Wednesday, May 30, 2012


In my business, I deal with a lot of donors and volunteers.  That’s really the lifeblood of work with the homeless.  We don’t have money to keep everyone fed and warm, so we seek donations of food and clothes.  And there is more work that our small group can do ourselves, so we seek volunteers to help us accomplish big tasks.

But there are rituals for donors and volunteers.  Donors usually want their donations to be more than a simple donation.  They’d like a receipt to mark their donation to take it off of their taxes.  Some would like their donation to be recognized in a newsletter or in our blog.  Many donors want to tell us specifically how to use the money, even if that isn’t our need at the time.

Volunteers really want the same thing.  They don’t want to be told what to do, or how to do something.  They want to tell you what they will do, and when to do it.  They want to do something you don’t need done, at times.  And, of course, they want your gratitude, and possibly a letter of recommendation for the hour of work they’ve given you.

Not all volunteers or donors are so insistent.  Most are wonderful, and gracious and so kind.  And I have to say, almost all of the homeless volunteers and donors are wonderful.  And this is because they are giving back.  They are grateful for the opportunity to give and to work, because they feel like they’ve paid a small back for all that they’ve received.  Sure, the clothes they donate may need to be cleaned and the service may, on occasion, need to be done again.  But the gracious attitude is one of the best things on earth.

"Who loves more, the one who has been granted much, or the one who has been granted little?  He who has been granted little, loves little."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dysfunctional Families

A poem by Patty

(...when does it stop?)
( can the chain be broken?)
(...will I recognize "normal"?)

Generations of guilt;
Generation of pain;
We're promised sunshine...
We feel the rain
We shiver and shake
Now we're late,
With reprimand
They bind our hand;
Now... they cannot wait
Because of you...
The deal fell through
Too late to shine my shoes!
You know the rules...
Begone!... get off!
My ship of fools!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Dying on the Street

In Portland, the Multnomah County Medical Examiner's office released recently a report on deaths that occurred among people who have no known address.

This report admits that the numbers they have are limited and that the report is far from inclusive about deaths of the homeless.  For instance, it does not include those who lived on the street, but died in a hospital or a shelter.  With these limited figures, the Medical Examiner determined that there were 47 deaths on the street last year.  The median age of those dead was 49.  Seven were women. There were more deaths in the cold months than in the warm, although hypothermia was an indirect cause in only three deaths.  Of these 47 deaths, 29 were caused by drugs or alcohol (only three died from alcohol).  The greatest drug killer was heroin, who killed almost a third of those who died on the street.

This is a crisis.  People dying young, dying on the street, and such a large percentage of the street population.  This is, for the most part, preventable.

The recommendations of the report to the county is to obtain housing for people, to build up a health infrastructure, to inform people of services and to get people help to reduce alcohol and drug abuse.

Of course, the other issue is community.  The report mentions that many of these deaths were caused by isolation as much as anything else.  Housing is very helpful, but if one is isolated in a house, there is still many of the same issues.  If we can build communities among the homeless, give them purpose, give them hope, then changes can be made.

That's one of Anawim's main goals: to build community and purpose among the homeless.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In Everything, Love: Dealing with Conflict in Christian Ministry Part 7

Ultimately, we need to remember what the goal of ministry is—the goal of our lives with others is—to love.  We are to see the other person’s needs and try to meet them, whether it be the need of respect, the need of food, the need of encouragement or the need of rebuke.  We should not be acting from our own ambition or self-interest, as it says in Philippians 2, but we should be like Jesus and sacrifice our own interests for the sake of others.

            In ministry we may see someone as an enemy because they are threatening the ministry as a whole.  In that way, we might want to attack someone verbally because they are our enemy.  But Jesus told us that we are to love even our enemies.  This means we are not to attack them, but to see their need and to meet it.  Even if someone is acting inappropriately, we can speak to them with gentleness and respect (Galatians 6:1).  We need to remember, as Christian leaders we are not to judge as the world judges, but to see the other person, no matter how difficult or wrong they seem, as a person in need of love.  And we are to give them what love we have.

