Comfort and Following Jesus

Sorry, the two don’t go together.

There are verses about comforting. There are verses that offer comfort. But there are no verses about following Jesus being comfortable.

There are times when we need to be comforted. Those are times when we are afflicted. There are plenty of people who are oppressed and exploited around the world – those folks need to hear a message of comfort. And God does comfort the afflicted.

But no where in Scripture does it tell us that following Jesus will be comfortable.

In fact, there are plenty of places in Scripture that tell us the exact opposite. We hear Jesus tell us that we are to pick up our cross, die daily, and follow him. That’s not comfortable. We are told that those who follow Jesus will be reviled. We’re told how Jesus really doesn’t like lukewarm followers – those that claim to follow Jesus, but the actions don’t match the rhetoric.

Following Jesus is not comfortable. I haven’t had a comfortable day since I really followed Jesus. Yes, I’ve had joy. I’ve had contentment. I’ve had peace. But I have never been comfortable in following Jesus.

I think part of this has to do with the fact that following Jesus is about growing. Growth is uncomfortable. I’d go so far as to say there is no growth without discomfort. Doesn’t matter if you are talking about physical growth, mental growth, emotional growth, relationship growth, or spiritual growth. Discomfort is a way to know that you are growing.

We should rejoice when we are uncomfortable in our faith journey. It means there is some kind of growth going on.

The first followers of Jesus were uncomfortable. They all died as a result of following Jesus – 10 of the 11 faithful ones died as martyrs. The last one died alone and broke. Tell them about your discomfort. Or you can look to Paul or Stephen – both died for the faith. Want to complain that you are uncomfortable to them? I’m sure they will happily listen.

One of the reasons following Jesus is uncomfortable is that Jesus opens our hearts and minds to see things differently. When we follow Jesus, we can’t unsee the injustices around us. We can’t go on ignoring things that should not be happening. When we hear about children starving, it’s uncomfortable. When we encounter someone who is experiencing homelessness, it is uncomfortable. When we come across racism or other injustices, it is uncomfortable. And it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be so uncomfortable that we act in response.

Where did this notion come from that following Jesus was comfortable? I don’t know. But it isn’t grounded in Scripture or faith.

When we focus on comfort in church, what we are really doing is being blind to the purpose of church. Church isn’t a social club that meets everyone’s needs. A church doesn’t exist to make you comfortable. It exists to make you a disciple.

When we focus on our comfort, we are really trying to control the Gospel and Jesus. We are trying to put boundaries around God, put Jesus in a box, and contain Jesus. We want to tell Jesus what he can and can’t do.

Here’s what I have experienced. When we do that, we create low expectations for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We don’t expect prayers to be answers. We don’t expect lives to be transformed. We don’t expect the hungry to be satisfied. We don’t expect to be challenged. We don’t expect much from God, from church, from faith, from Scripture, from worship, from pastors, from each other. We don’t expect God to show up. We don’t expect God to even be alive and active. We expect everything to remain the same.

Comfort isn’t where transformation happens. When the Gospel is unleashed, it’s uncomfortable. And it’s where lives are literally transformed in incredible ways.

So church, what’s it going to be? Are you more interested in your own comfort, or in following Jesus? If you prefer comfort, then don’t expect anything. And no one else out side of the church will expect anything either. Why should they?

But if we are committed to following Jesus, then it’s time to go all in. To be uncomfortable. To expect amazing things. To expect Jesus to show up. To expect transformation.

Being uncomfortable isn’t fun. It’s not supposed to be. But it’s where growth happens. It’s where lives are changed. It’s how Jesus works in us individually, and in our congregations. It’s what the core message of Christianity is all about – Life, Death, and Resurrection. There can be no resurrection if we first don’t go through death. And death is uncomfortable. But thankfully death doesn’t get the final say. That’s not where the story ends. It’s merely a stop along the way.

Faith and Sin

Is faith only a private matter? I hear arguments from some Christians that say that their faith is only a private matter, that it is only a matter of personal piety – how one acts privately.

