Justice in the Rain

So, the rainy season is here, or rather–since I live in Portland–the end of the dry season. It was the first rainy day since I started commuting to work by bike and bus, and I ordered a rain jacket just for that, but it didn’t arrive by the time I left for work.  To compound the soakage I would certainly already experience, the bus was a good 15 minutes late, and the stop happens to be at the corner of two busy streets, right in front of a storm drain, which means that cars have to cross over a little river in the road to get in the right turn lane.  Needless to say, I received the full onslaught of dirty water from several sets of tires.  I boarded the bus feeling gross and soaked and a tiny bit sorry for myself, though I really was trying to keep a positive attitude since it was an unavoidable situation and I was only about 25 minutes from getting home and drying off.

We all know what happens when you ride the bus anyway…. right? What was I thinking?

A few minutes into the ride a guy, maybe a little younger than me, got on. He was one of those super chatty bus riders I never want to sit by.  He introduced himself to a couple people and asked for a cigarette from someone.  What is significant about him is that apart from his bus-chattiness nothing indicated he was in any way different from anyone else–that is, until he started talking about sleeping at Mt. Tabor.  At this point, I felt foolish being so displeased by a 45 minute commute in the rain when probably thousands of people in Portland have to live and sleep in it every day.  I guess sometimes I need a little wake up call to remind me about priorities and perspective.

More than that, this situation got me thinking.  We just talked about justice this week at Evergreen and not doing nothing and not getting overwhelmed trying to do everything.  In addition to simply figuring out exactly how I can contribute, how we all can, we talked about the idea of helping people without viewing ourselves as heroes and the people we help as victims.  In other words, can we help people without inherently elevating ourselves above them as we do it?

Another recent experience that comes to bear on this topic was when Chrissy and I were in line to get into the Portland International Beer Festival.  A homeless gentleman was walking past the queue and loudly pointing out how people could be putting their money to better use.  He challenged a couple guys who proudly proclaimed they intended to get drunk, which sent him into a fury, repeatedly shouting, “God’s gonna ****ing kill you!”  However, before this point, in an attempt to prove how frivolous we were all being with our money, he announced he only made $600 per week.  $600 per week!  I was astounded.  That’s double what I make actually going to a job!  That got me thinking, and I have been much less motivated to give to supposedly needy people since that day.

But maybe I should look at all of this differently.  Maybe it shouldn’t matter how much I have compared to another person.  Maybe if someone needs help, I should help if I can, not just if I am better off than they are.  I think if I keep thinking in terms of hierarchies and the one better off helping the one in need, I miss the point, and I will never really help anyone.  We all have need.  Our needs just differ.  Someone may not have food for the day, and I can provide that food, but I have a need they can fulfill.  I can learn from wisdom they have, or I can grow as a person by giving from what God has given me.  However I look at it, I live a selfish life.  I don’t think there will ever be a time when that won’t be true to some extent, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to grow.  I hope God will help me as I work to change my outlook, gain some humility, and really learn what it means to give, without demeaning those who receive or thinking better of myself than I should.

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