Archive for March, 2012

Recipe for Friendship: A Simple Meal

March 12, 2012

Licensed through clipartof.com

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – What happens when you share a meal with someone?

You are equals. Each person brings something to the table.

There’s a danger associated with soup kitchens and “drive-by” ministries that feed the homeless. They can divide us.

I observed something interesting with a friend one day at Retreat from the Street, a ministry of Church on the Street, a non-profit in Atlanta devoted to being with and for our most vulnerable neighbors who are homeless.

Our typical schedule is to gather at 9:30 for Bible study and prayer, then to break for lunch around 11:30. Lunch is catered, and always very delicious. After the study, I waited in line with everyone else, grabbed a meal and sat down.

As I ate, a friend named Tycone approached. He said he was glad that I was sharing a meal, but his tone hinted at surprise. I asked, “Why?”

Tycone’s reply: Most volunteers who serve the poor and homeless do just that: They serve. Volunteers usually offer something to someone. Although they do this with pure motives, in the name of Jesus, such “serving” can often create barriers of trust. What people need is not another handout. What they desire is that someone sit with them and speak their names.

People on the streets have a deep desire to be treated with dignity.  They appreciate it when we treat them as we would family or friends, spending time with them, taking an interest in their lives. They crave what you and I do: For us to care about them as individuals, to open our hearts to them – to show them love.

When I ate at Retreat from the Street, did it mean that I was lowering myself to the position of someone on the street? Absolutely not. I was trying to communicate that I value Tycone as a person, and what he has to say.

I once asked a friend living on the streets what would be the best way to help someone in his position.  He pondered my question about a week before he answered.

He said it was time. It wasn’t food. It wasn’t clothes. It wasn’t even a job.

Nothing is as important as time in a committed relationship. Many people on the streets are there because of failed relationships. I would argue that many of us are where we are in life because of failed relationships.

About a month ago, I ran into some friends at the Wendy’s in our neighborhood. They live on the streets and immediately asked me for money to eat.

When someone asks for food, I always try to suggest that we eat together. I tell them that I will buy if they will give me some of their time.

As I stepped up to the counter to order, it hit me why this felt so good:

This is precisely is what Jesus did. He shared meals with people – tax collectors, prostitutes, and outsiders and sinners. No one else wanted to hang out with them. He did. By no means do I compare myself with Jesus, but maybe in that moment, through God’s grace, I was demonstrating to the most vulnerable people in Atlanta that God loved them.

Sharing a meal with people levels the playing field. There are no helpers or people being helped. This is hugely significant: When we “break bread,” one with another, we partake of the same food. More important, we share a bit of ourselves, a bit of our lives, in friendship and in love.

When panhandlers who say they’re hungry approach you, create some space. Take these neighbors to dinner, grab a bite to eat and get to know them.

When you learn their stories, you won’t think of them as homeless people. You’ll consider them as neighbors. Welcome them into your life.

It’s your life that will be greatly changed.

Dan Crain and his family.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer in South Atlanta for Polis Institute. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Communications Skills: Are You a Good Listener?

March 8, 2012

By Michael Joe Murphy

“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”

That quote from Mother Teresa haunts me.

Yes, I appreciate solitude occasionally. But I fear loneliness. I desperately want to be loved. And there’s not a day that I’m not conscious about living in a lonely world, a lonely city.

Does anyone else sense a poverty of communication? Is anyone listening? Are you?

Sometimes that poverty hits me, but for no good reason: I’m blessed with family and friends who listen – really listen – to me.

Then there’s the poverty of isolation or exclusion because of gender, race, economic dislocation, living on the streets or, in the case of my friends at The Palms on South Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando, because they live in a trailer court.

The key to people feeling loved is a perception that someone really listens to them — sometimes beneath their words spoken in anxiety or anger.  Do we do a good job listening? It’s tough.

There are a gazillion websites about “how to be a good listener.” My version resides on a battered index card, circa 1975, from the superintendent of my school district in Ohio, Ed Hamsher. He spoke at a Bible study, and what he shared was practical for someone about to go to college. On the now-frayed card, he wrote:

COMMUNICATIONS SKILLS

1. Listen underneath the words.
2. Consider and reflect back what you understand to help clarify. Do not make a judgment.
3. Lead the other person to discover his or her own solution by considering the option available.
4. Permit that person to be responsible for his or her own actions.

It wasn’t many months until the wisdom borne on the index card became invaluable, in situations large and small, significant and seemingly without meaning, but all deeply important.

Knock-knock came a rapping at my dorm room door. “Murph, I slept with a girl. We didn’t use a condom. She’s Catholic, like me. What if she’s pregnant? What do we do?”

I had spilled a few beers with the guy at dorm floor parties. We had talked about the Bible, and I’d bought a copy of the Living Bible (Catholic edition) for him. But, it’s not as if I had the answer to his question. So I listened as closely as I could, and I haltingly spit back what he’d just shared:

“So, you didn’t use protection? Do you know her? What do you think you’d do? What do you think she’d want to do?”

Listen underneath the words. Check. Reflect back on what was shared. Help clarify. Check. Don’t be judgmental. Check. Let the person be responsible. Check.

There was quite a bit of listening and sharing over the next several weeks, and finally sighs of relief. There were lessons learned. That index card proved invaluable.

When I’ve been at the Community Center at the Palms on Saturdays, I’ve listened, or tried to listen, to unspoken concerns, moods, aspirations, hopes, fears.

Outside the Community Center, I’ve heard hurtful and vicious words hurled in anger by men and women on SOBT.

Inside the Community Center, I’ve listened to the prideful determination of people stepping up as leaders.  They brim with confidence and hope, wanting to make the Palms a better place to live.

I’ve listened to a soft-spoken young woman boast that she’s been working in a bistro, full time with benefits, since last April. (We both griped about Orlando’s lousy bus service.)

I’ve listened to an older woman, rapid fire, share that she’s bipolar and “intimidated.”

“No one listens,” she declared. I sat in rapt attention.

Did she know I was listening – or trying hard to listen? Did she feel as if she were important? That I understood her fears and shared her indignation about a laundry list of injustices?

Mother Teresa amplified her line about loneliness and poverty.

“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, or in a trailer park on South Orange Blossom Trail. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a dorm room at Kent State University, my alma mater, or in Harvard Yard.

Wherever you are in life, listen. Without condemnation. Without judgment.

I’ll be praying for you, and the person to whom you’re listening.

May you both feel unconditional love.

Michael Joe Murphy, a volunteer for the Polis Institute, can be reached at Murpheus57@gmail.com.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.