Monday, October 23, 2006

Lost Value. . .Wasted Power

Most people don't agree with me, but I seldom turn away from a person on the street who asks me for money. I'm not patting myself on the back here. It may be better to walk or drive on by. I understand the reasoning of people who do not help panhandlers.

My problem is I enjoy talking to people, and I feel really bad when I take an action that may communicate that I don't have time or don't want to talk or that I don't respect the person asking for my help. There are plenty of times when I don't provide money--lots of times I don't have any! And, there are times when I do move on without talking.

That said, I talked to a gentleman at the corner of Peak and I-30 last Saturday.

He stood there with a drinking glass that he held out to receive whatever donations those who stopped at the signal light might offer up.

I rolled my window down and asked him if he wanted to get off the street?

He laughed at me, not really knowing what I meant. I went on to describe our downtown project, as well as our current ministry opportunities open to him. I told him that my office was very near by and that he would be welcome to stop by anytime. I gave him $5 and waved the driver behind me on around, as he set down on his horn.

As we talked a little more, it hit me. This guy is such a waste. His decisions, for whatever reason, that led him to this terrible corner are not just killing him. They are killing me.

"You need off this corner, man!" I told him.

"That is my opinion," I went on without being asked to do so.

"I respect your opinion, but you gotta see that we need you off this corner. We need you out here helping us make this a better place to live!" I challenged him.

My words pulled him up a bit.

His big smile flattened out.

I know he got my message.

I doubt he will do anything different with it, but then, who really knows?

As I drove away, I realized why I usually stop and talk.

The guy is worth it. He matters.

He doesn't even believe that.

But, I do.

If I didn't, I don't think I could keep doing what I do.

Everyone has value. Some folks are just in the "burying" phase--taking their God-given talent and burying it in an ill-chosen hole.

There are reasons why people take such action. But that doesn't change the fact that my buddy on the corner is not just robbing himself, he is robbing me and my city.

I need him to do better. We're all in this together. We are connected whether we like to admit it or not.

Call me crazy if you like, but I'm going to keep talking to beggars.


RC said...


You are not crazy, and you know it. You know what Jesus would do. This past Saturday I helped my youth minister, age 56, speak at a funeral. The family was so poor it took them a good bit of time to get the money together to pay for the least expesive funeral available. When I got to the chapel the wife of the man who died was wearing blue jeans. I doubt she owned better. The family had a boat load of problems, and poverty was at the top of the list. This was one rough family. I felt out of place. My youth minister felt at home with them. He had built a relationship with them. They hugged on him like he was a relative. He has been critized for spending too much time with people like that. To him everyone matters. He is teaching me lessons every day. When you get to the point where you really believe that everyone matters everything changes. Your post today is a challange everyone can understand. A few weeks ago a lady was dropped off at our church on a Sunday morning. She was drunk. I watched people spring into action and help her. I think at some churches the police would have been called. I too often give lip service to the poor. People like you and my youth minister do something. Thanks for the challange. There is just too much in the Bible about reaching out to the outcast to ignore it. Every Sunday when I get up to preach I see Bob, who five years ago was a "hopeless" bumb, but today is the person who greets everyone who comes in the door. A few people just would not give up on him.

Anonymous said...

Here is the simple fact: a city is made up of people. All people. And the man on the corner is part of our city.

What makes Larry James unique in a city like Dallas is that Larry can talk to the man on the corner with the same respect and attention that he has for the donors of his ministry at the big dollar events. And both groups respect him, and understand what matters to him.

When I read this post by Larry, there was nothing about it that stands out as unusual. It is what I expect from Larry. It is what he does -- all the time. It is what he does because it is who he is.

I suspect that a lot of our community leaders have similar concerns for people. But Larry has spent a lifetime "living in both worlds." "The word became flesh -- and walked/lived/dwelled among us," goes the description of the One who serves as model. I think Larry has learned from this model, and not many other leaders can walk so effectively in both (all) worlds.

This is why some of us wonder if Larry should consider a next step -- not a "bigger step," because there is nothing he does that is bigger than talking to one human being on a street corner -- but a step that might expose and spread this model to a larger circle.

Randy Mayeux, Dallas

Justin said...

Larry, I so appreciate the job you're doing. I've always had a heart to help people on the streets (and growing in Memphis, I saw plenty). I didn't, however, want to encourage more bad behavior by giving them money when its quite obvious they were going to use it for something destructive.

But I've changed a little bit. I still try to buy people what they need rather than giving them cash, but what I always do, no matter whether I give them money or not is to look them in the eyes when I'm talking to them, ask them their name, and shake their hand and introduce myself. I am reminded of the story where Jesus touched the leper... he didn't need to touch him to heal him, but he did because that man probably hadn't been touched by anyone in a long time. Touch is a powerful thing.

Last night, I was leaving a bar near downtown Nashville and a couple of homeless men approached me, I gave them 80 cents (it was all I had on me) and one of the men proceeded to give me 3 or 4 bear hugs and he told me he loved me. I couldn't really describe it. It was just awesome.

There's something about touch....

Becky said...

My kids and I bought some canned goods at the store today because my daughter's preschool is doing a can drive. I explained to her (she's 3 1/2)that we were going to give this food to her school and they will give it to hungry people. She started asking me "Is ____ (various names of kids in her class) a hungry person?" I answered "No, they all have money to buy food. A hungry person doesn't have enough money to buy food sometimes, and well, I guess we don't actually know any hungry people." Actually saying that outloud really bothered me- I don't know any hungry people. I need more friends who are not just like me. Reading your post gives me encouragement to reach out to other people and get out of my comfort zone.

Anonymous said...

"Call me crazy if you like, but I'm going to keep talking to beggars."

Me too Larry, me too. Thanks for reminding me why.

KentF said...

Beautiful words Larry...

Call me crazy, but maybe that was no beggar you were talking to.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Ooo, nice combination of the practical and philosophical. Isn't it interesting how, for all of the confusion in the world, we can actually talk about stuff that all of us get? That's when and where people really meet. I love it when that happens; wish it happened more.

"I understand the reasoning of people who do not help panhandlers. My problem is . . . I feel really bad when I take an action that may communicate . . . that I don't respect the person asking for my help."

Larry, having moved to Amarillo (home to lots of panhandlers) one year ago, this is what I've been dealing with every since. So I'm glad to have come across your model here. Thanks.

MommyHAM said...

Larry - If you're crazy, then count me in too...

As I drove away, I realized why I usually stop and talk.

The guy is worth it. He matters.

He doesn't even believe that.

But, I do.

If I didn't, I don't think I could keep doing what I do.

Amen! I have felt the same (toward the end!) many a time in my work.

Keep on actin' crazy man, God will bless you for it :)