Stupid Things I’ve Done For Jesus

I loved a hooker.

Yeah, that sounds bad; I know.  But I loved her for Jesus, which means I did not love her LIKE THAT!

But I found her on the streets late one night many years ago, walking in a bathrobe and avoiding home because she was HIV positive and diagnosed with Schizophrenia and unwanted there.

The first time I met her, all I had to give was a Bible.  I was so naïve.  I had no idea what to say or do.

Giving that Bible felt thin.  Precious little.  Did not make a difference in her life at all…  …and really… I knew it when I gave it to her.

She haunted me for weeks.

I told people at church about her.  I told the prisoners in the Bible study I was leading at the Montford Unit about her.  The prisoners prayed.

I began searching for her.  I hit those streets again and again looking, searching, hunting.

I went back to the Montford Unit and found the prisoners had continued to pray for her, and they asked me repeatedly whether I found this lost lamb.

I did not.

I had merely given her a Bible and let her drift into the night.

It was a stupid thing I did for Jesus.

Almost a year later, I found her at a party on the streets one night when I was passing out Bibles again to addicts, hookers, drug dealers and their children.

That was when I did something really stupid.  I hooped and hollered and threw my arms around her and hugged her and celebrated her the way that father celebrated the Prodigal Son.  I gushed and shouted for joy.  I called all my church friends.  We took her to get a burger and a drink and celebrated our find.  We got her name this time.  And when we took her back to her “friends” on the street, they all thought we were cops under cover.  So did the hooker.

But she could not resist the love of Jesus after that.  She called one of my partners and asked if we would help her get into rehab.  We did.  And soon some case worker from Planned Parenthood called our church to ask what we had done to get her into rehab, since this case worker had been trying to do that for years!

Yeah.  We had that hooker clean and sober for 9 months after that.

She has since fallen off the wagon a hundred times.  But we made a huge impact all the same.

And it was the stupid thing I did for Jesus.

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Stupid Sermons in Service to Jesus

I will let you in on a little secret I don’t normally share:  I hate bad sermons.

Of course beauty is in the eye (ear) of the beholder and all that, but if your sermon is going to last for more than 20 minutes, I really hope that 1) you know what you are talking about, 2) you are skilled at public speaking, 3) you can say your thing with at least a modicum of inspiration, and 4) you can do all these things without needlessly repeating yourself!

I spent the last 20 years of ministry involved with prisoners, addicts, and homeless people (and their kids).  This is not the glamorous side of ministry.  This is not the part that generates a lot of money – at least not from the people we serve.  This work attracts a lot of ministers, but usually not the polished/professionals.  And so, in this line of work, I have encountered far more people attempting to preach of whom I was finding out this is not their calling, than in any other.

And while I am on the topic, let me say that I hate when someone leads a prayer for a group and takes the opportunity to turn that into a lame sermon for the rest of us – you know one that just drones on and on and on usually picking on some sin one or more of us in the group is struggling against.

NOW….

Let me qualify all of that statement just a moment.  A brief caveat here:  I totally am sympathetic with beginners who are growing as ministers.  None of us start out as polished professionals.  I really do not want to discourage someone who is sincerely growing in grace.  But I sense that there is a lack of respect sometimes that treats this segment of society as a captive audience who we can take out all our fears upon in a sermon or prayer.  And I want to challenge that!

 

People Warehouses! What It’s Like to Live in Homeless Shelters

Wow!

My blog is just inadequate to the task(s) of illuminating homelessness.  I find myself evermore linking my readers to other blogs and websites.  I am doing it again today.

I found this post yesterday that is so well researched and eye-opening and stunning that I sense I need to link you to it.  Yes, it covers the homeless of NYC particularly, but when you consider this is life in America depicted here – and affects children by the thousands – you can quickly see that we all have reason to care.

Check it out here:

https://nyphc.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/whats-it-like-to-live-in-a-homeless-shelter-people-warehouse/

Thanks.

