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Home is more than a roof and four walls

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Beyond Homelessness
Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian J. Walsh

Eerdmans, 2008

People who pick up Beyond Homelessness expecting to learn what it means to live on the street may be surprised that the book has as much to say about their own life as it does about the lives of street people.

Beginning with a comprehensive examination of the meaning of the word “home,” the authors examine the entire spectrum of homelessness in our contemporary culture. They argue that we live in a “culture of displacement, exile, and homelessness.” Socioeconomic homelessness is on the rise as more and more people struggle to find safe, affordable housing. People also experience ecological homelessness because of a sense of “alienation from a degraded and defiled earth.” Postmodern culture is permeated with a powerful spiritual homelessness.

But the book does not focus on doom and gloom; rather, these observations set the stage for the main topic: hope in the face of homelessness. The authors are convinced that Scripture and Christian faith contain a strong message of hope and healing for a broken world.

I found it refreshing to see material relating specifically to Canada’s unique political and social climate in this book addressing the North American context. Throughout the book, author Brian J. Walsh includes stories from his own experience as campus minister at the University of Toronto.

In one of these stories, Walsh shares a conversation he had with a man at a bus shelter who was choosing to spend the winter in an abandoned building rather than the city’s overcrowded, bug-infested shelter system. The man encouraged Walsh to remember to pray for the poor. Walsh readily agreed but was surprised by the man’s next statement: “You’ve gotta pray for the rich. They really need our prayers too.”

Although their situations were dramatically different, that night Walsh also experienced a sense of homelessness. It was hard to relax and feel “at home” knowing the other man was sleeping out in the cold.

The analysis of the many ways in which we can all taste homelessness had a particular resonance with my own experiences. I read this book amidst the boxes and chaos of moving into my first house – a place my husband and I have yet to fill with memories and a true sense of home. I also spend a great deal of time with people who call the street their home and can’t imagine a life that includes the opportunity to make a home indoors, even though many of them long for the chance.

All our experiences are reflected in the content of this book.

The authors engage with theologians, popular writers, celebrities, and their own personal encounters with people who are homeless. Despite the impressive range of sources including Jurgen Moltmann, Barbara Kingsolver, Moby, and the Wizard of Oz, the book is firmly rooted in Scripture. The authors emphasize the importance of theological reflection and each chapter ends with a meditation on a biblical passage.

Some readers may find the academic nature of the book a challenge. Don’t expect to read it in one sitting! However, if you are willing to take your time and engage with thought-provoking material, your effort will be rewarded.

—Rachel Twigg Boyce is a member of Portage Avenue Church and director of House Blend Ministries, an initiative of the MB church of Manitoba, focused on creating caring communities with and among poor people in Winnipeg. 

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