Project Empathy

Another homeless outreach making the news!  Have you seen this one?  A father and his young son hitting the streets of Salt Lake City in search of homeless people to share a meal with – one person at a time.  See the link for a CBS News video clip:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/project-empathy-father-son-help-homeless-meals-2020-01-23/

Wow!

Sharing a meal???

Is that it???

That sounds just too simple.  Naïve.  Even stupid, doesn’t it?

Is it “effective“?

Hmmm…

What do you think the impact of that is on each single homeless person who experiences it?  I bet it’s different for different people, but I also bet it really stands out as SPECIAL.  A day that homeless person will not forget!  A day they were invited to come to an important, little party where they were looked at, listened to, and treated as HUMAN.

I mean if THAT WAS ALL it achieved, I bet it would find traction right in that Hebrews-4:12 place where the soul connects to spirit, right where the joint meets marrow, and finds conviction in that homeless person’s thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  And that is a GOOD PLACE for any outreach effort to touch off life-changing CHANGE.  And I am betting that no matter how effective other outreach methods are, without this traction and impact at this heart level, their effectiveness just looks good on paper, but not for eternity.

But somehow this Project Empathy effort by two people – JUST TWO PEOPLE – simply seeking homeless people to share a meal, face-to-face, attracted the attention of CBS News!

Wow!

Heaven help us if our church caught on to this idea.  Just imagine the Body of Christ sharing the Messianic Banquet (Luke 14, anyone?) with the lost sheep of the streets of Lubbock!

Wonder if that GOOD NEWS would surpass the efforts of two people in Utah.  Wonder if the GOOD NEWS of Jesus reaching out to the homeless of Lubbock, sharing a meal, face-to-face between needy people and the Body of Christ – all of them mobbing him every where he goes to see him, to hear him speak, to touch just the tail of his shirt, or maybe just so that his shadow would fall on them as he walks by… Yeah… I wonder if THAT GOOD NEWS would make it on CBS News!

I wonder.

Of course, we won’t know as long as the church of Lubbock refuses to even try.

Haunted … By The Holy Ghost?

Edgar Allan Poe wrote of the conviction of a tell-tale heart: a sense of right -n- wrong violated and haunting the sinner and reader.  Charles Dickens turned Christmas into a haunted ghost story, truly an amazing paradox.  But neither Poe nor Dickens, as good as they were, were good enough get their haunting tales into the Bible.  Yet in the book of I Samuel, in the twenty-eighth chapter, there is a witch and ghost story, but this is exceedingly rare for the Bible.  Yet, it might be fair to say this haunting came with conviction for that sinner and us readers too.

But does the Holy Ghost haunt us?  Does the Holy Spirit convict us?  Can you be driven into a life of ministry by being haunted and convicted?  Is that biblical even?  (Sounds practically prophetic.)

Certainly the writer of Hebrews 4:12 paints a picture of the word of God like a sword, so sharp and precise it cuts in between the soul and spirit, the joints and marrow, and brings penetrating conviction with regard to our thoughts and attitudes of our heart.  No doubt that would include a haunting of past sins, and surely the Holy Spirit is involved at least.

Let me shoot straight with you here.  I know of no direct quotes or allusions in the Bible to the haunting of the Holy Ghost or of the conviction the Holy Spirit brings to bear on ministry.  These are not biblical ideas, as far as I can see – at least not in these terms.  If this stuff is there, I have not found it, and so it just doesn’t compute.  Still, somehow it seems to be my experience anyway.  Thus I lean on Charles Dickens for this post.

Jacob Marley a.k.a. Crazy Mary:

Let me talk a bit about conviction, ghosts, God’s Spirit, and ministry.  Let me borrow a template from Dickens, and consider a life in ministry haunted by spirits that bring conviction.  I don’t know if this will make much sense to you, but all of these come together for me in a song made famous in the early 1990s by Pearl Jam,.  The song was written, though, by Victoria Ann Williams, a young musician suffering from multiple sclerosis.  If Williams and Pearl Jam could stand in for Jacob Marley, perhaps they could prepare the way for the conviction to come.  Between them, I meet Mary, the first ghost whose story haunts my ministry.

The song is called Crazy Mary.  Here are the lyrics copied and pasted from the web:

She lived on a curve in the road, in an old tar-paper shack
On the south side of the town, on the wrong side of the tracks
Sometimes on the way into town we’d say:
“Mama, can we stop and give her a ride?”
Sometimes we did but her hands flew from her side
Wild eyed, crazy Mary

Down along the road, past the Parson’s place
The old blue car we used to race
Little country store with a sign tacked to the side
Said “No L-O-I-T-E-are-I-N-G allowed”
Underneath that sign always congregated quite a crowd

Take a bottle, drink it down, pass it around
Take a bottle, drink it down, pass it around
Take a bottle, drink it down, pass it around

One night thunder cracked mercy backed outside her windowsill
Dreamed I was flying high above the trees, over the hills
Looked down into the house of Mary
Bare bulb on, newspaper-covered walls, and Mary rising up above it all

Next morning on the way into town
Saw some skid marks, and followed them around
Over the curve, through the fields, into the house of Mary

That what you fear the most, could meet you halfway
That what you fear the most, could meet you halfway
Take a bottle, drink it down, pass it around
Take a bottle, drink it down, pass it around
Take a bottle, drink it down, pass it around

Songwriters: VICTORIA ANN WILLIAMS
© Universal Music Publishing Group
For non-commercial use only.
Data From: LyricFind

 

Williams, the writer of this song, reports that as a child growing up near Shreveport, Louisiana, she was haunted by the figure of a woman, a “crazy” woman she calls “Mary,” who lived in the woods and would walk along the road leading into town, but who was afraid to accept a ride in a car.  She was a destitute woman who most people were only too happy to drive past without offering her a lift, but Williams claims her mother would make the offer which was turned down out of fear, yet Mary eventually was killed by a car that crashed into her humble tar-paper shack where she slept.

 

“That what you fear the most could meet you halfway.”

 

From the first time I heard the song, it haunted me.

I did not know Williams’ back story until recently when considering writing this post.  But the story of the song has many points in common with another story from my youth, and I often contemplated “Crazy Mary” and those like her – marginalized, neglected, needful, wonderful people who could be so much more if real human love were invested in their lives, but who instead vanish in the mist and haunt God’s creation at the margins of life.

