December 21, 2010

Mercy vs. Compassion Transactions

Have you noticed the increase in compassion transactions for the homeless lately? It's everywhere you look in the media now. Is this really mercy? I don't think that mercy for the homeless should be defined by how many soup bowls or shelter beds or care packages are given out. Of course every homeless person out there needs and appreciates those things. They will smile and you will smile and you will both feel good for awhile. You'll go home and they'll go back to trying to survive. It's not mercy. Call it a transaction of compassion. Because that is what it is. You give. The homeless person takes. You fill an immediate and urgent need. They are grateful. You feel good. And that is it.

Giving of yourself by doing these things is a wonderful thing...and it's immediate. By all means, you should keep doing it because in the absence of access to permanent solutions, temporary fixes and services are better than nothing. But no matter how you rationalize it, it's still a compassion transaction. You do it with one or with one hundred homeless people and that's it. Done. Easy. And that is why we do it...why the thousands of people in churches and groups all over the country do it. Because solving the real causative factors of why the person is homeless to begin with is just too darn hard. But what if...

What if your community had more (better and faster) access to permanent solutions such as permanent supportive housing. What if the "homeless" person could wake up from a nap on a blustery winter afternoon in their OWN little studio, cook a nice hearty bowl of soup for themselves (you can bet if they can survive on the street, they can cook for themselves) and be out of the churning cycle of shelters and services that were endlessly managing the symptoms of their homeless condition. Would that be true mercy?

I think that it would. And I invite you to believe in this way as well.
What if instead of slinging soup bowls, shelter beds and care packages you decided to be part of a long term plan, a real vision with real legs that got shoulder to shoulder with people to SOLVE their problem? What the homeless and the people in your community really need is a shoulder to shoulder partnership that gets out of the rut of the endless churning cycle of managing the symptoms and into real long term solutions such as permanent supportive housing. This, in my opinion, would define your actions as hugely different, very potent and truly merciful.

- Chris Megison