Tag Archives: Christianity

Thoughts On The Bible

9 Feb

Christianity generally, and the Bible specifically, are subjects in need of exploring because a great many people respond to homelessness through them.   Can there be a more easily manipulated person, to a confession of faith, than one suffering the burdens of homelessness?   Some Christians will declare that during such difficult times, Christianity is in most need.  Yet others will declare that people become homeless through Divine intervention – a ruse by God to get wayward people’s attention.   I can’t tell you how many times a chaplain at the rescue mission chapel service will declare to the coerced attendants, “It is no accident that you are here tonight.”   Sadly, the rescue mission staff does not allow dissenting views to be expressed, on this subject, or any other.

Most people who feel compelled to bring Christianity to the homeless will declare the inerrancy of the Bible.  The justification goes thusly – if the Bible is perfect, and they are preaching “from” the Bible, then the words they speak as they preach are also perfect, to be considered dutifully, without question.   Such proclamations made so often at the begin of chapel services at the mission has caused many, including myself, to automatically turn off my attention, and dismiss whatever the chaplain is saying.   On the other hand, if the chaplain starts out on the right foot, with humility and practicality, I’ve give him a listen.  (and in this instance I use the pronoun “him” because women are not allowed to preach at the mission.  Although the rescue mission claims that it is non-denominational, only fundamentalist views are allowed to be expressed at the mission.)

The Bible is not perfect, and there is plenty of reasonable proof of its imperfection.   But, really, does the Bible have to be perfect?   I don’t think so.  God is still God, with, or without it.  For some, though, their faith is founded on the Bible.   In their twisted logic God can be proven to not exist, if the Bible can be found to be lacking.  What a terrible state they put themselves in.   Instead of having a relationship with God, they have a relationship with the Bible.  And instead of developing a life in relationship with God, they spend all their time trying to defend the Bible, defend their faith, defend “Christianity,” etc., etc.   But, God needs no defenders.  God is perfectly capable of defending himself, and desires for us to instead spend our lives doing His will.   A real Christian is not one who makes signs to the world that they are Christian, but is one who feeds the hungry, shelter the cold, provides for the needy, etc.   A person who spends all their time trying to convert the already converted, and ignores or neglects their needs, is nursing a dead faith.

I often wonder where the body of Christ would be if we didn’t have the Bible, if the words of 2000 years ago were never put into print.  I imagine that us “Christians” would be more alive in Christ, having a more dynamic relationship with God, because they are not confining their lives to the stories and few teachings found within the Bible.   When witnessing to non-believers they wouldn’t turn to the Bible, as they do today as a crutch, but would instead relay their own real and personal experiences with the almighty.  Churches and their doctrine would appeal more to the contemporary needs of people.

But today there is almost no accurate relating of God to people and their needs.  I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the story of the prodigal son at chapel services at the rescue mission.   But let me tell you, folks, the story of the prodigal son is not a story about homelessness.   There are no, sons-of-wealthy-land-owners, hanging out at the rescue mission after squandering their inheritance.  That story doesn’t apply to us homeless.  Please stop trying to make that square story fit into our round lives.

For an understanding of the story of the Prodigal Son, read – The Prodigal Son

To End Chronic Homelessness

10 Aug

The answer is here. Well, it has always been here. But who wants to hear it? Back in January of 2004, HUD released a publication of “best practices” in dealing with chronically homeless people. A group of HUD officials traveled the country looking at what cities were doing to combat homelessness. They then compiled a list of the most effective efforts and published them in a book, which can be read free of charge on the internet.

You can find this PDF file at: Strategies For Reducing Street Homelessness.

This is THE guide book for all cities attempting to create “10 year plans” for ending chronic homelessness, as prompted by the Interagency Council on Homelessness.

I have read this book. The ideas put forth in this publication do work. All that is required is for each city to be willing to put these ideas into action. Surprisingly, most cities are reluctant to do so.

