(Disclaimer: Think of this post like that proverbial trainer on the first day of your first job after graduation who tells you, “Forget everything you learned in school.” If I could go back and rewrite my education, knowing what I know now….)
If I were writing a “philosophy of ministry” paper for school today, I would entitle it: Make the Homeless Think They Are NOT Homeless. Basically, if they don’t already know it, don’t tell them. If they do, offer them an alternate reality in which maybe they forget it. Invite them to be celebrated by Jesus.
Here is one of the key differences in the approach to ministry advocated here at Fat Beggars and nearly all other outreach ministries I know of, read about, or have experienced: Worship. We party like it’s not really the devil’s world.
Almost two decades ago, now, I read that little book by Tony Campolo, The Kingdom of God is a Party. Campolo, a good Baptist, finds himself studying Deuteronomy 14, a passage on tithing, and notices the use to which God puts the money collected is a party. One tenth of Israel’s gross national product goes up in smoke, like incense or prayers of the saints, in a flash as it is used for a giant party. Every three years, the guests of honor are the poor and needy (the widows, orphans, and sojourners).
We celebrate God in the world by celebrating God in his image bearers – in one another, and in so doing, he celebrates us!
This is counterintuitive, it seems, since all the charity services today want to raise money and not waste it. In fact, there is a deep and abiding concern that if you give money to the bum, they will use it for booze and waste the alms – that precious money. Such giving is just “enabling.”
Nearly every other ministry effort I know of wants to start off biblical but finds it necessary to supplement God’s word with such “worldly wisdom” as we aim to remake the poor into the independent, the rich, the no-longer-needy. There may be sensitivity training regarding labels (please don’t call “them” names like “bums” or “tramps” which are so disempowering). Don’t even use terms like “homeless” either, but instead say “people suffering homelessness.” Oh… and don’t say “them” either.
Yeah. That’s psychology and political correctness, not Bible.
I don’t mean to sound like I am against sensitivity. I’m not. But such training brings conviction into the trainee at the expense of bending reality the wrong direction unnoticed. At that point the training sets out to address employment. “Those people” need a job. That is the endgame. The goal is to get them “gainfully employed.”
“Must make bricks” was Pharaoh’s method of dealing with God’s people; Moses, though, insisted they take a three-day journey into the wilderness so they could celebrate God! (There is a difference.)
What are the obstacles to gainful employment? These are considered root causes of poverty which the training will now address “effectively.” This line of thinking gives way to “ministry” that addresses addiction, job training, education, anger management, and the like in philosophies of psychology and addiction recovery (worldly wisdom).
Of course, things like feeding the hungry are part of this process, but they are incidental and temporal. The charity service offers food, showers, phones and internet, clothes, and sometimes shelter and medical care, but the idea is to ween the needy off these services quickly. Thus, they treat these basic needs as incidental and impersonal. Prayer and worship are decoration.
Here, “person suffering homelessness,” take a number, stand in this line, get a bowl of gruel; take a number, stand in that line, take a shower. Use of the computer for job searches is available on Tuesdays between 2:30 and 3:00 on a first-come basis, so don’t be late to get in that line too. Attend a worship service and take our anger management class and get your card punched or else you cannot receive a locker to store your belongings.
It’s all impersonal and manipulative as we seek to remake the poor in our image. We count it a success if and when this needy person goes away “gainfully employed.”
In such a ministry model, the philosophy which says, “Feed a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for life,” is the real philosophy. It’s not found in the Bible. And not only that, but it is more honestly restated as, “Feed a man a fish, and you get him to stay; teach a man to fish to make him go away [so you can feel good about yourself].”
Contrast this with the work we do at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners. Currently we host children – homeless kids ripped away from their pulverized families by CPS. We got ours young, and so they know no other life than what we provide them. Even though Mrs. Agent X and I have explained to them that they have biological parents “out there,” they functionally think I am their “Pops,” and my wife is their “Mama.”
In every other sense, we raise them as if they were ours, as if they are wanted here, as if this is their home – which it is in a yet bigger reality – a reality we cling to as well.
What does any of this have to do with pancakes? What are “dark meat pancakes,” and how does that explain anything?
(Thanx for asking.)
Well, in one sense – in fact in the biggest sense – nothing.
I just thought of this philosophy of ministry, and how to present it while making pancakes with the kids.
Here’s the thing: my four-year-old and five-year-old both love to “help” with all manner of household chores (except those involving cleaning up, of course), and making pancakes for breakfast is a favorite! We can, and sometimes do, prepare frozen, premade pancakes or get them from McDonalds, which also is a special treat. But making them, flipping them in the skillet, is always a thrill.
Making pancakes at home is not a precise science – not for me anyway. Making them with kids gets a little exciting, but definitely not precise. We find that a few of our pancakes are white meat (if not gooey in the middle), but many of them get a little dark.
My kids, some days, find their biggest challenge is to eat a “dark meat pancake.”
Think about that.
My kids are all recovering addicts, born addicted to horrible drugs. They suffer developmental delays, and one of the kids is medicated to help control his behavior. Another child, I recently discovered, lost his biological father “out there” when he died from overdose. Yet they give no thought to any of that. Meanwhile, the core of our ministry is the celebration of life, the celebration of God IN each other, as manifest in making and eating pancakes.
Getting up, getting an education, learning self-discipline, and growing up are the incidentals in our home. They are important, but not the core. The core is love, celebration, belonging. The core is being WANTED here. And without that, none of the rest makes sense.
With it, the hard part of life is getting stuck with a dark meat pancake. (But hey! At least it’s shaped like a Mickey Mouse face!)