FOLLOW ME

You don’t know me.  But if I walked up to you after blowing in off the desert where I was going hungry for 40 days and I said, “Follow me,” would you do it?  Would you follow?  Me?

If you were busy with something else when I popped up there, say maybe working at the family business, or maybe working to make money for your family, would you drop everything and follow me?  Or would you call your secretary first, have her clear your calendar and then follow?  Or would you put me on your schedule for next Tuesday at 9 and then come follow me?

Tell you what.  Let’s make this super easy.

If I was blogging about Jesus, and I wrote a post on the call of his first disciples, men who become pillars of his church, and on my blog I say, “Follow me,” would you then click the follow button, and start following my blog?

Does following Jesus suddenly sound like it might be harder than you thought?

I have often thought about it.  Maybe not often enough, but I have.  Have you?

Let’s say it’s my day off from work, and I am really taking time to meditate on Scripture, something a good Christian might oughta do sometimes, and so I go to the park, sit under a tree by the playa lake and read the pertinent passages in Mark 1 and 2 about the call Jesus places on a few fishermen and a tax collector who drop what they are doing and run off to follow Jesus.

Got the scene?

Got it.

Good.

So, there I am contemplating this, and a strange man comes walking up by near me.  I glance over and notice he looks a bit rough.  He glances at me, and this happens right in mid-meditation.  It occurs to me that he could conceivably call me to follow him.  He hasn’t done it, not yet, and honestly, I don’t expect him to do so in modern day America, but I am in mid-meditation on this subject, so I take it seriously.  Right?

Right.

So, here I am now.  I imagine this man calling me to follow.  Will I drop my book, get up and go?

Or will I ask him for credentials?

Hey, man.  Who are you?  Why should I follow you?  Where are you going?

I’ve got questions, you see.  I don’t just drop everything and follow grungy looking strangers.

Do you?

Ever?

Would you?

What if it was Jesus?

Would you drop everything and follow?  Or would you have some questions first?

How do you know you should answer this call or not?

What if it was Ted Bundy saying, “My car won’t start, I need someone to stand here and hold the screwdriver to the battery while I crank it up, and then I’m good.  Will you follow me to my car just around the corner?”

Wow!

Did I just compare Jesus to Ted Bundy?  Or did you?  (Think about it.)

Why would you ever drop everything and follow someone?  Why would you ever drop anything and follow?

Either you would have to really know in your heart this was Jesus the Son of God who is worth everything, or you would have to know that what you are doing is worth NOTHING.  Maybe both, but if you say it’s the former, then let me ask you to read Mark carefully and tell me if these disciples have some great UNDERSTANDING of who exactly Jesus is.  Then explain 14:50 to me while you are at it.

Jesus calls the tax collector, and they go party back at his place.  This is almost beginning to make better sense to me.  I can almost get there to Levi’s party.  I have to swallow my Republican, IRS agent-hating pride, but once I’ve done that, I get close.  A party sounds nice.  I know that.

So, I’m sitting there meditating like this and the stranger who came near, whose glance met my glance, has now moved on, and honestly, I am relieved.  I didn’t really expect him to call me to follow, but I knew if he did, in this moment, there is an honesty I am having with God which tells him I wouldn’t follow.  But since the stranger moved on (AS EXPECTED), I feel a ton of relief that I was not actually tested.

God help me if he ever asked me to kill my own son.  (Abraham, anyone?)

But then it dawns on me that Jesus probably passes by a lot of people on the beach.  He calls the ones he thinks will faithfully answer the call and skips past those who wouldn’t.  I’m now watching that stranger walk away, and I realize, without saying a word, I failed the test.  I have better things to do with my life than follow some stranger I don’t really know.

This meditation is important, okay?  But I got work tomorrow, and I can’t drop some proverbial net and go follow a guy I met by the lakeside.  I got bills, mouths to feed, responsibilities to clients and so forth.  Jesus doesn’t want me shirking any of that.  I have an excuse from God not to follow!

Yeah.

That’s the spirit.  Not God’s, but it’s the spirit, alright.  Someone else’s spirit.

What if I was a homeless bum?

Do you think I might have an advantage here if I were a homeless bum?

The poor are rich in faith, says the good book (James 2:5).

Is this what James is talking about?

