Yesterday was one of those days. I dropped my phone and cracked the screen, found out getting a trailer hitch installed on my car was a lot harder than I thought and, oh yeah, agitated quite a few folks here at But Not Yet. Last night, I was starting to feel a little beat up from some of the comments when I realized this was exactly what I’ve said I wanted: people reading and commenting on what they read. As my father used to say: be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.
What got everyone’s drawers in a knot was a post I wrote titled A New Parable. You see, there’s an internet story making the rounds of a minister masquerading as a person who is homeless to see how his new congregation treats these folks. The treatment wasn’t good and, at the end, he lets them hold it. Unfortunately, like a lot of internet stories, it’s not true. Not only that, the photo attached to it is misattributed. I said it was a new parable and that is where I went wrong.
This must be one of those posts you either love or hate, because I’ve gotten comments both ways. Those who liked it said, true or not, it was a good story. Those that didn’t…, well, they had a little more to say about it. People were upset that the proper credit wasn’t given, that the people in the story were abused, that they were lied to. But, the most interesting reaction came from Hugh Hollowell. As the backlash began to mount, I texted him and asked if I had gotten completely wrong. He said the article was good; not the way he would’ve went, but good. When I asked how he’d have approached it, he answered “I’m more interested in why it’s a sharable story when he isn’t really homeless.” Which is something I hadn’t even thought about.
As I said recently, Hugh runs a ministry for at-risk people in downtown Raleigh, NC and a lot of his friends live outdoors, so it makes sense that’s how he’d come at this. He knows plenty of actual homeless folks who get treated like crap in church every week. And, no one tells their stories. Like, ever.
Why don’t the stories of these real people who are homeless go viral the way this one did? Why don’t we, as Hugh said recently, “talk to the homeless, and hear their stories from themselves? And treat them as if they have agency and are made in the very image of God, and not rely on those of us who can “interpret”. I wish I knew.
What I do know is this: the story in question isn’t a good parable. Not because a photographer didn’t get paid or some pretend people were lied to and got their feelings hurt. It’s not a good parable because it pushes people already on the margins even further to the side. It takes them out of their stories and replaces them with someone more acceptable. They’ve had enough of that shit and I piled on even more. I’m sorry for that.