Tuesday, May 26, 2015


LA has been coolish and gloomy for the past several weeks. It's even rained, which the Lord knows we need--but May? Our rainy season is usually over by March. Plus we had weather in the 80's earlier in the year. So the whole setup is a bit unsettling. Then again, "June gloom" is a yearly phenomenon here in the Southland, so maybe it's just come early.

Whatever the case, Friday, I'm headed out to Palm Springs for several weeks where coolness and gloom will not be the issues.

I've been mulling over the objection of a reader to a piece of mine where I wrote about giving a couple of bucks to Barry, the homeless schizophrenic and hopeless alcoholic who trolls Sunset Boulevard a little farther down, towards Silver Lake.

What are we supposed to wait till Barry regains his mind, gets a job, finds a place to stay, and starts going to church before we bestow our "charity" upon him? People who think like that have never known such a physical, emotional, and spiritual bottom that a single cigarette or a bottle of cheap beer is the only thing staving off a complete nervous breakdown. I have.

I'm not neglecting my own duties to go sit in a bar and stand a round for the drunks. I'm not helping out a whiner or a victim. I'm not doing for Barry what he could do for himself. Barry's not a whiner. He's out on the freaking street, where he lives, begging. He's sick. He needs his medicine. And I, for one, am happy--proud--to help him buy it if that's what he wants to spend the money on.

You can bet that Lazarus, the sore-covered wretch who lay at the gate in the Gospel parable [Luke 16:19-31], was a drunk or a drug addict. And we know what happened to the rich man who, from his splendor and comfort and place of prestige, refused the poor man a drop of water.

I've been staying in Angelino (also spelled Angeleno, often on signs within feet of each other) Heights, an older neighborhood just west of downtown, and I've been feeling a bit depleted myself as of late. I can walk to the Cathedral, as I may have mentioned. So a few afternoons I have tottered down there to sit before the Blessed Sacrament for a bit.

On these walks I noticed a guy in a wheelchair who hangs out in front of the CVS on Beaudry. I was going to give him a few bucks one rainy day but as I approached I saw he was lighting paper cups on fire and hurling them into the street. So I thought I'd hold on till he was in a better mood.

Next time he was sitting there quietly so I stopped and offered him a five. He looked up and said, "Thanks, I'm okay." (How classy is that? For a guy in a wheelchair who's clearly been wearing the same clothes for weeks, if not months). Then he said, "Well wait, is there a 6 on it?" So together we minutely examined this five-dollar bill to see if the numeral 6 appeared. You may never have examined a paper bill that closely--I certainly hadn't--but there are all kinds of tiny groups of numbers. Sure enough we found a 6. Then we looked at another five I happened to have and there was a 6 on that, too. So he wouldn't take the money but he did ask if I'd buy him a pack of cigarettes, which I promised to do--and did--on the way back (Marlboro Lights: $6.53), along with a bottle of anti-itch scalp medicine he requested when I asked if he wanted some candy or food to go with his butts (he was surrounded by wrappers from the adjacent Jack in the Box).

On the way home I thought of another guy I'd run into once on a sidewalk in Venice (CA). "Could you just stand still for a minute so I can walk around you a few times?" he'd asked. "Oh absolutely," I'd said. And this guy who was clearly not well, who smelled, who my heart so went out to, made four or five rotations around me, politely thanked me, and went on his way.

I understood completely the thought that your entire sanity, your existence, hangs on the happening or not happening of what to others seems a random, arbitrary event.

My whole purpose on earth may have been to stand still that day so that OCD-guy could walk around me and hang on for another twenty-four hours.

The Gospels aren't social work. They're not about shaping ourselves and the people around us up into people who "deserve." They're not about an "effective" use of our money, energy, and hearts. They're about one human being having compassion for another. They're about love.



  1. I like this. Thanks. - Penelope

  2. Thank you Heather. We so often want to evaluate the worthiness (in our estimation) of those we offer our "few bucks of charity" to instead of just giving for the love of God and our fellow human being. I have done this too. peace, brenda

  3. “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.” I wish I said it but it is Merton, and I wish I lived it....

  4. I'm confused. Should we just give as well to any organization or mega charity like United Way that solicits our dollars? The Gates Foundation? Some of these charities have been found to have top heavy executive salaries--i.e. are not a particularly great bang for the buck. Don't we have to discern when and when not to give and isn't some of this discernment about whether the "talent" will be buried or will grow and multiply? I do realize that the parable of the talents is a testimony to God's phenomenal generosity but, as I read it, he asks the recipients to DO something with his generosity. Please comment, Heather. You are clearly a thoughtful person. Thank you.

  5. Bless you for showing mercy, kindness, and love for poor suffering souls; so needed in our troubled world,

  6. God bless you, Heather for showing Christ's love to "the least of His brothers."
    Your example is one I will bring with me as I venture out into the world, trying to see Christ in the "distressing disguise of the poor."
    We all need to do this and receive this type of care, too..

