In this section of the book, we will define some words and/or shape up some concepts. Basically, we will think our way through some stuff we may largely already know. But we will come to a shared understanding which will aid our discussion further down the line tremendously. Particularly we will discuss these concepts: homelessness, prophecy, imagination, suffering and mission.
The first term (or concept) that we need to examine is “homelessness.” I have no doubt that you are familiar already. However, in an effort of getting the shared understanding, and also to expand our imaginations, I want to broaden the term significantly. In fact, I want to broaden it so much that we could say modern, American society is basically a culture of homelessness.
Rich & Homeless?
Before the end of this series, we will consider in depth what home is all about. At the moment, we will barely touch on the concept of home only enough to use as a sounding board to talk about homelessness. It turns out that our concept of homelessness is too narrow. We associate homelessness too closely with poverty. How can we open our imagination to what homelessness means at a spiritual level? What effect does homelessness have on the rich as well as the poor? Can you be rich and homeless? How would that idea change our thinking on the concept?
I know it seems stupid to suggest that the President of the United States is a homeless man, because if we don’t quickly qualify our use of the term, then it cheapens the concept. Here is what I mean: The moment we say, “The president is homeless,” it sounds “spiritual” in some cheap sense. After all, he sleeps in a warm bed every night. In fact it may well be the best protected bed in all of human history. That makes the statement above either a lie or makes the street person’s experience into an after-thought.
That is unless we qualify the statement. Even then, we need a good reason to do it. But I believe we have one. There are many kinds of homelessness that all miss the mark of what the home God desires is all about. Even though some kinds of homelessness suggest no outward suffering, or even the entire absence of poverty, does not mean that you make a home simply by establishing your bed within four walls and a roof.
Kinds of Homeless
Still, qualifying the statement above is not complete until we inject some more terms into the concept. For some of you sleep in the cold wind on the hard pavement, and no one would confuse that with the president’s situation for one minute. Surely there are terms available to us that will accurately reflect some important distinctions here.
So, if it is fair to say that there are different kinds of homeless, then we should categorize them.
“Shelter–less.” These people bed down in blankets or tarps often completely exposed to the elements.
“Roofless.” These people sleep in crates, boxes, dumpsters, or tents but not in a dwelling facility.
“Houseless.” These people live in shelter services such as Salvation Army or other kinds of homeless shelters. They often join some kind of program in order to receive assistance, but there is no confusing any of these forms of shelter with a home – or even a house.
However, plenty of people live in apartments, college dorms, military barracks, and recreational vehicles. Think about that a minute. Those kinds of living situations function very well on a utilitarian basis, but not as a home. Not a real home that you would defend with your life, long for when you are away, or dream of building for the future. In fact, even many of those living in houses and mansions miss a real sense of home in a full and robust way (perhaps due to divorce, abuse, or moving frequently). At this point it is safe to say that heating, cooling, plumbing, and TV do not make a house a home. Yet it seems important to have permanence in the house (or structure) in order for it to come close.
It now becomes clear how even someone as wealthy and powerful as the President of the United States can be considered homeless. The White House, for him, is a temporary facility in which the president lives and works. It is not really his home at all. But this observation holds for all migrant peoples – rich or poor – and our society is full of them in all walks of life. And still, the temporary nature of one’s housing is not the whole story.
What about family? Doesn’t the house need to be filled with loved ones? After all, it is possible to live in a prison permanently, but that does not make it a home. Migrant farmers, on the other hand, will move from farm to farm around the nation and take their family with them, all the while they never experience home. (This goes for missionaries too.) Point being, these factors intermingle and make the phenomenon of home a complex thing.
Homelessness in the Bible
However, as a Christian minister, I want to assert yet another factor into the mix. In fact, it is not really a factor at all, but rather the ultimate issue at stake: A house is not a home until, or unless, God dwells there. We might even say a house is not a home unless God builds it (Ps. 127:1).
This point really goes to the heart of the matter with tremendous force. Think about it. The over-arching concern for the prophet Ezekiel is the fact that the Glory of God ups and leaves the temple. (Ezek. 10). When God leaves his “house,” the Jews go into exile. They are dispersed around the world like the aimless, wandering Hebrews of old, roaming the desert until God brings them to the Promised Land (think “home”) again. Even though Ezekiel foretells of a day when God would return (Ezek.43), we Christians know that did not happen until one Passover long ago when a young prophet rode a donkey into town amid the waving palm branches of celebrating peasants.
And this is where the issue of homeless prophecy really takes center stage in the study of this whole book. We seek to be prophets of the Creator God who is Father of our Lord Jesus of Nazareth. “He was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people” (Luke 24:19). We want to be like him; we want to prophesy. And he tells the story of the God of the Jews coming home.
It is no mistake or coincidence that Jesus is called “The Carpenter” (Mark 6:3). Despite the Catholic Church’s claim that St. Joseph is the patron saint of carpenters, that title really belongs to Jesus. And Jesus is building The House of God (Eph. 2:19-22 (see also I Pet. 2:5)), our ultimate home.
Basically, if all we ever prophesy is a witness to the home Jesus builds, that will be central – that will be enough to qualify any and all prophetic messages God would speak through us to creation. The fact that you are homeless (and especially if you are one of those kinds of homeless that cannot hide in pretense of housing) means you are in a prime position to speak God’s message to the world around you. You have a message for our homeless culture – including (and especially) the wealthy, the powerful, and even the President of the United States!