I can’t reproduce the smells, but I can share some of the sights and sounds of street ministry in Lubbock. I hope this blesses you.
There’s the church you’ve got, but then there is the church you want.
It is sad that they are not always the same. (In fact rarely the same.) Out of all the churches I have been a part of throughout my life, two really jazzed me. They made me sense I was a part of the very Life of Jesus. And both times it was because, in addition to all the fervent worship of Jesus (guided by “sound doctrine” – though they were), these assemblies embraced the poor (in fact a mix of various groups) with open arms. The Sunday assemblies were a jammed up mishmash of unlikely people celebrating their faith together with great care and intimacy.
I want to tell you about the first one I ever experienced (and this, after a childhood full of church experiences where the “sound doctrine” reigned supreme). I was at college in Abilene, Texas in the 90’s. I made friends with a Sociology student who invited me to visit New Life Church. This humble church met in a community center on the poor side of town and was led by ACU students sent from the Southern Hills Church of Christ. My very first Sunday, I was hooked when I drove up and saw my young, white, college buddy in the doorway, shortly before the worship service, with three little black kids hanging off of him like he was human monkey-bars. They were playing with him and enjoying his affection. I had never seen such an image before in my life. You would have thought Santa Claus had come to town! That image burned in my brain.
Once a month different Bible classes at SHCofC would come to the community center to cook for and serve the people of New Life Church. The people of New Life Church tended to fall into one of three demographic groups. Rich, white college kids made up about one third of the assembly. Poor, black children – mostly under sixteen – made up about another third. Then there was a group of addicts from the One-Eighty House – men and women ranging from young adult to middle age mostly and from all ethnicities, but sharing a struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. Add to that the Southern Hills church monthly delegates serving this group of 70 – 90 people. We were all different parts of The Body, alright.
The regular feature of this group that stood out the most was the singing. Our young preacher was still growing as a speaker – and also as a community organizer. So it wasn’t really the sermons that were so hot. But the singing was particularly lively and tended to cater to youth with a strong influence of Old Negro Spirituals and even Blues. The love seemed to just flow so richly. Also, we ate together – a lot.
Eventually, New Life obtained a church building. (I was actually sad about that, but it seems the natural progression of things when churches start growing.) It was an old church building which had served a Spanish language congregation for years. At least it was on our side of town. And one of the first things leadership decided to do was to rip out the last four rows of pews. In their place, we set up dinner tables with chairs around them. When our church took communion, we took it as a meal together.
We were all a very young church. There is no doubt that we did not know much. We tried to hold to the essentials of church doctrine and all that. But there is no doubt we knew Jesus. Jesus came to New Life. And my brief experience there was one of the ecclesial highlights of my life – an ideal I hold to in my mind.
With all the criticisms I launch on “the church,” it seems I should share this image. I am not just some old crank. I have met Jesus. And all the sham-n-glam I encounter in his name at every turn, it seems, don’t hold a candle to the real thing.
I was privy to a conversation today in which the Mission at Hogback came up for discussion briefly. Not that you would know anything about Hogback, but it’s funny how I have been thinking about it recently. Here’s my experience with Hogback:
When I was a teenager, my home church was the Cortez Church of Christ in Cortez, Colorado. I quickly became disenchanted with church in general in those years and pretty much quit attending. My dad, though, was a devoted member and former minister trained in preaching for the Churches of Christ. But that Cortez church – well, I don’t want to run the place down unnecessarily… and besides, there are enough fingers to point at both myself and my family as well as that church.
But here’s the thing: Even though Cortez sits right on the knife’s edge of Native American “Indian” country, the church I grew up in was about 99.9% Anglo. Visitors from all over the country would vacation in Colorado and often visit our church. They would sometimes ask, “Where are the Indians?” And invariably a good brother would inform the visitor, “We have a mission for them down at Hogback.” That generally was enough to satisfy the meager inquiry.
But it fueled my criticism.