Well, I don’t really think so, but it does make sense of the Bible data better than anything else I have been thinking.  Not all homeless bums drop whatever they are doing and follow.  So, there’s that.  On the other hand, those first disciples were all employed and working the moment they answered the call.  So, there’s that too.

It may be that the homeless bum has an advantage, she literally knows she doesn’t have anything better to do.  She is stripped of pretense, and it’s almost easy at that point.  But of course, it was easy for Ted Bundy to attract multiple victims too.

Is there something else going on here?

I sit back down under the tree by the playa lake and continue meditating.

Way before Jesus blows in off the desert calling followers, God through Moses picks a fight with Pharaoh.  Think about this now: Moses blows in off the desert and says, “Let My people go!”

Go where?

Go a three day’s journey into the desert to party with God.

Wait what?

Yeah.  Israel has a job.  The Hebrews are actually on the clock in the brickyard when Moses makes this demand.  According to Egypt, Israel has something better to do than follow Moses.  Israel too groans about this.  It’s not like the Hebrews just really love this career choice, but how is this going to help anything?  Who does this Moses think he is?  And anyway… a three-day journey into the desert is a death sentence!  Party with God???  We will be dead by the time we get there.

Yeah.  If you really knew this Jesus calling you by the lakeside, you would know he intends to die.  Those boys dropping nets don’t see that.  Not yet.  Don’t believe me?  Then explain Mark 8:31-33 to me.  No.  The disciples have a severe misunderstanding of Jesus and what he is all about when they drop their nets and follow.

But at least there is that party at Levi’s.  I can roll with that!  All except the tax collector bit.  Right?

Sure.

Would you follow Jesus?  Would you a blog?  Why?  Don’t you literally have something better to do?

FAT BEGGARS SCHOOL OF PROPHETS, THE BEST KEPT SECRET ON THE INTERNET!

Did you miss me?

Nah…  Not really.  Both of you who read here didn’t, and I get it.  There’s monkey pox, elections, nuclear power plants, and the Chinese vs. Pelosi to keep you far too busy to think about Jesus and the homeless, especially on such a humble, brittle, almost cynical blog as this.

But… welcome back, anyway.

I’ve been working!

I have two writing projects (offline) in the works these days.  And I have been revising, revamping, trashing and rewriting.  I posted a small bit of my very first draft of the newest project several days ago (couple months?), and it is a chapter in my project which currently I find central to everything, a chapter that moves me to tears to write it.

So, of course I want to perfect it.  And that means sleeping on it.  It means rewriting, adding, subtracting… running it by critics, and more.  If you want to reread that bit of first draft so you get the feel for it again, here is a link:

BETRAYED WITH A FIST

The nurse I write about in this project is facing burnout after a string of child deaths in her unit.  She is struggling emotionally, mentally, and spiritually to cope.  One of the ways she works at it is by planting flowers and shrubs in our backyard Gethsemane.  In reality, the drought is killing some of it this year, which I expect compounds the pain.

Meanwhile, I have chosen to write about it.  I have chosen to try to FEEL the feelings and walk through it with her.

One of the ways I have been enhancing the experience is with music.  I have been looking for both pop and classical music, especially anything she likes, which deals with grief and loss.  I had to do some digging in storage, but I found this old CD with a song, not terribly famous, but once I listened to it afresh, I was overwhelmed with it.

The music makes the song, but the lyrics do too.  They go together in a special blend.  But I cannot reproduce the music for you.  All I can do is link it and hope you go check it out for yourself.

But the immersion into this song certainly takes me to the mysterious places of grief and wonder.  It’s not Christian in mindset at all, but grief is a celebration of loss and a sense of being lost.  The flower God puts in our world which this artist chose to sing about is ugly and beautiful at the same time.  It spreads on the wind, and as my nurse plants her flowers, I cannot help but think of this other one blowing through the garden with hers.  It has blown me through her backyard Gethsemane in a unique way.

So, I invite you to the garden too.

Perhaps pray while you are here.  My prayer is that in listening to this song, I can write and perfect the chapter illuminating this nurse’s grief in a way which validates her, so she feels connected to me and others.  And of course, I intend to grasp her hand and lead her to Jesus for his comfort as well.

Here are the lyrics:

Dandelion

by Ian Moore

Wind, pick up this dandelion flower

blow it far away from here where the world has never seen

the beauty that it knows. It lights softly where it goes

a meadow or a road.

Sun, turn this grass from green to brown.

