Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Prophetic Imagination

Just noticed that my hero Reverend Rich Lang of Trinity United Methodist Church was in the Ballard News Tribune a few weeks ago calling for churches to pro-actively stand for the poor by providing alternatives to camping in the city's greenbelts.
"You can't solve homelessness without talking about housing. The church has a moral obligation to work with the state for common wealth," said Lang.

"As a representative of a church, I see no reason whatsoever, why every church can't house someone who is homeless, with 1400 church buildings (in Seattle) empty at night," said Lang. ...

"When you see neighbors naked, give them clothes. When they are hungry, feed them. They are not animals. Begin rebuilding the person to get them back in society."
God I love this guy. My own disenchantment with Christianity began in the fourth grade at Saint Mary's School with Monsignor Sullivan's Mercedes Benz. Each year, the Monsignor (this is the middle rank between priest and bishop) upgraded to the latest model. "He works hard," my mother explained. "He deserves it." Even as a fourth grader, his job looked pretty cush to me. I didn't buy it.

The lawn at Saint Mary's was known as "Monsignor's salad," as in "Don't walk on Monsignor's salad." The utterly radical and infinitely appealing message of the Sermon on the Mount, to my young eyes, was displaced by the hypocrisy of the late-model Mercedes driving old fart with the sanctified and apparently edible lawn. This, I decided, was Christianity in action. A harsh assessment, but sadly accurate.

Since then, I've met enough real Christians to overcome my precocious dismissal of God, but my opinion of most churches remains unchanged. Lang's different. He's the real deal. Were more churches to take Christ's message to its conclusion — as opposed to reflecting the narcotized, self-indulgent consumerism of our time — the world would be a very different place.

The church can't replace government's responsibility to provide a base-line level of human dignity and economic security for those who are otherwise abandoned, but they can help, and they can mobilize their resources and congregations to build the power it will take to change the rules of the game.

Is that an audacious vision? No more so than Jesus.


Bill said...

love Rich, love the idea of churches/congregations doing more, and that said, most of what we have came out of faith communities already, and the last thing I encourage is to turn our already overwrought sense of guilt and shame more upon those of us within faith communities than we already do. You finished with the POINT: Where in God's name is everyone else? Why aren't SONICS fans helping, or people who drool over birds in the parks, or architects and lawyers and big-paper editorial boards and all-the-other people we thought all along have been worth giving a VOTE to in this country? Where oh where are you, patriotic americans? You worry about ice caps melting more than neighbors dying on streets and about making sure your car is waxed, you save using paper or plastic by carrying your own cloth out of the market, bike to work instead of driving, read the paper every Sunday morning and wonder why peope of faith have not ended homelessness. Yes, love Rich. Just do it. Who's asking everyone else who is not at worship at some point on Saturday or Sunday to step up? Oh, and btw, while the math may sound like it works, 1400 congregations (though that is likely high) taking on 8,439 per night, would be 6.02 persons per congregation, the realities of all the other things those 6.02 persons would need at every one of those sites would make most congregations nail their doors shut after a night or two. Who ever said or suggested congregations can manage what has brought homelessness into most person's lives? This suggestion has romantic fervor and yet would be more curse upon the homeless than blessing. So, Tim, honor what you love about your faith hero because the voice that is divine lifts into the world through him (AMEN, I do concur) and those who he serves. But please, don't check your brain at the door and succumb to such nonsense as congregations solving homelessness alone or even first and foremost as some pietistic mandate. Jesus Christ would not be impressed and even he never sought ONLY those who believe in God as being the ones to singly save society's most at-risk persons. This epitomizes how charity becomes its own god,.... No offense to Rich, or you, per se, but use the better thinking I know you both exercise, more often than not! This is NOT the answer.

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