A Case for Habititus
This presentation FBO Habitat for Humanity can be delivered in 5-, 10-, or 20-minute sessions.
Sorry that I was a little bit late …
I just came from the doctor. I have been diagnosed with a bad case of “Habititus.”
- It is distinctive by its uncontrolled fits of effort and energy.
- It is incurable and there is no medicine to combat it.
- Habititus is marked by fever and itch -- to build something.
- It is the passion to construct or refurbish homes for the needful.
The origin of Habititus has been traced back to a Koinonia community farm outside of Americus, Georgia. [The farm was the brainchild of bible scholar, Clarence Jordan.] On the farm, Millard and Linda Fuller, at dinner one evening in 1973 with Clarence, were inspired by the concept of “partnership housing.” Central to their seedling of “partnership housing” was to involve those who are in need of adequate shelter such that they would work side-by-side with volunteers in the construction of decent, affordable housing.
The Fuller’s idea included houses that would be built and sold at no profit. New homeowners would share in the labor. House payments would be combined with…
- no-interest loans provided by supporters,
- materials donated by local organizations within the community,
- and money earned by fundraising to create “The Fund for Humanity,”
In 1973, “Beau and Emma” became the owners of the first home built by the Koinonia Community Farm’s Partnership Housing Program. But they were just the beginning.
One day, while driving down South Dudley Street in Americus, Millard spotted a weary structure in an overgrown field beside the road. There was a very poor, middle-aged couple who appeared to be living there -- living in a pitiful, unpainted shack with…
- great holes in the floor,
- a leaky roof,
- a spigot in the front yard as their only water supply,
- and no toilet facilities.
Fred and Marie Postell were using a big clump of bushes in the backyard as their toilet. Fred had worked for decades at a small, local mill, but he had suffered a stroke a few years earlier and could no longer work. Marie was quite thin now, and seemed perpetually tired.
Millard found out who owned the property and persuaded the owner to sell it to him. Millard and Linda promptly started building a new house for the Postells in front of the old shack. The work went quickly and soon the house at ‘245 South Dudley Street’ in Americus, Georgia, was finished. It was modest with just two bedrooms and one bath, a living room, and a kitchen-dining room combination.
To Fred and Marie, the house was a palace. Unfortunately, only a week after moving in, Marie became ill. She was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with inoperable cancer. After a few days, she returned to her new home. A month later she had passed away.
A local pastor whose congregation had been involved in building the house for the Postells wrote a moving obituary titled, “Death in a Decent House.” Marie was only fifty years old when she passed. But, “…while her life may have been lived in shacks, she died in dignity – in a clean, new, decent place,” the obituary read. She had a good month in her dream home.
The notion that everyone deserves a “decent” place to live caught on and became a hallmark of the Koinonia group. And it grew beyond expectation. In 1976, the registered name of the expanding, young organization became “Habitat for Humanity.”
From that obituary, having a “decent” place to live became central a central tenet to the organization. It was and is formalized in the Vision Statement, the Mission Statement, and in the Guiding Operational Principles for Habitat for Humanity:
MISSION STATEMENT (expanded)
Habitat for Humanity works in partnership with God and people everywhere, from all walks of life, to develop communities with people in need by building and renovating houses so that there are decent houses in decent communities in which every person can experience God’s love and can live and grow into all that God intends.
A world where everyone has a decent place to live.
…The ideology of “decent” is also published in Habitat for Humanity’s five operational principles:
OPERATIONAL [GUIDING] PRINCIPLES
- Focus on providing decent shelter (from the story of Fred and Marie).
- Demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ (the bible teaches us that God is the God of the whole crowd, not just a select few. Ninety-nine sheep in the meadow are unacceptable. God will provide for the whole crowd.
- Advocate for affordable housing (telling the Habitat story, accessing donated materials, growing a volunteer labor base, offering no interest loans, and seeking no profit on the sale of houses).
- Promote dignity and hope (everything is accomplished by wrapping it in encouragement).
- Support sustainable and transformative development (the sale of the home to a needy family is only one part of the process. Habitat endeavors to stay in touch with Habitat homeowners after the sale to guide them with things like gutter-cleaning, painting, explaining how property taxes work, etc.).