The song is in no way a “Christian” song, but as a Christian, over the years, I have contemplated writing a final verse for it – a verse Williams failed to include.  I am not  musician, but as a Jesus-follower haunted by Mary, I have a sense of conviction that I might play a role in changing the world so that she finds a place to thrive.  How might we tell this story if Jesus came along and found Mary with “her hands flew from her side”?  The aimlessness of crowds congregated under “No Loitering” signs might find new direction.  And they may not be only the bums who benefit from this Apocalyptic final verse, but maybe those crowds congregated under signs that say “church” discover the purpose for which they are driven.

I want to live in THAT world.  How might I play my part in bringing it to birth in this one?  I am haunted by the notion.  It seems like a haunting of the Holy Ghost.

In my feeble attempt to bring a unifying theme to this post, I now borrow from Charles Dickens (himself a ghost with concern for the poor and needy, if not Christian ministry).  I think you will catch on to the drift easy enough, if you know A Christmas Carol and the story of Scrooge and Tiny Tim.

Ghost of Ministry Past:

My long dead grandmother’s life and love for Jesus leaves a haunting legacy for me.

I never knew my paternal grandmother, not the one whose genes I inherited.  (I knew and loved my dad’s stepmother, and called her “Grandma,” but there was that other one whose influence is mysterious.  I want to talk about her.)  She died before I was born… died singing church hymns.  The hospital staff in the cancer ward reported later that they knew she was gone when the singing stopped.  Is that not the haunting of the Holy Ghost?  It’s not a story like any found in the Bible, but it sure has the feel of a Holy Ghost story.  If Dickens can turn Christmas into a ghost story, one that benefits the poor, then surely you can afford me this slack.

Special Agent Grandmother  loved Jesus, and she felt moved with deep conviction and compassion to care for the poor and less fortunate – even when that put her at odds with church leadership (which was quite remarkable in the 1950s – especially for a woman!).  A voice for the voiceless who was herself voiceless, Grandmother sounds hauntingly familiar to me now since my own shepherds have told me that I can scream at the top of my voice, but they will not listen to me either.

There are many stories about her ministry, and I have already posted about her and the legacy she leaves to me on this blog before.  But one story I have not told is about the care she gave to the family living in the “old tar-paper shack.”  And suddenly there seems to be more than mere coincidence at work between Grandmother (and my dad) and Victoria Williams (and her mom) and these two stories about the “old tar-paper shacks.”

Like nearly everything I know about Special Agent Grandmother, I learned about her from my dad.  For years, my dad recited his own story about his mama driving her kids down to Theta Rogers “old tar-paper shack” and picking up Theta and her daughters to “give them a ride” to church.  I consider how humble the home of my dad’s youth was, and yet he was shocked by the humility in which this family lived.  One of the things that stands out in his story is the smell of the kids loading in the car.  The family living in the old tar-paper shack burned tires to keep warm – a desperate ploy to fight the Colorado winter cold – and the smell of burned tires went with them to worship services.

On some occasions, Special Agent Grandmother took cleaning supplies into that tarpaper shack and cleaned it.  She and some of the ladies from church taught hygiene habits to Theta’s kids.  It didnt sit well with Grandmother to let Theta and her kids just exist in that shack unnoticed at the margins and the hands and feet of Jesus not care for them.  No.  And she wasn’t gonna just go on down to the worship service, sing the songs, say the prayers, and partake of the Eucharist pretending all was well with her soul or with God’s good world while at the same time not inviting this needy family to come join in the celebration of Jesus with her.  That just would not make sense.  And so when I hear the Crazy Mary song made famous by Pearl Jam, I can see my grandmother, with my dad and my aunt (as children) stoping to give Mary/Theta a ride.

Is this the Holy Ghost haunting me?  My own grandmother who I never met?  Whose genes I share, whose legacy I find myself the champion of in my generation?  And sure enough, despite the fact that the Jesus we read about in Scripture is surrounded by needy people to the point of being crushed, so much so that even the house is over crowded to the point that they can’t even eat a meal, but this in no way characterizes our churches with their ski trips, with parking lots full of Lexus, Cadillac, and Lincoln – none of which smell of burned tires or any other smells of the needy – and with million dollar sanctuaries, architecture, landscaping, and prayer gardens all devoted to the Jesus who was devoted to the needy and the poor.

Haunting.  Convicting.  Ministry.

The Ghost of Ministry Present:

My unlikely friend, advocate, and fellow servant at church!  An encourager in the midst of despair!

I am haunted by my fellow minister “agent dc,” (he does not use capital letters in his own pseudonym) who some of my readers will recognize leaving likes and comments here on the blog.  Obviously, agent dc has joined the secret agent, clandestine effort in ministry, and thus I will respect his desire to remain anonymous.  But I must say that his involvement with this ministry gives me great encouragement.

I met agent dc at church two years ago.  Right when I was confronting the powers-that-be in church leadership with their devotion to the Lupton Center’s “Seeking Shalom” class, and the subsequent shunning I faced from my church over that confrontation, agent dc introduced himself to me and asked if he could donate a pile of coats to be distributed to homeless people on the streets of Lubbock.  A stark contrast to my experience with the rest of the brotherhood!

In the two years since that time, agent dc, his wife and I together, have teamed up a few times for ministry to our (now) mutual friend Agent Mama DJ and her family.  Yes, agent dc, just for the asking, drove out to pick me up and then drove out to find DJ and drive her all over Lubbock one day to get medical care, groceries, and dog food, and agent dc funded the mission too!

This is the kind of ministry I am used to providing, the kind that inspires me from Scripture and from contemporary ministers like Tony Campolo or Shane Claiborne.  The kind where we actually give out our phone number and answer the call when it comes.  The kind that sacrifices to show God’s love to those in need, that risks it all to be all to all.  And when it was done, agent dc THANKED ME for asking him to be a part of it!  A world of difference between that and anything I experienced in “Seeking Shalom” or Premier Homeless Pseudo Church (not it’s real name) 101 Class!

