How not to deal with homelessness

There’s a story going around the Internet about how some people in San Francisco put boulders on their sidewalk to prevent the homeless from putting up tents.

It’s apparently working. The homeless are moving to other sidewalks or sleeping without tents.

Here’s the full story

The people who did this did not want to be identified. They also didn’t want to be made uncomfortable in seeing the homeless either.

Danielle, one of the other neighbors who walks through the area said this about her neighbors: “I know the reality of homelessness and moving people from one sidewalk to another doesn’t solve it,” she said. “It’s as if the people who are for [the boulders] have the attitude, ‘We want to be privileged’ not to deal with problem.”

Pretty spot on Danielle. At least someone has enough sense to state the obvious.

Here’s the other piece that is so interesting to me. “Through Facebook, the neighbors organized and raised more than $2,000 for the boulders.”

So the neighbors who didn’t like seeing homelessness in their neighborhood organized and did a fundraiser. And it was successful. They raised $2000. And they spent it on rocks?!? Not on actually trying to help people experiencing homelessness. Not on trying to get people out of homelessness for good. Not on getting people off the streets. Nope, on rocks. I wonder how many weeks in a motel could have been bought for the the homeless with $2000, even if only for one person. I wonder what kind of housing $2000 could have been used for.

Instead, people bought something that symbolizes the hardness of their hearts – a boulder. Way to go San Francisco! You may want re-read Matthew 25 and reconsider.

Who?

Jesus said: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26, NRSV)

That’s quite a verse. Too often it is rationalized away to not mean what we don’t want it to mean. And often we wordsmith it down from the shock that it was intended to give. We are removed from the culture in which it was said too – family had far more significance than it does now. Family was essential to your own survival.

But this quote from Jesus raises other questions – questions about who.

Who is the center of your attention? Who is the person you look to first? Who is the the one you keep an ear out for because you care what they say more than other people? Who is the person that you think about more than anyone else? Who is the person you go to for answers questions or rhetoric for arguments?

Maybe it’s your spouse. Maybe a child. Maybe a parent. Maybe it’s a politician. Maybe it’s a teacher. Maybe it’s a pastor. Maybe it’s a boss. Or maybe a celebrity or an athlete. Maybe it’s someone who is wealthy or successful by the world’s standards. Maybe it’s a close friend.

Maybe it depends on the subject. Maybe you named several different people to the questions above – it just depends on what the topic is.

Where does Jesus fit into these questions? Is Jesus someone you look to, or care what he has to say? Is Jesus the center of your attention? Or is Jesus just an afterthought, confined to one morning a week?

Changing the discussion

Pick an issue that divides people.

Let’s start with climate change. You probably have a position on this. You either believe that humans contribute to climate change or you don’t. You either think that we should do something, because the alternative is a disaster, or you think that the evidence is not in. You probably have bumper sticker worthy rhetorical lines handy in the event of a “discussion” of the issue in person or on line. You probably align with a political party and their stand on the issue. You listen to this party’s politicians and professionals and take in their arguments as your own. You might even see those on the other side of the issue as ignorant, wrong, or even dangerous to our way of living.

Now go through the same process with other issues that divide people – Immigration. Gun violence. LGBTQ+ rights. Money. Wealth. Poverty. Welfare. Homelessness. Health care. Racism. Taxes. Foreign policy. Minimum wage. Education. Criminal justice.

Let all of that sink in. How are you feeling right now? I imagine that you might feel like you are standing in a castle, with soldiers watching along the wall, looking for the potential assault that may be coming. I imagine you might feel defensive and ready for fight or flight. I imagine you are arming yourself for an intellectual fight over a topic that you haven’t studied yourself, but have heard things from people that you trust.

Too often we approach such issues with an all or none mentality. We quickly determine whether someone is with us or against us. There can’t possibly be another option. A or B. Republican or Democrat. Right or wrong. Two options and only two options.

But what if there was another option? Or many other options? What if we expanded our imagination to allow for other possibilities?

Missing in all the debates over any of these issues are other options.

For Christians and those that claim to follow Jesus, we are missing God. I’m not talking about using God as a weapon to shut the other side up. I’m not talking about ending with a God statement to show how God is on our side.

I’m talking about starting with God.

Pick an issue. Instead of asking how we have to fix it, or focusing on the fear of change, or what our trusted politicians have to say about the issue, what if we started with God?

What if we looked to God first and asked some of these questions – what’s God up to here? What does God have to say about this issue? How do we think that God wants this to turn out? What if we went to the bible first to start the conversation, rather than the end to prove our point?

I imagine the conversations would change. Let me correct that – I know the conversations would change.

