Further Thoughts on “The Homeless”: Systemic Social Change through God’s Beneficent Reign

Interestingly, my blog stats reveal over 20 people coming to the blog today via the search term ‘homeless’–this is fascinating because the post in question is nearly three months old.

But a recent comment by my friend Chris (plus this flurry of interest) brings me to some fresh thinking: How do we as friends and followers of Jesus see social change as happening? Do we even desire it?

Chris writes,

“Unless we can deal with the heart of the problem the most we can offer is love in simple ways (like you described above). I commend people for their acts of kindness, it is good and proper religion. For me, if I really want to do something about the problem I need to work on the solution which is the kingdom of God on earth, the only environment whereby the nations can be healed and provide homes for all of God’s creation. Alone I can do very little but a people together under Christ the head can make visible the environment our Father always intended for mankind to live in. Without community we are all homeless in some form or another.”

But what is “the heart of the problem”? I respond,

Hi Chris, I agree with you…I think. In general, I think American evangelicalism has been pretty entrenched in individualism, which has serious repercussions for both church life and our most pressing social needs. As a Deep Shift newsletter I received this morning states,“If all of our songs say, ‘Jesus, hold me; Jesus, forgive me; Jesus, bless me,’ that does a great job of deepening our personal connection to Jesus on one level, but it can make us pretty self-centered. In the words of a friend of mine, we find ourselves congratulating God on what a great job God is doing at meeting our personal needs.”

Which is a great moment to plug Songs For A Revolution of Hope, which is the best worship album I’ve heard in years and years.

So anyway…my ambivalence toward your statement largely stems from my not being sure how to unpack it. If by “the Kingdom of God on earth” you mean God’s beloved community spreading like yeast through the dough of every level of existence, from ideas to business to public policy to our spending habits and choices, than I whole-heartedly agree. But if you mean a form of “we need to save individual souls (or help individuals recognize God’s love for them, union with them, etc…) I’m afraid I have to say that this is only part of the good news I’m (re)discovering in Jesus. Certainly, my relationship with God in Christ is personal and in the context of the church; but (to paraphrase Jim Wallis) it’s never private. My own conceptions of what ‘church’ is and can mean have, admittedly, been expanding exponentially.

5 Responses to “Further Thoughts on “The Homeless”: Systemic Social Change through God’s Beneficent Reign”

  1. 1 Bill February 21, 2008 at 2:05 am

    This just in: Mike Morrel’s conceptions expand exponentially! (The shocking truth! Film at 11.) 😮

    But that’s not why I’m commenting…

    “Optimistic.” I finally got that! I guess used to think you were claiming to have magic eyeballs or sumpthin.

    Well, live and learn! 😉

    PS: “hey” 🙂

  2. 2 zoecarnate February 21, 2008 at 2:36 am

    Uhh, hiya Bill! Long time no hear.

    How have your conceptions (or lived experiences) of the church and God’s kingdom expanded, brutha? From birth? Rebirth? Since 1996?

  3. 3 Bill February 21, 2008 at 6:06 am

    Mine might be more like the graph of y = sq.rt.(x) – it goes up a lot quickly at the beginning but slow and gradual after that. And there’s nothing in the negative quadrants. Uh… Seriously, the past five years, every year I might have known more about church and church life, but each year I’ve felt like I’ve known less.

    I can say that my conceptions always pale before my experiences, and my experiences always trump my concepts. Not to sound relativistic – of course, truth trumps. But the challenge of living out those *unchanging* truths…

    Gosh, I don’t know how to finish that sentence!

    Btw, I’d comment on your social topic just for kicks, but I don’t think I’m smart enough in that area to do so. Honestly…

  4. 4 Hugh Hollowell February 21, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    As you know, this is an area I have had some small practical experience in.

    I cannot end poverty; I can love a homeless man. I cannot change the education system; I can be important in the life of a child. I cannot solve the Christian/Muslim hatred; I can know and love a Muslim.

    Loving your neighbor means wanting the same thing for the homeless guy under the bridge that you want for your daughter. As a follower of Jesus, loving people is my mandate, my responsibility, my divine command. If you truly love someone, how can it not bother you that they have fewer opportunities than you do? And further, if it does bother you, how can you not fight to right those wrongs?

    Any understanding of Jesus that says He would have no problem with the current social order would have some heavy explaining to do, it seems to me. How we can worship a homeless man on Sunday, yet ignore one on Monday?

    If the church would expend 1/2 of the effort that it currently expends trying to scare people with talk of hell and used it to teach its members to actively love people, poverty and all other social ills would not only be gone, but impossible.

  5. 5 sam clark February 29, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    In my little experience with the homeless it means sacrifice. You have to be willing to love them and trust them even while knowing they most probably will let you down. Like Jesus does for us.

    It doesn’t mean that you leave your children vulnerable to the inner wounds of a homeless person.

    Never underestimate the power of fasting and prayer either. Its a mystery to me but a homeless friend of mine went missing for a few weeks. My heart led me to fast for him for two weeks (I’m not a big ‘faster’, sugar problems)and to be in constant prayer. A couple of days after that two weeks he showed up at my door and spent the day with us. I took him to another home that night and a couple days later he went to the pastor of the church I used to go to to ask for help. That is the first time I’ve ever known him to admit he would like and needed some help.

    He’s in a program now. He’s doing well but he has a long road ahead of him. He will always have a place at my table as long as I’m there. I know he has stolen things from other people and he may steal from me but things really don’t measure up to well when I consider this guy’s potential and the love that Christ has for him.

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