Just when my church experience looks, sounds, and feels so utterly bleak, the shepherds become so petty as to say I can scream but they won’t listen, the small group that meets at my house ghosts me without a single word or comment, and  the concerns I bring to church leadership is met with indifference – just then – I find this stubborn blessing AT CHURCH!  It’s almost like decency haunts me!  Just when it seemed dead, there it is alive.  The hope of love, just when I was sure it was dead, is back from the grave!

If I wanted to wallow in self pity, I would not be able to shake the Holy Ghost of Ministry Present that insists on thanking me for the opportunity to spend hours and days, tens and hundreds of dollars, and other imaginative resources giving love and hope to the needy!

The Ghost of Ministry Future:

I don’t know in any comprehensive sense what the future holds.  I am not actually optimistic about it.  I am heavily burdened with shame, pain, and despair and a church that functionally does not care.  But I am also buoyed by the small, but stubborn hope that haunts all my pessimism with grace and conviction and dares to be joyous and thankful for the chance to love the needy.

I really don’t know what the church will look like in another decade or twenty years, but I have a feeling the Body of Christ will not be represented by all that stained glass and ski trips.  I hope I have the wisdom to be a part of THAT Body in what ever form it is found.

All of this has me thinking again about Crazy Mary and writing the last verse for her song.  What jalopy that doesn’t boast a “Lexus” logo and isn’t afraid to host the smell of burning tires will Jesus roll up in that Mary will not fear, that Mary will relent and climb into?  What jalopy will not drive past her unnoticed, not crash into her shack killing her, but will invite Theta and her kids to climb in and find the aimless crowds congregating under the sign that says “W-E-L-C-O-M-E” at the Luke-14 Party of the Apocalypse?  What is so scary about this experience with the Holy Ghost?  Are you feeling haunted yet?  Is this too much of a stretch for the Bible?

Look.  They made a movie about Charles Dickens as well as making several movies about his book.  The movie they made about him they called The Man Who Invented Christmas.  The irony is astounding.  First off Dickens did not invent Christmas.  Yet, watch the movie and then argue that he didn’t before you accept that statement.  Secondly, he did it by turning his celebration of Christmas into a ghost story!  How counterintuitive is that?  Yet look at the impact Dickens’ ghost story has had on Christmas in the cultures of the English speaking world!

Anyway, I point this out because as long as I am relying so heavily on Dickens for this post, I may as well also rely on the established fact that his success in that endeavor is just so unlikely, yet so devastatingly powerful.

Imagine that!

Imagine people giving their phone numbers to the needy and answering the calls.  Imagine those people sacrificing time, money, and resources – even exhausting themselves – only to turn and thank the needy for the opportunity to serve!  Imagine the Holy Ghost/Apocalyptic Party you are worthy to join when you have that kind of heart for Jesus!  (Read Matthew 25:31-46 through the lens of hospitality before you answer that.  Read Luke 14:13-14 before you answer that.)

May the Holy Ghost haunt you with conviction to go into ministry like that!

(And if I attract a musician/song writer to read here, maybe help us write a final verse for Crazy Mary.  One where Jesus stops and gives her a ride to the congregation crowded underneath the sight that says “W-E-L-C-O-M-E” to church.)

 

Misguided Homeless Protest?

Perhaps you are aware of the “homeless moms” (I do not use quotation marks here to question whether these women are homeless or if they are mothers, but to highlight that this is the terminology used for them specifically) in Oakland, California who squatted an empty house until they were arrested and forcibly removed.  If not, here is a link to a video which will help catch you up on the story:

https://abc7news.com/5848530/

Got it now?

Yeah, these women have hit a moral nerve with their “fight” to provide for their children.  I am not a “mom,” and so I cannot have their voice.  No one would give me the hearing they get.  But there is just something truly sacred about moms and babies – something even the secular world takes note of, even if the powers-that-be eventually turn a deaf ear to their cry (which they do to the extent they can).

The owners of the property in question (Wedgewood Properties) felt the pressure these “moms” bring to bear on them and offered a compromise.  But the “moms” sense they need to make their stand here and not compromise quietly.  The issue is bigger than themselves, and so they face arrest, eviction, and all the shame that goes with it in order to attract the white-hot, spotlight of the news media.  Wages are not keeping pace with rental expenses in Coastal California.  This problem affects families – “moms” with dependent babies.

I am sympathetic with Oakland’s mayor’s assessment that the “moms” are “courageous” and engaged in “civil disobedience” which serve a cause higher than merely their selfish desires.  I feel for the Wedgewood property manager’s concern for the abuse of private property, but I find that to be a minor concern when contrasted with the major concern for housing “moms” with babies (and really ANY humans in need).  I think Wedgewood and the sheriff’s department have their priorities misplaced.

But if I could speak to these homeless “moms” – and really ANY homeless people anywhere, I would say the protest is misguided.  Not so much in the actions taken or in the sacrifice they are willing to endure, but rather in taking on private property managed by secular authorities.  The weight of your moral stand and the appeal you have for the sacred needs of “moms” and their babies does make a splash in the secular world, but it is all the more important for the church, for the people of God, to grapple with you.

Even Jesus got arrested for his actions, not in an empty house on Magnolia Street, but in “My Father’s House.”  I am aware that there are, in fact, many houses of worship in Oakland.  It will not do harm to God’s people to grapple with your moral and sacred issue in the “light” of news media.  On the contrary, it will be good discipline for God’s people to give an account for their own actions and inactions, and provide a chance for God’s people to show the world the way God loves us.

Of course, it’s only appropriate then that I call you to faith in Jesus as you appeal to Jesus among his people.  Thus I urge you to repent and then call all the rest of us to repent too.

Naked & Vulnerable

(I offer this post after reading another’s blog recently where that blogger argued, rather persuasively, that churches aren’t loving the poor enough with the charity we offer.  That notion, as put, gels with me fairly solidly.  However, this blogger wound up going back the When-Helping-Hurts way, in the long run, seeking to make poor people self-sufficient as a goal… shunning their dependence upon others… just doing it with feeling. The feeling in this case being  “love.”  It was then, I realized this blogger and I were not actually “gelling” so much.  Then upon further reflection, it seemed I should distinguish myself more articulately.  Thus, this post….)

LOVE.

God is love (I John 4:8, 16).

