Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Invocation for Dallas Furniture Bank’s 11th CHAIRity Event

On Wednesday, February 17, 2016, I was honored to offer the invocation at the Dallas Furniture Bank’s CHAIRity Event. The text of the invocation follows:

Thank you for the honor of offering the invocation today. The Dallas Furniture Bank is an essential and vital partner in our homeless response system. Now, you may think that this is because the Dallas Furniture Bank provides furniture for our formerly homeless neighbors. No. It is because they do much much more.  Allow me to explain.

The ancient rabbis of the Talmud tell us that, “a beautiful dwelling… enlarges a person’s spirit.” Before I worked in the homelessness arena, I don’t think I really understood what that meant. Now I do. Just imagine, you wake up not far from here, in the tent city under the I-45 Bridge, and you know that today you are going to be housed. Your case manager picks you up, and with your few belongings you arrive at your new home. With a sense of hope and some trepidation you slowly open the door… to an empty or almost empty, blank looking apartment. You don’t need to be a great scholar to figure out what your feeling would be, but let me quote one anyway. Dr. Iain De Jong, a world renowned expert on homelessness, writes: “If you leave the apartment unit blank looking, it is going to feel more like a prison cell or place where they may have squatted than a place to call home.”
On the other hand, what happens if with the help of the Dallas Furniture Bank, that moment that you open the door is fundamentally different? Listen again to Dr. De Jong. This is more like poetry than research: “A lot can be said for the new tenant having a say in the furniture that goes into their unit, rather than them just being handed furniture that they had no say in… While I have seen many a chronically homeless person be overcome with emotions on the day of move in when they get their keys, I have seen more actually break down and weep with joy when the furniture that they picked out arrives, and they have a say in where it is set up in their place. Powerful.”

I sincerely believe that what Dr. De Jong describes is what the ancient rabbis meant. A beautiful dwelling does not mean that the structure, the four walls, the ceiling, the floor, look beautiful. A beautiful dwelling means a dwelling that you have filled with furniture you picked out, and household items that you have chosen. This is what enlarges the spirit. And do you know what this “enlarging of the spirit” really means? The Soncino Talmud English translation tells us: “Increases self-esteem.” Wow.

That is what the Dallas Furniture Bank really does. The vital homeless response system solution they provide is not merely furniture.  Oh, no. They enlarge the human spirit of our neighbors; they increase their self-esteem above and beyond what might seem possible. That, my friends, is something truly beautiful. And in the Jewish tradition, we have a blessing that we recite, upon observing things of great beauty, like the Dallas Furniture Bank: (Hebrew then English) Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe, who has such beautiful things in his world.

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