Pierce My Heart

Okay… Just to be clear.  In my last post just below this one, I pointed out a nice couple we call “The Andersons.”  They wanted to be placed side by side through the night, but the rules stated that the men go with men and the women with women.  When I explained that to the Andersons, they dutifully complied without complaint – and I appreciate that.

No.  It did not kill them to split up for the night as they slept in a barn to escape the cold and wet.  But neither would it kill a Christian family to take them in to their home – perhaps the guest bedroom.

Then there was the little old granny that reminded me of my little Mammaw.  Why was she there at all???

Yeah.  These three people pierce my heart.  That is why I write of them.

I am sure you could excuse yourself for not knowing about them.  But that is because you weren’t there.  I was.  Now I am telling you.  So, you really could look for them, like a shepherd would a lost lamb, and probably find them.  You could change their circumstance NEXT TIME, if your heart was pierced too.

I hope you will consider it.

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A Field-Shepherd’s Report to Headquarters

From: Shepherd-Prophet

To: Chariots of Fire Division Command

I spent last night as a shepherd at Tent City, guarding the flock of Lubbock’s street homeless who opted to come in from the storm.  I have many reactions which are hard to distill into recon report.  Some are positive, others negative.  Some are speculation, others matters of public record.

I will start with the parts I am thankful for, but keep in mind that at places along the way this is paradoxical.

Thank you:

I am thankful for the coordinators who put us all together in a shelter.  Just administratively speaking, a lot of work is evident to me as a bottom-level volunteer.  The barn at Tent City was recently cleaned out and sprayed with insulation.  Even if that work was donated, it cost someone a lot of time, money, and energy.  Food and rides were supplied.  Someone cordoned off “spots” for people to claim on the floor.  We had a TV to watch, coffee to drink, firewood and a fire-grate on the patio.  We had port-O-potties, matts, cots, blankets, and flashlights some of which were new out of the box.  The diesel heaters were brand new – right out of the box.

Tent City Heater

These were a lot of goods and services that I am very grateful for.  Thank you to Paul’s Project and the leadership there at Tent City for nearly every bit of it.  Thank you.

I am aware that our alternative could easily be for Lubbock to ignore the homeless and/or call the cops to roust them.  I am sure that even though only a fraction of Lubbock’s street-homeless actually came in last night from the cold and freezing rain, that this option faaaaaaaaaaaaar out-weighs what could have been.  I am aware that the leaders at Paul’s Project appeared fatigued and physically/spiritually exhausted by the time I showed up to take over the night watch.  I want to say THANK YOU for their sacrifice and encourage them to stay strong.  Their work helps.

Critique:

But that said, I wonder why the Church of Lubbock, Texas, does not step up to the plate.  Why is this work left to a handful of volunteers out at Tent City?  Those street-homeless people we took in last night ARE the face of Jesus to us (Matt. 25:35).  Yet no matter how you slice it, the people of God in Lubbock that got up to worship Jesus in their fine sanctuaries and cathedrals today, left him to languish in a barn last night.

Why aren’t these same volunteers heading up all-night prayer vigils at at least 5 different churches in this town?  We could have managed them better in smaller groups, wouldn’t have forked out nearly as much expense to transform a family life center, gymnasium, or sanctuary into an overnight emergency shelter, and we could have involved the church rather than leaving her ministry to the 501c3’s that coordinated themselves outside church walls.

I was mindful of this when I led our flock in prayer last night.  I remembered that during this holiday season, we celebrate the birth of Jesus in a barn.  Jesus is sleeping in a barn again tonight.  He could have been invited into our church buildings and homes, but history repeats itself instead.

Check this out:

As I sat there watching over my flock, I began noticing the trouble-makers fairly early on.  It is true that some were high and/or intoxicated.  It is true that one individual became hostile to the point of letting him leave (at his own request, btw).  It is true that most from our flock were in need of better hygiene.  But it was not true of us all.

I had one couple join us who have been married over 27 years.  They did not want to separate in men’s and women’s quarters, but dutifully did so when presented with our rules.  They drove themselves to Tent City only because the storage unit in which they live lost power when the moisture got into the electronics.  They figured they would be warmer with us.  And when they took their spots, early in the night, I never heard another peep from them until wake up call.

