At our last staff meeting, the three co-pastors asked our spiritual advisor how one deals with the despair and sense of hopelessness that can overwhelm all of us out on the street. Some weeks seem like all we’re doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and not really helping anyone in any significant way. After all, there’s nothing we can do about the drugs, the violence and the thefts; we can’t pull apartments out of our sock-filled backpacks, nor can we fix ruined teeth or manage chronic pain. We can try and run with folks as they circle the drain, but eventually we have to let them go and watch them swirl into the abyss.
And now we’re trying to manage the angry questions about why the recently arrived asylum seekers are receiving such an outpouring of love and concern from across the local area while they are being consigned to a future shelter as far from the city center as possible. At the core of that question and that angst is the unanswerable question: why, as Americans, do we believe that there are two classes of those who need help — the deserving and the undeserving poor? Why are asylum seekers seen as worth of our care, but the homeless only receive our disdain? Why is there a hand up for some, and grumpy grumblings about bootstraps for others?
As people or faith, we know that Jesus made no distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor. He loved all the people who struggled on the margins, no matter the circumstances that led them to their dark place. And it’s this love for all that he taught us that is the answer to our despair, because no matter now dark things get, no matter how many icebergs sit in our collective path, there is always the light of love that illuminates the horizon with each new day. And with this realization, we can see past the darkness and the hopelessness and the despair and we can see the light the lurks on the edges of things — the generosity of friend to friend when they share what little they have; the love of couples who may have had a screaming argument 10 minutes ago, but now are sitting quietly and holding hands; the miracle of people passed out in the courtyard one week, and then anchoring an art opening in Portland the next; the remarkable journey of a writer who is honing his craft in adult education classes with new Americans just learning English, and finding, with them, that we all have stories to tell.
There is always light, if you just look in the right direction. And for those of us who attempt, as best we can, to walk in the sandals of that Galilean peasant, we have a special compass that can lead us to the horizon of a new dawn. Close the drain and tack far from the icebergs, we have places to go.