After reading blogs, I sense a need to address a phenomenon of distinction(s) between ministries and ministerial approaches. It seems there are niches and trends aplenty. Some people use this gimmick; others use that. Some feed; others clothe. Some offer Housing First; others offer merit-based housing. Some offer merit-based housing and call it Housing First to the chagrin of other Housing First organizations. Thus they all give delicate thought to their approach and try to distinguish themselves from the pack. And since I come to this watering hole too, I want to distinguish ours further as well.
Here’s the thing: Everyone seems to think they are the expert on homelessness when it comes to homeless blogging. The problem, though, is intractable and complex, and no one has found the way to actually “end poverty” yet, but plenty are claiming their method works. In the midst of all this, there is a war on terminologies and semantics. Just read the blogs! Just take the 101 classes!
Keep in mind, I have my own issues about distinguishing Fat Beggars School of Prophets from other ministries too. I understand the pull to do this. FBSOP wants to work in tandem with other ministries that we support in varying ways and to varying degrees, all the while offering something unique ourselves. But I see the issues surrounding this pull as sometimes too minor to make a fuss over and other times more important than the fuss can handle. And besides, while all the other ministries (so it seems) work out the logistics of dealing with homelessness, FBSOP is almost solely interested in prophetically working out our faithfulness to God and leaving the logistics to Jesus.
In this war on words, I found a blog post where the writer has stopped using the term “Urban Ministry.” I guess he used to be naïve and employed the term rashly. Now he realizes that terminology suggests the Gospel is not for those just outside the city limits, only those within. And apparently his post has gained real notoriety and influence. Not that it has caught on with everyone, because I still find plenty using the term quite liberally with no concern that there should be a more inclusive label. And I totally get the point. I just wonder if it really matters.
I found where another guy makes a case about the terminology some people use in regards to the homeless people he serves. A lady from a church reached out to his office seeking guidance for her group’s ministry that they wanted to offer to “junkies, winos, and vagrants” since she was moved by the “plight of the homeless.” These terms, the writer felt, were all derogatory. He even deconstructed the term “homeless people” preferring to call them “people who are homeless.” Wow! That is splitting hairs. I hope my thoughts here don’t offend him.
You would think we were tossing around the “N-word” or something. But I have been hitting the streets in my urban area (where I keep finding the people who are homeless (as opposed to the countryside where (btw) I don’t find them)) and I hear them use the words “homeless,” “tramp,” and “bum” with great frequency. I recognize that these terms have (in some cases) a derogatory edge to them, but they also embrace humility/humiliation in a Christ-like manner, as I see it. Humility is a problem for the proud; it is the inverse of that proverbial line by the rollercoaster at the theme park that says, “You must be this tall to ride this ride.” Thus the ride to the Age to Come has a line that says, “You must get this low (perhaps on your knees?) to ride this ride.”
With these things in mind, I praise Restoring Hope and Saint John Neumann’s Catholic Church for hosting the first annual “A Night Under The Stars” party two weeks ago for the homeless. That event and the radical hospitality they shared was an answer to years of prayer!!! I cannot commend them enough. FBSOP hosted a similar party over a year ago, one that influenced the RH party. In our case, we called it “Lubbock’s Parade of Homeless.”
That name was a subversion of the much more notable annual event called “Lubbock’s Parade of Homes,” which is hosted by the homebuilders and home-sellers guild of Lubbock.
Lubbock, which claims to be a “Christian” town (now talk to me about mislabeling things), puts a lot of notice and care into celebrating the fancy homes they do NOT share with the homeless. In fact, the original impulse for the first event was to purchase lots of tickets to the Lubbock Parade of Homes and then take homeless people and share communion with the home-buyers who normally go on this uppity wine-n-cheese tour. Sure it would be upsetting, for the proud, but convicting for the Christians.
But that name “Lubbock’s Parade of Homeless” is humiliating. Look. As a prophet, I am all about making a fool of myself and my friends if I can honor Jesus when I do it. In fact, I count it a joy, and a small price to pay (most of the time).
To engage in the Lubbock’s Parade of Homeless event (which about 30 people did last year) is to embrace the humility and humiliation of being homeless as it subverts the pride of our “Christian” town. And well, the good people at RH changed the name of it. “A Night Under The Stars” is not nearly so edgy and humiliatingly subversive. (Not that I begrudge them one bit. After all, they took that ministry and opened doors I only dreamed of opening! Praise God! But I do very much want to make it clear that FBSOP is purposeful about humility/humiliation.)
As you can tell, we call this ministry “Fat Beggars” which very much embraces humility and humiliation – by design. We could have found a less humiliating name to go by, but I contend it honors the Philippians 2:5-8 Jesus. I also suspect that when God uses those lepers to bring the Good News to Samaria in II Kings 6:24-7:20, he has in mind shaming/humbling the king and his courtiers by achieving through a group of bums what the king and his nobles could not!
Thus I make out that Fat Beggars School of Prophets embraces shame, pain, and despair as we bear the image of God in the places characterized by those things. Perhaps instead of asking “Got Milk?” we might ask, “Got Shame?”
This is important for street ministry, in my estimation. You can be a street bum and still be filled with pride. I recall in recent years when I carried a placard that read ‘”The Least of These” sleeps on the streets tonight.’ Numerous times homeless men inquired what I meant by “The Least of These.” They did not make the association to Matthew 25:40, apparently, but they also did not want to take that humble role in the drama that Jesus takes. Thus it confronted the pride of the homeless right along with the pride of the rich – always a sign you offer equal opportunity humility!
The other thing that I think is important to distinguish here is that FBSOP is about vulnerability too. Shame and vulnerability are what you embrace when you take up a towel and basin in service to Jesus (so says Walter Brueggemann). You find me frequently hammering away at the When Helping Hurts program because it is all about avoiding just exactly those things. I think about how the premier homeless ministry counsels that you not go out to the streets without their guidance and supervision lest you get hurt. I guess they are going to keep their volunteers safe.
Perhaps we seem naïve to those who have “been there/done that.” I think about all the times I slept in a bedroll in the park or in the alley. Several times I awoke to find a shadowy figure rummaging through our camp while we slept. That is a bit unnerving, alright. It is deeply vulnerable. But as Brueggemann says, you not only accept shame when you kneel to wash someone’s feet, you also put yourself in the perfect position for them to kick you in the face! But it is the Jesus-way.
Fat Beggars is all about being faithful to Jesus and leaving the logistics to him. If someone gets hurt camping illegally in the park to share prayer with the least of these and show solidarity with them, will that end homelessness? No. I am sure it won’t. In fact it runs the very deep risk of just flopping and failing. But so did crucifixion!
Now, I am not advocating that we run out and hurt ourselves. But if we did get beat up and/or killed in service to Jesus, there is a really good chance that would make the headlines. And if it did that, there is a good chance it would bring some conviction to this “Christian” town. But that is just my cheap thoughts. No telling what God might do with it.
So the establishment ministry advises against your embrace of humility and vulnerability even though it is THE way of following Jesus. But since they have a way of raising (and keeping to themselves) a lot of money, throwing homeless people out into the night, and doing these things somehow in the name of Jesus, I am eager to distinguish this ministry from that garbage.
Otherwise, I can’t at this point see why some of these distinctions are so important to folks. So what if you call it “Urban Ministry”? It might not be truly accurate, but are we slighting someone over it? Really??? And if you are a “bum,” be a bum for Jesus. But if you are a “Christian” town, then take care that you not take the Name in vain!