I saw a video yesterday about a homeless guy who crashes a video shoot for a worship song and becomes an impromptu collaborator on a totally new version. (HERE) It reminded me of college. I spent nearly every Friday night in college with a semi-homeless fellow. Often we played chess. Most often he won. Sometimes we studied for his GED. On the rare occasion I had any money, we had dinner at Subway. I went down to Short Vine in Cincinnati to share my faith with him, but I most often ended up the student.
My friend never graduated from college nor high school for that matter. He struggled to hold down a job and had nearly nothing to his name… except his guitar. At some point before I met him, he got his hands on a right handed guitar. He was left handed. So he held the instrument in a way that felt natural to him and taught himself to play – with the strings backward. How? By listening to songs on the radio and plucking them out by himself. He also taught himself to play the piano by sneaking into the music rooms at a local college and playing until someone kicked him out – all by ear.
He had talent that I can only dream of and a perspective on life that was drastically different from my rural upbringing. He gave freely to me and to the world around him. He dreamed of being a performer and had the personality to pull it off, like the fellow in that video.
I can’t repay him for what he gave me. He exposed something in me that I didn’t want to see… my own poverty. Compared to him, I lacked many things and still do. Because of him, I see my world and myself differently. Both of us had needs… he understood some of his. I needed mine exposed.
Attitude is everything when it comes to working with those who have materially less. Are we coming to them with a huge “S” on our chest… trying to save them to make ourselves feel good? Do we act on their behalf because we’re uncomfortable and want to alleviate our own guilt at having more stuff?
“By showing low-income people through our words, our actions, and most importantly our ears that they are people with unique gifts and abilities we can be part of helping them to recover their sense of dignity, even as we recover from our sense of pride.” (When Helping Hurts)
As we enter the holiday season, let’s remember that the stuff we own, our education, our income, our relational connections… none of those things place us on the social ladder above anyone else. We are all poor inside. We all have blind spots, struggles and failures. So when we’re moved to help, let’s do so as fellow travelers and not entitled saviors!