Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Could the Cold be Your Call to Action?

Yes! It's cold outside. I know this fact to be true after hearing my car sputter a little when I turned it on this morning. I could tell you it was cold outside from a one block walk to Starbucks this morning. But I would not have had to venture anywhere in order to know the temperature outside. Plenty of Facebook friends have snapped photos of the temperature gage in their car and posted the photos for the world to see. We are almost bragging about who has the lowest number posted in their Facebook feed. We clearly do not like it when the temperature falls into the single digits.

But I've noticed something else on Facebook. In addition to all the photos of temperatures near zero, I've read plenty of concern about individuals who are homeless. Several moms have mentioned how they put their children to bed last night after praying with them for anyone outside. Lots of friends shared the hypothermia hotline number. There was a concern expressed last night about those who are homeless that I have not witnessed before.

And I wonder.

I wonder what it would look like if we had this concern every day of the year.

Even more, I wonder what would happen if we allowed this cold to not only be a call to prayer - but a call to action. Could we allow the arctic blast to blast us into actually doing something in addition to praying? You see, I regularly tell people I'm praying for them. And often I actually am. But I also know that saying the words, "I'm praying for you," can get me off the hook. I can say these words and then cover up my fingers and toes, turn on the national championship football game, and enjoy hot tea before turning into a warm bed.

I stopped by our church's shower ministry this morning before walking to my coffee appointment. I was hoping and praying that no one would be there - that everyone would be in a warm shelter or hotel instead of coming in from off the streets. But I found a crowded room instead as people were coming in to get coffee and wait for a hot shower. In the midst of my greeting folks, I met someone new to me.

James was all dressed up with a tie. He asked me first about double x underwear before asking if he could visit with me for a few minutes. I walked with him near the door where there was more space to talk, and he reached into his pocked and pulled out a stack of bills. I said, "James, that's not real money." But he kept unrolling the money until he had a crisp bill to give to me. It's a million dollar bill - a bill unlike anything I've ever seen before. James gave it to me with clear instructions. "Don't forget about the homeless. Take this money and buy us food to eat."

Don't forget about the homeless.

Many of us thought a lot about those who are homeless when we went to bed last night. But we will be tempted to soon forget about them when the temperatures climb into the 50s later this week. Many of us taught our children lessons about those who are on the streets last night. But we'll revert back to taking care of our own kids and getting them whatever they need and often want but don't really need later today.

What are we doing for those who are homeless?

I'm grateful to be the pastor of a church that opens our doors to provide showers for our unhoused neighbors three days a week. I've been touched in profound ways by time with people who come inside and receive our hospitality with smiles on their faces and positive outlooks on life that cause me to quickly repent of whatever it is I've been complaining about. What we do is important and life-giving for those who give and those who receive. It's an incredible ministry. But I still ponder regularly about what more we can be doing.

Our church is located in a community where there is a church on every other block. There are 1261 houses of worship in the online Yellow Pages for the District of Columbia. Imagine what these 1261 houses of worship could do if each one of us made a commitment to care completely for one person who is currently unhoused until that person is back on their feet. What if each one of us saw the redistribution of wealth as part of our call and made a commitment to ask our parishioners to not only pray for those who are homeless or show up to serve those who are homeless, but to commit to give generously of their financial resources so that one person's rent, utilities, food, insurance, clothing, and additional expenses could be cared for? The statistics on homelessness in Washington are staggering. But the number of houses of worship in Washington is equally staggering, especially compared to the number of people who want nothing to do with the church.

You see, we regularly judge those who are homeless. We wonder how a person who is working a job full time does not yet have enough money for an apartment. But we often forget what's required for an apartment: a credit check, a deposit equal to one month's rent and then the first month's rent not to mention utilities. We question why those who are homeless splurge on movies in the theatre instead of saving their money while forgetting that the people who have much always have more options when it comes to entertainment - not to mention choices about what we will watch. We call some people lazy bums and are convinced that their laziness is why they are homeless without realizing that some people are applying for a dozen jobs each day praying that one person will let go of the fact that they committed a felony seven years ago with nothing on their record since. We regularly convince ourselves that we know what we would do if we were walking in their shoes while failing to admit that we have no idea what it's like to be without keys to a place of our own.

We know from scripture that all of God's teaching boils down to two commandments. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. And we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Praying for our neighbors is one part of loving our neighbors. Making sure our neighbors have something to eat and a place to sleep is an entirely different story.

Church World Service shared this photo on their Facebook feed earlier this week. It got my attention in a way the photos of temperature gages have not. The words are rather haunting. They are my call to prayer - but also my call to action.

I'm willing to redistribute part of my wealth to care for a neighbor. In addition to tithing 10% of my income to the ministries of our church, I'll put in $100 a month to adopt one of our neighbors.

Anyone willing to join me?

Perhaps the million dollar bill is not too good to be true.