12 March 2011

Lenten Reading #1

As I mentioned in my Friday post, I gave up "reading for pleasure" for Lent. Let me start by making a few things clear:

  1. I'm not Catholic, so my "version" (if you want to call it that) of Lent may be slightly different.
  2. I plan to embrace the fact that Lent does not technically include Sundays.  So, I will be reading to my hearts content on Sundays (unless my homework isn't completed, in which case, it takes priority).
  3. I'm taking this as an opportunity to read different types of things (i.e. readings of a more religious nature) because I feel that if you're going to give up something for Lent, you should replace it with something of a more spiritual nature.
That being said, I chose to give up my pleasure reading largely because I knew it would be HARD for me. I could have given up chocolate or soda or sweets, but honestly, since I started trying to lead a healthier lifestyle a little over a year ago, those things don't hold nearly as much appeal to me.  Reading, however, is like a sort of lifeblood.  I live for the hours that I get to spend immersed in a world that is not my own and connect with characters and their struggles, loves, choices, etc. My reaction to my husband's suggestion that I give up reading while he gives up beer was quite violent. That pretty much sealed the deal.

Now that I have explained the heck out of my decision, I'll move right along to the first book that I read for Lent:

Amazon Description:

The story of how a church dying for more than two decades found its soul - and a new identity. In the foreword to this book, Tex Sample says: "The Christ who is Lord of the Church stands at the margins of the world. To forget either Christ as Lord or the Christ at the margins is to lose our ways as the church...In this faith-inspiring book, John Flowers and Karen Vannoy call the church again to the Christ who is Lord who appears at the margins of established, respectable life." Not Just a One-Night Stand is based on the ministry experience at Travis Park United Methodist Church in San Antonio, Texas. When you read the chapter titled "You're Under Arrest," you'll gain insight into the personality of Flowers and the ways in which he and Vannoy engage in ministry. Far more than a memoir, Not Just a One-Night Stand offers creative approaches to ministry with those who are marginalized.

In this nonfiction work, the reader is basically presented with a conundrum: what is the best way to conduct a successful ministry with the homeless?  John and Karen take the reader through the transformation of a church as it strives to conduct such a ministry.  The intricacies of such a task are not what those involved first imagined--not as easy as they thought it would be.  The seeming simplicity of offering a group of people some food here and clothing there expands into a true ministry that goes further than providing one-time needs.  John and Karen take the reader on a harrowing journey of transformation, where it is necessary for all-involved to change.  It can't just be about fixing or transforming the less fortunate.  Transformation must occur for the "giver" as well.  A true ministry, as presented by John and Karen, cannot be a ministry TO or FOR the homeless but must be a ministry WITH the homeless if any real progress/success is to be achieved.

I found this book to be a real heart-clenching/eye-opening read.  I think that so often those of us to live in relative comfort and prosperity have no real grasp of the difficulties of living on the streets and how hard it is to get back on your feet.  A few dollars here or a one-night volunteering session at a soup kitchen can help us shake our "middle-class guilt" for awhile, but are we simply conducting "drive by charity?"  The kind of ministry pursued by John and Karen's churches isn't one that every church is going to be able to pursue.  For example, my church, situated in a rural town of 220 people, isn't going to address issues of poverty and/or homelessness in the same manner that a church located in an urban area can/will.  However, I think that the point comes across just the same.  For a truly successful, ministry with the less fortunate in our community, we need to see those we are helping as on an equal plane with use--we are all addicted to SOMETHING (money, busy-ness, clothes, leadership, etc.) and we all have some kind of transformation to undertake to achieve a spiritual high-ground.  The message is clear: leave your judgment at the door.  Get to know those you're seeking to aid. Leave behind prejudices and stereotypes. And most importantly, listen.

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