Last night we watched Born Equal, a moving BBC drama exploring homelessness. It was beautifully filmed; and the acting was exceptional – all the more powerful for the dialogue being completely unscripted. But the ending was utterly hope-less. The storyline conveyed well the message, “Don’t get involved with homeless people out of a sense of guilt, or some romantic notion of transforming their lives; don’t be naïve about the complexity of the issue.” But in avoiding a simplistic ending, with all ends neatly tied up, the viewer could be forgiven for thinking, “Well, what can be done? Nothing; so why get involved at all? Getting involved, even for the best of motives, might well make things worse – for everyone. And the potential cost to me, to my family, is just too high…”
It made me think of Jesus’ birth; not as some traditional folk story played out by cutesy little children in front of their proud parents, but as something that resonates with the real experience of real people today. If Jesus were born in 2006, the Holy Family may well have been sheltering under a blanket in some underpass; in place of a star, fluorescent light; in place of shepherds, a gang of drunks to kick their heads in; in place of angels, passers-by tossing them their spare change…
If God identifies with the homeless…
And then, this morning, as I walked across to the Post Office, I met a man in some distress; a man whose skin was mottled with red blotches, the whites of whose eyes were orange; an alcoholic; a former chef; dependent on Housing services to pay his rent, and owed £400 by them; the one thing he had to look forward to being going into hospital on January 2nd, in hope of being sent to rehab. He’d been in rehab twice before, but this time he knew that it would work for him. It had to; if not, he had two years to live. Even as he spoke, I knew that he didn’t believe it would work for him, any more than I did.
Not on the TV now.
All I could do was extend the dignity of listening to his story; of giving him my time, not passing by on the other side of the road, making a detour to avoid him. And pray for him. That’s all.
Being honest, I felt pretty hope-less too. But may be, just perhaps, some hope was sparked, as I stood and listened…If so, I pray that those who meet him later through the day would fan that hope a little more; not snuff it out.