But I find no Scripture to support such a claim. And I find many elements of this argument lacking on many levels. It seems like faith is a waste. If faith is only a private matter, then what’s the point? If faith is only a private matter, then how exactly is it transformative?

Scripture tells a different story. Jesus sends the disciples out to proclaim the Good News. That’s not a private piety. It has a public impact.

Jesus eats with sinners and tax collectors. That’s not a private piety only. It has a public impact – the Pharisees and Sadducees comment on it and criticize it. It impacts them. And it impacts the lives of the people Jesus ate with. It gave them dignity.

Matthew 25 records Jesus telling us about how the nations will be judged. That’s certainly not a private piety matter – it’s very public. It has public impact.

Jesus is labeled many things – Messiah, King of the Jews, King of King, Lord of Lords, Son of Man (or humanity if you think in the broader sense), and many more. All of these titles have public implications, not matters of private piety.

Jesus wasn’t crucified because of his private piety. He was crucified because of his public ministry and what it meant. It was having an impact on people’s lives in very public ways – affecting the status quo and all that supported and defended the status quo. And what was the status quo? Simply put, the status quo was oppressive, exploitive, deadly, and destructive. Jesus was a threat to all of this. If all he wanted to do was private piety, he would have not had a public ministry at all. He would not have had disciples. We would not have traveled through the land. He would not have been resurrected. He would not have appeared to people after the resurrection. He would have been completely forgotten in history because he would have had no impact on anyone.

That’s what an emphasis on private piety leads to.

That’s not to say that piety is unimportant. It is important. But that’s not where faith ends. It’s only the beginning.

Here’s how I know that faith is meant for more than just private piety. Sin isn’t just a private matter.

Sin is the brokenness of relationship. In order to have relationship, there needs to be more than just the self. There is an other. Sin breaks the relationship with the other – this makes it public. Sin has implications on the rest of creation – hence it has a public impact. We read this in the story of the Fall in Genesis 3. Because of sin, the ground is cursed too. When sin persists, the entire world suffers. Sin exploits and oppresses, it kills and destroys. It has a very public impact.

And faith exists to counter sin. How can faith do that though if it is only a private matter? It can’t.

Both sin and faith are public matters ultimately. As much as we would prefer to not face the reality of the public nature of sin, we are called too. We are called to name sin where it exists and to live out the faith we have been given – publicly. Sin is like a stain. We can choose to ignore the stain and pretend that it doesn’t exist. But we are only fooling ourselves. Faith is the oxyclean that comes in and knocks the stain of sin out – making things right again. Really right. Not, “let’s pretend we can’t see what’s obviously there” right. That’s just avoiding conflict because we are uncomfortable with conflict.

Living out this kind of public faith isn’t easy. There will be critics – those devoted to sin and the lies it tells. There have been many who have died for faith. They paid the ultimate price for fully living their faith. But what’s the point of claiming a faith that you aren’t willing to die for? What’s the point of claiming a faith that you aren’t willing to live out in a public manner? What’s the point of hiding the faith that we have been given because we are soooo concerned with our own safety that we will never speak out when faith cannot be silenced? That’s not faith at all. If faith is only private piety, then it is not really faith. It’s just another form of sin – a self-centered care and concern for one’s own safety and comfort. If faith is anything, it isn’t that.

Sin is both private and public. And so is faith.

History

Here’s a fun fact – most of history is forgotten and will be forgotten. Sure, we have plenty of historical facts, but put them up against the the entire span of humanity’s existence and think about how little we actually have been able to preserve.

We know the name and dates of “important” people of the past – and in some cases we know what they did. Or at least what the spin has become on what they did. Although the further back you go, the sketchier it gets.

Our own reality is that by the fourth generation after you, you will most likely be forgotten. Or at best just a picture or a note. You will not have any connection with that person and they won’t think of you in a personal way. You become just a footnote. And give it another generation or two and you won’t be remembered at all, unless someone has really good notes on family history.

