Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Anawim-- Trials and Errors, Part 1

Below, I will describe a number of the “experiments” we, as a ministry to the homeless, attempted and their outcomes. As they apply, I will describe the issue we saw, the experiment we attempted, the challenges that came up, our failures, our success and what lesson we learned.

1. Meal with discussions
We opened our apartment for daily meals with the homeless. We were not interested in preaching, but in listening and exploring the culture of the homeless, learning their language and understanding their life experiences as they described it. We would pray with people and sometimes give counsel, but we rarely preached the gospel. A challenge was how much time this took away from our family. We learned that we needed to have a separate family night once a week. This program was so successful that we incorporate a meal with fellowship in every meeting we have.

2. Meal in Church
We transferred our ministry in our home to a church context, having a meal first once then twice a week. For our first meal, we advertised with a notice on telephone poles within a one mile radius of the church. From that time on, we relied only on word of mouth. We invited other church people to eat with the homeless and needy and eat with them, even as we had done. Most church folks, we found, were very uncomfortable conversing with the homeless and they felt that people weren’t “getting converted” fast enough. Although the meals were bringing many people into the church, the church after a number of years closed the program down because of what they saw as a lack of spiritual opportunity.

3. Becoming homeless/poor
At the time of the church meal, I was called by the Lord to quit my job, have my family and I become homeless living in other’s living rooms and depend on God without an income, focusing all my energy on ministering to the homeless. Financially, we did not ask for donations, but waited on the Lord for what He would provide for us. This gave us opportunity to learn from the homeless community how to live like the homeless, eating meals where they ate and learning to get by as people of the lowest income.

4. Bible Study
During one of the meals, I began a bible study in a separate room. Every week there were very few who were interested, and even those who came didn’t show a lot of interest in the study. After a few months, I discontinued it.

5. Inviting homeless to church
During the church meal, we would invite some to participate in the main service of the church on Sunday morning. Most would claim that they had nothing good to wear, and others would just say they couldn’t, without giving reason why. A few did join the service, but most of them were either uncomfortable or acted inappropriately for the middle class context. But the church did speak to a few and they still attend the services to this day. The church eventually asked us to stop our ministry among the homeless community.

6. Becoming our own congregation
After no longer having a place for our homeless ministry, we decided to continue our meals but to add a church service and to make the homeless ministry its own congregation. We began meeting in a Salvation Army building once a week, and had a service after an hour of our meal. Most people left at first when the service began, but as time went on, more and more people began to stay. Today, we have about 40 people a week coming to the service in Gresham.

7. Meeting in Salvation Army
Salvation Army offered us a small building to serve our meals and to have our service in. During that time on occasion if they had a project, they would try to cancel our ministry with only a day’s notice. Eventually they gave us a 30 day notice. We learned that we should meet in a church that understood and appreciated our vision of how to help the homeless.

8. Meals with service
In SA, we had worship that would come from the meal. At first we switched chairs to be more like a congregation, but eventually we found that people were more comfortable sitting at tables. Giving an opportunity to worship after a meal was good in two ways: first of all it gave many an opportunity to worship God who otherwise wouldn’t take the opportunity (many begin participating in worship because they felt they needed to “pay” for their meal). Secondly, people felt that we were more noble than the missions and churches who forced people to sit though a service to get a meal.

9. Scripture
Scripture was central to our worship. We would have a long Scripture reading in every service, containing a variety of scriptures and the sermons would always be focused on Scripture, not themes or stories, although the points were pretty basic. Given the basic conservative viewpoint of the homeless community, this was a big positive. And it also gave many of the folks to read Scripture and so participate.

10. Sermon participation
Because many who attended the service were mentally ill or socially handicapped, many would feel free to “talk back” or even argue with the preacher. So we incorporated discussions during the sermon time. This gives me an opportunity to get instant feedback from the congregation to see what they are understanding and to even change the direction of the sermon in the middle if necessary.

11. Music
With our worship we had a music leader who would very simply play guitar and lead people in choruses and short hymns. Few people would actually sing, but culturally it felt more like a service and less like a Bible Study. Eventually, it was said by some that they would find themselves singing the music all week long and the Lord spoke to them through the songs. Music is significant in about half of our ministry times right now.

12. Donations
Many homeless mentioned how the “passing of a plate” felt like a requirement to give to the church and was a very negative experience for them. We decided not to ask for money, so we wouldn’t be equated with greedy preachers or churches. This meant that our ministry was supported by donations without being asked. Some from both inside and outside the congregation gave as God’s Spirit led them. We also had some who offered us food and clothing on a regular basis. Many of these donors continue to provide for our meals to this day. We learned that the ministry can be provided for by just requesting God.

Above are the earliest years, from 1995-2000.

What's Wrong With Asking What's Wrong?