The August son’s so cruel; it sets fire to the rules,

and I’m falling.

What you waiting for?  It’s time for you to rise.

Close my eyes and keep me safe from all I know,

til the life is dried and gone, and the ghosts have all moved on.

Brother, brother, keep me safe from all I know.

Where the dandelion goes, the dandelion goes…

Blow your wishes for the one thing I can’t give

the sacrifice you live, the blood that must be spilled.

Illuminate me now and show me what’s inside 

the places that you find, the secrets that you hide.

Burn the flower!  Let it die for what it knows, the ruthless truth it shows, the plan that it unfolds.

Brother, brother, keep me safe from all I know.

Where the dandelion goes, the dandelion goes…

PERSONAL PRIVACY MANAGEMENT

Am I a bad person?  A confused American Christian??  Or LOST???

I’m trying to figure this out.  And one of the places I am drawn to, where God seems to be doing business with me, is found in John 3, right after that most famous memory verse where it says, “…the light came into the world, yet people loved the darkness instead of the light because their deeds are wicked.  In fact, wicked people hate the light and does not come to the light because it exposes their wicked ways.” (John 3:19 & 20).

This is some of John’s rather poetic, somewhat ceremonial, talk.  It’s not that hard to grasp, at least in the broad strokes, but I don’t run around talking like this in symbolic, figurative language about light and dark.  My friends don’t.  And this passage is powerfully overshadowed by 3:16 where my interest really lies for other reasons.  And so, for a host of back-handed excuses, I have allowed this passage to be just a bit obscure and fuzzy, never really applying to me in any meaningful and direct way.

Loving darkness and hating light?

Hmmm…  What is that really about?

So, when I was in about the 8th or 9th grade, I became an Iron Maiden fan, and I bought the new album Piece of Mind, the poster for the old album, Number of the Beast, and the tee shirt picturing Eddie holding a hatchet with blood running off the blade above trembling, pleading hands of a victim clutching Eddie’s shirt from below.  When I got home with this stuff I bought at the mall, I went into my room, closed the door, hung the poster, and put on the album with my headphones.

And I thought I might be “loving the darkness” and “hating the light.”

And when the song with the backward recording of speech, which sounded like words being sucked back into the speaker’s throat (beginning with a belch) came on, it scared me.  I was literally frightened I had summoned up a darkness I could not conceive.  My imagination ran wild.  Just for a moment.

It was a rush.

A very private, personal experience which I purchased for about $20 or $25 earlier that day.

Think of it!  Twenty-five dollars’ worth of hell.  That’s a bargain!

Am I right?

Why didn’t I remain scared of it?

Well, for one thing, I didn’t quite think about John 3.  I was too busy thinking about devils, hellfire, and pitchforks.  For another, no important person in my life suggested it.  If they had, I would have been mortified, I am sure.  But ultimately, or anyway it seemed ultimately, Iron Maiden were not truly satanic.  The song about the Number of the Beast, which lifted biblical imagery completely out of context and put it in something altogether different, managed to shun satanic worship.  The song tells a story, sort of, about a man who encounters a group of Satan worshipers and calls the cops on them!  So, there’s that.

But the songs I was listening to, not all of them of course, told other stories too – other kinds of stories.  One of them even opened with a traditional church hymn!  But as an adolescent, songs about battles, especially historic battles like in WWI and WWII, were of great interest to me.  This band increased the likelihood I would pay attention in history class!  Imagine that!!!

And anyway, I wasn’t sitting there fuming with hate; I was a curious kid!  At some level, I recognized as much.  I certainly did not hate Jesus or hate light.  I just wanted to know things… things my parents weren’t apt to teach.  I wanted to be cool.  I wanted to be a part of something that was MINE.  I was a KID, and such as this was natural – or so it seemed.

I was American.  This was not a patriotic thing in which I engaged, but it was about freedom, and I was certainly exploring that.  I took it into my room and closed the door so as not to bother others with it, but I recall how shortly after that, my dad and I found ourselves sitting in the local cafe/diner sharing a meal and he queried me about the band and the music.  He told me what an iron maiden was, something which to that point I had not known.

Hmmm… more history lessons.

But here’s the real reason I tell all of that: it was a smoke screen.

I don’t mean to claim that the experience was all innocent, that the band, their music, and all that is simply innocent good times of my youth.  Not at all.  In fact, there is plenty there to consider on the contrary, but that is not where the real devil got me.  It’s certainly not the devil that still gets me.

