There are many homeless PEOPLE on the streets of my city. In an effort to increase understanding of their plight, there was a special participatory exhibit called "The Etiquette of the Undercaste." Friends and I took part.
I was asked to lie in a fake coffin, which was rolled through a wall from one side to the other; this represented the entrance into a new life as an "undercaste." Through the whole journey, I walked alone in an eerily dim space. I was led through the experiences of being battered, robbed, refused employment because of lack of education, and refused education because I was undercaste. I was made to feel helpless and hopeless; I landed in jail when I tried to steal at the grocery store; I frequented a flophouse; I got drunk along with other homeless people; I slept on a park bench.
Yes, those experiences were staged and fake. But at the same time they made me realize I have my own undercaste problems to resolve. I have battered myself with guilt. I have neglected my spiritual education. I have sojourned in the flophouse of self-depreciation and self-absorption. I have gotten drunk on the fads of materiality and slept on the bench of apathy.
But when I've confronted these situations by turning to God, the result has been an uplifted view of myself that eliminates hopelessness. And I believe this points to how we can help those who face the real, day-to-day problems of life on the streets. No one is beyond feeling loved by God. Knowing God can end anyone's hopelessness.
Genesis records two views of God's creation. In the first chapter, we are created in the image of God - "God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good" (verse 31). The second chapter depicts an opposite, material concept of creation, in which man is formed from dust, and woman from man's rib; in which good and evil are at war, and alienation from our creator leads to curse, rejection, and deprivation - the "undercaste condition."
Jesus Christ proved that the first view, in which God is Spirit and we are spiritual, is the authentic, true, healing view. Through the truth he taught, we can learn to see ourselves and everyone as transcending the material because each of us is in fact the expression, the image, of God, who is good.
The more we understand God's perfection - and our perfection as His very image - the more dominion we have over the trials of life. Actually, recognizing our dominion requires humility. Anyone can come closer to expressing the humility of Jesus, who always sought and heard God's direction.
Perhaps it's as helplessness and hopelessness drop from our own lives that we'll more easily prove the same liberation is possible for other people. That we'll stop labeling them (or ourselves) with guilt, arrogance, self-love, or anything else that opposes the fact that we are made in the image of God.
Even if this doesn't happen overnight, it helps each time we make a real effort. Like the time I was tempted to cross over to the other side of the street one early Sunday morning, in order to avoid a street person who looked pretty unappealing. Instead, I realized that he was God's child, and despite his appearance had to be the image of divine Love itself. When we passed, we shared a greeting about the beauty of the day. I felt a pure sense of our valuing each other spiritually. It made my day. But more important, I'm sure it helped him as it lifted me another step out of the temptation to label someone as undercaste.
The aloneness I felt the day I learned "The Etiquette of the Undercaste" made me think of other times I'd felt alone - without family, misunderstood, ignored. Yet, the Bible declares that "God setteth the solitary in families" (Ps. 68:6). Whether we think of ourselves as part of a dysfunctional family, or as having no family, something written by Mary Baker Eddy is helpful: "God is our Father and our Mother, our Minister and the great Physician: He is man's only real relative on earth and in heaven" ("Miscellaneous Writings," pg. 151). Through knowing our relationship with God, we are protected, provided for, cared for, guided out of misery. Because He is always with us, we can never be on the outside. This is a universal truth. Everyone, on every street, is actually a member of God's family.