Thursday, May 12, 2016

Homelessness


The photograph above is of Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz' "Homeless Jesus." Incidentally, the photograph is of the statue in Davidsonville, NC, where St. Alban's Church, of which an Ethical Musings' reader, the Rev. David Buck, is rector, sponsored the temporary installation.

The sculpture has caused some outrage, allegedly denigrating Jesus. However, if one accepts as factual the gospel report that Jesus openly said that he had "no place to lay his head," then the inexorable conclusion is that Jesus was homeless.

Alternatively, even if Jesus did have a home, if one believes that through Jesus humans experience God's self-revelation, then conceptualizing Jesus as someone who looks or lives as we do represents a healthy theological and spiritual method. Thus, for example, I think it useful to exercise historical license and to depict Jesus as a member of various ethnicities, races, and genders. This is nothing new. Archaeologists have discovered a painting of a black Jesus that dates to the fourth century. Depictions of a female (or, even more radically, a transgendered) Jesus might help to end misogyny in and out of the Church. Such images are poignant reminders that God created and unconditionally loves all.

I see homeless persons every day. Part of the explanation is that I live in an expensive urban area that has an extremely good climate. Honolulu, unsurprisingly, has a very high rate of homelessness. Part of the explanation is that we as a society do not heed Jesus' exhortation to take care of the most vulnerable.

Some of the homeless that I see are clearly mentally ill and others have a drug or alcohol addiction. Most of these persons require significant help to achieve some degree of health. Many might benefit from the structure of living in a group home, appropriate medication and/or therapy, sobriety programs, and other long-term assistance.

People who live paycheck to paycheck can easily and irreversibly slide into homelessness. An illness, unexpected car repair, temporary layoff or other event that interrupts a person's income may leave the person unable to pay the rent for a couple of months and thereby result in eviction. Once homeless, a person may not have access to the facilities necessary for proper personal hygiene. Moving from one homeless camp to another usually disrupts children's schooling. Diet deteriorates as income drops. Most critically, hope tends to erode the longer a person is homeless, making drug or alcohol abuse more attractive as a means of deadening the pain and temporarily forgetting the sense of failure that bedevils many homeless persons.

For these persons – who are over half of the homeless on Oahu and in most other places – the best answer is to give them a temporary home. Having a home begins to restore a sense of dignity and self-worth that is essential for successfully rebuilding a life. Having a home also permits the person to have proper personal hygiene, control her/his diet, keep their children in school, and – most importantly – have an address, which is generally an essential prerequisite for employment.


Would you give Jesus a home? If when we look a homeless person we see Jesus, then maybe we will give that a person a home.

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