I don’t think any of this is a bad thing. Sure, it’s sad, but really – how far back can you go in your own family to where you know the person in the past? How far back can you go that you know the stories about a person? If you can go back more than four generations, you’re probably in the minority. And going back every further is really impressive.

Think about this – considering we have a handful of people that are remembered in history (for any number of reasons), it is minuscule in comparison to the billions of people who have lived on this planet. Their lives are gone, forgotten to history.

But the good news is that’s ok. As Christians we believe that the only whose memory matters is God. God remembers us. We hear this when God shows up and says that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. And in God, all are living, even those who have died. In other words, their memory is not dead. They are merely asleep and will be awoken at the resurrection.

Often we believe that our time in history is the most important time – just like all generations before us had the same belief and all generations after us will most likely have the same belief.

And for us, that may be true – at least in terms of our lives. But for God, it is not true. Every time is important. Which is why God remembers people and waits to resurrect all people at the end of time.

History may forget each one of us, but God doesn’t. And we should take comfort in that. It’s the most important memory that exists.

What is sin?

Martin Luther defined sin as the turning in on oneself. I like this definition and description. It’s pretty accurate. When we turn in on ourselves, we turn away from others, and more importantly, away from God. When we turn in on ourselves, we are acting in a narcissistic manner – making ourselves into a god, where all of our focus and attention turns. It’s about me, what I want, what I desire, what pleases me, etc.

In this sense, sin is the antithesis of the two great commandments – to love God and to love our neighbor. We can’t do either when we turn in on ourselves.

I think there are other ways of defining sin too that are helpful. I have heard sin defined as broken relationships. Sin is a broken relationship with God and with others. In a sense, it is also a broken relationship with ourselves. Again, the care and concern of anything outside of ourselves is broken. Trust is broken. Faith is broken. And it can’t be re-established until things change.

Another way to define sin is to talk about vision – as in sight. Sin is the clouding of our vision. Our vision is clouded so that we can’t see what is actually best for ourselves and others. Sin is a distortion of vision that prevents us from seeing the reality of truth. Sin is like a pair of eyeglasses that are not your prescription. You can see elements of what is there, but you can’t see clearly. The blurrier the vision, the more anxiety and fear enter us as we become concerned for our safety. People become blurred – we don’t recognize them and if the blurring is bad enough, we may not even recognize that we are seeing a person.

Sin distorts our view of the Imago Dei of the other – the Image of God. It blinds us from seeing the image of God in another person. This is brokenness in relationship. It is turning inward on oneself.

Original sin is the concept that we are born in a state of sin, through no fault of our own. This original sin blinds us from seeing what the goodness of God is fully. Only with God’s action, are we able to respond.

In a sense, original sin is like color blindness. I am color blind. I have never seen what some colors are supposed to be, unlike people with “normal” vision. So if I have never seen what normal is, how am I supposed to pick out the proper color. I can’t do it – I have no idea what to look for on my own. It is only when I receive help or direction that I am able to even have the option of choosing the right color. God’s grace works like this when it comes to original sin.

Sin is not a popular topic right now. But it is important. Too often sin masquerades as something that it is not. Sin dresses up as something good, when it isn’t. It delights in fooling people. Sin is never satisfied.

And thankfully God never stops – never stops pursuing us, transforming us, and giving us sight to see sin for what it is. God never stops forgiving us when we sin too. Sinners sin. That’s what we do. It’s a part of our nature. And God loves. That’s a part of God’s nature.

The state of health care

What is the state of health care today? Would it be considered healthy? Depends on how you measure it I guess.

I’m not interested in the typical debates around health care though.

I’m interested in examining something much more fundamental. Do we really do health care?

In some cases yes, but overall, I don’t think so. Rather, we are more inclined to do sick care, rather than health care. The health care system really only kicks in when someone is sick. We spend inordinate amounts of money on people when they are sick. Our medication is focused on alleviating symptoms of those that are sick, and to some extent doing some kind of cure to move people towards health.