In his book, A theology for a Social Gospel, Walter Rauschenbush wrote, “It is clear that our Christianity is most Christian when religion and ethics are viewed as inseparable elements of the same single-minded and whole-hearted life, in which the consciousness of God and the consciousness of humanity blend completely.”
THE THEOLOGY OF THE HAMMER
In their book about Habitat for Humanity, the Fullers expound on their ministry by using the metaphor of a hammer – the most [humble and] fundamental of all carpentry tools, according to one, early “Habitarian” board member.
They called it “The Theology of the Hammer.” What is the “Theology of the Hammer?” What does it mean? How can a hammer have theology? Simply stated, the idea is that our Christian faith mandates that we do more than just talk about faith and sing songs about love...
- Our faith must become more than just verbal proclamation,
- We must put our faith and love into action,
- We must serve to make them real, and;
- We are called to community…
- And to help the needy and the poor…
…The spoken word, praising and expressing the love of God, can be one-dimensional and incomplete without the tangible expression of love that comes from serving others – the “deed” – in this case by building homes.
- Moses, for example, was said to be, “…a man of power in words and deed” (Acts 7:22).
- The same words were used to describe Jesus: “…mighty in deed and word in the sight of God an all the people” (Luke 24:19).
- Mark 6:30 tells us, “The Apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and taught.”
Faith, fully and perfectly, requires action. Something wonderful happens when WORD and deed come together. It is a joy, and it is God’s truth. And as deed gets closer and closer to WORD, God gets closer to us!
I believe that Millard Fuller has it right … a component of true faith is that you must act it out. Where there is passion, there is action, I believe. Within the metaphor of Habitat for Humanity, the “Theology of the Hammer” dictates that the nail be hit on the head…
- Literally and figuratively.
- And repeatedly.
- Until the house is renovated or built, and the needy family moves in.
THE FIRST TENET
In conferences, conversations, and in study, I have learned more about “The Theology of the Hammer” than I’d care to admit. It makes sense to me to describe it by its three foundational tenets. They all come together to illustrate the mission-behind-the-mission – I know it’s cliché, but I describe these as the three legs of the Habitat stool.
The first “leg,” and this might surprise you,
It’s not about “the house.” Habitat is foremost about bringing together a wide diversity of…
- and organizations of all kinds,
In the Mission Statement, the only action verb is “bring,” “…Habitat brings people together…,” it reads. Yes, the venue is a home building site and the end-game is a simple and decent house in a viable and dynamic community, but it is foremost about bringing everyone together. And in the process, they build up the people within the community. People get excited when they can help serve a family in this way!
In this, Habitat acknowledges the differences in opinion...
- on politics,
- and cultural background…
…but WE DO acknowledge a common ground in using a hammer as an instrument to manifest God’s love. Even though there may be differences in theology, we can agree on the imperative of the gospel to serve others in the name of the Lord.
The challenge for us in Matthew 5:16 is to let our light so shine in dark places that others can see our good works and glorify our father who is in heaven. We can impair the Gospel by only shining our lights inside our church buildings. We need to shine our lights outside our church walls.
Bringing together all kinds of people, churches, and institutions to build and renovate houses for needy families…
- is as much about building up people, and building up hope,
- as it is about building up homes (and communities).
- It also brings us closer to God as we work with one another.
This is the essence of the ecumenical spirit of Habitat for Humanity.
Habitat volunteers have discovered that the things that make them the same are more important than the things that make them different.
- People leave behind their differences when they agree on the hammer as an instrument of servantude. And God’s love.
THE SECOND LEG OF THE STOOL
… is the realization that more than sufficient resources do exist for solving the problem of poverty housing in our communities. God has placed all that is needed on earth…
- in human,
- in natural,
- and in financial resources…
Rocks, sand, cement, lumber and other materials needed to build homes are in abundant supply. Only the will build the homes, and the money to buy some materials, is missing.
Habitat is able to sell homes at below-market prices because…
- the land we build on is usually donated,
- many of the materials are donated (or discounted) when they are given to us,
- and volunteers are eager to donate their time working at the job site.
