Sunday, April 27, 2008

I Had a Visitor

When I was a child I loved to read biblical stories.

On many a Sunday morning, while the preacher droned on and on, I would flip my bible to the Old Testament and read amazing stories of adventure, intrigue and miracles. I loved reading about Samson's amazing strength, or Daniel's steadfast faith in God. Part of me wondered whether those fantastic stories could be true, but the faith drummed into my mind since birth made me believe.

The New Testament never interested me as a child. Sure, I now view it as a treasure trove of life lessons, but back then, the New Testament seemed like a bunch of confusing stories and long speeches. Jesus did a lot of miracles and spoke many parables, but their storylines didn't have the same panache of those in the Old Testament.

However, even in my youth, the New Testament did offer me many things to ponder. I've always struggled with Christ's call to love my enemies and make myself a servant to all. No matter how much I pray, my natural mind rebels at the idea of loving people who despise me or wrong me.

In fact, there is one New Testament passage that has puzzled and frightened me for a long time. In Matthew 25, Jesus teaches that in the time of judgement, God will speak to many righteous people and tell them that when he came to them for succor, they turned their backs on him. As the text states, most people will protest that they would never do such a thing to God, but then God will point out that whenever they turned their backs on anyone in need, it was the same as doing so to God.

See, that really bothers me.

I am typically not an evil or unkind man, but I must admit that my heart can be hard when it comes to assisting panhandlers or others who seek monetary assistance. I'm not sure whether it's just my stingy nature, or if I have a real issue with beggars, but I rarely give money to strangers.

But, a recent occurrence made me question that mentality. This weekend I was visiting my parents, and late Friday night there was a knock at their door. That was an abnormal occurrence because my parents were not expecting visitors, and they live in a semi-rural area that makes it highly unlikely that anyone would be knocking on their door by mistake.

As I walked to the door, I called out asking "Who is it?" In response, I heard an unfamiliar male voice cry out "It's me."

That response kind of pissed me off. I thought it was ridiculous that someone would knock on the door that late at night, and respond with "It's me" when questioned. Having watched far too many bad action movies, I am always skeptical about looking out of the peephole because I expect someone to shoot me through it. Consequently, my only option was to open the front door to a stranger.

Anyway, at the door, I saw an older white man, somewhat disheveled, standing on my parents' porch. I asked the man what I could do for him, and he launched into a spiel about how he and his crippled friend, who was "right outside", needed assistance. He wanted my family's help.

I must admit that I lost it a little bit. I found it insulting that at 10 p.m., this man had the audacity to walk up to my parents' house, walk through their screened in porch and knock on their door requesting money. I thought it was rude and unacceptable behavior, and I told the man that he knew better, and knew he was wrong to do something like that. The gentleman sputtered something else about his friend before sheepishly leaving the porch.

And I've felt bad ever since.

As soon as my parents asked me what was going on, God touched my heart. He brought to my remembrance that passage from Matthew 25, and He pricked my soul to the point where I openly wondered to my family whether I had just turned Jesus away from the door. I walked outside with my father to look for the man, but, as we peered up and down the dimly lit street, he appeared to be gone.

I don't know whether I turned away God or a brazen beggar, but in my heart I feel like I betrayed all the Christian ideals I hold dear. It's just like when I pull up to a red light and refuse to meet the eyes of the homeless people panhandling at intersections in New Orleans. Mentally, I struggle with determining my duty as a child of God.

What is the Christian thing to do?

Does God require that we open our wallets to anyone that asks? If we are supposed to make decisions based on the spiritual cues n our hearts, how can we be certain that our own personal preferences aren't overriding God's will? If the Bible tells us to be good stewards over all of our possessions, does that include handouts?

I'm looking for some clarity, tell me what you think.

(Those of you who aren't Christians are welcome to reply based on your own personal guidelines.)


A.F. said...

I don't know what I would have done in your situation at all. It sounds like it could have been a little dangerous. And I may have been thinking possible home invasion. "It's me" at 10 p.m.?

In day to day situations, I know that I've given a lot of money to people who have probably turned around and used it to do all manner of things that are the reason that we're told not to give money. But I've come to the conclusion that I'd rather give to people who ask if even only one really needs it. It seems as though if people ask for what they don't need and I give it, the bad karma is on them, but if they ask for what they need and I don't give it, even though I can, the bad karma is on me.

The Christian Progressive Liberal said...

I think you acted sensibly, considering the circumstances. However, you should always be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit to discern whether or not Jesus is sending someone to you for help.

You know what ticks me off? Pandhandlers in the street, and they holler "God Bless You" in snark fashion when you don't give them any money. Once, when I worked in San Francisco, I used to pass this panhandler at the BART station, everyday and put some change in his Mickey D cup.

