Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On Mercy and the Transient Community

So I've recently tried to get in the habit of buying a meal, even just a McDonald's lunch, for every homeless person I see. I'm not perfect at this, and sometimes I like to convince myself that I have somewhere important to be (protip: I don't), but I'm trying to get better at it. Today while driving back from some errands in Orem, I found myself willing to buy lunch for a transient man. $6 at a gas station got him a sandwich, carrots, Chex mix, and a liter of water.

Recently I've been in a few conversations about why and how we help the transient community. One argument that comes up consistently to justify not helping those who are struggling is that they were the ones who made poor choices to get them in their situation, they'll use what is given to them for drugs or alcohol, they're "professional" panhandlers, they aren't doing real work, or some variant of one of these. The underlying implication is that helping them is somehow taking responsibility for their bad actions.

So I was thinking about all of this on my way back home, trying to piece together exactly how I feel about the balance between compassion and personal responsibility, when I thought of Alma 7:11-12.

"And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities."

The purpose of the Atonement was for Christ to take responsibility for not only the situations we have no control over, but also our bad choices.

So how profoundly Christlike it would be for us to stop making excuses about why we shouldn't help the transient community, pretending that we are teaching them self-sufficiency, when we ourselves aren't at all deserving of the obligation Christ has taken upon himself to us. How Christlike we would become if we stopped judging homeless people by making assumptions about them and just helped them. How Christlike we would be if we took responsibility for others, including responsibility for their possible poor decisions.

Because, when you think about it, we are all standing at intersections, holding well-worn cardboard signs, begging for mercy.

"For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?" (Mosiah 4:19)

Sometimes it seems like, because we live in a culture that prizes individualism, we seem to forget just how fiercely interdependent we are--how absolutely necessary it is for us to be part of a community. And we use this to justify thinking that we are only responsible for ourselves. However, I argue that as members of the human family, every one of us has an obligation to help better the lives of every one else.

So what ought we to do? I would agree that government programs can be inefficient and sometimes abused. But this is all the more reason for personal action. So I would like to present a challenge. Do something to help a member of the transient community without judgment or assumption. See your action for him or her as selfless as the Savior's work is for us. Christ shows us never ending mercy, regardless of our actions and decisions. Do we not owe it to our brothers and sisters to do the same for them?