It’s been said a good ad/sermon/speech should “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”

This podcast succeeds on both counts.

It’s a sermon called “Thank You For Talking To Me: Encounters on the Street” by Rev. Victoria Weinstein, a Unitarian minister in Norwell, MA.

I’ve never met her (I follow her on Facebook and read her blog) and this is the first time I’ve heard her speak. It doesn’t matter what religion you follow (or even if you’re atheist) – I think you might find this thought-provoking as well.

I’ve told a story before about how I tried to stop my daughter from giving money to a homeless person and, fortunately, my effort failed.

I’ve almost always hesitated in giving money to a beggar. My justification for not giving them anything is based on the assumption that they will just waste the money on drink or cigarettes.

It didn’t occur to me until reflecting on Rev. Weinstein’s words that we so often feel a sense of responsibility toward a beggar we don’t know (“I don’t want to encourage his drinking!”) but don’t feel this same responsibility toward people we actually know and care about.

For example, we don’t want a homeless person to have a drink on our dime, yet we probably don’t hesitate about bringing a bottle of wine to a social gathering or family holiday dinner when we know at least one alcoholic will be in attendance.

We hesitate about handing over cash to a homeless person for fear they will spend it on something other than food or shelter, yet when we slip cash in a graduation or birthday card we don’t stop to wonder if the person will spend it frivolously.

When asked to bring a casserole to a sick neighbor we don’t tend to say, “She brought that sickness on herself, so if I bring her a casserole, it will only enable her and not teach her to take better care of herself.”

I recall back when I was in college 20+ years ago and took the train home from somewhere. The station was about 30 minutes from my home in Madison. Due to a miscommunication there was nobody at the station to pick me up.

I approached a middle aged couple at the station and asked if they were driving to Madison and, if so, could they give me a ride?

The woman looked at me and said, “Sure, as long as you don’t have any drugs in your backpack!”  I was a clean-cut looking college kid and was taken aback at being sized up so incorrectly. I wanted to say, “No, but there’s a Bible in my backpack!” but didn’t.

I managed to chat companionably with her during the ride to Madison. As I got out of the car she apologized to me for her earlier comment, which I appreciated. It’s a tiny example of how we easily become suspicious of a stranger who asks us for assistance. I’m sure I’ve done the same thing a bunch of times.

Rev. Weinstein says the best kind of trouble you can get into is getting pulled into other people’s messes and helping them out of it.

Last summer she helped a homeless beggar in DC who approached her. After treating him to lunch and encouraging him to take better care of himself, he admitted that he drank to much and was in his sorry circumstances because he was “lonely and scared.” Rev. Weinstein admitted to him that she likes interacting with beggars because she is lonely and scared too.

She realized she (and all of us) are really no different than the beggar. We just can’t admit it most of the time and refusal to give to a beggar might be more about refusal to acknowledge our real selves than it is refusal to acknowledge the beggar.

Anyway, don’t let all my blabbering detract you from listening to her podcast. It’s 20 minutes long. If time is short, begin at the 10 minute mark.

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Filed under: Reflections

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