Blogs That Jazz Me: Homeless Blogs

I frequently go searching around the blog-O-sphere looking for people talking about homelessness, Jesus, and ministry.  Sometimes I find blogs that are entirely dedicated to homelessness, sometimes they feature it frequently but deal with other matters as well.  Those that deal with Christian faith in relation to homelessness tend to be my favorite.


That said, there are hidden treasures out there worth sharing.  I keep looking because there are always more to find.  But it occurs to me that this kind of blogging rarely gets large-scale notoriety, and so I should do what I can to promote those blogs.

Today I want to link you to 5 blogs that jazz me – especially as they regard homeless issues.  These are 5 among many, and I anticipate doing this kind of post again in the future (perhaps featuring other kinds of blogs that jazz me which don’t always deal with homelessness).  I encourage my readers to check them out, perhaps even leave an encouraging word with these folks!  I hope this will be an uplifting experience as those bloggers find encouragement, and some of my readers find meaningful experience reading some great blogs.


First, Preston Searcy offers one of the more exciting and insightful blogs regarding Christian ministry to the street homeless and poor that I have ever found.  I cannot over estimate how rewarding your experience will be if you pop in on his blog and give it a looksee.  He frequently tells compelling stories from his ministry experiences, offers good biblical and theological reflection, and writes with excellence.  Please check him out here:


Secondly, allow me to introduce you to Amy Murphy’s blog The Miracles I See.  I must confess (and I have never told this to Amy) that I mistook her blog, when I initially discovered her, for another Homeless Ministry blog based in North Carolina, and it took several months for me to realize I was dealing with someone different.  Nevertheless, Amy is a strong activist/minister who champions the cause in her community and advocates for the poor in the media and in the face of Greensboro’s power brokers.  You can follow her tireless efforts and find great inspiration from her blog.  Amy has proven to be a great encourager to me on my blog as well!  Please check her out here:


Next, please check out the chronicles of Manna House, a homeless ministry in Memphis, Tennessee.  This blog is not really interactive, at least not with me, but the rich accounts of life on the streets and in ministry to the poor coupled with deep theological reflections are worth your time and attention.  Again, there is a sense of excellence on this blog, and it lends weight to the gravity of the issues discussed.  This blog has my sincere admiration, and I think it will have yours too.  Find it by clicking here:


Fourthly, I want to draw your attention to a particularly adventurous blogger who challenges himself to live on the streets amid the homeless, posts his experiences as he walks a block in the shoes of the poor, and then offers comprehensive ministry serving all the needs.  In the course of it, he challenges us to step up to the plate as he asks, “Do you care?”, and then demands, “Prove it!”  He runs a ministry called Manna Café that you can help and pray for… as you Prove It!  This blog is one of the more spicy of blogs, because this minister will take you to the nitty and the gritty of homelessness.  Please check out Kenny York’s blog here:

Tent City II

My number 5 blog does not post very often, but the beauty of this one is that Kevin Barbieux writes as a homeless man.  His blog is called The Homeless Guy.  And I am particularly grateful to Kevin for a link to a Ted Talk on one of his more recent posts dealing with addiction in which I found the observation made that as floor space in the average American home expanded over the last couple of generations, so has addiction and loneliness.  I have begun following up that assertion with further research, and I find it to be incredibly insightful.  But still, his overall blog is very friendly and yet comes from the perspective of a chronically homeless man.  Find the Homeless Guy by clicking here:


I want to add one more blog to this list of 5.  I add it here because it comes nearer fitting this category of blog than most of the others I follow, but it rarely deals with homelessness – strictly speaking.  BrookeM deals with ministry to the poor in nearly all of her posts, but it tends to focus on ministry to children.  And if you follow my blog, you know that children are dear to me as well, and while we tend to think of homelessness as a matter of adults living on the streets particularly, I of course suggest that it is a far broader matter and actually encompasses children in foster care or even those in the ghetto/barrio living their lives on the edge!  BrookeM will help us serve and find Jesus in the faces of these kids as she demonstrates that Compassion is a Journey.  Please check her out here:

