They all had names and they all had gifts, the homeless Minnesotans who died in 2004. There may have been 100 who died alone, without homes, without care, without a safety net. But they represent more than just the dead.
They also represent the living: The thousands of Minnesotans--many of them women and children--who remain homeless and hidden amid the plenty of the holidays.
It would be easier on our conscience, maybe, if the homeless were all loners or losers, alcoholics or misfits. If you think labels can tell a human story, perhaps you can take satisfaction in the fact that many of the dead fit those descriptions. But, sorry: There aren't any easy outs.
But he didn't stop there. If we can't attend to the needy during the holidays, he concluded,
you have to wonder what we're celebrating this Christmas. After all, once upon a time, a homeless couple came to Bethlehem, looking for shelter.
Whoops! Coleman had quit preaching and gone to meddling. His next column (ditto) describes the reaction he got from his "fellow Christians" who "took time from worship to criticize":
They didn't write to tell me about their concern for the 8,000 homeless in Minnesota or the fact that half of them are women and kids or that 100 of them died this year.
No, they wrote to say that even though we will always have the poor with us, as Jesus said, that doesn't mean those poor buggers shouldn't get out of the way of our SUVs.
"These homeless are bums, nothing but leeches on society," wrote a guy who signed himself Trav. "If we could push a button and make the homeless die and disappear without repercussions, nearly everybody would do it. I would. Good riddance."
Moreover, he had his facts wrong:
"Your allegation that Mary and Joseph were homeless is just a plain lie," wrote Jerry. "They were no more homeless than you would be if you showed up at a posh hotel without a reservation and were turned away."
"All I was trying to do," Coleman explains, "was draw a timely connection between the poor and the Christmas story. This was a connection the nuns drew sharply for me in my formative years." But then on second thought,
I guess the point these compassionate Christians are trying to make is that Jesus wouldn't give the homeless a second glance if he came back. And you know what? They might be right. Jesus might walk right past the homeless, the poor and the sick, and march straight into our churches.
Because he'd have a lot of tables to overturn.