Faith on Friday: Just Buy the Beggar a Beer

This time of year many people are looking for ways to help others. We sometimes refer to the Christmas season as the “season of good will.” A few years ago, I blogged about my favorite activity during the season here, and here—Christmas caroling to the residents at Kings Daughters and Sons Nursing Home. (I’m sad to be out of town for it this year, but I know it will be a blessing to everyone—carolers and listeners.) And of course millions of people have seen the picture of the New York police officer giving a pair of new boots to a homeless man this past Tuesday. (The man didn’t know a tourist was photographing him.)

Jockluss Thomas Payne

My friend and neighbor, Ellen Morris Prewitt, works with homeless and previously homeless people in a writing group here in Memphis through an organization known as Door of Hope. Some of their work was recently published in The Advocate: A Voice of Experience. Like this essay, by Jockluss Thomas Payne.

 

Just Buy the Beggar a Beer

by Jockluss Thomas Payne

 When people ask me for money in front of a grocery store, I usually recoil. If you bum enough quarters, you’ll soon have enough for a beer. I pontificate on misery. It’s a daily routine. Bum change and buy beers. Many street people have made this their daily occupation. Sometimes I will give some change to hustlers and sometimes I won’t. It’s according to how I feel in a particular day, I guess. When I was homeless I worked at temp services and always had some sort of income. I never stood in front of the grocery stores and bummed change. An upstanding tramp I was. I do feel some compassion at times and will part with a dollar or more. Or just buy the beggar a beer. I know what he’s after. I could have been the same way myself. But by the grace of god I survived. I don’t like enabling street people to get drunk. At the same time I feel that drunkenness is their only solace from a miserable life. The same as mine was.

 And yet another member of the writing group, Veyshon Hall—who used to be homeless—disagrees with Payne. This is her essay:

 

Panhandling

by Veyshon Hall

I have given people money who were panhandling. That was before I realized what some of them do with the money. I hear people say that thy are responsible for blessing others with the money, not what they do with it. I feel differently. When I know they are going to buy drugs or alcohol, I am enabling them. I know because I used to be one of them. I also feel bad knowing that a drink or drug I helped pay for may be the one that kills them. There are places to get food, clothes, hygiene products and shelter for free. There is even a free doctor and medication. Anyone who spends all day panhandling has the sense and energy to do a job. Too often I hear people say they won’t do a job sweeping or mopping, but those same people think it’s o.k. to panhandle. Panhandling should be a job so they can pay taxes and help our economy. Let’s see how many career panhandlers we would have then.

I know there are “two sides” to every argument, and I really don’t like to argue. I prefer a non-judgmental exchange of ideas. So, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. But first, I’ll close with a quote from a favorite book, The Diary of a Russian Priest, by Father Alexander Elchaninov.

“Some do not give alms, saying: it will be spent on drink, and so forth. Even if it is spent on drink, the sin is less serious than the anger we provoke by our refusal, and the harshness and condemnation which we cultivate in ourselves.”

I’m off to Athens, Georgia, this weekend, for my eighth and final event (since July) for Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality in 2012. I’m looking forward to seeing co-editor, Wendy Reed, again, and to meeting one of my fellow contributors, Barbara Taylor Brown, at the reading/signing at Avid Bookshop on Saturday. Have a great weekend, everyone!

And please share your thoughts about almsgiving. You can leave a comment here or start/join a thread on Facebook. Thanks!

 

6 comments


  • Mary

    The New York policeman was an angel….I love hearing stories like that. It puts faith back in my heart for mankind…Especially after this election where so many people showed their evil side…..
    Have a wonderful weekend in Georgia…

    November 30, 2012
  • good thoughts, Susan. My feelings are in ling with Father Elchaninov. No matter how little we have, we are blessed beyond measure. I heard someone say the other day that they were unsure how much they could give to a certain charity because of this economy and the taxes they would have to pay – they were unsure how much extra money they would have. I told them I think that is just greed. They may never speak to me again, and that’s okay. I said that they were very fortunate to have money to worry about at all. Their response was “I’m not giving money to [said charity] because those people only spend it on designer clothes and things they don’t need ……”, and on and on. “Those people,” she said, keep having children to get money. Old and tired argument. Like you, I’m not arguing. I, and millions of others will keep doing what we’re doing. Some with only a widow’s mite. Those who will help others will do so without question. Those who are reluctant, out of either fear or greed, will have to search their own soul. When are we going to realize we are all in this together?

    December 1, 2012
    • Wonderful, poignant, reflective. I always appreciate your comments, Emma!

      December 2, 2012
  • Susan, thanks for bringing up these questions. It’s the questions that are really important, isn’t it? My general policy is, if I’m in a situation in which I feel safe, to stop and give a little money. If I have a granola bar on me I sometimes offer that instead. My stepdaughter keeps canned food with easy-open lids in her car to give away. This post struck me because last night as I was going into a bar to meet friends for, yes, a beer, a man came up and asked for some money. I got close enough to the bar to feel comfortable then turned around got out a dollar to give him and kept moving. As I walked away, he said, “I need five dollars for a Subway sandwich.” In other words, one dollar was insufficient. I was initially a little miffed, then I just laughed at myself–this exchange is not predictable, nor is the script set in stone. It has to be up to me whether I choose to give freely, whatever the consequences.

    December 1, 2012
    • Interesting interraction with the man outside the bar, Jennifer. As you say, the questions are important, and we need to keep asking them, of ourselves. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      December 2, 2012
  • Thank you, Susan, for sharing the writers’ words. They will be so pleased. For me, this issue of The Advocate said there is no uniform answer to this question, even among those who have a personal experience of homelessness.

    December 1, 2012

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