June 24, 2009
Okay, so I have more wondering (dare I say doubts?) about this whole street ministry thing. Warning: these are probably NOT PC questions….
By providing soupaterias, morning coffee and muffins, breakfast in the park, etc… are we really “giving a drink of cold water in Jesus’ name” or are we simply encouraging and sustaining a dependent, drug-additive lifestyle? Are we being helpful or are we alternatively being co-dependent? What about the saying to the effect, “Give a man a fish and he’ll be hungry again tomorrow; teach him to fish and he’ll be able to feed himself forever”?
Would it be better to just focus on those who really “seem” to want to live “better” (more healthy, productive… I don’t know… “normal” llives)? If so, how does one determine who those people might be? Maybe, after all, it is the simple, practical, everyday caring (especially with taking time in all that to sit down and listen and become friends, building real, on-going, consistent, trust-building, practical loving and caring relationships – not just the “across the desk interview” type that is generally true of institutional/ organizational relationships) that in the end, gives people the personal choice (and even desire) to change their lives – or more precisely, to accept Jesus and allow Him to change their lives… because if a person doesn’t personally desire and choose change, it isn’t likely to be long term, no matter how professional and well-funded and well-meaning the “change providers” might be… right?
I think the thing I see in what Pastor P is doing, in that he is very simply, day after day, year in and year out, with no expectation of personal “profit” or of any kind of “checklist of behavioral changes” or anything, other than a deep desire for everyone he meets to encounter the Jesus who loves them and whose love he himself has experienced in a totally life changing way, actually “living Jesus” – love walking, as he calls it – before people, and in that, letting them see that Jesus is real and worth knowing following and being in relationship with!
Pastor P himself, of course, probably wouldn’t fit a lot of peoples’ checklists: he still has long hair and tattoos and wears sweat pants and muscle shirts and looks more like – ha! a trailer park guy maybe! – and he doesn’t “work a normal job” although he certainly could if he wanted too; he has the training and experience, for sure… and he has his own family problems (which some folks would probably say he should focus on more instead of spending time helping this “street family” with their problems (although many “normal” men “work full time jobs” and still don’t focus much on their families…
Checklist type people, I suppose, just wouldn’t see helping out a bunch of “drunks and druggies and transients and bums and mental-health-issues-people” to be a legitimate full-time job… unless of course it was a paid position, in a recognized “professional ministry” or government organization or whatever… because apparently just being “called by God” and walking day by day up and down the streets with Him, without any formal support, formal training, formal job description, formal organizational backing – any formal man-designed and maintained and ordered framework, foundation, etc., is simply not acceptable nor potentially “successful,” in checklist, goal-setting, accountability-type terms!) Well, see, Pastor P wouldn’t fit a lot of peoples’ checklists… but he does, on second thought, look an awful lot like the Jesus we see in the gospel stories.
I suppose this all – this “living like Jesus” – is admirable in a way… but then the question arises, is it practical? What about the effect on his family (living very close to the “economic edge” financially (indeed, over the edge, according to any respectable “accounting”), supposed “embarrassment” for the children over how their dad looks and who he hangs out with (only they don’t look embarrassed to me…), his wife having to work full-time to support the family (even if it by her own choice), not being a “productive, dependable, committed” part of a specific “church” (besides the very real one “in the park”!), not having formal training and certified credentials… not to mention the simple fact that he doesn’t carry around a “success checklist!”
Sure, over the years, quite a lot of people have come into relationship with Jesus… and have gotten clean from their addictions, and some have even gotten “real” jobs and homes (simple ones, mostly, though, that allow them to stand alongside and work together with Jesus and with Pastor P…)… but what about the others who still are struggling out there on the streets, still struggling with addictions, still not “working”? (Well, of course, indeed, what about all those formal government-sponsored and church-organization-sponsored “treatment programs” that themselves only boast a 3 percent or so “success rate”??)