Delusions of Ministry

I know I said I would only offer 5 blogs here, and I expect most readers to feel overwhelmed checking that many out.  And then I introduce you to a 6th on top of that, but I really want to promote many of these sites actually.  These are the ones I get most jazzed by – especially as they relate to homeless ministry.  But for those who might want to seek more, I will leave a list of others we might call worthy of “honorable mention”.  I hope you will offer encouragement to all these bloggers as they glorify God in the blog-O-sphere.  Perhaps you could tell them Agent X sent you, and we might draw together all the more in mutual support.


Honorable Mention List:


Let’s Call Attention to LPD’s H.O.T. and Their Sleeping Bag Drive

The Lubbock Police Department put together their Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) early this year, and considering how a homeless man froze to death last winter in our city, they want the community’s help supplying needy people when it gets cold.  You can help.  Follow this link and find out how:

Prophetic Anonymity

I work in conjunction with individuals, charitable organizations, and churches who serve the poor all the time.  Frequently (in fact I think maybe 100% of the time) those I work with toot their own horn with selfies on Facebook, power points at fundraising events, or promo photos on the nightly news reflecting their gifts of time, money, and energy.  And it almost makes sense, really – except for the fact that Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 6:1-4), instructs his disciples not to do that.  And, ironically, that seems to make sense too.


The Fat Beggars School of Prophets joined Agent B’s secret agent network back at the beginning as a way of trying to have the best of both ways of giving.  Agent B (you can visit his ghost blog here) gave me the idea years ago of muting his own identity so as not to take credit for his good deeds, but still he published the need and his work addressing it in a way that called attention where attention is helpful without puffing up his own ego.

This way of talking about the work is not perfect.  It still is not “giving in secret” as Jesus instructed, nor is the anonymity 100% full-proof.  But, it certainly provides for a way of discussing the work, calling attention to the need (rather than the giver), and even of celebrating healing and help received.  And that seems worthwhile – after all, even the Gospels tell us of all the wonderful things Jesus did.  Perhaps it is most important that someone else tell the story rather than the giver.  But even that is not secret, as the sermon instructs.

What to make of all this?

Well, just this week, the issue has twice come up for me.  First, the preacher at the church I’ve been visiting preached from Matthew 6 last Sunday.  And next, I exchanged with a fellow blogger who desires to publish one of my essays on his blog, but he insists on not publishing anonymously without good cause.

I share concerns about social abuses that hide in anonymity.  It is easy to take unfair shots at people in public (or even in private) and hide behind anonymity.  No one mastered that better than the Ku Klux Klan, and the internet is full of such now days everywhere you turn.  I am not immune from the temptation myself, especially since I am a critic!  But at this point, if I decided anonymity was not worth the risks, then I would delete my blog entirely and have no more to say.

But as I reflect on last week’s sermon, I recall how dramatic and powerful the preacher presented his point to us.  He actually bragged to us about the church’s giving in our community and abroad.  This church supports several missions in Africa, where he went to visit recently.  He saw the fruit of our giving first hand, and described how important our support there is for advancing the Gospel and encouraging believers there.  But then his remarks morphed subtly into bragging about his own giving – how he personally bought meals for the students there when they went out to eat.  He told of how he purchased their books and school supplies from his own finances.  And as his bragging reached a crescendo, a fever pitch, he stopped and asked if his tale was becoming uncomfortable for any of us while the video monitor displayed a young girl reading Matthew 6:1-4!  Then he asked us to consider at just what point we began feeling uncomfortable about it.

img_1171 IMG_1172

I have not stopped thinking about his dramatic demonstration all week.  And I am mindful that some of the ministries and charitable organizations I site on this blog are featured in the lobby of this church on large bulletin boards.  At one level the bulletin boards beacon church members to “get involved” and offer direction on how to go about it.  And that is entirely appropriate.  But at another level, those bulletin boards are bragging!  They are a pat on our own back!  They shout to any visitors who might see them that we do good deeds and show them off!