Our nutrition certainly isn’t oriented towards health. We are asked to change our eating habits only when there is a problem. Our mental health system is poor at best.

We don’t do effective preventative care. We certainly don’t invest money in preventative care like we should. I think part of the reason is that preventative care saves money. There is more money to be made off of sick care, rather than preventative health care. Just as there is more money to be made from poverty and war and addiction.

Our tendency here in the US is to try to make matters better after they have broken down – at least we tell ourselves that. Why not do preventative care though? It’s more economical. It’s more dignified and caring. It humanizes the health care system. And it means that fewer of us will need as much sick care.

I suspect one reason we don’t alter our system is that we don’t have the imagination of what this might look like. And so we stick with what we know. That’s not a good reason though. That’s lazy. We could use more imagination when it comes to our health care. And we could use more motivation to change it also. Our health – physical, mental, emotional, and financial – should be enough motivation.

The state of the economy

It’s that time of the year when we start to hear speeches that feed us predictable lines about the state of our nation. “The state of our nation is strong!” – said pretty much every president in my life time. Based on what though? I don’t know what they base that statement on besides the idea that this is what presidents are supposed to say to make us feel good about ourselves and our nation. Besides, no president wants to actually tell the truth about the portions of the country that aren’t in great shape – what would that do to re-election efforts or future judgements of history?

I don’t bother to listen to the State of the Union address. I haven’t since the mid-90’s when I figured out that all it really is is a prime time speech with a laundry list of legislative goodies the president wants to pass (as opposed to talking about what the actual state of the Union is), and the presentation of some tear jerking stories that act as a prop to tug at people’s hearts so that their elected representatives will feel more inclined to vote for this or that pet legislative agenda. (Thanks Pres. Reagan for starting this.)

I think a regular assessment of how we are doing is important. I just don’t appreciate a campaign speech to do it. I never have.

I hear that we have a strong economy. But I have questions. If our economy is so grand, why is there an increase in homelessness and a prediction that elderly homelessness will double by 2025 and triple from the current level by 2030? Hmm.

If our economy is so strong, then why are we not spending more money to lift people out of poverty, or at least get them to a place that they aren’t worried about survival each day with housing, or food?

If our economy is so strong, then why is the suicide rate so high?

If our economy is so strong, then why aren’t we doing something to alleviate the imprisonment of debt on students? Or at least on future students?

Why does an economy exist at all? This is the best question I can think of. Is it only for selfish purposes? That seems to counter what an economy actually is though and how it is measured.

Does an economy exist for the benefit of the society that it functions in? How is that happening in our society? Not just for those who are benefiting the most, but for everyone?

The new Finnish Prime Minister said something recently that seems fitting to this conversation. She said, “The strength of a society is measured not by the wealth of its most affluent members, but by how well its most vulnerable citizens are able to cope. The question we need to ask is whether everyone has the chance to lead a life of dignity.” (San Marin, Finnish Prime Minister)

I think Ms. Martin is right on target. I also think this way of thinking is more in line with what Jesus taught than any American politician I have heard.

What is the state of our economy? I can’t speak about the economy overall. I don’t have the research to back it up. I only have my observations and what I read from a variety of sources. Is the economy strong? Sure, for some. But I suspect that they would be doing fine regardless. Is the economy strong for all? I doubt it. Our economic system isn’t designed to benefit all.

And before you comment on economic theories, let me say this – I’m really not all that interested in a debate on the theories of what economic systems are “supposed” to do. Those who are experiencing homelessness don’t have that luxury.

But I do have to ask this – How is it that the wealthiest nation in history has a large number of people who are experiencing homelessness? How is it that the wealthiest nation in history is able to afford plenty of military weapons, but can’t afford to make sure it’s own people are housed, or fed, or have adequate health care? How is it that the wealthiest nation in history can’t afford to do things that would keep people out of poverty?

What is all that wealth for anyway? Is it an end unto itself? If so, then what’s the point anyway?