(Does this mean that maybe our “focus” is all wrong? Maybe instead of focusing on the already-down-and-outs, we should be focusing on keeping the “already-healthy” continuing to be healthy – and of course, ideally, providing the environment and resources and so on, to encourage the up-and-coming generations to choose to follow the “already-healthy lifestyle” … you know, with Sunday Schools and youth groups and sports programs and good Christian and/or good public schools, for the children and youth, and nice, busy, encouraging programs for adults… Then our society will surely be a nice (Christianly…) society, and the addictions and street people problems and crime and stuff will just die out, and things will be once again like in the “good old days when this was a Christian nation.” Right… sure… which good old days were those again? Has there ever been a time without poverty and exploitation and messed-up-lives? (And how many truly happy and “normal” and holistically healthy, rich, successful people have you ever know?) (Okay, yes, I’m going here beyond un-PC to tongue-in-cheek-irony-type questions….!)
But Jesus Himself hung out – lived – with the poor and dispossessed and generally the pariahs of society: traitorous tax-collectors and low-level-laborer types were among His closest friends and “inner-ministry-circle,” and He didn’t “work a normal job,” and the women who followed Him around and helped (and yes, also supported Him financially in some cases) included prostitutes and other disreputables (as well as a few “upper-class” women, go figure!).
In fact, one woman brought a whole city to Jesus – and she’d been married 5 times and presently was “shacking up” with some guy, and was so looked down upon that she had to go get water from the well – a “community” kind of activity – by herself because the other women didn’t want to be with her. Yep – Jesus’ friends and followers were low-caste sinners for the most part. He and His close followers lived a lot of their lives “in the streets.” They didn’t habitually wash their hands properly before eating. They picked and ate grain and stuff from the fields as they passed by. When they went out to “minister,” they only had one outfit – no change of clothes, and no wallet with money for restaurants and hotel rooms. And they bunked in with whoever would take them in and give them a meal… and so on and so forth… They even went to wedding parties where not only did wine flow freely, but Jesus Himself provided extra wine: gallons and gallons of it!
(And don’t give me some weak excuse about how a lot of that was “cultural” and somehow “normal” in its “historical setting.” If it was, why would the wealthy, “righteous,” clean-living, good-guy, “normal” citizenry (scribes and Pharisees and such) have been so horrified and scornful (and feeling threatened, as the “unwashed masses” joyfully followed this low-caste, uneducated, upstart, self-styled teacher… who instead of trying to turn the masses into nice citizens who met the check-list requirements, was just feeding them and healing them – not to mention eating with them and even drinking with them – right there where they were!)
Oh! And bringing them the good news of a God who loves them and who has provided the way – the only real way – to be freed from the slavery to that which at the root of all misery: sin! “God so loved the world” – that’s what people are longing for above all else: that true, perfect love. “Not as the world gives,” either! But the one real love relationship that lasts forever and is 100% dependable. Of course, even with Jesus, a lot of folks ate the fish and loaves, and followed Him around, and received healing, and witnessed “signs and miracles” … and then rejected Him in the end because they wanted “here and now” earthly solutions (like the conquering king who would smash the Romans… or even the nice guy who would continue to provide free meals…). But for those few (and they were few, a tiny minority, really) who genuinely accepted Jesus’ love and His message, not only were their lives changed (and not so that they looked like the “normal” nice-guy, righteous-living, Pharisee types), but they “turned the world upside down!” Even the Pharisees, amazed at watching the disciples after Jesus ascended and sent the Holy Spirit, had to grudgingly concede the amazing lives of those uneducated, low-class followers, and note “that they had been with Jesus.”
So, I don’t know all the answers to all those questions. But I do know – take note! – that for at least a few people out there on the street, they have encountered the love of Jesus and accepted it, because they have seen it lived, walked out, consistently and long term, in the lives of Pastor P and others who, without judgment and checklists, have loved them, fed the hungry, clothed the cold, visited those who’ve been in and out of prison, listened to their stories, comforted them… and introduced them to Jesus!
Well, then, that’s answer enough for me.
(Time to read Your word – thank You for speaking to me already by Your Spirit… Oh Lord… let this be Your day, Your way, I pray. In Jesus’ name, for His (Your!) sake. Amen! Thank You! (Sorry for all my doubts and questionings and wonderings….)