A curious series of event has taken place in the last couple of days. I was approached by a person who dropped-in for some help. This happens from time to time, maybe one or two a month. He seemed genuine enough so I gave him a small amount of money. [ It was Ash Wednesday and I had just read about giving to the poor...it all seemed a bit too spooky].
Let me make it clear. In my mind a small amount of money solves little. It makes the problem go away, and he did.
[By way of sidetrack I had a colleague whose reponse to any such request was ...I give everyone $5, that's what I tell them "we give $5!!"... the most that can be said about such a strategy is that it does indeed make the problem go away. In fact you don't actually have to intersect with the depth of the problem at all because ....we give everyone $5!]
So back to the tale. I gave P small amount of money and he went away happy.
Less than 24 hours later there was another request from another person, and my colleague did likewise and had also given a couple of cans of food.
Then yesterday I arrived home after the morning bus run to find a young man on the doortstep with a tale of woe. The story was well-rehearsed and he was even clutching documentary evidence....at one stage he gave me what seemed like an obviously forged Centrelink document...but what would I know ( it looked like a coloured copy off a printer, with the dates changed etc. etc.). He had health problems, he had food problems and accomodation problems.
I could help with the food, but in the end although he said "That would be great"he wasn't terribly interested in the food.
The story got more and more convoluted and I obviously didn't understand what he told me. (Clearly it was money that he wanted and by and large we don't even give $5 we just say no money)
It seemed strange to have a third caller in such a short space of time...had word got around that the priest was a soft touch?
I made a number of suggestions, and each one was met with "that won't work I've tried it"....while that is a warning signal it is also something of the truth.
I wanted to give him $5 and make him go away!
In the end he just kept pushing my buttons, (was I so hard that I actually made him do this) and what little generosity I have began to leak out of the bath tub of my emotion with each attack. He finally got quite angry, and I was conscious of a daughter asleep in a nearby bedroom. I was aware too that I was here with a young unbalanced man without any nearby persons and there were all sorts of vulnerabilities flooding in.
He made the decision for himself, when he walked away and shouted "Why are people so heartless?"...which is enough to push most priestly buttons! I tried to reengage and told
him again about how he had to access more significant help through the system (he would probably have already exhausted this outlet)....."The system is wrong" "I know and that's too bad...I agree with you...but it's the way things are." "Well it shouldn't be!"
He was now pushing my Marxist buttons! I agreed with him; and bar having a revolution there was nought I could do.
I was, as you can tell, quite disturbed by this encounter. In Morning Prayers P&I discussed this...had I made another mistake ...was I being challenged to entertain angels unawares?
She and I can certainly make ourselves doubt our response, we try to encourage each other to be charitable and open
Or had the word just got around?
During prayers another guy came in...who we made to wait because we were doing more important things!
"I hear," he said, "that you are one of the only churches that give out food"
The truth is that we had none left...it takes little to drain our meagre resources
There is no solution to any of this. It is a dilemma. Even if these people are rorting the system,what sort of system or society is it that has such people in it, and reduces people to the humiliation of begging.
There is much more to say...but enough for today I think