I could have called this post “Ten Simple Things You Can Do To Walk A Block In Their Shoes.” I would even emphasize the SIMPLE part to make it easier. But I don’t think I will get any takers. I really don’t.
Call me pessimistic, but I’m just getting real about it.
So, instead I will challenge you. This is going to be tough, very tough. You will be stretched beyond your “comfort zone” and your wildest imagination. But if you accept this challenge, you will not be the same afterward.
Some people actually pay money, and some of them even get college credit, for the chance to take an “urban plunge.” The plunge can last a night, a week, a month, even a semester. The serious plunges require you give up all your money, maybe even your ID, and take no resources with you as you step out on the streets of an urban area and begin fending for yourself. It’s a crash course in homelessness that raises awareness, empathy, and understanding.
Some plunges aren’t really plunges at all, but perhaps an overnight camping experience, a candlelight vigil with an overnight component. I see people post their experiences of such things on blogs from time to time, and they always come back discussing their deep spiritual experience.
All of that is the deep end for my readers. So, I will break it down to just one block in their shoes, and not the whole enchilada. These are simple exercises you CAN do which will illuminate the world from the viewpoint of the poor and homeless in small manageable bits, so you will not be overwhelmed with fear, suffering, and shame – but so that you come into at least SOME exposure to those things.
(It’s not Poverty Porn; it’s poverty tourism.)
So, here at ten simple things you can do to walk a block in the shoes of the homeless this year. If you can rise to the challenge and complete even one, I will be impressed. And if you do, I invite you to come back here (at any time throughout the year) and leave me a comment describing the impact your experience has on you. Tell me if you “learn” something or find yourself closer to Jesus.
Get a sleeping bag and sleep on the sidewalk IN FRONT of your own home. Don’t go out until after dark and until after most of your neighbors have gone to bed, eliminating (hopefully) the need to explain yourself to them or law enforcement, but bed down in the wet, the cold, the heat, the dirt (which ever) and as you fall asleep, look at your own front door praying and asking God how you might make it a more welcoming place. (But resist the urge to go back inside until dawn.)
Starting Thursday night, skip your shower for 3 days. If you need to use extra deodorant to get through work on Friday, so be it, but get your stench started and keep building up intensity all the way through Sunday morning worship. Jesus was dead 3 days; you can stink for 3 days. After work on Friday, go get a strenuous workout, then go drinking (or hang out around drinkers and smokers) and spill some booze on yourself, get smoke on yourself, maybe do some gardening and get mud and mess, stains and all that all over your clothes. Then go to worship Sunday entering that Holy Place looking and smelling like a lost soul in drastic need of Jesus and see for yourself, firsthand, how you are received.
Take off your shirt (men), kick off your shoes, mess up your hair, or wear your back-of-the-closet, worst laundry-day shirt with stains on it, and go shopping in a boutique downtown. Carry all your credit cards, your cash, what have you (able to pay), but look the part of the poor and see if you can conduct your daily business as usual. In less than an hour, you are done.
Get a hamburger at your favorite hamburger stand and take it to a busy intersection or overpass, walk out onto the lane island, sit down in front of all the traffic passing by, bless your lunch, and eat it there amid the noise and exhaust fumes. In half an hour, you are done.
Go find a soup kitchen in your town and find the hours of service. Then show up and get in line. Eat with everyone else there AS IF you were one in need of this service. (No need to skip a shower or dress down for this one. Go ahead and stand out like a rich person. Let people wonder why on earth the rich guy is eating here.) Sit down with others dining on the gruel and ask them where to get in on a good Bible study. Come back here and tell me what they say.
Get a cardboard box and cut off one panel. Create a placard, but don’t ask for money on it. Ask for prayer instead. Then walk out near a major, busy intersection with your sign asking for prayer for the homeless and try to make eye contact with passing motorists as they drive by and as they stop at the light. Talk to anyone who speaks to you. Pray with anyone who turns around to come back and pray with you.
Sneak out to the dumpster in the alley behind your own home at a time of your choosing to maximize the security of your dignity for this challenge, but when there, climb into the dumpster and relieve yourself #1 & #2. Then sneak out of the dumpster and back into the house before anyone knows what happened. Then DON’T TELL ANYONE about it (not even anonymously on a homeless ministry blog!). EVER! You are on your own dishonor with this one. Just you and Jesus know about it, but you will have walked a block in some tough shoes to fill.
Put on your heaviest coat and hoodie, your warmest snow or mud boots, pack two bookbags full as you can with a blanket or some stuffing, then go to a local McDonalds and park two blocks away so you can walk in with no one seeing your car. Show up at least 30 minutes before the lunch rush and ask for a cup of water. If they give it to you, take a seat. If they don’t, ask other people in line if they can spare a dime and purchase a cup of coffee (NOTHING MORE). Then take a seat. Pray, play on your phone, or just stare out the window, but stay put for two hours or until you are asked to leave (whichever comes first).
Find a park bench or a bus stop bench and lay down on it, close your eyes, and stay there like that for half an hour (or until law enforcement asks you to move, whichever comes first).
