This Is How You Say…

As I confront my brothers and sisters in church about the homeless drifting past their church-house doors through the night, believe it or not, I sometimes get the stunned response: What do you expect us to do?

The short answer is: OPEN THE DOOR!!!

How can you not see that?  You really gotta struggle with not wanting to some how.  Your contempt lies behind such bone-headed questions.

And then I saw this ad by the American Red Cross that actually dares to give instruction on what/how to say: “It’s going to be okay…”

Perhaps… if the church won’t listen to Jesus, she might learn something from the Red Cross?

Worth consideration.

Why Go On…?

So many of my friends and family look at homelessness and ask: Why don’t these people get a job?  Don’t these people really WANT to live like that?

And then after asking such questions, they let their care for the poor slip through their fingers.  And their questions set up the issue – their questions frame it – in a certain worldview that puts the will and even desires of the poor on trial, finds them guilty, and then leaves them to a supposedly self-imposed sentence.

But I don’t see the issue framed that way.  I hold a Christian worldview which dictates the rule of LOVE.

Consider the Slave to the Grind

I remember as far back as 1984, sitting in a high school Psychology class where our teacher asked us to consider what drives a man to take a job he hates (or comes to hate over time) and keep it – maybe even excel at it?  We could rephrase it as: Why go on?

And a room full of innocent teenagers talking it out began formulating a picture of our fathers slaving to the grind so that we could live in fine homes, wear new clothes to school each year, eat plenty of quality food, and even “keep up with the Jonses.”  In that day and age, we were still “living the American Dream” and reaping the by-product of having a “better life” given to us than previous generations – and certainly better than people of other nations.  And our fathers, some of them at least, had left home each day to toil hours and years of their lives away for the purpose of generating that gift for their loved ones.

Nearly 25 years later, when I found myself divorced and my personal/spiritual life in crisis, I remember the consoling words from four of my church brothers one night who seemed adamant that I was now poised to change my work life, if I so desired.  These family men were still locked into career paths they had chosen in their early twenties, paths that they wished they could change, but due to marriage commitments, mortgages, and a sense of providing for their families… the option(s) no longer existed for them.  They actually envied me!

Let’s change the metaphor from Slavery to Combat.

One of the lesser celebrated songs (and album) of the classic rock band, Kansas, depicts the same dynamic at work in a soldier facing combat.  Check out this lyric:

(The Bells of St. James by Kansas)

Her letters gave me purpose
Her letters gave me pride
Armies far across the ocean
Guns and letters by our side
It was someone else’s homeland
It was someone else’s war
But at the line of the 38th parallel
It was her I fought them for…

And of course, as you surely can imagine, the rest of the song describes how the soldier musters on after he discovers his wife is no longer true to him.

In recent months, I have discovered a blog by a soldier who survived combat in Iraq only to see his faith in God die and be resurrected.  And actually, he struggles deeply with God to maintain that faith.  (It is one of my favorite websites.)  And while there are profound differences between slaving at the grind and fighting in combat, there are a couple of important points of contact between them which point to my question and worldview through which to look at homeless.

Why go on?

In our day and age, chances are good that if you are reading here you are a survivor of divorce – either your own, that of your parents, or both.  In fact there is a good chance that your home has been broken more than once.  One of my early posts (Brok-n-homeless) on this blog joined the issues of divorce with homeless – a notion I have yet to see joined together in any literature, studies, lectures or research that I have encountered.  But I think without it, we have not yet framed the issue of homelessness.

All the fretting in the world about giving a few dollars to a bum, and fearing that he/she “will just use it on booze or dope” only serves to justify not caring.  But if you have lost your home, the question becomes: Why go on?  Not, How do I get a job?  Not, How do I spend this $5 wisely?  Not, How do I show my thanks for this charity?

Instead, the worldview there supports the idea that now, thanks to this $5, I can numb my pain instead of kill myself.  And these worldview issues are likely too deep for most people to plainly see and examine in some rational way – especially while they are existing day to day in alleys and back lots without a shower or a place to lay their head.  They no longer have that family to work for or fight for.  They see themselves as their own black holes in outer space sucking everything (including light and your spare change) into its vortex for destruction, with barely a shred of humanity that stubbornly has its appetites for numbing pleasures and novelties.

