I don’t get to Seattle often, but when I do, I usually pass through a certain busy intersection. The past few times, months apart, I noticed an older Black man holding a sign on the traffic island asking for donations. Under the usual “Anything helps” appeals for money, he had written in capital letters “PLEASE CARE.”
It’s a deceptively simple request. What would “caring” even mean? What would it look like?
Seattle, like many cities around the world, has been consumed with conversations, dire warnings and endless, not-very-productive-yet-usually expensive “programs” intended to address homelessness and public panhandling. But I’d have to say I am convinced that the solution, like this gentleman’s sign, is quite simple: caring.
Caring is not specified in the Ten Commandments, but it is implied in every one. Caring for God, creation, and one’s neighbors is central to not only each Commandment, but virtually every law or rule in the Bible — if not every scripture of every religious tradition. Even so, we rarely see caring in action.
I see “PLEASE CARE” as an appeal to not only treat other people (and even all creatures) as God’s creation, but perhaps even more importantly, as an appeal to live up to one’s own humanity — to literally act like one made in God’s image.
The gentleman used the word “please.” It was a request. However, the Ten Commandments are not requests; they are ahem, “commands.” They are benchmarks of core behavior of a righteous person. They are the basic expectations and essential criteria of a person of faith. They are not optional.
But somehow we imagine that “caring” is a luxury, an “extra,” and that we don’t need to do it if we don’t want to or if it is too much trouble.
Parables and lessons from the Bible, like the well-known story of the Good Samaritan and many others, point out the blessings inherent in what might be called “costly” caring, but most of us would still rather not do it.
“Caring” can be difficult, embarrassing, and maybe even expensive — almost as expensive and difficult as not caring.
A Seattle TV station recently broadcast an hour-long special on homelessness called “Seattle is dying.” But they avoided the obvious conclusion. If Seattle or any city is “dying,” it is because too many of us do not care. In fact, I would say that too many of us have decided, at a core level, not to care.
It may not have the moral heft of any one of the Commandments. However, to be honest, even the top Ten Commandments don’t seem to hold much authority these days. But few, if any, books of the Bible are lacking a cry for justice, peace, and restoration from those who are desperate and making a plea for anyone — God, a king, a neighbor, a rabbi or anyone — to stop what they are doing and care.
Caring may have a cost, but it is far less than not caring. Not caring spreads like a corrosive cancer from person to person, neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city, across every urban landscape, and from generation to generation.
Once in motion, it is difficult, if not impossible to stem. But for each one of us, at any encounter, we could make a difference — a lasting difference within the reach of any one of us. That is the difference, after all, between a thriving neighborhood and one that languishes.
“PLEASE CARE” could not be more simple. Any child could do it. In fact, most children find it easy and natural. Perhaps even too easy and natural.
Adults have the opposite problem. We have to work, at least at first, to care. But once we do, we see the power and blessing of a lost soul restored, like the lost sheep of scripture, to its rightful place.
Some seem to love debating the fine points of theology, or the pros and cons of denominations or religions, in general. But I am convinced that only one thing really matters — caring.
Caring is no limp philosophical posture. It is the foundation, the prime mover in any action.
Without caring, we are a living empty presence. Our words are noise without meaning.
Caring is perhaps the ultimate and most basic expression of citizenship and participation in creation. Caring is literally what it means to be truly alive and living in the image and embodiment of our Creator.
And not caring is to embrace a cynicism that denies who we are and what we were created to be.