To Help or Not to Help: Homelessness and Sloth


Somebody’s Baby just wrecked me. The song  from Jon Foreman’s Winter EP tells the story of a homeless girl. Foreman is the frontman for the band Switchfoot but his solo project has more of an acoustic, experimental, indie feel. The use of strings in this song was compelling. It reminded me of another piece about homelessness that features strings, the movie The Soloist.

Both works reminded me that every homeless person has a different story. It is likely that somebody is worried about this person. And it is certain that this person is someone God loves dearly and wants to redeem.

Few people just wake up one morning and make a conscious decision to stop bathing and start sleeping in the streets. For most the process involves a heartbreaking series of events, choices, and complications. There are no easy answers or quick fixes to the problem of homelessness.

The Soloist tells the true story of homeless cellist Nathaniel Ayers and Steve Lopez, the LA Times reporter who tries to help him. The Soloist is a beautiful illustration of how Matthew 25:34-40 works – “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.” Every homeless person has an individual story and an individual set of needs.  In addition to food, shelter, and healing, Nathaniel Ayers needed music, and Steve Lopez provided it.

Sometimes the outcome in the lives of the people we try to help is very different from what we envision. As Lopez got to know Ayers and view him as a friend rather than a project, the way he was able to help became more effective.

When I first saw the Soloist it bothered me a little that so much of the emphasis was on Nathaniel Ayers’ musical talent. Was it his talent that made Ayers worth the effort Lopez and others put into helping him? This question is not a challenge to what Steve Lopez is doing for Nathaniel Ayers, but a contemplation on how little worth we place on homeless individuals.

The scenes shot in front of the homeless shelters showed scary looking people: toothless, ranting, rocking. None exhibited Ayers’ immediately recognizable talent. I’m wondering if there is someone pouring the kind of personal effort into one of their lives that Lopez is pouring into Ayers’.

One Size Does Not Fit All
is a short film by the filmmakers of The Soloist. It features the directors of both homeless shelters which appear in the move. The Lamp and the Midnight Mission serve the homeless of LA’s Skid Row. Ultimately the work of these organizations give legs to Psalms 82:3-4

“Give justice to the poor and the orphan;
uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.
Rescue the poor and helpless;
deliver them from the grasp of evil people.”

I’m thinking about how this should look for me. I’m guilty of avoiding and ignoring the homeless. I will deliberately adjust the radio or pull out my phone at a red light in order to avoid meeting the eyes of the person on the street corner holding that tattered cardboard sign. I assume any money I give will probably feed a destructive habit. I feel a sense of futility in trying to help.

If I am honest I tend to help and not to help with equally faulty motives. When I don’t help it is because my sloth tells me how much trouble it is to “get involved” while my greed justifies itself with excuses like “he’ll only use the money for beer.” When I do give it’s often to feed my pride or relieve the guilt I feel over my sloth and greed.  Either way it’s mostly about me and not about the person in need. And most of the time it just seems like way too much effort.

Lately though, my first thought is that this homeless person I see at the corner really is somebody’s baby. If he was my baby I would want somebody to say a prayer for him. If she was my baby I would hope somebody meets her eyes and lets her know she matters. If he were my baby I would want somebody to feed him and give him a blanket when it’s cold. If she were my baby I would want somebody to roll down the car window and gives her a phone card to call home.

Thanks a lot Jon Foreman, Joe Wright, Robert Downey, Jr., Steve Lopez, Jamie Foxx, and Nathaniel Ayers.  Now I can’t look at a homeless person without hearing the sound of strings tugging at my heart.  Thanks a lot Jesus for yanking me out of yet another comfort zone. Now I’m probably going to have to do something.

2 Responses to “To Help or Not to Help: Homelessness and Sloth”

  • Ccvali Says:

    Good Morning Beloved… This posting moves me to tears…sadly this is a hoirfirc sight in a country as rich as ours. I cannot figure it out except to say that all of us are responsible to help at least one of these homeless. We are our Brother and Sister’s keepers …. and I wonder how we can change this…how we can bring a nation as full and diverse as ours to its collective knees so that we become that honoring and respecting keeper? I applaud you for raising awareness!!! It is something we can all do and give in whatever ways that we are able.One never knows what the next moment holds… My wish for you is a day of Peace and Love with You and Yours…Happy Thanksgiving Love!

  • Craig Says:

    Thanks a lot… seriously, this is such a difficult subject for most of us. I offer money when I can or feel led to do so, but now I will at the very least pray for them as I see them. Somebody’s baby indeed.