when i was hungry…you lectured me about my work ethic
January 27, 2010, 8:52 pm
Filed under: Stuff | Tags: , , ,

isn’t that how that verse goes?

i’m reading a devotional right now. i’m not much of a devotional guy. most of them just try to re-affirm that we are right in what we believe so we can go to sleep with a warm fuzzy feeling, knowing we are right. i’ve been wondering about that idea lately, about being right, and how important it is, or whether its all that important. because you can be right…yet so wrong at the same time.

the devotional i’m reading is about a guy and his friend who decided to live homeless for 5 months as a social experiment to see how it felt to live that way and to have people treat you that way. and for the most part, they were treated like dirt. kicked off property and out of buildings. they write about their experience, and try to encourage christians to actually live out the teachings of scripture. what a novel idea…to follow with our heart the things we know in our head. i have no idea what it means to be homeless. the closest experience i’ve ever had would be when i went on tour with MEANS in the summer of 2005. none of us had lots of money. we were a small band, so there were no contracts or money guarantees at each show. so most of our money was poured into food and gas. we depended on the kindness of teenagers at shows who would call their parents and ask if some strangers could sleep at their house. we depended on the kindness of friends of friends, who often took us in with little to no questions asked and treated us like gold. there were a few nights we slept in the van. one memorable night, matty g. decided to sleep outside in the grass with his sleeping bag. we were in some random parking lot, and were too tired to check our surroundings. i woke up early and went to Tim Hortons. i came back to see a policeman pulling up to the van. he asked questions, like “why is that guy sleeping next to a dumpster beside a daycare?” it was then i realized our surroundings, and thought maybe it would be a little scary for a toddler to see homeless guys sleeping in a van next to a dumpster. there was about a week out of that month where we either drove through the night, or simply slept in the van. it was hard. you don’t sleep well. you get grumpy. at least i did. the kindness of strangers means the world to you. but i don’t mean to compare ourselves to those fighting homelessness. because we were far from it. at any time, we could have called our parents, and they could have rescued us. not to mention our thousands of dollars worth of musical instruments in our possession. we were still rich even when we were poor.

the most memorable night came about halfway through our time on the road. i remember being fed up. i was tired, we had no place to go, no shows for a few days, and it felt like i would never be home. it was a sunday night, so i decided to seek out a church. so i walked until i found one that was open. i went and sat down. it was just any old church. nothing too exciting. but having not been to church in a while, and being someone that was hoping to find a place to sleep, i thought it would be a good place to be. i went and got the guys and we went back. matt and i sat in the service. it ended soon after we arrived. we just sat for a bit, unsure of who to approach. at this point, we looked pretty homeless, even though we weren’t. a lack of showers/clean clothes/long greasy hair can make you look that way. few people talked to us. finally, a guy in front of us acknowledged our presence and asked what we were about. we told him our story. a christian band from out west looking for a place to sleep. i hoped we had hit the jackpot. i hoped we would have someplace to sleep for at least a night or if we were lucky, two. he smiled at us, and made small talk for a bit, almost as if he dodged the obvious. when it came up again with another person who had joined us, the awkwardness really set in. the first gentleman was at least honest with us. maybe a little too honest with us, but at least he was honest. apparently, the building next to the church was theirs also. it was full of couches, as they were in the process of setting up a youth center. but (that word that always comes after those too good to be true sentences) they didn’t know us, so they couldn’t trust us to stay there. i would have been less angry had they not mentioned the empty building full of couches next door…i could have understood them not wanting us to stay at their homes…but it felt like a slap in the face. they gave us $20, prayed over us, and walked away. we walked away with our $20 unsure what to do. a few moments later, we got a phone call from a friend of a friend who said he called his friends mom, and she said we could stay there. she was a sweet lady. she set out bedding for us. made us breakfast in the morning. matt and i played in the slip n’ slide with her granddaughter. she was a saint.

i’m sure you can all (and by all, i mean the 2 people who read my blog) see where i’m going with this. the people who should have helped us kept us at a distance. the hospitality of a complete stranger showed Jesus more clearly than the church had. i was thinking about this experience this morning, and felt ashamed. because at the time, i was full of self-righteous indignation. i knew that i would have done better if the roles were reversed. but it’s 5 years later…and i’m not any better. i still go through my days being afraid of the uncomfortable. i still often drive past that person digging through the trash partly because i am in a hurry, but mostly because i am afraid. because to live the things we believe requires us to abandon our plans and fall in line with God’s. to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner and to shelter the homeless. i refuse to believe those were only suggestions. i believe they are commands. why is it that we see so few homeless people walk through the church’s doors? that is a rarity, unless of course the church is set up specifically to serve them, like the Good News Chapel and the amazing people who run it in Regina. those places are amazing, but why isn’t every church that open to serve those who are different? why are we afraid to welcome people into our buildings that aren’t like us? the problem is we must love God and love others enough that we aren’t doing it as a simple obligation. if our love is real, it will naturally flow out of us. i am working on that today. and i hope i can do better starting right now. because i like my life comfortable. but that’s not good enough if we are following God.