It would change the issue significantly. It would change it from a partisan argument where there are winners and losers, to a discussion on what God is calling on us to do in order to live out the faith we claim to be given.

What do we think that God wants climate change to turn out? How about Gun violence. LGBTQ+ rights. Money. Wealth. Poverty. Welfare. Homelessness. Health care. Racism. Taxes. Foreign policy. Minimum wage. Education. Criminal justice. How do we think God wants all of these things to turn out? I imagine far differently than we currently imagine. I imagine far differently than we currently talk about these issues.

Given that, who’s willing to start looking at issues this way with me?

Cracking down on homelessness

I’ve seen headlines about different levels of government starting to “crack down” on homelessness. I haven’t read the articles, but I assume that the crack down has to do with treating those experiencing homelessness as criminals. Can’t have homeless people hanging around you know. It might raise some uncomfortable questions. And then people might have to acknowledge that there is a problem. What a great way to solve homelessness. Not!

What contributes to an increase in homelessness? Lots of things. Too often we concern ourselves with direct reasons – what did this person do to end up homeless? Those type of questions have their place. But they are not the best questions, or really the only questions that we should be asking.

By focusing on these direct, personal, issues, we ignore some deeper reasons – the systems in place that are hidden from our sight. Homelessness is a big challenge because there aren’t nice easy, neat, solutions. The causes of homelessness are many.

Last night I was talking with one person who is experiencing homelessness and he used language like “being stuck no matter what I do.”

I often describe homelessness as something similar to a black hole. Often people who are homeless try their best to get out of homelessness. They make the phone calls that need to be made. They work. They follow the rules. They do everything they are supposed to. They may even start to move in the right direction. And then Bam! Something happens that sucks them back in. Their vehicles breaks down, or they get sick – and a vicious cycle smacks them hard.

Let’s say their vehicle breaks down. How do they get to work? What if they get sick? What are they going to pay and what are they going to not pay? What about the added stress of this? If they can’t get to work, how will they earn any money? If they have no money, how will they have food? Or pay for what limited shelter they do have? Miss a “rental” payment to the motel you are staying in? You get kicked out and it is reported on your credit. This knocks down your credit, impacting where you can stay next. And this means you have no permanent address either, which impacts what services you can receive and what financial support you can receive too.

While the direct questions feel satisfying, they don’t solve the problem for most people. And they allow us to avoid the bigger questions. Questions like this – why does homelessness exist at all in the world’s richest nation in history?

There seems to be plenty of housing – but not necessarily the right housing. We are awash with upper income housing in our area. Landlords are often weary about renting to the poor. I get it – they have been screwed out of rent money. I described the situation above.

People don’t want affordable housing or shelters or anything like that built near them. Not in my backyard! is the response. People know there is a problem and agree that affordable and low income housing is needed. They just don’t want it near them. There are almost too many stereotypes to fight against concerning people in poverty – drugs, violence, crime, laziness, etc.

There are areas that, through policy and through other practices, avoid the recognition that homelessness exists. It is too uncomfortable for people to acknowledge. It is much easier to wave it away and pretend that all is well. If it is present, we might have to do something. And we don’t really know what to do, so that gets awkward.

Experts in poverty are now saying that the elderly who experience homelessness will double in five years time and triple by 2030. This is serious problem that is not getting better by avoiding or ignoring it.

I wish there were simple solutions to homelessness. Oh how I wish there were. I would implement each simple answer. We’d solve the problem in no time. Instead, it seems as though the problem keeps getting worse in proportion to the the headlines about how great the economy is.

Yet, the great economy isn’t working for everyone. In fact, it’s screwing some people over.

Maybe it’s time to ask some deeper questions. Maybe it’s time to reconsider what we value. Maybe it’s time to look at the actual problem.

Rapture, the earth, and foreign policy

The idea of the Rapture, popular in Evangelical and Fundamentalist strains of Christianity, came into existence in the 1830 “thanks” to John Nelson Darby. The theology Darby espoused can be summed up this way – Jesus is going to come back to get the good people, then throw a major temper tantrum in which God kills the bad guys and destroys the earth, all while the good people get to watch from the front row bleachers in heaven.

Granted, this is my interpretation of Rapture theology. And it is certainly an unkind interpretation. Mostly because it is dangerous.

Frankly, this notion of Rapture is also pretty sick too. Who actually enjoys watching the planet get destroyed and vasts amount of people be killed? Who actually cheers for this? Who wants to help move things along so that this happens?

But it’s the main idea. How does one come to embrace Rapture theology? By twisting Scripture in all sorts of ways, pulling random verses out of context, and interpreting Scripture to mean certain things that it doesn’t mean. Again, I’m not being kind about it. The fact remains that the theology is really bad.