In fact, this particular church meets in a grand facility with the name posted in huge letters on the side of the building as well as flashing across the electronic marquee on the busy city street out front.  The place very much calls attention to itself as a church.  And it looks shiny and new (it’s only ten years old) occupying property on the newly developed “white-flight” side of town!  And considering it is just down the road from a very large Methodist church, and a very large Baptist church among several others too, all of which appear new, shiny, and attractive, I can’t help but see it as competing for attention in a keep-up-with-the-Jones’s mentality.  And since it is a church, one expects it to be involved in ministry even before we know what ministries in which it engages!

IMG_1348 Fat Beggars tent of communion

So, here I am taking this lesson from this preacher who represents this church in this setting, and I have been second-guessing myself for days.  But suddenly I sense that there are dimensions to this none of us have considered yet.

Here’s what I am thinking:

I really don’t know how to live this to the fullest.  But I sense strongly that if I take a stance suggesting I am hot stuff because I help someone, then that is definitely wrong.  If I promote myself in (or by) giving, I am definitely wrong.  I think of Coca-Cola sending trucks into hurricane disasters with their name plastered on the side, getting free advertising through media coverage.  Sure, they are providing real help to real needs, but really they are making sales and promoting themselves at the bottom line.  Likewise, I think of charitable organizations reaching out for public support and listing all the people they have fed, clothed, housed, or whatever, and I think that is just one step back from the Coca-Cola example.  I think of grand church buildings with their marquees and bulletin boards, and I think they are one more step back.


Muting my identity behind a pseudonym is not keeping my work secret, nor is it a full-proof way of maintaining anonymity, but I hope it honors Jesus as it points to him instead of me.  I could be anybody.  I could be the guy sitting next to you in church on Sunday, or I could be the bum holding that sign you drove past at the red light.


Thus, I operate with Prophetic Anonymity.

Me………….and the Church

I took a stand with Jesus, and when I looked around my church was gone.

Let me back up just a bit.

This is America – Modern, even Post-Modern, America.  Lots of people are spiritual, even “Christian”, and yet have nothing to do with church.  I could easily have grown into just that same mentality/attitude, except I went to school to study Bible – good ones – where they taught me the importance of church.  “There are no ‘Lone Ranger’ Christians” they said, and demonstrated it from the scriptures!  To neglect the assembly is to cut one’s self off!

And I doubled down, as they say, on my participation.  There is no “I” in team or in church.  We together make up the Body of Christ!  I took this with utmost seriousness.  And I devoted myself to Jesus and to the local church for all I was worth.

I loved my church.  And I have been a part of a lot of them over the course of my life.  And I really did not love them for the most part, not with a remarkable love, not agape, but this one I did!  And I felt loved too.  I thought my participation there was appreciated, desired, and valued.  I thought I was secure in my relationship there.  And with that as my foundation, I hit the streets to share that love with the poor.

And my ministry seemed to be valued by the church… at first.  In fact for a solid 3 years, I think my ministry was highly favored.  I can think of many times when I felt discouraged from issues arising on the streets, but found encouragement from my home-base.  But that was at first.  Because later, things changed.

Suddenly my church read the book When Helping Hurts and decided that all the love we (and I) had been showing on the streets was actually doing harm rather than good.  I attempted to go through proper channels and persuade the church to rethink this new position, but they insisted on changing course.  Thus, the church moved away from me (and Jesus).

I took a stand with Jesus, and when I looked around my church was gone.

A year later, I found myself joining forces with the premier homeless church and volunteering to chaperone street homeless folk as they spent the night inside the sanctuary on bitter, cold, winter nights.  This, in fact, was the big draw to joining them in the first place.  But a year after that, leadership there stopped allowing this ministry to happen, and certainly curtailed my efforts to engage in it for arbitrary reasons.  Let me state this clearly: They stopped doing what previously they had been doing, which was the thing I joined them to help them to do.