I think I am describing the worldview of the broader culture from the back side.  My friends and family see life from the angle that seem to be printed in proverbial brochures, while the homeless see life through the other end of the same worldview lens. (Beware of mixed metaphors; but if St Paul did it – so can I.)

I do not mean to suggest that there is something wrong with work, providing for a family, or even gifting the next generation with grace earned through sacrificial commitments.  In fact, I see that as the truly good part of the American Dream.  But somehow it has been hijacked and put in service to the marketplace of lesser gods.  The American Dream is based on a constitution that, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, separated church and state – thus cutting the Christian God out of the decision-making and power process by design.  And filling that vacuum we find the gods of every whim and fancy, every Freudian or Nietzschean philosophy.  And in the resulting worldview, homeless people deserve their plight, and the impotent church colludes with that idea.

But, if you take that homeless person before they reach maturity – in fact take that same person as an innocent, infant baby – and leave them on a street corner – they will die.  That baby needs a HOME.  In a HOME, that person will grow and mature.  In a HOME, that person will heal – if healing can be had.  In a HOME, that person will become fully human.

And in my Christian worldview, the only HOME capable of that is THE HOUSE OF GOD.

Jesus is the carpenter.  His is a HOUSE that cannot be divided. May we approach him like little children!

Hear O Israel! YHWH, The LORD our God, IS ONE!

(I’m sure I’ve read that somewhere…)

 

 

It’s EASTER SUNDAY! JESUS IS RISEN!!! and then…

We dressed up in our fresh Spring outfits, raced to worship, watched multimedia, dramatized illustrations of the impact of an Empty Tomb on the world and our lives!  The preacher even made a firm point to tell us this is the most certain truth there is in life!

And then…

As I drove away from church, I passed at least 3 (probably more I did not notice) men (HOMELESS MEN) selling newspapers on different street corners on my way home.

And I wonder…

Is Jesus honored by all that color, praise, worship, and multimedia dramatizations that gripped my imagination so powerfully a few minutes ago?  And what difference does his resurrection make in the lives of those homeless men making a buck off us church people as we leave that service?  Does it cheer them?  Does it make them more fit for citizenship in heaven?  Did it make us more fit for citizenship in heaven?

I am actually puzzled on this.  Not sure of anything.

But I am sure that if those homeless men had been invited to reimagine the world where they did not need to be making a buck (at least not from these people at this hour), and if they had been invited instead to be at the worship service glorifying Jesus, AND if they had then accepted that invitation, THEN I would be certain and not puzzled.

Of course that would depend on those men accepting that invitation.

But that, in turn, would depend on us making the invitation.

And that, in turn yet again, would depend on us imagining it.

And THAT IS a FIRM POINT and a CERTAIN TRUTH.

Mowing The Lawn Tomorrow

Wow!

What a beautiful Saturday morning?  A lovely Spring day is underway.  There are chores to do… Spring cleaning and all.  But this is too lovely a day to ignore.  The birds are chirping; the blossoms are blooming; the back patio is the most peaceful place on earth.  My coffee is tasty.  I might just soak this in for now and mow the grass tomorrow!

Yeah…

Wait.  What?

Oh… I almost forgot.  Tomorrow is Easter?

Hmm… Mow or go to church…?  That is the question….

I wonder if my baby-blue sport jacket still fits me this year.  My wife and daughter … where did they go?  Oh… buying dresses?  Well… come to think of it, I probably better get an Easter Lilly for the dining room table and a corsage for my woman.  She needs to look good at church tomorrow.  (It will be crowded!)

AND PEEPS!!!

…can’t forget the peeps!  We need a lot of them.  (I really gotta quit eating so much junk….)

“Hey… when does your mother and sister get back from shopping?  …their getting what???  You mean they are running all over town looking for a Bible with a purple cover to match your sister’s new shoes???  (Yeesh!  Can’t wait to see that credit card statement.)

“Hey… where is that number for Jose’s Lawn Service?”

……………………….

NEXT MORNING

……………………….