Don’t hold me to the dates on this, but Cortez Church of Christ had effectively started that church down at Hogback probably before I was born. Sometime in the 70’s we donated the old rickety pews from the Cortez auditorium to the mission church at Hogback. We donated old wore out songbooks and Bibles too. Spent decades patting ourselves on the back for those things. As I recall sometime in the late 80’s our bunch participated in a joint mission with other churches to build a baptistery for the “Indians” at Hogback. As I recall, that effort did get a lot of self-pat-on-the-back.
But then my dad got kicked out of the church in Cortez amid some other completely unrelated controversy. Something he said there was not agreeable, it seemed. One night at church right in front of the congregants, one of the church leaders ordered my dad to get out. It was stunning.
I am sure there was a lot of stuff under the surface packed up in that event that I do not know. But this I do know: Dad looked around for a church to attend and found the bunch down at Hogback. He began attending there. And the funny thing is that no one at the Cortez church seemed to notice or care really. Dad began making the forty-some-odd mile trip every Sunday to worship with the Navajo church.
And I went with him.
And this is the part of the story that is important to my blog: I see that as a prophetic moment in my life. It was like a training day for where I have been since. My dad took me on his own little mission to Hogback, a place you probably never heard of – a place that when I googled it did not seem to have its own website. And there is the group of people that the larger Anglo (more legit) church managed to take credit for without getting too close.
We sat on those rickety pews. We sang from those ratty songbooks. We warmed ourselves by the wood stove in the middle of the sanctuary. We worshipped with the humble “Indians” who functionally did not experience authentic welcome at the Anglo church 40 miles up the road.
That story has helped shape me and set me on the prophetic path I take today.
Pope Francis – Rock Star of Popes!
Check this out.
almost like watching Jesus in action! Any movie god, rock star, politician, head of state getting the kind of attention paid to Pope Francis would let it go right to their head. But this man is on a mission to be like Jesus. In humility he walks through crowds pressing in on him from all sides as children run to just touch the hem of his cloak! But he blows off congress to eat with the multitudes in the wilderness???
Let me just say: I have been involved in homeless ministry in Lubbock for the last 7 years. I used to attend the (let us call it) premier homeless church in this fine Christian town. As a member/minister there, I was repeatedly invited to power lunches hosted by that church which were attended by various church leaders, social workers, and charity organization representatives which were held behind closed doors while the homeless were kicked out during the meetings. I did not make a stink about it at the time, but I did quietly excuse myself to go hold communion outside on the sidewalk as these power brokers discussed their strategies over lunch.
So, if you think I like this pope… think again. I LOVE this pope.
Thank You, Jesus for sending us Pope Francis to show us what You look like.
Home is where people are made. (At least it should be.) Home is where people come from; home is what people work for. Home is what you send your children to distant lands to defend. Homeland security is the biggest single expense to the American budget. Home is important. Home, it seems, is the key to everything.
Home is what homeless people need. But how do you give it to them?
I will acknowledge that “a job” surely plays a role in the larger picture. But what is a job without a home? You had a home before you had a job. If you didn’t, then that is a shame.
We cannot ignore the huge fact that taking in homeless people will disrupt our home. We cannot ignore the fact that we will need to establish and maintain boundaries as we take them in from the cold. We cannot ignore the fact that things are changing one way or another whether we like it or not. Nor can we ignore the fact that “The American Dream” cannot cope with any of this either.
The church we find in Acts 2:43-45 is not combined, defined, or confined with The American Dream. It is not godless communism either, but it is a form of communism. It pays no respect to modern capitalism whatsoever. And so, we really must open our hearts to God’s world order and rethink what that means. (More on that another time.)
In the meantime, we must open our homes to God in new and risky ways. We need to be shrewd about it, sure, but determined too. We must be willing to sacrifice deeply and risk it all. This is the call of Jesus.