I wonder what Jesus would say about the wealthiest nation in history. I wonder if Jesus would have something to say about how that wealth should be used for the citizens of such a nation – especially the most vulnerable. I wonder.

There’s a couple of places in Scripture that quotes Jesus as saying: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24, NRSV)

I wonder if the same could be said of the economy. Can you serve God and the economy?

The State of our Political and Religious Discourse

The state of America’s political and religious discourse is not healthy by any measure. The disfunction of how we communicate with each other isn’t the problem though – it’s a symptom of much deeper unresolved issues.

We are living in a moment when conversation shuts down or is transferred to attack with the utterance of a variety of one word statements – namely the issues, or really, any issue. Say “guns” or “abortion” or “Trump” for that matter and conversation stops. It doesn’t even turn to debate. Rather, defenses go up immediately. We shift to attack mode. All or nothing victory is at stake. Relationships, even long valued relationships, are collateral for what we think is more important – being right.

When I see Facebook posts that take cheap shots at political opponents, I have to wonder – how is this helping the nation? How is it helping to bring people of diverse beliefs together? It’s not. It’s segregating us and forcing us to take sides and pick up our weapon of choice to demolish the other side.

That’s what happens when the virus of being right infects a large segment of the population.

In recent weeks I’ve started considering something I have done rarely – unfriend people on facebook. I’m not talking about people I disagree with and engage in conversation and dialogue on a variety of subjects. I have a great deal of respect for people who are intellectually healthy enough to have a conversation with someone they disagree with. I think that kind of conversation is badly needed. Not so we can convince each other of our own rightness, but rather to better understand how we each come to the conclusions we come to. It allows us to ask better questions, consider better options, and re-evaluate beliefs. That’s what growth is about.

Instead, I’m talking about people who have no interest in conversation or dialogue – they are only interested in being right. They can’t handle conflict or even differing opinions. It’s all or nothing for these folks. And I’m just not sure I have the energy or the desire to keep such a relationship going.

I don’t comment of posts from these folks – there is no point. It’s like attempting to talk with someone who does propaganda for a tyrant. They have bought in hook, line, and sinker.

Our dialogue is in intensive care – or should be. I’m not sure it’s actually getting the care it needs really. We’re not even getting hospice care at this point. Or pain killers of any type. If I had to describe the state of our political and religious discourse, it would be like using a rusty jagged spoon to tear out a rotting tooth, without novocain.

And I’m not sure how many people really want this to change either. Yes, there are many who post these cute, shallow, social media statements about getting along. How quaint. But posting such things isn’t going to change anything. It only happens when we each commit to actual change. Commit to not only posting better quality things, but also commit to better quality conversations, and better quality relationships with one another. That requires a commitment of time, of investing in one another. That requires being with people, face to face. It requires letting go of the ideological propaganda we embrace and bath in and consume. It requires congruency – your words and your actions match up.

For Christians this can start by doing some self-examination and asking yourself some basic questions – How am I doing in following Jesus and what he taught? Am I in alignment with the teachings of Jesus through my actions, or am I just mouthing the words and fooling myself into believing that I am following Jesus? Do I pray for my enemies? Or do I pray for their downfall? How do I show love to those I hate or hate me? How am I living out the teachings of Jesus found in the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 25? What needs to change in order for me to be in alignment with following Jesus? Am I willing to let go of things that aren’t in alignment with Jesus? If not, why not? In what do I really believe that Jesus doesn’t know what he was talking about? Why?

As for our political and religious discourse, are you waiting for someone else to start? Why? We are called to step up and be the initiators. We are called to set the example. We are called to improve the state of our discourse. So let’s get started.

The Means and the Ends

There is a belief system that can be summarized as the ends justify the means. This is the belief that the ends are the only thing that matters. How you get there doesn’t matter. The Houston Astros World Series winning team from a couple of years ago could be accused of espousing this belief – they were caught cheating. But hey, I thought only winning mattered, not how you get there, right?