Put on shorts and flipflops and go walking around town. Walk at least four miles. Spend your time praying and count it as your prayer walk. You don’t even have to look homeless but walk around busy areas where you must deal with traffic and congestion.
Pick at least one of these challenges and set foot out the house merely attempting it. The single biggest obstacle to completing any one of these is most likely your own pride. So, the first step is likely the hardest. Pray and ask God to grant you humility and faith to take that step and endure the burden of shame, pain, and despair as you walk just one block in the shoes of the homeless and needy just once this whole year.
You have heard it said, “…the N-word.” You have heard it said, “…the R-word.” You probably have heard of a few others too. (“… the F-word” anyone?) These words are deemed so damaging, each in their own way, that we dance around their use with these substitutes.
In this post, I propose we do the same with … (dare I say it?) … Poverty Porn. (There. I said it, and now we all know what I am talking about, but I surely hope not to cause further offense by repeating it. And I hope you won’t either. From here on, I advocate we dance around this term* by “… the PP-word” – if you know what I mean.)
What’s so wrong with the PP-word?
(Glad you asked, because that is what I really want to write about.)
Taking the PP-word apart, each component part is not something dirty to avoid, and so we will begin with doing that.
My own survey of definitions for “poverty” show the chief meaning of the word as relating to a lack of financial resources. There are secondary meanings which may or may not involve money, but the primary definition always goes right to clash-of-cash-and-trash. The Center for Poverty and Inequality Research at UC Davis likewise defines it and measures it in the United States based on income and basic living needs.
In their wildly popular book, When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert attempt to redefine poverty as four different types: Poverty of Spiritual Intimacy, Poverty of Being, Poverty of Community, and Poverty of Stewardship. Elsewhere on this blog, I have argued that such redefinition makes a smokescreen behind which they smuggle eisegesis into their otherwise fine, biblical study and ministry guide to helping those in need. But even after emphasizing all these “types” of poverty, their own book quietly goes back to dealing primarily with “material poverty” which basically means “poverty” as you already understood the term before the smokescreen.
Why iron all that out now?
Just to give a fair analysis to both component parts in the PP-word. Honestly, I think you know poverty when you see it most of the time. The only exception being when people hide it, which happens frequently enough. Between denial, studied nonobservance, and shame, there is a lot of poverty hidden from view alright, but still, when you are confronted with it and see it clearly, I think you know it. I think we both have a good handle on the definition even without technical jargon, dictionaries, or Corbett and Fikkert’s smokescreen.
So, let’s turn to the other part of the PP-word.
Porn is a bit trickier to talk about. For one thing, researching the word “porn” on the web runs the real risk of opening up porn on your computer screen. Porn is seductive, and many people “have a problem with it.” I get that. I am not immune to its allure myself.
I studied koine Greek in school, and as I recall it, the word “porn” is almost a complete transliteration from the Greek. The word in Greek, as I recall it, means “evil” and/or “fornication.” We tend to put those two ideas together for the full impact, I think. Fornication is evil, of course, but porn seems to compound its emphasis as evil.
In English, we use the term to mean images of sexual arousal eliciting sexual arousal, though it can refer to written materials as well. I perused the internet for definitions, and all of them seemed to concur with my description here.
So, when we put the Greek and the English together, we have a case of fornication with images (whether photo/video or written-word images). The images designed for sexual arousal, some more explicit than others. (Hey! What I find staring out at me in the checkout line is often times plenty arousal-oriented!).
But let’s put this in a slightly more wholesome perspective.
If my wife, the woman I am publicly and officially married to, choses to pose herself before me (or even make photos of herself for me), as long as these arousing images remain strictly within the confines and confidence of our marriage, are not evil and not fornication. (BTW, I in no way advocate taking pictures!)
Sexual arousal of this sort with my mate is not evil, not fornication, not sin. It is a sexual image I am welcome to indulge within God’s good providence. In fact, it is his gift to me. His GOOD gift.
Hmmm… Such a fine line there.
So, let’s talk a bit about that part of porn we find in the English for a moment, because it has deep theological bearing on EVERYTHING.
When a married man and woman, married before God and the public, come together in sexual union, they bear the image of God as he made them (see Genesis 1:26-27). While we might arguably suggest there is more to God’s image, other ways of bearing his image, we must accept that this account is the first in the Bible. In a sense, it is the Bible’s primary definition of image bearing. (Though Jesus on a Roman cross arguably complicates that statement.)
The image of God is complicated here in that it is a private image and yet a governing image. It is full of mystery! But as long as the man and woman of Genesis bear God’s image properly, the world is ordered rightly. It’s just that simple. And since it is sexual, we can presume that this man and woman’s sexual arousal has (or had) cosmic consequences!
It’s enough to raise questions like: Did their coitus make blossoms bloom? Did the fruit and vegetables grow while the man “knew” his wife? Was their sex mountain moving??? Look out for tectonic plates!
