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Archive for the ‘Homeless’ Category

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Much of the discussion around social justice is centered on reaching and loving the poor. Of all the mandates in Scripture, the poor are the front and center in the law and in the commands of Jesus. I get that. I have had many conversations around this with friends and family. And our first response is typically the idea of participating in some organization that feeds the homeless, or serve at a soup kitchen. These established ministries are needed, wanted, and serve to transform my own heart as much as they reach those who are homeless. And when we think of the poor, the first thing that typically, but not always, comes to mind is the idea of financial poverty. But is poverty deeper than that?

I live in the burbs. I live in a upper, middle class community in the suburbs of Sacramento. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is where my Father has me at the moment. I’ve contemplated leaving many times but sensed the call to stay. My home is fairly new and it is common to see Hummers, BMWs, and Mercedes passing my house. And the temptation is to pass by these people and miss a different type of poverty, one that I think leaves as many scars on the soul as anything a homeless person could experience. This is the poverty of that comes from gaining the whole world but losing our soul.

In the burbs, we find people who have gained the whole world, or at least the American version of it. We’ve arrived, so they say, but found that somehow, someway, they raised the bar on us. We have the house, the minvan, the perfect kids, the dog and the vacation to Hawaii in the summer, but approval is now the next rung up. Love moved just beyond our grasp. And once we’ve attained each rung, we find that the promise leaves us more empty than we can imagine. We’re not happy. We’re bored. Now we know that we aren’t satisfied and there’s nothing left to do but try to continue up the ladder. Stuff can’t answer the questions of the soul. We try…but eventually find out it doesn’t work.

The empty faces line up at my daughters school hoping that they’ve arrived correctly, driven correctly and coifed correctly. The crowd provides a scant approval, leaving us to wonder what the hell we did wrong. We can’t abandon it because its comfortable. It’s nice. And the wallpaper on our prison cell is a nice floral print we got at Home Depot.

I use to be in this situation. For ten years I chased the American dream and some would say attained it. I was successful, lived in a killer house in a killer neighborhood that people talked about. I was financially wealthy and…broken inside. What surprised me about wealth is that it didn’t answer one fundamental question. Am I loved? Some of the happiest people I’ve met are poor. And some of the saddest people I’ve met are incredibly wealthy.

And this brings me to my real point. It’s actually quite easy to go down and serve the homeless or at a soup kitchen. We can arrive with our lattes and leave when we want to. We’re in control and can look like a hero. But loving our neighbor next door, when every time he looks at us with an angry stare, is another matter. Our neighbor isn’t likely to leave tomorrow, meaning we have to love over a long period of time. Our flaws are likely to show and then we’re no longer the hero. We’re simply human called to love. And the question isn’t which is better. The question is, where God is calling us to? And what if God is calling us right back to the space we find ourselves in? What if God is calling us to address the poor right next door?

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A Child Can Love

I haven’t written in a while and I miss it. But I want to recount something that made me think about the journey of love and that even a child can love.

Recently I joined a friend in serving at a soup kitchen. My family has been talking about this for a long time and the opportunity finally came up. The kitchen is called “The Upper Room”. It serves low income families in the Placerville area. Anyone can come and they provide a fairly good hot meal and a second take home meal for anyone that wants one. I talked to my wife about it and we made the decision to take my children and allow them the opportunity to love with us. My children are 5, 8, and 10 so it was somewhat of a risk but we both felt that they could handle it. We’d at least give it one shot and see what happened.

On the way to the kitchen my son fell asleep in the car. Normally this isn’t a big deal but he doesn’t wake up very easily and usually needs 10-15 minutes to really wake up. Wake him up early and he’s not happy. We got there and there were more people to help than there were people waiting to eat. To be honest I didn’t want to cause any stir so I politely offered to go home and fill in next time. But it was obvious God wanted us there. My friend Brandon insisted we stay and he was actually a little frustrated because we were told this was the day to help. Somebody forgot to tell someone something.

We ended up staying and basically it was a little crazy Volunteers were looking for opportunities and it still felt a little crowded. As things began to hum, my wife and I stood back and held my son who was not still not happy and watched our two daughters light up. Something inside of them rose to the occasion and they were awesome. They loved it.

What was interesting is that it normally would have been very easy for them to find their child moments and complain about this or that. From the moment we walked into the door until bedtime, they were different people. They had connected to love by giving love.

My wife and I were simply astounded at the change in their demeanor, which most of the time is good but this was exceptional. And later I spoke with a good friend who said the exact same thing happened with his children (7,10).

This last week I was out of town but my wife went anyway, without me. The exact same thing happened. It was not a fluke. Yes, even a child can love.

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I was in Atlanta recently for a conference on culture. I got there a day early and was able to spend time in the downtown area, seeing MLK’s memorial (wow). I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the people of Atlanta. They were some of the nicest people I’ve met.

But I want to share my experience with two people in particular that I met while I was there. Both meetings happened late at night near the Tabernacle. After the first night of the conference I left a little early to go back to my room and sleep. I had to take the train and asked for direction from a guy named Ben. He was more than happy to help me and then proceeded to walk me to the train station. As we talked, it was obvious that he was homeless and was “escorting” me. I was in his neighborhood and he was protecting me. He was my friend. As we walked, something in side of me said to trust Ben with the direction he was taking me. We walked through several areas that put me at risk and to be honest I had my moments of fear inside. But along the way I began to see that Ben really was protecting me. This was his world and he was respected. We had one of the best conversations I had while in Atlanta.

As we arrived at the train station Ben guided me past the entrance and to a side street. I chose to follow him and just keep walking. We turned left and down a street towards a group of homeless people who were gathered on the sidewalk. I knew that if something was going to happen this was it. But something inside said, “trust him.” I’m not gonna lie. My sense of fear was palpable. But I continued to walk with him. We passed through the group and again, they were all of his friends, and he was my guide. I began to realize that he was actually my protection.

We turned the final corner to a second entrance to the station. I realized that Ben had become Jesus for me. He smiled and asked for some help. I grabbed whatever bill was in my pocket and handed it to him. I looked at him and smiled knowing that I was standing with Jesus at that moment.

The next night I took a different station back to my room and ran into William. He also was homeless and was sitting in a wheelchair. He had no legs. I stopped to talk with him simply because something in me said to. I grabbed what paper was in my wallet and stuffed it into the bucket he had. Something in me said to simply talk with him. I then spent 20 minutes just listening to him. He did most of the talking and was surprisingly animated. And then it hit me.

I need these conversations. I need people like William and Ben in my life who remind me of love, who show me Jesus. I need people who take me out of my comfort zone and stretch me into a different life, one that is not stuck in complacency. I need moments to be reminded that my greatest ability to love is simply to listen and recognize the value of individuals that are put in my life. I got to see Jesus in Atlanta and he was awesome.

Thank you William and Ben.

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