Again, I went through proper channels to get the church to reconsider their new path.  I attended meetings, traded emails and text messages, and in the meantime I joined the homeless outside in the cold numerous times.  None of my efforts affected leadership’s plans to shut the poor out to the cold of night.  Thus, the church moved away from me (and Jesus).  And again…

I took a stand with Jesus, and when I looked around my church was gone.

I am only listing two such experiences here in this post, but I find them to be more common than not.  And this is not a case of me leaving the church.  In fact, my whole prophetic mission is to position myself in relation to the church as I call it like I see it.  And the problem is that when I take a stand with Jesus, I look around and find my church is gone!


It could just be me.  I really might just be a big horse’s ass that no one can get along with.  That is possible.  And if it is accurate, I am likely the last one to see it.  But, I would point out, that in the first instance, I was part of that local church sensing the rich love and value for years on end before the rest of the church began making changes.  That wasn’t me making the changes, it was the rest of the church!  And something similar happened again the second time too.

But I have been reading Wright’s new book, The Day The Revolution Began, recently, and I spotted a sentence* in the midst of a paragraph that, though it is aimed at a very specific bit of theology, actually reflects upon a much wider array of issues too.  And I really think this is a feature I meet in Wright, particularly, that jazzes me to the core: He calls the bluff on so much bogus church theology!  And it is amazing how obvious a lot of it is, and always was, but has gone ignored like an alcoholic elephant in the room for generations!

Just take the Kingdom of God for instance.  Jesus announces the Kingdom of God in the opening of each gospel, and they all reach their climax with the Romans putting a crown on his head, royal robes over his body, hoisting him up (on a cross ironically), and posting a sign that says, “King of the Jews” on it.  Kingdom theology is bursting out the seams of each gospel account, but I grew up thinking this was a story telling me how to go to heaven when I die!

How on earth could that go so easily missed???  How on earth could the church get this sooooo badly wrong???  In fact, it seems there is some strange collusion afoot!  And if the church could miss its own message by a country mile, then when I find myself taking a stand with Jesus only to look around and see that the church is gone, I should take that as an indicator that I am where I should be.

But this is still no endorsement of “Lone Ranger” Christianity.

Just sayin…



  • On page 171, I find this sentence: “One might have thought that this would already have caused theologians and others in the church to question some basic assumptions.”


I have NOT had the chance to speak with Frank Morrison personally, but I am aware (and have spoken to mutual friends) that the property under management with The Coronado Project (TCP) is now in foreclosure with plans to auction it all off.  This hits me like a two-ton heavy thing.

I can only imagine the grief Frank and his staff are feeling as they consider where some of his clients will go and try desperately to help them manage the transition.  TCP has been holding families together that otherwise almost certainly will come apart as parents wind up on the streets and kids in foster care.  Several residents are former homeless folk who may well end up back out on the streets just in time for winter.  And since Frank has worked tirelessly for years serving just those people AND has tied his own wealth to their cause, I sense strongly that he is hurting deeply for them (and may well find himself facing destitution as a result along with them).

I am sure, based on things I have heard, that only a miracle will keep TCP going now.  Effectively, TCP is dead, and any forward motion will require a full-blown resurrection at this point.  Will God move with such drama?  I don’t know.

I am certain that Frank faces temptations to fight, perhaps get ugly even.  But I hope he keeps his eye on Jesus in the midst of this storm.  I am certain that anyone watching this development will see a man serving Jesus WITH HIS ALL and TO THE BITTER END!  Whether God sees fit to resurrect TCP or not, Frank and his staff are in a position to show all of us what Jesus looks like in the world – a savior offering his whole self as in sacrifice for the love of God while going largely ignored by the powers that be (including the church – sadly).

Once again, I ask for your prayers.  Please pray for those folks facing the streets tonight that Frank is no longer able to keep in his care.  Please pray for Frank to lean evermore on Jesus.  And Please pray for Jesus to express himself through these people as they stand in the place of shame, pain, and despair in our community – and maybe, just maybe, at the sight of the image of our God, mountains will bow low, valleys stand at attention, crooked places straighten out.  And maybe, just maybe, the economy will turn upside down and shake out on the ground amid these lowly image-bearers, just like happened with those beggar-prophets of old (II Kings 6-7).  And maybe, just maybe, at the sight of God amid these lowly ones, God’s Kingdom will come and his will be done in Lubbock, Texas like it is in heaven!

