Getting into some holy trouble

Review of "Grace Can Lead us Home" by Kevin Nye.

When it comes to books addressing the themes of home and homelessness, it is not surprising that memoir seems to be a pervasive genre. Home is, after all, rooted in story. The memories of significant events, foundational relationships, celebrations, the feel of the familial abode, the landscape of our youth, conjure up the feelings of home. But, lest we slip into sentimentality here, there are painful stories of betrayal, abuse, violence, rejection, and discord at the root of so much homelessness. It is this storied character of both home and homelessness that leads to memoir. Indeed, even if the memoir is not specifically addressing issues of homelessness, memoirs seem invariably to revolve around the question of home. And what else would we expect? Really, if we are telling our own stories, where else could the narrative go?

When it comes to memoir-shaped books on homelessness, a remarkably common theme is how the authors experience new and more deeply resilient senses of home precisely amongst the community of folks who are experiencing homelessness. This is certainly the case in Kevin Nye’s intimate and insightful book, Grace Can Lead us Home: A Christian Call to End Homelessness.

Rooted in ministry at the heart of the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles, Nye has written a book of pastoral wisdom and prophetic passion. The stories he tells about his friends who suffer from being unhoused or inadequately housed bear witness to his attentiveness, care and respect for his vulnerable neighbours. While he does occasionally slip into the language of “clients,” it is clear that his ministry goes far beyond the service provider/client relationship. These are his friends and his teachers.

Nye joins his voice with many others who insist that a lack of affordable housing is the root cause of homelessness, rather than character faults in folks who find themselves in a housing crisis. And such a lack of affordable housing is rooted in policy choices at the governmental level together with the economic priorities of the private sector. The only way to address a context of such systemic homelessness, Nye argues, is a “Housing First” model which insists that the provision of adequate housing is the necessary first step towards addressing the crisis of homelessness.

Nye acknowledges, however, that a house is not a home and, while crucial, a housing first model on its own does not address the crisis at sufficient depth. “Themes of loss, betrayal, exclusion, distrust, and abuse,” he writes, “always emerge when people share how they ended up living on the streets. Homelessness is not simply a loss of housing, but also a loss of connection.” And so a narrowly transactional model of simply providing shelter or even permanent housing, while necessary, is never a sufficient condition for addressing homelessness. Nye’s book is a testimony to the kind of deeper relational and community connection that the church is called to embody if we are to be agents of reconciliation in God’s homecoming kingdom.

As long as there have been folks without secure, safe, and affordable housing, there have been encampments where unhoused people gather together for safety and mutual support. And as long as there have been these kinds of “tent cities” the authorities have swept in to forcibly dismantle these communities. This is of course, a criminalization of the unhoused for their predicament. There is no place for these vulnerable neighbours to go, and the system makes it illegal for them to go anywhere. It is an impossible situation of injustice. With prophetic passion, Nye writes, “Hell is . . . politicians who order the displacement of encampments to score political points with wealthy constituents, or residents who protest the building of affordable housing or a treatment facility because it brings in ‘the wrong kinds of people’.” Justice requires people of faith to stand in support and defence of those Jesus calls, “the least of these.” Nye puts it this way: “It is past time for us to get into some holy trouble on behalf of the unhoused.”

This is a book that just might lead you and your community into that kind of holy trouble. And you might just find Jesus there . . .


  • Brian Walsh

    Brian Walsh is a retired campus pastor and the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community in Toronto. He is the author of "Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination."

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One Comment

  1. Thank you Brian for this wonderful review of the very same book I recently reviewed for The Banner! Nye has recently moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, where he is continuing his work among new youth from Somalia and elsewhere and realizing the “American Dream” is far more elusive than they were led to believe. Nye recently gave a series of Advent talks, sponsored by InDwell, on this theme – and I’m grateful to see joyful Christian support for organizations like InDwell that are fostering collaboration among various social agencies. Nye is someone we can learn a lot from!

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