Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Yup. Been There....

Where We Live

from Parchment and Pen by Lisa Robinson

I came across this article in Christianity Today on ending homelessness in 10 years. I mused considering that for the past several years, this is the professional field I have been involved in. In fact, in my position back in Rhode Island, I was responsible for managing one of the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) homeless funding program for the state, worked with most of the homeless service agencies statewide and coordinated and packaged the annual funding application to HUD for the state. As noted in the article, every geographic region that receives these funds has to include in their funding application to HUD, a description on how they are going to end homelessness in 10 years through a coordinated effort with major public-private stakeholders.

More specifically, HUD has been focused on ending chronic homelessness, which comprises approximately 15% of the homeless population roughly. These are the more severe cases of homelessness - folks that have been continually homeless for at least a year or experienced continual cycles of homelessness (at least 4 episodes in the past 3 years) and suffer from some type of disabling condition, including mental illness and substance abuse. The idea is that since these are the high end users of emergency services, it is more cost efficient to put them into permanent supportive housing, which provides a team of licensed professionals to address the barriers to independent living. In other words, stabilize them in housing first, then provide intensive services so they will stay there. So the person who has lived ensconced in a particular state of existence for an extended period of time will now be moved to a different state of existence and expected to succeed.

I think this is a great theory in concept. I don’t think anyone reading this post, especially me, wants to see people homeless. But I had a major philosophical conflict in that I recognize, no matter how attractive you make housing, no matter how much you demonstrate that this would be something beneficial, there will be some, who for whatever reason are more comfortable on the streets. It’s not that they want to be homeless but they don’t want to be uprooted from a way of living that they have become comfortable with. The comfort of where they are supersedes the discomfort of being uprooted. Now some of my professional colleagues might disagree, but information that I have received from front line workers would suggest otherwise, not to mention, the human nature factor.

I cannot but help consider this application pertinent to where we live doctrinally and theologically. We have learned. We have studied. We have drawn conclusions. We find our nest and settle in. And it is great, isn’t it, when we draw conclusions about what the Biblical text says and perchance take sides with notable theologians who have gone before us, especially considering the effort they put forth? Or maybe, we have found comfort in that fact that we have followed no man but instead have relied on our own interpretations of Scripture, guided of course by the Spirit. Or perhaps we have allowed our particular church denomination or tradition to influence and shape the body of facts we call truth. Whatever our course of action has been, there is a certain degree of comfort that we can rest it.

I suppose that our comfort has very much to do with our epistomology, how we have come to know and understand what we consider truth. There has been a determination made on the best avenue to discover what truth is, and we have followed that. And whatever that path is, whether through “academic” study, experience, tradition or a particular hermeneutic (yes everyone has one but not everyone uses the same hermeneutic), following that course can in and of itself, transition us into an ease of understanding. After a while, we can proudly say that we have arrived at truth. However, it does beg the question, ‘is it that we have arrived at truth OR that we have satisfied the mechanics of whatever epistomology we have used to arrive at truth? The latter will certainly not guarantee the former but probably will make us more comfortable about the process.

The truth is that nobody likes tension. Nobody likes to be uncomfortable and definitely, nobody wants to be wrong. The guy on the street doesn’t resist moving from his abode because he loves waddling in the mire. He won’t move because he doesn’t want the tension. Nor do we. It is uncomfortable to wrestle with ideas and the internal conflict that ensues when our sense of satisfactory knowledge has been disrupted. It is far easier to stay in the bed we’ve made than to rip the sheets off and move it; it is far easier to rely on the truth we know than the contradiction we don’t know, or rather, don’t really want to know. So we set up our fortresses, load the arsenal known as proof-texts, strawmen and maybe even historical data and throw them to protect our fiefdoms of knowledge.

Don’t get me wrong. I think there are some truths that are absolutely essential to Christianity, truths that have been tested and stamped with the historical seal of approval of which Christianity would not exist without. I also believe that within the mysteries of God, what He has revealed is meant to be understood (Deuteronomy 29:29), not cumbersome or burdensome and maybe even a little logical.

But it can be arduous to bridge the communication gap between God’s revelation, which is what He has made known and our understanding. It is no small task to engage in a process of grasping who is God, what has He accomplished, what He has planned and where do we fit into that picture, in a way that acknowledges our abilities to apprehend but denies our prejudices and presuppositions. There is tension. There is discomfort. Often, there are no easy answers. Yes, the Spirit is involved but so is our fallibility. This is not an easy place to live because it will always encourage running for cover and resorting to safe and tension free harbors.

So I think where we live doctrinally and theologically has so much to do with the level of resistance we can tolerate. If we’ve wrapped our arms around conclusions so tightly that no amount of historical or Biblical evidence could sway opinions, especially those that deviate from Christianity’s historical roots, then I fear intended truths might be missed for the sake of ease. And yes, I do think fear can be involved, fear of losing, fear of failure, fear of humility. Then where we live can become a prison rather than a place of freedom. It is no different for that chronically homeless individual who refuses to give up his abode for something better.

But just as the guy on the street must go through the tension of disruption for the greater goal of a warm and safe place of permenency, so must we. There is a prize at stake of knowing what God has so graciously revealed to that we can know Him, His plan and ourselves better. We’ll never arrive but must always learn and be willing to be a little disrupted in the process.

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