There is a financial benefit for every city to reduce chronic homelessness. It has been proved in more than one study that putting chronic homeless people into supportive housing is actually cheaper than leaving chronically homeless people on the streets. When left on the streets, chronically homeless people have more episodes that require response from emergency personel – Ambulances, police, hospitals, jails, etc. This happens because supportive housing gives chronically homeless people the stability they can’t create for themselves. This stability give them a peace of mind they can’t achieve while on the streets. With peace of mind, they are less likely to have mental or emotional breakdowns, are less likely to drink or take drugs excessively, etc. Not only does putting chronically homeless people into supportive housing improve the quality of life for homeless people, it also improves the quality of life for all citizens – as they are no longer exposed to the personal crises of homeless people.

It seems the biggest obstacle to getting programs for the chronically homeless established is that people cannot help but pass judgement on the homeless. They come to the conclusion that homeless people don’t deserve any help. So, how do we get people, especially people in positions of power and authority, to not pass judgment on the homeless? How to get these people to see that the benefits to the whole city far outweigh the perceived undeserved-ness of the homeless. As most of our population declares a believe in God and Jesus Christ, we can look to the teachings within the Bible for guidance.

“Do not pass judgment on others.”
“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

The Gut-bucket Gospel

7 Jul


Dallas’ Street Church will meet you where you are, even if it’s in a crack house
Published: June 28, 2007

Fifteen years ago while leading a church service for incarcerated women in a dirty room in the Dallas County Jail, Pastor Karen Dudley noticed a familiar face in the crowd. Dudley had first seen the woman a year earlier at another prison. At the time, the woman had been living as a crack addict and prostitute. Upon her release, she’d given Dudley a call, and the two had become friends. The woman had moved back to East Texas to live with her family, where she joined a local church. Her life seemed to have taken a turn for the better.

But now she was back in prison. Dudley’s heart sank as she looked out from behind the lectern and saw that the woman was right back where she’d started. “Lord, if you’re real,” Dudley prayed, “that lady can be delivered.” At that moment, Dudley envisioned an inner-city church that would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help people like this woman make a lasting change.

Today that church is a reality. Called Dallas International Street Church, it is located in South Dallas on Clarence Street in an old brick structure that used to be a 12-unit apartment complex near boarded-up buildings and crack houses. Underneath a nearby bridge, a small colony of homeless people sleep in cardboard boxes. Dallas International Street Church redefines church as many of us know it. The congregation is almost entirely made up of homeless people, and the church staff are almost all former drug addicts.

Dudley believes the mission of the street church is to reach out to the needy in whatever way they can. Sometimes that means helping people obtain documents and identification that they’ve lost, such as birth certificates, picture IDs or Social Security cards. Or it might involve giving someone a place to sleep, getting them counseling or helping them obtain a GED. “If we can make one person’s life a little bit better, we’re going to do that without question,” Dudley says. “If they want to make a change, then I want to help them make a change.”

The church plays a small but significant role in combating homelessness in Dallas. According to the most recent statistics, the homeless population in Dallas County is somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000. That number includes individuals living in temporary housing such as shelters and motels as well as those living on the streets and in homeless encampments. Some homeless advocates, however, doubt the accuracy of these counts.

In 2006, the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty conducted a survey of 224 cities to evaluate how they treated their homeless populations. Dallas was ranked one of the worst because of several laws the city has targeted at the homeless population.

Panhandling, for instance, is now prohibited across the city from sunset to sunrise, and under a new ordinance, good Samaritans who feed the homeless outside of city-approved locations can be fined anywhere from $200 to $2,000. The city also has a ban on sleeping in public, and it regularly bulldozes homeless encampments.

But the city is attempting to change its image. The Dallas Homeless Assistance Center is scheduled to open next March. At this $21 million facility, which features 100 beds for short-term use as well as an outdoor pavilion where 300 people can sleep, the homeless can take a shower, get a hot meal and get access to job training and treatment for drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness.