 

The Fifth Dimension of Homelessness

Warning:  If you were searching for a pop music group or some deep analysis of Euclidean space and geometry, then keep on searching.  This post is not for you.  Sorry for the inconvenience.

Those of us not well versed in physics, mathematics, and geometry largely still know the first four dimensions of the space-time universe.  However, WE might go our whole lives completely unaware of the fifth, sixth, and/or the tenth dimensions.  It is enough for us to operate within a worldview encompassing height, width, depth, and time – mostly not thinking much of these four without ever even considering other dimensions beyond.

But I thought I might use this concept as a bridge to other considerations of homelessness.  I will use it as a metaphor to expand your mind and imagination into the dimension of LOVE.

I don’t mean to make this too complicated.  Nor do I mean to get mushy.  I think we can relate this to everyday common sense language, but still I hope to explore the other side of the veil.

Let me say this:  Last weekend, Mrs. Agent X and I had the pleasure of meeting Scarlet Gypsy in person.  She is a newly homeless person who spent a few nights of the Christmas season in her car in the general DFW metro-plex area.  In fact she watched the tornadoes that hit Rowlett and Garland last month FROM THE BACK YARD like Job talking to God in a whirlwind!

Anyway, as I said, she is newly homeless, and upon meeting her and visiting face-to-face, I was struck by the sensation she reported (and demonstrated) of having her eyes opened to realities she had not known.  This happened as she fell through the cracks of society – or we might liken it to Alice going down the rabbit hole!  There was (still is, I am sure) a lot of fear and shame to deal with in that descent.  But once there, she gathered her wits about her and began exploring.

Her exploration led her to pay us a visit here in Lubbock.  (She is employed and owns a car, so, though she is homeless by any stretch, she is not one of the nameless, faceless, chronic, street people that so often comes to mind when using that word.  Nevertheless, she is in danger of slipping that far down if she does not get some breaks and make good use of them in short order – thus the fear.)  And, well, she was able to make the trip with the idea that Agent X might be her tour guide to the streets – even if ever so briefly.

We took her on a circuit of campsites, services, and gatherings of Lubbock’s homeless.  She brought her Nikon camera and shot a lot of interesting photos.  She asked a lot of questions and interviewed both my wife and I – AND – a few street people she met along the way.

One of the themes that emerged for her very quickly was that every person she met living on the streets told her that they are only in this bind temporarily.  They all expressed both a desire and expectation of getting back to “normal” very soon.  No matter whether realistic or not, there is a great resistance to accept this living situation as a permanent fate.  Scarlett knows first-hand what they mean.

Granted, we only met a very small sampling of people from which this anecdotal observation arose, but it appeared universal and somehow understandable even in deep places where there are no words.  No one WANTS to live like this – not really.  We all want and need a place to belong, food to eat, clothes to wear, and a little love and respect – no matter how humble.

And now we reach a vantage point from which I can say something rather simple, and yet we have crossed the chasm that separated us before.  Looking at homelessness through Scarlett’s eyes (and camera) – especially BECAUSE she is newly homeless herself, which dictates an eye-opening experience – reveals what homelessness looks like in the LOVE dimension.  I mean it is certain that you see homelessness in the nightly news from time to time, out your car window from time to time, and read about it on blogs from time to time.  But when you cross that threshold from apathetic contempt into the sympathetic LOVE, you can look at the same exact things, but now you see them quite differently.

Scarlett is still formulating her thoughts for her next blog post.  But I hope some of my readers will go check her blog out and see what she sees.  She is down at ground zero telling us what it is like down in that crack she fell through.

She dares to think she will recover her life in a home soon, AND even more she thinks her eye-opening experience will lead her to reach out and serve others who fall between the cracks too.  She dreams of making ladders that she can drop into those cracks and coax others to come back up out of the dark place(s) where they are stuck.

