I received a book recently from John, one of our regular Catch readers and supporters, who happened upon a unique ministry reaching out to street people in an urban setting in downtown Chicago through the vehicle of a poetry slam. (Wikipedia says “A poetry slam is a competition at which poets read or recite original work. These performances are then judged on a numeric scale by previously selected members of the audience.”)
Poetry slams have become popular in cities all over the world, and a community of regulars always forms around them. Realizing the incredible opportunity for sharing the gospel this afforded, John ended up building a ministry to these people by writing his own poetry and joining them.
Even though I haven’t had a chance to read his book yet, I’m pretty sure I know what it’s about, because he’s told me pieces of the story along the way. It’s going to primarily be a book about how he went to bring Christ to these people and ended up receiving Christ from these people.
John will be the first to tell you, he’s not the next Robert Frost. His poetry isn’t multi-layered and deep. It’s a little clumsy, but it’s real, and he puts himself out there out of love for them, and they love him for it. He won them over through his own vulnerability. In bringing Christ to them, he became one of them, and Christ came to them all. This is always the way the Gospel of Welcome works. You think you’re bringing someone something for dinner, and you sit down to a banquet.
It’s a theme that is central to being a Christian in the marketplace. We need to be more aware of what we can learn from non-Christians, unbelievers, not-yet Christians — whatever you want to call them. They are individuals whom God loves, and each one is on a path to discovery and God may well use us on that path, but it will always be a two-way street.
Still, there is a requirement in order for this to happen. You have to become vulnerable in the process. It turns out for John that a poetry slam ended up being an ideal venue for that to happen. You cannot write poetry and stand up and read it to someone without opening up your insides. In the same way, you and I need to find ways to put our own lives and selves out on the line. Without being vulnerable to the people we want to reach, we will never reach them — we will only reach our idea of what we think bringing Christ to them is. You can’t change anyone without being changed.
In changing, we will be changed.