I was a little American kid with my own room, with headphones, with a lock on the door.  The devil was in those details and far deeper rooted in them than the record I bought.  The record was barely the symptom; the private room supplied by my parents, by my church, and by cultural expectations of society was far more sinister than the music.  I thought all of that was wholesome good stuff, but really, it was darkness I love to this day.

And I do LOVE this darkness!  I fear the light which will expose my wicked works!  I want my privacy, my personal privacy!  It’s MINE, damn you!  I’m American, and I want my personal privacy.  I shudder to think of you finding out some of the things I think, feel, and DO!

I don’t want you knowing the things I search on the web, the people I talk to, the things we share.  I don’t want you knowing the movies I watch, the little indulgences of darkness I savor.  Speaking of savor!  I don’t even want you to see me eat a donut!!!  The calories don’t count if you don’t see!!!

My God!  The whole reason I have a job and pay my rent and cable bill is so I can have my privacy.  I have private accounts, private practice, private searches, private conversations, private property, and private medical records all of which require you to get a warrant if you want to see in them.  Keep the light out of my life!  I love the darkness!

And it started when I got my own room.

John writes at a time and place where people had no privacy.  Almost none at all.  Going to the bathroom to eliminate waste or wash up was barely private if that.  Probably the best you would hope for is that if you were a girl, you shared the space at a time when only girls were allowed around, and likewise for boys.  If you wanted any more privacy than that, you had to be very wealthy and powerful, a king or a noble in the court.

Think of it.  Quite literally everything you do, talk about, and think, is known to others around you in that world.  When you have personal privacy, you punch out a bubble within God’s good creation for yourself where you selfishly order (almost create) a world to suit yourself.  And of course, you hide your wicked ways there!

Peasants live in single room huts that function as gathering places for eating and sleeping.  If you got a bath, you likely share it (taking turns) with all your brothers and sisters.  Your sex life, with the possible exception of your honeymoon, would be the soft grunting noises under a blanket with your spouse in the same room with your sleeping family where you eat the next day.  (Just imagine how tame the average sex life is naturally in that world!)  Imagine how tame your sexual imagination is in that world with no TV or internet or magazine racks in checkout stands!

Imagine how important the things other people think about you, especially your parents and siblings, are in that world of light as opposed to this world of darkness!  Imagine practically never THINKING FOR YOURSELF, certainly not before thinking of others.  You don’t run around being YOURSELF or finding yourself.

Imagine LOVE in that world.  Imagine pretty much everyone in the house, the village, and maybe even the region, having your back in case of some accusation simply because they KNOW you or your family or the townsfolk from which you come.  Imagine your own interests being communal as well as being your own.

How would you manage personal privacy in that world?

With trust.

Do you think you might want to love the light?

You can certainly see how, in that world, if you want to have your little squeeze on the side (say a favorite sodomite down at the local pagan temple), you would be giving yourself over to the darkness.  You would have to work hard at protecting your darkness to keep your wicked deeds hidden.

Well, when you shed light on LIGHT, you kinda begin to see where all the fuss about privacy rights is really coming from, and it ain’t trust.

I look around America today, and I don’t see much love or trust.  And the “Christian nationalists” are definitely not helping.  In fact, my church for the last five generations (at least) has colluded quite openly with the problem of loving darkness and hating light.

I had help getting lost in the darkness.  I had help learning to love darkness and hating light.  I still do.  I need help learning to love the light, and I hope my church will learn to love the light and share it with the world.

JESUS CHRIST FOR KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS 2022

You want a Proph-O-Drama?

Go to the voting booth nearest you, as your turn comes up, approach the booth, drop to your knees, pray asking God into your heart ahem country, then get up and walk out without voting in the booth.

Give this country back to God.  Give him the tiny part of it over which you have influence (your vote, and the person in line behind you).  He doesn’t need your ballot, but you need him in your heart.  So does creation.

Think about it.

“WHO POOPED YOUR PANTS, MISTER?”

“I didn’t do it!”

“It wasn’t me!”

Got kids?

Do you speak DENIAL?

Yeah. I teach them to say “Pops” or “Papa” and yet somehow they learn to avoid responsibility way too naturally.

“So, if you didn’t do it, who pooped your pants?” I ask.

I talk like a crazy man now. I’m learning new language too.