Questions like that almost sound pagan to my post-Victorian, Christian ears; they almost sound like some sort of sexual crop ritual of some ancient tribes. And while that surely does come to mind, we should consider that in ancient times the residue of the goodness of God might well be something those ancient ones chased after in their crooked ways. This observation in no way means Christianity derived from pagans but can suggest quite potently that pagans derived their practices from longing for God’s blessings.
But that is a trail to chase on another day.
This brings our discussion (well, MY discussion) of the PP-word to a new juncture. There are a couple different routes to take at this point, and we will need to cover them both to do the discussion justice, but which one makes more sense to begin with? I don’t rightly know. Let’s take the low road and maybe merge back to this one later.
Fork in the PP-word Road.
Let’s begin by picking up the trail of common usage of the PP-word. To be honest, it’s a new word to me. I’ve been involved with ministry to the poor in one way or another for over two decades now. Yet it’s only been in recent years (maybe as little as three), and I think as a result of reading blogs, that I have been confronted with the PP-word.
I’m not gonna lie; it was a bit jarring the first time I came across it. I had a pretty good idea what was meant by it immediately, though I was guessing. And I felt a twinge of shame, since I too have been involved in the PP-word. I have photos of homeless people doing homeless things (a couple of them even posed for the camera) posted throughout this blog. Some with consent, others not. Photos seem to be the main thrust behind the term, though I will consider practically all my written words here to be lumped in as well.
Still, I have surveyed the internet to verify the meaning just to be sure. (No. I did not research it extensively, but I looked at enough sites that I believe I have the general, common usage idea.)
I did not determine who the first person was to use the term, but I found multiple sources claiming it originated in the early 1980s. I found a handful of sites giving some in depth discussion of it, and my takeaway is that the PP-word is meant to describe photos/videos (esp) depicting people suffering poverty, usually taken and published without their consent, published usually without good contextual background information, and then most often used as a way of raising money – or sometimes “awareness.”
The photos are said to be exploitive in nature of the suffering of poor people. The poor featured there are often powerless to dictate any terms of usage, the people publishing them leverage money and legitimacy for themselves at the expense of the humiliation of the poor and powerless.
And you know what?
That does sound distasteful, alright. Maybe even exploitive. Definitely insensitive. It is humiliating to be poor; it’s all the more humiliating for your poverty to be paraded before the world.
Apparently, this phenom came under scrutiny with the rise of late-night infomercials of the early 1980s where a number of major international charitable organizations used photos and videos of impoverished people (usually in Africa) to raise awareness, to bring conviction, and to raise money for relief programs. Sometimes these images were staged too, not quite as real as they seemed, or taken out of context (in fact smearing the reputation of all of Africa as being impoverished).
Suddenly, you can imagine (and I recall the likes of Sam Kinison, no less, making jokes about it) a photographer featuring a starving child in a mud pit covered in flies and retaking the shot numerous times trying to get the right lighting effect. The photographer makes the child wait to eat food s/he brought to share until after the pose is captured, thus the child is teased mercilessly with the sight and smell of food while the photographer tortures him until he gets the most anguished facial expression to tug at your American heart and purse strings.
Yeah. That does seem problematic.
But I will tell you something else problematic about this: the PP-word.
Oh, it’s poverty alright, but porn?
And yet it’s the part of the term “porn” that puts the kick into the PP-word. That’s the real bite. That’s the part that shames the photographer and the publisher.
We have raised an awareness of potential exploitation alright, but not by use of the word “porn.” We raised that awareness by talking it out. We shamed it by calling it “porn.” Yet, calling porn “porn” doesn’t shame pornographers – and there’s a LOT more blatant exploitation going on there than in poverty!
Oh, I get it. I do. But when you use the PP-word, you suddenly conjure up the idea that well-meaning organizations and photographers fiendishly set out to exploit poor children for their image. And while there may be some instances, where some well-meaning people have done some harm, to negate all the good done by talking about, demonstrating, and publishing images with this kind of shame surely is not right either.
I remember Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with Robin Leach when I was a kid. Wanna talk about porn that isn’t really sexual? Talk about that! It was video designed, not for sexual arousal, but for greediness arousal! No one looks at poverty images and thinks, “Oh, yeah, BABY! Gimme some more o’ that!”
In fact, I read where someone connected 1985’s Live Aid concert to the PP-word. And, well, maybe that should be considered since Bob Geldof apparently, according to his biography, was sitting up late one night watching video of the famine in Ethiopia late one night and was so moved and deeply convicted by it that he started calling his musician friends and stirring up charity among all the rich and famous, chart-topping artists around the world to come together, record songs, and eventually put on a world-wide rock concert to raise relief funds to help!
Seriously, read his story; it’s fascinating.
And while it turns out, after all, that much of the money and awareness raised turned out to be a bust and didn’t actually help in the way Geldof had envisioned, we simply cannot blame all of that on the pictures he looked at which gave birth to so much conviction. Even more, we cannot call those pictures “porn.” Most of that is actually beside the point. Closely beside it, maybe even involved at certain points, but still not the point itself.
Fork in the Road Merges Back Together.
