The sight of homeless people and panhandlers often fills me with ambivalence.
I can on-one-hand-on-the-other-hand my mind into a frenzy. On one hand, giving this person money could be enabling his unhealthy lifestyle. On the other hand, he is clearly in need right now, and maybe some quarters would help. On the other hand, maybe his own choices got him there — should I reward those choices with my own hard-earned cash? On the other hand, I am a Christian and I need to love my poor brothers as Jesus would. On the other hand, Jesus did say, “The poor you will always have with you . . .” so, really, maybe it’s hopeless. On the other hand, this person is shivering, or wet, and my heart aches to help — one day, that could be me. Wouldn’t I want help? On the other hand, he could use this money to go buy drugs, he could be lying, he could be treating begging as if it were his job, and in that case, he needs to get a real job, one that doesn’t involve jingling a cup.
You see? Ambivalence.
This confusion is why I was grateful when Pastor Denise Roberts, at Queen Anne United Methodist Church, led us in a recent class called, “Servant or Sucker?” (Central to the class was this video by Beth Templeton.)
I learned that all of my conflicting emotions were normal. I learned that I wasn’t stingy or cold-hearted for feeling hesitant about giving. Nearly everyone has stories about when our lives intersected with those in need, particularly anyone who rides the downtown Seattle bus. Some of us have even been in need ourselves at some point.
This is an apt time to have this discussion: the U.S. official poverty rate hovers around 14 percent, with 43.6 million people living in poverty, according to a Sept. 16 report from the U.S. Census Bureau.
I’ve compiled the 10 most valuable lessons I learned from this five-week class. The list itself is my creation, based on content from the video and what I learned from our class discussions.