            Admittedly, sometimes we are so stressed or frantic or harried that we cannot love as we should.  In that case, we should confess our failings, apologize to the one we have not loved and act more appropriately.
This doesn’t mean we don’t enforce rules.  We certainly do.  But we do so in the Spirit of gentleness, humility and compassion.  As we are to do all things.  To love in this way, we need to pray and ask for the Spirit to give us the peace and love we need to approach others, especially when our buttons are being pushed.

Partnering With the Police: Dealing with Conflict in Christian Ministry Part 6

For most of us who are middle class, the police are a symbol of security and order in the community.  If there is disorder, we might have a tendency to call the police immediately to make peace.  We feel that their uniform itself is a symbol of authority and security and people are more apt to listen to an officer than a simple citizen.

However, a ministry in which conflict is likely is going to be a ministry among the outcast of society—gangs, the mentally ill, the homeless, immigrants and others.  Among these groups, the police are those who judge and attack, who are not the defenders of security, but the creators of disorder.

Both perspectives have their points.  The police, ideally, are supposed to protect all citizens, and they do well in bringing security to homogeneous communities.  However, some, even if only a few, police officers have made themselves the enemies of the outcast, seeing them not as citizens but as “bad guys” and they treat them accordingly.

Unfortunately, what has happened is that the outcast and some police officers are both guilty of the same kind of stereotyping—judging a whole group for the actions of some.  Ideally, in time, the police and the outcast groups would be advised to discuss each other’s differences.

In the meantime, if we are doing any ministry to an outcast group, we have to recognize that the police are usually the opposite of a safe presence.  To call the police or to act like police is to betray the security of any outcast group.  This is not to say that the police should never be called, but it should be done sparingly, if at all.

The police should also be called rarely because to call them for any difficult conflict is to encourage the police to see the ministry as a target for problems, and the stereotyping of the group you’re ministering to would perpetuate.

And finally, the police should rarely be called because they have a different philosophy than a church ministry.  The job of the police is to keep citizens safe, in whatever way possible, and this is usually done by catching people who disrupt that safety and locking them up.  This is an appropriate and fair task for civil servants.  On the other hand, a church ministry that connects with the outcast is about re-appropriating the outcast and creating a place for them to experience the mercy of Christ.  This is a noble task, but the police would be the first to admit, honestly, that it is not a safe task.  Thus, it could be said (and it has been said by some) that the two tasks are the antithesis of each other—the police exile bad guys and the church tries to integrate them.  Both tasks are essential, but it is difficult for them to work together.

            If we are running a fairly large ministry for an outcast population, it might be good to communicate to the police about the ministry.  The police need to know that there will be a group of those who they are concerned about on the church grounds.  They also need to know that the church workers will be doing their best to create a safe place, both for the church and for the neighborhood.  And that because the church itself will be providing their own security, most of the time police presence will be unnecessary.  However, if there is a serious concern, then the church workers will contact the police themselves.

            The police will think that our ministry and the steps for deescalating conflict puts us in unnecessary danger.  Their training focuses on self-protection and stabilizing any situation.  A church ministry instead focuses on offering mercy, calling toward repentance, and loving those who are our enemies.  From a police perspective, this is dangerous business.  And perhaps it is.

            To prevent it being necessary for police to come, we will have to be proactive to prevent conflict.  This might mean acting as mediators between those who are heading toward conflict.  It certainly means following the steps of deescalating conflict.  And it will also mean that we will, on occasion have to put ourselves in harms way to protect others.

            On occasion the police will come on their own.  Perhaps they will see activity that they think could be illegal.  Perhaps a neighbor will call the police if they see a conflict that we will deal with ourselves.  When the police come, we need to politely identify ourselves, and answer their questions truthfully.  We need to encourage them to limit their contact to only those whom they are concerned with.  If some folks get into a fight, it is best for them to be off the church grounds before the police arrive.  This is all to help those who come to the ministry feel that they are safe without police involvement.

            Finally, there are some situations in which the police might be called.  If someone is continually threatening church workers or the facilities, then it may be necessary to call the police to get the person off of the church grounds.  Because the ministry of the church is to be focused on mercy, not judgment, then it is best to just ask the police to have the person go off of the church grounds, but not to press charges.  In this way, those who cause problems see that violence will not be tolerated, but that the church is not concerned with getting any vengeance.

