I Am Your Discarded Humanity

Some commentators think St. Paul refers to himself as an abortion in I Corinthians 15:8.  Whether he has that exact idea in mind or not (and I doubt that whatever it was… that it was politically charged in the same way such rhetoric would be for Americans today), he certainly lays claim to his lack of privilege among church-founding Apostles.  I too, am a churchman – a minister of the church and to the church – but illegitimate and UNSATISFACTORY (as my recent post Earning A Prophet’s Wage attests).  In fact, though I call myself a street minister and lump myself among others using such a title, I actually see myself as a church minister working through the poor and homeless to affect ministry to the church.  I am your discarded humanity speaking to you from your discarded waste.  I speak from the clash-of-cash-n-trash.

This actually feels confessional.  I resist telling you this (at a visceral level).  I feel ashamed of it.  But when I think clearly about it, that is the kind of reaction that keeps rape victims silent.  They feel ashamed and guilty of things for which they bear no real guilt.

I did not actually come from Hogback, New Mexico (in fact, I only just passed through there, really).  No.  Here’s the bigger picture: I grew up the son of a preacher in the worst kind of Protestant church America has to offer (worse even than Baptists).  Yes.  I grew up the son of a Church of Christ preacher!

How do I know that is the worst kind?

(Thanx for asking!)

I know it because when I finished my Bible education and launched into ministry, I worked in Texas prisons for a few years.  I joined forces with a wonderful group known as The Shepherd’s Servants, which was made up of (former) Baptist’s mostly, some Pentecostals, one Catholic, a couple of Methodists, and myself (before I confirmed Catholic).  We all went for a mission trip into the Montford Unit back when Chaplain Panky was still chaplain there.  He met us at the gate and asked a few nosey questions – presumably to satisfy security issues, but really more nosey than that.  And it turned out he was trying to sniff out any Church of Christ folk.  He finally announced that he can work with anybody except the Church of Christ!  He could work with Mormons and Jehovah’s Witness, but not Church of Christ!  Yeah… at that, my group opted not to reveal my background; they let me lay low.

In reality, I already knew why Chaplain Panky held that attitude.  We were a whole church of cranks – all cranked up on some abstract notion of baptism and instrumental music that made us more cultish than churchy.  Historically, we are a hard bunch to get along with.  (And now I bring a prophetic ministry to that same bunch – rendering me the chief of all cranks!)  Panky was only too happy discard the whole church I came from.  It was the same church that had discarded me time and time again.

For those unfamiliar, let me explain something about preacher’s kids (you already know our reputation, but you may not know) we get kicked around a lot.  And this is especially true for Churches of Christ.  Church of Christ preachers kids have dads who get fired – a lot!  I know my dad sure did.

This preacher’s kid’s dad earned the prophet’s wage; it is my heritage!

My dad was a good preacher.  In fact, he is/was one of my favorites.  He helped a lot of people as a preacher.  But he was a family counselor too, and he helped a lot of people deal with family baggage as well.  He loved Jesus (still does), and showed lots of people caught in sin and guilt that God loves them too.

And… well… what can I say?  That only washes so far in the Church of Christ.  And if you are going to take a stand for Jesus, eventually, you find your Church of Christ is going to treat you as much like a criminal as the leading Jews (and any Romans they could manipulate) treated Jesus.  Yeah… they love you at first, but in about three to five years, that itch to send you packing sets in, and it doesn’t much matter if you love Jesus and serve him.  You get fired.  (Yes, there are exceptions to this, but this is the rule from which those others are exceptions).

The last church Dad preached for (I will leave nameless here) was a small church in a small West Texas town.  There were lots of little church squabbles over the years, but the moment one of the main financial backers found his wife breaking it off with him for someone else, he became angry with her.  (Understandable, I know.) But then when she came to the church seeking forgiveness, this put the whole church in a new lurch.  If Mr. Money Bags was the forgiving sort, then we could all forgive her and move on, but if he was the grudge holding kind, then the church would have to decide whether to side with the money or Jesus.  Dad, of course, took a John 8-style stand with Jesus and against the stone throwers.  It didn’t take long before Dad was out.

Here’s the thing: Getting rid of my dad meant getting rid of me!  I never entered anyone’s equation, that I know of.  This was not the first time Dad had been run off for such an authentic Christian stand.  (Even though he was not a preacher at the time of the Hogback thingy), it was not his last.  And this is particularly tragic when you factor in this other bit I am about to tell you: Dad was leading a rich ecumenical movement in that little town.  Yes!  The Church of Christ preacher was ministering to the Baptists, the Methodists, and the Pentecostals all over town as well as that little Church of Christ.  Upon hearing he was fired, half (or more like three quarters of) that town turned out to ask him to start his own church.  He had become the de facto pastor for the whole village!  (Except his own flock.)

