|photo credit: I first saw this posted by Spirit FM Morning Show|
I'm seeing this image start to fill up my Facebook page today. It's really a beautiful movement. Some folks up North put scarves on trees with a note telling people to take them if they need them. And I've also now seen the idea take flight: there's an event here in my city to do the same.
I do think it is wonderful.
But it also makes me a little sad. You see, poverty isn't a resource-issue. We have enough food and enough wealth already here on the Earth (and right here in our very country) to accommodate all the people. The problem isn't that there isn't enough to go around. The problem is relational. Folks in poverty are often set-apart, set-aside. We serve them through (sometimes dubious, sometimes great) programs when what is really life-changing is relationships. These trees remind me that most people, even good-hearted, wonderful people, don't know anyone who is homeless. So the only way we know how to share a scarf is to tie it to a tree.
Please don't think I'm slamming this idea. I think it is absolutely wonderful and beautiful! And absolutely a step in the right direction. But I think we can do MORE. What if we befriended people experiencing homelessness? Then not only would we be able to tie a scarf on the neck of someone who is cold, we'd know what they needed and be able to support them to take the next step OUT of homelessness.
I've seen this happen with my own eyeballs. I can think of several friends right this very moment who, right now, are just my regular friends. We comment on each other's FB statuses, meet for lunch, call each other on the phone. But when we met? They were people experiencing homelessness. And they needed friends. Programs are good. Friends who love you, who help you navigate those programs are crucial. And, together with a fabulous group of folks that do homeless outreach in our city, I had the absolute honor to become a friend. And then, by listening, I could see what barriers stood between them and being inside, being employed, being healthy. And you know what happened? Not only have I seen people get clean & sober, move out of homelessness, get jobs... but I gained FRIENDS. Fabulous people who I love and love me back. They have inspired me and taught me so much.
Did it cost me more? Yes. Did it take more time? Yes. But when I look at how Jesus worked with people, that is how he did it. He didn't say "give money to other people so that they can feed the hungry." He didn't say, "vote for programs that help prisoners." (not that those are bad things... please keep doing those things too!) He said "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me...Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you did for me." Matt 25:35-40.
So are you moved by the scarf idea? Donate a scarf, tie one to a tree. You can be part of the tie a scarf event in Greensboro here. Are you moved MORE? Donate a scarf and then do MORE. Volunteer with an organization in your city that works with people experiencing homelessness. Are you in Greensboro? This week in our city, we have the crisis shelter open every night through Saturday. And then again for 10 more days in February and we DESPERATELY need volunteers. Come and be part of making sure that NO ONE sleeps outside on a bitter cold night and make a friend.
Sign up to take a shift at our Crisis Shelter here:
And if you are in my area, here are a few places I suggest you check out if you want to get to know some of our homeless friends:
Church Under the Bridge: Dinner and a worship service every Saturday night
The Interactive Resource Center: Our day resource center for our homeless folks
Sunday morning breakfast: my church, missio dei, partners with a bunch of other churches to join Awaken City's Sunday morning breakfast to provide a hot breakfast every Sunday morning at Center City Park in Greensboro.