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get out of my church
June 21, 2009, 7:25 pm
Filed under: Stuff | Tags: , , ,

2379767006_da2ea02323_oi remember being in a church building one time after a sunday service and watching a smelly, unkempt old man come through the door. he was aboriginal, and his skin didn’t match the rest of the people in the room. let’s just say this particular church building wasn’t so culturally diverse. well, it was, but only those from other countries. the ones from Canada who weren’t immigrants were absent. like they are in many churches. the room was packed, as it was the usual custom after the preach to visit in the foyer. and so i sat on the opposite side of the room and watched as the man made his way from one side to the other. no one looked in his eyes. no one shook his hand, except for one mentally challenged guy. isn’t that saying something about us when a mentally challenged person acts a whole lot more like jesus than we do? says something about becoming like a child. and so he walked through. you could see in his eyes that he was lost and not sure what was going on. i suspected he was high or drunk, and as he walked up to us it was confirmed by the smell emanating from his breath and his clothes. he continued right past us on his circle around the room. as far as i could tell, he didn’t say anything. he didn’t ask for help, although i knew that’s why he was there. for food. money. anything we could offer him. but he didn’t ask. he just continued walking and looking around at people he passed, none of them willing to look into his eyes. a few even looked at him with disgust as they caught his smell coming towards him. they did what most of us would do in that situation. they lowered their gaze and pretended they hadn’t noticed him. finally, he had made a full circle and was back at the front door. desperate and proud, not wanting to beg, but desperately needing the help. and while the hundred or so people in the room hadn’t acknowledged him when he passed, they now snuck glances to the door, anxious for the moment he would leave. an usher, who i am certain was concerned about the comfort level of the “church”, simply worried about his “flock”, politely opened the door for him as he was given the bum’s rush, quite literally.

i walked out after him and asked if he wanted to go for a quick bite to eat. i can’t claim holiness, and if you think i am you are way off base. because if i was one of those people who was caught off guard by him, i most likely would have done the same thing. i wish i could claim holiness, because then i would have been justified in going back inside after lunch with this man and turning over some tables, prophet style. but i only did it because of guilt, and because i had seen him be rejected by hundreds of “church” people. i most certainly didn’t want that to be his last experience with God’s so-called people.

i found out he had been in the military when he was younger. he walked with a limp which he confirmed was from a war injury. nightmares about the war came every night as he tried to sleep on concrete slabs around the city. one can imagine sleeping on a park bench or concrete would be hard enough, but imagine trying to sleep through screaming visions of your past coming back to haunt you in the one moment that should be peaceful for a homeless person. i don’t remember much more about our conversation. only that he was open and thankful. he was open because it had likely been a long time since someone had listened to him. and so when you find someone who is willing, you cut through the bull and get right to the heart of the matter. and he was thankful because of the food, but more for the dignity of a human interaction. to be honest, i was incredibly uncomfortable. and while he was thankful, as was i, i noticed another emotion well up inside me. deep, deep shame.

because i was no holy man. i was simply a guilt ridden and broken soul trying to make up for years of passing people just like him on the street. there have been many times in my life that i have passed the homeless person without so much as a second thought. i have made derogatory comments towards them. “why don’t they just get a job and quit drinking?” it’s that simple, right…? and i felt a deep, deep shame. i was listening to a talk show the other day, and the host was discussing the “problem” of pan-handlers. his suggestion to everyone was to walk by and pretend you don’t notice them. because to acknowledge them is to enable them. i could barely hold back the anger, and if anyone saw me in that moment, they would have seen me yelling and slapping my dash, looking much like a homeless schizophrenic myself. how arrogant and heartless do you have to be to not even acknowledge someone? it’s no wonder the homeless often start to believe that they aren’t worth anything with people like that promoting self-interest over compassion and heart. yes, i am a bleeding heart left wing liberal, and proud of it. your labels can’t hurt me.

i felt shame not only for my personal empty and void life, but for God’s so-called people. this is just one church at one point in time in one city. and i know there are many out there doing great things, but that doesn’t seem to be the norm. the church too often seems to be the ones that close the doors in the face of the broken, rather than opening them up and welcoming them to the one place they should always find peace.

this same church had a large sum of money they had started collecting in order to move somewhere else. the neighborhood they were in was full of people like this. dirty, drunk, homeless, different colour, just…different. and the people of this church…well…few of them lived in this neighborhood. they were wealthier for the most part. had their lives together, at least it appeared that way on the outside, which we all do to a certain extent. and they started raising money to move. and they did. to a nice middle class neighborhood. i don’t know if they moved ‘just’ to get out of that neighborhood. i can’t judge their hearts, even though i’d like to. and that makes me no better. i’m sure many genuinely had pure motives. after the move happened, i heard someone from that church talking about all the great things they were doing in their new neighborhood. and i couldn’t help but wonder why they hadn’t done more in their old neighborhood? they were waiting until their location met their comfort level, and then it became alright to do the Lord’s work. great things are happening in that neighborhood they moved to. but…where is the old neighborhood? who is there to reach them? 

and i don’t think that’s the way “God’s people” should act. maybe i’m picking on this particular church. maybe there were other circumstances that went into the move. maybe this drunk guy had hit them up for money before and they were tired of seeing him drag his drunk body into their building every sunday. maybe…but who really cares? if he was there every sunday asking for money, does he deserve to have the people who love God, who hang on his words, who emulate his life…simply turn their backs to him? and do God’s people have the right to spend a million dollars to move to a better neighborhood when they are located in the place which need’s God most? and do they have the right to spend money on a new building when that money could have gone a long way in serving the community? well, i guess they do have the right. but rights are overrated, at least they are when it comes to the rich and powerful. God’s church is big, and it is doing some big things that are serving the world. but most are doing small-minded things. and ignoring the people who need help the most. at least my shame was good for one thing. it forced me to do the right thing. and my prayer is that God will shame his church. that he will bring us to our knees so we can start actually living in His Kingdom, and not our man-made castles. may we begin to start doing the right things out of love rather than shame. because God’s people are better than that. the world deserves more than that from God’s people. if we are followers of Jesus, then he demands more of us, and we must start giving more.

so put that in your pipe and smoke it. happy father’s day.