Irony of ironies!

I was born for this.

But, as I said, I also was discarded, and I never registered on anyone’s equation (except Dad’s).  I was a preacher’s kid.  We all already know what that means.  But now you have insight a couple onion peel layers deeper than usual.  My story depicts what happens to that bit of humanity you, dear church, discard when he grows up.  You might have forgot me or not even cared back in 1984, but thirty-some-odd years later, that bit of trash is back with a word from God!

Meanwhile, though, when I was a teenager, I dropped out of church.  What can I say?  Church was a charade!  A joke!  Who really takes it serious???  Only the idiots inside one.  On account of you, the name of God is blasphemed (Isa. 52:5; Rom. 2:24).  Those outside are opting out of “religion” or “organized religion” altogether – and they are opting out right and left as fast as they can!  No one really likes Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory, but since the church is functionally operating on that level right along with the rest of the world, why not at least join those who are honest about it and ditch the suckers drifting along in denial?  So, I dropped out too.

But then I grew up.  As a young man, I came back.  I found the church in a mess, alright.  (I am Catholic now, and you already know from news headlines for many years now just what a mess that is!)  But I came back to the Church of Christ at first, and I found people who could spout off scriptures but could not make any worthwhile applications.  ANY!  I went to school where my instructors taught me that God is at work in that motley bunch despite themselves (just look at Israel, he is an old hand at this).  But it does not change for one moment the charade going on.  God’s people have always been only too happy to construct golden calves WHILE God was laying down the law!  Go with the money whether that means discarding whores or the homeless.  That has not changed.

But God uses the discarded humanity to speak too this bunch.  I am that discarded humanity.  Don’t like me?  Don’t want me around???  Guess what!  I was born for this.  I went to your schools.  I studied your best professors.  I took their classes.  I passed their tests.   I went into debt for it all.  I am invested.  I am called.  And now I am back.

And I speak to you, dear church, from among those you kick to the curb.  But I speak to you the words of Jesus: “Behold!  I stand at the door and knock.  If you open up, I will come in and party with you!”

I may look like a guy who just got spit up by a fish after three days in its belly.  Sometimes, I even feel like him.  I almost don’t want to see God show you his mercy.  But, not really.  Actually, I do.  Like Moses pleading for God not to destroy Israel for his own name’s sake (Exod. 32:7-14).  I want you to open those doors!  Kick off the party!  But you are going to have to wrestle this angel to get that blessing.  You are going to have to find value in the humanity you discard.  I come to announce: It is party time!  But the guest list is a Luke 14 guest list, and, you dear church, need to wise up to that!


Just a Loser

If I could shout a blog post, this one would be it. I hope the little bit of traffic my blog can produce will stop by this blog and see the image of God stamped on those street beggars who so easily assume they are merely the trash blowing along. May God open the eyes of our hearts to see Jesus there instead….

Pastor Joshua

Pastor Joshua West

Worship Pastor, Shiloh Community Church

Everyone has had or will have a low point in their lives. This is part of living in a fallen world. Lately, my heart has specifically broken over the number of people I see on a daily basis without a home, hurting, hungry, lonely, and probably living in their darkest, lowest days. I usually notice these people in passing, standing alone on a street corner with some torn, cardboard sign that is begging for someone to help them purchase their next meal. Sadly, people in these situations are far too abundant in our society and I truly wish I could reach out to help them all.

I read the shaky handwriting on their cardboard signs, which usually reads something like: Hungry, please help. I’ve seen many of these people briefly share their stories on these cardboard signs in a few simple…

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Earning a Prophet’s Wage

One of my favorite instructors from academic days was a wise, old professor who had taught numerous generations of students and prepared them for ministry or grad/postgraduate work.  And while I would not characterize him as jaded, he did have that wry wit of one who “has been around”.  I recall that on several occasions he remarked that over the years students would come through from time to time and fancy themselves prophets.  To any of us young people giving him a listening ear, he suggested that if we were real prophets (not just self-styled and fashionable), we should be prepared to earn a prophet’s wage.

Of course the old man was referring to the fact that prophets suffer the message they bring from God.  Prophets largely go unheeded, at least during their own lifetimes, and when taken seriously, often punished in various ways – up to and including death (even death on a cross, as one famous prophet can attest!).  Thus the professor would have us students take such a calling with all seriousness and not think it to be somehow academically fashionable.

I took his remarks to heart and purposefully avoided an embrace of prophetic vocation.  Only through subsequent years of NOT earning any money for my ministry, as well as largely being ignored and/or shunned, AND dealing more and more with apocalyptic symbols, have I begun to accept even the idea that I might, after all, be called to prophetic ministry.  Yes, though I resisted the notion for years, it seems to me that I have worked very hard to earn the prophet’s wage – at least in being shunned.

