Isn’t That Special

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a meeting held by the Interfaith Hospitality Network. This group does an enormous amount of good for families who have become homeless due to circumstance such as job loss, divorce and excessive debt just to name a few.

I am a regular attendee at a Quaker Meeting in my area and we were asked to participate, along with other faith congregations in the area, in a program being introduced by this group. One of the congregations has offered to open its doors to house 3 homeless families for the month of August. It will be our responsibility to make meals, host meals and chaperone over night for 1 week within the month. Sounds simple enough..right?

The evening started off with an exercise that encouraged us to introduce ourselves and provide insight to one another regarding our Hopes & Fears as we enter into this program together.  I have never felt comfortable in this arena, but like any thing else the more you do it the easier it becomes.

I shared that my Hope would be that as a group the experience would empower us to do more together either within this program or in our immediate community, followed by my Fear that our judgments wouldn’t stand in the way of making this a positive experience.

Now, I said this as a reaction to a previous experience I had a local Food Cupboard. It is important to understand the mindset of guests who are in need. For instance, if someone came in for food sporting a fresh manicure, you have to put yourself in his or her shoes and not judge that their money could have been spent more wisely.  That manicure could have saved that person from jumping off the edge. Sometimes lipstick and a hairdo make a world of difference.  As the wise director of this program stated: “You have to learn to be poor.”

We continued around the table and it was evident that the majority of the hopes & fears were coming from a positive base well, at least until we reached 2 very vocal members of the host congregation. This is the moment I realized that Hopes & Fears weren’t as cut and dry as I once imagined. I have a terrible habit of thinking everyone thinks like me….they don’t, but life would be so much easier if they did. 

One of the women, who announced she had been a member of this congregation for 52 years, stated …”I hope that there are no fights” and “I hope I don’t see a mother beating her child.” Ok, what the hell are the fears? Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, she blurts … “I’m afraid I’ll have to call 911” and “I’m afraid someone will steal chalices from the church.”  This was a game changer. Now I’m hoping I will be able to work with these people and I fear killing one before it’s over. 

These women sat across from me with their hands neatly folded on their Bibles. My fear was coming alive right before my eyes. Our homeless guests were being judged before they even crossed the threshold. Umm, yea…maybe you could open that hand rest…I mean Bible and take a peak inside ladies. 

As the evening went on, so did the fear-based questions. The behavior of these women was the
core reason I stepped away from my own faith for years. I admit I was scouting out exits at this point. 

The director of the program listened intently, but never flinched. Needless to say she has had her share of negative inquiries over the years. Once the women were done, she calmly informed them that in her 20 plus years in that position, she never once experienced any of the suggested scenarios, but there was always a first time for everything. Well played Ms. Director, well played indeed. 

“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.” Bertrand Russell

As soon as I committed to this project I knew it would be eye-opening, but I never anticipated it to happen during the planning stages. I was so moved by the effective listening skills of the director. Her contentment quickly altered the negative vibe in the room, which allowed us to continue planning with a much-needed positive outlook.

Note to Self:  Never follow the herd, find a spot outside the fence and Enjoy the Ride!

22 responses

  1. Good for you, Tops. I admit to doing too little along this line. But what an amazing director you have.

    I’m especially glad you didn’t give in and kill someone. I would have!

  2. Well played and well said, Top! I am afraid I would have opened my mouth, unlike you. Wisdom is being able to remain quiet, and you displayed wisdom. Hope this experience is a very positive one for you and that you will be blessed abundantly in giving of your time and yourself. Loved reading this tonight! DAF

  3. I’m with DAF although while reading I will admit sarcasm was creeping in the screen door behind me. I had fifty responses (which over a glass of wine would have had us howling)then I remembered…”I can choose a different thought” (see I really am healing) I can learn from this…so I wiped the smirk from my face and quietly sent peace, love and light to the families being judged and more importantly to the church ladies who haven’t a clue…

    1. Sarcasm was trying to burst out of my head as soon as they opened their mouths,without wine!! I’m afraid to think of what my face looked like…lol

  4. What a story…thank you for sharing and for being shocked by those statements. Hopefully their perspective will change through this project. We can always hope. Go Quakers!!!!

    1. Quakers Rock! I am hoping that they will have a moment…sometimes people need a spotlight!

      1. It might be interesting to watch their personal journeys starting from this place after they actually have more oportunities to interact with people in more difficult lief circumstances…

  5. Wow! You have amazing insight. What a great experience this will be. I always think that people reflect what we put out there, so you will have no problem with your week! Can’t wait to hear about it!

    1. I am looking forward to meeting the families. I believe that as well. I was glad no one chimed in to feed Negative Nancy and Negative Nellie…ugh they seemed full.

  6. I agree with NOFTTy, this is a great story. The psychology of volunteerism is interesting indeed and I oftren wonder what is actually motivating people to enter into a volunteer venture. Sounds like it’s going to be a productive experience. Standing outside the herd is the harder but usually more fulfilling road and those who stand outside the herd are usually far more interesting :).

    1. I stayed away from volunteering for a long time because I always found myself with people who were Super Volunteers, they didn’t really care for help. So weird! I could never be in a herd..I like my freedom!

  7. It’s so sad the way we judge one another without reason. I don’t know how you do it, but that lady would’ve gotten an earful from me

    1. I couldn’t feed the monster. She was dead serious in her weirdness.

  8. When we see the homeless outside in bitter cold or sweltering heat, we cannot understand why they don’t seek shelter. Perhaps they’re mentally ill or addled by substance abuse, or perhaps they’ve just experienced a few do-gooders like the ones you described.

    1. Hahahaha! So true! I know I was ready to be drunk on the sidewalk just to escape.

  9. free penny press | Reply

    *Salute* You are involved in something which can be life changing for someone. I can already tell you are very open & compassionate and anyone you interact with in this program is mighty damn lucky..
    open eyes + open heart= true blessing
    Love you are doing this!!! 🙂

  10. Michelle Gillies | Reply

    Kudos to you and the Director of this program. There are so many people who have been in this same situation – “The behavior of these women was the
    core reason I stepped away from my own faith for years. I admit I was scouting out exits at this point.” – You are an inspiration that you continue to try to find/follow your faith in spite of this behaviour.

  11. Great post! It’s nice when you read a post that really gets you thinking. That doesn’t happen often enough…

  12. Two thumbs for you! It never ceases to amaze me that those who claim to be so ‘holier-then-thou’ are the ones who judge the most. Seems they need to do more reading of that book their hands were folded so neatly on …

  13. Fantastic post and so well written. Love the pictures and sayings you included. Our little parish (Episcopal) has done this before, and we also have one of the largest food pantries in Hampton Roads, and we have always found those who take advantage of our help to be intensely appreciative. We also find that we gain as much from them as they do from us as they try to cope in such difficult circumstances with as much grace as any of us could ever muster. Cudos to you and your group for reaching out.

    1. Thank you! I’m really looking forward to this project. I love volunteering at the food pantry, I usually leave in awe at the survival skills and genuine kindness of human beings. It should be mandatory for everyone to volunteer…honestly, it’s so rewarding on so many levels. Kudos to your church for having a pantry, especially during these hard times.

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