Anything will help
God BlessThat's what the sign read held by the panhandler at the exit from the highway the other day. This has been a story around here for at least a year or more now. Panhandlers at the exit ramps from the highway and the exits from store/mall parking lots. Every now and then I see someone give one of them some money. Most of the time they seem to just stand there in their own zone.
I have had experiences with panhandlers many times when I was in the parish. Out east they would show up at the church door and have a story about going to Tennessee. Almost always Tennessee. Sometimes there were two or three, including children. Other times they were alone. There was one person who actually came back a couple of times over a two month period but denied it when I asked.
Then in the Midwest the destination changed to Kentucky or Texas. Always one or the other. Now there were more single people. Once in awhile a couple. Usually no children. They also became more sophisticated. They started calling ahead, going down the list in the phone book.
I was having lunch one day with a colleague from another Moravian Church when my secretary called saying that they had just gotten a phone call who she had on hold. Where should she refer him since she knew that the local ministers had a particular method. I told her and hung up.
Within five minutes my colleague, who was serving a church 25 miles from mine but next alphabetically, got a call from his secretary with the same question about a phone call with the same story. We looked at each other and shook our heads. often in situations where they called and we didn't give any money, just vouchers for food or gas at a local establishment, there would be a look of disappointment. If we were out of funds and couldn't help, or sent them to somewhere else for information they would often try a guilt trip...."And you call yourself Christian?"
All this went through my head as I looked at that sign. It's summer in Minnesota now and sleeping under bridges or in parks isn't quite as harsh. These same panhandlers are at the same places in mid-winter, though. It makes me wonder what is going on and what the story is. Part of me wants to make judgments, many of which just may be correct. Part of me wants to reach into my pocket and at least pull out the change.
Almost 100% of the time I do nothing. I don't have an answer. I feel guilty when God is invoked for a blessing that I may not receive now because I didn't give "anything" that could help. I didn't even think of praying until now as I write this after-the-fact. I know the passages from Matthew and James that add insult to my injury. I am sure there were permanent panhandlers in Jesus' day.
It is a conundrum- give to all, give to none, give to some?
It is a riddle- work for justice, give them a hand up instead of a hand-out, change the system?
It is a problem- outlaw panhandling, set limits on it, ignore it?
I like to think I am progressive, radical, caring. Sadly I discover I am just another confused Christian wondering what to do. I wish it were easy. Maybe it is, but I'm not getting the answers.