Jeremy Gregg, director of development at Central Dallas Ministries, believes the most important thing a city can do to deal with homelessness is to provide affordable housing, particularly single-room-occupancy units, or SROs. He says the Street Church and other small nonprofits like it are best at addressing the immediate needs of the homeless, such as food, clothing and shelter. But Gregg says ending homelessness in Dallas will require more than any one organization can accomplish on its own.

“I’m just grateful for the little, minute thing that I get to do everyday,” Dudley says.

Every week Dallas International Street Church serves more than 1,000 meals and hands out enough clothing to fill 20 to 30 garbage bags. Dudley networks with several other ministries and nonprofits in order to treat the “whole person.” If someone comes to the church strung out on drugs, the church will take them to Homeward Bound Inc., which has 14- to 21-day residential drug detox as well as an outpatient program. The church staff is also attuned to spiritual needs. It operates a Christian 12-step program as well as daily Bible studies and nightly church services to get people on the path to spiritual healing.

Soon after someone enters the program, Dudley likes to get them involved in serving. She sees this as one of the most important components of recovery: learning to give back. Sometimes men and women in the program find themselves serving food or handing out clothing to people they smoked crack with only the week before.

Dudley recognizes that change is a process. “It doesn’t come overnight,” she says. “Hearts have been hardened because of the things that they have been through. It’s hard to learn to trust again.”

Ronnie Perkins, the praise and worship leader at Street Church, says the church has changed his life. He was one of the first men to be helped by Dudley after she started the church nearly 10 years ago. In 1987, Perkins’ partner died of AIDS, and Perkins learned that he’d contracted HIV. Shortly thereafter he found himself abandoned by friends and family. Then he discovered a new friend, crack cocaine. By the time he met Dudley, he weighed only 125 pounds (he now weighs 175) and often slept on the loading dock of a seldom-used building. Perkins says, “I was tore up from the floor up. It was hard for me to go back to the traditional church, because I was so messed up and I didn’t know if they were going to accept me. But the church here will accept you just the way you are. We’ll build you up from where you are.”

Dudley sees herself as an unlikely candidate for this kind of work. She grew up in a little country town in Oklahoma. She had an ordinary upbringing and never got into drugs or alcohol. But Dudley has a tenacity that drives her to see hurting people’s lives changed. The church staff tells stories of how she’s walked into crack houses to pull her people out when they’ve had a relapse. “These are not drunks and bums and crackheads,” Dudley says. “They’re people with the same hopes and dreams that you and I have.”

Off Tract

10 Apr

Someone recently asked about religious tracts for the homeless. For those who don’t know, tracts are small pamphlets some Christians use as a way to promote the faith. Personally, I’ve never known tracts to be an effective means of ministry, especially to non-Christians. And they often have the opposite effect – instead of bringing people closer to god, they often turn people away from Him.

Faith is a personal thing, and can only be properly dealt with on a person to person basis. Personal interaction is needed, and tracts are not personal. If anything, tracts are about as impersonal as you can get – and are often used so to avoid personal contact with people. Handing a person a piece of paper and then walking away from them is not how Jesus teaches how to minister to people.

Throw those tracts into the trash, and go out and meet people, and talk to people, and get to know them, and their needs, and help those people you encounter to meet their needs because that’s what God wants you to do. Then these people, so effected by your act of kindness, will be converted and they will begin doing as you do – going out and meeting people and meeting their needs, with the help of God.

And that brings up another subject.

What a weak and selfish people Christians have become. Even the well intentioned Christians get it wrong and make mess of things. When a Christian encounters a person with a problem, they will introduce Jesus, and tell the person with the problem that Jesus will help. And then the Christian leaves the person with the problem alone with Jesus, for them to work out the problem between themselves.

As Christians we are called to help people, and to be the problem solvers. We are supposed to be involved in the solutions. It is not our calling to point people in the direction of help, we are supposed to be the help. Passing out Bibles, or tracts, or inviting people to Church, is a way of avoiding our calling. We serve no one when we pass the buck, not our fellow citizens, not our God.