But you know what? It is also quite natural for anyone who has ever brought a newborn infant into their home. The new child comes in and dominates almost every ounce of energy and attention. The child craps and pukes on her parents. It takes a long, long time (which in retrospect seems so short) to discipline and train this child to be a responsible adult. But home is where people are made – starting with conception and going through adulthood.
No. Homeless men and women are not newborn children. There are significant differences. But the similarities are striking. The sacrifice and risk is all there. The long, long time involved is all there. The crap and puke (both real and metaphorical) are all there. And the making of humanity is there too.
Home is where people are made.
Think about it.
“A Voice for the Voiceless”
I hear people state this as their vocation sometimes. It is a catchy, and almost romantic, statement. It is idealist by nature. A savior-complex seems inherent and necessary. And so, I have heard one leader in homeless ministry state that she is against the idea of being “a voice for the voiceless.”
I consider myself as an unheard voice. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, but lost in obscurity. I speak, but who listens? By far, I go mostly ignored. Of those who have listened, most do not understand me. (I guess I am just too complex – or maybe too many who are willing to listen are just too simple. Of course that kind of observation is ripe for conceit. I will not claim to be immune to that, but I will point out that being ignored and shunned is nothing to be proud of either.) However, most of the remaining ears find me too offensive and turn me off when they can.
I have been officially kicked out of one ministry and all but officially shunned by another. I write pamphlets, blogs, and books and yet get almost no readers. I speak and get almost no listeners.
I speak without a voice for the voiceless. (I know… your welcome.)
I saw a news item this morning depicting Syrian refugees being turned away from the Slovenian border. Yesterday, I saw a news item showing Hungarian border patrol pepper spraying mothers and fathers holding small children. These are real news items getting real circulation on the international stage, yet the cries of these people fall largely on deaf ears.
Pope Francis is coming to America this week and is expected to address congress with a message regarding “the poor,” and the pontificators speculate that his remarks will be confrontational. Pope Francis is a voice for the voiceless. I am so thrilled to have him as leader of the church – a shepherd after God’s heart! Not a perfect man, but a real voice for the truly voiceless. Like the unborn who are so easy to slaughter in the womb before their mother hears their cry.
Meanwhile, I speak without a voice. The words come out. The sound waves permeate the ear, but not the heart. The words come out in electronic light and get clicked over. The words come out in hard-copy ink and collect dust or get crumpled and tossed.
I am not a pope or a polished orator. I am no one of significance. I am no one of consequence. And the people I speak for are called “Voiceless” too.
But the air hears, the electrons electrify, the ink bears witness. And the lives of the homeless matter whether you hear their voice or not.
(Thank you for not reading this – I guess…)
But Agent X! If I let a bum into my house I am vulnerable to physical harm! What if the bum rapes me, kills me, and/or steals my stuff – my precious stuff??? You gotta be crazy to open your house up to bums!
Yeah. Maybe so. But if you read your New Testament, you find Jesus opening exactly those kinds of doors (Rev. 3:20) making you utterly vulnerable. Quite “frightening to fall into the hands of a living God” (Heb. 10:31) alright. Maybe you have heard of the cost of discipleship??? Jesus is worth the risk!
But to take my line of reasoning is not to capitulate to disaster outright. There are tons of ways that shrewd Christians can mitigate a number of these kinds of risks while still being loyal to Jesus and ministering to the homeless by means of providing them a HOME.
But we really must get past our contempt, and at root, I believe the fear factor outlined above serves more to mask the contempt we have for God’s creatures (the homeless) than it does to burden us with more fear than we can bear. If we loved the homeless, really loved them, like brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, we would not likely even mention our fears (see I John 4:18).
No. If we are shrewd as vipers, we can tend the flock quite effectively and without fear. But we must elevate our estimation of the homeless as Jesus would have us do (Matt. 25:40). We must love them like we love Jesus. And that can start by opening up church gymnasiums, sanctuaries, and family life centers to all who will submit to the call of Jesus.
