Friday, July 30, 2010

The Kind of People Who Follow Jesus

Sara Miles' book, Jesus Freak, has had me reflecting on my own reticence to engage with homeless and/or mentally ill people. I've had homeless people approach me and I've talked with a few. One or two have even thanked me for responding, because most people won't.

Let's just say I'm far from consistent in this behavior. I can ignore voices and avoid eye contact with the best of them.

And Sara has me asking myself, why is this?

Here's my answer: I'm afraid they'll start approaching me all the time. I'm afraid they'll follow me around and want more from me, if all they want is to talk. I even have a term for people like that---emotional black holes. I'm afraid of getting caught in the gravitational pull of whatever put them on the streets (or mental hospital) and no light will escape. I'm afraid that everything that enters that gravitational field will simply be crushed.

Some Sundays ago, I don't remember the exact context, a reference was made to the crowds that followed Jesus. Now, I don't know about everyone else, I admit that I've generally pictured these crowds as being fairly ordinary, middle class, sane people. Sure, I know there were some oddballs in the group. Prostitutes, demoniacs, whatever. I guess I pictured a sort of Hollywood hooker with a heart of gold. And the demoniacs were healed, so they became nice people, pillars of their communities, people who knew how to act in public and only answered voices everyone else could hear (and politely at that---no screeching or yelling).

Reflecting on my own fear of "emotional black holes" and hearing of the crowds following Jesus, I suddenly realized that nice, middle-class, comfortable, polite, sane people don't go around following a preacher and his band of merry men. (For one thing, they're all busy with their nice, polite, middle class, sane, careers.)

What if those crowds, the same people Jesus kept telling "the Reign of God is among you," were those people I avoid because I'm afraid they'll suck me into their black hole? Even worse, what if the crowds who followed Jesus and wouldn't leave him alone looking nothing like me and the congregation I worship with every Sunday morning?

And what if we're called to risk that gravitational pull to help find a light that resists the black hole? More than resist, but turns the black hole inside out, so that it no longer pulls in and crushes, but reaches out and heals?

That's the miracle of Sara Miles' stories. The ones I'd call black holes are moved to serve. Miles doesn't whitewash the burnout and frustration of working with the people who come to St. Gregory's food pantry, but she testifies to changed and changing lives.

I'm not sure what to do with this new point of view, this new vision of the crowds following Jesus. My escape route is to rationalize that not everyone is called to Jesus' type of ministry---or even to Sara Miles'. At this moment, I'm sitting with this, recognizing the risk involved in maneuvering crushing gravitational forces, keeping in mind Sara's testimony that in serving there is healing and resurrection, not only for the one being served, but maybe also for the server.


  1. Dang, looks like a book I need to checkout. Excellent blog post, Neil. I know because it made me think!


  2. I love your transparency, brother. And I know it costs you something, which makes me love and value it even more.

    Two of the things that has been driven home to me the past few years are intertwined and touch on this. There is no love without risk. There is no ministry without risk.

    You are asking the right questions, looking down the right paths. God loves that, and always seems to respond with something awesome. Not always what we were expecting or hoping for. And it always costs something. But the more we embrace God and what he sends, the less we think in terms of cost, or duty, and the more we simply love and enjoy (cf, "rejoice").

  3. If another Miles may answer (again)...
    A couple of years ago a friend- an amazing woman, a mom, a pastor- pulled up to a light where a homeless guy stood with a sign asking for help. She gave him a twenty and ask, prompted by the spirit, if he wanted a hug. He ended up hugging her for at least half a minute. He was crying. "That's the first time anyone has touched me in a non-violent way in I don't know how long".
    I have since gotten to hug a couple of random homeless people on street corners, It's been awesome.
    And yet.. sometimes I feel those same things you describe. I need to remember to kick those things where it hurts. Because the people are already hurting. Thanks for the reminder.