I’m thumbing through the stark, intimate pages of Staying Put, a reflection on being at home in our world by Orion contributing editor Scott Sanders. He has this to say about the wound of homelessness that marks our society:
While I work on these pages, tucking in lines to make them tight [what a phrase! any able writer or editor knows exactly what he means..], our newspaper carries an article with a grisly headline: HOMELESS WOMAN CRUSHED WITH TRASH. No one knows the woman’s name, only that she crawled into a dumpster to sleep, was loaded into a truck, was compressed with the trash, and arrived dead at the incinerator.[…] Being homeless meant that she had already been discarded by family, neighbors, and community, and how she was gathered with the trash. This happened in Indianapolis, just up the road from my snug house. I read the article twice; I read it a dozen times. I pinned the clipping to the wall beside my desk, and I keep returning to it as to a sore.
It is a sore, an affront, an outrage that thousands upon thousands of people in our country have nowhere to live. Like anyone who walks the streets of America, I grieve over the bodies wrapped in newspapers or huddled in cardboard boxes, the sleepers curled on steam grates, the futureless faces. This is cause for shame and remedy, not only because the homeless suffer, but because they have no place to lay their heads in safety, no one except dutiful strangers to welcome them. Thank God for dutiful strangers; yet they can never take the place of friends. The more deeply I feel my own connection to home, the more acutely I feel the hurt of those who belong to no place and no one.
I have adopted as personal credo the words of essayists like Sanders (and Berry, et al.). As he says in the preface to the book, “we can only be adequate to the earth if we are adequate to our neighborhoods.” It seems that most modern problems–from reckless economics to homelessness to the environmental crisis–can be traced back to the American impulse toward vagrancy.
The solution? Learning to stay put.
But it takes a special kind of compassion to love and serve the homeless in a truly redemptive way. Sure, I can sit at a beach house and blog about how my agrarian philosophy reminds us how important it is to love the poor and homeless. But there is a group of folks out doing it.
I have a friend in Denver who works with a homeless ministry called Access. Their main purpose is to dignify the homeless through interaction, service, and friendship. Ryan Taylor is the voice of this ministry. Hear him talk about it here.
Believing these words is a precondition to pronouncing them as a blessing on others:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
my whole life long.