Think of how many wolves in sheep’s clothing opt out of the fold right up front! Most of the really bad bums take themselves out of the picture! Yet it requires the people of God to roll up their sleeves and share the burden, because the motley crew a church invites into their facilities will need chaperones around the clock! People to feed, clothe, disciple, and share with those in need. And you can’t do those things with contempt in your heart.
But look at the rich beauty of this: You just invited the Revelation 3:20/Matthew 25:40 Jesus into your church!
As you shepherd these sheep, you begin to develop interpersonal relationships – remember when your pastor preached that wonderful lesson last year about how your faith is ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIP? What did you think that meant??? And as your trust grows in various individuals, you can begin to employ them to tend other sheep. You can also invite them into your HOME.
By this time, you know them. They know you. Your church family knows you and them. This isn’t just a matter of strangers risking everything and throwing caution to the wind! No. It is more shrewd than that. It holds all involved to account. It also makes for a rather safe situation (assuming that is important to Jesus) in which to host homeless people in your HOME – which is what they need.
(Btw, all of this is done without raising a dime you weren’t already spending on yourselves! – No fundraising necessary!!!)
Homeless people need a HOME. They will never get it if you perpetually keep them at arms length. You must embrace the Revelation 3:20/Matthew 25:40 Jesus in a faith-based RELATIONSHIP that fosters discipleship and personal growth. This is a matter of opening your HOME to Jesus. And in the midst of that we find an Acts 2:43-45 style church – the Body of Christ. And that is what we are really here for… think about it.
I ask people at Bible studies, on street corners, and on the internet: What do homeless people need?
Far and away the most common type of response gets thoughtful and complex.
Homeless people need jobs. If they had jobs, then they would have money to live on and would be fine. Of course once your being thoughtful about it, it is clear that most homeless people are not ready to work. They need a shower first, a good resume, an address, and I.D. And those things are relatively simple to get. But then there are things like job training to think about.
So a respondent quickly begins to analyze the things that prevent these measures and the picture gets more complex. Addicts need treatment (and a willingness to work!). Psych patients need medications. War vets suffering PTSD need special favor. And in the meantime they all need a place to lay their heads for the night.
Homeless people are messy. Ever take one (or more) into your home? Ever do a vagabond’s laundry?
Yeah. It’s like that. Sh*t happens – as they say (Thank you Forrest Gump).
And right there the respondents disengage the discussion. It’s like the lights just go out. I wish my blog counter could count how many visitors stop reading at that last sentence. When I discuss it with my friends and acquaintances, I usually see the break just about there in the conversation.
Hmmm… What to do?
Well, let me ask you how it is that you manage not to suffer the kinds of obstacles listed above in your life. Again, as I discuss this with others the responses tend to fall into the I-was-raised-right category.
So let me see if I got this straight. When you came into the world, you were loved and wanted AT HOME. Despite the fact that you messed your diaper, your bed, and peed on your mom, left your dirty socks on the couch, your shoes in the doorway, played your music too loud and stayed out past curfew, you were welcome AT HOME and learned to be a responsible homemaker in the midst of all that?
Yeah. That’s how humans are made human (so it would seem), and you are your own best evidence.
Even though job training and addiction treatment probably play a part in stemming homelessness, it is rather clear that homeless people need a HOME. HOME makes all the difference in the world. So why aren’t we Christians opening up our home to those in such need?
Explain that to Jesus as you read Matthew 25:45.
More thoughts about HOME soon…
HOME. I wrote a book on HOME. (Don’t look for it; it’s not published.) But I am always writing about homeless, it seems. And yet, that needs to be counterbalanced by HOME.
I have recently encountered a handful of videos on the web called RETHINK HOMELESSNESS. In a sense, that is what this blog is all about. That could have been a good title for this project here. I want us to rethink our thoughts about homeless. But, then I have a specifically biblical lens in which I want to present this rethinking. And I think it is important to hold up the ideal of HOME as we do so. Otherwise it is too easy to drift off into ideals about addressing employment, job training, addiction, or even passing out food and blankets. Those things all play a part in the over all discussion, of course, but I believe they are completely adrift in the ocean of ideals when we don’t anchor them on the rock of HOME as we find it in the Bible.
