Conversations with God
Reveals the Spiritual Side of Homelessness
By Jill V. Mangino
Last Fall I joined 500 people at a special screening of Conversations with God in New York City, not knowing the movie I was about to see would forever change how I view the homeless. “Conversations with God” depicts the true life story of New York Times Best-Selling author Neale Donald Walsch. The film portrays Neale’s soulful and emotional journey into his “Dark Night of the Soul” as a homeless man and reveals the illuminating moment that called him to become a modern-day spiritual messenger.
Neale found himself homeless, at 49 years old, after surviving a car accident in which he broke his neck. He was separated and divorced from his wife and supporting his children as best he could. Out of work and forced to wear a Philadelphia collar neck brace, he was unemployable.
What little benefits the government gives a single man ran out very quickly and before he knew it, he found himself homeless living in a tent in a makeshift campground. He lived outside for the better part of a year panhandling for quarters and dimes on the street and living under the stars.
Neale’s plight, as depicted so poignantly in the film, uncovers the stark reality of the homeless situation in this country. It sheds light on the circumstances that lead many of society’s outcasts to find themselves without shelter and often without hope. I am sure Neale never envisioned eating out of a garbage bin — one of the more uncomfortable and compelling scenes in the film. However, it can unknowingly happen to any of us.
As many as 3.5 million people experience homelessness in a given year (1% of the entire U.S. population or 10% of its poor), and about 842,000 people in any given week1.
While there is on-going legislation and initiates to address the homeless situation, many critics of social policy assert that a failure to live responsibly and lack of determination are what keep people homeless. However, such thinking is largely accredited with fueling a stigmatization of homelessness. It is not uncommon for Americans to think of the homeless as lazy, apathetic, irresponsible or worthless. Such people typically believe it is by choice that people are homeless. Many Americans complain about the presence of homeless people and feel their requests for “hand outs” are unjustified. Likewise, many homeless feel they are ignored, despised or even hated.
During a recent Spiritual Cinema Circle tele-class Neale recounted a story about how one person refused to tell him the time, when he was homeless, and how incredibly painful and humiliating that experience was for him… to be literally not “worth the time of day”.
It is often thought that such experiences can actually encourage substance abuse or exacerbate mental health issues, which in turn increase the difficulty of functioning within mainstream society. Some believe these social views and lack of concern provide an obstacle to the elimination of poverty.
Neale had one “angel” in the film a woman named Sunny who helped him get “cleaned up” for a job interview. If she had not seen his potential or had a biased view towards his homeless situation, he may have never been able to pick himself up. Just one person made such a huge difference and changed the course of his life forever.
Eventually, after finally finding work, another streak of bad luck compelled Neale to finally cry out in desperation, frustration and anger to God… and surprisingly… God answered. From his darkest hours he found the greatest light, God revealed himself in that moment and offered answers, not only for Neale personally, but with a profound message which has become an exceptional and gripping spiritual dialogue (with over 7 million books sold and translated into 34 languages).
While “Conversations with God” immerses you in the reality of homelessness,
Neale’s story offers hope for those who find themselves down-and-out literally
and spiritually. As Neale’s life unfolded on the big screen, it revealed a
courageous man who rose like the phoenix from the ashes to touch all of our
lives. And one thing is certain this movie will forever change the way you view
It’s encouraging when movies can not only address social causes in an entertaining way but inspire us to take action or behave more positively with compassion, ultimately trickling down and hopefully creating a paradigm shift.
Neale’s personal triumph reminds us all that God is listening and is our true
home, our true shelter.
1National Coalition for the Homeless
Conversations with God is now available on DVD by Fox Home Entertainment. For more information about the film please visit: www.cwgthemovie.com
Jill V. Mangino is a freelance publicist and writer based in New Jersey. For more information visit: www.circle3media.com
Walsch was asked what he learned from being homeless. “Judge not and neither condemn,” he said, then added with a twinkle, “you never know who may become your next New York Times best-selling author.” He offers some sound advice for dealing with the homeless that you may encounter:
• Don’t judge because we can never know what circumstances led to the person’s situation.
• Be generous. Please, don’t ever pass anyone on the street. We have all got a quarter or a dime or a dollar or a fiver that we can let go of. And you can make somebody’s whole day with fifty cents or a dollar. So try never, ever, ever to pass anybody in need. If you see somebody on the street that has his or her hand out, dig deep and try to be generous.
• Look them in the eye and say hello. This simple, dignified human interaction could make their day. So many of them feel as if they have disappeared from society. Sometimes they just need someone to acknowledge their presence.
• Get a window into their life, it could be very telling. Spend time, be present and listen to their story, if you feel safe and have the time to reach out and connect.
• If you see a homeless person who looks like he or she could use immediate
attention, please don’t ignore it. By calling the police/paramedics, you are
taking the first step in linking people to much needed services and housing
For more information on homelessness and how you can help, please contact the following organizations:
National Coalition for the Homeless — a national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to a single mission. Their mission is to end homelessness. www.nationalhomeless.org (202) 462-4822
The National Alliance to End Homelessness — a nonpartisan, mission-driven organization committed to preventing and ending homelessness in the United States.www.endhomlessness.org
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