“Come on! Ya’ll!!!  We are gonna be late!  Hope we can find a decent parking spot…  Get in the van!  Little Johnny, tie your shoes and stop touching your sister’s bow!”

“Wow!  These people drive slow…  Come on, granny… We gotta get to church and worship Jesus here!!!”

“Yes, Li’l Suzie, I see the man on the corner holding the cardboard sign.  (Dear, lock the doors.)  No, we can’t stop to give him a ride.  We are going to worship Jesus!  (We gotta teach these kids priorities!)  Oh… look, there’s Deacon Wilson… He’s late too; maybe we won’t look so bad coming in before he does….”

Could have just stayed home and mowed the lawn…

 

The Hard Shell of Stone Encasing Your Heart is Cracking

Recently I went poking around the blog-O-sphere again.  And I am richly encouraged by a handful of posts I found (a couple of them even written by pastors from established churches) that feature encounters with “Street Preachers” and “Prophets.”

More than twice I found pastors telling of how lonely and ineffective the lone figure appeared.  The futility of embracing such public shame while standing up for Jesus.  Even the pastors found themselves shunning.  The voices of these bloggers were clear to distinguish, they were NOT talking about the prophets of Westboro or of Anti-abortion bombers.  No.  These street evangelists were simple believers with a simple message interfacing a complex market culture with the very brave face set against a hard, cold world.

These pastors all described how they felt shame coming into proximity with this strange, humble power.  They openly confessed that they did not have the nerve to do what these prophets did – to endure the public scorn, the market’s shunning, the humiliation of such futility.  But then in confessing it, they discovered their admiration for these simple men.

A couple of these pastors approached and joined the cause, even if only for a moment.  But then retreated.  And… I note… wrote blog posts about their experience!

Those prophets are not ignored!!!!

And now your blood is not on their hands!

This encourages me.  I tend to feel ignored.  I sense you shun me.  You do this at a functional level just as much as possible, because if you act with official sanction, you legitimate my ministry!

Fat Beggars School of Prophets is approaching our 3rd anniversary.  You know what our budget is?  You know what our big plan for church growth is?  You know what our seminary-developed missions strategy is?

No.  You don’t.  But then you don’t care.

Here is our strategy: We will endure your contempt as openly as possible.  We will bear your shame until we die if we must.  Because we see that the emperor has no clothes; we tell him.  When he finally sees it for himself, he will be embroiled in his own shame.  But, he will not be alone there.  God has populated the city of humility with prophets.

Someday, God’s Apocalypse will appear before you, and you will see that these prophets, confused as they are by proper doctrine and showing NO CONCERN for your conservative economic institutions, were positioned by God to usher you to his table.

And I am so encouraged by these findings that it occurs to me I should post this message in haste, lest he unveil his Apocalypse before I have a chance to foreshadow and direct you to his table!  These pastors posting this stuff on the internet demonstrate to me that the hard shell of stone around your heart is cracking already!

(And it reminds me that mine had to crack too!)

Special Agent K

I wonder if anyone reading here will remember my post on ALPO (Agent Li’l Psych-O).  It was one of my more popular posts, but it goes back several months now.  In that post I described spinning my wheels in futility as I helped a brother carry his cross.  He struck me as heavily delusional, which in turn made me consider how delusional I was in thinking I might “help.”

I just had another similar encounter this afternoon.  I will not give her name.  Normally I would call her Agent K, but maybe we can consider her a bit more special than that.  Let’s name her Special Agent K, and then affectionately refer to her as Special K.

Yeah.  I like that.

I was driving along 50th near Indiana with Agent Dad yesterday when he noticed a heap of luggage just across 50th from the Market Street.  I was too late to see it as we drove past, but when I happened along there again today, I was watching for it.  Sure enough, I spotted Special K sitting there next to a heap of bags alright.

I was already pretty hungry, so I zipped into a McDonalds nearby and grabbed a cheap lunch for two.  Then I circled back to find her.

Normally, when I approach a woman I don’t already know and I have no female companions with me, I try to be sensitive to the fact that I represent a regular source of danger and fear to women living on the street.  I hate to say that I approach them like a stray cat or dog, but that kinda catches the idea.  I allow plenty of space and ask permission to approach.  Even though it functions like approaching a stray animal, it actually is about respect.