This is standard stuff.  But how do we unpack it?

As a wise one once said, “All good [biblical] theology begins with Genesis.”  I will begin there.

When God lovingly creates the whole cosmos, on the sixth day, he presents his crowning achievement – humanity.

This human creature (Gen. 1:27) is made in the image of God (male and female).  Since, as I John tells us, God is love, humanity is made in the image of love and then given dominion and rule over all the rest of creation (Gen. 1:26) to rule in love.

This is the target at which we aim.  To aim anywhere else is to miss the mark, sin.

LOVE.

Love rules God’s world.  The image bearer, reflecting God for all of creation to see and obey, is male and female … is naked, doing male and female naked stuff (the subject of a different post) and thereby ruling the world.  This is God “full frontal” – a sight which is deadly to mortals (Exod. 33:20).

Catch all that?

Something seem a bit off???

Look again.  This is all “biblical.”  I have neither added nor taken away anything from God’s word at this point.  But I am betting it is NOT your experience.

Not mine either.

I mean, I been naked before, and I done that male/female “stuff” a few times, but I never “ruled over creation” doing that.  On the contrary, I was naked and vulnerable doing that.  At the mercy of anyone who might see!  Thus I took precaution to keep it private!!  I hung out the “do not disturb” sign!!!  For if I had been discovered by burglars (or anyone, really) at that point, I would be so vulnerable on so many levels, that I would certainly have been completely subdued by a foe in a heartbeat, if not morbidly embarrassed in front of friends.

On the other hand, the few times it ever seemed like I might have ruled over some particle of creation (and let me stress “SEEMED LIKE” here), those moments were brief, fleeting, mythical in nature AND occurred when I was at my least naked and vulnerable.  (Basically, I managed to bluff a few people a few times at best, and I always had my clothes on and appeared to be anything but vulnerable when I did it!)

That sound more familiar?

Yeah.  But not biblical.  At least not biblical like Genesis 1 and 2 when at the end of each day, God holds Judgment on creation and declares it “GOOD.”

Hmmm…

Hold that thought just one moment.  Notice in the third chapter of Genesis, God lovingly lays down a ground rule.  One rule.  This rule gets laid down just before Shalom is broken.  It should be easy to follow, but it’s not.  There is one tree in the garden, the fruit from which humanity may not  eat.

What tree is that?

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Hmmmm…

So God creates this humanity to bear his image in naked vulnerability, trusting him completely, and thus to rule the world – BUT HE DOESN’T WANT THEM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL (right and wrong)???

Hmmmm…

Now that is counterintuitive.

It’s just layer upon layer of vulnerability.  That cannot work!  The only way that would even compute is in the mind of someone who knows good and evil – OR someone with incredible trust in God.

So here we are in the midst of some deep and esoteric theological point, but it ain’t making much sense.

Those worshipers at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas a few weeks ago may not have been naked, but they sure were vulnerable!  Yet, not as vulnerable as it first appeared.  After all, several shepherds and parishioners brandished weapons in response to the shooter, and one fella even dominated him with a well-aimed shot – putting an abrupt end to the vulnerability!

But when God makes the world – when he lovingly makes it all good – he creates it just so that the naked, vulnerable image bearer rules it all in faith by simply bearing his image.

Hmmm…

That is a truly delicate situation!

All this vulnerability implies faith.  It implies trust.  Fidelity.  (Again, this is starting to sound biblical.)

So if you keep looking in Genesis, you find (chapter 3) that when sin comes into the good creation, judgment and curse follow in short order.  And something else happens, something that would be exceedingly odd if not for the fact that today we view it as so utterly normal: humanity starts wearing clothes.  The naked vulnerability gets covered up, and this is considered good and wise.

So… Let’s sum it up like this:  Ruling God’s creation as he intends it, requires bearing his image in naked  vulnerability.  And the world responds to his image with Shalom.  A complete and utter interdependence!  Not independence.  Look at that again very carefully.  It’s Shalom when all creation finds interdependence by the perfect reflection of God in the image bearer.  A group of naked people cannot rule the world independently!

Got it?

Good.

That’s good theology starting in Genesis.

But truly good, well-rounded and fully robust theology doesn’t end with Genesis.  It takes Genesis theology and fills it up with Jesus.  And if you go to Golgotha and find Jesus there, you will see, in the paradox of a dead/dying, naked, utterly vulnerable Jew boy’s Roman execution the image of God taking his rightful place as king – with dominion and rule over the rest of creation.  Yes, Jesus is the naked, vulnerable man from Genesis given dominion and rule over all the beasts, and the church is his bride who rules with him in faith, in naked, vulnerability where “the two become one.”

Now talk to me about “seeking Shalom.”

Do you know how the church in Jerusalem sought Shalom (vis-à-vis the poor no less)?

Read Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37 and see for yourself.

Ever heard of the Proverbs-31 Woman?

Go read Proverbs 31, and find out what I am talking about.  The woman described there is not just any woman, not just any wise woman, and not just any wise and charitable woman, but she is the church as foreseen in Old Testament times.

The church is the bride of Christ!  The church and that crucified Jew boy together bear the image of God in naked vulnerability, in a trust  that surpasses the knowledge of good and evil.  This image bearer is the answer to the sin Adam and Eve bring into God’s otherwise good creation.  The interdependence of naked, vulnerable people bearing God’s image is the means of redeeming Shalom.

So why on earth would a church think you might “help” the poor and homeless by teaching them to be “self-sufficient” or independent?

That is NOT biblical.  NOT Shalom.  NOT Jubilee.  It is NOT Gospel.  And it is NOT the business of the church.

Having begun by the Spirit do you think you can perfect the When-Helping-Hurts agenda with a warmer feeling of love? (Gal. 3:3, anyone???)

I hope you will think about it.  Look carefully at the distinction.  If you are a disciple of Jesus, one who believes in LOVE and that God actually created the world to be ordered in LOVE and that THIS LOVE will not abandon the One who bears the image of God to the grave, but rather raises this image bearer to new life, then how you treat the poor is a good indicator of what you really believe.

Naked & Vulnerable.

The image of God – the image of LOVE.

Naked & Vulnerable.

Flesh crucified.

