Lots of people continue to assume that very poor people find themselves in their poverty because they are much in need of an experience with God. The poorer the person, the more it would seem to these folks that what's called for is a good, old-fashioned conversion experience in the life of the poor person.
I've heard it again last week a couple of times.
Very well-meaning people, who really care, want to learn all of the details about our "discipleship programs."
Again, the implicit assumption is that the poor are doing something wrong, that they haven't dealt with their moral failure, that this lack of religion or faith or a "walk with God" explains why they do so poorly with life. Assumptions can be deadly, especially if your concern revolves around total, positive community impact.
It reminds me of the story of the blind man found in St. John's Gospel, chapter 9. The crowd asked Jesus, "Who sinned this man or his parents?"
Surely, life can't go this bad for a person without our being able to pin the current, presenting circumstances on some sinner, some ethical failure on the part of someone.
In the midst of my latest round of inquiry about how we plan to reach these lost souls on the street, my homeless friend "Johnny" interrupted my afternoon.
I'm in the middle of something really important.
Now Johnny's standing outside my door.
Why can't I ever have a moment's peace to do my work?
Johnny missed a doctor's appointment.
He needs a bit of help with bus passes. As a matter of fact he needs a monthly pass so he can look for work.
We're trying to help him receive Social Security disability income because his mental illness prevents him from holding a steady job. He likely missed the appointment because he feels some level of shame for actually needing the public assistance. Johnny wants, above all else, to stand on his own two feet. He's not playin' about that, I can assure you.
Johnny wants to talk. . .to a friend.
The importance of "my work" evaporates in just a moment or two of talking to Johnny.
What am I thinking?
God, have mercy on me, the sinner!
Not, Johnny, me!
Life on the streets for years and years, with nothing but God, is likely the "seminary" we all need.
I know Johnny's working as hard as he can at the curriculum. His effort puts all the judgment in its proper place.