This couple (let’s call them the Andersons) would have been ideal candidates to stay in someone’s guest bedroom last night.  They were quiet, clean, respectful – EASY to host.  They were gracious guests of the first order and did not “fit in” with our over all ministry, but only lacked options.  Still, I heard NO complaints from them.

There were others.  I saw one lady who looked well dressed and in her 50’s or 60’s.  She reminded me of my little old Mammaw.  She came in with a walker, and took a spot immediately.  I never saw her again until wake up call.  She also did not “fit in” with our crowd.  Seriously!  Who let’s their Mammaw stay in a barn during a freezing rain storm?  (Apparently the Christians of Lubbock do. Ouch!)

There were several others who were very well behaved, though they were of a more rugged sort.  I recall one scrounge splitting up the last piece of pecan pie 3 ways to make sure all his friends got a share of the wealth!   In fact out of the approximately 50 people I watched over last night, I only found 5 of them to have alarming behavior, and only one of them left our fold.

I watched one man (let’s call him Earle) sit up at a table working on a painting of highly skilled artistic ability literally all night long.  He wore a flashlight headband and sat there quietly working for a solid 10 hours!  He never asked for anything, never complained, never uttered a peep.  And though he looked like he fit in with our crowd, he was absolutely NO trouble and should have been a candidate for sleeping in someone’s church building if not their home.

One cool cat by the nick name “Road Kill” was actually extremely helpful to us volunteers.  He was a volunteer from among the ranks of the homeless who live at Tent City.  He advised us on numerous aspects of the work and maintained the heaters through the night.  He shouldered responsibility for the group magnificently and definitely earned my respect.

Sir, I am not describing everyone.  I only mention a few.  And if I were pastor at a church and had volunteered last night, I would only have had reservation about inviting 5 of these individuals into my church building for shelter.  If I were a team of 5 pastors volunteering last night, we could have divided up those troublesome 5 taking one each and conquering their troublesome behavior quite easily once they were isolated – probably just by being able to expend more personal attention to these troubled souls.

As it is, we are on course to expend the few volunteers we have on yet another night in a barn again tonight.  And though that barn beats the cold damp street by a country mile, I must tell you – as a person who normally sleeps in a warm, dry bed, in a fine home on the nice side of town, that barn was no picnic for me.  I doubt the other volunteers found it to approximate their homes either.  Going outside of the barn, in the dark, to a port-O-potty in the cold and damp on my third visit made me realize how far from home I was.  I longed for my bed which is only feet from my bathroom – or any comparable facility.

As I listened to some of these street-homeless talk, I sensed how deep their chronic pain goes.  They have no sense of home at all, it seems.  No lament at missing it.  Just adaptation to craziness that seems never ending.  Hardly any depth of conversation.  Just living minute to minute and taking comfort in a radio, a stool, and a fire on the patio before laying their heads down in tents or on matts in a barn.  It’s no wonder the white, middle-class mentality I come with does not communicate well.

Let’s face it.  These people need a home.  And like any good home, the church should be at the center of that.

Yes, I am grateful for each little particle of kindness Paul’s Project and Restoring Hope and Carpenter’s Church afforded this flock.  But I think the real action is in the touch of Jesus.  And that comes from his hand, not a 501c3 that rises to the challenge his body ignores.  “On this rock, I will build my church,” Jesus says, “and the gates of hell will not withstand it!”  So far we are holding off from taking on the gates of hell with a group of 501c3’s and not the church which conquers.

Please send reinforcements soon.

Shaming, Calling Out, and a Harsh TONE

My critics, of which I have few since usually I just go ignored, tell me that it’s my tone that needs to change.  That shaming others is not really effective.  That calling out the sinners to face their need to repent is not helpful.

And I was thinking they were just about to crack!

I will grant that not all prophecy/prophetic messages are matters of shaming, calling out, or harsh tone.  And I will grant that the biblical prophets did not typically get a hearing and affect positive change (certainly not within their own lifetimes).  But I expect my critics to grant that I speak for God – and if not then to rebut me with scripture to show me otherwise.

I hate to think that you might stand in judgment because I did not warn you (Ezek. 3:16-21).  I also hate to think that you might stand in judgment because you were offended by my “tone.”

