Thursday, January 24, 2013

Distressing Disguise

Yesterday was Wednesday, which means it was my day to work at Faith in Action, and it was one of those days I wanted to bang my head against the wall.

Faith in Action, so you know, is a social justice center in Bristol, supported by 69 members churches of all denominations.  We offer financial help toward rent and utilities, as well as food, diapers, and personal supplies.

Anyway, the point of FIA is, of course, that it serving those in need we are serving Christ himself.  "What you do to the less of your brethern, that you've done unto me."  Etc.  Only sometimes the Jesus that walks through the door is such a freakin' liar.  Sometimes Jesus slams the phone in my ear.  Sometimes Jesus is obviously addicted to meth; sometimes Jesus has had way too many children with way too many men.

Of course these particular faces of Jesus may not be all that bright.  They mostly didn't graduate from high school.  Despite their efforts, they are chronically under-employed.  They may have lived lives so filled with abuse, stress, and dysfunction that getting up in the morning is about all they can do.   I know all this, in my head.

Problem is, I'm supposed to know it in my heart.

Recently a client came in (and I will tell you right now that despite the fact that I'm writing this, we protect client confidentially pretty fiercely over at FIA.  Just assume everything I write about FIA is a composite--fictional and yet still true.  Because it is.  Okay?)  anyhow, this man came in, and I interviewed him, and two things struck me about him.  The second was his pride.  He'd gotten a job--a really crappy 20-hour-a-week minimum-wage job, which is just about all you can find in Bristol right now.  Do the math:  $600 a month.  And he was delighted.  He figured he was going to be just fine on $600/month, and I could see that he was, because other than rent and food he didn't have expenses--no family, no car, no cable TV.  He'd gotten his first paycheck for his first week of work, and he'd promptly spent most of it on his back rent and a little bit of food.  The back rent was, of course, why I was interviewing him--we were going to help him some with that.

His pride, genuine pride that he'd landed a job and was going to be okay, was the second thing I noticed.  The first was his body odor.  He stank.  Good ol' Christian that I am, I didn't hesitate to sit near him, talk nicely to him, fill out the forms in my hand, even while I was reeling from the tangible fug that came off his body in waves.  But I thought to myself, couldn't he have bathed?

Then the man lowered his voice.  Did we happen to have, he asked, any shampoo?  Or--ah--deodorant?  I looked at his face, and saw he was ashamed.

He couldn't afford to buy shampoo with his first paycheck.  Not if he wanted to stay in his apartment, and eat.  As I handed him one of our personal care packs I felt a rush of pity for him.  Not because of his crummy job.  Not because of his B.O.  Because he had come to us in search of Jesus, and all he got was crummy, righteous, judgmental me.