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My oldest child just turned 17, and both of our worlds are changing.

Our date nights at the gym have been replaced with me working out alone and my daughter going on real dates with…why can’t I ever seem to remember his name? Watching her ride off to her first prom and other firsts has caused me to look back and remember those moments, good and bad, that have now been burned into my soul.

About a decade ago my daughter decided she wanted a second American Girl doll. If you are not familiar with these idols, they are expensive dolls that either the U.S. Constitution or Leviticus, I think, says grandparents are supposed to buy for their grandchildren. I informed her that one was enough. She argued with me. Like always, she won…but with a catch. She was going to have to raise the money herself. The first $10 she raised she would give away. The second $10 she would save. And then she could save up for a doll.

She found odd jobs and eventually saved enough for her new doll. We drove to Chicago and told her to pick whatever one she wanted. About three hours later, she hadn’t decided yet. While I waited I walked to the cash register and began an over/under guessing game on what each person was going to spend.

I noticed out of the corner of my eye another young girl. She was holding her grandma’s hand but kept turning to look out the window. Finally, I heard her say “Grandma, what is that man doing out there in the cold?” Both grandma and I turned and looked to see a homeless man standing right outside the door asking for money. Grandma informed the girl that the man was poor and was asking for money. The little girl simply asked “Why?” Grandma then responded, “Because some people make bad choices.” She then moved to the register and spent over $500 on dolls and clothes.

Excuse me?! That is your answer to economic disparity in the USA? Now maybe this man had made bad choices. I have no idea. But I was fuming inside. I wanted to tell that little girl, “You have a nasty grandma.” I didn’t. Finally, my daughter, the one who was raised right, had made her purchase. I was half excited for her and half frustrated with what I witnessed.

At least I was until I saw the quarterback Brett Favre walk into a store on Michigan Ave. I sent my family ahead so that I could go and meet him. He was friendly enough. We exchanged a quick handshake and hello. I then ran to catch my family. I exited the store and made a hard right turn only to trip over something–I mean someone. Another man was sitting on the sidewalk asking for some change. I knocked him completely over. His hat when flying off his head, and the change from his cup flew everywhere. I did my best to sit him back up, put his hat back on and return his money with interest.

I hadn’t even seen him. Even in my self-righteous state, I was no better than grandma.

Acts 3:1-10 tells a story of Peter and John going to the temple. A man lame from birth was placed there to beg for money. Peter heals him. It’s a great scene. It reminds me that the disciples were and we are called to continue the work of Christ. We have a responsibility to participate in the healing ministry of Jesus. It also gives me hope. So often I am paralyzed by injustice and evil in the world that I do nothing. Peter and John had no money. They did what they could.

But what struck me the most the last time I read it was that verse 4 says that both Peter and John looked intently at him (NRSV).

How many times am I unwilling even to look intently to those asking for help? I stare straight ahead at red lights while those positioned on street corners ask for some change. How often do I ignore and avert my eyes to those who have need as if they will not see me if I am not looking at them?

But just as troubling to me is how many times though do I avert my eyes to the situation of those around me who are not placed directly in my path? Peter and John chose to look at a man in need. How often do I choose to keep my eyes on the easy path?

  • Do I see those in my town who are struggling to pay bills no matter how many hours they work?
  • Do I see that the vast majority of my day is spent in the company of white people like myself when the town I live in is becoming more and more racially diverse?
  • Do I see others a beloved children of God who need to know and experience the saving grace of God?

If I don’t see them it is because I have chosen not to look. And it makes me sick to think that grandma and I are a lot more alike that what I thought.

Thankfully, I have been blessed with some allies, who continue to help me see, who continue to help me learn to see the world around me. Those who write regularly on this blog have helped me on this journey. I am thankful for you and only ask that you continue this walk with me.

That was a decade ago. I have to believe I still have two slightly used American Girl dolls available if anyone needs one.

Chad Pierce

Chad Pierce is pastor of Faith Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.

9 Comments

  • Dick Stravers says:

    Chad, thank you for sharing that story and for challenging us to see the needy ones, having made bad choices or not, who may be right beside us. And,no, we are not in the market right now for an American Girl doll.

    Dick Stravers

  • RLG says:

    Sorry, the above comment is a mistake.

    Thanks, Chad, for noting the strong contrast between the epitome of American materialism (American Girl store) and American poverty (the homeless).