I wonder what that cross-examination will sound like: “But Holy Lord, Your Honor, I know he spoke Your message, and I would have listened and adhered to it, but his tone… you see, his tone was too harsh.”

I don’t normally wish people “good luck,” but in this instance I will make an exception.

Good luck with that.

A Prophet’s Dream – If I Were Pastor

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream.  His ministry was about as prophetic as he could get.  And so was his dream.  He had incredible ambition to think in the fifties and sixties that blacks might actually live as equals with whites.  His dream has brought us a very long way, and yet paradoxically we still have sooooo far to go.

Agent X dreams too.  I am not in the same league with Dr. King, but perhaps he was dreaming too small.  Perhaps I am in league with Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17, but I want to be clear up front with you that I do not desire a pastor’s JOB.  Rather, I would be very happy among the pastor’s flock if he just did the task God assigns him.  Point being, I have no envy in my heart for the paid position I speak of here.  But I do have dreams for it.

That said, I offer my dream here as somewhat of a target at which to aim – the bull’s eye for which the pastor should attempt, though he “miss the mark” as a sinful man.  I too am a sinful man, so I say this not without grace extended for the pastor’s short-comings.  But I say it sternly because the pastor doesn’t even attempt it!

Shame! Shame!!

I have no doubt my dream of church would appear to run the church right into the ground.  And the church, of course, is the very body of Christ.  We should honor it, cherish it, and hold great expectation from it.  But we should not try to protect it.  Jesus himself came in a flesh-body, and he drove it straight to a tomb via a Roman cross.  It is the Spirit of God that empowers it to resurrection.  It’s not the man Jesus protecting himself that makes it relevant.  (Think of my recent post on “liabilities,” and consider the implications.)

I am a street prophet.  I have gone to the streets countless times.  I have spent the night on the cold ground in alleys, sticker patches, parking lots, city parks, under “No Trespassing” signs, in Tent City, and on church-house steps.  I have laid there shivering for hours in the silent night looking at the stars through the bare tree branches talking to God.  I have walked a mile in the shoes of the poor.

I did this as one sent from the ranks of the church that is locked up at night.  Not sent by the leadership, the members, or any representative.  No.  Sent by God.  And I lay there shivering, looking at the stars, and talking to God about the locked up church-house right there across the street from me.

IMG_1172

I wondered about the hardness of heart that placed a lock there in the first place.

I wished I had a pastor out there on the ground with me.  Just for one night!  I am sure that pastor would have tales to tell for many a Sunday-sermon illustration.  But none dared to come.  And in fact, my experience seems to have alienated me from the rest of the body that meets in those locked doors.

PBates Cartoon

I did not mean for that to happen.  I really thought I could go there and report back.  I really thought these Jesus-loving people would be interested in the experience.  I really thought they would be glad that I did it on their behalf, and would seek wisdom I might offer them afterward.

And it is from that experience, and especially the cold reception my report back has earned me, that I dream of a pastorate daring to preach a really old message to his flock.  A message of sharing the wealth – like Acts 2:44-45, a message of opening the door – like Matthew 25:35 or Revelation 3:20.  And then implementing these messages into life-changing practice.

Can you imagine with me what it would look like if everyone at First Church next Sunday actually trusted Jesus with their whole livelihoods and sold off property, took the money and gave it to the church!

I am not talking about tithes, I am talking about REVOLUTION! 

Suddenly, American capitalism would be meaningless to this group.  They would have to really put their trust in Jesus and in each other after they became so deeply financially committed to getting along after that.  And then I dream they go the next step and invite the poor (especially the homeless) to come share the massive influx of wealth the church suddenly finds in this message/mission.

I am sure the investment would run out soon.  Then we would all be poor together.  But you know what?  If we could imagine ourselves doing this down at First Church next week, then perhaps the other churches could imagine it too.  And in a town like Lubbock, if every Christian joined the revolution, the banks in this town would suddenly face going out of business.

Now, imagine for a moment that all the banks were facing extinction.  At first they would try to tell themselves that we need them and just ride out the storm (you know “too big to fail?”), but once they caught on to the idea that none of the Christians in this town (85% profess the faith) cared if they went out of business, then those banks would be TRIPPING ALL OVER THEMSELVES TO GET YOU TO DO EVEN A DIME’S WORTH OF BUSINESS WITH THEM!