I hope you will go there and encourage her.  And meanwhile, I expect I will offer posts that explore THE FIFTH DIMENSION of homelessness and offer clarity with this metaphor so that readers here can see what Scarlett sees – and more.

Radical Hospitality: Trying to Enjoy the Cold

I follow a blog called Radical Hospitality that I find always insightful.  This blog always seeks a biblical lens.  But along with that biblical lens, it offers a wealth of statistics, heart-warming stories and convicting tales, and sometimes other resources.  I thought today’s post needs all the exposure it can get.  Please check it out here.

From The Mouths of Babes and Prophets

“I treat them as if they were my FAMILY,” says Braeden Mannering.

Hmmm…  What a simple idea?

Perhaps you caught Braeden’s story on the CBS news last night.  He is a twelve year old (Psalm 8:2… anyone?) from Delaware, honored and invited to the State of the Union speech by First Lady Michelle Obama after he began feeding the homeless and started a charity to help.  Braeden is not jaded.  Braeden is not daunted by complications.  He just sees the homeless as if they were his family and wants the rest of us to see them that way too.

The reporter tells us that according to Braeden, “The key is to change how people see the homeless.”  Braeden calls them “family.”

I could prophetically say it until I am blue in the face, but Braeden, I think, says it better.

Hmmm… What a simple idea.

I encourage you to check out Braeden’s website: Brae’s Brown Bags.

 

Keeping It Simple

I have not posted simple messages in a while.  I have been rambling through stream of consciousness mostly.  And while that is the way I think and prefer to write, I don’t think it is as reader friendly.

Let me say here as simply as I can, this blog is all about Faith in Jesus and how that relates to the homeless (especially in Lubbock, Texas).

This ministry is most interested in the CHURCH‘s response to homelessness.  Fat Beggars School of Prophets (FBSOP) sees Jesus in both the church and in the homeless and urges the church to see this image of God too.  If the church, which is the body of Christ, sees Jesus in “the least of these brothers” (Matt. 25:40), then the appropriate response is to invite Jesus in (into our sanctuaries and our homes).  After all, Jesus himself says, “Behold!  I stand at the door and knock.  If you open up, I will come in and eat with you….” (Rev. 3:20).

Also, if the church, which is the body of Christ, sees Jesus in the homeless, then the church will defend the homeless (James 1:27…anyone?) from scorn, shame, and harsh weather at the least and even from self-damaging behaviors and attitudes at the most.  (You know… like a shepherd tending sheep!)   

Finally, the church, in such a stance, will seek to usher “the world” into the Kingdom Party of God The Apocalyptic/Messianic Banquet (Isa. 25:6-8), as she invites the homeless into that party.

The statement above is about as simple as I can make it.  Most of the rambling I do on this blog amounts to unpacking various aspects of it.  As you can see, the whole thing is a statement of faith.  Therefore, I typically sense a need to translate it into more “practical” language and agendas therein.

For instance, whereas most charitable organizations (both secular and religious) seek to aid the homeless and needy with programs geared toward alleviating poverty via food distribution, clothing, addiction treatment, job training and shelter (among other things), FBSOP urges the church to address all these things with, in, and through worship and hospitality.

 

Prayer Vigil for Froze to Death Homeless Man

I hope to attend the prayer vigil tonight for Juan Castellon, the man who froze to death in Lubbock during our after-Christmas blizzard.  I ask all of Lubbock to come and pray tonight.

I have not posted here on this story largely because I just have too many questions and not enough answers.

How is it that a man living in Lubbock, Texas freezes to death a couple of nights after Christmas???

Was he invited in to the barn at Tent City?  Did he refuse the invitation?  Was he informed about the approaching storm?  Did he suffer mental illness?  Did volunteers know he was out there?

What makes a man feel so unwelcome in a Christian town like Lubbock that he does not find a home or a church to take him in when the weather is deadly?

Couldn’t the church have celebrated this man while he was alive instead of mourning him in his death?