Sometimes, that proves necessary.  Some women really want that distance – and rightly so.  But more often than not, they are oblivious to my sensitivity and even don’t care.  But still, I approach with caution.

Special K did not care.  She greeted me with bright eyes and a near toothless smile.  She appeared to my eye to be nearing 70 years old, but I have come to realize she could be half that age.  (I did not ask.)

In fact, I did not ask hardly any personal questions.  (I typically don’t get too nosey that way.)  But I did ask her name so that I could pray for her.  I offered her lunch and asked if I could sit with her and share it.  She said, “Yes.”

She was leaned up against a fence on that lot – the side facing the sun.  She complained that she was hot sitting there.  I noted that at my position near the corner, the draft was quite cool.  So she immediately got up to move her bedroll around the corner.

It was just then that I caught the stench of her.  It overwhelmed me.  I wanted to throw up.  Suddenly I became very concerned that I might not be able to eat with her.  I have not smelled that smell like that in a long time.  I was in pain then, but she did not notice.

She got resituated and we sat together, talked and ate.  She did MOST of the talking.  It was a jumble of stories.  Early on she referenced having arrived in Lubbock only recently.  But she kept making reference to “they” and “them” without any antecedent.  I asked who she meant, and she said, “The city of Lubbock.”  Real quick I began thinking this woman is delusional.

Her story (or stories) held firm to consistency, but again, it was as if we were in the middle of a longer conversation, and I did not have my bearings.  Still she said she “owns land” and is on a waiting list for an apartment.  Somewhere in there she referenced her “lawyer” – which does not prove she is delusional, but is common among people who are.  And since the woman is living on a dusty lot on 50th across from Market Street, I am thinking her story does not add up, as we say.

There is a lot more I could say about her offerings, but I am struck by how vulnerable she is.  I am struck by the fact that she is not in the HOMELESS PART OF TOWN.  50th and Indiana is down by Monterey High School.  There are some fine neighborhoods in close proximity.  Market Street ain’t the Cork-n-Bottle liquor store, nor the neighborhood 7/11.  When Special K referenced that some official (police officer?) told her she had to stay some place near a real bathroom, I totally get it that Market Street has one.  But when she mentioned the people in there getting coffee and her staying outside so as not to bother them, I am thinking of her smell!

Homelessness is spreading around Lubbock.  It is not contained at Tent City, Carpenters Church, St. Benedicts, The Sally or The Dream Center.  And for that matter, even those places are not all centered together.  But I have seen evidence of homeless people down at 50th and Ave Q, in Maxey Park, 29th Drive and 34th, Quaker and the South Loop.

I finished my lunch with Special K watching the traffic of Lubbock whip by at 45 mph, and all the cars pulling in and out of Market Street, and I sensed the problem seething beneath the surface.  Special K is kinda poking out in broad daylight.  However, I am my own living proof (as of passing by there yesterday) that at 45 mph it is possible not to see her there.

I hope and pray Lubbock sees Jesus there on the side of the road and turns out to show WORTHSHIP of our Lord and Savior in the least of these (Matt. 25:35) among which Special K certainly is.

Disturbed and the Sound of Silence

Recently, Secret Agent Dad found a link to a new version of an old classic.  He seemed to think this version, even more than the original, resonates with the Fat Beggars School of Prophets being ignored by the church.

Resonating in the disturbed silence.

Check it out, if you like.

Here:

 

Bearing the Image (This IS Holy; No, It’s NOT porn)

This blog features homelessness in more than 90% of the posts.  That is by design, alright, but undergirding even that is the idea of bearing the image of God.

It seems to me that sooner or later, I should take a moment to expand the imagination of my readers on the matter of God’s image.  After giving lots of thought to this, and after years of developing prophetic ministry based on it, I have 3 brief, foundational things to say which might frame the image – which in turn will help order the world.

#1. Go to the place of shame, pain, and despair and bear the image of God there.

I take it as rather obvious to most thoughtful readers that this mission statement captures the vocation of Jesus himself at Golgotha.  The prophet comes to show the world what it looks like when God comes to be crowned King of the Jews.  And since Jesus instructs us to take up our cross and follow (Mark 8:34; Matt. 16:24; Luke 9:23), it is our vocation as well.