Now whose in the driver’s seat??? 

Mammon??? 

Or JESUS!

Yeah, we would all be poor together pretty quick, I’m sure.  But once we all get there together, the definition will begin to change too.  You must realize that all the wealth does not just evaporate into thin air.  Every car, every house, every building, bridge, or factory is still there.  The assets have not gone away at all.  Only the wealth is rearranged – and arranged in a way that benefits us all.

The problem is that someone has to go first, and after that the next problem is that everyone else has to follow.  But you see, Jesus has gone first (I Cor. 15:20), and it is up to us to follow.  Still, no one has the faith to do it.  But then no one seems to even be able to imagine it.  Thus I have a dream.  It is a prophet’s dream.  And… thus I have a bone to pick with the pastors.

It’s as if the pastors are content to let the sheep scatter to the night.  (Not the ones that pay a salary, the broken and lost ones – them (Ezekial 34, anyone?).)  But a day is coming when God will lead his own sheep.  Just like when Jesus showed up unexpectedly in Israel 2000 some-odd years ago.

Hey.  Don’t you realize, we live in a world that when it was created was sooooooo good that humans lived in it naked (vulnerable beyond measure) and unafraid?  This was the creature God made to bear his image.  And in the course of the Bible’s unfolding story, we learn that image bearers can stop the sun in the sky, move mountains with a command, walk on water, and raise the dead.

That pastor of yours professes to believe this stuff, to believe it is relevant, and to be committed to a world-wide redemption where we have all of this and more again someday.  His task is to help you as a flock imagine it and feed from it as he leads you there.

Question is:  Why ain’t he doing that?  Guess that is why you get a prophet.

Hmmm…

The Struggle of Rape Survivors Educates Me

I just finished watching CNN’s The Hunting Ground.  And though I recognize that many will dispute the sensationalism, political bias, and journalistic integrity of CNN, I found the show to be informative for my own struggle to draw attention to homelessness.  I am not complaining about the quality of the reporting at all, though I have no doubt much could be done to improve it.

This documentary film follows a group of young ladies as they draw attention to the problem of sexual assault at our nation’s colleges and universities.  Each of the featured women claimed to have survived attacks themselves and then suffered undue scrutiny and/or lack of proper attention from their school.  As they began to face their problem, they also began to organize with other survivors around the country in an attempt to change the system that treats them unfairly.

Throughout the film, it is clear that just drawing attention to the issue meets resistance in the larger culture.  The victim tends to get blamed, the crime excused or covered up, and the public ignores the whole scenario.

As a street prophet dealing with the homeless, these exact dynamics all have a familiar ring to me.

The film begs the question repeatedly, How can you send your daughter to a place where 1 in 5 get sexually assaulted?  If everyone had this information, wouldn’t it almost automatically create change?  And yet disseminating this information seems to create resistance to the message instead of alarm, change, or caution.

I was particularly attuned to the comment one of the women made about how making personal narrative the approach seemed to make headway with their movement.  And the film featured dozens, if not hundreds, of clips from interviews with young women nation-wide telling compelling sound bytes of their stories.  And I am inclined to believe them for the most part, largely because I took a course in Rape Investigation last year at Wayland Baptist University.  So much of the documentary I watched resonated with the class.

I also recall the “culture of rape” that was exposed at Texas Tech last winter in the local news media.  I recall the headline-making frat party with the message: “No” means “Yes” and “Yes” means “Anal.”  That really was a message/theme of a party some of our own kids in this “Christian” town promoted, and it made the TV news.

(Where was the pastoral outrage for that?  Cheering the team at Saturday’s game, I think.)

But I am not posting to argue about rape.  I am posting to say that I was enlightened by the resistance to such a basic message.  The forces behind that resistance are Sports and Politics, with Money pulling the strings from behind.  It’s not so different with homelessness.

I am mindful that my message seems to constantly fall on deaf ears.  I use my worship, my mouth, my computer, my clothes, my bike, cardboard placards and any imaginative means I can think of to spread our message – awareness at least.  But I get almost no response.  Of the response I get, I expect about 90% is resistant in some way.  But when I sent that news release from Carpenter’s Church last week, I got a prompt response!  First one in months!  But the news release gives the impression that the problem is now handled, and you can rest easy knowing that.  And I think the underlying notion is that by reprinting that message in the church bulletin, the message has been acknowledged and given its due.