Are the shepherds of this town going to mourn this loss?  Will the shepherds of this town learn any lessons from this death?  Will the shepherds of this town seek such lost sheep in the future?  Will the body of Christ touch whatever circumstance(s) caused this death with a healing touch?

Where was Jesus in the cold the other night?  Was he in an empty church sanctuary?  Or was he freezing to death in a light jacket and blanket behind the convenience store?

How does Jesus’s words in Matthew 25:31-46 help us answer any of these tough questions?

Exploring Faith Beneath Your Contempt

I don’t usually engage the public with concern for suffering stigma. I do not have any obvious mental or physical ailments or oddities that call for attention (or inattention). And so, as a day in/day out reality, I do not worry about such things.  And I almost could have gone my whole life, I think, without considering it much.

I think one of the first times I dealt with suffering stigma was in my early adult life, and I joined a family I had just met at church for lunch in a public restaurant. When our food came, they all wanted to pray over the food. The prayer was not flamboyant, but it was still a public display of what otherwise had always been a matter of private piety for me. The father of this family prayed over the food for almost 2 minutes as we all dutifully bowed, and the kids clasped their hands in an overt prayer posture.

I was not exactly mortified, but I felt a heavy cloud come over me all through my meal in that place. I reflected on it as a matter of faith for years afterward.  I certainly discovered that I was ashamed of my faith in Jesus (Mark 8:38; Rom. 1:16; 2 Tim. 1:8 …anyone???), which came home to roost again when I went to college and took evangelism coursework that required me to approach strangers in the local mall with the Gospel.

(When was the last time you spoke to a complete stranger about Jesus?)

Shortly after that public prayer experience, I dated a lovely, young lady briefly who had a brother with Down’s Syndrome. He was a younger brother who still lived at home with his parents. His affliction was obvious, but not commonly understood by the public at large. I quickly found this family discussing, with great frequency, the stigma they suffered – usually through gawking stares but sometimes off-hand (even back-handed) comments etc.  And on a couple of occasions, I accompanied this family in public where I learned first-hand exactly what they meant.

In my adult life, I have come to be concerned with a social phenom I call “invisible people.” Shortly before I went to college, I read about the Caste System in India and of course the “untouchables” – the lowest caste of people there that most other people avoid as a matter of practice. But then I learned of a non-caste (out-caste) even below the “untouchables” that, as one writer put it, “In centuries of British presence, no one even knew they were there. They were ‘invisible.’” (That actually is a para-phrase, and the writer was Phillip Yancey.)  Apparently, it was so socially unacceptable to be around these invisibles, that if their very shadow were to fall upon a pot of stew, it would “pollute” the food and dictate that it be thrown out!

These people only came out at night. They washed the clothes of the “untouchables” and went unseen and unspoken in the larger population. A whole lost caste!

Discovering that story helped to shape my career. I began looking for invisible people in my own culture. I found them – at least a close equivalent. I found them among the custodians. I did social experiments in college that demonstrated that even I could vanish right in front of my own friends eyes if I dressed a certain way and engaged in a custodial activity just a couple of feet away!

I began to realize that the world is a stage.  We take up roles to play in the eyes of our fellow creatures.  Shame seems to seek the wings while pride seeks center stage.  But humanity was created to bear the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).  Ever wonder why you can’t see, touch, taste, smell, or hear God with empirical verification, like a scientist in the lab?  Well, it’s because you were designed to bear his image in the world.  You are the empirical evidence, if there is any.  And when you enter the stage with pride, it dictates that God is not actually center stage in the world he created!  So, I found this polarity between hiding from view and seeking attention – and “humanity” seems to have it all backwards!

Snapshot 1 Calendar attempt 1

So, later in my prophetic career, I began dressing like a homeless person and eating lunch on street corners or outside of businesses where people walk by and see me. I made cardboard placards announcing: “Pray for the homeless.” It was not exactly begging, but kind of like a slight of hand, it SEEMED like begging. The first time I did it, I felt a mortal shame well up in me. I almost choked on it. I worried I would bump into someone who knew me personally (perhaps my boss).  How could I look them in the eye???