That would be a good prayer for you to join me in praying.


Pages 147-148

STILL READING WRIGHT (see previous post) AND UNLEARNING THE OLD SO I CAN RELEARN THE NEW (Check out this quote and see if you might want to get a copy of the book).

The common view has been that the ultimate state (“heaven”) is a place where “good” people end up, so that human life is gauged in relation to moral achievement or lack thereof.  This sets up a “works contract” in the sense we outlined earlier.  Then, this usual view goes on, humans fail the moral test and so need to be rescued, and this is the effect of Jesus’s death.  This leads, in some very popular schemes of thought, to a view of “salvation” in which the “punishment” for moral failure is meted out elsewhere while the “moral achievement” that was lacking in everyone else is supplied by Jesus himself.  Some versions of this, I have suggested, are closer to the pagan idea of an angry deity being pacified by a human death than they are to anything in either Israel’s scriptures or the New Testament.

In other words, in much popular modern Christian thought we have made a three-layered mistake.  We have Platonized our eschatology (substituting “souls going to heaven” for the promised new creation) and have therefore moralized our anthropology (substituting a qualifying examination of moral performance for the biblical notion of the human vocation), with the result that we have paganized our soteriology, our understanding of “salvation” (substituting the idea of “God killing Jesus to satisfy his wrath” for the genuinely biblical notions we are about to explore).

This is a fairly drastic set of charges.  Some will no doubt accuse me of caricature, but long experience of what people in churches think they have been taught suggests otherwise.  Others will perhaps accuse me of pulling the house down on top of myself, denying things that are basic to the faith.  However, it seems to me – and I hope the rest of the book will demonstrate this – that, once the new way of looking at things is grasped, all that was best in the old way will be retained, but in a new framework through which it loses its frankly unbiblical elements.  The new creation will indeed be “heavenly,” possessing in complete measure that heaven/earth overlap we sense fitfully in prayer, in scripture study, in the sacraments, and in working for God’s kingdom in the world.  The human vocation certainly includes a strong and nonnegotiable moral element, which is enhanced rather than eliminated when placed within the larger category of the “image-bearing” vocation.  And the means of salvation, as we shall see throughout this part of the book, does indeed involve the death of Jesus as the representative and then substitute for his people, though not in the sense that many have understood those rather abstract categories.

At the heart of it all is the achievement of Jesus as the true human being who, as the “image,” is the ultimate embodiment (or “incarnation”) of the creator God.  His death, the climax of his work of inaugurating God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven, was the victory over the destructive powers let loose into the world (and, to be sure, breaking any moral codes that might be around, but this is not the focus).  And the reason his death had this effect was that, as the representative and substitute in the senses we shall explore in due course, he achieved the “forgiveness of sins” in the sense long promised by Israel’s prophets.  Once we step away from Platonizing, moralizing, and paganizing schemes of thought and back into the world of Israel’s scriptures (“The Messiah died for our sins in accordance with the Bible”), this all makes sense, though it is a different kind of sense from what many Christians imagine.

The Day The Revolution Began by N. T. Wright

No time for blogging this week.  We had a home inspection to attend to for one thing.  (You gotta love that.  They take these kids away from their drug addicted, abusive/neglectful parents, set the bar really low for their eventual return, but my wife and I go through rigorous, continual training and open our home to inspections by people we don’t even know after raising a whole family and launching our own into college and the military!  I mean, I get it, but only just barely!!!)  Anyway, the shoring up of deficiencies (and I mean nit-picky stuff!) takes a lot of time, energy, and focus.