But when I can get my church friends to come out and sleep on the hard, cold concrete in a parking spot behind a machine shop, under a “No Trespassing” sign, I think then they will find it hard to ignore the problem and short-change it.  But if the Rape Documentary teaches anything, the lesson is to get personal narrative on center stage.

Selfish Christmas Shoppers

So… I got the NBC Today Show on this morning as I am sipping coffee and going in and out of my closet as I prepare for the day.  Suddenly there is a whole lot of laughing and chatter as Matt Lauer and friends discuss a survey that found 85% of Americans purchase items for themselves while shopping for Christmas gifts to give to others.  They pointed out that most of us spend more on ourselves than on those we purchase gifts for.

They laughed it off as they discussed it. 

Why even bring it up, if you don’t find it remarkable, and if it is remarkable, how is it funny?  Shouldn’t this shame us?  Laughing at it seems to make it normal and okay.  And with numbers up at 85%, this is really world-shaping (or world-shaped).

And I can’t help but think, this is the mentality of regular folk, good people, all around me every day.  So when I raise issues about homelessness, they are too insulated in their selfishness to get it.  This means getting the message across is an uphill battle.

 

Happy Thanksgiving from the Streets

Well, it’s Thanksgiving again.  Yay!  My favorite holiday – at least for food!  And giving thanks is something to be thankful for.  This holiday celebrates HOME almost by definition.

It’s a good time to think about volunteering at the soup kitchen/homeless shelter.  Lot’s of volunteers show up for this week and twist off the week after.  Mostly those volunteers are politicians and pastors.  It is a good chance to get your face on TV volunteering.  The notoriety scales way back next week; so strike while the iron’s hot!

But enough of my cynicism.  Here’s my bitterness instead: I am blown away by all the households – “Christian” households – that don’t even bother to notice!  You know, there’s Black Friday to celebrate!  For that matter, look at all the retailers out there who will actually open their doors on Thanksgiving Day itself!!!  I mean, you are just so bored living in a real home, eating one of the finest meals of the year with family and loved ones, and watching a game or a movie marathon that you have to go down to the 7/11 and get a six pack or the Walgreen’s to get some singing fish toy!

Hey!  If you don’t value your own home any better than that, you really might lose it.  And anyway, perhaps you could leave it to a group of men and women from the streets to share.

But you know what?  You really could express your thanks to God for the abundance of blessing you already have, stay home – especially on Thursday (and really, why feed that Black Friday fire?), and invite someone less fortunate into your home to share the incredible blessing you have.  That is Jesus out there you could invite in (Matt. 25:35).  Perhaps you could show him your thanks.  He is at your door now (Rev. 3:20).

Happy Thanksgiving from the streets.

Worthy to Suffer for The Name

Acts 5:41

The apostles of the earliest moments in church history are hauled into court and narrowly escape a death sentence (in one of the most unlikely/unforeseeable ways).  But they do not escape the court’s contempt or the court’s beatings.  And, by the way, the court is made up of the leadership of the people of God.

But the apostles leave rejoicing.  They just took a beating and narrowly escaped with their lives.  If that happened to a group of West Texans visiting… oh, say… Syria, it would indeed be a narrow escape from death.  But if they were beaten and sent home with the idea that they should not speak of the greatness of Texas, I doubt many of us West Texans would be rejoicing.

No.

I expect we West Texans would be loading up our guns and plotting our own form of justice on the court that showed contempt for our kind.

And as a Fat Beggar, I find myself somewhere between those two reactions.  I would not load up my gun, but neither would I rejoice.  I think, I would feel ashamed and scorned.  But that would be a mistake.

At the core of Fat Beggars prophetic ministry, you find a critique of the modern, Western church and a call to be more like the church we find in the Bible – or even better yet a call to actually adhere to the Word of God (after all, even the early church failed at numerous times in numerous ways).  And as part of our prophetic ministry is a core acceptance that prophets will suffer for the name.  But if there is a place for growth in that scene, at least for me (and I think my readers alike, for after all, I don’t see it elsewhere either), it is in the rejoicing-about-it part.