But recent days have revealed another kind of wage to me, one the old professor did not speak of – one I had never expected or dared to dream.  In order to explain it, I must tell a brief story about my experience in life and ministry – a story that depicts one very important layer in the foundation of my life and calling of which its importance has only just begun to take shape for me.

Getting Admitted To School

I first went to Bible College with a dark cloud over my head.  I really must keep the details of that part of the story private, because in subsequent years, I have made peace with those who opposed me.  So with no details I will say this, I found myself embroiled in a church conflict over the course of about a year just prior to admission.  While at first, my part in that conflict helped a fellow minister (a much older and well established career minister), he eventually opposed me, and upon discovering that I planned to enter the academy, he wrote a letter to the dean (who was a personal friend), and those in charge of handling my admission, outlining for them what a bad idea it would be for me to get admitted.

To be fair (and again without going into detail), I was guilty of sin.  In the course of that conflict, I had behaved poorly and hot-headed.  To this day, I believe firmly in the cause I stood for, but if I could change some of my own behavior at that time, I would.  I had lashed out inappropriately.  I will not deny that fact.  But I will insist that my bad behavior played a small part in a larger conflict where everyone else’s behavior was bad too – and I was the young one needing guidance and not getting it.  Thus, I take responsibility, but only for my sinful part.

The whole thing caused me to have a “bad” reference.  Matters grew worse yet, though.  I reached out to other established ministers for help, but these people did not know me very well.  In all honesty, they could not vouch for me – not with any depth.  And when I look back, I recall how another young man, about my age, had turned his life around from drug and alcohol abuse and gained broad support from our church, the year before.  He had obtained good references and went off to a sister school only to run aground as a sex scandal broke out.  Only a year into school, and this young man was out to the shame of all who had endorsed him.  Here I was, not too dissimilar except I had made a mess of my reputation being a troubler of the church before I even tried to get into the academy.

I felt desperate.  I needed someone to write me a reference that I could trust.  Someone who could and would tell another side of my story.

A Second Opinion

Well, it so happened that in the two years leading up to this moment, I had befriended an adolescent, young man at church, who like me had an enthusiasm for Heavy Metal music.  Yes, I don’t hide it, I am an old metal head.  But at the time, I was a young man finding Jesus, and I was finding that more important than my musical tastes.  Meanwhile, there was this family at church who had a couple teenage sons who they felt were somewhat “at risk” and who, like me, were into metal music.  That family hoped I might be a positive influence on their boys.  So I made an effort, and sure enough the younger boy took to me.  We became unlikely friends.

We will call him “Agent Metal Head”.

So, Agent Metal Head and I worshipped together every weekend.  I became close with his family, and we spent lots of time doing other things as well.  But at least two or three times, Agent Metal Head and I also went to major rock festivals in the city.  We saw Oz Fest and Lollapalooza, among other shows.  It was clear to us that most, if not all, of the “artists” who made music to our liking were not Christian and did not promote Christian values.  There were, of course, Christian rock bands, and we explored them too, but somehow, by the grace of God, we managed to navigate these cultural pitfalls while developing an ever deepening love for Jesus.  And that seemed quite clear to me even then.

Thus I asked Agent Metal Head to write a letter of reference for me to send to the dean and those helping with the admissions process.  And at fourteen years old, Agent Metal Head was hardly the “qualified” opinion those nice folks were wanting to hear from.  The academy has its standards, you know, and this stunt just did not really respect them.

I did not read the letter Agent Metal Head wrote.  He tried to show it to me, but I insisted that it should be private between him and them.  I did notice that it was written in pencil.  I was aware that Agent Metal Head was not strong in – shall we say – grammar skills.  But when I prayed about it and looked around, his was the only reference I knew I could trust to share part of my story that would be meaningful AND bright if only the gate-keepers would take it seriously.

To shorten a long story, just a bit, I will say that in subsequent months and years, I did discover that the original bad reference letter did in fact cost me dearly, but that this “stunt” I pulled by having Agent Metal Head also write a letter on my behalf was viewed as very immature.  Today, I would call it prophetic or prophet-like.  It actually cost me even more than the bad reference.  It was beneath the standards of the academy (and I would say beneath contempt).  Of course I was never given details on any of that.  Admissions decisions are almost always made behind closed doors, and even in this case, they played their cards close to the vest.  I was let in, thank God, but only on the conditions of every academic probation the school could foist on me.  It was telling, perhaps, when I got my first report card (I still have a copy of it) which showed I made all A’s but also a “U” for UNSATISFACTORY!

Yes, I am likely the only student in the history of my alma mater, no way to know for sure, who made straight A’s and did in UNSATISFACTORY style!  Who does that???

