Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Home Sweet Home

This article in the Elizabethton Star disturbed me.

Photo by Larry N. Stouders

A guard from Northeast Correctional Center was appalled this week when inmates under his watch exposed a shelter under the northbound bridge on Highway 19-E at East Side while mowing the median between the two bridges, where weeds and grass had grown several feet high. "This is really disgusting. It has been there for two or three years. I have told the city and county both about it, but nothing has been done," he said.

It's one of those cases of where you have to see it to believe it. Underneath the south end span of the bridge, debris is in abundance. There are mattresses, slabs of foam padding, stacks of blankets, bottles and cans, cardboard, piece after piece of clothing, shoes, a rocking chair, ice chests, and a kerosene heater as well as assorted personal belongings. At first glance from the highway, it looked as if someone has dumped their trash, but upon closer inspection, it revealed much more.

What is revealed? This was someone's home. The article goes on:

Among the items near some bedding was a Bible and what appeared to be a journal. Food wrappers and containers were also strewn through the trash. A fresh banana peel indicated someone was there just hours earlier.

The guards and the authorities can be appalled at what is a mess to them. However, this is where someone (or perhaps more than one person) calls home, or used to call home. Now, they are homeless again. I wonder if anyone is concerned about the welfare of those who made a home under that bridge?


  1. I live in Atlanta and drive past these makeshift homes every day. It's heartbreaking, and just downright shameful that the Church of Jesus Christ won't do more to address this fundamental human need.

  2. I worked at the Open Door Community outside of Little Five Points. We were addressing the problem with food, some shelter, some education, and some activism. But the most powerful thing we did (in my experience) is to bring people from across the SES spectrum together for worship.

    It was working and worshiping side by side that made the difference. Why? Because it is the same sort of thing God does in Jesus Christ - coming along side us. God the Father didn't create a hierarchy of gnostics who had some greater-evolved god-consciousness than the rest of us. Instead, God the Son became man and worked alongside us. Now, God the Spirit dwells with man. Good theology drives good practice. Undercutting vigorous Trinitarian theology is a bankrupt means to meeting the needs of the poor.

    What's your suggestion for how the Church can address homelessness?

  3. Chris, squabbling over doctrine does absolutely nothing to feed, clothe or care for another. I can say for certain that lecturing someone on "vigorous Trinitarian theology" may lead to their intellectual and even spiritual edification, but it's hard to concentrate on metaphysics when you don't know where your next meal is coming from or whether the police will trash whatever meager belongings you have.

    "Good theology drives good practice"? Sorry, I don't agree. I know plenty of people who work their hearts out for the least of these, but have beliefs that we wouldn't consider "good theology".

    And yes, my local congregation does a lot of work to help the homeless in our area (though Central Pres deserves the lion's share of praise for its work in ATL). Our little church partners with a synagogue down the street to run a shelter for women and children. And yes, obviously the Rabbi does not adhere to "vigorous Trinitarian theology" but engages in good practice.

    What can the Christian church at large do? Well, for starters, stop wasting so much time, effort, money and energy on political hot buttons like abortion and the gay. Pat Robertson can sell his Gulfstream and fly coach like the rest of us sinners. Instead of trying to consolidate power by claiming America as "a Christian nation", the church should be bringing incredible political pressure on legislators to Do Something Meaningful.

    What can the PC(USA) do? Show leadership and stop wasting time on these silly holier-than-thou debates at General Assembly. There are numbers for this, but I don't have ready access to them: Among the PC(USA) churches that are growing are urban ones with visible community outreach programs.

  4. Flycandler,

    Don't be daft. I never suggested that you should lecture a hungry person about metaphysical issues. I was asserting that the Church is built up and equipped for ministries of mercy by sound Trinitarian theology.

    Your knowledge of exceptions to the rule practically proves the rule. The most recent work on charitable action and giving shows that Evangelicals and Conservatives give far more time and $$$ to charitable causes than liberals of any stripe (even factoring out giving to religious institutions). Don't just take my word for it, though.

    I notice that you criticize Pat Robertson. Here's an interesting fact:
    Pat Robertson's philanthropic organization, Operation Blessing, was 2nd only to the American Red Cross in responding to Katrina Victims. They even got there faster! According to GuideStar, Operation Blessing fed 3.5 million hungry people around the world during 2006 , and provided over 700,000 medical and dental procedures at no cost to the recipients.

    Meanwhile, hypocrite Al Gore jets around in his CO2-spewing jet to tell his fans at Cannes how everybody needs to reduce their consumption. Give me a break!

    I'd like to see your statistics on growing churches. While I have no doubt that some urban churches are growing, I'd be willing to bet that the evangelicals have outpaced all the sideline congregations in terms of numbers and missions. Churches that have dwindled to 30 people can get on the "fastest growing" list by adding three or four family units.

  5. Chris, if by "exceptions to the rule" you mean Judaism, Islam, folks of all religious stripes and no religious stripe who work, HARD, to help the disadvantaged among us. Frankly, I'm unconvinced by your premise that if a church doesn't have strong Trinitarian doctrine, it is incapable of helping thy neighbor. It's not "an exception to the rule" to point out that Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus et al. are just as actively philanthropic as Christians. If anything, it proves the point that compassion is not exclusively evangelical Christian.

    There has been a lot of criticism of Brooks' methodology. I won't go into all that here, other than to point out that religious liberals (of whom I consider myself a part) contribute just a little bit less than religious conservatives using Brooks' own criteria. Brooks criticizes Ralph Nader's assertion that a society that takes care of its citizens needs less charity, but it's essentially correct. In most countries in Western Europe, the Church doesn't have to raise funds for a child's medical expenses because the people of that country decided to ensure that EVERY citizen of EVERY age gets that help.

    I love that you brought up Operation Blessing, as it illustrates the big cleavage in American politics today. In the early days of the Katrina response, FEMA's most substantial response was to post links for the Red Cross and Operation Blessing on its web site. The message was, don't count on the government that you support with your tax dollars to help you out when a natural disaster or terrorist attack occurs. This is fundamentally wrong in the view of most liberals and most mainstream Americans--this is a government of the people for the people by the people, and we have every right to expect safety nets that we set up will function when we the people need them.

    To have a situation where government does nothing to protect its people and instead instructs them to go to fundamentalist religious institutions for handouts is dangerous. Can you think of any situations in the world where this has caused problems?

    I'm not terribly sure what the gratuitous Gore reference is for, so I'll just let it go.