Not something to be shunned, but a goal for which to aspire, because then we are what God made us to be: Bearers of his image, ruling the creation in Shalom.

You Have Heard It Said, “The END TIMES ARE NEAR,” But…

I TELL YOU THE JUDGMENT CAN’T COME FAST ENOUGH

 

(Sure, call this a prophetic” prediction” – if you must.)

 

Today’s generation of Americans, unlike those before us, speculate that our children (the next generation) will not be more prosperous than their parents (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/05/12/what-will-become-of-americas-kids/).  Life expectancy in the greatest nation on earth is dropping (https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2019/us-life-expectancy-drops.html).  Practically everyone is unhappy with our prized modern, make-it-up-as-you-go, democratic, freedom-loving, representative form of government which we hold forth to the rest of the world to emulate.  Surveys claim one third of Americans think Civil War is coming! (https://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/general_politics/june_2018/31_think_u_s_civil_war_likely_soon).

This is a very bleak picture, yet I am only pointing out the framework upon which so much of the bad news I hear every day (and I mean really bad stuff like church shootings, school shootings, concert shootings, disease epidemics, plane crashes, crooked politicians, homelessness, traffic jams, sex scandals, political scandals, and global warming – to name just a FEW).  Some of this stuff is DEEPLY systemic.  Not only did the pharmaceutical companies ALLOW our nation to fall into an opioid epidemic, but they seem to have promoted it!  They seem to have enlisted doctors to get American’s addicted in mass numbers!!  Even the FDA, the agency that is supposed to prevent this, somehow has colluded and deepened the problem!!!  We see much the same thing with airline safety inspectors.  The contractors providing housing on military bases are cheating military families, and getting away with it.  TV preachers are caught up in sex scandals right along with the politicians.

And still, we have immigrants trying to get in!!!  (How ironic is that?)

Everyone has the freedom to do their own thing their own way, and the center does not hold.  The instant gratification of sexual indulgence of any whim or taboo, the quick buck at the expense of honesty and integrity, the power plays of bullies have moved from parasite status at the edges of our shared life and have become idols known in ancient times as Aphrodite, Mammon, and Mars.  And these gods must be obeyed, it seems, come-what-may!

Yet somehow this all feels just a little too newspaper-ish.  I don’t worship these false gods.  I did not cheat on my wife last night.  I did not cheat on my tax return last year, or intimidate my way into the good parking spot at the grocery store this morning.  I’m not like that, (I tell myself).  No.  I am the victim here!  Me and my kind suffer from all the others doing that garbage!!!  (So I tell myself.)

And there is a blog or a political pressure group out there willing to have me join the cause in being THAT VICTIM, and generate exactly the things I think I am a victim of to be perpetrated on others in return fire.

But maybe this stuff hits closer to home than I really imagine.

Mrs. Agent X is a baby nurse, as I have said before.  And the last month, she has been lamenting almost daily every little particle of generosity we might show to the birth parents of the foster kids we keep.  This is a reversal of the attitude she came into this career espousing.  It is a reversal of the track record we have already made for ourselves, since we have worked hard on numerous occasions to help reunify the families where we might have some influence through sharing of wisdom, encouragement, and prayer.

What has Mrs. Agent X so calloused?

Dead babies.

Not one of ours, thank God.  But one in the news recently.  The meth-addicted parents managed to work the system and get their kid back in their home!  And that, of course, is the tiny bit of GOOD NEWS in this whole post EXCEPT that apparently the “recovery” from the addiction wasn’t going as well in reality as it appeared on paper, and in a matter of days, the child died in their care.  The system put that child it once saved right back into the HELL from which it was previously saved!  And Mrs. Agent X, the baby nurse, is a warrior on the front lines of baby-saving.  And when children die in her care, she feels beat up by it for weeks.

(I know.  I made it sound like she sorta gets over it eventually!  But that is not really true either.)

Yeah, as we talk about it, really talk, we consider all the people we know personally or professionally who struggle with meth (or other addictions) and yet have kids.  And I don’t mean one child either; I mean MANY.  One parent, but many children.  One mother with three or five daddies creating five, six, or seven kids!  And there are a LOT of these single-parent “homes”!  And there are three or four generations of this mayhem!

YOU PEOPLE (you blog readers – you God-loving conservatives AND you logic-loving liberals, you policy-setting, voting-conscious, word-reading, THOUGHT-HAVING people) all think you are going to promote some agenda that is going to guide us out of the mess we face as a nation, as a world.

But you’re not.

I hear reporters on TV tell us everyday that we are late addressing climate change, that we will face consequences for our actions and lack of actions up until now, but maybe – MAYBE – maybe there is still time to head off total destruction.

And I think: YOU’RE WORRIED ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE???

What do you think you are going to save?

Others of you want your gay rights and gay marriage so you can be just like a traditional family???  Guess what?  There are no traditional families anymore!  You don’t have that as measure to judge by anymore, and we are all too slow in seeing it.  Just when Ward and Ward Cleaver got their picket fence… and for WHAT?  Enjoy if fast!  Except, Judgment is coming slow, so maybe you can enjoy the fantasy of a traditional marriage briefly, but it is in the shadow of death now – cuz the green grass on the other side of that picket fence is occupied by an impromptu homeless camp of tent cities!  Pardon the smell.

No.

Judgment is moving TOO SLOW.  But unlike so many of my prophetic counterparts, I am not calling for imminent threat of Judgment.  On the contrary, I look at 400+ years of Egyptian captivity, and 600 years of what we moderns call “THE DARK AGES,” and I think: we are headed for a long, hard slog.  Go half way into either of those historic eras and ask the people of God how blessed America is.  They will answer you back with a question of their own: “Ameriwho?”

I am not actually as worried that my family will get shot and killed shopping at the mall or going to worship as I am that they won’t.

Think about it.

God – Almighty has been through the rises and falls of many world empires and kingdoms before.  I have not.  Neither have you.

There is still time.  Not for the hope of empire.  That time is up, but there is still time to repent.  The Kingdom of God is at hand!

These idols are at work in us.  They are at work in each of us.  Darkness wars with light in each human heart.  Mine as well as yours.

