“When I say be kind to one another, I don’t mean only the people that think the same way you do. I mean be kind to everyone.” The Gospel according to Ellen.
Recently, Ellen got raked over the coals for hanging out with President George W. Bush at a Dallas Cowboy football game. Her sin was compounded when she did more than sit next to him. A picture surfaced of them laughing together and having a good time. The Internet blew up against her. So much so that she felt compelled to make the above statement on her television show the following Tuesday.
It doesn’t matter if you’re more politically inclined toward Ellen or George W. Bush. Her encouragement to “be kind,” applies to all of us. You would think the need to be kind, generous, loving and caring would be a no brainer for God’s people. You’d be wrong. Apparently, this was a problem for people of faith going back some 3,000 years. Before entering the Promised Land, Moses took time to remind the people to be kind. And he didn’t tell them to limit that kindness to only people who look, think, or believe the same way they did.
He tells them (and us), “When you happen on someone who’s in trouble or needs help among your people with whom you live in this land that God, your God, is giving you, don’t look the other way pretending you don’t see him. Don’t keep a tight grip on your purse. No. Look at him, open your purse, lend whatever and as much as he needs. Don’t count the cost.” Deuteronomy 15:7-9 More traditional translations say, “Don’t be hardhearted or tightfisted.”
It’s worth noting that in his command to “Be Kind,” Moses reminds the people they will be living in the land God gave them. According to the Abrahamic Covenant, all the nations of the earth will be blessed through Israel. God blesses the Israelites so the Israelites can be a blessing to others. Once they enter the Promised Land, they will be living alongside people who don’t look, think or believe the same way they do. Nevertheless, they are to help those in need. It’s the same with us today. God blesses us here and now with the expectation we will help those in need without being hardhearted or tightfisted.
The Tooele Valley Homeless Summit was held in the Tooele County Building on Oct. 9. Over 50 concerned citizens gathered to discuss options for handling the growing problem of homelessness in our county. Our guest speaker, Carol Hollowell, tackled this problem in St. George five years ago and founded Switchpoint, a Community Resource Center serving the disadvantaged in Washington County. In Tooele County today, we face many of the same challenges Washington County faced. We are the seventh fastest growing county in the United States and the lack of affordable housing is becoming a real issue for us.
If we do as the passage from Deuteronomy suggests and not look the other way, or pretend not to see, we’ll recognize homeless folks walking up and down Main Street all hours of the day and night. In our hearts we know some of those cars parked in odd places during the wee hours of the morning have people sleeping in them. We can do better.
There is a passage in the book of Hebrews (11:16) that describes how Abraham and his descendants were longing for a better country — a heavenly one. It goes on to say how because of that, “God was not ashamed to be called their God.” It makes me wonder if God is ashamed to be called our God. We are coming to the close of the year 2019, and Tooele County does not have a place for unsheltered homeless men, women and children to take refuge. How can that be?
I refuse to believe our elected officials and the citizens of this valley are so hardhearted that they will not or cannot bring themselves to help people who are in desperate need. And it’s no good saying, “No one helped me when I was hurting. Why should I care about someone who’s hurting now?” Worse yet is to agree in principle to helping others so long as that help happens far away from you. “Not in my backyard,” is as unkind as refusing to help in the first place.
The issue of homelessness is complex and multi-faceted. It will not be solved by simply demanding those in need to “get a job.” There is more to it than that. It will take a combined effort of dedicated public and private interests coming together to make a difference. Serving those who are willing but temporarily unable to help themselves is not the easiest thing to do, but it is the right thing to do. Please give your support to public officials and those communities of faith who are coming together to do the right thing.
Rick Ehrheart is pastor of Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church in Tooele.