This Morning I received an email asking for advice:
Hello! You and your wife bought some cloth diapers from me through Craig’s List. I recognized your name when you were hosting at Nashville Is Talking, then found your personal blog. Small world, right?
I’ve been reading for a couple of weeks now. You’ve definitely pricked my suburban conscience. My family’s not image conscious to begin with, and we do all the comfortable “crunchy” practices like driving an old Volvo, wearing only secondhand clothes, breastfeeding, etc. Yet I’m aware that I’m lacking in the person-to-person expression of Christ’s love. I hurry my children past the homeless at the downtown library. My childlike response to help has been squashed by a parental need to protect my children, to teach them wariness with strange men. I know you feel fearless now, but there’s a vulnerability you feel when you are a mom out alone with small children.
So I’m asking you for advice! Can you suggest a safe way for a mom and kids to help the homeless we encounter? Small bags of portable food?
Eager to Help
Dear Eager to Help,
First of all, let me say thanks for the diapers. We are about six months from being ready to use them, but excited as the time approaches. I’ll also say I’m anything but fearless right now. As I think about raising a child in this world, I definitly feel a desire to protect and yet teach my children to engage in this world, “in it, but not of it.” I’m honored that you felt compelled to ask me for advice, so without further ado, here it is.
Let’s talk about the fear for a minute. I wrote a little while ago about Guestrooms for Jesus, where I said fear and protecting your family was a lame excuse. I meant it was a lame excuse for inaction, not that protecting your family wasn’t an okay thing to do. In other words, don’t feel guilt about your desire to protect your children, I’m sure that is a God given desire in your heart. We are called to “Love our neighbors,” and I can think of no closer neighbor then family. As you’ve begun to realize though, if this is keeping you from loving other neighbors, particularly those Jesus talks specifically about, the poor, hungry and thirsty, then you probably have room to grow. I know I certainly do. So, what are some practical ideas for you to do to help those in need around you? Let’s start with your first idea.
Gift Bags are a great idea. The Homeless Guy (Nashville’s very own blogger, who you should definitly subscribe to), wrote a wonderful post about what he would suggest you put together for Homeless Gift Bags. I added my two cents about Gift Bags, with an additional note about money (I really break down the money idea here). Stick a bunch of the bags in the car behind the passenger seat and let your kids help and see that the homeless are not to be feared or shunned, but to be joyously acknowledged as part of your community.
The next idea I have is to start educating yourself a little more on the homeless, particularly in Nashville. The Homeless Guy blog is a good place to start. The other group I would Highly recommend is the Nashville Homeless Power Project, probably the coolest group in Nashville right now. If your Wednesday afternoon’s (1pm at the Downtown Presbyterian Church) are free, check out the Living Room, a discussion group among homeless and “homies.” You can also volunteer with them, but at the least Join their Mailing List. Another great group that isn’t working specifically with homeless, but definitly those on the edge is the YW. They are also a great organization and work specifically with women in need. They’d be great for you to volunteer with. Also, I have helped out with a group called Food Not Bombs, who serve potluck meals every Sunday. If you want to come up on a Sunday and hang out and eat a meal with us about 1:30pm at the Veteran’s Memorial, that would also be a good chance to just meet some folks in a safe environment.
Now let’s get to the heart of the matter. I think far too often we create a dichotomy or a tension where it doesn’t need to be. I think you hinted at one that many of us are quite guilt of: parenting/children – interacting with those in need. Our perception is probably more accurately: Safety of Children – Getting near Dangerous Crazies (does that sound a little more honest?). The truth is I don’t think these things need to be in tension. I think first of all we need to recognize that “safety” needs to not be our first concern. God doesn’t call us to safe living. I know lot’s of C.S. Lewis fan’s like to quote this passage from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe referring to Aslan, The Lion:
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
God calls us to be faithful, just like he did to Abraham (almost sacrificed his son and then took his family on a unknown journey to new land), Daniel (remember the lions den?), Paul (went through all sort’s of trouble to share the good news), and even Jesus (they killed the dude). Now, we aren’t talking about dangling your kids off balconies or anything like that, but we are talking about being faithful to God’s call to care for those in need, and to do it with your children in tow.
And this is where I think we really get to the important part. Too many kids are being raised in “christian” homes where the Christianity that is being modeled is nothing like what we see in the stories of the Bible, but a safe religious practice, that holds personal protection and well being and satisfaction above all other callings in Scripture (which by the way I don’t really see the former in scripture at all). So, we have whole generations that grow up assuming there is no conflict between their suburban living and the scripture that they read. The Christianity we see modeled today is not the same as that we see lived out in Scripture.
I really care about protecting my children. But the protection I’m thinking of is a little different. I’m not too scared of scrapped knees, dirty hands, or the stinky breath of someone we’re talking too. I do want to protect my children from the “patterns of this world” and worldly treasure that moth and rust destroy. I want to protect my children from believing in a Christianity that has sold it’s soul to the materialistic, money-hungry, image driven, and earthly-focused society that we live in.
Protect your children, by all means. Just make sure your protecting them from the right things.