Thursday, November 30, 2006

Is Homelessness Wrong?

Wild Willie, my anonymous random blogger who can be found posting on this site , asked the question, “Is it wrong to be homeless?” Well, first it depends on what we mean when we say “wrong.” Do we mean is it immoral? Sinful? Is it undesirable? Unsavory? Unacceptable socially? Wrong can mean different things, and I think that there are many answers, and I’ll give my best stab at a couple of them.

I don’t think it is a sin to be homeless, with sin being my definition of “wrong”. I do think that sin usually causes and sustains homelessness, whether that sin is personal, societal, familial, or a combination of those and more. People can end up on the streets because of their addictions (this is personal sin, which is often a response to numb the pain from familial or societal sin). People can end up on the streets because of mental disability (mental illness is a result of the Fall and also a societal sin of not caring well for the sick). People can end up on the streets because they lost their job or had a financial emergency and do not have the same financial safety net that I might have through family and friends (this is a result of societal sin, where wealth is predominantly concentrated among the few). People can end up on the streets because they just don’t want any rules in their life (which I think is a sign of rebellion in their spirit, which leads to rebellion against God’s authority, which is the root of sin). Children can be homeless because their parents have one of the above conditions (this is a combo of all of those above). Teens can be homeless because they are running from family or life (this is a result of their sin, familial sin, and more).

However, I have not met a homeless adult who said, “You know, the whole living in a house thing just wasn’t for me. So one day I decided to just give it all up and become homeless, because it seemed like a good idea.” (Homeless teens have sometimes given me that response, though I am not 100% certain that they believe that themselves). Certainly there are homeless now who remain in that position by choice – there are no rules, ultimate freedom (if freedom is defined as “being able to do what you want to do when you want to do it”, which I think is a poor definition of freedom). They may remain homeless by choice because they have given up hoping for anything else. They may remain homeless by choice because they are not yet sick and tired of being sick and tired. They have carved out a life for themselves on the street, and they like it that way.

Societally we do have a mentality that people should work for what they get, and we tend to not see panhandling as work, and so when we see someone with a “homeless, please help” sign on the side of the road, we tend to think that this is wrong. I don’t think that it is wrong in the sense of sinful, but is it God’s ultimate hope and plan? I just don’t know about that. It seems that we have been created with more dignity than what I see written on the faces of the homeless panhandlers – there is shame there, there is a feeling of not being productive, there is a feeling of being judged and looked down on, and work is a part of living out that dignity. Work is a good thing, given by God as part of what we do as humans.

Of course not all homeless panhandle. Some have jobs that just don’t pay living wage (societal sin); some scrape enough money to get by collecting cans and recycling them and provide just what they need. Homelessness has many more faces than I once thought, and it’s not just the people under bridges. It’s also the family that I know who has not lived in their own place in four years, and they have lived in at least 7 different places in the last two.

So is homelessness wrong? Yes. I think that it is wrong that there are people sleeping under bridged and in cars. I think that it is wrong that there is a homeless veteran in a motorized wheelchair who lives behind a gas station here. Homelessness is a sign of the brokenness of our world, of the lack of shalom (God’s peace and right living) all over our cities. A person is not in sin because they are homeless, but they are often homeless as the result of sin and brokenness, both in their own heart and life and from the sin and brokenness heaped on them by others.

I could be wrong. I’m not expert. Those are simply my two cents.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

They're Still Out There

Last night I had the chance to go out on Nightwatch again with the Salvation Army. In Nightwatch we visit various places where homeless people live in the city and take them some hot food, coffee, a blanket, and pray with them. We climbed under a lot of bridges and had the chance to talk with about 20 people and pray with each of them. Around 2:00 am (we started at 8:00 pm), I came home and got into bed, and a nagging thought has stayed with me from then until now – “They’re still out there.”

As I woke up at 10:00 this morning and went to take a nice hot shower, I thought, “They’re still out there.”

As I watched UNC beat State in football, I thought, “They’re still out there.”

They’re still out there – each of the men that we prayed with and gave food to are still sleeping outside on the street. One was sleeping in the front doorway of my church – we had spoken with him at about 8:30 pm, and saw him sleeping, somehow, on the concrete at 2:00 am in the cold night. There were men sleeping on pipes suspended beneath the bridges, men sleeping in abandoned trailers, men in church doorways, men on foam mattresses beneath highways, men in a shed behind a local business.

Sure, it’s nice that we gave them a warm hat and blanket and prayed with them. It’s nice that 5 Christians gave up their Friday night to do some good deeds. But for the rest of that night, and the rest of that week, those guys are still out there. And I don’t know what to do with that.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bearing Fruit

As I was praying through some Scripture this morning, a verse lept out at me in a new way. The passage was Colossians 1:10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

As I prayed through verse 10, it struck me that Paul does not say "bearing the fruit of every good work." Isn't that how we usually view service to the Lord - fruit equals what I do and my works? "A tree is known by its fruit," we say, "and the fruit for a Christian is what we do."

But Paul tells us that in the midst of doing good works (which God has created us to do and prepared for us in advance, according to Ephesians 2:10), we are to baer fruit. And this gets down to the issue of the heart - when I am serving someone, am I bearing love and kindness, or am I bearing self-righteousness and duty. When I am taking time from my everyday life and want to focus on God's Kingdom and love people in hard places, am I bearing the fruit of joy or the fruit of joyless service?

GAL 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

These are the things to bear in the midst of good works. It is so easy as Christians to think that the works are the most important thing, no matter the attitude or heart. Discipline, sacrifice, cross-bearing are important concepts in many evangelical circles. And yet Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that to do works without bearing the fruit of love makes us a gong or a cymbal, makes our works impotent. To divorce the concepts of sacrifice and discipline from the fruit of the Spirit (rather than having those empowered and enabled by the Spirit) is to regress into being people under law, not the freedom of Christ.

May we, you and I, be a people who do not grow weary in doing good, and as we do good, may we bear the fruit of the Spirit, that God might be glorified and seen, not our works themselves.