(For "texture" on this post you may want to read what I posted on Monday, September 19.)
Stay with me here.
I'm still stuck in my experience on a recent Sunday.
What I cannot get out of my mind are the questions that came from the class after my presentation.
The class invited me to talk about our work at Central Dallas Ministries. I was glad to do so. In fact, I have visited with this group on several occasions.
I gave a brief report on most of the initiatives that we have underway. I concluded by updating them on our efforts to address housing needs among the very poor in Dallas, many of whom live on our streets or in shelters. The group seemed eager to hear about our single room occupancy (SRO) projects.
When the Q & A portion of our time arrived, several hands went up. All of the questions were provocative and important. I enjoyed the conversation.
Some of the questions stuck with me.
They remain with me.
"How do you screen these people? How do you make sure that you aren't helping drunks and winos?" a rather stern looking gentleman asked.
I explained that to understand our process one really needed to visit and sit in our Resource Center and observe the people. I went over our interview process. I pointed out that since 99.9% of our volunteers are low-income people from the community, we have no trouble at all sniffing out "cons" and identifying "game."
Another man told of a good friend who owned a business downtown. He rehearsed in some detail the "clean up" process that occurred every morning after the "street bums" had spent the night in front of his building.
"How do you plan to deal with that in what you are suggesting?" he asked--come to think of it, he seemed stern as well.
I asked the class not to give me a show of hands, but to think about how many alcoholics they had in their families. I went on to describe a plan that includes treatment, housing and strong accountability.
"Tell me, Larry, what do you think about this FEMA policy of issuing $2,000 cash payments to every Katrina victim? I've heard that some of the debit card expenditures are ending up in all sorts of places, including 'strip clubs' and the like. Is this good policy?" another not so stern fellow asked.
After making a few comments about how "strip clubs" aren't staying in business on the limited income of the poor, I went on to explain that it was my strong belief that the vast majority of the emergency dollars were being spent as intended.
The problems with the emergency situation has more to do with the untenable plight of the poor before the storm that led to such disaster for so many during and after the storm.
I'm not sure I satisfied everyone, but the group remained polite and supportive.
In retrospect though, I find the conversation unnerving.
Nowhere in the texts of the Christian faith (we were in a Sunday School class with adults who have been reading the Bible a long time) do I find interview criteria for working with the poor, the homeless or the weak. No text in all of the Bible, that I can recall, questions the poor about their poverty so as to eliminate or exclude them from the works of compassion or justice.
Someone will pipe up just here with Paul's words "if a man will not work, neither shall he eat." That text was written to a specific Christian community so completely convinced that the second coming was emanate that work was no longer necessary, so it does not apply to the poor.
On the other hand, there are countless texts that challenge the rich and the well-off to stand with the poor, speak up for the poor and defend the poor against those forces that help make and keep them poor. Hundreds of passages speak to compassion for the poor. I could go on and on here.
The questions asked in class Sunday were fine.
Considering the extreme affluence of this church , it is the questions that were not asked that really bother now that I think about it.