February 11, 2008

putting things off

I haven't written in here for a while - and I have SO much to say. And only 20 minutes before I need to be at the hospital. So here is a checklist - 1) Breaking Bread, 2) Sand and Water at the beginning of Lent, 3) the roundtable pulpit group, 4) wrestling with grace and a phone call from someone in need.

Really my prompting this afternoon to actually get on here and type something comes from a book I started glancing at called "wrestling with grace" by Robert Corin Morris. In a few paragraphs he writes:

Often we don't understand Jesus' words clearly when we begin to respond to them. I have had a slow struggle with myself over Jesus' seemingly clear challenge: "Give to everyone who asks" You can't honor every request, can you? Certinaly not! What about beggars? How do you know they're for real? What if an alcoholic wants a drink? What if there are more important priorities that claim my time right now? And yet, and yet... when I was in college I heard a man who simply did it. He always carried a bag of change when he walked the streets of new York; and if someone asked for money, he gave them some, along with a few moments of conversation and a warm "God bless you." He said, "The Man told me to give, not to launch an investigation. I'm not in charge of the outcome."

... I'm coming to see that Jesus doesn't specify exactly what you're supposed to give when someone asks. I hear him calling me to deal in some gracious and appropriate way with the person who asks; at least to give something: "Yes, I'd love to look at this book; can it wait till summer?" "Of course I'll get those papers for you, right now." "No, I'm not able to talk right now, but I'll call you right back when I'm finished." Give. Give something. Don't turn away. And so the meaning of Jesus' word keeps growing in my heart. (pgs 55-57)

This passage struck me because I got a call from a woman today who needed some help. And I immediately questioned the motivations, wanted to check out her story, was cautious of being scammed. They certainly don't teach you in Divinity School how to respond to a request for money or for a bus ticket. I eventually said no, because our ministerial alliance has funds for gas, food and lodging, but not for purchasing bus tickets - the fare was four times what we are normally able to give.

But what if she was an angel unawares? Why should I investigate or judge her story? Did I really give anything to her? I started by giving her my time, but checking out the resources and promising to call her back and by doing so. But in the end, I felt slightly bad about the situation. If our church had a pastoral discretionary account, I probably would have done something. If I didn't have my own bills to pay I might have even dipped into my own pocket. But I make excuses. And so Morris' word to give... give something. don't turn away. hit me like a load of bricks this afternoon. it is quite the challenge and I'm still left torn about what I can do.


  1. Morris' comments certainly hit home for me too. On my way into town on Sunday morning, I saw more panhandlers than usual. I'm always torn. I want to give, even if it's only a few cents from my "catch-all" compartment in the car....but I always wonder if I'm doing more harm by giving money....the last thing I'd want to do is support their drug/alcohol habit....but I just don't know. I almost always feel worse when I don't give...maybe that should be my barometer. Good things to think about!

  2. Maybe you could understand your discomfort/impotence in this situation as a call for a more systematic response. Take up a quarterly collection for the pastor's emergency fund. Contact your local Dept. of Human Services or whatever they call the welfare office there and get a list of agencies for referrals in cases like this. Better yet make friends with the social workers in town and refer tough cases directly to people you know and trust. That's how we play it here in Lawrence - today the associate pastor at our church referred me an acquaintance who was camped out in his car but working. He moves into his new, affordable apartment on Friday.

    - v -

  3. Katie:

    What an amazing place in life you've arrived--even in tough, soul-wrenching, moments like the one you describe here.

    Why, it seems like just yesterday we were paddling paddle boats in the back woods of Cain-tuck-ee.

    Me--it's me, Kate, and Rohan cruising along with Cait and I looking to have arrived at Vanderbilt on the same day, and leave on the same one as well sometime late this year. You think our dual graduations could entice you back this way?

    Dahron Johnson