Posts Tagged ‘helping’

Shepherds and Sheep

May 30, 2017

Growing up in a Christian household I knew well the language and imagery of Shepherds and Sheep. Jesus was our Shepherd and we were his sheep. The same imagery was applied, to a lesser degree, to the Pastor of the Church. We, the members of his congregation, were the flock that he tended, cared for and protected.

The Shepherd symbol was so pervasive and normative in my youth that I never gave it a second thought. In fact, I don’t even think that I was aware that it was a metaphor.

That changed when a young Christian Pastor pointed out that, “Shepherds smell like sheep.” He made this statement in a discussion about the difficulties that churches inevitably encounter when they welcome the homeless into their facilities. Understandably, no church wants to have to deal with difficult people and situations.

Unfortunately, life and people are complicated. If we want to help house the homeless, then we cannot separate ourselves from the messiness of life. People are homeless for a variety of reasons. Housing can be expensive and hard to find. A period of bad luck and unexpected expenses can land individuals and families on the street.

There are certainly homeless individuals who suffer from mental illness and/or disability. There can also be substance abuse issues. A handful have been homeless so long they can’t imagine being housed. Homelessness, especially chronic homelessness, is complicated.

“The homeless” are people just like us. Their lives are filled with both joys and sorrows. Like us, they are driven by hurts, emotions, and motivations that are buried deep in the mind. They may react, as we also often do, to people and situations in ways that are contrary to their best intentions and beliefs.

christ of the bread linesHousing the homeless means getting to know the people who are are homeless as people. Unique. Human. Challenging. It may involve sharing meals, entering into conversation, or just listening.

It is important, however, to remember that shepherds, no matter how they smell, are not sheep. No one seeing a herd of sheep would mistake the shepherd for the sheep. Nevertheless, to be effective, the shepherd has to live among his/her sheep. The shepherd cannot delegate shepherding. He/She cannot create a non-profit whose mission is ensuring that no sheep “goes astray.”  No. Being a shepherd means tending and nurturing sheep with our own hands. It involves getting dirty and stinky, as well as sharing in the fullness of the life of sheep: birthing, nursing, protecting, and burying.

If we, as religious leaders and people of faith, are akin to shepherds — and I think there is value in the metaphor — then the question is do we, “stink of sheep?”  How protected from adversity and unpleasantness have we made our spiritual lives and churches? Who are the “lepers” in our life and our community? What uncomfortable work have we have delegated to others?

All us will answer this question differently. We each have different callings. The work and mission of each church will differ. We are, however, capable of doing more than we think we can. The first step is a willingness to get our hands dirty or, in the words of my Christian friend, “smell like sheep.”

Peace, Paul

Do Good Anyway

August 15, 2016

On a recent Thursday, the non-profit that I run received a call from an older woman who needed help. She said she was living in a house without power or water, which is not that uncommon where we live. Like many others, she did not have a car. Most distressing, she said she did not have any food. I believe her exact answer, when I asked her if she had any food was, “I have a can of beans.”

There was more to her story and I spent quite a bit of time listening to all the twists and turns of how she came to be in her current situation. Whenever possible, I tried to connect her with resources or agencies that might be able to help. Mostly, I just listened. There was not much we or anyone else could do in the way of concrete action. Once someone has fallen deeply into poverty, the climb out – if it is even possible – is slow and long. This woman had, by her own admission, significant unpaid utility bills and no real way to pay them off. She was stuck.

Giving BreadThe one thing we could do is get her some food. I called several food pantries, including one that was just a mile away from this woman’s home. None of them were willing or able to deliver food to the woman’s house. In the end, I decided that we would take food from our pantry and deliver it ourselves, though her house was some distance away.

Unfortunately, when we arrived at her house with the emergency food assistance, no one was home. We tried her phone but there was no answer. We checked with her neighbors, who told us the woman had not been around in weeks. They all spoke ill of her.

Most people would be disheartened by this turn of events. Indeed, back at the office the staff challenged my decision to take food to this woman. They said that I was too nice and that people take advantage of me.

I disagreed. “Goodness” is not diminished by the harmful or unwholesome actions of others. Our job, individually and as an organization, is simply to do good. We help people by trying to alleviate their suffering in whatever way we can.  How people respond is not our concern. We simply work on adding more good into the world, in as many ways as we can.

Of course some people do deceive and “take advantage” of us. They are in the minority, but it happens. Often, such deceit is more a cause for compassion than anger. These people’s lives are in such a sad state that they feel that they need to lie or manipulate us to get something that we would freely give them.

Doing good is an expression of love. It is an act of generosity. It is not transactional. It does not seek a reward or payment, which is easy to forget in our world permeated by buying and selling. Doing good simply adds love and good into the world; nothing is taken away or lost. We are not diminished in any way through our kind and loving actions. However, the world around is improved a little with each act of generosity, of good, of love.

Peace, Paul