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Through the eyes of the homeless

Posted by on Dec 7, 2010 in books, community, discipleship, love, missional, service | 8 comments

Through the eyes of the homeless

Have you ever wondered what the homeless (and others in need) think about our theological discussions, arguments about the Bible, and other “churchy” stuff?

Yesterday, I reviewed Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski. In the book, Mike tells the story of how he and Sam lived as homeless people on the streets of six cities over 5 months. Mike and Sam are both 20-something Christian men. But, in the book, we get a glimpse of what the homeless see of us (even from a Christian perspective).

Here is one excerpt:

Suddenly a young family came into view. The dad – dressed in t-shirt, shorts, and a baseball cap – walked in front, but he was looking down, evidently listening to his wife. She came along behind pushing the stroller. As they rolled up to us, a small boy in the stroller looked out at me.

When you’re sitting on a sidewalk, you’re at eye level with babies and kids… While kids might pretend people who don’t exist do, it’s the parents who pretend that unwanted people who do exist don’t.

I held the boy’s gaze for a while and gave him a smile, which he immediately returned. From high above him, his mother said something that caught my attention. “We have to be about the gift of giving and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit,” she said.

I looked up quickly, wondering what those words might mean, what with us sprawled on the sidewalk not five feet from her. But when I caught her eye, she looked away and quickened her pace.

Now the family was well past us. But the boy in the stroller still looked straight at me… (p. 55-56)

And, here’s another excerpt:

Although Sam and I spent every Sunday morning at a church somewhere on our travels, the lack of community was taking a toll on us. Even at church, we felt isolated because of how we looked, how we smelled, and who people perceived us to be. In fact, walking into a church where we hoped to find genuine fellowship only to be met by condescension or suspicion or disingenuous flattery was the worst kind of rejection. (p. 150-151)

I hope these excerpts (and the entire book if you choose to read it) will spur all of us on to noticing the people around us, and then spending time with the people we see.


8 Comments

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  1. 12-7-2010

    I wanted to review this book. I am very certain I could relate to the dilemma these men endured.

    However, my personal experience of six months in the streets were from the perspective of the UNSAVED. Oh, how I heard about Jesus in so many ways, but never via the Gospel. The only thing that Christians were good for, were laughs.

    Maybe, just maybe, someone could have loved me as Christ commands, instead they just gave me a cold shoulder and a quarter. Good thing the Lord saves by grace through faith, and He revealed to me when all was said and done just how forgiving He is.

  2. 12-8-2010

    I am a little curious about your opening statement which connects discussing the bible & theology with “churchy stuff”…

    I am also a little confused about the point the author is making in that first excerpt. Is he bitter at that young family for not walking up to him and inviting some stranger into their home? Exactly what is it that they were expecting the family to do? Maybe the parents were being rude, it’s hard to really tell from such a brief account, but overall I still wonder what the overall point being made is…

    I simply feel the need to point out that “theological discussions” which center around the core of the Gospel, should never be reduced to something that is “irrelevant” to people, even if they are homeless. Homeless people have souls too, they have lives, they have a Creator, and they need to repent, same as everyone else. I would go so far to say that this idea that we would have to deal with someone’s homeless before we should even mention the gospel (an idea that I don’t know if you’re defending, but I encounter it often…) is complete bunk. If anything, it is the life-changing power of the Gospel that can give hope to people (a hope which can than serve as the basis for an overall life change) more than anything else…

    It is a rather bizarre irony when Christians regard something like homelessness as this type of ultimate tragedy, when we ourselves are called by God to be strangers and aliens in this world, as we look ahead to our heavenly home. I more feel that we should be interested in learning from people who have had to endure such hardship, rather than treat such experiences as sad and something to be pitied…

  3. 12-8-2010

    James,

    Given your background, I’d love to read your take on this book.

    Daniel,

    I don’t think I did a good job of expressing myself here. I’m not saying that theological discussions are bad (in and of themselves) nor am I saying that we should not proclaim the gospel to the homeless (or others in need). The problem that this book presents is that most Christians that the author and his friend met simply ignored them. The Christians acted like they were not even there.

    -Alan

  4. 12-8-2010

    (Alan… I didn’t think you were actually making such a point, since you spend so much of your time/energy discussing those very things!)

    But the thing that strikes me about the author’s point is, how does he know that everyone who ignored him while living as a homeless person was really born of God? Does the author assume that everyone who goes to church/claims to be a Christian actually is one?

    I simply feel that much of the anguish/bewilderment being expressed by the author would actually be largely deflated if he were to stop and consider the possibility that such a huge chunk of “cultural Christianity” is precisely that, cultural… The fact that millions of people get up everyday and endeavor to live this bizarre type of hybridized life which seeks to reconcile the message of the gospel with living the modern American dream (two completely contradictory things…), should make us pause, and reconsider our assumptions…

    I guess it’s kind of like if someone came out with some book, claiming to be this edgy expose on politics or something, thinking they are saying something shocking and unheard of when they claim, “Guess what everybody? Politicians lie! Really! They do hypocritical things all the time!”

    I think most people’s response would be something like “Tell me something I don’t know…”

    So why would we be any more shocked or surprised to hear that people who claim the name of Jesus do things that are rude or self-absorbed?

    We live in a country where it is asserted (by millions) that believing in Jesus, and going to war against “terrorists”, are two completely compatible ideologies! (!?!) The whole thing is a circus of hypocracy…

  5. 12-8-2010

    Daniel,

    If someone claims to be a brother/sister, then I accept their claim. I then also expect to see them following Jesus (doing what Jesus did) and I expect to see evidence of the indwelling Spirit. So, I agree with what you’ve said. Perhaps some of those (many?) who claimed to be Christians but ignored people in need are not actually indwelled by the Holy Spirit. I think there could be others (again, perhaps many?) who have been taught that the essence of life in Christ is talking about the Bible.

    -Alan

  6. 12-8-2010

    Just want to say that I’ve spent enough time sitting on the curb with people on the street that I totally relate to the quotes you posted.

    And I also have a pretty good idea of what homeless people and others in need do think about our “churchy stuff.”

    Yes, the life-giving power of the gospel does give hope. That power and life and hope IS Jesus, not just knowing about Him. Jesus IS the gospel, the good news. And He is in us, and He reaches out with His love through us. Through our love in action. Giving people an opportunity to meet and come to know Jesus face-to-face through us.

  7. 12-9-2010

    Norma,

    “Giving people an opportunity to meet and come to know Jesus face-to-face through us.” I like the way you put that. Of course, that means that we must actually be present with people…

    -Alan

  8. 12-9-2010

    Exactly! :-)