“ . . . part of gospel work is reimagining how resources and power are structured, as well as our role in them.” (Grace Can Lead Us Home, 164)
This week we wrapped up our book discussion on Grace Can Lead Us Home. I was so thankful that Maeve led us to this book and then that we had the opportunity to talk about it and the ideas and questions it provoked in a small group of committed and caring individuals.
I learned so much from reading the text and from the group participants who shared insights and perspectives.
Overall what I really appreciated about the book was how it balanced the presentation of the problem, homelessness, with our call as Christians to respond. Nye used his own experiences working as an advocate and activist, statistics, research and anecdotes from others with lived experience. It told a story and pleaded a case and it did both well.
The story piece involved painting a picture of what homelessness looks like in the United States and challenged a lot of widely held stereotypes. One fact that Nye shared that really stuck with me was that people are just as likely to become addicted to drugs/alcohol after becoming homeless than for it to precede and possibly be a cause of someone becoming homeless. For me this drove home a point Nye made repeatedly – the hardship and trauma of being homeless. It’s not as if I ever thought being homeless was easy or free from stress and anxiety but this book really forced me to confront some of the more hidden “costs” of homelessness connected to safety, community, mental health and more.
Throughout the book Nye makes the case for housing first – a model that sees the provision of housing as the first step in a process rather than one to be achieved after meeting various goals and markers. I cannot at all explain or advocate for it as well as the author so I will simply urge everyone to read it. What was equally compelling for me was his assertions that our Christian faith requires us to learn and act alongside and on behalf of our unhoused neighbors. To Nye his faith was not incidental to his passion for housing justice. Rather it is fundamental. And his belief in housing justice is not a substitute or rival for his allegiance to Christianity but rather an expression of his devotion to Jesus. If Christ-followers could truly believe and live this lesson we could change the world together!
“In your daily interactions with people experiencing homelessness, their homelessness is not truly at stake. Their humanity, though, is.” (Grace Can Lead Us Home, 77)
In Grace Can Lead Us Home, Kevin Nye articulated a thoughtful, informative, and comprehensive view of homelessness. He painted a greater picture of the issue and how it intersects with problems such as isolation, mental health, substance abuse, and addiction. Overall, both the book and the book club were thought provoking and have provided me with much to ponder since both concluded.
While the knowledge Nye imparted was certainly beneficial to increasing my understanding of the problem of homelessness, what I appreciated most about the book was the valuable perspective offered. As highlighted in the quote above, Nye encouraged his readers to see the humanity in people. Often, when discussing solutions to the problem of homelessness or within our daily interactions with the unhoused, recognizing humanity is placed on the back burner. Through his writing, Nye encourages us to instead, truly live up to the calling to love our neighbors by recognizing one anothers humanity.
An immediate action offered in the book that follows along with this idea is simply the act of seeing. Many people, when walking along the street, would pass by someone experiencing homelessness right next to them, as if they are not even there. As an easy alternative, Nye encourages his readers to make eye contact with these people, because, well, they are people too. Through the action of seeing, we can recognize the humanity of those around us, acknowledging their inherent worth and dignity placed there by God. And by starting with this small idea, greater progress can be made in pursuing the Christian call to end homelessness.
“Jesus was committed to slow relational work, knowing that connection is a healing force that moves us all toward wellness, flourishing and transformation.” (Grace Can Lead Us Home, 85)
Kevin Nye’s Grace Can Lead Us Home was an exceptional read. It was raw, educational and heart moving. Nye has a way of explaining the facts of homelessness in a direct and distinct way. The topic of homelessness, and the harsh realities in our very own communities, is not an easy subject to discuss, however it is something that we as Christians need to lean into. The imagery drawn from the readings allowed me to recognize more than ever before that those in which we may walk by are those in which we are called to serve. In Matthews 25, we are told whatever we do for the least of the Lord’s brothers and sisters, we did for Him. Our neighbors don’t just include those in which live on our street, or in our community, but also those in disadvantaged communities, those on Mass and Cass, in Nubian Square, and the various other areas where we see individuals who are unhoused.
I deeply appreciated the explanation of the intersectionality’s that come with homelessness, such as mental health and substance abuse for example. Two areas in which I am very familiar with by my own battles with anxiety, depression, and PTSD and due to the alcoholism and drug addiction that various members of my family have struggled with. Nye states that understanding trauma is the baseline for understanding the baseline of unhoused people. Who am I, or any of us, to judge someone that we may see sleeping on the sidewalk as we pass by, and not stop to think of all the things that they may be fighting under the surface. We cannot judge a book by its cover, and we can not judge those that are unhoused, by how they may present themselves when we stop in traffic. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it best, “Learn to regard less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in light of what they suffer.”
If you’ve read this far in the blog, my hope is that you will consider purchasing a copy of Kevin Nye’s book so that hearts may be softened to care and embrace unhoused individuals as Jesus Christ himself would want us too.