Of course it seems richly theological while at the same time being insanely impractical… Right?  How might we unpack this with any sense of simplicity?

Well, to borrow a phrase from N.T. Wright, I figure I will give too many hostages to fortune, but here goes:  Imagine you are sitting in an abandoned, dilapidated old house that is about ready to cave in on itself.  You sit at a small table for two with a cup of coffee for both your guest and yourself, and you wait full of anticipation for your guest to arrive.  But your humble digs are drab and ugly, not to mention even a little dangerous.

But now suppose the guest, who you expect will arrive any minute, is God, YHWH – The Almighty.

When he arrives, what do you think will happen to the flaking paint on the wall?  What do you think will happen to the crooked, leaning wall itself?  What about the dust, dirt, and filth?  At the presence of God, what do you think these things will do?

Before you answer that, consider what Isaiah the prophet in his 40th chapter says:

A voice [is calling,
“Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
“Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
[e]Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Yeah, God dropping by for coffee will have earthquake-like impact on your house!  But instead of crashing to the ground in disorder, the house will smarten up.  Behold the Master of the house returns! (seems biblical, huh?)

This effect of God on the creation is imparted by his very image.  Just the image of God does this to the muck and junk of his world.  And that is why Jesus went to Golgotha, the place of shame, pain, and despair in his community, and he bore the image depicting God becoming King of Israel there!

AND THAT WAS THE CENTRAL MOMENT OF ALL OF WORLD HISTORY!  IT WAS THE MOMENT PAR EXCELENCE THAT JESUS REVEALED HIS TRUE NATURE TO THE WORLD (see Mark 15:39).

So, apparently it is important.  Apparently it is key.  Apparently it is central to everything.  Therefore, we need to go there in the power of God, meet him there, and let him express himself through us in his healing restorative way!

#2. The image bearer’s sin first tipped the dominoes causing the rest of creation to fall.

Yeah, think about it.  God made the world in 6 days.  On the sixth day, he created his crowning achievement – the male and female image bearer (Gen. 1:26-27) and gave them dominion over all of creation.  These humble, naked, vulnerable people didn’t hardly know a blooming thing, except the names of the animals, sexual agape (TRUE LOVE) for one another… oh… and the menu.  But they had no fear of anything, and were at perfect peace and harmony with the world God had made.

And you know why?

Because when creation looked at these two humble, vulnerable people being naked together and unafraid, creation saw God and smartened up!  That’s why!

But then the human creation got an idea that they could rule this world without bearing God’s image, thwarted his authority, ate the forbidden fruit, and death and fear entered the world in short order.  This old world ain’t been the same since!  This is the point where everything has gone haywire.

And the fix for this is, and always was, to restore the image of God to the image-bearing humanity!  And that is what Jesus came to do, and did.  And he died in humiliated, naked, vulnerability on that Roman cross bearing the image of God in the world – smartening up the place of shame, pain, and despair!  Jesus is the answer, as we like to say; but you have a much clearer understanding of the question he answers now too!

If we have the faith, we can tell mountains to jump into the sea! (Mark 11:23; Matt. 21:21).  If we bear the image of God, I dare say we will walk on water, stop the sun in the sky, and like Isaiah said, the mountains will bow low, the valleys will stand at attention, and the rough places will smooth out at the appearance of God IN US!  Just look what St. Paul says: “The creation anxiously awaits the revealing of the sons of God…” (Rom. 8:19 – actually go examine that whole chapter closely).

Is this theology starting to have a practical side?

Well, yes, but then again no…  I mean, When???  When will this prove practical?  None of this has come to full bloom yet, and Jesus died on that cross 2000 some-odd years ago!  It would all be a lot more practical if we could get on with the mountain casting here and now, but in 2000 years there is NO RECORD of a single disciple casting a single mountain into the sea.  But… yeah, except for that, it seems practical!  Sure!

Okay…  Let me put in this caveat: If you are serving Jesus with your life, then this stuff matters.  If you are not serving him, then there is no way I will argue you into my point.  But if you are reading here, chances are you live for Jesus, and if you think serving him matters, then you must by definition think this stuff matters.