A good deal of our political culture seems to embrace this idea. But that’s not new really. That’s been the norm in politics regardless of location, nation, politicians, or time period. That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing, more just a recognition of the unfortunate realities of politics.

I could go on, but I really don’t feel like dwelling on such negativity as is it were somehow normal, respectable, or Christ-like.

See, God doesn’t buy into the idea of the ends justify the means. Not even close. Jesus is the end. Jesus is the summation of what life is about. Jesus is the goal. So certainly, the ends matter.

But here’s the thing – Jesus is also the means. His whole earthly life was about calling people to follow him and his way of being – in other words, to follow Jesus is the means. How we get to where we are going matters to God. A great deal. If it didn’t, then there would have been no need for Jesus’ earthly ministry, no need to disciples, miracles, call stories, healings, exorcisms, welcoming strangers, feeding people, etc. Those aren’t means in and of themselves. They are the means. The means to what? The means to the unfolding of the Kingdom of God.

God values both the ends and the means. And calls on us to do likewise. That’s what discipleship is all about.

Why I believe what I believe about homelessness

No, I don’t have any shocking or compelling stories about my own personal experience with homelessness. I’m actually quite grateful for that. I do have plenty of stories of people I know who have experienced homelessness or are experiencing it now though. I know names of people. Some of them are in my phone directory. I know stories. I have heard the challenges and the disappointments.

Yesterday I posted a blog post on different approaches to homelessness. It generated a considerable amount of discussion and sharing of stories. I think that’s great.

Today I want to share my why I believe what I believe about how to approach homelessness. There are a few reasons.

First – Theological. As a Lutheran pastor, I have the challenge and privilege to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. And what exactly is that Gospel? It can be described in a variety of ways, but as it pertains to this conversation, I would say that the Gospel is the Good News that we don’t believe in karma. We don’t get our worth based on what we do or what we produce. Rather, we believe in unearned grace. We believe that God freely gives grace to each one of us without strings attached. That doesn’t mean we are free to do whatever we want. It means that God gives freely first and gives us the freedom and ability to respond to that free gift. We are called on to respond in a way that shows our gratitude for what God has done for us. In relation to homelessness, this means that I prefer to give first, without strings attached. I’m not interested in making people earn something. That contradicts what I preach and proclaim.

Second – More Theology. Jesus tells us that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians gives a nice list of the characteristics of love.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, NRSV)

This isn’t just a description of what love is. It is a description of the characteristics of God, since we believe that God is love. In this, we hear that love is patient and kind. It does not insist on its own way. It bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. And it doesn’t end. Sounds like a great description for how we should handle homelessness. If I know anything about homelessness it is this – patience is extremely important. Kindness is sometimes all you have to give. Insisting that someone do something your way doesn’t always work and can in fact make matters worse. When I work with those experiencing homelessness, there are times when I have to bear a lot of the pain and suffering and rejection that people experience. Hope is essential in this work. Endurance is just as important.

Three – Even more Theology. As a pastor, I teach about the Imago Dei – the Image of God. We believe that every person is endowed with the Imago Dei. That is how we are able to fulfill the two great commandments. We love our neighbor because they bear the image of God and in so loving them, we are also loving God and what God has created.

Having the image of God and seeing the image of God in others is really important. It allows us to have a different approach to dealing with homelessness. My job isn’t to fix people – I can’t. It is instead to carry out a ministry of presence. What presence? The image of God. To remind people that they also have the image of God within them. That forces me to see the other person with dignity. It forces me to see their humanity. It forces me to see them more fully. It’s what allows me to be hospitable and to see the value each person already possesses.

Four – Yes, even more Theology. A question I wrestle with when I work with those experiencing homelessness is this – if our situations were reversed, how would I want to be treated in this moment? What result would I hope for?

In Matthew 7:12, Jesus says, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

My usual answer to these questions, when I am actually paying attention to the questions is something like this – I would hope to be treated with respect, dignity, and kindness. I wouldn’t expect the other person to have all the answers, but to make a best effort to try to help. I would hope that they would at least listen and hear me and my pain and to let me know that I am not alone and that someone cares whether I live or die.