We Americans have shown a light to the world, but not the light of Christ.  We have shown the world the light flash of a nuclear weapon and then reaped the benefit of the FEAR that put in everyone else, but now is coming back home to roost.  We have enjoyed cheap gas and cheap milk and eggs for 70 some-odd years in that light.  In FEAR the world bowed to us and lived in poverty as we made America Great according to our crooked scales, our brandished weapons, and our seduction with our free “love.”

But you know what is required of you:  He has told you, O man, what is good.  What does YHWH require of you but to DO JUSTICE, LOVE KINDNESS, and WALK humbly with your God?

Look deep into the heart of America today and show me where you find that!

What does it profit a nation to gain the whole world and forfeit it’s soul?

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich nation to enter the Kingdom of God.

The tax collecting homeless and the cheapest dirty sluts will enter the Kingdom of God ahead of you.

How is it not possible that we have our worldview all just a tad backward, upside down, and inside out?  I don’t know.  With all our universities, colleges, experts and strategists, the only way I can figure is that maybe pride has gone before the fall.  And we are now in that space between pride and fall.

When the Judgment comes, it will be the broken and the contrite hearts that will find mercy with the Judge.  It will be those who showed hospitality to the widows, the orphans, the sojourners (the least of these) who will join the sheep in glory.  It will not be those who sold kindness in a hospitality industry to those wielding Visa and Mastercards, because those who refused this kindness to the least of Jesus’s brothers will go with the goats into destruction as they discover they turned Jesus away at the door.

I, for one, AM SORRY.  I, for one, hope this home in which I reside is the HOUSE of God in which I am not the Master, but merely the door keeper.  And I pray to God, HELP the DOOR KEEPER to be prepared for this awesome responsibility.  May the door keeper be found ALERT and READY when the MASTER RETURNS.  May the door keeper be found FEEDING THE SHEEP when the MASTER RETURNS.  May the door keeper be found NOT CAUSING ONE OF THESE LITTLE ONES TO STUMBLE but rather helping to form Jesus in the lives around me.

Can I get an AMEN?

Agent X Comments on the White Settlement, Texas Church Shooting

I want to direct any readers visiting Fat Beggars blog to visit Jon Kauffman’s blog today. I hope to generate rich discussion there, and the post he offers here is right at the heart of things I want to talk about. Your voice there is important too. Agreement is not required, but your best effort to honor Jesus with your thoughts there will be truly appreciated. Thanx. X

NONVIOLENT CHRISTIANS

Recently Agent X shared some thoughts on the Texas Church Shooting. Afterwards I added some thoughts. Please feel free to comment on errors in our thinking.

Agent X says:

In light of the recent church shooting here in Texas last weekend (and that being a sister congregation of the communion I partake in), I am feeling compelled to talk, to explore, to discuss Jesus vis-à-vis return fire at the worship service ESP.

I don’t have clear conclusions. I have some very strong ideas, but not clear conclusions. I am exploring that.

Below I have cut and pasted two emails I broadcast among friends and family for discussion. However, feedback here and/or further exploration here on this blog seem pertinent to me. I am sharing this here to see if you feel the same and/or want to talk these things out with me.

————-
THE CHURCH THAT RETURNS FIRE I

I…

View original post 2,325 more words

I’m Sorry … So Very Sorry … Truly, Deeply Sorry

I have practiced humility; I have practiced ho…

Oh, yes.  I have.

I have practiced humility.  Actually put work into it.  Not that it made me good at it.  I am not claiming to be an expert.  I am not claiming that the Holy Spirit perfected it in my life, merely that I practiced.  Even losing teams practice, and so by claiming that I practiced humility, I am not saying I became particularly skilled at it.  Likely better at it than if I had not, but -no- I am not claiming expertise, merely devoted focus and energy.

So…

I have practiced humility; I have practiced holiness, I have practiced patience, I have practiced faithfulness, love, charity, kindness, sensitivity, cheerfulness, encouragement, hopefulness, self-control, gentleness, wisdom, and even football, baseball, and basketball.

But I have never practiced sorrow.

I have been sorry on some occasions in my life.  I am sure everyone would have to say that.  I have done some things for which I feel deep remorse and regret.  But I never practiced sorrow.  Not even once.

On the contrary, I have resisted it.  As part of my good disciplined life (I am being overly generous with myself in this sentence), I have sought to avoid sorrow by behaving wise and thoughtful ahead of time so as to not be sorry later.

And now….?

I wonder if my sorrow isn’t blunted, closed off from me.

I am scared by that thought.

I could sell it as “gently used” or even “like new” I think.

Hmmm…

In my life, I dare to speak for Jesus, to stand in his place even, but I am a sinner.  How can I be so bold with no sorrow?

Is sorrow something that needs to be practiced?

I don’t know, but I feel sure it is something I don’t want to lose.  It seems that sorrow meets with humility in some points of contact where I neglected to visit when I was practicing humility.

Two rebels were crucified with Jesus, one on his right and one on his left.  One of the rebels had enough sense to point out that they both deserved what they were getting while Jesus did not.  The other was oblivious to this.  That godly sorrow which the one rebel gave voice to, the confession of his wayward life and what he deserved, made for a ticket to Paradise with Jesus.

I am giving thought to the things I am sorry about today.  I find my own mind willfully blocking access to them.  I am in a battle with myself.  My heart is troubled.

Who have I hurt?  When?  How?  How badly?

I can think of some people I hurt.

I didn’t mean to hurt them – not all of them, and not every time in which I did.  Often the hurt I caused was unintentional.

But I can think of a few times when it was intentional too.

Oh, my….

I did do that.

And even some of the times when it was NOT intentional, I can see where even then it was not always out of sheer mistake or ignorance, but often out of indifference and callousness.

I need to think on that.

I am not done with this sorrow.

Sorrow is not done with me.

We haven’t even started.

I am afraid of it, and I fear I am only at the start of a very long path, going down, down, down and around back and into some dark alleys in my own hard heart.

Names like Stan, Angie, and Mom come to mind.

I lost a marriage once.  Think I might have something to be sorry about???

I have kids.

I once was a kid.