De-escalating Conflict: Dealing with Conflict in Christian Ministry Part 5

The goal within a conflict in a church ministry is not to provide justice through judgment.  Justice, ultimately, is God’s task, to offer the perfect balance of justice and mercy to all men.  Being human, full of human motivation and reactions, our balance between justice and mercy is a bit off-kilter.  Our purpose, again, is to create a place of safety for everyone.  The best way to create safety is not to have a context of crime-and-punishment, but a context of repentance and reconciliation.  This means that the ideal, although not always realized, is to give anyone who is in conflict a place of safety because of their neccessity to have a space apart from the usual actions of the world.  If someone acts in opposition to the rules of the ministry, the main goal is not to punish them for their wrong action, but to convince them that such action is in opposition to everyone’s good.

How to respond to broken rules or conflict:
Patience—First of all, the Spirit fruit of patience is necessary.  Conflict is rarely resolved quickly, and it takes as long as it takes.  If a person is belligerent, then the leader must have “long-suffering” (to use the KJV term) with the one confronting them in order to have the success of bringing peace.  Part of this patience is that we invite them to give us their perspective of what happened.

Approaching Privately— It is best to speak to each person involved in a conflict separately.  Everyone needs to speak their perspective, but in the midst of a conflict, no one is able to hear the other person’s perspective.  Also, if someone is doing something inappropriate, it is best to confront them about it without adding to their shame by confronting them in front of their friends—especially because being in front of their friends might encourage them to act with bravado instead of thinking about the larger perspective.

Listening—In order for us to understand the conflict, we must listen to the reason of the person who is initiating the conflict.  The goal of listening is twofold.  First of all, if we are going to make a right judgment of the situation, we must understand the full context, and that will only be done by listening to whoever is causing the conflict.  Secondly, we need for those who are causing the conflict to feel heard and understood.  Thus, we are not listening as a goal in and of itself, but we are responding to what the other person is saying, and asking appropriate, not leading, questions.  When they feel understood and heard, we can move on to responding.

Objectivity—It is important in a conflict between two participants that the leader not take sides.  The participant must see that the leader is “no respecter of persons”, willing to look at a conflict from both sides.  This means that we need to consider what this conflict means from all parties involved and to speak to each of them from their perspective.  We also need to see that there is almost never a single wrong party in a conflict.  It takes one person to begin a conflict, but it takes more than one to continue it.  It's not our place to place blame, but to create a safe place for everyone.  This means that whomever took part in the conflict must be spoken to, fairly, about their part in perpetuating it.  Also, objectivity means that we cannot take the sides of any of our co-leaders who have perpetuated the conflict.  If any leader—even ourselves!— is involved in aggressive behavior, we must apologize and make no excuses for them because they are a leader.

Find Agreement—One way to quickly defuse a conflict is to find something to agree on with each person you are dealing with.  You can tell someone that you understand their perspective or that you agree that what was done to them was wrong, or just some part of what they said.  To agree with them is to defuse any idea that you are enemies.  Instead, you have made a connection with them and they will be more ready to listen to you.

Humor—Another way to defuse a situation is to use humor in speaking.  Not humor at anyone’s expense, but if you can speak lightly, it makes the situation less heavy and eases the minds of those involved.

Speaking for Peace—What response we give is based on two perspectives—first of all, their point of view, and also the perspective of the community.  Our response to them needs to recognize their needs and speak to them from their understanding of what happened.  Then we need to bring them into the larger perspective of the community, and how their actions aren’t appropriate for everyone else.  A very few people won’t care about others or their needs, but this is rare.  When we speak to them about this, we need to be gentle, remembering that resolving conflict is a part of the ministry to everyone involved, including those who cause the conflict.

Disciplining— For some smaller rules (such as blasphemy) a gentle (even humorous) reprimand is enough.  But if someone has broken a serious rule—stealing, violence or aggressiveness, or selling drugs for example—then there should be a discipline that is appropriate.  If someone is loudly threatening someone else, then they might be asked to leave for the day.  If a person acts with violence, they might be asked to leave for longer.  The reason for discipline is to communicate to the whole community that everyone’s security is important and to communicate that certain actions cannot be allowed in this safe place.  For someone who knows that they have done something very inappropriate for the church, they might actually appreciate a small amount of discipline as a kind of penance.  Again, just make sure that the discipline is appropriate with the rule broken.