Homeless Christmas

26 Dec

I’ve never been accused of being a “ray of sunshine” unless someone was trying to be funny. But I am trying to change that aspect of myself. Being in a perpetually happy state seems one of the requirements of being a good Christain. Alas, I fail miserably in that regard.

Christmas Love

24 Dec

There was a day when forgiveness was born. We call it Christmas. The day our God was born as one of us. He came to forgive us of everything. He only asks that we forgive others to the same extent. And we can find the capacity to do so only in love.

God is love.

May God Bless you with love enough.

Pastor On A Roll

31 May

Another Evotion from Pastor Ken Locke of Downtown Presbyterian Church worth posting here:

God “raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:20-23).

Another Memorial Day has come and gone. Flags were placed in cemetaries. Parades and memorial services were held. Stores had sales and the malls were packed.

It is right that we remember those who have served our country and those who have died in her service. Nations and patriotism are a gift from God and we celebrate those who take these gifts seriously and use them well.

At the same time, we remember that nations are ephemeral. None of them lasts forever. States and boundaries and loyalties necessarily come and go.

In the midst of this constant change we remember the one constant in life – that Jesus sits at the right hand of God. Jesus rules over us from the heavenly places. Jesus is above and has authority over all human power and dominions. Including our own country.

In light of this fact we remember that our country has faults and flaws. Being human it is necessarily imperfect. As we remember those who showed their patriotism by the sacrifice of their lives, let us also remember those who showed their patriotism by the sacrifice of their liberty. Let us remember those who’s conscience refused to let them answer the call to military service and war. Let us remember those who protested and were jailed when they perceived that our country had gone down a human road rather than the path of God.

Ultimately, our loyalty goes to Jesus not to our nation. Let us remember those who perceived that their Christian duty was to answer the call to war. Let us remember those who perceived that their Christian duty was to turn aside from war and embrace the way of peace.

Thanks be to God for our nation and those who have served her in so many ways.

Email O’ The Day

20 Apr

I think I mentioned to you about doing a project for the homeless in my area, which was going to be making the care package bags you talked about on your blog (you know…socks, toothbrush/paste, comb, etc). I brought it to the staff of my youth group, and they thought it was a good idea but it somehow snowballed into this much larger effort, and I wanted to get your opinion.

Basically, they say handing out these bags isn’t enough, isn’t really ministering to the homeless. I disagree, and I’m not quite sure what their intent is, but they want me to call all of the homeless programs I can find in the area to see what they do that we can help with. But what keeps ringing in my ear is what you said about some programs not really being all that helpful. I wanted to do the bags in May, which gave us April to gather the materials, do some recon to find out how many people there are that would need this. They want to help out in a soup kitchen or something like that. My opinion is that soup gets served anyway…we’re not reaching out to anyone by serving them a meal that someone will serve them anyway, but how many people give the homeless things they need that no one thinks about? Please correct me if I’m missing the point here; I want the project to be the most
effective as an aid to the homeless in our community. I don’t mind reaching out to the programs we already have in place in Richmond, but I think the timeframe we set for ourselves when it was “just” handing out bags is too short for that much research.

In a related note, what do you think would be the best way for us to talk to the people we meet about Christ? I think my group thinks unless we can essentially hand them a Bible, our work is ineffective. I think if we handed out the packages, maybe put a note in it with a verse or something, and offered to pray for or with them, that would be good…they get things they need, plus they see that we’re actually
doing it in Christ’s name. I know you have a personal faith in God, so how would you go about bringing Him into the work?

Thanks for your insight. I appreciate the value your opinion gives to any efforts we attempt.

God’s blessings to you,

Dear J,
You do have the right idea. And it may just be a little apprehension on the part of some people who would rather do something in a shelter. I’m sure working a soup line would feel safer. The intimacy of meeting a homeless person face to face may seem like too much. But as you know, this is where I think the most good can be done.