I can see a very young me, probably about 18 years old, sitting in the back seat of a 1972 Plymouth Satellite looking at my two best friends in the front seat as we drive along a residential street.  Feeling squeezed out of my own inner circle of friends, feeling desperate to get them to notice me, to laugh at my remarks, I spot a very overweight, middle-aged woman walking along a foot path near an empty lot, heavy laden with more grocery bags than a soul should be carrying.  I lean out the window and let her know just how fat and ugly she is and what a shame she thought she needed all that food.  And at 30 mph, my friends and I were gone, but I have no idea what evil blossomed from that seed I planted in that woman’s mind and in her heart.  I only know that the miniscule chuckle it got out of my friends didn’t sooth my problem, but as I sat back in the seat again, I knew I had tapped into some darkness lurking in myself.

I can’t undo that act.  I have no way of knowing who that lady was.  If I could find her today and knock on her door and introduce myself and tell her that it was me that day soooooo long ago, do you think she would even remember?

I bet she would.

And all I could do is say, “I’m sorry.”  I am so very sorry… so truly, deeply sorry.

What if I found out who she was and learned that my remarks that day were the final straw in her sad life, and that she went on home and took a bottle of pills?  Who could I say I am sorry to then?

You understand, don’t you?  This is just ONE of my sins.  I have closed myself off from even thinking about so many of my own sins for so long that I would have to stay up late several nights WORKING just to remember a lot of them.  And that is just the ones I know!

A lot of them are more complex.  A lot of my sins you would sympathize with me about.  Things I said or did when provoked or spur of the moment… that kind of thing.  Some I was in a Catch-22 situation, damned if I do; damned if I don’t kind of thing.

But you know what?

Dwelling on all the excuses only makes it harder to be sorry.  I have PLENTY of sins that are just inexcusable by ANYONE’s standards – no matter how low!

I’m not Hitler or Stalin or Bundy or Dahmer…  No.  Not claiming that.  I’m not all that different from you, most likely.

I am a guy, though, who should be sorry, but I’m not.  And SORRY is probably all I got in a lot of these situations.  Can’t fix some of it at all.  Only plea for mercy, but I’m not even doing that!  But without this meeting of the hearts and minds there will be no Shalom, and I will not be fit to live in it if I don’t even try.

Jesus and I have some things to talk about.

We need to get my pride and hard heartedness out of the way.

The January 0031, Jesus Christ Healing-Miracle Price List Discovered In Ancient Ruins

Yeah.  I know.  Sounds weird for a headline.  Right?

(Bear with me a moment.)

I had a vision (from God?), maybe it was one of those prophety kinda thingies.  In the vision, I saw some little Jewish kids setting up a lemonade stand on a dusty, Galilean trail at a crossroads between Capernaum and Jericho when Jesus comes along and gets a brilliant idea to open up a healing-miracle stand.

Sound more sacrilege than prophetic? 

Yeah.  Maybe so.  But hear me out.  I am not done yet.

You see … about ten years ago, at the turn of the last decade, the church I was attending “V-church” (we’ll call it), read Corbett and Fikkert’s little book When Helping Hurts and decided to revamp the outreach ministry based on the newfound conviction we all got from these geniuses.  Up until that moment, V-church had a thriving outreach ministry.  In fact, it was more than thriving; it was almost legendary.  V-church was serving hundreds of poor people with warm meals, a clothing closet, a food pantry, rent assistance, bus passes, after-school tutoring, school supplies, summer camp, and more – so much more.  V-church was overwhelmed with needy people every week.

But after reading Corbett and Fikkert, leaders at V-church began saying that we were doing more harm than good by GIVING away so much charity to the poor and needy.  Thus, leadership shut down the whole outreach ministry for a hiatus and revamped it from the ground up.  Upon reopening the charitable services, V-church began charging a token price for all our services.

Nothing would be FREE anymore.

The prices were not set to cover the cost of materials (which were largely donated to us for free) and services rendered to the poor, but instead set as a means of “guarding the dignity” and developing discipline in those we served.  You see after reading Corbett and Fikkert, it became overwhelmingly obvious to V-church (what we had never seen before) that when you give money, goods, and services away free to the poor, you make them become dependent upon you, AND JESUS SURE DIDN’T WANT US DOING THAT!!!!

So if you wanted a new shirt from the clothing closet at V-church after that, you would be expected to cough up fifty cents or a dollar.  This way you would keep your dignity and maybe learn the value of a dollar.  You could tell all your friends that you earned the money to purchase the shirt, and then you would be respectable.  (Unless, of course, the guy who GAVE the shirt to the church to begin with saw you wearing it…  – just sayin’.)

Got it???

Yeah.

Now… if you have been watching the Nightly News at any time in the last decade, you surely saw the tremendous impact V-church has had on turning the tide of poverty in Lubbock, Texas.

Right?

Oh… you didn’t?

Well, call me facetious; call me passive-aggressive, but no… no you didn’t see that story, AND no, you didn’t miss it because it never happened.

The poor of Lubbock, for the most part, are still poor a decade later.  In fact, there are more poor now a decade later, not less.

Where’s the book that counters all this thinking we got from When Helping Hurts?  (Oh, yeah… it’s your BIBLE!)

There are no stories in the Bible of Jesus healing people for fifty cents like a lemonade stand, but there are stories of the church selling all their property and giving the money to the church so that none of the poor lack any needs.  But in Lubbock, Texas, the “body of Christ” has chosen to guard the dignity of the poor by charging money for the school supplies, the clothes, the needed things Jesus has to give them.

And ever since this sacrilege, Jesus has not got the glory.

But with the help of Corbett and Fikkert and their little book, When Helping Hurts, it’s almost like archaeologists uncovered a miracle healing stand in Galilee with the price list.

Consider the following:

Jesus Christ Healing-Miracle Price List 0031

 Blind Healings ………………………………………………………………………….$1.00

One eye………………………………………………………………half off

Deaf ………………………………………………………….$125

Withered Hand (Sabbath Only)………………………….. $1.35 (with coupon)

Feeding a Crowd……………………………………. (all the bread and fish you got)

Dead Servants…………………………………………………$5.00

Dead Child……………………………………………………(24 hr Waiting Period) $2.00

Dignity…………………………………………………………….. 10 cents

Salvation…………………………………Free with the purchase of one or more charitable gifts

 

(…. Yeah… pricelist unearthed by prophetic vision in the ruins of a wonderful outreach ministry dead for one decade!)