That seems strange to me now, because I was just playing a role that I could easily discard by simply walking away at any moment – even if I bumped into someone I knew. But I toughed it out and stayed. I bore the burden of the stigma of homelessness, even if only briefly. But I did it again and again too. I have done it so many times now, I have lost count.  And I have gone one better too, I have camped with the homeless through the night on numerous occasions. I went without a shower and blended in as best I could numerous times. I walked a mile (or two) in their shoes.

It turns out that a lot of my homeless friends suffer severe mental illness too. In fact, the illnesses are one of the main factors landing these folks in the streets to begin with. (I worked in a psych hospital too for 4 years, so I have that experience to enlighten me too.)  Those suffering with such illnesses cannot shed the stigma, and I now find whole blogs dedicated to dealing with it.

I do not claim to know it all. That is not my point. I learn more all the time, actually, and I realize how little I actually do know after all. But I have put a foot in that other world. It means I have a foot in both. I am a bridge person, of sorts. There was a personal Rubicon of SHAME to cross, and I crossed it. And I think most “normal” people are AFRAID to cross it.

It’s not that they fear afflicted people will take over the world like as if some zombie apocalypse – such is often the banter in political spheres. It’s not that they “fear the unknown” – though that is involved. It’s more that they fear having to feel ashamed, like somehow the stigma will stick to them too. And ironically, the knee jerk reaction to that fear dictates that you pump up that stigma and heap it on others you sense already bear its burden.

What is also ironic (and truly sad) is that people suffering that kind of fear of shame are the real victims. They are victims of their own lack of faith and imagination. And their scorn, and the evil they inflict so easily, has, more often than not, to do with their mistaken way of defending against their own fears. They are the victims, and they don’t even know it. And they are victims of their own contempt.

What does this say about our relationship with Jesus?

I think this is largely why my whole ministry goes shunned by the “mainstream” church.  It is too convenient to ignore me when and where possible and to shun me when you can’t do that.  To actually answer the call of this Jesus to come into your life, your church, your home is to face the fears of shame in your own contempt.  And until you do, is that really Jesus you have a “relationship” with?

Jesus died on that cross bearing the contempt of the world AS he bore the naked image of God.  He too remained below the contempt of the official “people of God” until he picked a fight with their temple by pitching the money-changers’ tables and driving out everyone with a whip! (John 2:14-15).  He forced the hand of those who did their best to marginalize him by ignoring him.  (Some exceptions to be sure, but the high priest and friends in Jerusalem were the ones with the clout to get him killed.)  When he forced the “people of God” to deal with their contempt of him, they chose to do so with violence!

That is the crucified Jesus we claim we follow today.  But if you can’t even talk to a stranger about him in a mall, if you drive past a homeless beggar on the corner rolling up your window and locking your door, then how can you demonstrate that he is not beneath your contempt?  And, what kind of relationship do you have with someone beneath your contempt?

Getting the picture???

This analysis should fill out your understanding of the Fat Beggars School of Prophets mission statement: We go to the place of shame, pain, and despair in our community and bear the image of God there. This is how we help Lubbock’s homeless prophetically bear the image of God in the streets: we break the communion bread among those who have no home and invite those with homes to join us.  It’s a lot more gentle than turning tables and driving out parishioners with a whip, but it still confronts the same contempt.

No Thanx I 8 already

Designer People? Designer Home? Commodified.

(I am in over my head with this subject, I am sure.  But allow me to at least punch open a pathway for fresh thinking as I wrestle with a couple of headlines I heard on the TV this morning.)

As I sipped my coffee catching the morning news, one talking head made mention of “DNA editing” as part of a larger conversation.  Not being a scientist, my insight into that statement is limited.  But it was not jargon between geneticists, it was headline news I was listening to.  It was a message meant for me.