- And, according to the Biblical tenet of “no profit, no interest,” Habitat mortgages are interest free.
When we build these houses, we build them of good quality, simple, and decent. Donated materials and volunteered time does not mean “compromise.” To the contrary, Habitat emphasizes quality construction and high building standards.
And we place the same high values on the importance of building-up our volunteers, contributors, and donors, as the houses are being constructed. People partner with Habitat because of their passion – not working for money – their only “pay” is the satisfaction of a job well done and a sense of being about the work of the Lord, which should be done right.
THE THIRD LEG OF THE STOOL
… is that Habitat for Humanity is not an organization intended to stand in front, it is an organization which thrives behind-the-scenes, as a servant of the Church.
While Habitat is overtly a ministry,
- it is not a church,
- it is not a new kind of denomination.
- Habitat is non-denominational and non-doctrinal,
- but designed with the express purpose to be a servant to others.
This does not mean that we are only a servant to the families for whom we build homes,
- or to the communities in which we provide valuable merchandise through our ReStore.
- Habitat for Humanity wants to be, and expects to be, a servant to our local churches and communities,
And as such, can be a vehicle through which local organizations congregations can…
- express hands-on love,
- and servanthood to needy people in our communities,
- in a tangible and concrete way.
Churches Organizations have embraced the Habitat model in an almost infinite variety of creative and overlapping circles. And this is true here in Polk County. Putting the “Theology of the Hammer” into practice can bring more and more churches organizations together so that our combined lights will be so bright that all of Polk County, and beyond, will see our good work and God will be glorified as never before.
We cherish these partnerships with churches (and all other organizations, BTW) when we are used as the stage upon which both faith-based and secular institutions can come together to let their lights so shine.
The simplest and most common form of partnership with churches and local organizations is one in which the organization contributes money and recruits volunteers “from within their own walls” to be a part of the overall team helping to build or refurbish a Habitat house.
Nationwide, quite often, an organization will adopt or sponsor an entire house, furnishing the money for that house and providing all of the volunteers. Locally, however, it might be more practical for teams from churches to each adopt portions of a house…
- one church takes the framing,
- one takes the siding,
- one takes painting,
- one takes the landscaping,
- and so on.
With ten committed groups congregations coming together, you can imagine that a house CAN be built! The excitement is building, for sure!
And, of course, this is all accomplished working side-by-side with the family who will eventually own the home. In fact, the family must also commit to helping on the next family’s house, as well! How can you express such a blessing as a new home built for you with and by your community except to say,
“Give and it will be given unto you, pressed down, shaken together, and running over?”
I guess that I should have told you at the beginning that my case of Habititus is pretty contagious. You have now all been infected.
I caught it from a little kid – he was probably four or five. It was last December -- I was barely three weeks new with Habitat for Humanity at the time -- a mom and dad with little kids-in-tow was shopping in our ReStore at 600 South Washington. One of the kids was running around – just doing what young boys do.
He noticed the Habitat worker who was standing next to me; he ran up to her and wrapped himself around the worker’s knees. With big, boyish eyes, he looked up at her and said, in his little, squeaky, boy-voice kind of way, “You’re the lady who gave us our house, aren’t you?”…,
…and, as her eyes made contact with his, “ …Thank you for our new house!”
Of course, we didn’t give the family a house, we sold it to them through our home partnership program. I learned later that the young family at one time had been living in an RV with a blue tarp draped over the roof to keep the rain out. They had hoped for years for a better place to raise their young family. And that is important for each of us to understand.
I believe that God has chosen Habitat for Humanity to be an instrument of hope…
- Advocating and telling (and re-telling) Habitat stories like the ones I have shared today…
And help us by…
- Putting the issue on the hearts of people in businesses, churches, civic clubs, schools, foundations, governments, and other organizations of Polk County…
- In such a way that people will wholeheartedly embrace the “Theology of the Hammer”…
- The idea is that the love of God and love of man must be blended in servantude.
…And, as I said before, when WORD and deed, passion and action, come together, affordable, decent houses in decent communities can be built.