But also, and even more importantly, Mrs. Agent X bought me the new N.T. Wright book for my birthday.  And I really can’t tear myself away from it.  Sorry, I am a slow reader – especially with two infants to care for in the mix.  But this book ROX!  I highly recommend it.  It is a study in reconsidering the atoning death of Jesus and what that really means for us and for the creation.  Wright strips away all pie-in-the-sky, dualistic/Platonic theology, and challenges the whole “works contract” (as he terms it) idea that there are two competing ways of getting to heaven: 1) live by the strict moral code perfectly or 2) Jesus lives by it perfectly and then takes God’s arbitrary punishment in your place.

These two ideas are common in modern, Western Christianity and require a lot of unlearning so that we can finally understand what the Bible is really about and how the death of Jesus actually achieves God’s goals for his creatures and creation within the story/context of the Scriptures.  If you are not already familiar with these challenges, I expect you would not want to read the book, and would probably resist its message.  On the other hand, if you want to be challenged with actual Scripture and not just pop-religion, this book is definitely for you.

Here is the link:


As I Lay Me Down To Sleep and Pray The Lord My Soul To Keep

I want to THANK You, O God, for the warm, dry, bed I have to sleep in tonight.

Thank You for the wonderful woman I have to share it with.

Thank You for our good kids.

Thank You for the fine HOME we live in – a castle situated, as it is, in a garden of grass, trees, and flowers.

Thank You for coming to live here with us.  When I look into the faces of these infant, foster children You blessed us with, I see Baby Jesus in my arms, and I ask You to make Your servants prepared for the Master’s return to His HOUSE!  (If God is in there, is it temple?) Oh, God, how I need Thee every hour!

And as I look out the window and smile at the blessed falling rain on this cool October night, I am reminded of every bum, beggar, and prophet taking shelter under bridges, parking garages, awnings, and “No Trespassing” signs – men and women a plenty – who will not be invited into either Your HOUSE or mine tonight.  I think of Matt and Ryan, of Erica and Rudy, of Jerry, of May (Oh… May, who is now without her beloved James) and soooooo many others, and I wonder how they manage tonight.  I think of that elderly couple I met last year who were living in their storage unit, hiding from the owner and the authorities, and if they are warm tonight.  I think of Jeremy and Andy and those guys who struggle with mental illness or drug addiction, some of whom are quite adventurous and probably view this cold and wet as a challenge to be conquered – God Bless ’em.  Oh, God, how they need Thee every hour!

May n Lee

If Jesus lives there, that's a temple?

If Jesus lives there, that’s a temple?

And of course I pray asking You to give them Your Hope, Your Joy, Your Peace, and Your Comfort in full measure…. But even more than that, for all our sakes, I pray that they might bear Your image (though they largely neither know how nor particularly desire it).  And so, therefore, I ask You to express Yourself through them, in Your mighty and mysterious way.  And that at the sight of You (in them) the mountains would bow down, the valleys would stand at attention, and the crooked places would straighten out (Isa. 40:3-5).  That at the sight of You (in them) the economy would turn upside down and be shaken out to the core just like You did using those beggars of old (II Kings 6:24 – 7:20).  And then at the sight of You (in them) Your Kingdom come and Your will be done in Lubbock, Texas LIKE IT IS IN HEAVEN! (Matt. 6:10).

Easter Tent City II

Please Lord, hear my humble prayer and rouse Your mighty self.  Do not delay.  We are waiting.

You and me

I am really jazzed with this poem. I think some of my readers will instantly see why.

Thanx Xueqin Qian

Source of Change

This poem is for those who are homeless

Written by Xueqin Qian 

You are driving,  passing me, but you did not see me

Although we are both called human,

We are quite different

You are buying cars and enjoy the “STUFF” you have

I am “borrowing” pizza from restaurants

You are hanging out with your families

I have no family to go to

Instead bouncing from shelter to shelter, bridge to bridge

You are talking about elections, exercising, taking vitamin D to be healthy

I am wandering around the street

With people like me

Drugs, drinking, and weed

At night, looking at the stars

I don’t know why I exist

“There is a church. Go there” I hear a voice from heaven

I went,

But left,

Because I don’t see myself belonging

My clothes are ragged

My beard is long

But theirs are clean

I know

I don’t fit in

View original post 56 more words

Homeless Boy Crying Abba


He missed his visit with his son.  The son who lives in my care.  I wept and prayed for him then.  Born premature and hooked on drugs, the boy was born into foster care where I put my claim on him for all I am worth, and with all its limitations.  Only a few months old, he has no idea, of course, but I do.

