“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.”
Kim had worked with the homeless for decades, but recently she took on a “project” that took her more deeply into their world. Disguising herself as a “bag lady,” she created an alter-ego named “Jean.” For several months this author went out incognito into her city in North Carolina, visiting churches of various denominations, from Catholic to Baptist to Pentecostal, from main-line denominations to non-denominational churches. She documented her experiences and compiled her findings in her newly-released book, Undercover Bag Lady: An Expose of Christian Attitudes Toward the Homeless.
This was a quick-read, even for this notoriously slow reader, not only because it’s not a lengthy book (less than 100 pages), but also because I found it so hard to put down. There was a chapter for each church/denomination “Jean” visited, and I was always eager to find out what she was going to experience the next week. (I was especially interested to see how she was received by the denomination I belong to.)
For the most part, the way she was treated was deeply disappointing, especially considering that this region is considered part of the “Bible Belt.” Kim very candidly shares her fears about stepping into a different church each week and the devastation she felt from the rejections she received from those who are supposed to the most loving people on the planet.
(This book is convicting.)
Kim also relates some delightful surprises, such as the occasional person who extended great grace amid others’ cold and judgmental stares. She tells of the offers of help and gifts from individuals who possessed the compassion we should all have. She even confesses prejudice on her own part the day she fully expected terrible treatment from one individual based on her appearance, only to be proven wrong by a startling display of generosity.
(This book is inspiring.)
There was irony in the timing of a number of church visits; often the sermon dealt with caring for the needy, “being the hands and feet of Jesus.” Afterwards the congregation would file out, avoiding eye contact with the most obvious “Exhibit A” right in their midst. I found myself silently coaching the church people – Come on, guys, let’s think about what the pastor said today. Were you listening? Look around, what do you see?? What should you do???? But more often than not I was disappointed. – >AAUGH!!!<
(This book is frustrating.)
I’ve been praying for years that we would see a great revival in America … and waiting… After reading about Kim’s experience as a “bag lady,” it’s painfully obvious that one of the main things hindering revival is the Church. (What’s wrong with this picture??) I doubt any revival is going to materialize as long as the Church on the whole is oblivious, if not outright hostile towards the needy. When the compassionate ones are the exception rather than the rule, people are going to have a hard time recognizing Christ in us. And if they can’t see Him in us, where will they see Him?
Jesus spoke of the Day of Judgment, as He will be judging His flock:
“Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. …Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.” Matthew 25:41-43, 45
Sobering words. (Did we think He was kidding?)
Kim is a dear friend of mine. When we both lived in Michigan, I would go with her and her husband to the Motor City Pride Parade to “love on” the LBGTQ community. The main reason for going was to share Christ with them, but the first objective was to try to undo the deplorable treatment so many of them had received from the Church. Step One is remembering that we are all sinners, and that we are agents of grace only because we ourselves are recipients of that grace. When there’s a sense of humble gratitude, rather than prideful superiority, there’s a much better chance those around us will see the Light and be drawn to it.
I wish I could get a copy of Kim’s book into the library of every church in America, better yet, into the hands of every person who calls himself/herself a follower of Jesus Christ. That being unlikely, I do want to urge anyone reading this blog, especially those who claim the name of “Christian,” to purchase a copy of Undercover Bag Lady: An Expose of Christian Attitudes Toward the Homeless, by Kim Bowman. Read it – you could easily finish it in one or two sittings. Then pass it on or order more to give away. Then act on what you’ve read. Pray about how you can make a difference. (P.S. You can invite Kim to come speak at your church, maybe start a tidal wave.)
What kind of revolution would take place in America if the “Body of Christ” actually started behaving like Jesus? Would we ignite revival?
There’s only one way to find out.
Prayer: Dear Lord, You have said that what we do to “the least of these,” we have done to You. Forgive us when we have been so wrapped up in our own lives that we have passed You by. Help us to remember that we are Your hands and feet. When there’s opportunity to show someone what You are like, may we rise to the occasion, raising others up as we go, in Your name. Amen