Recently, on March 12, 2017 the Conway Police Department issued a statement on the increase of panhandlers in the city of Conway. Lieutenant Clay Smith offered a reasonable and clear explanation on the situation stating,
“…a fairly recent Court decision basically voided our city ordinance and made panhandling on street corners legal or within an individuals rights to do.”
The legality of such a decision is for the courts to decide obviously. Our law enforcement personnel who do a great job of serving and protecting our community are taking the right approach in pointing these men and women to the appropriate resources to assist in alleviating a specific need.
While the courts and Conway Police are upholding their responsibilities of determining constitutionality and enforcement respectively, the citizens of Conway have responsibilities as well.
Yes. We. Have. Responsibility.
When you drive down Oak Street and pass one of these panhandlers on the corner, who do you see?
One may say, “I see a hustler.”
Another may say, “I see a guy unwilling to get a job.”
Another may say, “I see a pothead.”
And another will say, “I see someone with a need.”
If I may, when you drive down Oak Street this weekend remember the person you see on the corner is a human being. A human being who is like you and I. What makes him or her a human being is their presence to occupy a space in time and by occupation of that space you recognize their existence. He is a human being because he has sensory perceptions as the cars drive past him and the wind brushes across his arms. She is a human being because she realizes the temperature changes on body. They are human beings because they along with us will at some point share in the transformative experience of death. If I may be so bold, you are standing out on that corner with cardboard in hand.
What responsibility does our city government have regarding the homeless and panhandlers? Our city government must create an environment which those who want to provide benevolence in the form of shelters and food can flourish. I am thankful for Mayor Bart Castleberry who is assembling a task force to address poverty which includes homelessness. Our city missed an opportunity two years ago to significantly address this concern. We have another opportunity which will require the strong participation of the mayor’s office, city councilmen and women, nonprofits, faith groups, and civic organizations. We laud our city being a compassionate and giving city. Such laurels must result in tangible and sustainable solutions which give panhandlers a way to prosper with dignity.
What responsibility do our faith groups have regarding the homeless and panhandlers? Can we complain about not having the resources to address homelessness while we possess the financial means to end homelessness? Speaking to my faith tradition, we have the immediate responsibility to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we have the equal need to care for the poor, widow, and orphaned.
I state it as an “equal need” because the two great commandments carry equal weight. We are our own worst enemy as we offer people an ethereal hope while not equally offering hope in the present. Have we become so insensitive we will invest millions of dollars to convince someone to believe in Jesus whom they have not seen while wrestling over $50.00 to help a homeless person whom we see?
We have a responsibility to meet the homeless man or woman on the street because in some powerful way Jesus Christ himself is standing on the street corner. Yes, I anticipate the usual cast of characters who will stand up and say the usual stereotypical statements about the poor. Yet the burden of proof is on each person who uses such stereotypes to justify why he or she does not want to experience the fullness of his or her humanity. On the street corner is your opportunity to meet and talk with Jesus Christ.
Finally, we have a responsibility as a city. Let us stop making excuses. With the level of financial power and influence we possess in this city homelessness and panhandling can be addressed. We lack the will to do so for the sake of others. If we can demonstrate through voting the construction of a new high school, Central Landing-which still is not finished, and road improvements, can we not do something powerfully for others?
The panhandlers are a judgement on our city. A visible presence to persons from all over Conway the homeless are here and God wants us to answer their call. These men and women are a visible presence that weakness is within the boundaries of our city. But this discipline can be responded to in a turning towards the homeless and panhandlers, embracing these men and women, and saying,
“Let’s walk together.”
January 16, 2017 our nation celebrates the life and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin L. King Jr. Dr. King’s life and legacy is one of the examined life in which he determined to use his faith, intellect, and compelling vision for human equality to improve the lives of Americans. He possessed a clear vision of where he wanted to go and his example called others to follow him towards a beloved community.