So far in this post, I have visited the PP-word in quite a revolutionarily different context than ANY I have found elsewhere, and in part because we took a tour through a fair bit of Bible and theology. We must return to that part of the discussion now and bring it to a new conclusion.
I doubt very much anyone has an addiction to the PP-word. Are you sneaking off with a copy of Bag Lady Buggies to masturbate? I bet more people flipped the channel to a different program that night Geldof chose to watch, and I doubt very much he thought of masturbating.
But he felt pity, compassion, and was moved as in his bowels (splognizomi – as the Greek Bible would call it). While more people felt repulsed, he was drawn to the images. Inside his guts, a feeling boiled up that maybe, just maybe, he could give something to the cause and help. He did, and it changed his life!
That simply is not porn, and to characterize it even remotely as such is to blow open a blasphemous worldview with your shame bating. Something very near to holy happens in that, not porn.
There may be a fine line between the image of my wife in my own eyes appealing to me with sexual arousal and the same kind of image involving someone else. But when the first humans in Genesis 1 were created in God’s image, that was the image they bore. A delicate image, fragile and requiring great care. So easily abused.
But I hinted above that the image of Jesus naked on a Roman cross also bears the image of God, and that one is hard to look at. Some are drawn to look, to ponder, to be moved in the bowels there by what they see, but more often it is a repulsive sight.
I was flipping channels back in 2014 one day and happened onto CNN covering a scene where some ISIS warriors had rounded up Christians and crucified them in the town square. I saw it early in the news cycle before the editors sanitized it, and I was mortified.
Me. A Christian who has looked at Christ crucified before my eyes, as St. Paul presents him, many times in my meditative life, suddenly was confronted with brothers and sisters I never met tacked to crosses dying in the public square, and I was stunned in horror.
But the good folx at CNN quickly decided that suffering image was just too much suffering porn or something, so they blurred it when it cycled around again.
The thing is, though, it’s not really an image of poverty. It’s not a lack of money and finance pictured there, it’s the image of a suffering God who loves us and forgives us even as we turn our backs on him. It’s a lack of our love for him we see in those PP-word images. It’s the image of his abundant love for us. It’s something far too holy to call porn, to call evil.
So, there. Next time you want to shame someone with the PP-word, think on these things first.
*(Not really. I don’t honestly care if you say “poverty porn,” but surely by now you understand that I will not be intimidated by it.)
Oh… and here’s the centerfold from the Bag Lady Buggies magazine. You would probably appreciate it more for the articles than the photos, though.
Let me break this down in the simplest terms possible, and even still you can’t cope. You can’t understand it. But it’s an immutable fact. You can’t love someone you shoot at. If you are shooting at them, you aren’t loving them.
(This is not the same as speech! You can criticize, bluntly and tactfully argue, maybe even insult a person you love (though the act may not be a loving act), but shooting someone with a gun, a weapon designed to kill, is different.)
Let me just say something to you conservative types which is just gonna go right over your head no matter how slowly and loudly I say it for you. You don’t love your neighbor and the “God” you love, if you are his representative, doesn’t love you either.
I’m not stupid, and really you aren’t THAT stupid either. If a gun is pointed in my face, I ain’t feeling the love! Neither are you.
Perfect love casts out fear! Guns cast fear in, not out. Guns are not loving. But God is love.
No doubt there are hidden blessings in the pandemic. Every now and again some come to light and make the news. One I find important is how business as usual has come to a grinding halt. Our arrogant system needed a dose of humility!
I am not saying that the new normal is a blessing, but the end of the old one is. And now that we are at the cusp, the end of one age and the beginning of another, now that it is clear rules are changing, we also can recognize the potential for correcting some old ways.
Repent! The kingdom of God is near!!!
The Newspaper in One Hand
Where do all those free test kits, free treatments, and free stimulus checks come from? None of that was freely given two years ago, but it is now (or has been recently). But it’s not free. Someone pays. Someone who didn’t before because the old ways dictated otherwise. Suddenly, what was impossible before has become possible and has happened!
And we were trapped in the old ways. No one could imagine such free needful things made available before, but the very preservation of the human race has come into question, dropping the price of many needed things so steeply and suddenly that the imagination can now be set free too. As Neo would say, “Free your mind!”
Oh… there are these rising prices too. Yes, yes, there are.
Yeah. This free stuff doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Truth is starvation is a you/them problem, not a me/us. Virus, though…. That is an all of us problem from the very top to the very bottom. Not equally, of course, but if left unchecked, it will get everyone. Those bunkers in New Zealand are all the proof I need of that.
Hey. We need to change gears here from the newspaper in one hand to the Bible in the other, but before we do, let me just stretch your imagination just a little bit more. If – IF – if the United States descends into civil war again, as several headlines are apt to ponder anymore, well we won’t be the big boy on the block after that. I don’t think most of my Texan neighbors have the capacity to imagine that far out, but they need to start now!