Then, one night on the local news, I saw the same panhandler, dressed and standing in front of his house in Oakland, bragging about how he managed to pull $60K a year panhandling - he managed to buy that house he was filmed in front of.

I've closed up my wallet ever since. Some people scam. But the Bible also says that no child of God would go hungry; nor His seed begging bread. Which I take to mean that if they have faith, God will provide, without them begging in the streets. There's also a Proverb that states a man who won't work shouldn't eat, either.

Your heart is sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, so slow down so you can hear that leading and be obedient in following it.

WNG said...

How would it have hurt you to help out the guy, Big Man? Even if he didn't have a friend waiting? Even if he just wanted the money (or whatever he was asking for) to get beer? How would it have hurt you? Yes, it might have been rude for him to come begging so late-but are there hours for hunger? How long that day had people been treating him as you did before he got to your parent's house?
A fellow blogger spent four years on the street. While his family searched for him he lived on the streets in Boston as a beggar. He did odd jobs when he could find them and begged when he couldn't.
If I can spare it and someone needs it I give it. I'd rather give food to someone panhandling than cash, but sometimes I'm running late and I have cash on me. If that makes me a soft touch or a sucker I'm fine with it. For every guy with a 60k income there are twenty more like my friend.
You know what CPL? I'm fine with the 'God Bless You' yelling - there are so many people who proclaim their Christianity in all caps from every rooftop and then drive right by those guys without a thought, I have no problem with them getting yelled at and no matter what tone you try to spin on it- it's still a blessing.
You could always try replying with one.

Anonymous said...

I was somewhat coldhearted to panhandlers even as a teenager, many, many years ago. One day walking with my father a woman walked up to us and asked for money to buy formula for her baby. I acidly retorted that the formula was probably brand "Horse". My father gave the woman some money and later told me quietly (which was very rare for him, being a loud and irascible Puerto Rican): "My duty is to help, what she does afterwardsis up to her and God." I have not been able to always follow his advise, living in NYC and all, but I try.

An Atheist in NYC

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

yea folk, thats robbing and stalking type ish

Big Man said...

I appreciate all the responses.


I feel where you are coming from. When I went outside to look for the man I was prepared to give him money, but couldn't find him. I don't look down on people who panhandle, I really think I'm just stingy, which in some ways makes me feel worse.

My dad always gives money to people who ask him, or he buys them food. He has encouraged me to do the same, using the same rationale that many of you used about letting God sort things out.

I'm going to really think on this because I feel like this is a core issue.

WNG said...

You have to figure out what's right for you. I think it's great that you're asking yourself these many don't.
" I may not always know what the right thing to do is, My Lord, but I think the fact that I want to please you pleases you."

WNG said...

WOW!!! Just went over to my friend Heart's blog and thought you really have to read this:

sorry I'm no good at linking...

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I'm so glad Wng introduced us. This is a great, thoughtful and thought-provoking post.

I am not a Christian but I care deeply about doing the right and godly thing. Sometimes I give to panhandlers and sometimes I don't out of cynicism, but I always feel better when I do because my spare dollar might make a big difference to someone else.

The reality is that many of them will use my money to feed their addictions, but as others have pointed out, that is not for me to determine and giving with strings attached is not really giving at all, but a business transaction.

Still, I think that most people would react as you did to someone invading their home late at night. There are, sadly, too many crazies running around with guns to take chances on having your family hurt, and I really believe that Jesus would take that into account and come by earlier in the day.

Fantastically Misunderstood Me said...

This could be a personal question, but why are you so stingy? I only ask because I was sort of tight with my money too until one day when I was at church this minister told me that when you open your hand to give you're also leaving it open for God to bless you. I don't think He's willing to pry open a death grip,lol.

Seriously, I was holding onto my money as if I would never get anymore. And I had to be reminded that God would continue to provide as He always had.

This post actually makes me think of two songs. First is Kirk Franklin's "Lean on Me," I don't care for the song itself but there's a lyric "How can I say that I love Jesus when I've never seen his face/Yet I see you're dying and I turn and walk away?" The other has a similar concept and it says "You're my brother, your my sister and I love you with the love of my Lord..."

I guess my point here would be that it doesn't really hurt to give someone $1 or $5 if you have it and you see them doing without. I agree w/WNG, the person could very well use the money for other things, but that's on them because you gave it with the right heart.

Obviously this fellow had something to lose knocking on the door of a complete stranger in the middle of the night too. You could have shot first, asked questions later. What's really funny is that if he'd said his name, you still wouldn't have known who he was anyway. Lol. Just a thought...

Big Man said...

I don't know why I'm so stingy. I've been that way since I was a kid.

