Sunday, February 12, 2006

Cheap Trick?

Something about this story bothers me. An Episcopal priest in Delevan dressed up like a homeless person and sprawled outside the entrance to church on Sunday morning, rattling a cup and asking for money. Apparently this showed the moral laxity of his even his generous congregaion (or "of us all") because only a half dozen folks invited him into church or because he only scored $ 23. I'm not sure.

I understand the Matthew 25:40-ness ("Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me") of this. I also acknowledge the need for us to get out of our comfort zones in bearing witness to the radical nature of Christian love, but I still find it offputting. Maybe part of it is the sense that Fr. Myrick was playing a game with his parishioners. I am not a clergy person but I do preach every once in a while and I am all for challenging the folks in the pews. Still, this strikes me as too cute by half. It doesn't seem like any of the parishioners minded, but this raises trust issues for me. I don't want my priest making me an unwitting participant in his morality play.

The other seems to be the presumption that people who are wary of scruffy homeless beggars are somehow in need of major reform. There are very real issues concerning the proper way to respond to street people. My own church is in downtown Milwaukee and the clergy there have a rather rigid rule (for themselves) against giving street people money. I have violated that rule twice in the past year and I suspect that I did little more than enable someone to continue substance abuse. The clergy will invite them inside and even offer food if they have it, but no money. Ever.

And that makes perfect sense. The correlation between street begging and substance abuse may not be 1:1, but it is very high and enabling someone's continued self-destruction isn't really a very Matt. 25:40 thing to do.

Yet money is exactly what Fr. Myrick sought. He didn't speak to them (he couldn't), he just dressed himself up to look like someone with a drug or alcohol problem and rattled a cup at them. Its not surprising that the congregation wasn't sure what to do. He may have dramatized an issue that rarely arises in places like Delevan, but I am not as sure that he taught his congregants any sort of lesson about themselves.

1 comment:

Dad29 said...

The effects of changing the rules for mental-hospital treatment continues...

Most of these poor slobs USED to be classified and put into institutions for life.

NOW, they're tossed out, or never put there in the first place.