My Texas neighbors like to say, “Everything is bigger in Texas.” Our collective imagination is stunted right there, but somehow we have managed to con much of the rest of the world with this nonsense too. When I was in college, though, a buddy of mine took an internship in Alaska. When they found out he was from Texas, the Alaskans told him they were thinking about splitting Alaska in two and making Texas the third biggest state in the nation! They laughed in his face.
It was a jarring idea for my buddy. Not that the Alaskans are apt to do that, but if they were, this is just a true thing. The mere mention of it was humiliating to my Texan buddy.
Unlike 150 years ago, today, if the US descends into Civil War, we will be so weakened that other great nations like China, Russia, and India will be only too glad to come help us keep the peace!
Why do I mention that?
Because as Christians, we have a job to be salt and light in our culture. I don’t see Chinese, Russian, or Indian peace as any less or more godly than American (I don’t know how to evaluate that), but I certainly see Civil War as less. I also think it is time all Americans get their imaginations expanded. This is but one marker which might help reorient our imaginations to the possibilities which are only possible with God.
Now to the Bible in the Other Hand.
This old world was created and ordered originally by YHWH, God. His order was real peace which humans rejected, and still reject. We pray for it, and we reject it. That’s what we do. In fact, Christians are the ones doing both, because most of the world isn’t really praying for it. But we all reject it.
At the center of that good creation ordered by YHWH is the image of God. When the creation sees the image of God, then all is right. When the image is not seen, things get out of whack. And the creation groans and yearns for the revelation of the image of God in his children.
Those first humans were created in God’s image, male and female. They were created sexual and naked. Naked and vulnerable. Vulnerable and trusting. Trusting and dependent. Dependent and peaceful.
These are attributes of the image bearers, and thus attributes of God.
Jesus takes up the reign, the dominion, the Adam rejected when he takes up a Roman cross, and they strip him naked and beat him mercilessly as he loves his tormenters.
Hmmm… no wonder we reject God’s peace in favor for fake peace. It’s a tall order, a high bar set humiliatingly low, but still too high! Naked trust and utter dependence sounds anything but American. It also sounds too hard to imagine.
But suddenly, in just the last two years, so much has become absolutely free. Someone found it too small a price to pay to provide massive healthcare and financial benefits – totally upending everything Capitalist. It won’t last, of course, but not because it’s communist; it won’t last because it’s not LOVE.
The image of God is the image of LOVE – self-sacrificial love.
I am asking you, dear reader, to imagine a world with no money. Not trading in salt either, though. But one trading in image bearing love.
When you see a human on the side of the road in need, that is a person made in the image of God. You don’t restore the image in that person or yourself by teaching them to make bricks or kick an addiction (though those things might be involved – MIGHT be). You restore the image in that person when you love them, and when they respond in love, in trust, in interdependence, and peace.
If I am really honest here (and I am), I may as well come clean and tell you that my prophetic ministry boils down, pretty much, to just a well-placed gripe. I am a loser with a losing mission. (Sounds rather Republican’t of me, I reckon.) America glutted herself for another holiday and sacrificed nothing for peace on earth, and my blog, my work, my words managed to achieve no measurable difference in the world.
Oh, did it cause a hiccup in your selfish ambitions for about five minutes?
Okay. So, it did THAT.
So happy I could be “thought provoking.”
Fact is I think everything I just said is true, right, and accurate – nothing but the truth. But maybe it’s not quite the whole truth.
Let’s look closer and set appearances in a worthwhile context before we pass judgement too quickly. Allow me a moment of self-assessment. Not particularly objective, of course, but honest and humble.
I learned early, as a young, white boy, that old, white men tend to gripe a lot. I remember thinking at age 16 how I didn’t want to grow up and be a muttering old man. I have revisited the notion many times over the years as it seems I gravitate there. Nobody wants a grumpy old man around always repeating the same old stories, wishing for the old days, pessimistic about “kids these days” – all that.
Thanx to Baby Boomers especially, we (I’m GenX) now don’t trust anyone over 30 and thwart almost all authority. And if you ain’t got two dimes to rub together, then no one cares what you think; you are dead weight.
And somehow, I cast my lot with those who don’t have two dimes! I sense I have already expended my “potential” on them and look where it got me! I am a muttering old man, griping all the time.
But not the whole story.
I speak for God. He is the ultimate author. Not the original gangsta; he is the original authority all the ganstas rebelled against. Long before no one listened to me, they were already not listening to him. Seriously! Just open your Bible and start reading. Whole swaths and chapters appear to be meaningless babel, the mutterings of an old God, out of touch with the sales at Dillards or Macys – and thus out of touch with the world today.
I did say “appear to be meaningless… mutterings…”
That’s at either first glance or with a half-hearted look. Again, not the whole story. But enough of the story – enough of the appearance – that even well-trained ministers look for ways to “make” or “keep” it “relevant.”
A well-placed gripe.
Honestly, if that really was all I have here, I would be in good company with Pink Floyd and Metallica. In fact, with about 85% of all good rock-n-roll music, for that matter. So much of the good music out there appears so very artful, skillful… poetic at pointing out what is wrong, and sometimes even who is to blame. But they rarely even try to offer alternative solutions, and when they do, they either aim really low or they turn words like “love” into mush trying to be relevant.
