Scars and Hopes 4: Goal

I am not moved by small ideas, targets and visions. Ever since I can remember I’ve been far more intrigued and caught-up by the absurdly big as opposed to the comfortably attainable. Why have a game of table-football when you can have your own World Cup? Why lead a church when you can change the continent?

That can lead to a dangerous type of hubris, of course. We all know people who are always talking about changing the world and what ‘this generation’ (usually people 20 years younger than the one talking) can do. So the key is in being content to not meet the goal.

Huh?

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As the turn of the millennium approached, my wife and I and some others felt that it needed celebrating in a more subversive way than that of which we’d yet heard tell. So we (who were all engaged in some full-time, part-time or voluntary capacity with the London homeless scene) read the Gospels (always a dangerous to thing to do) and decided to hire a big, well-known venue in London as close to Millenium Eve as we could and throw a huge party for as many different homeless people as we could. We set ourselves the goal of 1,000 (it may have been 2,000 … I can’t remember now). We worked a lot with a lot of different people and agencies arranged transport for people from projects all over London; we made sure there was good food and good music; we got a lot of free stuff; we dreamed and hoped and talked and prayed.

By the goal we set ourselves, it was a failure. We didn’t get 1,000 people; we got several hundred (I can’t remember how many).

So what?

Celebrations were had; we danced with people who didn’t look or feel homeless for one evening; there was a lot of laughter and fun; industrial quantities of quite-good-actually food were consumed.

The goal didn’t matter. The kingdom of God was expressed and anticipated, a prophetic challenge was issued to the church and the city, and though it wasn’t a perfect event it was pretty good, all told. I have no idea what other events and ministries it has since inspired, but I’m sure it did provoke more strange ideas.

Mission-shaped living needs big goals, big enough to get you out of bed on cold, grey, relentlessly wet London morning to see if you can get the price of the food reduced by another few £s; but you need also enough grace to remember the goal itself doesn’t matter as long as you’re on the right journey. It’s a goal expansive enough to permit failure and redefine success. Which needs courage, faith and a healthy dollop of prayer.

Hear that?

It’s the applause of heaven as, on your terms, you fail to reach yet another unobtainable goal.

Also in this series:

Introduction

Soup

Time

Listen

Scars and hopes 1: Soup

The year after I graduated from university I did one of those year-out schemes. It had that peculiarly Christian wrinkle whereby the volunteer pays to work incredibly long hours for a year. It was great, but exhausting. One of the nicer parts of the year was the times I and the rest of the team would get invited to the home of local church families for a meal. It was great because you got treated really nicely and you didn’t have to cook or pay for the ingredients from your already dwindling budget.

This being Britain, about 90% of the time this happened, we were fed that most generically Christian form of hospitality: lasagna. I like lasagna. Home-made lasagna can be amazing. 6 months in, though, and I was desperate to see a roast or a curry or fish or … something other than lasagna (as long as it wasn’t quiche, the staple diet of every church catering function).

We all get bored with predictable food.

I’ve been involved in working with that sector of society we call  homeless for some time now – either full-time, or in part-time as part of my church life. We have a vibrant weekly supper in our church for anyone to come to, followed by worship and chat. Many of those who come are homeless. Some of my favourite people sleep outside.

When I describe such things to people they often say something along the lines of ‘Oh! You run a soup kitchen! Fantastic!

We don’t. We started off serving soup as part of our meal rotation. However we’ve stopped that.

You see, we started to actually talk to the people who came along and we discovered something important. That many of them who did the rounds of local homeless provision were sick of soup. They got it everywhere they went, several times a week.

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A depression-era soup kitchen

Now we didn’t want to be a homeless provision. We wanted to be a community supper; a meal for anyone, including but not limited to those who sleep outside. Anyway, we wanted our guests to enjoy themselves; it’s hard to enjoy yourself if you think ‘this … again?‘.

So we don’t serve soup. We serve hot, hearty meals which are often quite spicy (because many of them like spice). We use fresh ingredients and we serve people at tables.

The difference is fascinating; people don’t talk about it as a homeless provision. We’re a place to eat, chat and maybe worship or pray. People appreciate that we know names and stories; they like that we use fresh ingredients (many soup kitchens run out of churches tend to use just going out of date food because it’s cheaper); they like that we serve at tables, not ask people to line up and have food slopped on their plate like school. We treat people as guests. Because they are guests. And we’re all going to be guests at the wedding feast of the Lamb, so we might as well start now.

So. Lay off the soup. And the lasagna. And the quiche. And listen to what people want.

Also In This Series

An Introduction