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Feeding the Poor and Drinking Mimosas

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : August 21, 2007

Today, my feed picked up a fascinating installation of Dear Cary on Salon.com.  Cary Tennis is an advice columnist.  Here’s a snippet of what someone wrote to Cary:

A few months back, I joined a church group that goes to a homeless shelter once a month to prepare breakfast for about 200 street people…

…My problem is that after we finish serving and cleaning up, no one eats at the shelter or even really associates with the clientele. It apparently is a tradition that once the kitchen is cleaned up, the whole crew walks several blocks from the downtown shelter to a very nice hotel, where we pay $30 a person for a fancy brunch buffet. The price goes up if one orders mimosas and Bloody Marys, and most people do.

Read the rest here (take the time to read through Cary’s ponderous response if you can).  I covet your response.  Did you like Cary’s Response?  Is there any real difference between these “rich” people and those of us who do occasional stints with the poor or downtrodden only then to return to the safety of our middle-American lives?

I’ll weigh in on this a little later…

for further reading . . .

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Comments

6 Responses to “Feeding the Poor and Drinking Mimosas”

  1. Ariah Fine on August 21st, 2007 1:08 pm

    Mark,

    Thanks for posting this and bringing up the conversation. I’m looking forward to your response later, but I’m more then willing to chime in with mine. As Cary didn’t address very much on the ‘Jesus’ level, I think I might add some rambling insight there. If these people serving were not follower’s of Christ’s teaching I can see them making whatever choices/excuses they want, however, it’s not quite the same if they choose to follow ‘the good book.’

    The answer to your last question:
    “Is there any real difference between these “rich” people and those of us who do occasional stints with the poor or downtrodden only then to return to the safety of our middle-American lives?”
    In my Opinion is ‘No’ there is no difference really, we definitely would fit into the ‘rich’ camp. So, the issue isn’t so much about taking the speck out of our siblings eyes, but removing the plank from our own.

    Let’s think about Jesus for a second. When we remove him from the distorted view of what our current ‘christianized’ picture of Jesus is, and place him back in his true character that we see in the gospels, I think we have a strong case for something entirely different then occasional charity.
    Jesus lived amongst the poor, in genuine solidarity with the poor. He did not go and serve occasional meals to the poor, he would be the one in line getting food. He did a couple food related miracles, but those were certainly not the stepping down from on high types of charity. Before I start rambling, I think my point is this. If you actually look at Jesus’ life I think the example we see gives more evidence for avoiding ritzy dinners, eating in the parks and soup kitchens with the least of these, avoiding pious charity events and changing our lifestyle and attitudes so that we are amongst and in relationship with those we intend to ’serve.’

    Sorry, that was a lot of rambling. I’m tired. peace.

  2. Richard Daley on August 21st, 2007 10:14 pm

    My short answer is probably not.

    My longer answer would not really be an answer, but probably more questions. I like this group of questions that Cary posted: -

    So the question is, what good will it do to sit down and eat a meal with some people who don’t have enough money to keep a roof over their heads? Why would you do that? Would it be an act of charity or an act of ego? Is that even a meaningful distinction? Would you be appreciated or would you make everyone uncomfortable? Would you be eating with the poor just to show up your church buddies? Would you be doing it to achieve some kind of moral street cred? Are those meaningful distinctions?

    It’s a good group of questions to answer before making such a choice.

    Also, the question in my mind is “What is their sin?” I can think of two possibilities (where it could be either or some combination of the two).

    The first possibility is the sin of disdain/hate for their fellow human being, i.e. they will not sit with them because they do not love them.

    The second possibility is the sin of greed/gluttony, i.e. they will not sit with them because they are greedy for/gluttonous of a bigger meal (better lifestyle, etc).

    While the first, in my mind, is pretty cut and dry. The second is harder for me to figure out. At which point does enjoying and/or using the things that I purchase and am able to purchase cross over to gluttony and greed. Does the fact that there are people around who cannot afford those things mean that it is immoral for me to have them? Is it possible to build a general moral code around this question?

    Overall, I do like Cary’s response, though I would have preferred if he/she stopped on sentence short and left it one step short of offering an answer, but instead let the reader wrestle with the questions in their own life.

  3. Chris on August 21st, 2007 11:44 pm

    I worked in a homeless shelter for a while, and I can tell you that most church groups/youth groups/etc. that came to provide meals at our shelter didn’t eat with the homeless. Maybe this question has already been asked, but…what makes anyone think the homeless would want to eat with you? Imagine having to make conversation with dozens of groups of people over the course of your evening meal in any given month. Would you enjoy that? I would find it hard to want to develop a relationship with any of the people I met, especially if I was only going to see him/her once a month. All that to say that I don’t really think sitting and eating the meal you’ve served a homeless person with him/her would tip the ethical scales one way or the other, and probably wouldn’t make too much difference to him/her.

  4. More Fire on August 22nd, 2007 11:01 am

    I left home at 17 and for several years I traveled extensively, often hitchhiking because I didn’t have money for bus fare. I slept outdoors, in parks, and even in alleyways. I occasionally accepted charity from strangers, whether it was a warm meal or a buck. My friends were rentboys, prostitutes, drunkards, addicts, aged hippies and street kids.

    During that time I discovered that people are people. Some are jerks, some gracious, some pretentious and some compassionate. These character traits are not relegated to a specific class status, ethnicity, sexual orientation or even to adherents of a certain dogma. Today I work on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and find it just as easy to talk to stockbrokers as it is to talk with panhandlers. Admittedly, it’s easier to share the Gospel with panhandlers simply because they are in a more transparent state of desperation.

    I commend the writer of the letter to Cary in that he/she desired to go beyond merely serving the homeless and to actually fellowship with them. Anyone can serve a meal, but it takes a person with a heart like Jesus to be willing (and wanting) to share a meal with the poor, despised and dejected.

  5. Mike H on August 22nd, 2007 2:14 pm

    I don’t think we should get rid of/devalue semi-frequent service opportunities because of this example. When I have done similar soup kitchen events it was the norm to not only eat the food we were serving but to eat it with the people we were serving. 30 dollar meals plus drinks?! This example seems ridiculous; however, there may be a more common underlying issue (is it right to serve on Tuesday and then have a 15 dollar meal on Friday? In what situations can you justify spending more on food because it is healthier?)

  6. Jackson on August 23rd, 2007 2:45 pm

    We have to look at motive; in this case we cannot ask the individuals why they do what they do? In my experience people “do service” to feel better rather than to help. As Christ followers it is not enough to serve the poor, but we should know the poor.

    It would be great it there was a trend of inside-out ministry in the parts of the city the church has ignored, but that is not possible for everyone. Even if you come from the burbs you can have a profound effect on social change. You may start with a homeless feed program, and be moved to activism.

    We have to move from a band-aid service approach to a social change approach. Don’t get me wrong, feed programs serve a huge need but we need to go deeper. We need to teach job skill, have 12 step programs, and petition the city for better resources so they can improve their lives.

    This particular case it seems that Cary gets it more than the Christian in the article.

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