The second thing we need to do as fathers is pass along the value of empathy to our children. Not sympathy, but empathy – the ability to stand in somebody else’s shoes; to look at the world through their eyes. Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in “us,” that we forget about our obligations to one another. There’s a culture in our society that says remembering these obligations is somehow soft – that we can’t show weakness, and so therefore we can’t show kindness.
When you look at the old man on the street corner it is easy to swiftly rob him of his God-given dignity. The transaction often occurs so quickly even you don’t know you now have stolen anything. As you approached him, you rolled up your window and refused to look at him in the face. He stares at you sadly, experiencing your wordless rejection, and keeps walking. No money was transferred, no food was received, but you drive away in your car with something. His value.
Prior to attending Georgia State University, my interactions with homeless people were nonexistent. While, I was only 35 minutes from the city, I grew up completely unaware of Atlanta’s different populations. It wasn’t until my orientation date, that I considered the possibility of interacting with homeless people. The GSU police were discussing campus safety. They offered seemingly sage wisdom as how to not die as a college student in a big city. Questions? Hands raised everywhere. A well-meaning mother asked, “Well, what do you do about the homeless people? Aren’t they dangerous?” The officer quells her concern, “They are not allowed on campus, but they are apart of the city. Do not engage with them. Just walk past them.” We are trained to be little thieves. It was my first lesson in college. We can determine who has value and who does not in seconds.
College was a peculiar time for me. As many of my peers were finding themselves, I was finding Jesus. So my minor thieving tendencies were being met with the foundational feedback, that what I was doing was not pleasing to God. I tried to breakaway from this. There was a man who always stood on the corner of the Capital Avenue exit of I-20. I would offer him my second McMuffin. In hindsight, it was wise to offer it to him. No one should ever be consuming 2 sausage, egg, and cheese McMuffins.
As my college career grew, I was met with a hustler mentality that didn’t ever sit well with me. I think at the base of the hustler mentality is this concept of self-gratification over people. Money over people. Fame over people. Jewelry over people. Popularity over people. Experiences over people. Talent over people. Swag over people. Beauty over people. During this time, I began to tell myself: people over things, people over self. I believe deeply that when I stand before the throne of God, that he won’t care about my money, fame, stuff, beauty, or swag. I don’t even think He cares about it now. I believe He will question how I fulfilled His commission. With that heart, I told myself, “People over things”.
This mentality of “people over things” was not a response to homelessness. However it trickled when appropriate. I cared about people, but I could not identify with their plight. Worse, even in giving things away, I still would find myself thieving from them. What is a coat compared to the pride accumulated as I told myself, “Tosin, you are a good person” and worse “Tosin, you are a good Christian”.
I look at my former self through the filter of last year, I am repentant of my arrogance and prideful stupidity.
As, I begin a celebration of past/present struggles the drum major at the head of the parade is empathy. I am not special. I make mistakes with people all the time. However, if I never experienced homelessness and loss, my capacity would be so limited.
I love my job. Not because, I am saving the world. I can’t save the world. While, Houston wants to end homelessness, it will always exist. They can push it out of the 610 Loop, but it is there. I love my job because, I see
homeless people. When, I crashed on a couch. When, I slept on a bed. When, I sat in my car. My value was the same. I was homeless, but I am a person.
That old man on the street is a person. The woman who sits on the same bench everyday looking into the sky is a person. That mother of 5 kids is a person. You know? Not only are they people, but they are people who God in heaven created. He created us to love them deeply, authentically, without judgment, and well.
I am free to love well. I can cry in my office with a teenage girl who thinks she is homeless because she did something wrong, and God is punishing her. Because, I remember screaming out on Heights Boulevard in despair and utter anguish, “God, whatever I did, I am sorry. Just tell me. Just forgive me. What did I do? What did I do?” I can spend a little extra dough on parent meeting snacks that will remind them that they are adults” Because, I remember being on a diet of McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Kroger’s hot section. I can ask in a difficult moment what a teen needs. Because, someone, many ones, asked me. I can rejoice with those who rejoice. I can weep with those who weep. I can listen. I can care. I can stop. I can serve. I can laugh. I can mourn. I can shout. I can fight. I can live transparently. I can love audaciously. I can be real. I can be. I can.
We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.