I use the terminology “human equality” because we tend to isolate Dr. King’s work to the pursuit of racial equality in voting rights, equal access to solicit businesses, and bus desegregation. Yet Dr. King’s work extends beyond the visionary speech of “I Have a Dream” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Dr. King’s intense vision for the realization and affirmation of human personality among poor Americans, a difficult stand against the Vietnam War, and improved economic situations are critical to understanding his life and legacy. We will be well served to remember Dr. King was not simply an advocate for the uplift of Blacks during the 1950’s and 1960’ but a fervent and prophetic voice to call people to a glorious destination.
It is a difficult thing to be a voice for all persons. In the 21st Century we are drawn into so many directions. A prominent influence is our propensity to be a voice for those who resemble, think, and most recently vote like us. Homogeneity offers a level of protection, security, and identity. It is when the “other” enters our presence, our intellectual assent to advance freedom and dignity for “We the People” encounters profound challenge. When the “other” breaks into our life as a ray of light on our sleeping faces, we are startled from our slumber and have an opportunity to engage in a new morning.
We stand in a morning where we will see footsteps of resistance because a new administration prepares to ascend the precipice of national leadership. We wake up to voices of mothers and brothers who are tired of violence perpetuated in their streets, whether by gang members or law enforcement. We are aware of the tired feet of people who partake a dangerous journey to our Southern border led as hopeful sojourners by manipulative coyotes. The morning light has made us aware of all types of persons who vacillate between hope and fear, comfort and anxiety, solidarity and isolation. As Dr. King asked in 1968, “Where do we go from here?”
This question asked forty-nine years ago, immediately evaluated the situation of the Civil Rights Movement. His leadership along with a diverse ethnic and religious following was influential in securing the desegregation of buses, the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and challenging the validity of the Vietnam War. Dr. King realized people-particularly Blacks-continued to suffer economically within their own neighborhoods, despite significant victories. Where do we go from here? Dr. King proposed the movement needed to engage its government and citizens to embrace the reality of a “world house.” Embedded in the question though is the concept of identity.
We are a family. We have a variety of ethnicity, religious faiths, and other social distinctions. Just as a family possesses diversity, a loving and compassionate family manages such diversity for the larger goal of generational viability. Regardless of our social or economic position, we exist as a family within this vast house called America. This is our house and we have an individual and collective responsibility to steward this residence for ourselves and future generations.
Where do we go from here? Embedded in the question is one of action. Dr. King perceived the success of the Civil Rights Movement depended on Blacks serving in greater political, economic, and social influence. In the 21st Century we must ask ourselves, “How will we serve others?” I believe there are many of you who possess great ideas to transform Libertarian, Conservative, and Progressive ideologies. There are men, women, and children in our nation who need bold political ideas which will shape our house to function appropriately in this new morning. Poverty continues to be an unsightly hole in the roof of our house. This economic situation creates an opportunity in which more and more families are discovering their power to make meaningful choices is being severely hindered. Dr. King stated, “if democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity.” It is time we stand in the warmth of our new morning creating new opportunities to improve the economic situation of the disadvantaged. To do otherwise compromises the longevity of our republic.
Finally, we can serve others in the 21st Century by compassionately engaging socially with others. Our country has some relational tensions to address. These tensions possess an ethnic character and in other cases a political character. While I cannot control how one is born ethnically or how one believes politically, I can control how I perceive the other person. You are my brother and sister. We are tied together by the same infinitely valuable character which offers us all dignity and worth. I have my faults as you have your own. Dr. King stated, “there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” Therefore, let us serve our “enemies.” We need to walk into this new morning with an intense desire to love the other with such a fervency that heaven itself will stand and applaud.
Service in the 21st Century depends on a compelling and prophetic vision which empowers each of us to love through political, economic, and social means. We love one another through each of these means for the greater purpose of maintaining our national house and above all creating a situation in which all human beings can dance in the morning light of freedom and equality.
This is where we can be headed.
Our country is a unique place. I will not settle for the binaries of this country existing in a completely hopeless situation or the utopian nation of the world. Our country has a diverse population of persons who are united by a common existence as Americans, a common desire to live in freedom, and pursue their unique dreams. In the presence of such existence, desires, and pursuits are the differences which contribute to the tensions which put our communities into periodic turmoil.