I don’t have the answers to how to end homelessness. Or poverty. Or abuse. Or addictions. Or broken relationships. But I do have a message of hope. I do have a ministry of presence. I do see the Imago Dei – or at least try to anyway. I know that when Jesus encounters us, lives are transformed in incredible ways. I have see that. Often, it’s not on my timeframe or what I expect. But thank God for that. It’s more often than not so much better.

Different approaches to homelessness

In December of 2019, Robert Marbut was appointed to be the new homeless czar for the country.

If you do a Google search about this, you’ll find numerous articles about this appointment and about the numerous criticisms against Mr. Marbut for his approach to homelessness.

Here’s one sample:

“Marbut does not adhere to the “housing first” philosophy embraced by most U.S. cities, which aim to place people experiencing homelessness into stable, supportive housing before working to address any medical, financial, or substance abuse issues. This method is not only proven to help people stay housed, as it’s easier to tackle other issues once someone has a safe, stable place to sleep, but it also saves cities money by avoiding costly public expenditures for emergency care.

Instead, Marbut has recommended that cities stop giving out foodcriminalize sidewalk sleeping, and force homeless residents who want services to move into city-operated facilities in large temporary structures that advocates have equated to jails.”

When you search for more articles on Mr. Marbut you find a multitude of homeless advocates being critical of Mr. Marbut and his approach to homelessness, with one critic saying that Mr. Marbut’s approach is a “real life horror.”

Mr. Marbut has one approach to homelessness. It’s not the approach I would take, nor has it been the approach that our congregation is taking in tackling homelessness. Frankly, it’s demeaning and dehumanizing. And it doesn’t work. Part of Mr. Marbut’s system is about making people earn everything to the point that at the shelter he ran in New Orleans:

“…access to the 1,000 beds must be earned. People entering the shelter must sleep on mats in an outdoor courtyard and can only move inside after participating in services like job training, education, and substance abuse counseling. Breaking rules like missing curfew can mean getting demoted back to the courtyard.”

Thankfully there are many different ways to dealing with homelessness. Housing First is a system that has worked well in many cases. In the housing first model, people are given housing and in doing so, it opens people to less anxiety. It allows them to spend their time and attention trying to resolve the numerous other issues they face on a daily basis. It keeps people healthier and out the emergency departments. In the long run, it is much cheaper to house people, rather than to keep them out of housing.

While I don’t have the ability to house people, I do have another approach – a ministry of presence. Our congregation doesn’t have the resources to house people. But we show up where people who are experiencing homelessness are. We get to know them, listen to their story. We do laundry with them. We eat with them. We worship with them. We make sure they get showers. We offer what supplies we have. We give away many sleeping bags. We talk. We listen. We worship together. We try to connect people with resources and services – at least for those who want them. They aren’t they or them at all. They are us and we are them.

We don’t make people earn dinner. We don’t make them earn clean clothes. We don’t make them earn showers. We believe that people should be treated with dignity and value. We believe that people have names and stories and lives. We believe that people should be empowered to make decisions for their lives. We believe we can’t fix people – we’re broken too, just in different ways. We believe we are called to be with these people and see the image of God in each person we encounter. And we blessed by them too.

And the crazy thing about all of this is that this works. In several instances, we’ve been able to help people get off the streets and out of living in their vehicles and start living in apartments and houses. We don’t have a ton of resources. But we have something else – we have faith. And we share that faith with people. We have a ministry of presence – being present with those who need someone to recognize that they exist and are human beings.

Regardless of what happens at the federal level, we’ll keep doing our ministry of presence. We’ll keep living out our faith. And I’m willing to bet, we’ll keep seeing results – that people’s lives are transformed, that people are becoming part of a community that cares for one another, that people are relearning to trust others, that people actually care whether someone is alive or dead, that people deserve dignity, that everyone has a story, and that all are welcome at God’s table – even when that table is a truck stop diner where communion is shared.