An American Parable

homeless.jpgIs it still possible to achieve the American Dream? You know, the one where parents hope that their children’s lives will be “better” than their own; where if you work hard you can pull yourself up the socio-economic ladder to a “better” place. Is it possible?

Andrew Shepard, a recent college graduate from North Carolina, wanted to find out if it was possible. For his experiment, he chose to abandon his educational credentials, his contacts, his supportive home, and become a homeless man in South Carolina. Taking a few possessions in a gym bag and $25, Andrew set out to see if he could achieve a place to live, a job, a vehicle, and save $2500 within a year.

Do you think it can be done?

When I read about Andrew’s idea, it brought the biblical parable of the talents to mind.

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

This parable is one in a section of Matthew 25 about being prepared and unafraid. It teaches us the consequences of living in fear – which hinders the work of the Spirit in and through us. Rather than timidly waiting to do the cautious thing and simply stand guard over what we’ve been given, Jesus is teaching us to be bold in growing what he has entrusted to us.

So how does this connect with Andrew’s story, which, so far as I know, has no faith connection?

Andrew was bold and walked away from the comforts of the only lifestyle he knew, taking little with him, humbling himself. Assuming poverty for himself, living among the homeless in a shelter, and built a new life, learned a new culture and a new mindset. He began ill-equipped for the task, and learned how to live a new way. He made friends in the shelter. He found a job as a day laborer moving furniture.

For ten months Andrew worked and lived among the working poor. From the start with $25 and a few personal possessions, to the end with an apartment, a steady job with the moving company, a pick-up truck and $5000 in the bank. A bold experiment to be sure. You can read an interview with him by clicking here. Did he achieve the American Dream? I’m not sure.

One thing I do know is that Andrew demonstrated the possibility of something Christians are called to do. When we enter into new life with Christ – I’m talking about making a commitment to live the Way of Jesus – we start over in a new lifestyle. Like Andrew, we have to learn this new way of living, learn to navigate life in a different way, to interact with the world differently. Christians are called to live boldly, to abandon the comfortable, the cautious, the safe and secure, to grow what of the master’s riches has been entrusted to us. Like the servants in the parable, we may approach that with varying degrees of confidence, but it is clear that boldness is rewarded and fear is paralyzing.

Questions for thought

  • Am I living for Christ in a bold way, or safely from my comfortable routine?
  • What am I afraid of in the Christian life as Jesus teaches it?
  • What are some ways I can become more prepared to live Jesus’ way?
  • Where can invest myself boldly?
  • For church leaders: Is my ministry bold for the kingdom?

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4 Responses to “An American Parable”

  1. adam mclane
    February 28, 2008 at 2:41 pm #

    When I look at what I am doing… some would say we do ministry pretty bold. I look at the thousands in my community and say… we ain’t bold enough. We can do better.

    The comfortable question is complicated for me. Because if it were me alone I’d like to take bigger risks. But when you have people to provide for you are sometimes left in the “safe spot” not wanting to hurt your family.

  2. Jesse Sutherland
    May 10, 2010 at 6:36 pm #

    I am doing a project in college where I am making a poster for the Ohio Department of Veterans Services and I am planning on focusing on the homeless aspect of how over 20,000 U.S. veterans are homeless and this picture of the stairs is EXACTLY WHAT I WANT. I would need permission to use it though in the end. So please allow me to use it and contact me ASAP of whether or not you will allow it.

    • patti
      May 10, 2010 at 9:17 pm #

      Jesse, thanks for asking about the photo. I used it under license from – I can’t give you permission to use it, but you can search there and follow the instructions for using the images. It’s a free site for non-commercial use.

  3. Dawn Currie
    July 6, 2010 at 9:34 am #

    I am a photographer based on the Space Coast of Florida. In working on my latest project and came across this article. I found the image of Andrew on the stairs to be especially poignant. I am interested in gaining the photographer’s release (and possibly a full resolution file) for a photo collage I am putting together to stimulate support for local charities during these difficult times. I look forward to hearing from you.

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