I'm the kid that kept track of how many pieces of pizza everybody had at the classroom pizza party to make sure I wasn't getting shafted. Or the guy who hates going to dinner with a group of strangers because when the bill comes there is always some shadiness.

I've chilled on it some, but I still have a problem. And I know I shouldn't worry about money so much, but I can't seem to shake it. I really need to spend some time thinking about this problem and stop ignoring it.

A.F. said...

Ture story: I drove into the parking lot of the Discount Zone on St. Charles and Louisiana the last night of Mardi Gras 2006. I tend to check out what's going on around me before I get out of the car. Inside were some rowdy-seeming frat boys at the ATM, outside was a man asking for money. No problem. I got out of the car as the frat boys came out. They yelled things at the man out front, who had not even asked them for any money, such as "Get a job, N-!" They also immediately yelled something to me about my a--. I gave the man asking for money $5. Then, once inside the store, I realized, much to my frustration, that I then didn't have enough cash for the stuff I needed, so I went to the ATM. The frat boys had been so drunk apparently as to have left $20 lying right there in the machine. I had no problem taking it, buying my stuff, and giving the rest to the guy outside. It seemed like it was one of those instances in which what one gives comes back several fold.

Also when I evacuated to FL for the floods, there was at least a week that I had no access to my bank account because there was only one branch of my credit union, which was under water, and the paychecks ceased immediately, too. I had a credit card close to being maxed and that was it. A total stranger, when she heard through a friend of hers that I was in town as an evacuee gave me $500. I told her that was too kind and tried to return it, assuring her that the bank would get back up and running soon, etc. This lovely woman said, "No, I insist you take it, and I don't want to be repaid. If you find that you don't need it, please pass it on to someone who does." I was pretty humbled by that.

Gye Greene said...

A.F. - great stories. :)


Gye Greene said...

I agree: it sounds like a weird situation. And in the end, you **did** try to do "the right thing". Spooky that you couldn't find the guy.

You can't be perfect: I'd say to just try to raise your over-all average. Help as many people as you can -- and if you miss a few, well, so you're imperfect.

Weirdly, Arrested Development's "Mister Wendell" changed my point of view to a certain extent (although they romanticise homelessness a bit). I usually toss homeless folks a buck or two, 'cause, you know... what the heck.


Deacon Blue said...

I've had a lot of problem in this area as well, Big Man. Part of it is simply selfish; I don't have much walking around money these days (between a big loss of freelancing clients over the past year and having a little girl now AND a nearly grown young man) and it's hard to let go even though I know I should. Your post reminds me that I need to get the deathgrip off my ones and fives at least. (I used to give a bit more in Chicago when I had more money and saw people asking for it more often.)

Depending on where you live, opening up your wallet to everyone can be impractical, though. Let's take a stroll through San Francisco for one. You could bankrupt yourself handing out just a couple quarters to each homeless person on the street some days. Chicago, too, depending on where you are. Lots of big cities. And even where I'm at, which isn't a big metro area, you still see panhandling.

There's also the safety issue...if you have to literally pull out your wallet, you've just left yourself vulnerable to fast and hard mugging.

Let the spirit guide you...and start giving a little more here and there (I promise to do the same) and I think you (and I) will be led in the right directions in the future. And don't forget to give to some worthy official causes as well some times ;-)

Gye Greene said...

Deacon Blue raises a good point: "
There's also the safety issue...if you have to literally pull out your wallet, you've just left yourself vulnerable to fast and hard mugging."

I used to keep a few ones in my coat pocket (i.e. separate from my wallet) for just such a purpose. (Plus, I used to wear jeans that were a little too tight: it was a struggle to get the wallet out with groovy smoothness.)


Fantastically Misunderstood Me said...

I just HAD to come back and tell you this story. The other day I was on the train and this guy got on looking furious and slightly crazy. So I continue looking out the window bc I don't want him to have an outburst or anything.

So a few minutes go by and he starts asking people for money. Before I know it he plops down thisclose to me and starts talking. I have my iPod on so I'm totally startled and completely disgusted that he would invade my personal space. I don't play that. So I look at him like he's crazy and he finally gets up and proceeds to ask EVERY SINGLE PERSON on the train for fare money.

Then I thought about this entry and was like man, sure he's rude, but what would Jesus do? He only $3. So I dig out my last dollar I had on me and give it to the man. Maybe I missed it, but it appears he didn't say "Thank you." He was just like "Are you going to help me out with the rest of money?"

I was INCREDULOUS. Lol. As was everyone else on the train. He just walked away and I was subject to a chorus of "See. You shouldn't have given him anything." and "I bet he's on that crack. You see how insistent he was?" from all the other passengers.

All I could do was laugh, though. Anywho, it was only a dollar. What he did w/it was up to him.

Raving Black Lunatic