I live in Portland, Oregon. My day job is working in Property Management. My second job is completing my MDiv. With three classes left on this journey I have become increasingly reflective on what I’ve learned and what my intentions are with what I’ve learned.
In Portland, Oregon as I drive to any destination in the city, I see people who live on the side of roadsides in tents, cars, makeshift boxes, broken down recreational vehicles and occasionally just on the ground on cardboard. The number of people seem to grow exponentially with each passing month.
One night, I was driving home from a dinner date with my husband and we took a shortcut and happened to drive through an alley that was alive with a homeless camp. Men and women were huddled around a bonfire they had created in a barrel. Some half-naked in the summer heat, matted hair, dirty wildly gesturing at our car. These people appeared to be feral and wild and still as I reflect on that night I felt as if I had wandered into the Lord of the Flies novel.
What is my responsibility to these people? My most thought-provoking class in Seminary taught me that every event in life has the opportunity of providing me with a theological reflection and this particular event of which I’ve described has not yet crystalized into a reflection for me.
I have shared this event with others and their reaction varies from disgust to disdain for those of our brothers and sisters who are on the streets continually shifting the blame back to them and stating statements like “It’s their own fault” or “They must like it” or “The City enables them”. Most of what I hear is punitive and defensive and shifts responsibility to some “other” that does not seem to exist.
My reflection thus far is that people I know, though kind and well intentioned, are fearful of the homeless and their inability to have an easy fix to the problem. Our society has become disconnected from our collective beliefs in God and our Nation and taken our individuality as silos to protect ourselves instead of looking at what each of us can do.
We, as a people, have taken the Horatio Alger story too far by thinking that all people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make it. We have forgotten that often it takes a village of care to create and continually nurture whole and healthy community. The ancient Jews had a code of conduct for this. There have always been rich and poor, throughout history, but our response to the poor defines who we are as a people individually and corporately. At this time in history we are failing.
This summer, I was fortunate to read the parable of the talents in a different light. God provides each of us with a different measure of talents and asks us to discover them and use them not only for our good but for the greater good of our community. Each of us have a differing set of talents no one is better than another we are just different but comingled or working together we can all do great things.
My continued reflection on this reminds me that in those faces I saw that night was the face of Jesus. Jesus was speaking to me in the madness and feral and asking me look at my life and find the capacity to remember when I have been saved from a similar fate. Further, although I might not have the ability to end homelessness in this City what do I have the capacity to do? Can I ease someone’s suffering? Can I advocate for them? Can I bring them food? What talents do I have? Can I co-mingle my talents with others talents and walk the path that Jesus asks us to walk?
Simply put when each of us want to look away and avoid thinking about this because it feels too big for us, Jesus pulls us towards what we can do and gives the love and grace to be our better selves. The wonder of the risen Jesus is that together we are better and each of us can do great things. We are not alone no problem is beyond His grace or comprehension.