How To Increase Conflict: Dealing with Conflict in Christian Ministry, Part 4

If a conflict does occur, that either breaks or leads to the breaking one of the rules, then a leader should be involved.  How the leader is involved will determine whether the conflict will increase or decrease.  If a conflict escalates, then it will become a fire that will spread, and the initial conflict will become a continuing problem, over a long period of time, among more and more people.

Expecting Unearned Respect/Obedience—Everyone has different ideas of how leadership should behave, and how to behave toward leadership.  In some cultures, authority is to be respected without question.  However, in other cultures, authority is only to be granted respect if they are deserving of that respect.  This does not mean that the non-authoritative cultures disrespect authority, they just expect those in authority to earn their respect, through peacemaking.  To act as if respect is to be deserved, not earned, is to set up a context in which a conflict of values is already present.
Escalating responses: “Don’t talk to me that way!  Do you know who I am?”

Undeserved judgment—If a person feels unfairly judged, then conflict will be seriously increased.  Not all judgments are considered unfair.  If a person gets into a fight on church property and is asked to leave, they will probably accept the discipline.  But if their side is not heard, or if they are given a discipline that is excessive to their action (permanent exclusion for a single event, for example), then the conflict will rapidly increase.  Judging the wrong person, or for the wrong motives or with an excessive punishment, will encourage a person to act out against how they are being treated, because there is no reason not to.  To avoid this situation, a person should be listened to carefully, and the viewpoint of the leader should be explained carefully, especially the reason for any discipline.
Escalating responses: “You obviously don’t know how to treat others with respect.”

Excessive demands—If a ministry has too many policies or requirements on their participants, mistakes will be made, for everyone is human.  The participants may not understand which policies are more significant than others, and lines may be crossed.  It is a mistake to take every bad situation in a ministry as an excuse for a new policy.  Too many rules, and soon it will be impossible not to break a rule.  Then there will be conflict at any correction, because the ministry will feel constricting.  Along these lines, having an extreme punishment for an offense will make the whole place feel insecure.  One ministry I know shuts the whole program down if one person gets out of line. So everyone is punished for the actions of one.
Escalating response: “Because you broke the rule of talking too loud, you’ll be excluded from the program for 30 days.”

Misdirected anger—Anger isn’t necessarily a cause of conflict.  If anger is displayed against a common oppositional factor—such as an unjust system—then anger can be useful in building a bridge between ourselves and the one in conflict.  However, if the leader displays anger against the one in conflict, then human nature demands that anger be reciprocated.  The improper response to anger is anger, and this creates or increases enmity.  As Christian leaders, we need to remember that the true enemy is not the person before us, but the spiritual forces of darkness that are causing strife.
Escalating response—“Get out of here, just don’t have anything to do with me!”

Disrespect—The very worst action to take is to disrespect any participant in the ministry.  To speak disrespectfully to one in the church ministry is to shame them before others, and to make a judgment against them.  Disrespectful speech include insults, snap judgments, or disregarding another’s concerns.
Escalating response: “What an idiot!”

Violence—The one thing that should never be done by church leadership is violence or threats against a participant.  If this is activity that we do not want the participants to engage in, then the same rule must apply to the leaders.  If violent action must be done for safety’s sake, then let the police be called (but first see the section on the police, part 6).

Avoiding all of these conflict escalators is especially difficult if these are the same attitudes and actions being used against the leaders.  As mentioned above, the normal human reaction is to respond in kind.  This is one of the joys of Christian leadership: that when despised, we will not despise in kind; that when persecuted, we will not persecute back.  It seems impossible to endure this, at times—to be more than any human can handle.  This is one of the reasons that Christian leadership is not for everyone.  For the Christian leader must expect to be confronted wrongly, but to respond in peace and gentleness.  This is difficult, but through dependence on the Holy Spirit, not impossible. (James 3:18; Galatians 5:19-26).

