The Church and Homelessness

A poor people's movement in Philly once preached, "How can you worship a homeless man on Sunday and step over one on Monday?" I think it's true. I see it every day. Hell, I do it. I don't know how to deal with the people asking for money in the subway. I don't want to ever assume what the money is for and I rarely offer anything from my own pocket. Instead, I bow my head and I pray. If s/he has been bold enough to offer a name, I lift his/her name to God. I ask them to be safe and warm. I bow my head and avoid making eye contact.

Tonight, I was frustrated by this same hypocrasy at the church that I serve. The discussion of homelessness has been a hot topic during the years of construction. There is a scaffolding around the church that has opened the church to a new level of intimacy with the homeless community. And this is a false intimacy. The homeless are not wanted. It's not welcoming. It's scary. It's intimidating. These are valid emotions. I don't want to deny these emotions. But, Jesus asked us to love our neighbor. Tonight, our neighbors are huddled in cardboard boxes upon our steps. Tonight, our neighbors might not have had enough to eat because the shelter system will not allow their level of intoxication. Tonight, a child of God feels lonely. Who will love them?

I attended a church meeting tonight where there were moronic statments made about the homeless situation. I'm amazed that 20 years in the pastorate in New York can allow for anyone to be so blind. I'm amazed when we let our human fears overcome what we know about God. Sure, I struggle with the drug abuse. I think it's hard to deal with alcoholism. But, that's not everyone's story. Indeed, there is mental illness. But, there is another side.

And that is how we react. The city has a horrible shelter system. These are not just stories. These are real situations where people -- God's people -- have been made to feel unsafe. And like it or not, these same attitudes and fears are held toward the shelters in churches. We may worship a homeless man, but we really don't welcome him in on Sunday. We don't want him on our steps. We want to pretend that he is not there. We want someone else to deal with it. We want easy answers, and there are none to be found. Sometimes, we need to accept that God's world is bigger than us and all that we can do is pray for change. This is God's prayer as much as it is our own.

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