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Commentary : Perspectives on the Holidays : On Skid Row, a Holiday Cramp : In a world so out of joint, should we doubt God's righteous governance?

December 24, 1993|ALICE CALLAGHAN | Alice Callaghan, an Episcopal priest and former nun, is director of Las Familias del Pueblo, a nonprofit community center in Los Angeles' garment district.

Skid Row is a heap of private troubles become public issue. Our inability to arrive at solutions to the time-worn problems of homelessness, addiction and mental illness has produced in us a moral cramp this Christmas.

We look to the past for substantive direction but cannot find it. Indeed, nearly 2,000 years ago, the city of Bethlehem was similarly sorely bereft of shelter for its homeless.

Local politicians assure us this season that our best hope in the real world is might--not right (forgetting the Hanukkah remembrance that all the might of the Syrians was of no avail.)

Over on Fifth Street, "Mom" sweeps the sidewalk round about her makeshift shanty. It is 9 a.m. on Skid Row.

Up and down Towne Avenue, as far as the eye can bear, homeless encampments crowd the city's sidewalks. Around the Crocker Street fires, clusters of homeless gather and then fragment endlessly, wandering off to find work or food or to panhandle. "Mom" hangs her laundry on the sycamore tree.

The view from Fifth Street is not comforting. Like the prophet Jeremiah, we are in grave doubt about God's righteous governance in a world so out of joint. God has deceived us too, and we will no longer speak in God's name.

Then we are filled with an inward fire and we say with Jeremiah: "There seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me. I could not bear it."

That is our best hope in the real world this Hanukkah and Christmas.

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