  7. Good Lord. I'm stunned. Must think and go to confession. Thank you.
    (I just finished your *Redeemed* and came looking for a blog or something; so glad to be able to "visit" here. Love from Alaska!)

  8. Love ya, Heather, and Barry, and the guy in the wheelchair!

  9. Once again, you nailed it.

  10. Someone important to me has been helping lay hold of this truth, "It's not my business what anyone else thinks of me."

    That truth is transforming my life step by step and, its saved me a good deal of time on and off line.

    Best to you as ever, dear Heather.

  11. Yes!

    It is a good thing that God doesn't withhold his graces until we are worthy.


  12. I won't speak for Heather, but I imagine she believes you give what you can to who you can and that can come in many forms -- including charities. But I understand her desire not to second guess where the money she give casually will go. There is a respect for the person as you see him in that part of his life and you see need, and so you share. We think about it too much. I never leave the house without at least some extra change or a dollar or two, just in case I can make someone's day a little better. it always does mine.

  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  14. Thanks so much, folks. I haven't had the time lately to write the kind of reflective pieces I like. The Barry piece emerged more or less whole, and the response--here and in several private emails--warns my heart.

    Shadowfax, the subject of the piece isn't whether to give to mega-charities; it's about an encounter between me and one other desperate human being, face-to-face, on the street, and about my feeling that if I give a couple of bucks to a homeless person, it's his or hers to do with as they like. We're never called to waste money, but we're called to be extravagant givers. To me, for a street person to spend the couple of bucks I give him on booze isn't a waste of "my" money. As I said, for the drunk, that booze is medicine. On the other hand, I would never give booze money to someone who'd managed to stay sober for a bit and was contemplating getting drunk again.

    So of course we're called to discern. We can't give to everyone. I also give disaster relief money to the Red Cross. I sponsor a kid through Unbound. With mega charities, we do what we can to make sure the organization is channeling as much money as possible to who or what it's supposed to be going to. But I also feel that the orientation of heart, the letting go, the desire to help, the love, are goods in and of themselves, even if the money gets squandered.

    But I personally think the face to face "giving" (which is of course also a receiving) is the best kind, because it's the kind with the capacity to transform.

    1. Extravagant givers as in with no strings attached, as God gives to us.

    2. Interesting as well that Judas, who betrayed Christ for money, claimed to be concerned with the poor but really just wanted to keep the dough for himself.

    3. I try to be extravagant in my giving too, Heather, although I am mostly extravagant in time and resources other than money. For example, I let an out of work painter and his girlfriend live in my rental property for free one hard winter. I asked him to work in exchange for the utilities which he did. I also found him a full time job with a fellow landlord and took his girlfriend to my dentist to deal with her abscessed tooth. It's about real engagement with the poor and distressed--literally taking them in hand. It is time, listening and real presence that I personally have wanted when I've been abandoned by others and I find others want most as well.
      That's what I try but don't always succeed in giving.

      I am presently sitting in a Starbucks typing on my laptop. It's 6:50 am EDT. I will almost assuredly be approached in the next hour or so by someone who does not need money---after all they have enough to buy a coffee---but nevertheless needs to tell their story. I will try to close the laptop and listen. And.....to fend off in advance any criticism of being in Starbucks, I try to do the same thing when sitting on bench on a public street with my dog as I did on Wednesday.

      Outside this Starbucks at the intersection of two very busy streets there often stands a man or a woman with a cardboard sign on which is written in black marker, "God Bless You. About to lose home. Single mother."---or some combination thereof. They have many counterparts with almost identical signs at all the busy intersections in my city. Many motorists toss them their change or a few bucks then, when the light turns green, they speed off.

      I think we often toss our literal small change to the distressed and ignore the far, far bigger systemic problems which put our brothers and sisters out there in the first place----starting with the breakdown of the family. Ah, well, I can see I'm in the minority here. Out to the pasture
      for now.


  15. I absolutely loved--and needed--this one. Thanks!


  16. Dear Hearher,
    You're comment box has been spammed, again. ^

  17. Hi there, just a thought - the encounter between two individuals (who are two strangers) is so different to the encounter between an individual and an organisation (a company or a charity) and between two people who know each other (or between one person and their family). There are some people, in my family, for example, who because of what I *know* about their situation, I cannot charitably give money to ... I have to try to help in other ways. But when a stranger comes up to me and asks for help, the situation (as allowed by God) is such that I have to give the best help I can with the least amount of knowledge ... sometimes that's money, sometimes that's food, sometimes that's even an item of clothing. Be they a stranger or my family member, they are Jesus ... and how I help them depends on what He chooses to reveal about Himself in that person. If that makes sense!

    1. Jess, I love this. What a profound reflection! Another difference between the family member and the stranger is the family member is usually asking/for needing a lot more than a buck or two. I'm not going to give Barry twenty grand: I'm giving him two or three bucks. The very small amounts of money we are usually asked for and give to beggars and street people I just can't see begrudging. Thanks for your thoughtful reflection.

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