Creating a Context of Safety: Dealing with Conflict in Christian Ministry Part 3

In whatever context we are in, whether worship, service or benevolence, we need to let it be known that this is a place of safety for everyone.  That our church is going to be a place in which everyone has the opportunity to be safe, which means that no one will be allowed to participate in actions that harm others, whether a church leader, a church member, a guest, a police officer or anyone else.  All are to follow the same rules of safety.

In that, the church needs to adopt a set of simple rules that will allow the most basic level of safety and respect to others.  Anawim—our church of the homeless and the mentally ill— and their programs have adopted five simple rules that everyone can remember and respect, especially in a church setting.  Our rules are these:

No violence or intimidation
This includes not only the acting out of harm, but the verbal or non-verbal threat of harm.

No illegal drugs or alcohol on the premises
This allows those who are inebriated to participate in services, as long as they abide by the other rules.  But the church is not to be a place in which one becomes inebriated.

No stealing or borrowing other’s possessions without permission

No sexual harassment
This allows all members of the community to feel safe from unwelcome sexual advances, whether verbal or non verbal.

No blasphemy
This is out of respect of the Owner of the property as well as the community that manages it.  This is not a rule against low brow language, but rather using God’s name in a demeaning way.

No harm to neighbors
As a church, our goal is to “love our neighbors” both in our church and outside of it. We need to ask those who come to respect those who live around our church.  If for no other reason, it is so that the ministry might continue, because neighbors can cause difficulties for ministries to the poor.

If the rules are simple, then they can be remembered.  Also, the rules should make sense to people that they would be imposed in any of God’s sanctuaries, not special to that facility.

In Anawim, we asked the community we were serving, the homeless, to help us establish consequences for these actions that are fair and preventative.  For instance, some who does an act of violence is asked to leave for a week.  One who acts in an intimidating way (arguing in someone's face, for instance) is asked to go on their own to cool down or to leave for the day so they can cool down.  

Context of Trust
Finally, to build a context of safety in the building, there must be trust built between the leaders of every service and those who are participating in it.  This means that the leaders should attempt to get to know all the regulars of the service, so that if the rules need be enforced, there is a relationship on which one can build such enforcement.  If there is a place of communication and trust between the leadership and the participants, when conflict does occur, then the leadership will know immediately and will be called upon to help deal with it.  If no trust is built, then the leadership will be the last place where those involved in or observing conflict will go to, because they fear how the leadership will deal with conflict.

It helps to build trust if some of the leaders are among the community that the church is serving.  There needs to be a break down between the served and the servers.  This communicates that the church looks at ability to give people work, not at race, social class or other superficial standards.

We need to remember that trust isn't built in a day.  To create a ministry that is trusted by the community it is serving takes a long time of faithfulness and respect given to the community.  Be patient with those who might mistrust your motives.

To be continued...

Flesh v. Spirit: Dealing with Conflict in Christian Ministry Part 2

 Please read part 1 first

3.  Not using the world’s methods
"Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord.  "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. " Romans 12:17-21

Paul points out another issue that is associated with Jesus’ command to love all:  that we are not to use the methods of the world against those who do us harm.  It is perfectly natural to want to do harm or violence to those who do harm or violence to us.  As people of Jesus, those guided by the Spirit of God, we are to be led by peace and not harm.  To “do evil” is to harm another, and that is not what we are to do.  Instead of acting with violence or inflicting harm, we are to do good.

 4. Attitudes of the Life in the Spirit
It is interesting that Paul makes two lists in Galatians 5:14-23 that are frequently quoted: the works of the flesh and the gifts of the Spirit.  But a careful examination of the two lists show that, more than anything else, Paul is contrasting those who increase conflict with those who are making peace in community.  I’ll give each list, with just a little bit of editing (check it out yourself in Galatians 5, please), and you can see it yourself:
Introduction (vv.14-15)—“The whole law: Love your neighbor as yourself.  The opposite: biting and devouring each other.”