I do, and I already feel the pain storing up for him when he is old enough to “understand” it.  I am haunted by the Pearl Jam song as I think about it.



Well, I’ve got a little story for you too.  I am not at liberty to tell his, nor would it help.  But I will tell you mine – mine and yours.

I knew my dad, and he raised me.  He loves me to this very day.  But there was a day, a dark day, that if I write about it now will pierce his heart to read it.

I was in the first grade.  A small child, very impressionable, I needed constant supervision and assurance.  Normally, that is exactly what I got.  But not always.  No.  I want to tell you about the dark day when my dad was supposed to pick me up from school, but he did not come.

I went to the appointed waiting area at the appointed time… and I waited… and waited…

…and waited.

The school emptied out.  All my little friends were gone.  The place became eerily quiet.  If I had felt comfortable being there before, it became strange and unfamiliar with each passing minute.  The impression that I did not belong there hammered its way into my imagination.  I became LOST.

The teacher watching over me from a distance approached.  I could give no answer as to why my dad had not come.  She, of course, was concerned and dutifully cared for me, but I felt increasing anxiety taking over my soul.  I was abandoned.  I was alone.  The school lost all sense of familiarity and comfort.  My teachers transformed into strangers.  I was scared.  I was lost.

And then Dad remembered me.

Looking back on it now, I bet the whole ordeal did not last more than 30 minutes.  Dad came racing to my rescue as soon as he realized his error.  And I know, because I have heard him reference that event a few times over the years, that he felt deep remorse.  As I recall it, he apologized to me at the time and tried to make amends by taking me for ice cream at the Tastee Freeze.  I am certain that my little, first-grade self was eager to forgive him, as my grown up self also is.  But the impression the event made was not erased.  It could not be erased.

It is a powerful memory ingrained in me to this day.  And in fact, when I was in college I studied the psychology of memory as researched by Elizabeth Loftus from the University of Washington, and found it notable that when she sought to produce false memories in her laboratory experiments, she was able to get the study approved by the ethics committee by producing fake memories of a time adults had been “lost” as children.  The scenario of being “lost” was sufficiently traumatic to validate her experiment without causing actual harm to the psyche of her test subjects.

In my case, this was not a lost memory recovered – no.  It has always been with me, though we rarely talk of it.  And it is a common experience.  Many readers here will have their own version of it.  If you were ever “lost” as a small child, even briefly, it made an impact.  And if not, it is an easy false memory for researchers to produce in experimental situations because of how vulnerable one feels at the thought of it.

And so I look at the infant in my arms who was scheduled for a visit with his “real” father.  The man has missed enough appointments now that the CPS worker will set restrictions on him in the future.  And while I am grateful the boy is not stuck in the “care” of his neglectful birth parents, I am grieved to the bottom of my heart that this boy will have a DAD-shaped hole in his soul that cuts far deeper than being forgotten at school one day will ever compare to.

And with Pearl Jam echoing in my brain, I think “Son, have I got a little story for you…”

The difference with me is I am a theologian.  Not one of the great scholarly theologians of our day (much as I wish I could have been), but I am a theologian “at large” – to borrow and bend a phrase from Bill Moyers.  A Christian theologian in specific.  All of my thoughts I think theologically, and I have a little story alright.  But perhaps it is not so little.

Once upon a time, God had a Son.  Actually, it was more than once, and to think of THIS Son as a singular person would be a mistake.  It really helps if you can allow for some of these words to resonate in the culture from which they come rather than try to plug them into categories of thought only a modern, Western American would have.  No.  The home culture of this lost Son is ancient and Middle-Eastern, and in that culture, they thought of themselves collectively as God’s Son.

