(This post won’t likely make sense unless you’ve read the previous two posts)
Agent H aka Jesus/the least of these…
I feel like a bug on a windshield. I hit my spiritual lunch experience the other day with a full-body splat. Perhaps the last thing to go through my mind at impact was just my own keister. I can’t find rhyme or reasonable reason amid the chunks splattered around. There are so many, and they are all over the place. I am not in a position to presume I can, or even should, organize them. Wouldn’t that be a bit arrogant for a bug splat? …And so… if you choose to activate the wiper blades, I am sure I will merely smear across your field of vision some raw words about Jesus and the Apocalypse.
If you have a taste for this lunch… you are invited to join me. (However, I am not writing this to be enjoyed by a reader nearly as much as a way of dealing with my own internal digestion. It just happens to be in print and publicized. You really might just want to skip this one; I wouldn’t blame you.) You might swallow a bone, you might get a wing, an eyeball, or some other questionable bits, but I just have to swallow the bite that was too big to chew. Bear with me as I choke it down.
First a word on gatekeepers. I followed that Walmart employee out to the edge of the Walmart parking lot as he ran off a beggar. I wanted to see what would happen, even though I already had a pretty good idea. I really could write a whole post on just this event – or on the typology of events it represents. I probably could devote a whole blog to it, even. I think there are complexities to explore here that would take a lot of print to exhaust.
That Walmart employee was just doing his job. As I put myself in his shoes, I sense that he is a cog on a gear in a much bigger engine. He couldn’t change the direction of the car by himself, and probably not at all. In fact, he may be only a couple of paychecks away from joining that beggar on the far end of the lot. And since running off bums is part of his job, he kinda needs to do it. He is just following orders! (an excuse that did not work for those on trial at Nuremberg, but hey… it’s not without a sense of logic and sympathy.)
I recently found a blog post by a security guard in Seattle that depicted a similar scene. The guard runs off a homeless bum from a high-end, high-rise downtown, but then reflects on it as a Christian. I am sensitive to that. Is there a way to serve both Mammon and Jesus? If so, how? I mean, as long as it is abstract and academic, the answer is a plain “NO” … but the minute it becomes a matter of your basic livelihood, it gets diffused and splintered into bug chunks on a windshield that you try to wipe off with wiper blades and windshield fluid before your vision gets obscured too bad and you go off course! You might never reach the goals you sacrifice so much to meet.
Is there a way to serve the job and help the bum both? Is there a kinder and gentler way of running off a bum? Is there a respectful way of confronting the boss? I mean, even Daniel serves the king at the king’s behest, but manages to do so without eating the pagan food or praying the pagan prayers. It gets him thrown to lions, but God saves him and even gets him a promotion! How do I get that gig?
Is it enough to be passively resistant, or should I mount an attack? And how does a cog on the gear do either?
Gatekeepers have to face this stuff when it comes to beggars and bums regularly. Whether gatekeepers openly analyze it or not, they do deal with it all the time. I bet the Walmart employee who did that job the other day is the “go-to” guy for it, because he has done it before and has developed a proficiency at it… a distasteful job that others don’t even want. And he was not ugly, he was tactful, professional. But he was quite firm…and effective. The bum moved along quickly.
And for what? The engine driving this whole scene is American commerce. The consumer-driven marketplace. And I, as a consumer, was in the driver’s seat. Walmart employs that gatekeeper to serve me. He was running off the bum on my behalf (or actually on behalf of the money in my pocket). When I showed up to care about how he treated that bum, and then walked around in his store wearing a bright-colored t-shirt that says JESUS WAS HOMELESS on it, I put all of this in question for him. The fact that I followed him and he witnessed my care for the bum as part of my trip to his store to spend money there, throws a wrench into the gears that could break off that cog. It’s a whole new vantage ground. I only hope, against hope, that he and other employees actually talked about it.
But that is all really small, insignificant stuff. It’s all on the edges of my concern really. And yet, I could go on and on chasing the various dynamics inherent therein.
Then there is the parade aspect. I was wearing a bright colored shirt drawing attention to Jesus and the homeless in a “Christian” town that finds subtle but powerful ways of ignoring both. And my actions subtly do this in powerful judgment against the city that sees it.
This is ministry. It is bearing the image of God in the place of shame, pain, and despair in this community. In that regard, it is emblematic of Jesus at Golgotha. Just the mere image of Jesus there depicts the great God of Israel being crowned King of his own wayward subjects. It is humiliation turned all the way inside out. It is grace, but with paradoxical demands. And it is, according to the faith, the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16).
By wearing that shirt, running to that scene, and speaking into that pain so publically, I became a cog in the gear in a different kind of engine. I become a visual aid and a voice for another authority – one sorely needed and otherwise lacking!
But the message is not mine, and I am not the author. I become a vehicle for a very important exchange, but I absolutely must keep myself humble or else I blow my own purpose away. It is easy to think that because I speak for God in such a daring way that I am special, that you should listen to me. And that is involved, but if reduced to that, it easily slips off into vanity at any given moment.