“All we need is love… love is all we need.”
But as it is, I am just an old white guy, getting older, muttering more and more, and easily confused with other old white men, sour about wasting the potential they thought they would have realized by now since they are the demographic at the top of the social Foodchain.
Christmas is over. Whew! A lot of fun. Yes, but a lot of work too. And at my age, you don’t realize how much work until it’s clean up time. Then it hits ya. I had stamina for the fun, but it ran out just as the holiday ran out. But I wake up the next day, and WHOA!
We got so much food!
We got so much clothing!
We got so much trash!
I just want to order a pizza delivered and do that for supper even though I have a fridge so full you have to adjust the milk jug to get the door to close.
Why? Because I gotta do dishes just to eat, and then when I am done, I gotta wash those dishes. And I haven’t got the wrapping paper hauled out yet. The laundry is piling up, and I still haven’t got the leaves raked yet this year. And that’s not counting all the toys, the new toys, you gotta step over on your way to the bathroom! Each one makes a noise, has a light or two, and comes with small pieces and action figures that detach and feel good to step on if you fail to step over them!
And we still have last year’s toys underneath this layer!
I sure hope Jesus felt celebrated for his birthday.
I sure hope I didn’t teach selfishness to my kids despite all the songs and words about Jesus and “the reason for the season.”
All that shopping I did for everyone….
Wow! Ain’t that a hoot? Ya load up, you get into the mall or the shop and suddenly see all manner of things you want for yourself. It takes two paydays to get it all bought, and three trips before I can discipline myself enough to make purchases for everyone else.
If you read my previous two posts leading up to this Christmas Day, the backdrop would help fill in the picture for you. If not, I expect this post will just sound really, really weird to ya.
So… It’s Christmas morning now. Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners (currently filled – and I mean FILLED – with orphans) had a Santa Claus, Christmas glut of toys, bonanza, holiday celebration. (Actually, I am surprised at how reserved our glut is this year, yet no one seems to notice since the gifts are extra exciting this time.)
My point there is two-fold. One, it’s at least marginally confessional. While our abundance of self-indulgence seems to have backed off at least a little, this year, we still are doing our American cultural duty of jamming the dumpster with trash! Secondly, the traditional morning celebration (the part that focuses specifically on kids) is largely done now. We are moving on to the playing with new toys part.
It’s these slow moments where my mind and heart moves to those “OUT THERE” and not in here.
I take a moment to walk out my front door in the Christmas cold and look this way and that down my very white, firmly established, middle-class neighborhood – overwhelmed with “Christians” (as opposed to Buddhists, Muslims, or Hindus and the like). I would hazard to guess that 99.5% of the homes in this neighborhood celebrate Christmas as some form of family tradition whether they be devout in faith or completely lax.
And I see all these attractive entryways and front doors. A few with double doors. Most with some ornate glass or carved wood. Most tend to be adorned with foliage and holiday decorations. Nearly all of them feature a “welcome mat” and/or some kind of welcome sign – as does mine.
I look at all of this and wonder: What might make my home stand out as a true welcome, as opposed to sheer decoration?
Do you remember the opening scenes from the 1998 film version of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables? The one with Liam Neeson?
The movie truncates the book, leaving whole chapters on the editing room floor, of course, but the way it opens follows Valjean trying to sleep on a park bench in the village square when the old woman (almost like a Greek oracle) pokes him with her cane, startling him and ordering him not to sleep there. She tells him to find someone to take him in. He rebuts saying he already tried everywhere. She points with her cane to the door of the bishop and says, “You didn’t try there. Knock on that door.”
I know already, that homeless people walking the streets, rarely venture up my street. (I have seen them here before, but it’s been years and always was rare.) But if (WHAT IF?) a street vagrant were to come strolling by on Christmas morning passing all these welcome mats and signs which don’t – and I mean DON”T – apply to him/her, how would this person know to come to my door?
I have wondered this many times in fact, but on Christmas morning when the loneliness of homelessness is most acute, I feel it too.
Maybe I could put one of those home-made cardboard box placards that look like “garage sale two blocks ->” and it would substitute for the old woman/Greek oracle. Of course, I might quickly earn the scorn of my “Christian” neighborhood too.
I might post my placard right next to the Neighborhood Watch sign in the flowers. That should make a multilayered statement.
Maybe there’s another way. Something a little more Peace-on-earth-ish.
If you have any ideas, I would love for you to leave me a comment.
This being a traditional Christmas post on the blog, I hope one day an angel will answer the invitation and knock at this door. Everything below is copied from the Christmas Tradition blog post:
It’s Christmas Eve now. A night filled with expectation. Expectation of God. Expectation of LOVE. The candles lit, the stockings hung, the Christ-child is in his manger, and all through the house… not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse.
This is Christmas – ground zero.
Camp Jesus: Ground Zero
And my heart hurts for anyone who (like that celebrated Mother and Child of old) does not have a home to be in tonight. For anyone who is not with their family.