In a world in which we believe we have made our lives closer through Instagram pictures and Snapchat we appear to be drifting further apart. In a world in which we believe we have friends who span a variety of spheres through Facebook we reveal through our memes, videos, and messages a level of disdain we have for the other. It is a strange thing to see someone provide posts about the love of God then follow those posts up with vitriol about a political candidate, revel in a video about two persons assaulting each other, or reveal racist thought. Technology may have brought us closer together in terms of information but reveals the important necessity for us to function as true brothers and sisters in humanity.
I say “brothers and sisters” because we all share a common nature as persons made in the image of God. God creates humanity in his image and the image humans reflects is his son Jesus Christ. At the deepest level of our existence we possess a shared nature which reflects eternality. We are a family. Families are not created by random acts but through intentionality. We are a family of individuals who are divinely threaded together by a transcendent being and this offers us a solid reason for existence. Yet despite the ontological reality of our being, we persist in assaulting one another because of our differences. We manifest in word and sadly in deed violent behavior which diminishes and at times extinguishes the life of another “Christ.”
In Chicago, two males and two females bind and assault another human being live on Facebook because of his ethnicity.
In South Carolina, Dylan Roof states in his killing of nine human beings, “I would like to make it crystal clear, I do not regret what I did…I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”
On social media, an Arkansas teacher celebrates our current President and his wife leaving the White House by stating, “glad to see that nasty chimp and her spider monkey hubby gone for good.” Our future President is labeled as the destroyer of the nation. Even the former CEO of PacketSled was bold enough to state on social media, “I am going to kill the president. Elect. Nope, getting a snipe rifle and perching myself where it counts. Find a bedroom in the whitehouse that suits you motherfucker. I’ll find you.”
I can go on about how we speak about those who have entered the country illegally, refugees needing a safe place to live, and those of different sexual orientation, and faiths. We are demonstrating a schizophrenic behavior. We-per some- are a Christian nation yet we decimate in violent words the dignity of people. We speak of justice and fairness yet threaten death on those who are our political opponents. We speak about lives mattering but we are willing to seek viral popularity with physical violence at the expense of another’s life.
I invoke the pronoun “we” because as one person uses violence-verbal and physical-against another our society is negatively impacted. As I stated above, we are divinely united by our image bearing. We understand our personhood in relationship to another person, ultimately grasping our full personhood in relationship to God. When I pursue the affirmation of another human being his or her life is improved and by extension your life as well. But when I pursue violence I begin the slow death of myself, my neighbor, and society. As Shakespeare stated, “violent delights have violent ends.”
Reconciliation as the Outcome of Nonviolence
Jesus stated a tree is known by the fruit it bears. Martin L. King spoke aptly that to achieve peaceful ends we are to possess peaceful means. I firmly believe deep within each of us is the desire to exist in harmony with our neighbors. I believe this harmony exists because of the image we poorly reflect. A broken mirror still offers reflection. In our shattered state, Christ’s divine harmony through the agency of nonviolence can bring about reconciliation. Reconciliation is making friendship with someone who stands at odds with another. I could choose violence to realize harmony in my life yet the end of such activity will be my own undoing. But when I choose to act peacefully and I choose to affirm the personhood of my opponent the opportunity for a peaceful and beneficial outcome has greater possibility. We possess the seed to produce peace in our lives and the lives of others.
Love as the Power within Nonviolence
The only type of love which can nourish nonviolent behavior is the love which transforms a human heart bringing together the shattered pieces of our souls. Friendly love or sexual love will not suffice. We need a love which transcends our human experience and simultaneously touches our lives in the most profound ways. This type of love provides the power to a man or woman to speak peace and embrace his or her enemy. It is the type of love in which God himself embraced his own enemies and calls others to do the same. A type of love which told Peter to put away his sword and James and John to withhold calling down the judgment of God on an unreceptive town. It is the type of love which calls on a small group of persons to honor a ruler who viewed himself as the son of God. This type of love has power.
It is my firm hope in 2017 we would pursue a nonviolent posture for sake of ourselves, our neighbors, and our society.