Social Justice and Being Christian

Forgive this interruption in the regularly scheduled programming about my job search journey. This is just too important to me to not talk about.

This past week I was in a discussion with several others regarding social justice issues like homelessness, stereotypes, what we believe about them, and how we act on them as followers of Jesus.

A significant part of the conversation was regarding those who experience homelessness, with much of that centering on those in chronic homelessness, who often deal with substance abuse and dependence issues.

There were the usual questions about the whys and wherefores of “those” people’s choices and lifestyles. We also touched on the changes and so-called solutions in our society which foster the problem of homelessness and its impact on society.

When we got around to what to do about it, that’s when we got down to the nitty gritty of our role as Christians and individuals. How do you love people who may be unsafe, living in unsafe circumstances, who reject the social services they may have access to? How do you determine if someone will or can benefit from your involvement? What does relationship look like in this context?

One person stated that we can’t know what to do unless we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. But, what if you’re like me and have difficulty accessing and discerning what the Holy Spirit may be saying?

Look to Jesus. Not to be trite, but, what would Jesus do?

• Make eye contact.
• Listen without judgment.
• Offer a willingness to understand.
• Treat with dignity.

It’s not our job to solve homelessness or poverty, as individuals. Those are goals to be worked toward, for sure. However, what we do know that it’s our job as individuals to love our neighbor, including our neighbors without four walls and a roof.

How to do that? Take time to get to know one of “those” people, even if it’s just to share a cheap fast food meal, a conversation on the corner, or offering a garbage bag so they can pick up their debris. These acts are acts of relationship and relationships are what Jesus is about.

I’ve experienced homelessness more than once in my life. The longest period was as a teen in relationship with a much older man who was, essentially, a professional, low-level con artist. Other times occurred when my mental health crashed and I couldn’t hold a job at the same time as my relationship’s toxicity clashed with my anxiety and mania…only I didn’t understand that’s what was happening.

I didn’t have substance abuse issues, but, my mental health issues, which weren’t recognized or understood by me or others around me, created an inability to toe the line of organizational and societal demands and expectations. Encountering someone willing to actually see ME and not just my circumstances or my history was priceless. It afforded me a sense of dignity that can only come from being seen and treated as if I was worthwhile and that I mattered, whether or not I could conform or meet the expectations of others.

I have neighbors who are unsheltered. Many experience alcoholism and dependency on other substances. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they panhandle. Sometimes they collect cans and bottles. Sometimes they do none of the above. They often do what they can to keep the areas they occupy free of debris. However, sometimes they don’t have a way to gather and dispose of garbage. Just like they don’t have consistent or frequent access to laundry or bathing facilities.

I’ve witnessed them helping and looking out for each other. They’ve helped me carry things too heavy for me to carry up a flight of stairs…without expecting or asking for anything in return.

Of course not everyone in these circumstances is friendly, open, or safe. There’s a lot of history of personal trauma for most people living on the streets. Substance abuse and addiction is very common for trauma survivors and those experiencing mental illness.

It’s easy to look at someone on a corner with a sign and make assumptions based on what you think you would do, given the set of circumstances you believe they are in. But, you don’t know them or their story. You can’t, unless you take the time and make the effort.

Donating money is easy – whether it’s to an organization or directly to an individual. Choosing any degree of relationship with an uncomfortable other is less easy for most of us and it’s not possible with all people at all times…but, it makes more of a difference and more impact than you may believe.

15 comments

  1. Your story…just wow! Thank you for shedding light from the other side of the issue. We often avoid eye contact with people because we don’t want to be in the uncomfortable position of saying no when we are ask for something. It’s so important that people are seen and acknowledged…we all know that but I don’t think we practice it when the person who so desperately needs to be seen isn’t like us. You are beyond courageous to share your story and I hope you are in a much better place in your life. What would Jesus do? Exactly what you just did.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I applaud you for bringing up this topic and for sharing your own story. As a child of a parent with substance abuse issues and having a spouse with a parent also suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues, I understand the frustration from a loved ones side as well. You want to help, but sometimes you don’t know how. You want to understand, but sometimes the hurt on both sides is too much. I think sometimes we think we have to do something big, when most times its just listening and understanding that they crave the most, not judgement. Great post and best wishes to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. My kids struggled with me as their mom. I’m certain they have PTSD from it. My relationships with them were so broken. Time, hard work, patience, and love have enabled us to build new relationships with each other. That wasn’t possible until we learned to listen.

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  3. We have so many homeless people in our area, it’s sad to see the same ones walking the streets looking so lonely. I’ve taken them food and little goodie bags, chatted with them and see their sadness break into a little smile. We don’t know the reason for their homelessness, it’s not always drugs or alcohol and we need to do what we can for all of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a huge issue across the country, especially in the biggest, most expensive cities…or it’s the most obvious there. We actually have people camping with tents and tarps under bridges, on the sides of the freeway ramps, and even some sidewalks. You’re absolutely right that we don’t know and kindness counts for each and every one.

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  4. As part of reaching out to help mothers and children who find themselves without a place to call home, our church works with 3 other churches in a close geographical area to provide shelter one week (out of the month). We have cots, kitchen, food and facilities to do laundry and shower, etc. and we help drive them to find work, children to school, etc. I do think as disciples of Christ that we have a responsibility to help our neighbor – and it can be as small as a smile.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lori Ferguson this is great to hear. I am in the midst of working on opening a house for women and people don’t realize that we can do “small” things that make a difference instead of leaving it all up to the big organizations. Providing laundry, fruit and vegetables, socks, underwear, menstrual products makes a world of difference and says we see you, we care.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I gotta say this hits home, I do need to follow God’s way/ plan a bit more I think…..I try but admittedly I fall off as things get hard……Not so much with homelessness or drugs, etc but I could act in a more positive way! The holy spirit is trying to guide me but I have to be the one to follow!

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    1. I meant as individuals to other individuals. We can contribute to organizations, agencies, and get actively political. However, until individuals are recognized and acknowledged as such and not just a collective problem to solve, our impact is minimal. In the Bible itself, Jesus states that the poor will always be present. So, yes, we do what we can to contribute toward a collective solution, but, we must do so while also giving individuals the dignity of being truly seen and related to.

      Liked by 1 person

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