Sitting in your car at the corner of two busy roads, a person walks slowly towards you down the median, sign in hand, “Homeless. Anything helps. God bless you.”
What do you do? Hand him or her a few bucks? Avert your eyes and fumble with the radio? Smile and say a prayer for them? Something else?
I’ve done all of the above. Maybe you have too. Once, when asked about this, Pope Francis unsurprisingly said that giving money to someone in need is “always right.” Others, including a Charlotte City Council member, recently called for the opposite saying that such acts “only make the giver feel good. They are hurting the ultimate folks.”
I know some of you reading this may feel strongly about what the answer should be. I hear from many people how they struggle with this.
What comes to mind are the words given to St. Paul. From whom? From Simon Peter. Before St. Paul went out to preach Christ to all the world, Paul was told not to forget one incredibly important thing. What was it? “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” (Galatians 2:10).
Simon Peter did not tell Paul HOW to remember the poor. Just to do it. I think the same goes for us.
A few years ago, while working in uptown Charlotte, my mother Cathy noticed a homeless woman with a dog. The woman’s name is Tatiana, and her dog is Cabo. Mom was on her way to lunch and offered to buy Tatiana some food. They connected over a shared love of dogs. And art. And Jesus. They became friends. Later on, Tatiana showed my mom several paintings she had done. They were stunning. Where did she paint these? With donated art supplies in the tent Tatiana calls home.
Then one day Tatiana told my mom she wanted to paint Christ Lutheran. She had seen the Worship Center at Christ Providence while riding on the number 14 city bus line. Mom bought her the canvas. Tatiana refused to accept any payment. This would be her gift to our church and a way of showing her love for God. Tatiana’s painting now hangs in the Upper Commons at Christ Providence.
An article in the Charlotte Observer years ago about Tatiana revealed she’s originally from Russia. She has schizophrenia. She loves Christ.
I do not think there is a clear cut and dry answer when it comes to the question, “Should I give money to panhandlers?” Maybe that’s not the question to start with. Maybe the question is, “Lord, how would you like me to remember the poor?” For some it could be to give to those who are panhandling every time. For others, to give generously to an organization like Loaves & Fishes. For others, some mixture.
And then let those holding signs on the street be a sign to us. Let Tatiana’s painting be a sign to us also. Remember. Remember them. For we are all the beloved of God.
God’s love and mine,