I, Agent X, hereby repent of that.  I want to learn to rejoice in being considered worthy to suffer for the name.  I think there is a whole new worldview packed up in that, and I want to know it.  I want to participate in that world – that Kingdom Rule.

As of this point in my life, I must explore the concept further.  I don’t see it as a flick-of-the-switch kind of matter – though I could be wrong about that.  Perhaps it is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and I will explore that too, but I also wonder whether it is always the right response.  After all, even Jesus, at his most poignant moment in ministry, cried in anguish rather than joy (Mark 15:34).  But I recognize that heretofore I have been closed off in my heart from the joy of being counted worthy to suffer for the name, and that, at least, is something I know right now even without exploration needs to change.

If you ever pray for this ministry, please pray for this repentance.

Thank you.

“Liabilities”

Let’s address “liabilities” once and for all.  This is the “good excuse” that happily and quietly kept the first Lubbock’s Parade of Homeless out in the streets.

I will not name the church that used this excuse.  Any of those I spoke with who might read here will recognize the story.  If that is you, SHAME ON YOU!  But I spare you the public humiliation in hopes that you will change.  Your sin can be forgiven.  And this reflection on it might help prompt it.

You can see some of the highlights from that event here, if you want.  In fact, it was a successful event on many fronts anyway.  The one major failure was that the church refused to invite us in because of “liabilities.”  Despite the fact that Fat Beggars previously approached two leaders who both said, “That is a really good idea,” they also said we needed to take it up with higher authorities.  The final authority said, “No.  It’s a good idea, but no… because of liabilities.”

So the Fat Beggars, about 12 in number, stayed the night out at a nearby park.  I recall feeling deeply disappointed by that as we lay down by the basketball court.  One of the street prophets, “Agent Zero” (he wanted to be called) lay his head down a couple of feet away from me and said, “Welcome to my place tonight.”

“Welcome,” he said.  The very word the church had failed to use because instead they used the word “liabilities.”

After an hour of lying on the ground, illegally in the park after dark, the clouds began spitting rain on us.  At that point, I insisted that we move to the church building about 3 blocks away and gather under the shelter it would provide on the porch.  So, in the dark of night, running from the rain, the Fat Beggars School of Prophets assembled at the doorstep of the church we planned to attend the next morning.

What we did not know at the time was that the house across the street had been purchased by the church and was being remodeled into an outreach office.  The man who was doing the work was also sleeping there at night like a night watchman.  And despite the fact that our party was respectfully quiet in the night as we moved to the church building, he saw us and came to investigate.

Fortunately I knew most of the leadership at that church by name.  When the night watchman/carpenter came asking questions, I quickly eased his fears about this night-mob crashing the church house steps.  And I really think that he was filling that position as a poor man with no better work options.  (Most repair men I know don’t sleep at their job site, but this guy did.)  And once he established our purpose, he used the word the church had failed to use, “Welcome.”  He invited us to sleep in the house he was remodeling.

I am posting here to ask you to think more carefully about that word “liabilities.”  Church leadership chose to act with a lock on the door because they uttered the word “liabilities.”  The homeless man in the park and the poor carpenter in the night both used the word “welcome” instead.

I have kids who belong to the youth group that meets in the same church that said “liabilities.”  My kids describe “lock-ins” where kids run wild through the church building in games of hide-n-seek, wrestling and horse-play, and other games.  These things occur in the same building that locked us out because of “liabilities.”

You see, the church has fine property and various assets.  If they allowed homeless people to sleep and pray in there through the night, and if someone got hurt, then the church would be liable.  The church’s nice things are the “liabilities” that constrain her from doing the very things Jesus calls her to do.

I am wondering: On that great day of Judgment that Jesus describes in Matthew 25:31-46, when the King declares “You did not take me in…” and the church says, “When did we see you a stranger and not take you in?”  Will there be a special hearing for “liabilities?”

Listen up, you church(es) of Lubbock!  Jesus is at your door tonight.  He says, “Behold! I stand at the door and knock.  If you open up, I will come in and eat with you! (Rev. 3:20).  Don’t let “liabilities” be your liability.