So, anyway, this story paints the picture of my calling to prophetic ministry, alright.  It is just one layer.  I wrote on this blog a while back about my experience at Hogback, New Mexico and how that too played a part in my prophetic call.  Yes, there are several layers to that story… that process.  But there is more to this one still….

In just the last few days, Agent Metal Head has reached out through the internet and found me again.  We have not spoken in ten years.  I have not laid eyes on him in twenty. He is grown up now.  He is no longer that 14 year old kid I said goodbye to on his grandfather’s driveway as I loaded up and moved to Texas where I would study Bible and ministry.  He has his own family now, his own career, his own ministry, even.  But I have not kept touch with him.

Revealing Another Kind of Prophetic Wage

It just so happens that a few days before he found me, I was recounting to a friend about that reference letter Agent Metal Head wrote for me.  I recounted how that with all the LOVE of God dripping from every misspelled word and mis-punctuated sentence, that letter was said to have cost me in my bid to go to the academy and learn about Jesus.  It was just one more layer, I thought, in all that picture of a minister who earns a prophet’s wage instead of a paycheck or ecclesial respect.  And in the recounting of it, I felt a bit confirmed all the more in what I do and say and all I stand for.

And then Agent Metal Head finds me.

But as I said above, near the start of this long tale, there is another kind of wage revealed to me in all this.  It turns out that in all the years since I have seen or spoken to Agent Metal Head, he too has developed and grown into a life of ministry.  He did not go to the academy, but he demonstrated to me very quickly that he reads (voraciously, I might add) both his Bible and the works of many leading Bible scholars.  He doesn’t read just the pop-Christian stuff, he gets into some heavy theology as well, and demonstrates some very serious thinking about Jesus and Christian faith.  Meanwhile, he devotes his chosen profession (he is a chef) to feeding the homeless.  In addition to that, he and his wife are foster parents!   I am just blown away by the poetic sense of justice I get in all that.

No.  I am not legit in the field of ministry.  I lead no church; I am no published scholar; I don’t even have the respect of my peers.  But I have jumped through all their hoops with finesse, though still with that label “UNSATISFACTORY”.  I earn, at least in a general sense, that prophet’s wage my old professor warned us aspiring ministers about.  But I earn another wage too.  That strange investment I placed in that adolescent so long ago – even when I was young and struggling to know anything at all – is paying off right where it counts!

Like flowers blooming in the desert as Israel passes by (Isa. 35), so too the path on which God has placed me bears fruit I MIGHT have played a small role in planting.  I did not stay in Agent Metal Head’s life and groom him for this.  If I had tried, I almost certainly would have jacked it up somehow.  But God gives me deep encouragement – perhaps it is even food the disciples don’t know about (John 4:32).

Yes.  I am blessed with my wage – a prophet’s wage.  And though that might involve suffering a lot of injustice, it always points to (and under God’s care and in his time achieves) true justice and peace.

A Fat Beggars Bible Study (BS Series) Lesson #3

Today’s Text is Mark 6:30-44.  Yes, this is that famous passage in the Bible that says:

FEED a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; TEACH a man to fish, and you make him go away.

Yes.  Jesus really said that.  Of course you have to know the Aramaic behind the Greek to really get that out of there, but yes, he said it for sure.  (Okay, maybe he didn’t really say it, but he should have.)

Open your Bible, and let’s dive in!

As you can see, the Apostles, in vs. 30, return from their first mission trip which must have been successful, because they now have hordes of followers chasing after them like groupies following a Bon Jovi tour.  And these poor bastards – ahem, I mean sheep – don’t bring any lunch with them.  It’s not like they should expect Jesus to get something for them to eat.  The ancient Hebrews who followed Moses did this same thing, and God gave them a miraculous meal, and look what has happened… They keep coming back hoping he will produce for them again and again!  It’s like they never learn.

Jesus, in vs. 37, really has got to break this trend.  God, the Father, read a great little book called When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert, and now he knows that you can’t give your love and wealth to the poor like that; it only hurts them in the end.  So, he lent his copy to Jesus, who now is going to teach these sheep to fish so that they will finally go away!  (It’s exactly what a GOOD shepherd is supposed to do with a flock.)

Jesus is now going to teach this to his disciples, which you can plainly see in vs. 35, where the disciples come to Jesus and suggest sending these people away to get something to eat.  And of course that is the end goal for Jesus too (to send them away), but he knows that if you don’t teach them to fish, they will be back again before you know it.  I mean, what about tomorrow?  If they find out you feed them today, they will expect it again tomorrow.  This is just basic conditioning according to the psych books.

Jesus wants to empower these people to live independent of him forever, not just for a day or two.  And he does NOT want to “enable” them to come back for more.  This is an important difference, you see: empower or enable.  You gotta get this right.