An excellent article by the Chalmer's Center, educating ministers to the poor:

The Use of Privilege

How can you not use your privilege for your own benefit. That negates the inherent nature of privilege as a social entity and dynamic and (wrongly) reduces it to an individual choice dynamic.
If you are white, you will receive preferential treatment by store clerks, loan officers, real estate agents, police/military and other white people generally.
The intention of using your privilege as a white person to do some kind of good work does not prevent or mitigate this at all. Privilege is usually a social structure that is used whether one likes it or not, precisely because it is social and not individual.
Things like not working for a company that cheats people their wages. This isn’t possible. All companies cheat people of their wages. If I am selling a chair, I must pay my employee that makes the chair less than the value of the chair my employee produces. I must keep some of the value she/he produces for myself. In fact, I must keep a lot of the value my employees produce in making the chairs. That is how business owners become rich while their employees producing the value just make ends meet.
Having the privilege to run a business under capitalism is by definition exploitation.
In this sense, and I believe this is the correct frame to analyze this, most of the list is negated in its practical application to the real world. The impulse is admirable, though.

I’d like to think this discussion is more than an admirable impulse.
It’s one thing to use power. We all do it. It’s the way our world works. It’s quite another thing to use your power at the expense of shaming or degrading someone else. THAT is what Paul is talking about.
It’s a tall order, that is for sure. But, it is the call we have. So, I plan to work towards that “admirable” goal.

Inegmar, it seems that you are taking an unnessessarily fatalistic approach to privilege.

First of all, I want to reiterate that privilege is something that is shared by most people, just in different areas. Perhaps one person is of color, but male, thus he has both privilege and oppression. Another person is female but educated. Another person is wealthy but homosexual. Another person is poor but a citizen of the U.S. All of these people have a mix of both privilege and oppression– inate power and inate weakness. Thus they can understand both the mourning of oppression and the power of the oppressed, if they can see past the blinders of their culture which is communicating to them that they are “normal” or they are “victim”. For the most part, we all have power, we all have experienced loss.

Secondly, there are two types of privilege: that which we have, inately, and that which we use. I can’t help being white, and that naturally gives me certain privilege from birth. Most of us on this forum were born as citizens of the U.S. and that gives us an authority and a power that is there, wherever in the world we go. While this privilege gives us inate power, we can show that this power can be marginalized, if we choose it to. I could go to Bangladesh as a U.S. citizen and become a window washer with the poorest in Dhaka. My privilege is not gone– I am not any less an American or white– but over time I can show that my privilege is marginalized. I am contextualizing my inate privilege in a manner to associate with the lowest and to become one of them.

But there are other kinds of privilege that we can use– education, relationships with the powerful, finances, political power, inheritance, authority etc. The opportunity for this privilege is also innate, but this form of privilege is able to be directed. Our culture trains us to use this privilege in order to establish a “normal” existence, i.e. a privileged one. This is using privilege for our own benefit.

The Bible, however, teaches us that it is our responsibility to use what privilege we have to create justice, to create equity, to stop oppression, to create opportunities for those who do not have privilege.

And this, as I see it, is a choice, the choice that the Bible gives us. We can live to be consumers, live for the increase of our family and thus increase privilege for our generations after us. Or we can surrender the use of our privilege and give the use of it to those who do not have.

We cannot change who we are. But we can change who we serve.

Steve K

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Fear of the Other

It is a basic principle for all creatures to fear that which is the same size or bigger than them, but different.

I have some pretty large rats in my backyard, and a cat. If the cat sees a rat, he will just let it pass by without even flinching, because they are about the same size. While the cat is made to attack creatures, they are only those that are smaller than them.

But then my cat saw an advantage. The rat was focused on something else for a while, ignoring the cat. So the cat saw that he had the upper hand and attacked the rat, wounding it, playing with it and then killing it.

Difference and equal power equates fear.
Fear leads to anxiety
Anxiety seeks advantage over fear.
Anxiety attacts the object of fear.

Those of other race not only look different, but more importantly, they hold to different mores and cultural presuppositions than one. Because those of other race have a population that could potentially harm one’s own race, and it is different, the other race is an object of fear. "They might insist that we follow their ways."-- this translates into core racist language "They have taken over our cities"; "They have conspired to control us economically."; "They will blemish our civilization." These are all statements of anxiety.

Those in fear/anxiety will then seek an advantage-- economically, militarily, politically, etc-- to make themselves "bigger". Once they feel safe, they will attack that which caused them fear. This is primarily to give them and their society freedom from the anxiety they have been feeling. Once the object of anxiety is completely subdued or destroyed, then the original society can feel safe.

This is the pattern you can find in Nazi Germany, in Israel/Palestine and in Rwanda. And it is the basic pattern of the relationship between the homeless and the middle class. There is fear between the social groups. The homeless fear the middle classes power over them. The middle class fear the homeless' violence and create myths about the homeless due to their ignorance. The middle class say that the homeless are more prone to drugs, alcohol, mental illness and violence. For the most part, however, this is not true.

So when young people and the police attack the homeless, it is for their own protection. They fear, thus they must attack in order to create security.

If we want to be rid of racial/cultural/social prejudice, we need to create opportunities for open relationship between the opposing groups. In familiarity and relationship, fear disappears. Once both sides recognize the other as humans with needs and desires like them, there is the possibility to compromise for the sake of peace for both sides.