The Habitat for Humanity organization strives for perfection in all we do – building and renovating houses, interacting with donors and volunteers, and working with homeowners – in obedience to what we call the “economics of Jesus.”
- Habitat is openly and unashamedly a Christian organization.
- At house dedications Bibles are presented,
- worship songs are sung,
- prayers are offered,
- messages are delivered,
- and homeowners and others are called upon to share their faith (if they choose).
- And each work day is begun with a short devotion and prayer at the job site.
We understand that we are called to build simple, decent houses in decent communities, for God’s people-in-need, and in so doing,
- We proceed with the sure knowledge that God’s love extends to everyone. Ninety-nine sheep in the meadow is not enough…
- Using the biblical economics of no interest and no profit. And,
- Taking what limited resources we are blessed with and go to work -- trusting God to provide if there is a shortcoming.
The “Theology of the Hammer” is evidence that, with God, all things are possible, and that certainly includes building and refurbishing homes for needy people in Polk County, Texas. Everybody made in the image of God ought to have a decent place to live.
Habitat for Humanity is currently the nation’s sixth largest home builder. Within a few years it is forecast that HFH will be the largest homebuilder in the world.
- Not many realize that the first-ever Habitat home was built right her in Texas, in San Antonio, in that first year, 1976.
- And that the Habitat affiliate in nearby Beaumont, Texas, was founded also in that very first year; it is the sixth oldest Habitat affiliate in the world.
The growing and world-wide acceptance of the “Theology of the Hammer” is affirmation that this whole movement is the Lord’s work. And those of us with leadership positions in Polk County should forever remain in an attitude of humble awe of what God is doing through His work with Habitat for Humanity right here in our own neighborhood. Together we should all eagerly, be looking forward to an explosive venture of hands-on faith and love-in-action as Habitat continues to grow in Polk County.
LET ME WRAP THIS UP…
A new kind of mission field has emerged – an ecumenical partnership where people who do not worship together…
- or who may not otherwise come together,
- can do so to the betterment of the community,
- and to the tangible benefit of those who are in need.
If Habitat for Humanity is your cause – if you believe this is God’s work and that struggling to build modest but good and solid houses and selling them on a non-discriminatory basis to needy families at no profit and no interest – is worthy of your time, talents, and treasure, then I invite you to throw yourself into our work with fervor and enthusiasm that will shock the community! Reflection and prayer are great and necessary, but it is passion and action that create change.
In addition to prayer, you can help us in three ways:
- Volunteer in our ReStore on South Washington, or at one of our build sites. You can join our Board – we are always looking for like-minded leaders from our county to join us in our mission. If not you alone as a volunteer, maybe you can sponsor a group from one of the organizations to which you belong?
- You can [continue to] help us Financially – as you have heard, Habitat is about bringing together all of the resources necessary to build and refurbish houses, at an organizational level, as well as at the individual level.
- You can help us by the donation of gently used merchandise for our ReStore. I describe it this way: At one time you were blessed to get a new couch, or washing machine, or lawn mower [or….], and when it passed its useful life for you, you blessed our ReStore by donating it to Habitat for Humanity. In turn, we sold your donation to another family who was blessed to received it, and at a good price, and Habitat for Humanity of Polk County was blessed to receive monies in that transaction that we use to advance our ministry and build and rejuvenate homes for [to] needy people right here in Polk County. I call this the “Circle of Blessings.”
- And we take trailers, cars, and boats, too!
On the human level, true riches come from a life of service; a life committed to going about the work of the LORD. Helping the poor (and widows and children) is the most authentic service to God.
I can’t think of a better mission for serving others and drawing people together. And what better symbol to rally around than the hammer – the tool of Jesus as he worked in Joseph’s carpenter shop, and the tool that was used to nail him to the cross! Every house that Habitat builds or renovates is a sermon about God’s love.
I’ve spent a lot of time here talking about the “backstory.” Hopefully there was something new here for you. Maybe even something inspiring.
If God so loved the world, so should I.
So, should you.
Presented by Ken throughout Polk County, Texas,
during the calendar year 2019.