But not at first.  At first, they thought of themselves as slaves.  It is possible they thought of themselves as abandoned sons, but more likely as slaves of empire destined for the grind.  That is until God heard their cry and remembered his promise (Exod. 2:23-25).  And then one day their God, whom I think they did not know (after 430 years in captivity) comes blowing in off the desert and picks a fight with the emperor.  And the kicker is that he tells Pharaoh, “That’s my Son you’re picking on!” (Exodus 4:22).

Over the course of the next 40 years, Israel learns what it means to be The Son of God, but on that first day, they did not even know YHWH’s name.  What could they know of him?  Moses had not yet written Genesis! (In fact we might say they didn’t really learn what it meant to be The Son of God until Jesus showed them 1500 years later.)  In the meantime, they might have heard a few “old wives tales” about the God of their fathers from their dear, old Aunt Edna, but even if they had, they mostly viewed her as a kook.  I mean, just go down into Pharaoh’s brickyard and ask any Hebrew you meet: What has your God done for you lately?  And they have 430 years of a we-ain’t-heard-much-out-of-him history of waiting stacked up against the Son of Re who daily holds the power of life and death in his hands, killing Israel’s sons upon birth, and also sets the quota for making bricks in his brickyards.  And it’s into that dark worldview that this God they don’t know comes blowing in off the desert, picking a fight with the bully on the block, and now has their full attention!

The powerful statement this God makes in Exodus 4:22 has such an impact on the collective imagination of those people that they revere it to this day some 3500 years later!  Not unlike Elizabeth Loftus discovered in her research that lost children get their imaginations and memories impacted deeply for a very long time afterward.  It’s like a kid in the orphanage getting picked on by a bully for years on end, and then one day a stranger arrives to confront the bully and says, “That’s my son!”.  The orphan does not know this stranger, but suddenly new possibilities are open to him – especially when the stranger proceeds to kick butt and take names!  Ten plagues later, Israel is leaving Egypt, and Egypt is left in smoldering ruins!  This God unleashes Holy War on their behalf and does not stop until he has sent the Death Angel in one of the most bone-chilling events in all of history.  And the text says “There was a CRY in the land like was never heard before or since!” (Exod. 11:6/12:30).

(And for those interested in exegetical matters of such things, Moses only uses the Hebrew word for this shrill “cry” in two other places throughout his writings – The cry of Esau when he realizes he has sold his birthright, and the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah when God blasts them with his fire from heaven!)

All of this scene I portray here now is narrative in which Israel first learns of this God but even before that they hear him call them Son!  And that is the point around which this whole blog post rotates.  I have this boy, this precious baby boy, who does not even yet know what a father is, or that he is a son of one.  But questions will come, in time, and a DAD-shaped hole will form in his soul.  And if I may be blessed to play a father-figure role in his life, I will take the obligation with utmost seriousness.  But that other father will loom large in the shadows of his heart, no matter how I wish he didn’t.

And though I be jealous of this absentee father, for it is a strange phenomenon that children of abusive and neglectful parents tend to forgive them with shocking ease, it is really that Other Father, that is his Abba, not me (or the sperm donor).  And the boy will need to hear that.

And I will be tasked (like the mother in the Pearl Jam song) with saying, “Son, I have a little story for you…”  But I hope to tell him of his Abba… that Other Father of whom both me and the sperm donor are merely a dim reflection.  And really, it is not actually a little story at all, but rather a huge story – one of the biggest ever!  And it is the story of all God’s people, Christians included.  It is your story; it is mine.  And collectively it is ours.  And if this baby boy will consent, at the age of accountability, to be a part of this family, it will be his story too.  The one that truly matters.

Perhaps I will teach him the little rhyme I wrote when I was young:

I am the son of two fathers

But a Father to no one.

I live to serve both,

like a loaded gun.

I’m a wayward soul,

and I’m known to none.

Like Joseph to Jesus,

I’m not really The One.