As far as from a “faith” perspective, we should give a close look at Matthew 25:31-46, and at the story of the Good Samaritan. NO WHERE in these examples are people shown putting a bible into someone’s hands, or even recounting their “witness story” to them. In these examples, the people do the right thing, not by telling others about Jesus, but by just doing what Jesus would do – by taking care of their needs. One should never underestimate the power of the Spirit to be known, even without a word being said. As you hand out the gift bags some homeless person will inevitably ask, where do you come from? Whey you reply, “such-and-such church,” nothing more need be said. Homeless people are usually more familiar with the Gospel than those ministering to them. More than “the word”, what homeless people need is “the word in action.”

On the argument of the gift bags not being enough, I would say that the only “enough” one could possibly do would be to give a homeless person a real home. Anything short of that will not be “enough.” But again, I think this idea from your group probably came out of fear of the actual encounter with a homeless person. It would be easier to just take someone else’s lead. Through Christ we can overcome our fears. As always, ministering to others is just as much about ourselves as it is about the ones me minister to. There is a lot to be learned when being the giver. All though the items in the gift bags are greatly needed by the homeless, they are not necessary for a meaningful encounter – though they sure help in breaking the social ice of meeting strangers. Just as your youth group may be leary of the homeless, the homeless may have difficulty trusting your youth group. And the gift bags help overcome that as well. Even without the gift bags, the youth group can still provide for the homeless with their friendship and conversation. Having a friend to talk to feeds the soul more than a bowl of soup feeds the stomach.

Homeless people may be goofy, but they are not to be feared any more than any other person. I’ll never forget when a police District Commander in Nashville presented a fact about homeless people. The crime rates around homeless shelters, where homeless people spend most of their time, is actually lower than in other parts of the city.

A smile, a kind word, an encouragement, a handshake, a friendship – all from people who are not homeless but who really care anyway – those are the things that make the most profound impact in the lives of homeless people.

Thanks for writing,

The Best Christmas Event Ever

22 Dec

I’ve seen a few Christmas celebrations/events in my time – including a Nativity play using real camels. But, this past Monday, I experienced the most truly Christmas event ever. It was Nashville’s Tuba Christmas. The idea has been around for 30 some years, starting in NYC. And, the man who created the Tuba Christmas event was on hand for Nashville’s. It was billed as having 100 Tuba players playing Christmas carols. The final count was 160, and they had to turn away even more.

The event was held at my church, Downtown Presbyterian Church. The church is over 150 years old. In it’s heyday, it was the most influential and powerful church in Nashville. Many of the streets of Nashville are named after the people who were members of this church. President Andrew Jackson attended here. And the inaugurations of several of Tennessee’s governors where held here. Also, during the civil war, when the North occupied Nashville, they used the church as a hospital. Its a beautiful church will a lot of American historical significance. But, as times changed, people moved away from downtown and so did the congregation. Though it still has its importance, this church has a small congregation of about 150 dedicated folks. I’m sure it’s been a long time since there were this many people in the building. As the picture shows, people were sitting in the isles. The balcony was full, and so was the narthex. Totally, standing room only.

And so, here were nearly a thousand people, mostly strangers to each other, yet all together in one accord, singing along with all the standard Christmas Carols accompanied by the 160 tubas. The unity of the community. Brotherly love and all that jazz. It was so apparent to everyone. Smiling, laughing, applauding.

(Where’s Waldo? I am in the above picture, though I doubt anyone could recognize me. A free hand made scarf by yours truly to anyone who can actually point me out. You can click on the picture to see a larger version.)

Worship On Christmas Sunday

13 Dec

THIS link will take you to an email I received from the Pastor of the Downtown Presbyterian Church on the subject of having Church on Christmas. I agree with his statement. I hope you can give it a good read.

Life Happens

2 Nov

A lot can happen between blog posts. Having decided to give my hand a break, I went home, and stayed home the entire weekend + Monday. My hand still hurts when I use it, but it may just be something I have to work through. Or, it could be that it will never be in the same again. Though I can move my thumb, it doesn’t have the range of movement it once did.

