Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Captive audience

I do not endorse the practice of making the poor jump through our religious hoops to get their physical needs met.

Jackie Pullinger, the Mother Teresa of Hong Kong's walled city, once said something to the effect of, "If food is the need, than give food. If a sermon is needed, than preach a sermon. But if food is the need, don't preach a sermon and vice versa."

In the fair mother city, there's something like 147 churches (not including home churches) for our population of 120,000. If a person wanted or needed to hear preaching, there's no shortage of places to get that need met. So, if a person is in some physical need, why preach? I'm not trying to be a jack-ass here. Maybe there's plenty of examples of Jesus preaching to people and asking if they were "saved" before healing or feeding them. Someone help me out with examples. I need to know.

We followers and ministers to the poor fall into traps of "assumed needs". We see a person is in need, like food, or shelter, or whatever. So we assume they need or would even want to hear our religious banter. Then we applaude the poor for performing for us. They carry on with churchy talk which makes us the ministers feel good. I've been to homeless camps where cussing and swearing is the norm. Then when they discover that the "church guy" is in their midst, they start talking as if they just walked out of seminary. It's sick. I wish they'd be real. We believers created this.

*Related photo is a simple nod to the blog of Jack-of-all-trades


Anonymous said...

I don't understand. Isn't your concept of "The Table" a type of "preach to them and feed them" type of ministry. And, how can you assume that anyone...rich, middle class, poor and homeless, don't want to hear that their is some "hope" in this world.

Agent B said...

Good question "anonymous".

The Table may be a "preach to them and feed them" ministry. But it is definately not a "preach, then feed" deal. Or even a "to get this meal you must sit through my sermon and/or jump through my religious hoops" ministry.

The Table is a ministry built on a relationship (friendship) model. Ie: build a friendship with a single individual (or small group of individuals) who learn to trust you and your heart over time. That "time" could easily take days, weeks, months, or years. I use the term "friendship" as defined in John 15: I now call you friends...because friends know each other's business (and each other's crap). Thus...they know the sinful, imperfect side of me too...not just the other way around.

"Preaching" at something like The Table (or in my daily life) does not neccessarily mean speaking in a pulpit. I suck at that. Preaching could mean serving, sacrifice, befriending, or god knows what.

Rich, MC, and poor want AND need to hear a message of hope and truth. But not as a requirement to get a free meal or some other physical need to be met.

Thanks for the discussion.

agent wife said...

Jesus said something very profound when He said that they will know we are christians by our love. It dawned on me once as I was reading that, that He didn't say: "they will know we are christians by our Sunday morning attire, by our carrying a bible, by our lack of cussing or by our avoidance of bars, not even by our constant preaching". To me preaching can be hurtful and harmful since we tend to see ourselves in the right and others in the wrong and try to show them THE way (our way). It takes time to know someone, respect to interact with them and an understanding that God lives in each of us to varrying degrees (we were made in His image) to be humble enough to realize that the homeless guy may have more to teach me than I do him. I've noticed that when we are genuine and compassionately caring, there is no need for sermons, the pain comes out quite naturally and of course love is the answer, wether that be in the form of a hug, some food, a scripture, testimony or shared tears.

miller said...

thanks for the nod.

i hear your heart... couple of questions.

should we assume that, as you say, "we believers created this?" i think this is a bit simplistic... i think its a bit more like "we believers helped create this."

should we have "mercy" ministries? what i mean is should we create and enable dependancy? should it be a ministry that is supported? does this present a conflict of interests? has it created a system that is little more than mutual affirmation? i.e. isn't it just the christians providing for a need and the poor providing for a need? you assuage my guilt or fulfill my need to be relevant and i'll give you food?

please don't hear criticism... just wrestling with the questions. they matter for my future.


Agent B said...

Jack -

1)"we believers created this?": I suppose we "helped" create this.

The needy are willing to "perform" for us to get their needs, desires, etc met. And we believers "applaud" this because when the needy act churchy around us, it makes us feel comfortable. So I guess you are correct in saying that we are co-conspirators in this performance mentality. But I say we created this on our own because the poor wouldn't perform if we didn't encourage it.

2)I wouldn't want to create dependency. Back in the old izzy days, the original version of The Table gave folks a place to serve rather than just another place to be served. The "us vs them" lines were erased by giving "them" the ministry over time. They (and "us") prepared the meal and cleaned up afterward. Participation was highly encouraged, but not mandatory.

I would suspect that any ministry you and your family have ("mercy ministries"?) could encourage the same from the folks you're with.

