I undid a dozen years of nightly Bible reading by walking past a beggar with my son in Philadelphia. Calvin called me on it immediately in a noisy altercation right there on Market Street: What about "love thy neighbor"? What about "be open-handed to the poor"? I stammered some unconvincing self-defense about how one has to be wise, how the fellow will probably drink it. Finally, out of nothing more exalted than shame, I filched a dollar from my purse and gave it to Calvin for the figure squatting under a blanket.
The March 22 Philadelphia Inquirer had a little story with photo on an unmarried 29-year-old defender for the Kixx (our pro indoor soccer team) who runs toward homeless people instead of away. I decided to check it out. I looked for the green jacket on a grassy commons in front of the main library at 19th and Vine, where roughly 200 milled about, some waiting in queues for macaroni by the ladle, others having their blood pressure taken by physicians assistants in training from the local Hahneman Hospital.
In another corner I spotted a huddle of humanity like somebody was giving away money. Guess what? Somebody was giving away money. I stood on the periphery watching the green jacket take requests ("Need ID?") and tear off personal checks at a speed that brought to mind a 30-year-old incident in Guadalajara that involved hastily disencumbering myself of a couple of hundred dollars in travelers checks as the price of informal Mexican justice.
"You were easy to spot," I spoke up when he noticed me. "I don't have much of a wardrobe," he replied, waiting for me to state my business. I told him I write for a magazine (partly because I always thought it would be cool to be a reporter and say that) and asked for an interview. He scribbled his phone number and moved on to nobler business. Exiting the premises, I was swept into the Hahneman vortex and got my blood pressure checked: 100 over 60.
Later I asked Adam Bruckner for his story, assuming (correctly, it turns out) that he's one of us-another aimless traveler snatched up, in spite of himself, onto the Kingdom train barreling down the track toward the Apocalypse. He was your average cynic from suburban Milwaukee who at some point started looking at the Bible for real instead of to stump people. "My heart changed from dark to light and I couldn't explain it."
The heart burden for down-and-outers came over months of shuffling from state to state trying out for soccer teams. It's where he learned all the needs-and all the scams, too-and realized that you can enable, and not "enable," by offering checks to the order of Penn DOT (driver's license) and Pennsylvania Vital Statistics (for birth certificates) and not straight cash. "I know the system and who to write checks to and what the requirements are." (You need ID to work at Burger King.)
"Does anyone underwrite you?" I asked, perplexed. "I get a few donations, but much less than I spend. Last year was a very expensive year and I will not be able to continue at that rate. That being said, I know that God will provide a way for it to work. . . . I have been without a car several times and had to take trains and catch rides to serve the meals. (He spends three hours cooking on Mondays at Helping Hand Rescue Mission, 6th and Green Streets.) One time my car wasn't starting regularly, but I knew that it would or the food wouldn't get there. I find myself repeating, 'All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose' (Romans 8:28)."
"Any advice for the church in helping the needy?" I inquired. Mr. Bruckner: "No money, no rides, no promises. I think you need to approach these men with open arms of love . . . but with an awareness that there is some darkness . . . and to proceed with caution. . . . There will always be scammers; many of the stories are not true and the more questions you ask, and asking for references and details, will show who has good intentions. Either way, you can't fake being hungry and cold."