On checking email today, I found that a friend had emailed me Saturday, an email I didn’t read until today, offering me tickets to yesterday’s Titans-Raiders game. It probably would have been more fun watching the Titans lose in person, but there’s no use crying about it now.

I spent Halloween alone at home. I put on the first Harry Potter movie and waited for the trick-or-treaters. But, none came. Sadly, I had to eat the two bags of Nestle’ Crunch by myself. And during all this, I thought about my kids, and what I have missed by not being around. Often I find myself thinking about what I’d be doing in a particular situation if my kids were with me – about the wonders of the world I’d show them, and life lessons I’d teach them. Though kinda sad, thinking this way about my kids helps me to feel closer to them. If I ever get the chance to be their Dad again, there’ll be so much to catch up on – so much to make up for, so much life to share with them. Whenever that chance comes, I’ll be ready.

I learned that Howard Gentry, Nashville’s current Vice Mayor, is planning to run for Mayor – and that’s a very very good thing. He would make a great mayor. He is a person who can move the city forward in a none divisive way. And that’s the best thing about him – he can find solutions that all people are comfortable with, and which do not stir up controversy. I’ll definitely be campaigning for him.

There are many reclusive people living in my apartment complex. In the six months I’ve been living there, I bet I’ve only laid eyes on a third of the residents. Well, this morning I awoke to the sound of a drill. The management had to break into an apartment just two doors down from mine. Whoever was living there had died. The events of the day were surreal. First was the breaking in, with management looking on – the police officer standing outside, talking to the case manager – the non-descript van from the morgue pulling up onto the grass. I’d seen these things as I was either taking out the trash or going to the mail box. As I walked by the door of the apartment once, I witnessed the quiet commotion within – the body just out of view.

I watched a documentary this weekend about events leading up to, and during, Hitler’s reign. If you ever wondered what the good Christians of Germany were doing and not doing during this time, I highly recommend this DVD. Though focused on the activities of one heroic Christian, Bonhoeffer, the documentary also tells how Hitler and his crew were able to appease the Churches, and how German Christians failed to stand up against the evil of the day – that is, save Bonhoeffer and his small band of conspirators. You can find more info about this documentary at www.dbonhoeffer.org There are lessons to be learned here, about the mistakes made by so many people, and how we can avoid such a thing from happening again.

From the webpage:
Indeed, his efforts to help a group of Jews escape to Switzerland were what first led to his arrest and imprisonment in the spring 1943. His leadership in the anti-Nazi Confessing Church and his participation in the Abwehr resistance circle (beginning in February 1938) make his works a unique source for understanding the interaction of religion, politics, and culture among those few Christians who actively opposed National Socialism, as is particularly evident in his drafts for a posthumously published Ethics.

The Gospel According To America Signing

4 Mar

A recent email:

I am proud to forward on this announcement of my good friend’s book signing and discussion at Davis Kidd next monday. This should prove to be a surprisingly non-partisan look at ‘this “weird moment” in which we live’.

Please join us as
David Dark discusses and signs
The Gospel According To America: A Meditation On A God-Blessed, Christ-Haunted Idea

Monday, March 7th
6:00 p.m.
at Davis Kidd Booksellers
4007 Hillsboro Rd.
615 385 2645

About the Author
David Dark is a teacher at Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, TN, and the author of “Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons, and Other Pop Culture Icons.”

Product Description:
Using icons from music, literature, film, and politics, David Dark hope to provide fodder for lively conversation about what it means to be Christian and American in this “weird moment” in which we live. The end result of this conversation, Dark hopes, will be a better understanding that “there is a reality more important, more lasting, and more infinite than the cultures to which we belong,” the reality of the
kingdom of God.

Jim Wallis

22 Jan

Jim Wallis wrote a book called God’s Politics. In this interview with Jon Stewart he discusses his book. Just click on the Jim Wallis link in the celeb interviews column. Believers will find it redeeming.

The Daily Show


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