I read another blogger’s post recently where that blogger recounted an exchange with a homeless person. This blogger told about how they brought some meaningful message to the bum, some helpful ministry to the needy person. And that is exactly right. That is so true and so needed. And yet, I did not detect even a particle of reverence for the homeless person they served. (Not that it wasn’t there, but it certainly was not featured.) And I read this exciting account of love bestowed where it was not deserved, and it inspired me, and probably other readers too, but it also lent itself to arrogance – “the savior complex”… we might call it. I sensed it was a top-down approach somehow.
And I really hate to even mention it, because I think picking apart other people’s ministry efforts will be discouraging. I would rather see Jesus preached in arrogance than not preached at all… Right? (Phil. 1:15-18 anyone???) Perhaps there is a key difference between a “savior complex” and a “Jesus complex” …because even Caesar viewed himself as “savior” and there is no doubt the Jesus version is quite distinct from that.
Somehow the look-at-me aspect is necessary, but only as long as the “me” part is pointing humbly to Jesus, who is pointing humbly to God. God’s coronation at Golgotha was Jesus’s execution. Yes, we look at Jesus there, but it is God we see! (Mark 15:39 seems particularly instructive here.)
Anyway, with these thoughts splattered around my mind, both before and since my lunch with Jesus, I recognize that I went into that spiritual experience with my eyes focused on this kind of reality. A very this-worldly vantage ground of other-worldly ministry. But then…
The unveiling of other dimensions of reality. I have been looking intently for Jesus in both the church and in the poor – even exposing him there. The word of God plainly speaks of such, but finding him there through the lens of daily life is not so easy. The church has become accustomed to the marketplace world and as such has become gatekeeper. The gatekeeper there throws a lock on the door and keeps the Jesus of the poor locked out. But then, let’s not be too quick to romanticize the poor; it’s not like they are running around being virtuous everywhere. No. There is a lot of urine where urine should not be – to say the least about “the least of these…”
But when I found Agent H the other day, and when his tears and his words married up in The Joy of The Lord and the Strength therein, I saw behind the veil. It was like being transported, almost. That restaurant never ceased being what it appeared to be, but (to use a C.S. Lewis phrase) “the inside of it was bigger than the outside!” I was in a possible world that usually goes unnoticed and treated as impossible! Agent H was no longer just a bum, he was demonstrating faith and sharing it with me. He involved me in the Holy Place with him that I was too short-sighted otherwise to see.
Suddenly I felt like Rob Reiner’s mom in that restaurant with Meg Ryan faking an orgasm and telling the waitress, “I’ll have what she’s having!” Holy Cow! This food tastes like chicken strips, and I thought they would embody a message for the outside public to digest, but suddenly I was at the King’s Table. Suddenly I recognized that I am the bum here! I am the one granted special privilege. I am the guest. I am not the host! And anyway, orgasms (even of a spiritual kind) are better than Popeye’s chicken strips, but who knew??? Who knew that was on the menu???
Yes. We were still on parade. Yes, this was still the ministry I had taken up with. Yes, we were still having an impact on the public that saw it. Yes, I am still blogging on it for the world to see and read. But I was not in charge of it. I was not in the driver’s seat. I was merely a cog on a gear in someone else’s engine. And for that matter, I was not worthy! I had ventured into a sanctuary I was not yet consecrated for! I saw angels and Jesus!
And I have been reduced to metaphysical and cosmic speculations. I don’t even know what wheels within wheels with eyes all about looks like, but I have seen mystery too rich to put in other kinds of words!
And I am almost paranoid about it. I mean, I am unworthy! I do not belong! and yet I do. How can that be??? Was the whole place full of angels? Was I on display before Lubbock and the eating public, or was I in some heavenly laboratory? Where was Abraham and Isaac when the knife was raised? What great cloud of witnesses watched this unfolding apocalypse?
I cannot say for sure. Perhaps it was a surprise party meant for me, and everyone else there was in on it except me. Or perhaps I was the minister of God in a dark place letting this wee little light of mine shine. Or… heaven help me… maybe both!
And now I am a rambling idiot on the internet daring to process this stuff. I am a bug on a windshield. I am splattered and smeared. I am reduced to my guts splashed out. I cannot imagine finding this post on someone else’s blog and thinking it had value for me. I cannot imagine making sense of it or even wanting to try.
I am planning to die some day. I don’t know when. This is not a suicide note. This is a sober observation in a culture that attempts to deny such. And if moving from that place I was before my life began into this life here and now is any indication of the move from this life to the next, then I will be utterly dependent upon who ever will receive me there. Naked and vulnerable – unable to feed myself, clean myself, even speak the language. I required loving arms, nourishing breasts, and lots of patience when I got here.
I have managed to make a form of sense of this life as I have come along, but I have no way of knowing what if any of that I will take with me into the next life.
But like Jacob wrestling the angel, I asked Agent H to remember me in the Judgment. His parting words assuring me that we will meet there are the final comfort I take from our lunch. I miss him dearly every day since. I think of Jesus appearing on the road to Emmaus, coming into focus in the breaking of the bread, and then disappearing as quickly as he had appeared (Luke 24). All I know to do is run back to Jerusalem and tell who it was I ate with.
If the story comes out all jumbled up, so be it.