Peddling Hope In Dystopia 2

You Can’t Play A Player | “I came to Nashville as a tramp,” he said. Just another guy in the crowd of those who come for our weekly meal, I learned his name and began calling him something other than tramp, not sure if he heard me. “Gossip on the street is that Nashville is tramp friendly,” he said. He came here to make a go of it, but he soon realized that all the “tramps” were just taking advantage of everyone’s kindness and not getting any better, he discovered how easy it was to just live off the good will, never taking the hard steps towards becoming self sufficient. He was having a hard time getting motivated.

He was a bit of a philosopher, I pointed out, a good quality, but also, a tortuous one. He went on the pontificate that this realization made him question whether or not having all of these free services for the homeless is a good thing, “doesn’t it just make the problem worse?” he asked. He also said that it seems really condescending from his perspective, that churches would just offer meals and assistance without ever really getting to know people or trying to change the problems. Basically, in his opinion, churches were just being played by the “tramp” community in Nashville and it was disturbing to him, though, he was deeply appreciative, he said, “don’t get me wrong.” I would never.

He had a great point. You’ve most likely heard the phrase, from some cobweb deep in one of the prophetic books of our Old Testament, often pilfered for political speeches, “Charity gives but justice changes.” This is what he was referring to. He didn’t see any real changes happening around him. He thought we were all engaged in a giant game of blowing smoke, all being played by the players.

I reminded him that being played tends to be a casualty of the compassion business. It’s not what we set out to do and of course, it’s great when we can avoid it. But, it happens. Jesus was played by Judas, he let the whole thing unfold. We don’t get into acts of compassion to avoid being played, we get into it so that some people, a few people, can recognize what it means to receive love and choose to be changed by it. Perhaps the numbers won’t be great, perhaps we won’t solve homelessness in our community, Jesus never fixed the political problem of poverty, however, he gave us the tools to heal one another. Healing is the very first step in any process that means anything at all.

When we give a meal or learn someone’s name or take someone to Target to buy them underwear, we are doing what we can in the moment to heal. This leads to other things, it leads to that person deciding they want to apply for food stamps or apply for housing, something they had not done before because they just thought no one cared and they were living in a complete and utter state of despair. This act of healing then gives that person the courage to try trusting again, to become part of a small group that deals with issues of addiction and recovery. This leads that person to search for a part-time job, maybe it’s selling the Contributor or cleaning out gutters, the point is it leads them to clean themselves up and apply for life again. You can’t just tell a person who has been rejected from the human community to just go out and get a job. Applying for a job means that you actually trust that there is some system out there that gives a damn about you. You have to heal them first, you have to do something as significant as looking honestly into their heart and not turning away to restore their trust in humanity. This usually happens gradually with several communities and several people touching one person’s life.

2.jpgMy friend Dr. Malinda Davenport who runs Family Reconciliation Center, an agency that began in our church over 25 years ago and works with prisoners and families of prisoners to provide connections, likes to say, stemming from the lens of her profession, “You can’t play a player.”

What we realize as we work in the community of the dispossessed and downtrodden is that we are all players. We know that we are playing with fire, we are playing with human souls who have been disconnected from what gives life and they have been forced to go feral. Some will play you because it is all they know.

It’s important that we stick to the truth and the truthfulness of our own story when offering acts of compassion. Don’t know your story? I assure you that if you don’t know your own truth, you will come to know it as you risk these acts, intermingled there at the foot of someone else’s cross.

The invitation is always there to learn to tell the truth about your own wounds, it often comes as you provide space for the healing of the wounds of others. As you do, honest healing comes, usually shared, as we are broken together like the bread of communion, with those who are companions on the journey, players, all.

  • David R. Reed

    An excellent message…

  • Maureen Tuohy

    Wonderful…authentic…straight to the heart of the truth

  • Chris O’Rear

    Great reflections, Sherry. Thank you.