 

I Wanna Kiss Too… Where’s MY Kiss?

I don’t run around kissing people.  It’s not my way.  I don’t go around kissing other people’s children.  I don’t ask people’s children to call me “Daddy” or any other terms of familial affection.  I don’t chase after women who are not my wife.  I don’t kiss other men.  (I am not middle-eastern or gay.)  In fact, I am fairly reserved about the affection I share.

I am betting most of my readers would appreciate this about me.

But I am also a foster parent, and that presents new challenges.

When I was a kid, I was a Pink Floyd fan.  I bet some of my readers were too.  I even owned a video copy of the movie, Pink Floyd, The Wall.  There is a scene in that film where the young, orphaned “Pink” goes out to the playground to play with the other children on the merry-go-round and the swings.  He observes another little boy playing with his father who pushes him in the swing and cheers him down the slide.  At one point, the little boy takes his father’s hand as they walk away, and “Pink” feels compelled to take the man’s other hand and try to join in the family vibe.

“Pink” wants – yearns – to belong.

It is a morbidly sad moment in the story.  The father of the other child tries to shake off “Pink’s” unwanted advances and be rid of him.  “Pink” persists.  The man becomes more firm about it.  Then “Pink” shoves his hands in his pockets and walks away rejected.

As foster parents, we rarely keep kids who have no parents at all.  By far, most of them have one or two parents alive and well and coming to their weekly visits at least part of the time.  Often times it is the goal of CPS and the courts to reunite these kids to their families of origin, but it is a slow process, and the child, meanwhile living with us, has no concept of all of that.

So, in the interim, this child who is not ours, and who we have no plans of adopting, lives in our house under our care and observes the affection we share with the kids who are ours.  And like “Pink,” the child in that position attempts to share in the family vibe with us.

I wanna kiss too… Where’s MY kiss?

I feel funny giving a kiss to a kid who belongs to someone else.  Thus, I don’t do it.  But it becomes extremely awkward when the child asks for it – literally ASKS FOR IT!

A bit of background here:  I go by “Agent X” on the blogs, but around here, I am known as “Pops” or “Papa.”  Way back when Mrs. Agent X and I started our foster care career, I purposely chose to NOT go by the name “Dad” or “Daddy” because I felt strongly that such a name rightly belongs to another and NOT me.  These families already have enough challenges in front of them, usually involving METH and other drugs, and I don’t want to interfere with the progress that hopefully they might find.  I do not want to compete with a “dad” who is fighting drug addiction for the affection of his kids!  Even if it is a long shot, I want to give that “dad” every chance to put his family back together if at all possible.  Thus, I use the name “Pops” as just one strategy to keep my role limited to a more appropriate position.

However, I recall the first child of the system who came to us who was old enough to have been bounced around a few times.  This child came into this home and as I introduced myself as “Pops,” this child IMMEDIATELY addressed me as “DADDY” instead.  (So much for planning ahead!)

I adopted two little ones, and for a time we had a child of just about the same age as the other two, a child who did get regular visits with her family of origin, but who spent most of his time in my care participating in every aspect of our family life.  I was doing my best to treat this child as an equal to the others in every way.  And then there came the day when I kissed the other children and this one climbed up on my lap and planted a kiss on my cheek!

I wanna kiss… Where’s MY kiss?

I was stunned.  I felt repulsed inside, but the child had just risked it all to try and belong here a little more.  There was, it suddenly occurred to me, some parts of our shared life where this child was not completely equal, and those parts MATTER.

The phenom I describe here is rather obvious as we talk about children – especially young children.  You may not be a foster parent; you may have never had this experience, but I am betting I have very easily painted the picture that is easily seen and understood.  I am betting you can FEEL the cringe of this picture.  I hope I have put you in my shoes at just that terrible point where a child’s soul risks it all to be accepted and to belong or to be rejected, but which pushes the boundaries of what is considered appropriate and good.

But now I want to change the cringe.  I ask you to consider how this works out with adults too.

Are you divorced and dating?  Dating other divorced people??  How many readers here know THAT cringe???

Yeah, the wounds of divorce are so deeply damaging to people, and these days most of us, it seems, either have experienced them personally or are very close personally to someone who has.  Your sense of belonging is threatened and a feeling of desperation sets in – maybe in the dark of night, the wee hours when there is no one to talk to – and it affects your sense of good boundaries.  Or maybe it affects the sense of good boundaries in the person you are dating.

I wanna kiss… Where’s MY kiss???

Ever been there/done that?

Feel me now???  (Cringe!)

Well, it’s not the purpose of THIS blog to examine and chase THAT bunny trail, though I think it is important for pastors and pastoral types to talk about that.

But maybe we are in a position now to look a little closer at homeless adults and young people who suffer an only slightly varied version of this same despair about belonging or not.  The wounds afflicted on a human heart that wants to belong, to hold a hand, to have a kiss make for a deep risk WE ALL FACE in various ways, and the homeless suffer it too.  However we adults have myriad social defense mechanisms to hide our vulnerabilities behind which children do not have.  Nevertheless, we all face the risks even if we do not suffer the wounds, and I will suggest there are practically no homeless people who are not suffering the wounds.

Whatever “help” we may offer to a person suffering such pain will be incomplete if it cannot (or will not) address human hearts at this level of vulnerability.  All your job training, all your handing out of blankets, all your spare dimes will be helpful to an extent, but those kinds of measures cannot touch this vulnerable desperate need.  And it may well be that the failures of our charity (if we can call them failures) have more to do with the neglect and rejection felt at THIS point than in our “caring too much” or being too soft on people.

No.  I say we have not been vulnerable enough!

As a Christian theologian/minister, I ask you to consider the power of Jesus’s welcome to the King’s Table, to come as you are and EAT with Jesus and his people.  The sharing, the communion, of that THANK YOU meal (Eucharist) is God’s way of inviting people to BELONG to him.

Human hearts need – NEED – to be celebrated.  Human hearts yearn for it.  Human hearts want the kiss.  Human hearts want and need to belong to God who loves them deeper than words can express.

All of this is packed up in Jesus’s instruction, in those awesome words he utters in Luke 14:13.  I hope you will look into it.