    Although we are meant to feel badly for the homeless living on the street, all is not what it seems. I have lived in downtown Chicago for the last nine years, and a good share of the homeless that I see and know have been here for the same amount of time (or more), occupying the same corner or block to beg for money. Just as you have a job, their job is begging for money and many make a good salary (check out the earnings of the street homeless on Google). It all depends, in part, on the gimmick they use to earn the sympathies of those with pocket change and single and five dollar bills. Some will have a rolled up pant leg to expose a hideous and bloody wounded leg. You can’t help but to feel sorry for them, except the wound isn’t real. Their salaries probably approach $75,000 dollars and no taxes. Others simply cry out, “help me, help me, help me.” Others play a clarinet, on which they know ½ a song. Others claim to be wounded vets, while others carry signs saying, God is good, while displaying their Bibles on their laps. Some will sell you free Chicago or neighborhood free magazines, while asking for coffee money. Sometimes you will see the homeless arguing over their turf, which they have occupied for years. You might ask yourself, how low in appearance are you willing to appear to make a living? For the homeless, the lower, the better. Of course there are the truly homeless on the streets, but think twice before you feel too badly, because their salary may approach yours and they don’t pay taxes or a mortgage payment.

    But I guess you can say the lifestyle of the homeless is very different from those who shop at the American Girl Store, who buy a new dress or hair style, or have a high end luncheon with doll and parents. Helping those in need is a Christian calling, but be wise.

    • Tom Eggebeen says:

      “but be wise” … I have always found that my “wisdom” is mostly the prelude to keeping my wallet shut … after all, in spite of seeing the same people on the same corner for years, what do I really know about them? Here’s another case where I’m tempted to reach for the fruit of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil,” and to make a judgment about such a person, because “I know” … “I’m wise” … but such “knowledge” leads to death. At least that’s what God said, but not the snake who is usually curled comfortably around my soul.

      • RLG says:

        “But be wise…:” Isn’t that what separates humans from the animal world, and makes us image bearers of God, that we are reasonable beings? Doesn’t God call us to be wise and use good judgement? It’s your greed that keeps your wallet shut, not wisdom; and self centeredness that leads to death. True wisdom is often depicted as the pathway to life.

  • Henk says:

    RLG’s caveats notwithstanding, we do well to err on the side of compassion. In an ideal world, we would get out of our car, have a chat with the bearers of cardboard signs, and provide accordingly. But the light changes to green all too soon. So open your window and give a buck and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

  • Rowland Van Es says:

    Since there are over 500,000 homeless people in the USA what is required is a more systemic approach to the problem and a longer look at the structural issues (and structural sins) that led to people losing their homes and end up living on the street. Many are vets and many have mental health issues. Helping one or two people that we happen to meet is a start, but we also need to think about the required political, economic and social policy changes. I am going to start by writing letters again to congress and getting more people to vote in the fall. We can do better for all.

  • Tom Eggebeen says:

    The “bad gramma” here has obliterated two essential elements for life: 1) gratitude and 2) compassion. First gratitude, because she has only herself to thank for her wellbeing (all of her good and wise choices) and then compassion, because poverty and suffering are the result of stupidity and moral failing, so there’s no need to be compassionate, no need to help, no need to address the social situation that has pretty much given her what she is and has, and no need to ever say “thank you God” other than in some meaningless religious repetition – where the lips are moving, but the mind and heart are dead to God.

  • Bob Dahl says:

    Yes, it’s systemic as a responder stated above.

    It is the system — this system described in the US Constitution’s Preamble: “to promote the general welfare” translates into promoting the health, safety and well-being of the people governed thereunder. It is just, compassionate legislators, administrators and jurists leading the country into taking seriously that preamble/prologue for all the people and translating that into just, equitable policy of, by and for the people.

    It is also individual awareness of unjust systems which can lead to the systemic action needed to effect change on a societal level.

    It’s preachers doing their job of preaching the prophets to their congregations and doing so boldly, courageously and ever and always bathed in the light of I Corinthians 13 without using the “love chapter” as an excuse not to preach the prophets in order not to upset the “powers that be.”

    Preach, pray, protest, vote.

    Chad,

    Thanks for this provocative, touching vignette.

    Bob Dahl

  • Chad says:

    Thanks for these comments everyone. While I might not have stated it as eloquently or directly as I should have, my intended point was that we need to have our eyes open not just to individuals but that we often turn a blind eye to systems of injustice. I need to remind myself to look intently into the eyes of those who suffer and the root of its causes.

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