In recent posts, I laid out my view that at root our problem with helping the homeless is one of contempt. In a more recent post, I painted, in broad brush strokes, a picture of worship as the solution.
To be forthright, I think contempt is very near the nub of the whole of all problems associated with “the human condition”. Long ago we lost our will to, fervor for, and imagination of worship – the true worship of the creator God. If we wish to find a cause and effect situation to study, let us view “The Fall” of creation as the effect caused by contempt. We were utterly naked, vulnerable, and trusting, and though that bore the image of God and thereby ruled the world, we held such a God in contempt and thought we could run the place better without him. We were naked and vulnerable, but also created perfectly for worship, which now seems irrelevant as an answer to the world’s problems.
But for our present purposes, rather than offer a full-blown, theological treatise on contempt and worship, I will relate these ideas to homeless ministry in particular. But I will say that our current efforts to analyze all the causes of poverty, to protect our pride (“dignity”), and to seek Shalom by rejecting the commands and examples of Jesus culminate in a direct extension of the same contempt in which the first man and woman found themselves.
I already laid out my view that contempt is an ugly thing we typically prefer to hide from ourselves and others as far as possible. Thus I will not reiterate all that now. Therefore I merely assert, relying on previous argument, that taking the Seeking Shalom class and bogging down in analyses of the causes of poverty, in the extra-biblical redefinitions of key terms, and in the studied second-guessing of our charity and alms-giving is a smoke screen for our contempt of the poor. This, I suggest, is an alternative explanation for the angst or dissonance these endeavors exploit. For certainly we do care about the poor (a genuine feeling of pity/care) as well as a sense of Christian responsibility, but we allow the smoke screen to stifle such feelings with the shared notion that with the guidance of the leaders from the Lupton Center, we discover that God’s word actually directs us to criticize our own efforts to show care for the poor.
How do YOU explain it? Smart, educated, capable, Christian people pay $25 a head to sit around discussing, reading, listening, and sharing their deep concerns for the poor while allowing the homeless to languish in the streets all winter long. (How do you explain that???) Jesus says, “Give to all who ask”; but these students say if you give freely you will harm the poor. (How do you explain that???) How can such smart people come to such ironic conclusions?
They want to. That’s how. And all the angst and second-guessing gives it all a sense of hard-won wisdom though it is about as dumb as it can be. It gives it a sense of serving Jesus despite its clear opposition to him, and the more complicated you make poverty and charity, the more believable this otherwise ridiculous nonsense is. And so it isn’t a matter of intellect; it’s a matter of contempt that desperately seeks a smoke screen behind which to hide.
It’s easy to get sucked into this garbage. The opening salvo is to question if the charity is “effective”. We modern Americans are not only rich (with an affinity to look down our nose at the poor), historically we pride ourselves as problem solvers. Ask us if our charity is effective, and we don’t think about Jesus saying, “The poor you always have with you”; instead we immediately think – Oh yeah… we help and help and help, but these people don’t get any better! We should fix this problem.
We are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful. Who says we engineer God’s success? And what is the measure of success anyway? And if we are truly effective/successful, then we will eliminate poverty, which sounds great, but if we really did, it would make Jesus a liar. So again, what exactly is success – in the Shalom sense of the word?
Breaking off from that, let us stick close to Jesus commands. And the one truly huge command I notice that neither our friends at the Lupton Center, nor anyone else I have found, points out is that Jesus commands us, actually commands us, to throw a party (Luke 14:13) and invite the poor who cannot repay us. He does not tell us to fix them and turn them into people who can repay.
And the party is a worship service! Worship is a party-celebration of God! And God is among the poor! Thus we celebrate him as we celebrate them! And there is food and drink and interpersonal sharing around the table of celebration and worship that leads to healing, but healing that only the touch of God provides, not some half-measure healing that we might engineer of our own contemptuous designs.
No. When you sit at the table to eat WITH someone, you occupy a place of mutual respect. It just goes with the territory. And thus worship, the celebration, honor, and praise of God amid the poor is the correct response to poverty.
Yes, join the poor at the altar, and you may well find that God grants Shalom to his creation as we take him at his word. It is worship, the thing contempt robbed us of way back at the beginning, which, when restored in human hearts, enthrones God in his world. And that should truly help the homeless in the final analysis.