Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Just Look in the Yellow Pages...

The following is an excerpt from Jonathan Kozol’s Amazing Grace:

In my pocket I have a card I picked up in the subway that announces what the president of the transit system has described as the new ‘gospel’ that New York will henceforth ‘preach’ in regard to subway beggars. ‘when you’re on a train,’ the card instructs the passengers, ‘don’t give money for any purpose….The best way to help end panhandling is not to give…Don’t give.’

I hand it to her and she looks at it awhile and seems reluctant to react. At last she says, ‘I’m surprised that he would dare to use a word like ‘gospel,’’

The message on the card is cleverly constructed. It does not prohibit charity but recommends an arms length version. If we feel upset, it says, ‘Look in the Yellow Pages under…Human Services.’

I ask her, ‘Do you think anyone will do that?’

‘Not really,’ she replies. ‘I don’t think that’s the purpose of it anyway. I don’t think the point is charity but self-protection. Looking into the eyes of a poor person is upsetting because normal people have a conscience. Touching the beggar’s hand, meeting the gaze, makes a connection. It locks you in. It makes it hard to sleep, or hard to pray. If that happened, you might be profoundly changed, the way that Paul was changed. Writing a check to the Red Cross or some other charity can’t do that. What this card is really telling us is, ‘Do not open up your heart. Don’t take a chance! Send a check to us and we will do the touching for you.’ That’s why I think that this is sacrilegious.

‘The message of the gospel is unalterably clear, ‘Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away.”

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