I previously discussed TALKING ABOUT love in a recent post. To my way of thinking, the remarks I made there set the groundwork for much more discussion which could go in many directions.
Now let me relate it all just a bit more closely with the point of this blog – loving the homeless. And let me bring in some fresh thoughts after another previous post called “Your Story Becomes Our Story.”
Before we get all “theological” about this, let’s just look at our approach through a bit more of a psycho/social lens. I will speak from my own observation/experience on this, but I expect you will find mine similar to yours – enough so that we understand each other.
As I recall from my earliest days in street ministry, both my brothers and sisters at church and myself looked with pity on the poor and needy around us and felt moved with compassion to reach out in Jesus’ name with help for various needs both expressed and observed. When we saw someone hungry, we provided food (or money to buy food) and when someone told us they could not pay their power bill, we paid it for them.
We bridged a gap between haves and have-nots with real help, and it felt good to do it. We all got very excited about it. Bragged on all we were doing to each other and hyped it all up. More and more people got involved both among the helpers and the needy. It all became a big circus.
We got tired, exhausted, and some even burned out. The poor and needy got excited, told their friends and more and more people were coming to Jesus… well at least coming for the free food and stuff.
After a while, we reached a tipping point.
Either we were gonna get so overwhelmed and inundated with needy people that our own identity as middle-class, conservative Americans would be threatened and our income depleted on our love for the poor (thus we too might become like them/with them) or we needed to cut them off just for self-preservation’s sake! And it was right about then that we began discussing how “ineffective” our help had been at elevating the needy out of their state of neediness and remake them in our own image.
We wanted our story to become theirs! (Not the other way round.)
And so, as the Righteous Brothers say it, we “lost that lovin’ feelin’.”
After that, someone discovered the book When Helping Hurts, and we started TALKING ABOUT our love for the homeless and eventually that turned into training courses and seminars. The celebration of the poor came to an end, but all the TALK ABOUT our love became technical jargon for professionals and social workers deployed on behalf of the church to keep the poor on their side of town all the while appearing to be our care for them.
Just looking at this through a psycho/social lens, I see a lot of fear driving that church. What started out as love suddenly morphed into fear. Not fear only, for certainly there was fatigue, but that too drove the fear. Our love for the poor, our love for Jesus, moved us to a tipping point. We were going to change one way or another. The status quo would hold no longer. This raised important questions:
What was going to change?
How would it change?
What things did we want to change, and what did we want to keep the same?
When white, middle-class Christians choose to actively engage the poor in loving, sacrificial ways, life does not continue business-as-usual for long. If you do this well, you will suddenly find a burst of new friends clamoring to be near you, but they are not the social connections you find in college, in political rallies, at office picnics, or any of the places where we climb corporate and social ladders. Instead, we find ourselves inundated with needy people made in the image of God, but deeply broken and hurting who come and drain us of our money, time, and energy.
It’s at just this point in the psycho/social lens that I want to say something powerfully theological:
As Christians, we try to keep our idol worship “on the DL.” But when you start living for LOVE, actually celebrating the image of God in real people who are broken and needy, you learn there are some deep inconsistencies in your faith. You either have to face your idolatry and give it up, or you gotta cut back on all the sacrificial love of God stuff, because you really cannot serve both God and Mammon.
A THEOLOGICAL LENS
Since we are talking about theological things at this point anyway, let’s go back a moment and look at the same things we were doing before, but now in a theological lens.
For a while there, we were daring to love poor and needy people. This is entirely biblical. Jesus did it, and this same kind of thing happened to him too. He showed love to the poor, the broken, the sick, the needy, and suddenly he was inundated with multitudes of people coming from far and wide to see him, hear him, touch just his shirt! They were crushing him so much he could not enter a house to eat or he had to get into a boat and push off from shore so he could preach to everyone. He was not climbing the social/royal ladders of Temple or Rome. He too became exhausted and had to withdraw at times to pray alone. He too reached a point in this life of ministry where he realized it would kill him.
We, as the Body of which that Jesus is the head, should not be surprised by any of this. We can read our Gospels and plainly see the similarities there.
We find the church in Jerusalem, as told by St. Luke in Acts 2 and 4, selling all their property and giving the money to the church so that no one went in need. Again, the impact on one’s social and financial resources among those early Christians CHANGED EVERYTHING. The rich sold all they owned, gave it to the poor, counted their blessings in heaven, and followed Jesus (all the exact things the rich man seeking eternal life from Jesus chose not to do when Jesus then said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God”).
Oh yeah. This stuff is all in the Bible!
AN APOCALYPTIC LENS
Here’s the APOCALYPSE in all this theological stuff now:
When we celebrate the image of God among the poor and needy, when we sacrificially love the poor and needy, and thus when THEIR STORY BECOMES OUR STORY, not only do we become poor, not only do we lose our lives to gain them, not only do we repent from our idolatry, and not only does THEIR STORY BECOME OUR STORY, but… BUT… but HIS STORY BECOMES OUR STORY!
Look folx. They ain’t teaching this in the When Helping Hurts book and seminar. The white, middle-class American “church” can’t afford to teach this. The stuff those people teach you amount to nothing more than a vain attempt to maintain the status quo. A sad attempt to remake the poor and needy in our selfish image rather that remake us into the image of Jesus. And that goal did not work before we found the book When Helping Hurts, and after a decade since that book took hold of our mission and ministry, it still has not achieved the goal of making the poor into rich people like us. No. The poor we still have with us.