Rethink it like this: We might possibly achieve “success” in treating a man’s addiction, train him for a good job, and then help him obtain one if we pool all our best thinking and resources together and really try. That is possible. Not too likely in most cases, but possible. But what then? And what exactly is that “success” anyway?
Are we trying to remake that man in our image? Does he need to have a nice house, a well-running car, decent clothes, a strong work ethic that sustains food in his fridge and rent payment each month? Is that success?
Sounds a bit lonely to me. Sounds like we suited him up for the rat race to me. Sounds like we got the problem licked to me – meaning he is no longer a worry to our mind. But he is now a worry to his own mind. Bills to pay. A boss to please. An ever-increasing inventory of junk in his attic and garage to manage.
None of that is HOME.
A house? Yes. A place to store and contain his own mess? Yes. But a HOME? No. At least I don’t see it. And I don’t see any of that as being a “success” Jesus died on a cross for either.
In fact, I see all of that as contributing to gluttony and divorce. A soul-less life of contained chaos that is otherwise empty, yet passionate about denial of its own vanity.
I got divorced. My HOME was broke. I fell out the crack of it and very nearly hit the streets myself. I know this first-hand. I have many friends and family who know it first-hand too.
I hope to explore on this blog the ideal of HOME and help others to RETHINK HOME as we also RETHINK HOMELESSNESS. I invite your thoughts along the way too. And I think that with this counterbalance in place, it just might make most of the things I share on this blog settle the dust a bit. I keep asking the tough questions no one seems to want to answer, like: How can you invite Jesus into your heart but not a homeless man into you home?
I hope that kind of question offends you. If it does not, then you aren’t really reading me. After all, if Jesus lived – really – lived at, and reigned over, your house and a homeless man knocked on the door, WWJD?
What if Jesus really lived at your church?
I see people sleeping under the archway of the downtown First United Methodist Church nightly. I have experienced the pastor of Carpenter’s Church running off myself and dozens of other people seeking refuge under their shelter at night. I have seen dozens of “keep out” and “no trespassing” signs at numerous other church buildings all over this “Christian” town. And yet the VAST MAJORITY of the “Christians” who attend worship at these places sleep in fine houses with guest bedrooms that go empty night after night without so much as a prick of the conscience. And I find that to be offensive.
Would he flip tables and scatter the money at that place of worship?
Hmmm… I think I might’ve read that somewhere.
Seems a bit offensive when you REthink about it.
But I do not wish to shut you out of the discussion. Rather, I suggest you repent and RETHINK. Rethink HOME; Rethink church. Rethink and then relive for the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15).
And anyway, this blog is a place where that rethinking can start….
St. Paul writes of God provoking the Jews to jealousy with His salvation among the Gentiles (See Romans 10-12). As I watch Pope Francis guide the church to love the poor and downtrodden, I wonder if the protestants in my town might begin to feel left out of God’s rich movement toward the poor.
Fat Beggars School of Prophets has been asking: How can you ask Jesus into your heart, but not ask him into your guest bedroom?
On the cold winter nights in Lubbock (which are due to return in the next few weeks), Lubbock’s homeless will be left out in the cold. Seriously, don’t believe everything you see on TV or on the internet. Many charitable (and “Christian”) organizations will lead you to believe this problem is being addressed adequately, and you can help by sending them your money. Rather, go to the streets and see for yourself. You will find plenty of people left out!
Now I am hoping that Pope Francis will provoke a jealousy to loving the poor similar to St. Paul’s jealousy for salvation. Perhaps the “Christians” in this “Christian community” will answer God’s call to take in the poor among us too??? (Luke 14:23; Matt. 25:31-46 – among OTHERS!)
Let’s get busy grafting in the branches.