(Now, just so you are clear on this: If you read Corbett and Fikkert, you know that they warn against having a “savior complex”.  And that is exactly right.  You definitely want to avoid that, just like Jesus should have!  This is like the one big mistake Jesus makes, and he really should have read Corbett and Fikkert more attentively!  What ever you do, don’t try to be like Jesus and have a savior complex.  After all, it could get you killed, and you might have to take up a cross and follow Jesus!  But that is just a free bit of advice on the side.)

So, of course the disciples do like Jesus says, and they make fishers of men.  After all, several of these disciples were fishers in their former careers.  They now make excellent teachers for this lesson!  It is practically divine the way God works that out.

As it turns out, one of the former fishermen is carrying a couple of loaves of bread in his old tackle box.  Jesus has the great idea to use it as miracle bait.  So they split up the bait between them all, and this is truly miraculous because there are 5000 men they turn into fishers with those two loaves that day!  And sure enough, they start catching fish!  Once the fish are caught, twelve of these guys form a 501c3 homeless ministry and start teaching street bums to fish so they will learn NOT to have to depend on Jesus.

And they went away satisfied and never came back.

(At least that is what Mark 6 should have said.)

Plotting Revolution (part 2)

In my last post, I began exploring the idea of the church plotting revolution.  I asked what we should be doing now in anticipation of the coming glory.  This question opened up for me as I read N.T. Wright’s commentary on Romans 8.  That in turn made me recall a certain jealousy I once held for the social activist, David Horowitz, and his father as he tells about growing up in the home of American communists in the 1940’s and 50’s.  That father gave his son daring and tenacious kind of faith in the revolution they were plotting that took the very concrete idea that among all the sweeping changes they would usher in, there would be the job of renaming the city streets.

Yes, I was jealous of that scene.  I think that kind of faith is impressive in the face of overwhelming odds and persecution.  It was daring and grounded in THIS WORLD.  It did not retreat or concede ground; it laid claim to the Promised Land ahead of time.

No.  I have no favor for those particular politics, agendas, and plans, but the faith… THE FAITH those people put in that future was something to envy.  But my Dad never took me out on the streets to rename them as an exercise in imagining our world after the Glory comes.  I missed something there.

But, I also suggested that renaming streets might be a rather low order agenda, actually.  Sure, it would be involved, and it is important.  But that is hardly the big picture.  It certainly suggests that the Horowitz family were really dedicated and had plans worked out down to some rather fine details.  Apparently their minds, hearts, and strength were fully devoted to imagining the world ordered differently, and this mundane example shows the lengths to which they had taken it.  But renaming the streets is not where the real thrust of reimagining the world gets its power.

I will not deny my envy of that picture.  A father and son so confident in their shared faith.  But I need to say that actually I share something bigger with my father and mother.  And while my last post borrows heavily from communist faith, I surely do not want to glorify that faith, but rather use it to help point our imagination to a better place.  And in truth, my parents and I shared a moment once that far outshines that of the Horowitz family.  I hope that by sharing it, I can aid my readers to stretch their imaginations (with a hope beyond that for them to in turn come back and help stretch mine).

I believe that the last time my mom and dad and I were all together was the day of my grandpa’s funeral (several years ago now).  It also happened to be the day Mom got her final prognosis from her cancer specialist.  Her life expectancy was outlined that day, and subsequently her final stages of cancer went exactly as planned.  It was with both of those items making up our day that in the late afternoon my mom, dad, and a few close relatives and I all went up to the Knife Edge overlook in the Mesa Verde National Park (which overlooks my hometown).  And there we prayed, sang some hymns, and watched the sunset over the Montezuma Valley below.

It was during that meditative time, as we struggled to imagine our future with God and family (having just buried Grandpa and learned Mom’s prognosis) that Dad and I began reflecting on Joshua stopping the sun in the sky (Josh. 10:12-13).  What can I say?  It was a moment pregnant with wonder.  Knife Edge overlook has long been a favored spot of God’s creation for my family.  The sunset on the valley below is a treasure to behold.  The chance for my family to be together like that was rare, as we all lived so far away anymore.  The fact that Grandpa was now in the ground and Mom’s time with us appeared to be drawing to a close all made us yearn to hold on to that moment – that beautiful moment, and suddenly Dad and I thought about Joshua stopping the sun.

This gave way to much reflection and meditation on what it means to be God’s image bearer.  In the Bible, the image bearer not only stops the sun in the sky (Josh. 10), but the mountains bow down, the valleys rise up, the crooked places straighten out (Isa. 40:3-4); the flowers bloom along the path as the image bearer passes by (Isa. 35); the image bearer can walk on water (Mark 6:48)!  The image bearer was always meant to rule over creation (Gen. 1:26)!  If all this was true, then surely we could even repaint the sunset over the Montezuma Valley and command the sun to stop as we hold on to that moment.  And if not at that moment, then at least we could plan for it.  So we did.