Works of the flesh (v. 19-21): These are acts that increase conflict and separation
            Enmities—Creating enemies by harming others or accusing
            Strife—Stirring up arguments
            Jealousy—Desiring what another has
            Outbursts of anger—Punishing without control
            Disputes—Irrational arguments
            Dissensions—Separating from others
            Factions—Creating groups in opposition to each other
            Envying—Desiring another’s respect
            Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  To participate in such actions of judgment is to separate oneself from the life of Christ

Fruit of the Spirit (v: 22-23): There is only one result of a life in the Spirit—love.  The rest of the list is describing how love is to be seen in God’s community.
            Love—To think of another’s need before one’s own
            Joy—Rejoicing in the presence of others’
            Peace—Applying the greatest effort to have peaceable relations
            Patience—To not be upset at other’s failings or irritable actions
            Kindness—To see the other person’s need and to assist them to meet it
            Goodness—To act for the other’s benefit
            Faithfulness—To keep one’s promises to others
            Gentleness—To not create drama or judgmentalism
            Self-control—Not being guided by the works of the flesh (above)
            Against such things there are no law.God’s law never opposes love.  We should never apply a law in our congregations that opposes love.

Overall, we can see a distinct philosophy of how we are to deal with the belligerent or violent in our congregations.  First of all, we need to protect our people, but we can exclude no one from that protection, even the one who is being violent.  Secondly, we are to find methods to protect all without causing harm to any.  Thirdly, in order to benefit others, we might have to make sacrifices ourselves, which is part of what we accept if we take on leadership in the church.

 So the natural question is "How can we possibly protect all people when there is violence?  How can we prevent harm from happening?"  The first, most basic principle is that we need to realize that we cannot, ourselves, prevent all harm to those under us.  Everyone, ultimately, is in the hands of God, and there can and will be harm done at times.  For this reason, we must pray for protection for those under our care.
 But there are things we can do, in the midst of being Christ-like that would provide protection, while not causing to harm to anyone.  In the next couple posts are step by step ways to prevent violence in our places of worship and service, where we can practice our love of our neighbor. 

A Different Kind of Leadership: Dealing with Conflict in Christian Ministry Part 1 Part 1

We're all brothers, right?

As a Christian leader, we often have to deal with security issues, conflict and sometimes belligerence within the church.  As a church does serious outreach and attempts to connect with cultures outside of the church culture, there are often more opportunities for conflict and more possibilities that violence might erupt in or against the church.

            Our first impulse is to protect and defend the church community, and this impulse is good.  We all want to do our best to protect God’s people and we all hate to see violence in a house of God.  When these issues come to the forefront, we often find that we're unprepared to deal with the conflict, belligerence or violence, not only because we've rarely had to deal with it, but because we've never really thought about such events happening within a church.  However, churches need to think about these issues now, the more so as anti-Christian sentiment rises.

            It is important for us to consider what we would do as church leaders if belligerence or violence occurs in our church, how we can best prevent such situations from occurring, how to de-escalate such situations and what is the best way to deal with these situations as followers of Jesus.

I. The Foundation of Dealing With Conflict
There are three passages that can offer us a foundation, as leaders, for our dealing with the conflict  of those whom we have in our churches as guests.  These ancient texts—two from Jesus and one from Paul—can help us learn how to deal with conflict as followers of Jesus, rather than in the everyday manner.

Letting another succeed
 1.  A Different Kind of Leadership
And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.'  But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves."  Luke 22:25-27

First of all, our leadership style is to be like Jesus’ and not like the world around us.  The world focuses on security or on how leadership can benefit oneself.  Jesus says that imitating Him in leadership means that we are always looking to the benefit of those whom we are leading.  A leader is not meant to just prevent anxiety in themselves or others, but to primarily act for the good of those whom they lead.  If Jesus is our servant, willing to accept any humiliation so that we can obtain all the benefits He has to give, even so are we, as church leaders, supposed to allow ourselves to be humiliated, even hurt for the sake of others, as long as it is for their benefit.

This is a difficult concept to accept for oneself, but it is the basis of Christian leadership.  Not to do things for one’s own sake, but to sacrifice all for the sake of the other.

2.  Benefiting Those Who Hurt Us
"But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."   Luke 6:27-36

Again, in general, dealing with those who harm us, we must act like God and His Son Jesus.  An “enemy” is not one whom we declare to be enemies, but those who do us harm, for whatever reason.  Jesus is saying that instead of giving harm back to those who harm us, we are to love.  Love, simply stated, is acting for the benefit of those in need.  So when someone harms us, we are to look at them as someone in need.  Someone who is deficient in some way.  Someone who could use our help.  The question is, what is the best way that we can benefit a person who has done us harm?

