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Why I Do This
solidarity and communion with the unhoused
I know that I promised a Q&A for my next post, and I still intend to release that this Friday. However, I simply had to share this with you all.
I received a tag on Instagram this week that made me weep tears of both happiness and heartbreak. It reminded me of why I chose to write my book—and why I continue to write here, post on social media, and speak at churches around the country.
It’s very easy to get lost in the economics of it all. Writing a book cost me lots in time and resources. So does all the time I put into my newsletter and my social media presence. Traveling is fun and exciting, but also exhausting. (And despite what “success” may look like in these efforts, I am much closer to breaking even than to making money on any of them.)
And then there’s the news. Each passing day it seems like a new city has chosen to criminalize rather than care, to divest from affordable housing and invest in the same old schemes. I see more and more people, and yes, Christians, take their frustrations about homelessness on the people who are just trying to survive rather than taking it up with the systems and people that are crushing us all.
Within both of these realities, I sometimes get lost. I feel like my work is in vain, that I’m fighting a losing battle. Sometimes certain Christians make me want to leave them all out of the conversation.
If you’ve read my book, you know that my last chapter is about this struggle—the ways that I myself can fall victim to a mindset of scarcity and despair. And it’s always the people, the relationships, the friendships that pull me out.
So when I was tagged in this eulogy by Bruce Welch (@theenneagramp) on Instagram, I was humbled again at the power of communion.
I found out today that my friend Joey passed away on Thursday. I met Joey last fall when he was panhandling outside one of my favorite grocery stores. I had been reading a book on ending homelessness by @kevinmnye1 and Kevin emphasized how people experiencing being unhoused sometimes just need someone to talk to. When I saw Joey he was holding a sign asking for whatever anyone could give.
Encouraged by Kevin’s book, I struck up a conversation with Joey and we had a great talk. He told me of his heart condition that left him disabled, about his wife leaving him, and how he now lives in his car. We became friends and I looked forward to our conversations when I went to the store, to our phone calls and texts to check on each other.
He joined us at our daughter’s house for the Super Bowl. He also came to our home for house church the last time we gathered and was planning to be there this Monday.
I learned a lot from Joey. Here are some of the things I learned:
Our unhoused neighbors aren’t that different from us.
No matter what your condition, everyone can use a smile, a touch, and some connecting conversation.
Many of us are a disaster or two away from being unhoused.
I once heard Fr Greg Boyle from Homeboy Industries speak and he encouraged us to go to the margins of society because that’s where Jesus is. I experienced Jesus through Joey.
I’m deeply grateful that I got to know Joey, even for a short time. I’m saddened by the loss of my friend.
Again, if you’ve read my book, you know how much this means to me, as I’ve lost a few Joeys in recent years.
If the only thing my book ever accomplished was inspiring this friendship—for Bruce and Joey to each know kinship and belonging across social (and often religious) stratospheres that exist to keep us away from each other—then it was all worth it.
When I write inscriptions in books, I nearly always write some version of this:
“May this book challenge, inspire, affirm, and stir you toward solidarity and communion with the unhoused.”
Thank you Bruce for being stirred. And Joey, rest in the peace of the Lord who always called you Beloved and who is making a world where none would ever question your belonging.
May their story inspire all of us to more solidarity, and more communion.
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