There on the Knife Edge overlook, my family prayed, sang, and worshipped and plotted revolution.  And my imagination has forever been stretched.

Now, if I can only plant this seed in the hearts and minds of my brothers and sisters in the church.  And especially so that they then begin plotting revolution for the streets – the people living there.

Plotting Revolution

I find myself studying Romans this year much closer than ever before.  It stems from working my way (slowly) through N.T. Wright’s Paul And the Faithfulness of God – a massive two volume book that seems to be exhaustive of all things Paul.  I read it before, and yet found I was unable to coherently regurgitate what I had learned.  So, I am going through it again and pausing at every scenic overlook to ponder all the ins and outs.  And this has me shelving the massive two-volume book and running through Wright’s much smaller For Everyone commentary on Romans (with a glance here and there in his massive Romans commentary too).

Well, enough about all of that.  If you have followed here long, you know what an enthusiast I am for Wright, but there is no need for me to simmer there.  On the other hand, I am absorbing new thoughts, some of which seem relevant to this blog from time to time.  And it is part of his For Everyone comment on Romans 8 that has me jazzed at the moment.  Particularly Romans 8:17 and following.

We are heirs with the Messiah.  We have a fortune to inherit.  But as Wright points out:

“Some Christians speak and live as if everything simply comes to us from God while we sit still and merely receive it.  But God’s gift and call to us are not for ourselves alone, but for the purpose of working through us to bring about the transformation of the world. … We have to live in a particular way, a way which anticipates the ‘glory’, the rule over creation, which we will eventually share with the Messiah.”

Okay, I thin sliced this quote which deals with multiple dimensions of theology, really, but I just want to focus on one, and I highlight the cutting edge of that one with the italic emphasis which I add to the quote.

So the question arises: Just what is the thing we do that anticipates the ‘glory’?

(I am so glad you asked.)

Well, this question has me recalling a much different book I read more than 20 years ago by David Horowitz called Radical SonRadical Son is basically an autobiographical tale of a social activist who was raised by American communists in the 1940’s and 50’s, who as a young adult worked hard to protest and resist the Vietnam War and supported the Black Panther/Black Power movement, but then after several years became disillusioned with liberal politics and embraced conservative politics instead.  I have not followed Horowitz for a very long time, but last I heard, he was still pulling activist stunts, alright, but definitely working for the Right Wing conservatives instead of Left Wing liberals.

I have no desire to debate his politics or mine, but Horowitz describes his passion in a narrative tale.  You don’t argue with narratives.  You can be moved by them to formulate opinions, but you don’t argue with them.  You either pay attention to narratives or turn them off.  But this one is interesting, and so you are not likely to turn it off.

Horowitz was raised by communists.  This is quite a foreign experience for a guy like me to consider, and these were American communists in particular.  These were the kind of people Senator Joseph McCarthy famously witch hunted, the kind that got blacklisted in Hollywood and so forth.  And to be honest, having grown up in the 1980’s, I actually thought such people were the figment of McCarthy’s deluded and paranoid imagination.  I didn’t know such people were real – or if real, I imagined they surely were some truly shallow and deranged people that American society would be foolish to fear.

But no.  Horowitz educated me.  I not only discovered American communists were real, but they were organized and passionate.  And Horowitz describes the hidden library in his parents’ basement, the clandestine meetings they hosted for fellow underground communists, and (the part I really want to feature in this post) the way his father taught him from childhood to plot revolution.

This is the image Horowitz burned in my mind: On summer evenings as the heat of the day dissipated, or even after dark, Horowitz’s father would take his young son for walks around the neighborhood, and when they passed streets and avenues with names like “Washington”, “Liberty”, or “Jefferson”, the two would conspire a plan for renaming them “Lenin”, “Stalin”, or some other names that honored their communist heroes and movement.  (Please forgive me for not making accurate quotes here; it’s been 20 years since I read the book.)

At first I was alarmed just to know there really were people out there plotting such deep cultural changes, which if successful would obviously make a drastic impact on me and everything I know and think – and the same for all my family and friends.  It was a bit frightening, actually.  But, of course, they did not, in fact, achieve anywhere near that kind of ambition in America.  But once I was past the fear, there was still the fascination about how a father would train up his son with such a rich faith – yes, I said FAITH (even though it is not Christian faith).  It was a tenacious faith in a future that would prove to be a longshot.  I mean, if “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, things unseen” (Heb. 11:1), this father was teaching faith to his son alright!  I was a bit jealous.

Jealous of communist faith?