I think handing over "ownership" of a ministry outlet prevents dependency from those initially being "ministered to". And for me, I have felt no guilt over that. The crowd changes every so often anyway...

miller said...

you said, But I say we created this on our own because the poor wouldn't perform if we didn't encourage it.

i respectfully disagree... i think we are equally culpable. if we stopped encouraging it they would perform harder. if they stopped performing we would preach harder and give harder... IMO

thanks for your patience.


Heidi said...

I hope you don't mind an eavesdropper poking in- I read this blog thru the Harvest Boston blog and believe that "agent ghost" or the Holy Spirit directed me here...for a reason.

Here goes...Amy Sherman from the Hudson Institute has said that rather than treat the poor with commodity based giving (giving money, etc as in mercy ministries) does not work, but the holistic, relational approach (as agent wife states) is a method that seems to work. My heart is for those in my very own congregation that have needs that perhaps I don't even know about. I talked to a friend that was part of the congregation when she was younger and her mother was going through a nasty divorce. She said to me once that people would sit in the pew next to her and never know that she would go home to one can of tunafish for her mom, brother and herself. That's when I decided to make this Jesus business, my business.

Thanks for letting me share - this is so encouraging as we all seek to do - not just say. Any more info on "table" would be great!

Scott said...

There is always the practical question that needs to be addressed. On Sunday mornings at City Light we serve breakfast first and request that those eating breakfast stay for our worship service. We did this not because we were upset with people eating and running but because we wanted to respect those that were staying by eliminating the distractions of people running in and out to get their breakfast while others were trying to have a worshipful experience. Don't get me wrong, you have to embrace distractions and upheavel in ministry to the poor but you don't have to encourage it or condone disrespect and contempt.

Agent B said...

heidi - thanks for stopping by. The Table is still a pipe dream at the moment, but potential seems to be around the corner. It has actual roots a few years back at a church I use to work for. In further developements will be posted as "Table report #___"

Scott - This post wasn't directed at City Light's breakfast. I know first hand your hearts, as well as limited space and vast scheduling, etc. But thanks for stating your point on practicality.

Mike said...


agent wife said,

"It dawned on me once as I was reading that, that He didn't say: "they will know we are christians by our Sunday morning attire, by our carrying a bible, by our lack of cussing or by our avoidance of bars, not even by our constant preaching".

damnit! my sunday attire is all i got!

shit. now what am i gonna do.

hey Agent b.

Mike Exum said...

How 'bout sending Kurt in to preach. His whole life is a series of sermons. Perhaps feeding is a sermon.

In Mark 6, there is a scene where Jesus was actually trying to get away from all these needy people. They hunted him down on foot from all the cities in the region. When they found him, He began to teach them "many things." When it was late, his disciples began getting concerned that the crowds might be hungry and wished to send them away! Jesus said, "You give them something to eat!" They were dumbfounded. But under His direction, they put together what little they could find amongst the weary crowds, and in the hands of Jesus, there was more than enough to go around.

Poor people need to unite. They need a message of power for life. They need to form the advanced guard of revolution regarding how the world is run - how it works.

This world is not meant to be run as it presently is. A little spot on the globe, the small square known popularly as Kansas, has the capacity to feed every man woman and child on the planet. Imagine, if the rest of the globe were to cooperate in such an endeavor. There would be such wealth and abundance to go around that the we cannot presently imagine.

So, the message of Christian Revolution, that will bring such world order to pass, is indispensible.

Therefore, I would suggest questioning what kind of crap is passing for Gospel Preaching in the fair mother city, rather than marginalizing its place in the ministry of the poor. There is all kinds of garbage being spewed forth in flowery language that does nothing more than continue the status quo.

Now, I am not such a preacher myself, but I recognize potent preaching when I hear it. Problem is, I really don't hear it much.

At the end of the story of the feeding of the 5000 in Mark, it says that "5000 men" had ate the loaves and fishes. When 5000 men follow a Jew out into the desert, they expect that Jew to make them into an army! And I suggest, that Jesus did just that. He established the kind of army that advances the Kingdom of God. It brings a completely different kind of world order, unlike any other kind in any way. It is a world order characterized by LOVE and not selfishness, selfpreservation, or even meanness. It is a self sacrificing love.

And that is a message that always goes whether there is food or not. And it should promote the poor and needy to the top rather than ignore or relegate them to the bottom.

I hear what you are saying. I even empathize. But I would hold the crap getting passed off as Gospel preaching in contempt rather than the fact that it is preached. The Kingdom Message must get out to those who need it most. But, then feeding is itself a part of the message -huh?

Many blessings....