The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 27 Jul 2015, and is filled under Uncategorized.

Imbecile

I did voluntary work on Saturday night with homeless people, those who had had too much to drink and others who, however briefly, are a bit lost. The hours are long and based on past experience, your sense of humour starts to fail about two in the morning when things you might shrug off feel as though someone has jabbed a very hot finger into your brain and agitated it violently.

So it proved on Saturday. But the source of the annoyance was not a man being sick down my arm, someone telling me I was a wanker or trying to start a fight, all of which I find it easy to approach with equanimity, as the emphasis is on helping others and how you respond is more important than what you’re thinking. It was one of the other voluntary workers.

As we’re all Christians and we pray before we head out, which is something I like as it helps me focus and make the transition from being out in the world to doing something more selfless. We asked a group member to pray for us, which he did, but rather than sticking to generalities, he moved onto specifics and started talking about the homeless.

He said that, ‘as there were enough resources,’ people who are homeless choose to be so and that people who have addictions are, simply, making the wrong choices, speaking about them as though they were silly children who simply needed to reflect on the error of their ways, pull their heads in and stop being so, well, silly.

At this point, I stopped praying. I had a visceral reaction to him, which I had to wrestle with, as it would have involved asking him what on earth he was talking about and whether he had any experience of addiction or homelessness. And then I wanted to punch him to the ground and kick him repeatedly in the head for such fatuous and ill-thought through bilge.

Let me set my stall out. I’ve never been homeless, but I’ve talked to enough people who are to know that the problems are many and complex and that they aren’t problems of resource allocation. And I have involvement with a close family member who is an alcoholic, so I have an understanding of the issues involved, if not lived experience. Finally, I suffer from depression, so my awareness of people whose lives have fallen apart is heightened.

To sit there and listen to someone smugly intone that he understands all of these problems and knows the answer seems like being in the presence of breath-taking arrogance. Moreover, it seems to be a peculiarly Christian problem, that foul air of being all-knowing and infinitely wise when, your life experience is actually hugely narrow and empowers you to do nothing more than make bumwitted reflections about a small area of human activity.

If being a Christian means anything, it has to mean that you shut up when confronted by an experience that isn’t your own, listen and try and come alongside to help, no matter whether that means them becoming a Christian or not, because it’s The Right Thing To Do. It doesn’t mean that you can use prayer as an opportunity to advertise the fact that you think you have all of the answers, least of all to hugely complicated multi-factoral problems such as alcoholism and homelessness.

And these are not problems of resources. The Government don’t care about people using foodbanks and have cut benefits, so they’re unlikely to care if you’re a homeless alcoholic or have complicated mental health needs that have contributed to the above. Any government worth its salt would try and fix these problems, try and make sure that the people on the bottom were not hurting, but there we go. It’s all a choice, apparently.

Rather than spending time with people like this, by which I mean Christians of such foul certainty, I’d prefer to be with the people we help. I don’t want thanking and I don’t want recognition. I want to know that what I do matters and then I want to go home. If it means never speaking to another Christian of such blind certainty again, then it’d be a price worth paying.

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