Yeah, I actually envied this kid.  His father had raised him to be a communist in America during the 1950’s, and I envied him?  Yes, I did.  What if my parents were so sure of our Christian faith (an important distinction, yes but with important similarity too), that they took me around town plotting to change the names of “Liberty Street” and “Washington Ave” to “Holy Spirit Street” and “Jesus Christ Ave”?  What if we really believed? …like that???  And what if we colluded in prayer with the Holy Spirit and plotted the unhostile takeover of creation by the Kingdom of God amid persecution?  What would that look like?

This seems to me to be very possibly the kind of thing Wright is suggesting as he unpacks Romans 8.

I dare say, it would have been a far cry from the steady diet of Pie-in-the-Sky passivism coupled with anti-legalist/free grace theology that has, in fact, NOT opened the floodgates for the sinners to come poring in, but instead has made Christian faith more indulgent of every sin on the one hand and all but entirely irrelevant on the other!  But at least we avoided the persecution!!!

(This is not a criticism of my parents actually, but of modern American Christendom, actually, because my parents passed on to me what was passed on to them.  It was only a cosmetic variation on that of practically all the other American Christian families around us too.)

No.  I am a bit jealous of this commie kid and his dad for their faith, which had real grit and real anticipation of a future full of GLORY.  And as I read Wright’s thoughts on Roman’s 8, I find Horowitz’s story coming back to mind.  I wonder if we might not plot revolution for Christ, and just what that would look like both here and now AND when the Kingdom is fully consummated in Glory.

And, of course, this has me thinking about the church vis-à-vis the homeless.  I imagine renaming streets would be involved, but loving the poor AS IF they were Jesus himself (Matt. 25:40) strikes me as a bit more meaningful and Christ-like.  But, of course, this blog is full of that suggestion already.  But perhaps there is something deeply subversive and revolutionary about it which before now, I have failed to consider or promote.

So… It’s Easter Sunday Morning! Wooo hooo!!!

So… It’s Easter Sunday Morning!  Wooo hooo!!!

But I don’t feel any different.  What happened?  Did something change?  You mean some women can’t find a dead guy?  You mean to tell me that a couple of sluts (a-hem, okay, FORMER sluts) and the mother of a death row inmate that got executed last Friday are running around in a dither because his grave is empty?

It’s still six months til Halloween, ya’ll.  What has changed?

Here’s the thing: Frank and Ed met up with Junior and Frisco yesterday and found a really sweet spot for a group of homeless men to crash for the night behind some tall weeds and a small grove of trees behind the No-Tell Motel.  It’s just two blocks from church, and it being Easter Sunday, these guys planned to go to Sunday Worship.

This is Easter Sunday, but they have the hope of COFFEE and DONUTS in the morning!

But here at pre-dawn out back of the No-Tell Ed just really needs to spring a leak.  So he stumbles over Junior and Frisco, waking them both up, as he makes his way over by a nearby dumpster.  It’s not bitter cold, but the forecast called for possible rain, and sure enough it is damp and cool.  Once he is up and relieved, it sure would be nice to get that coffee.  And once Junior and Frisco are awake, they too need to pee, and then smoke a stub of a cigarette between them, which wakes Frank up too… and now he is jealous that there ain’t no more smoke left.

Now, I would really LIKE to tell you some beautiful parable about how God moves among these humble beggars and bums to advance his Gospel message to their city (you know, like he does in II Kings 6 – 7), but this is America!  No.  Sorry, this is an uneventful story.  A story that yearns for a climax like an old man in the No-Tell Motel with a hooker but who forgot his Viagra yearns for one, but none is forthcoming.

No.  This is Easter Sunday Morning, and Frank, Ed, Junior and Frisco have all peed now, but it will be three more hours before the deacon has the coffee ready and the doors are unlocked on the Jesus-celebration.  Three more hours before the women come, not looking for the Body of Christ, but hoping to show off their new dress, corsage, purple leather-bound Bible with monogram and matching shoes!  Three more hours before they find Jesus.

The boys from the sweet spot behind the motel will get in, alright.  All four of them will manage to get a cup of coffee, but Junior will find all the donuts gone by the time he muscles his way through the holiday crowd.  And by the Benediction, our boys will be wandering up to the library to look for friends.

But before they get out the door, the deacon will say, “Happy Easter”, and that will be a proper celebration, I am sure.

So, like I said… It’s Easter Sunday Morning!  Wooo hooo!!!

…but what has changed?


Jesus Locked Out of Church

I published several photos at the end of yesterday’s post.  I don’t know if you looked them over or not.  A couple of them haunt me.  (Well, actually all of them haunt me….)  But as I reviewed them, I thought I might put just a couple of them in context with a word or two and let their story unfold.

Both photos are old now – taken 3 – 5 years ago.  I really must preface that, in order to be fair.  In fact, the first one is the older one, taken in 2012, I think.