            Jesus then associates this one characteristic—benefiting those who do us harm—with God’s behavior that we should imitate.  And He associates it with a basic characteristic of the Christian life, Love. If all people love, then what greater command does Jesus give to those who follow Him?  He commands us to love all those who are the most unlovely, to love without exception.  So if someone threatens us, hits us or even shoots us, we are to consider their benefit, as well as the benefit of those whom we are protecting.

To be continued...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Culture Clash

I took the opportunity last night to be yelled at for an hour and a half.   I was told that I was abusing some, enabling others and that I ruined a neighborhood.  For the most part, I couldn't deny it.  I just sat and listened.

For the most of 15 years we have had a ministry to the homeless on a corridor in suburban Gresham.  We provide some food, showers, and a place for the homeless to get out of neighborhoods and businesses.  Some of the homeless were already in the neighborhood, but many of the homeless wouldn't be in that particular place unless we were there, assisting them.

Mind you, the day shelter program works.  We provide a place of peace and opportunities for people to change their lives.  Many of the folks coming to our day shelter have been doing work, gotten housing, gotten jobs, gotten in treatment, and become full time employed.  Mind you, that isn't just from our program by itself, but we are the first step up, the place where people learn to live in community, the place where people find out about the basic helps, the place where they can get the basic needs to sleep that night, the place where they can rest from the stress of their lives in order to have enough brain cells to figure out what they can do with their lives.

Of course, not everyone who wants a shower or clothes or a bite to eat are ready to change.  Most people aren't.  And some people, a few, have pretty anti-social behavior.  They yell and scream.  Many people drink in public (of course, they don't have anywhere else to drink).  And, of course, this impacts the neighborhood.

I invited the neighborhood to come and talk to us about any issues they had, and six people did.  Boy, they were angry.  And they don't like our ministry.  They said that these people just needed jobs and we asked them if they could get jobs for them.  Well, sure, they said, if they don't have a record and have ID and have some experience.  But the prevailing attitude of the meeting is that the homeless are bad, dangerous people and if they can't be out of the neighborhood, they need to be unseen, unheard.

According to these people, there is an impact on the neighborhood, although minimal.  There is a park bench on which our folks drink... that's not good.  In the house next to our church, the couple who lives there are often woke up early on Saturday morning by our people waiting for us to open.  That has to change.  Sometimes there are people on the property when we are closed, which makes the neighbors nervous.  And some of our people go through the recycle bins on trash day.

But they weren't angry just at these true problems.  They were upset that these folks were not acting "appropriate" in church.  (One person said in our sanctuary, "I wouldn't let people speak such shit in the Lord's house."  We all laughed.)They were angry that these people had no work to do, were "loitering".  They were angry that our program was "enabling" them to live an "anti-social" lifestyle.  They were angry that we didn't have enough rules. They felt that these people should just tow the line.  Their line.

They didn't understand that the homeless has a different line.  A different culture.  A different point of view.  I am not saying that the homeless culture is an always successful one, but it works when you are forced on the street.  And the middle class needs to remember that it is their culture that forces homelessness as an option. One neighbor talked about his son, how he wouldn't "follow the rules" and so was kicked out.  "And I don't care" he said, "if he's sleeping in a car.  He can't come home."

One person in the group said it clearly, "I hate to sound like a cliche, but I just don't want it in my neighborhood."  Meaning the homeless.

It is not my job to tell these neighbors to accept the homeless culture.  They have a right to their culture, their way of life. They have built it, and they can have it.  The homeless also have a right to their way of life as long as it doesn't interfere with anyone else.  I can't tell them not to live that way.

What neither the homeless nor the neighbors understand is that it is our task, the church's task, to help both sides accept the other.  To bring peace and cooperation to the neighborhood.  To help all in need, no matter who they are, and to create community of love.  It is almost impossible to bring love amidst warring factions.   But it can be done.

The first step is listening to the needs and demands of each side.  The second step is to build trust on both sides.  Eventually, for there to be peace, we must have relationship between the two camps.  I hope we will be given a chance to do that.

I hope I don't die of a heart attack before that happens.