I really want you here with me, celebrating. We have a fire. We have some hot chocolate. There is room for one more.
It might be meager, but if you ain’t too proud, you can fit in here.
I am thinking of you just now, as the flames burn low and dim the light on mistletoe. I pray that like that child in a manger when there was no room in the inn, God comes into our world and expresses himself though you tonight. I pray that through your lonely suffering, we all see God and open our hearts to let you in.
It’s a cold, hard world out there. And as soon as we learn to let you in, that can change (Rev. 3:20). And then maybe, just maybe, we will have peace on earth and good will toward men (and women).
May the shepherds find you. And if not the crew, then may the Good Shepherd come to your aid tonight. I pray your heart open toward him. I pray he bring his Christmas miracle into your life. I pray you are humble in his presence and can see it and receive it. I pray you be healed. And I pray our hearts be made soft toward you.
Merry Christmas… to those of you who are OUT THERE tonight.
We are getting down to that time of year when posting on the blog is almost sheer vanity. Who really reads this stuff NOW? Well, thanx to a couple of people, I am not at a complete zero, but as we near Christmas Ground Zero, I expect the majority of both my readers have other – better – things to do than to read here.
My writing is not professional at all. (A draw to some, a turn off to most.) I have offers from WordPress and other advertisers all the time to help me make this better. If I was writing for Eerdmans or Zondervan I probably would want to clean it up more, but since this is Fat Beggars, I would rather you wrestle the angel to find something worthwhile here.
Since this is Fat Beggars, the vast majority of my published posts deal directly or indirectly with homelessness – a topic which sounds all warm and fuzzy going into the holiday season, but once we reach ground zero, it’s a topic we like conveniently to forget. (Did I just spare a split infinitive here? I’m gonna have to edit those back in later.)
I think I need to write a post (or two) about how I came into homeless ministry. In fact, I might like to ask other bloggers (those who specialize in outreach to the homeless) to write about their draw into this field. That might be interesting; it might be dull too though. But I would like to find such information compiled somewhere.
I’m not sure exactly where it started for me. I think of several little seeds planted in me waiting years to sprout and culminate in the garden of homeless ministry I am and have been involved with for the last decade (+). A couple of those seeds were planted in childhood, I think, and one of them was a game played at Christmas time called “musical chairs.”
I think it was when I was in the first grade. My parents hosted a Christmas party for the teenagers from church. (Few churches in those days had legit “youth groups” as I understand them today, but informally, a lot of attention was given to the work, which culminated in that party on that occasion.) However, it was so long ago now, that I think it might have been a New Year’s Eve party with Christmas decorations still up.
Whatever the case, my sister and I were the youngest people there, though the average age was probably 15. The house was full, and Dad had activities planned all through the night including breakfast at midnight (as I recall). However, I would participate for the earlier activities, and Mom would whisk my sister and I away shortly after the New Year.
And it was a blitz of activities and games! Most of them I never heard of before that night. Some I joined, some I didn’t. But that game of “musical chairs” struck a raw nerve with me I never, to my recollection, voiced before.
You kinda gotta put yourself in the six/seven-year-old shoes to understand this. I was as dazzled by all the pretty girls and fun and fruit punch and games as all the other kids, but when playing a game as physical as this one, it immediately became clear I was not able to compete. My face barely rose above the butt in front of me! I was no match to be muscled out of the way when the music stopped. I didn’t have a chance without someone showing me some grace, which would mean sacrificing the game on their part.
When I think of Christmas and homelessness today, I think of that little learning experience. The holiday is full of fun and cheer and laughter and good will. I even was invited to play in the reindeer games! But when we got to Christmas Ground Zero, there wasn’t a chair for me. I was squeezed out.
I encourage you, if you don’t have small children to attend to this Christmas, try this little proph-O-drama on for size.
Leave the house after supper on Christmas Eve. Bundle up, okay, but walk out and don’t stop walking until you are tired. Real tired of walking. THEN, once you are really tired, start looking for a place to rest. A place where you won’t be run off. A place where you can keep relatively warm and dry. A place near a bathroom facility in case that should become necessary.
I bet you will start remembering my scenario above. Like “musical chairs” and butts in your face, this place to rest is going to be hard to come by MOST LIKELY.
Once you find it, get in it and hunker down. Spend the night there.
I bet you will wonder why you are there at all.
You will feel the impulse OVERWHELM you to just get up and go home. Let it wash over you, but fight it. Resist and stay.
Deep in the night as you struggle to find rest, you will begin thinking of all those people, those oceans of people, who have some place to be in warm beds with dreams of sugar plumbs and Santa’s visit.
Then in the morning, get up and walk around town. Walk past the shops all closed up for Christmas morning. See all the festive decorations and the litter of holiday celebration for which you are no longer a part. The world is a ghost town, and you are the ghost haunting it.
Walk through your own neighborhood, past home after home with smoke billowing out the chimney knowing that inside those people have a musical seat you are not indulging, that you are not welcome into their little “peace on earth” they pray for at the Christmas liturgy and the candles they light. Not you.
