A tale of two songs.
Katie Stam, a 23-year-old member of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Seymour, Ind., sang one of them on Jan. 24, 2009. Key lyrics: "Down the Via Dolorosa called the way of suffering/ Like a lamb came the Messiah, Christ the King./ But He chose to walk that road out of His love for you and me./ Down the Via Dolorosa, all the way to Calvary."
Katie Stam sang that song during the talent competition, which followed the swimsuit and evening gown competitions.
After she sang it, she strolled down a runway to the accompaniment of another song: "There she is, Miss America/ There she is, your ideal/. . . And there she is/ Walking on air, she is/ Fairest of the fair, she is/ There she is—Miss America."
Thinking that those two songs did not go together, I was initially sardonic when the New York City Rescue Mission asked me to serve hundreds of men and women a Thanksgiving dinner alongside Katie Stam, Miss America 2009. I felt I knew both homeless Thanksgiving dinners and Miss America winners, even though I had never been to one nor met one.
What I know about homeless shelters, including many Christian ones, is best summed up by the pessimistic but realistic Ron Panarello, a staff member at the NYC Rescue Mission: Many of the regular guys get government checks on the first day of the month and in a week blow the money on drugs. They spend the second week lying around in misery.
That's not the worst of it.
In week three many have regained enough strength to cuss at and fight each other. In week four many of them purportedly come to Jesus. Then the government checks come and the cycle begins anew. Thanksgiving always comes during the fourth week. Homeless guys are on their best behavior. And it means nothing.
Sometimes, through God's grace, the penny drops. Over the past 20 years I've met lots of people who stumbled down the Via Dolorosa and astonishingly encountered Jesus the Christ. Their lives change. Sometimes they relapse, but not for good. They now have a reason to straighten up.
Who knows what God uses to help these folks stop making excuses and start becoming accountable?
Maybe He uses Katie Stam. I'm not sure what I expected to see, besides good looks, in a Miss America. I didn't quite expect her to wear a tiara. I did visualize her posing ornamentally.