Making homelessness illegal

It’s easy to fuel an opinion via outrage and group-thought and -speak. Too easy. The collective outrage against the increase in laws that makes it hard to be homeless in certain cities in the US is a good example. The poor are unsightly and inconvenient. And costly. The ordinances are classic NIMBY. They are informed by fear of property value loss and of being the target of crime. And other considerations.

Here’s Arnold Abbott, a 90-year-old WW2 veteran, being arrested for violating such a law.  I think such a criminal record is to be envied.

My mother-in-law resided in Fort Lauderdale for several years. That city has a huge homeless population. Given the warm climate, many of them find shelter under the many bridges and other public places. Charitable organizations like Love Thy Neighbor have been feeding people right where they are for years. Citing health concerns a recent ordinance was passed that limits such activities. There must be cleanliness standards. There must be toilet facilities. So what’s wrong with that?

What’s wrong is that it criminalizes charity. It makes it costly to help. Charities that don’t have the money and/or facilities to conform with the law must cease what they do. And the homeless go hungry or .. leave. And it’s “leave” that is the understated message of such ordinances.

Now I believe anyone passing judgment on solutions to problems must have other solutions. Denial that there is a problem is as irresponsible as any solution that one dislikes.

So .. I must ask myself if the homeless could live near me. In “my back yard”, so as to speak. And I really have to say “yes” if I am to oppose the trend of these statutes. There’s really no alternative.

At the same time, I personally do not and will never have the resources to fix poverty. Or provide homes for everyone. So whose responsibility is that? Some would say the church. More would say the government.

There are numerous Bible passage citing the righteous duty to care for the poor like this. There is little argument that it is the right thing to do for people of faith. There are voices that cite the causes of poverty as sin – that the plight of the needy is their own fault and thus, responsibility. I hold that stance in contempt because it fails to extend the grace I need to live each day.

Is this the church’s problem to fix? If so, then the churches I know and have known have a real problem with inward focus. Budgets and energies need to be turned out and not in. But even if that happened, would it be enough? It would be interesting to see, because the gospel regenerates people. THAT’s how Jesus deals with poverty. It’s no surprise that the gospel, when believed and acted upon, has a social-economic effect. Out of the underclass comes a middle class. It’s fact.

But okay, we’re talking about the actions of government here. Secular – of, by and for the people. It’s a blessed principle in the foundation of America. All persons are believed to be created equal. This never meant they are equally gifted, competent or able. But they are equal under the law. And it’s that principle that these ordinances violates.

Yes, I am saying that helping the poor is part of a righteous government. That making life better for them is a municipal concern. And I don’t care where that statement puts me on the facade of the political spectrum. It’s just right.

So .. rather than chasing the poor from our midst, we should feed them, clothe them and give them shelter. The cost of doing so is dwarfed by the virtue of doing so. But even the cost can be creatively managed if and when people decide to care.

Going back to my own backyard – I would that there was a place for poor people to stay. A place I could visit and be enriched by their lives. And it can be next door, no matter the effect on the value of my house. Snobbery be gone – even from me. We need to love the poor. It’s a matter of public and private policy.

Matthew 25:35-36 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

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Confidence – the sweet spot

Jeremiah 17:7 .. blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.

To avoid the self-destruction of shame and the brutality of pride, a middle ground must be found. And one has to find a way to walk there persistently. This place of peace and balance is not achieved by fighting. The challenges to our claim to competence and self-worth are unrelenting. We all battle the voices and systems against us. And we sully ourselves with vengeance or dig ourselves holes to hide in fear.

Here’s a basic diagram about Pride and Shame, showing the wavering mentality of someone stuck in comparative conflict:

Confidence

The gray pathway through shame into pride and back can represent the attitude of individuals or groups in history. Of course some people remain in pride and some in shame in which the conflict has been settled in their minds and emotions.

But the blue line in the picture is the sweet spot. It’s a place where the conflict has no effect on us because we have nothing to prove or defend. It’s not that there aren’t ups and downs; there are. But pride and shame are recognized for the dangerous places they are and avoided through humility and faith.

Yes, this is an invitation to faith, because confidence in ourselves can and will be shaken. Having this knowledge:

Psalm 139:14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

… requires faith muscles. Scriptures like this provide a confidence in who we were made to be. And that overcomes shame.

Now maybe you object to any suggestion that faith has a place in life. Well, people in shame have tremendous faith. Faith in destructive lies. They hold fast to voices and experiences from their earlier life. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the battle for confidence, is NOT against anyone else but our inner voices. And faith in God who greatly values us and loves us gives confidence. Period.

The proud person also believes lies of the opposite variety. Superiority is internalized so much that someone in pride cannot see the lies. And doesn’t want to. In my experience, it’s only when reality hits that there can be a desire for change. The reality of how brutally the proud person treats others – how much pain that person has caused. Often that happens when the proud person is oppressed in kind by another proud person.  But it doesn’t even necessarily happen. The proud can live and die that way, living in proud tribes and having proud children.

To recover from pride, one needs to adopt humility. Proud people very easily associate humility with shame, but it’s not. It’s putting others first, being confident that you have a lot to give.

Again, I’ll point to scriptural instruction:

Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

The word “consider” is operative – others are no better than you. And you are no better than they are. The instruction is to take a position voluntarily. It’s good for you .. but it also takes faith muscles.

What is the outcome of life of confidence, avoiding shame and pride? A confident person, who

  1. Has nothing to prove. Despite all systems of evaluation, performance measurements and the rewards and punishment that comes with them. Confident people know how to work – they pursue excellence. But not to escape shame or continue proud dominance.
  2. Knows that personal comparison is a trap. There are masters in every discipline whose names and stories are celebrated. But a confident person knows that the only person s/he can be compared to is him or herself – yesterday. And even that doesn’t work sometimes.
  3. Can see pride and shame coming from miles off. True confidence can be assaulted by achievement or reward or disappointment and degrading circumstances. But confidence maintains an equilibrium tempered by humility and dignity.

So it”s my hope and prayer for you that you can identify the lies that lead to shame or pride. And establish a life that allows for God – yes God – to let you know how amazing you are. And how very fabulous it is to use your “amazingness” to help others.