While Rapture theology is a fun topic for Mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox theologians to dismiss as heretical and fun to poke at as ridiculous and poor Biblical scholarship, there are some serious concerns associated with Rapture theology.

In her book, The Rapture Exposed, Dr. Barbara Rossing, does an excellent job of talking about the flaws in the theology and the real life repercussions to such theology.

There are two real world consequences to Rapture theology that are deadly serious.

  1. Rapture theology espouses the belief that God is going to destroy the earth. This goes against Scripture in multiple ways. Revelation 21 is the first thing that comes to mind where we hear about God coming down to dwell with a renewed creation. Scripture doesn’t support the idea of some kind of escape plan. Nope. We’re stuck here folks. And God is going to restore creation, not destroy it. The problem with this theology is that it goes against the whole idea of stewardship of the earth. If God is going to destroy everything, then why bother caring for the earth at all? Why not extract everything we can out of the earth before God throws the temper tantrum? This is not good stewardship. This is not what it means to follow Jesus.
  2. Rapture theology espouses the idea that there has to be Armageddon – a major military conflict that consumes the whole world. The center of this conflict involves Israel. Only when Armageddon happens can Jesus come back to throw his divine hissy fit and start killing and destroying. Again, this goes against Scripture and sound theology. To say what the requirements of Jesus are, with certainty, is to make a claim of control over God. The real world consequence of this is that you have people in high level foreign policy positions who buy into Rapture theology. If they want Jesus to come back, then is it in the world’s interest to move towards peace in the Middle East, or war? The consequences of such a war are death and destruction on a massive scale. The Jesus I know from Scripture was not one who favored war for anything. He talked about blessed are the peacemakers – not blessed are those that cause great death and destruction.

Rapture theology isn’t just bad theology, it is dangerous theology. And the people who adhere to it have no business being in foreign policy or in charge of stewardship of the earth.

Loving God and Money

Luke 16:13 quotes Jesus as saying: “No slave 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.’” (NRSV)

“You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Do you hear what Jesus is saying? I mean really hear him.

Jesus is saying we can’t be all in on both of these things.

Here in America it seems as though we’ve tried to make a deal with God – that we can love both God and money.

Granted, this isn’t something special to America. Many peoples and nations have tried to make the same deal with God before. We’re just the latest rendition of the same old out of tune song.

I’m not sure how else to explain how our relationship with money really works. We have a tendency to listen to money as we make decisions. God is usually an afterthought – if God is considered at all.

We make decisions about the planet based on how much profit we can extract from it. We ignore what God has to say about care of creation.

We make decisions about the poor based on how much any support of them will cost. We ignore what God has to say about those that trample poor.

We make decisions about strangers based on how much they will cost to welcome in. We ignore what God has to say about welcoming the stranger.

We make decisions about our defenses by asking how much more we need for a false sense of safety. We ignore what God has to say about our enemies.

We determine how much worth someone has based on the job they have, how productive they are, and how much their net worth is – things that Pharaoh used to determine a person’s worth. We ignore what God has to say about how we are created in God’s image and derive our worth from that – not from what we are able to do.

We define success based on how much money a person earns, how much a candidate can raise, and how much a business can create. We ignore what God has to say about what success in the kingdom of God is actually about.

Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” We respond by saying, “But the right people haven’t tried it the right way Jesus.” It’s the excuse that is made for every type of economic -ism that ever existed – whether it be capitalism, socialism, communism, mercantilism, feudalism, etc. On paper, all these isms work great. And then they implemented. And along the way, there are winners and losers. And we continue to ignore God’s economics and God’s use of money and wealth.

We can’t serve God and wealth. Doesn’t matter how hard we try. It doesn’t work. It isn’t worth it.

I made a mistake…

I made a mistake yesterday. Nothing drastic. No one was hurt. Just a dumb mistake. I wrote a comment on an “article” on the Babylon Bee Facebook feed that raised a question about the satire that was posted. It was a satire piece about an economic system.

I wrote something to the effect that people argue that their preferred one-size-fits-all economic systems always work, when they are tried the right way. Doesn’t matter which -ism you are referring to – socialism, capitalism, etc.

I quickly realized I made a mistake in offering a comment that questioned the unquestionable faith in the -ism being defended. If only people had that much faith in Jesus.

I tried to get out of the comments. At first I didn’t just want to ghost the person and have them think I was afraid of the conversation. That was a mistake too.

Then I quickly realized, what a waste of time this whole episode was and I went off to more productive uses of my time.

Mistake made. Lesson learned.

I’m sure I’ll make the same mistake again in the future – whether on that site, or elsewhere. Maybe the heat got to me. Maybe it was a error in judgement on my part. Maybe it was a bit of egotism rearing it’s head within in. Regardless of the the reason – it was a mistake.

