Every time it happens I hate it.
Last Thursday morning I walked into Crossroads Community Services (CCS), a very important, partnership ministry supported by First United Methodist Church and First Presbyterian Church, both located in the heart of Downtown Dallas. CCS does amazing work among thousands of low-income and, in many cases, homeless individuals and families.
I parked across the street and walked over to the CCS building that houses a food relief center, a medical facility and the Stewpot, a meal delivery service for the homeless.
People were everywhere, both outside on the sidewalks and inside in every room and lined up the staircase to the clinic.
I was looking for my friend, Jay Cole. Jay serves as director of the center.
What I hate to experience is what I call "automatic deference."
I didn't meet a single person I knew while I was there.
I wasn't dressed up really--pair of slacks and a polo-type shirt, pair of lace shoes.
But everyone knew. From their perspective I didn't "belong" there.
Everyone was very nice. But everyone was deferring to me.
One woman asked if I "ran the place."
Lots of people had a familiar look on their faces, looks like I see around Central Dallas Ministries everyday. A look that camped somewhere between fatigue and resignation.
I also noticed that when I spoke to people with respect and warmth, faces brightened, as if hit by an unexpected surprise. I know that people who come to CCS receive respectful treatment routinely, but it was as if they didn't expect it from me, a guy who walked in off the street.
I am white.
I am rich.
Regretably, to them I am "the man."
Everyone deferred without reason, without an experience of my heart, my soul, my life.
Maybe the fact that I was there surprised people, I don't know.
I had the urge to shout to everyone in the building and on the sidewalks. I wanted to gather everyone up in a crowd and discuss the fact that we are all in this together. I wanted to convey my shame that this city of wealth can't do any better than create acceptable places where begging can take place.
I wanted to confess that, as a collective, Dallas has decided to do it this way and that we are content with little to no real progress among and for our poorest citizens.
Why defer to me? Given the way things are on the streets and out in many of our neighborhoods, why defer to anyone who seemingly possesses the power and the ability to influence decisions?
Oh, we've got our Calatrava Bridge designs. Our new opera hall is in sight. We're even going to build an urban park across the canyon of Woodall Rogers Freeway! And, yes, we will finally construct a new Homeless Assistance Center for some of the people into whose faces I looked last week.
Frankly, I'm excited about each of those projects!
But, what about other real solutions to other community, quality of life issues?
Solutions that would actually allow people to rise up from their entrenched despair? What about permanent housing, education, health care, employment, transportation and all of the other factors that would do away with "automatic deference"--what about those matters?