Panhandling for Value

If you’ve spent any time in the city, any city for that matter, then you have no doubt seen this image.

Hordes of people make their way from one location to another. They clamor from the stadium to the car. They meander from one bar to the next. To be honest, the origins and destinations do not matter much. It is the figures behaving as fixtures to the background that create a haunting image.

Instrument cases lay open on the ground with change and crumpled bills inside. The sight of people playing badly worn guitars, performing magic tricks, and penning clever cardboard signs is evocative.

Each of these individuals vie for the attention of passerby’s by showcasing some talent, some quirkiness, some performance. Those who are not ignored engage in some form of transaction. In exchange for their performance and behavior, they receive an assortment of stares, excuses, and occasionally spare change. Each are forced to forfeit dignity in order to earn a seat at the proverbial table.

We avoid eye contact. We wince and squirm with discomfort. We offer pity.


It is because somehow deep within the recesses of our being, we know that this is erroneous. Human beings should not have to beg like animals to have a place at the table—figurative or not.

However, the jarring realization is that we each participate in our own form of panhandling. We each have our own “table” that we are trying to earn a seat at and without knowing, we participate in the lie that whispers… “You only get a seat if you’re good enough.” Sure, it’s not Sharpie scrawled on a piece of cardboard. It’s not rattling a cup full of dimes and nickels. It’s not playing a melody of Top-40 hits on the curb with a pawn shop guitar.

Instead, we beg for community by behaving in ways that others want us to because there is the crippling fear that we may be letting people down. We panhandle for value by constantly wearing a façade of being prominent, likeable, and popular. We perform and behave in any and every way in order to feel some semblance of belonging at the “table”—to know we matter and belong.

The tragic irony is that—like those that pass by on the street—this doesn’t build actual human contact. It promotes avoidance. It creates distance. It forces humans to behave inhumanely.

Yet, it is the mission of Jesus to embrace. Jesus eradicated the distance between us and the Father, and one another. Jesus is teaching humanity how to be human again. In Jesus we discover the scandalous truth… We need not focus on being “good enough.” Jesus shows us that we ought to instead focus on being “me” enough.

Don’t focus on being good enough. Instead, focus on being enough of you. You matter. You belong. You have a seat at the table because you are you.


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