Yet, it has me thinking. Why have we gotten to this stage? Why is it almost impossible to have a conversation online on just about any topic? Why is a question that is raised met with an attack or insult or just rudeness?

I think part of the problem is how we think about issues and problems. We look at them in the abstract. When we talk about abortion, marriage, immigration, climate, money, or any slew of policy debates that exist, we too often approach them as verbal wars to be won, points to be scored, etc. We don’t really seem to care about solving a problem anymore. It’s more about who wins an argument and who loses. The reality is that we all lose in this system.

What if we changed how we talked about problems. Instead of talking about the issue as some abstract thing out there, what if we talked about it as if it affected us personally? What if we talked about immigration as if we were the immigrant? What if we talked about marriage if it were about our marriage? What if we talked about taxes as if it were our money? I think what we would start to see is that the issue is much more complex than the tweets and one-liners make it seem.

And you know what – that’s about as close to the reality of each of these issues as you can get. They are complicated. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to these challenges. Maybe we should stop looking for simple solutions to complex challenges. Maybe we should start thinking about them differently. And consider how lives are affected. And realize that when there are winners and losers from a policy, then we are approaching it the wrong way.

Righteousness

Righteousness is a good theological term. The essence of it means that we are in right relationship with God. Sounds simple on the surface, doesn’t it? But what does that really mean?

A right relationship. What would a right relationship look like? Sound like? What would a right relationship look like in terms of time spent together? And what happens during that time together?

What does a right relationship look like in terms of language used? How about in attention paid to the other person that you have the right relationship with?

Over and over Jesus answers the question posed to him about the most important commandment. And his answer never fails – to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and spirit. And he throws in the second great commandment when he answers this question – To love your neighbor as your self. Jesus understood something about why these two commandments are stated together.

“Unfortunately, we have been guilty of equating righteousness with holiness, or spirituality, being in right relationship with God. We have never quite understood that in order to be in a right relationship with God, one must first be in a right relationship with his fellow man.”

(Source: Mishnah and the Words of Jesus, by Dr. Roy Blizzard, pg. 17)

Look past the gender-exclusive language and you see that Jesus understood and was advocating that to be in a right relationship with God meant that we were also in a right relationship with other humans. This is why the two commandments are so intimately linked.

Inversely, if we do not love others, then we are not fulfilling the first commandment. How could we? If we ignore or push away one of God’s creations, if we are willingly blind to the Imago Dei (The Image of God), of other humans, then how could we actually see God at all anywhere? We can’t.

This theological point underlies so much of Jesus ministry and his teachings. It shows up in all of Jesus parables. It shows up in his miracles. It shows up in how he acts towards those whose intent is to kill him. It shows up on the cross.

Righteousness isn’t just some heady theological term. It is lived out.

What is news?

What is news? Have you ever really thought about what news really is? Is news just reporting something? Is news when someone does something controversial? Is news when something is done that affects people?

Does news have an obligation to offer opinions, or just state the facts? How do we determine what the facts are, especially if people can’t agree on what facts are?

Here’s what I know – As followers of Jesus, we proclaim news. We proclaim Good News. For us it is the announcement of God’s grace and mercy. It is the promise of resurrection. People will disagree. They may dispute the news. They may not like it. But there it is regardless.

What news are you broadcasting?

Injustice and Imago Dei

Why do so many seem complacent when it comes to injustices that happen? Does the word injustice seem too political so that it becomes just another abstract concept in the battlefield of politics?

Maybe people are complacent because they think that injustices don’t impact them. Maybe it’s just easier to turn a blind eye, rather than deal with something. Maybe it’s that people have the privilege of not having to deal with an injustice.

Why do some people seem more upset by others who point out an injustice, rather than the actual injustice? Do people feel guilty? Do they feel like they are implicated because they haven’t spoken up?

Maybe it just comes down to a basic principle of humanity – people seek pleasure and avoid pain. By ignoring an injustice, people are avoiding pain. Scoffing off an injustice as unimportant avoids the pain of the injustice. It avoids the connection with the victim of the injustice. I turns off our empathy and keeps the injustice as an abstract idea that can be debated at arms length.

As followers of Jesus, we have a responsibility to speak up, to be uncomfortable – to sometimes make others uncomfortable too – in order to change the situation. Because when it comes down to it, those who fall prey to an injustice are uncomfortable. And we are connected to them, whether we like it or not. At our core, we share the imago dei – the image of God. How can we ignore the image of God in another person? By either forgetting the image of God, or by blocking it out. When that happens, we lose sight of the humanity of others. We also lose sight of God.