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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

I was on the phone with my dad earlier this afternoon, having just got back to my apartment from the grocery store. I got out of the car, opened the trunk, and began pulling out my bags for dinner, still on the phone, when a man approached.

He tried to shake my hand and start a conversation, but then he saw that I was on the phone and made a gesture to show that he was sorry to interrupt me. He waited patiently.

The conversation ended, and when I put my phone back in my pocket he tried to shake my hand again, all smiles.

"Hey, how you doin', man? I just want to--"

"I don't know what you want," I said, not taking his hand, "but I can't help you."

He dropped the smile. "Oh you can't, huh?"

"I don't even know if you need help," I continued, "but in my experience anyone who comes up to you that you don't know isn't about to give you a free lunch." I looked down in the trunk and pulled out the rest of my groceries.

"Sometimes people do need a little help," he said, indignant. He began to walk away. "I hope you don't need help someday."

"Me too."

"You'd have that smile wiped off that face of yours real quick," he added over his shoulder.

"Good luck," I said.

I hope to address some ideas connected to this situation soon, but for now here are a few bullet points:

• I've given money to people in very similar situations like this a number of times, and I've always felt stupid afterward. I think my first response to him sums it up. 

• I went out to check on my car every few minutes for about half an hour after the conversation. I was convinced I would catch this guy peeing on it or vandalizing it.

• His obvious resentment toward my not helping him made me feel like I made the right decision in not helping him.

• The idea of service has come up for me a lot lately, and after this was over it came to mind again. How could I possibly help this man? I don't think that giving him money would truly help him. What's the "right" call here?

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Blogger Ben said...

For a long time I tried to formulate a "rule" for situations like that, but finally I just came up with the non-rule rule of doing whatever I felt called to do in the situation.

If I feel like God wants me to give the guy something, I do. If I don't feel it, I don't. Extremely subjective. But I think, pray, and make the choice each time. Some people are simply crazy, and won't check into a homeless center no matter what--they still need food. Some are junkies, again though, they still need to eat. It's between God and me that I give the money or not, it's between God and the bum what he does with it.

Here's a story my Dad told me once: "I was working really hard at this charity thing, and by the end of the day I looked like a dirty bum. My friend and I thought it would be a funny joke to get some cardboard signs and write WILL WORK FOR GOLF BALLS and walk around to our friends. Well, the weird thing is, no one even looked at us. Several of our closest friends completely ignored us, not realizing it was us at all. Christ said that we will see his face in the face of the poor, and so now, even if I don't give money to a bum, I look at him, and I force myself to make a conscious and prayerful decision whether or not to give in each case--how can we see the face of Christ if we never even look?"

1:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ithought this story was about the grocery store lot where the guy approached me (I think you were there) and I was on the phone. I assumed he was going to ask for money and I waved him away, but he didn't shoo. It turns out he wanted to ask me about my trailer hitch and where I got it. Ohh.


3:12 PM  

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