Walk past and FEEL the loneliness of it.
And when you do, then kneel down in the snow and pray.
Tell God you know how he feels in your Christmas celebrations.
These are among the most dangerous words a person is likely to utter their whole life.
Of course, without some context, they appear quite tame. So, let’s set them in a dangerous context before we move on.
No doubt you’ve heard of “jail-house religion.” It’s a phenom I really don’t need to describe – except for those just entirely uninitiated. It’s akin to the notion of “no atheists in foxholes.” When life gets tough, people naturally start praying. (This is a good place to point out that if your prayer life seems a little stale, perhaps you need to embrace a bit more risk.)
It’s not all about the fear, though that is almost always involved. It also becomes manipulative. I am old enough to remember Burt Reynolds in his comedy hit The End, where he contemplates suicide swimming out into the ocean as far as he can go only to change his mind once he is very far from shore. Then he turns back bargaining with God to save his life, and the closer he gets to shore, the less he really wants to devote to God. As long as he was out in the deep, he was completely committed, but as it appeared he might be in control, his commitment waned proportionately. (It was funny when Reynolds did, but no laughing matter when you discover it in your real life.)
Yeah. So, you get to jail where your life is no longer your own, and you find it easy to give it all to Jesus. But upon release, it’s suddenly hard to keep that robust faith you once had. And when it comes to prisoners, the rest of us find this phenom contemptuous, and so we label it “jail-house religion” even though to varying degrees, we all struggle with it.
Few outreach ministries are as ripe for abuse and manipulation as prison ministry, but street ministry and foreign missions (especially in poverty-stricken places) sometimes compete. And that same contempt comes raging up like “Jack’s bile.” Not every needy/convict tries it (or necessarily even thinks of it), but someone in nearly every group gives it a shot sooner or later and puts the squeeze on the outreach ministers saying, “I want to go to Bible school.”
These words suddenly start opening doors of opportunity. The outreach ministers love to hear these words. There is so much potential packed up in that like a stick of dynamite. Meanwhile, this lowly needy person/convict will get special attention, maybe even favors, as they strive for this lofty goal.
But, of course, your more experienced outreach ministers will have been there/done that before and will say more often than not, that potential is squandered eventually, and along with it, all that favor and attention they invest. After all, upon release, so often that jail-house religion dies a sudden death, even when it previously was expressed with lofty words like “I want to go to Bible school.”
What are the odds?
I don’t know. But if you did a real, bona fide survey and found out the vast majority of lowly people in a jam expressing this desire wind up fizzling out before they enter Bible school, I would believe it. Though the dynamic is not the same, there is enough similarity (I think) to point out just now that once Jesus healed ten lepers (needy people in a jam???) only to be thanked later by one. By only ONE! THANKED!!!
I expect that a lot of the same spirit in that is at work in “jail-house religion” too.
But let me just say this about all of that:
Jesus does not in any way suggest his healing of the other nine was a waste or that he regrets it. On the contrary, it seems that God’s love is like an overflowing cup. There is more abundance there than the world even wants. But he is not stingy with it. He may well acknowledge that it’s a shame the other nine don’t return to give thanx and praise God, but he does not warn us against healing too much.
I have experience with this kind of thing myself from varying angles. I too once said, “I want to go to Bible school.” I was one of those risky, even pesky, people. In fact, as I recall, the little church I attended when I made that decision had two of us in their ranks. The other young man had come from a life in motorcycle gangs, and we were about the same age. He was the first to say he wanted to go, but like me he had spent more than a year in this church behaving like a devoted new convert.
I watched the church pull together for him, praise his decision, honor it, pool resources (including money) to help him, and the preaching minister greased the gears for him to get into his alma mater, set him up with contacts, all that stuff. I was sure impressed! But one semester in, and our young minister-in-training managed to get his girlfriend pregnant, and the whole thing collapsed.
Less than a year later, I was making the same decision, and even despite the fact that I had begun taking leadership roles in our congregation, I found myself at odds with our preacher who chose not to endorse me for entrance to school, on the contrary, he called the school to warn them about me.
So, I showed up under every kind of academic and disciplinary probation they could muster without refusing me, and I left there graduating top of my class! (This story is one of many reasons I don’t use my real name here; I have others like it too.)
While I was in school, two of my closest friends and mentors were students ahead of me in the program(s) who had come from prison years before. They too had found religion in jail, only they were more like that one healed leper who came back to Jesus to say thanx with the rest of their lives devoted to his service. When I finished school, I joined a prison “after-care” ministry where I helped two more men transition into free-world life who also went to Bible school and ministry.
I write this blog as one with up-close and personal experience with these dangerous words, asking the world to treat them with care, not contempt. For that matter, I find that many, many, many convicts return to prison two or three more times in their lives, sometimes for the rest of their lives, and that “jail-house religion” sometimes finds staying power in return trips where it seems to have failed the first time.
It suggests to me that if it takes two or three times to reach a person, God will do that, and we should take care not to scorn his patient work!