SO… CUT OUT ALL THAT DODGING THE ISSUE CRAP WITH YOUR WALKING BY SIGHT INSTEAD OF BY FAITH SONG-N-DANCE!

(I’m just sayin’…)

#3. Like any good plan for world order, IMAGE-BEARING aims at a particular future goal meanwhile trusting that it is achievable.

We might call that goal “the apocalypse” and be biblically justified, but I want us to see the meal at the center of it – the Messianic Banquet.  This Messianic Banquet comes up again and again in the Bible, and definitely amid the creation story, Holy week, and the apocalypse.  I mean, sure, what Jesus does at Golgotha is climactic to the story, but there are still some loose ends to tie up.

Consider these resonances: Eve is presented to Adam in marriage only after Adam performs the task God gives him.  Also, Adam is married to Eve after he falls into a deep sleep.  Together, they mess up creation for us (their children) when they fool around with the menu.  Restoring the image to the image bearer still has some bits that need worked out and the Messianic Banquet will play a vital part of it.

If you recall, Jesus attended weddings, made water into wine at a wedding, and spoke of weddings in parabolic fashion.  He expects the Father to present the Son with a Bride.  That Bride, it turns out, is the church.  We are the Bride to Jesus’s Groom!  We are meant to join him in humble, naked, vulnerability on the world stage (let’s call it trust or FAITH), and engage in LOVE MAKING of APOCALYPTIC proportions!

We are either the foolish virgins or the wise virgins of Matthew 25, preparing for our night with our Knight in Shining Armor.  And we eat the Bread of Life from the Tree of Life which is a Roman cross that we trust is transformed and transfigured with the body and blood of Jesus being it’s fruit fit for consumption and giving eternal life.

(I know, I am mashing up a lot of exegesis and theology in short order, but these thoughts need to begin bouncing sparks off each other in your God-given imaginations so that you can begin the very powerful task of imagining how practical all this is in a world that God made!  And, well, you need a really big and rich imagination if you expect this God to live in it!!!)

When we join the humble (think of the other end of Matthew 25) and walk with them, help them, and eat with them the apocalyptic, Messianic Banquet (as we might do with say… THE HOMELESS!), we eat the party food of the Father’s Feast given to his Son at his wedding.  Therein we trust that God is expressing himself through us before the watchful, groaning creation.  And if we are the wise virgins ready for his COMING (yeah – I said that!), then we will enter his bed chamber for other delights too delicate to mention here!

So… What were you living for?

Think you might want to consider Jesus?  Let us bear the image of God with him in full-frontal apocalypse!  And see what that groaning creation looks like when it sees the revelation of the sons of God!  It might feel like the heaven you didn’t even dare to dream of!

Chaps My Hide

In a day and age when living in the American utopia of “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” where we are Ronald Reagan’s “city on a hill” (if not Jesus’s), and yet enthralled by idiotic quotations from “Two Corinthians,” scared of ISIS, and embittered by the price of milk…  You wanna know what really chaps my hide?

(I’m guessing you don’t.)

Not many people read here.  I wish they did.  I feel sure that if they did, the words here could really help make our world a better place.  Otherwise, I would not bother.

I really don’t care how you vote.  I have a deep sense that so much damage has been done to our way of life already that the vote cannot save it and will only amount to salt in wounds for at least half our nation either way it goes, actually.  And I really want to see ISIS stopped, but I sense that every measure we take only expands the evil and does not really take it out of commission.  And I would be willing to pay more money for some basic goods and services, but it sure would help if both my paycheck matched and that of all of my working neighbors, family and friends – but that ain’t happening.

But despite it all, this still is not the stuff that really chaps my hide.  And you, the world wide web, mostly don’t care anyway.  But…

I just cannot believe that the church thinks it is relevant when she doesn’t take her hope seriously and open her doors to those in need.

Our world is fast flushing down the toilet of turmoil.  And we don’t turn to Jesus for our hope; no, we think voting is going to change it.

YOU, dear church, are the Body of Christ – who is the Savior and Lord of the world.  Look to your head, and obey what he tells you (and do like he does).  You are the hope of the world.  But you have no clue.

And that chaps my hide.