Lessons from the Inappropriate Homeless

While in Denver I’m doing some writing for my cross-cultural experiences course. I plan to post some of my ideas here as well. Here is a response to a question about interpersonal differences..

I’m finding these questions difficult as I attempt to compare my culture and the culture I’m visiting. I keep wanting to ask… which culture that I’m visiting? The people in Denver or the homeless or the church or those I see in the park each day who battle mental illness?

Today, some folks from the General Board of Discipleship (fancy Methodists) came to visit in the park. I’ve learned about the term, church tourism. That’s pretty much why they came. So we had a line of about 75 homeless friends who wanted lunch and a line of about 40 fancy Methodists handing stuff out. We had to go out and get extra stuff so all of the people could participate.

I had many cross-cultural experiences in that short time at the park today. Some of them were with powerful church people, and some of them were with people who don’t have a permanent residence. The conversation I liked the best was with a young woman who is serving on the GBOD board and going to college in Boston. She’s interested in mission and thinks outside of the box. Since her and I are similarly educated and have similar interests and views, our conversation was easy and fun. We both engaged equally.

Otherwise, I found that I was more comfortable with the homeless than with the older, powerful folks from GBOD. I’ve had many conversations with my new homeless friends, and they’ve gone in many directions. I’ve been told entire life stories without being able to get a word in myself and I’ve also received one word answers to my questions. I’ve also been told some pretty strange shit. Many of these friends have what we would consider “poor conversational skills.” However, I appreciate all of these conversations because they hold no judgement and aren’t laced with specific expectations. I tell them I’ve from Virginia and I’m hanging out with them for several weeks and they thank me for being there.

When I said the same things to the church folks I got questions like, “Why only for three weeks?” and “What do you do in Virginia?” and “Where are you going to church while you’re here?” Perhaps appropriate interpersonal dialogue isn’t really appropriate at all.

I’m trying to behave less like the church people and more like my inappropriate homeless friends.

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