I’ll be in the nursing home soon. I’ll ask the young nurse, “Who pooped my pants?”

I WAS THERE THE DAY THEY TAUGHT BIBLE IN BIBLE SCHOOL

Sometimes I really wonder where Pastorbates was, because he surely shows little sign he was there, awake, listening and taking notes.

How else do you explain the incredible betrayal of Jesus and everything God ever said at such systemic proportions and on nearly every level of the church today?

They really do TEACH Bible to students in the academy.  It’s an amazing experience to learn of all the mysteries of the kingdom of God.  Prayer, sacraments, faith, hope, love, suffering, joy, peace the world does not understand, creation and resurrection.  All that is amazing stuff, and there’s more!

But even in school, they sell this information to you at prices requiring loans with compound interest, and they train ministers to go out a make a buck as professionals serving the bottom line as chaplains of empire in order to pay it back.

You will sooner find yourself attending fine banquets in great halls of learning or resort hotels, rubbing elbows with politicians and professionals, occasionally giving lip service to miracles, but always building financially for more glorious retirement and tenure.

They will teach you about Jubilee and debt forgiveness, but they will not forgive you the debt you incur to learn about it.  They will teach you to build a financial empire, but you will never be challenged to confront powers and principalities that might land you in jail.  And though the Bible is full of prophets and preachers in jail and prison FOR SERVING GOD, you can’t hardly find one today in there (except in the rare cases their attorney could not keep them out after molesting the children).

Church.

Aren’t you glad we aren’t Methodists?*

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*(Disclaimer: I love Methodists!  I pull the name of this denomination out of a hat.  Plug in whatever name you love or hate.  Makes no difference to me.  The point is not to harangue Methodists, per se, but all of the splintered church that finds whatever reason to be in love with someone less that the God who unites.)

TEACH A KID TO FISH; MAKE A BOND FOR LIFE

You know that Bible verse that says, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and make him go away” (2nd Opinions 11)?

Well, first off, it’s not in the Bible, secondly, it’s not biblical.  But it sure is a popular bit of worldly wisdom in Christian ministry, outreach circles these days.

Well, if you adopt a bunch of foster kids in diapers, there eventually comes a day when you take them fishing.  Here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, today is that day!  Today our six and four-year-olds are invited to a party at the lake where fishing is the theme.

I don’t yet know if we will hook any fish, but it’s clear already that the fish have hooked a couple of kids!  

We are making some of those foundational family memories today that a little kid can take with them for life.  I am praying we have a good time, maybe catch a few fish, and bond in this family fun activity.  I’m hoping the experience won’t make my kids independent of me (though learning self-reliant skills they can pass on would be good), but rather, I hope they learn what love is, how to receive it and give it, and pass it on to others over the course of their lives as they celebrate life with us.

GOD HELPS THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES

It’s not in the Bible, but of course it should have been.  It’s not what the Good Lord said, but it’s what he meant.  Anyone who really knows God knows this.

Am I right?

Or am I right???

Right!

So, I propose a new kind of care package for the homeless.  Go to the Dollar Store get Ziploc sandwich bags (pint size), put in a pair of sox, a toothbrush, and a Sharpie marker with a small bit of cardboard.  This way your beggar is EMPOWERED to beg more effectively from a street corner rather than ever having to bother you again.

(Oh… and skip the toothbrush part.)

Let’s call it EFFECTIVE CHARITY.

Just imagine how many people you can empower with a fifty-dollar investment.  A whole army of beggars empowered like this could feed themselves practically forever.*  (Who needs to teach a man to fish?  Setting bums up with tackle boxes would run you into the hundreds of dollars.  That’s not a godly ROI.  And even then, what if the fish aren’t biting?)

We’re talking about EMPOWERMENT rather than “enabling.”  With dry feet and a Sharpie, this beggar is now empowered to rake in almost $400 a day – TAX FREE!!!!

You go, Man!  Run… like a young boy in a field!!!  As a Republican, I am jealous!

That’s how God helps those who help themselves.

*Do the math: If you empowered 20 beggars with your $50 investment to rake in (on the outside) $400/day, that’s like an $8000 ROI EVERY DAY!

(Move over Wall Street!  Shut your mouth, Dave Ramsey!!  When Helping Helps, Corbett and Fikkert!!!  Might outa quit your job and go into begging!  There’s some real action is.)