As much as anything, I am bothered by the Frankenstein-ish way doctors in laboratories toy with human life at shocking levels – and now add to that the shorthand label for it: “DNA editing.”  Likewise, I am bothered by the way marketing analysts with their high powered education and strategies coupled with news organizations and famous journalists stay awake all night preparing to download prepackaged ideas and philosophies into my coffee-sipping, consumer-ready mind.  Meanwhile, human embryos are crafted like poetry or a newspaper column.  It’s not like the process is necessarily unthoughtful, but with the consumerist mentality of the information age, it seems blasphemously convenient.

Now, of course language like “blasphemy” lends itself to the notion that I am having a knee jerk reaction of a fundamentalist.  (Perhaps I should edit that out???)

How about I give the nod to the wonderful idea that by manipulating DNA a variety of diseases can be eliminated – at least in theory – which will alleviate human suffering.  That is a good thing!  Who can argue against that?

(Hold on… I just might.)

But first, let me make the usual rebuttal (if there is a usual one).  Along with eliminating disease, we also introduce the consumerist capacity to choose blue-eyed babies and give them a host of other features we desire for/from our children.  As if somehow this is going to make humanity better in the big picture?

We are now indulging our values and whims and creating a … what?… “human?” out of them???  Is that human?

I can see it now: “I was created by my rich mother and father to be a beautiful, smart, healthy, sex bomb!”

Yeah… that’s human.  What does teenage rebellion do with that?  What is a society of people made up of that?  Your deeply flawed and selfish parents DNA-edited you into bearing the image they desired, and now we have a society made up of these creatures?

We are fanning the flames of consumerist convenience at least as much as eliminating Alzheimer’s.  And I really fear that as we get one demon out the front door, seven others, more evil than the first, are coming in the back door.

And here’s the clincher: Later the same newscast offered, as a completely unrelated story, a story about a surrogate mother in California carrying triplets for another couple who are seeking the abortion of only one of the babies because they desire two children and not three!  And I get it.  In our consumerist society, we want to design our home as well as our children.  As part of that package, we need to live within our means, and we can afford two children, but not three.  And since we are “family planning” which we might now call “family editing,” it is only too convenient to kill one of the babies right now while it is still legal so that we can still afford the swimming pool out back and the three car garage.

Now… I know I am stretching this stuff a lot.  Most people don’t even think of these things in these terms.  After all I am writing on a blog for/about homeless people.  Somehow I must relate it all to home/homelessness, right?

What does any of this have to do with homelessness?

(Glad you asked.)

“DNA editing,” “family editing,” “family finances,” and home décor all play their parts on the stage we call “home.”  But we have been designing our homes at various levels for generations already, and in recent times they have become commodities that require no more commitment than regular monthly payments to the bank.  We get “starter homes” and then abandon them for “dream homes” as soon as finances allow it.  And when we encounter someone living on the streets, it seems they are lacking all this wonderful phenomena we call “home” and then look down our noses at them for not achieving it.

Hmmm….

The whole point of being human is to bear the image of God.  And if he creates a baby with a club foot, a droopy eye, a cleft palate and so forth this brings out the image of God in those who love that child.  Of course the same can be said for those who might genetically engineer (or edit the DNA) of the child before she is born to eliminate such suffering.  We call it “playing God.”  But when we do that, we forget that the other route of loving the child and bringing healing to the child is also a matter of taking up the role of God, but this time with a measure of commitment that is self sacrificial.

“Family planning,” “DNA editing,” and buying a house all play serious parts in the process of making and maintaining a home.  But the homes achieved by these levels of commitment are all easy come and easy go.  The people in them are commoditized as we create a world dictated by our own whims – whims that will not last, but will die with us.  And once I look at human life through this lens, I find it to be ugly and faithless.  Undesirable really.

I know this post is a stream of consciousness blast of thoughts that seem random, but I ask you to consider the connections and thus the implications.  Surely we can do better.  But we really must rise above our consumerist mentality to do it.