is sitting outside a grocery store with a sign indicating that she is living outside and that she’s pregnant, I asked her if there’s anything she’d like to eat.

“Ice Cream!”
“Anything with chocolate!”

I buy two pints and join her sitting on the sidewalk. We chat, about kids and parenting, things I’ve learned over the last year and a half , how finding find the best online casinos out you’re going to be a parent can change your whole world, what we’re up to this…

“Are you homeless with your kid?!” a man in khaki shorts is standing over us and has just interrupted us in mid sentence. He looks really, really concerned.

“What? No, I’m just enjoying some ice cream with a friend.”
“See”, a woman standing behind him says, “I told you they weren’t” and with that they walk off and I’m left immediately thinking of all the things I wish I’d said instead, befuddled about this man who is seems very upset at the idea of a kid living outside, but once he finds this not to be the case seems relatively at peace with the woman about to have a kid still sitting there. How many more people will he pass today that he’ll be relatively unbothered by their destitution…but a kid?!

And then we sat there. In that uncomfortable space that appears when someone has very clearly and explicitly ignored the humanity of one of my friends.

At HOMEpdx we’ve had a number of friends who have lost their kids because of their housing status. As someone who worked for a couple of years at a group home with foster kids and more recently went to an intro class on the possibilities of becoming a foster or adoptive parent myself, I can’t help but wonder the cost-comparison between removing a child and then relocating them to foster care and the cost of housing the whole family might be.

This points to a larger question that a lot of communities have been wrestling with, how much money does it cost to deal with the effects of having people on the street (policing and prosecution of petty infractions, extra strain on the jail system, ER’s treating people for ailments related to exposure, etc) and might we save money by making sure that they weren’t? Utah, one of the most conservative states in the country, seems to think that the dollars add up at least a little.

If you’re like me you have a radical notion that people shouldn’t be on the street because they are human beings, FULL STOP. That’s crazy talk I know but I blame the influences of a houseless storyteller who once shared this story:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

I’m a fan of Biblical Scholar William Herzog’s suggestion that, contrary to what I’d heard growing up, “that the parables were not earthly stories with heavenly meanings but earthy stories with heavy meanings” (Parables of Subversive Speech p.3, 1994). If Herzog is right then this story has little to say about what we should expect after we die, but has lots to say about the savage inequity that Jesus saw in the world around him and we see in our world as well. Perhaps stories like this should give us pause to ask “who would I be in this story?” and what would it mean to take step outside of this narrative? For the folks on the margin to be invited in and for those of us on the inside to be doing that inviting?

I’d started writing this post last summer and it’d gotten forgotten, half-finished in the “drafts” and I’m afraid I still don’t have an ending to the story. I have no idea what happened to this woman or her baby. But we have these kinds of interactions with new and old friends all the time. You should try it, it feels amazing.
Also it’s worth reminding folks that we’re able to do this because of the generous donations and support of folks like you. If you support the work we’re doing, even only periodically THANK YOU! And if you appreciate what we’re doing consider getting involved.