Monday, July 30, 2018

Whatever Happened to Sodom?

There are some less-than-subtle preachers telling us that God hates homosexuals so much that he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah to give us a permanent example of what God does to societies that accept homosexuality.

Hmm, let’s examine this.

The story of Sodom in Genesis 19 really begins in the previous chapter when three angels (one of them the angel of the Lord) strolls by Abraham’s tent.  Abraham stops them and begs them to hang out with him for some leftover bread and water.  Instead, Abraham arranges an elaborate feast that takes all afternoon with a BBQ.

Here we have a story about a saint of God who offered great hospitality to some homeless folks who were wandering by.

At the end of this story, God tells Abraham that there was an outcry against Sodom and God was going there to check it out.  So he sends his two angels on to do just that.

Now we are in chapter 19.  The angels arrive in the city and Lot, Abraham’s nephew quickly meets them. He offers them some food and a place to stay, just like Abraham.  The angels say, “We think we’ll sleep out under the stars in the  middle of town.”  Lot replies, “Um, no.   You REALLY NEED to stay in my house tonight.”

Even so, all the men of town come over and demand to have sex with the new kids in town.  Why is this?  Because they want to hang out with new playthings?  No, it is because they are punishing any newcomers who think they might want to stay in their town.  The report that God had heard is that any homeless wanderer or immigrant is raped in this town.

And possibly killed.  In Judges 19, another town performed this same practice.  The object of their rape, the man, threw his concubine to them and they all raped her instead and in the morning she was dead.  The sin of Sodom is not homosexuality: it is the rape, abuse and attempted murder of the immigrants and homeless.

This makes sense of other passages that speak about Sodom, like Ezekiel 16:49—“Behold, this is the sin of Sodom: She and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy, thus they were haughty and committed abominations.”  The abominations was abuse of the poor.

So the next time a preacher points at LGBTQ as the problem in our society, you can tell them that Sodom was destroyed for abusing immigrants and if we are really going to purify our society, we need to start by joyfully, generously welcoming immigrants who wander by our front door, like Abraham.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Compassion Begins With Empathy

I love those brave souls who decide to spend a night or two homeless so they can understand what they go through.  I was one myself.  I had my houseless friend take me out, get me a place to camp out, and I didn’t sleep well, I walked a lot and hung out in soup kitchens with a lot of folks that made me uncomfortable.  And I must apologize to my old self and all who decide to do this noble deed, but let’s not deceive ourselves: we still don’t have a clue as to what it means to be homeless.

Homelessness doesn’t begin overnight. It is the end step of a path of poverty, isolation and regret and resentment.  Possibly abuse and horror. 

We like to point to things like job loss and mental illness or maybe drug addiction as the source of homelessness.  The real cause of homelessness is that no one is there for you.  Not really.  Perhaps a newly houseless person has a lot of people who will give us a tear on Facebook or to hear about our plight they might say, “That’s too bad,” but no real friends.  Because real friends, real family will make sure that we have a place to stay, prevent us from crashing so badly.  Perhaps our lack of a support network is our own fault.  Perhaps it is because we are too ashamed to tell anyone or because we’ve hurt the people who might want to help.  Or perhaps it is because we are too broken by abuse and hatred around us that we can’t maintain a group of friends to support us.  But nevertheless, this process isn’t something a person can experience by spending a week outside.

The person staying out overnight know, in their heart of hearts, that they can stop any time they want.  They can arrange for someone to pick them up.  They can be out of the cold, out of the anxiety of being abused by authorities after a simple phone call.  They have no real danger of being raped or beaten because there is probably someone watching out for them. 

And the true danger of homelessness takes time to experience.  For a day or a week camping a person can plan and prepare.  It has the sense of an adventure—a stressful one, for certain, but not truly anxiety-inducing.  The longer a person is out on the street—no matter in a car, a tent or an RV in public spaces—the longer the chronic stress eats at us.  The lack of sleep creeps up on us.  Eventually, we lose the ability to process everything, to make decisions.   Eventually comes the crisis which we cannot brush aside, the event that cripples our hope.  We realize that we can’t control our lives.  That we are adrift and unless someone kind provides us stability, we will never have it again.

Homelessness isn’t living outside.  It is a cancer that devours our minds and we wonder where the person we were ended up.  It is a lifestyle of living in drama and we want to have peace, but even if we get some peace we discover that all that waits there is depression and guilt.  This is why most people who are chronically homeless use alcohol or drugs.  Not because that’s what made them homeless.  The addiction is a coping mechanism, so we don’t feel the shame of people staring at us, the guilt of the mistakes we made that put us on the street, the anger at those who refuse to help us.  For a while, we can just forget and really rest.

To understand this takes longer than an extended camping trip. To grasp this, without experiencing it ourselves, we need to listen to people on the street.  To gain their trust and have them tell us the truth.  To stand with them and give some an opportunity to escape the cycle they are trapped in. 

 Compassionate action begins with empathy.