As you can see, I obscured the identity of the subjects who all agreed to be photographed.  But you can also see that these men are bedding down for the night.  What is not obvious, but which I will now reveal, is that this “spot” is about 30 yards (just across the alley) behind Lubbock’s premier homeless church and about 40 yards in front of (just across the street (Broadway) from) the support church that founded the premier homeless church to begin with.  I will let you guess where these men attend church.

The second photo is not far away, but again the same two churches are adjacent to the subject matter.

The impromptu tent city here is built up just beyond the fence from the premier homeless church on the neighboring property.  The premier homeless church is obscured by the trees in the back ground, but it is the structure at the left side.  The much larger support church is also obscured, but the bell tower can be made out behind the trees at the right side.

This impromptu tent city (not to be confused with the “legit” tent city located just East of downtown) cropped up briefly near the church, but was not allowed on the property.  The city, with the help of the land owner and church leadership, was able to dismantle this smaller tent city after just a few weeks.

So…. you can see the church here in these pictures, alright, but I really must question: Where is Jesus?

If I Were A Prophet

If I were a prophet, what vision would I share?

God was just stretching my imagination recently when I considered for a moment what it would be like if I were a prophet of God sent to Lubbock, Texas.  Jesus was a prophet, you know?  Yeah, a prophet mighty in deed and word (Luke. 24:19).  And he came to show God’s people just what it looks like when God comes to his own people to be crowned king.  And this being Good Friday – coronation day – I was imagining him coming to my town.

Do you remember that Joan Osborne song – What If God Was One of Us?

I am not sure, really, just what Osborne thought she would achieve with that question and song, but irrespective of her offering perhaps with my own take on it, it is still a good question.  How would God come to Lubbock, if he were coming to visit?  And what if Jerusalem had asked and sincerely considered that thought on that original Good Friday so long ago?

If Jerusalem had been on the button, I think that city would have recognized the day of their visitation, but they did not (Luke 19:41-45).  That city was visited by it’s God in the form of a young prophet riding into town on a donkey amid the cheers of waving palm branches, and according to St. Mark’s account, he moved immediately to the Temple to check things out (Mark. 11:11), but then turned around and left again without event.  This is quite amazing when you consider how Ezekiel, another prophet of a much older time predicted the day (Ezek. 43:1-5).  That triumphant return was the stuff of Jerusalem’s dreams.

Well, maybe, just maybe, Ezekiel saw what those who do not recognize the day of visitation fail to see.  But those of us reading Mark see Jesus return the next day and curse the fig tree on his way in and find it withered up on his way out – a metaphor symbolizing the uselessness of a temple not fit for God to live in.  But, of course, the wild actions that young prophet takes in between those stops at the fig tree might well be what the much older prophet saw – and is, after all, something akin to that scene when the Glory of the Lord first entered the place (II Chron. 5:13-14) – by that I mean, the priests could not minister in the Temple because of the Glory of God taking over!

But what, exactly, did Jerusalem think they were seeing when this young prophet came along like that?  They certainly were not asking: What if God was one of us?  And if they had, they certainly were not thinking he would show up like an uppity peasant from Galilee throwing tables!  Oh sure, the other homeless drifters and peasants considered the idea for a day or two, but by the time he was arrested, even they, along with everyone else, forsook him and fled (Mark. 14:50).

So… What if God was one of us?  What if God visited Lubbock, Texas.  Would he visit as an uppity, yet humble, prophet?  And if he did, what would he see?

I am just spit-balling, I know.  For who can know the mind of God? (Rom. 11:34; I Cor. 2:16).  But what if I dare…?  What if I look at my town through a Bible lens?  Could I come close?

The first thing I see in this vision is a homeless man hopping out of the back of a clunky old pickup truck as it reaches Lubbock’s city limits or maybe down at the Flyin’ J truck stop.  Like before, he comes to his own very humbly.  Perhaps there would be fan fare if Lubbock had fan fare for the homeless, but I don’t know of any.  So, I presume he comes hitchhiking in an old Chevy.  As he passes through town on the way to the drop off spot, he sees dozens of steeples – many of them poking out above the treetops.  Some of these churches are monolithic monstrosities with steeples and bell towers stretching forty or fifty feet into the sky.  Some are sprawling complexes covering whole city blocks.  Our homeless prophet (God incarnate) is eager to enter his church, but which one?

He finds his church splintered and spread out all over the place.  Some of these sanctuaries have names like Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, Christian Church, Church of God in Christ, and so on.  Some say Baptist, but all have distinguishing designations such as First, Second, Primitive and so forth.  It can all be a bit confusing.  Where will this prophet throw tables?  And which bunch does NOT want to host him???

So he goes down to Broadway street where a lot of these denominations are represented and he begins turning door knobs.  But the doors don’t open!  They are locked.  He tries again.  Nope.  Still locked.  How can he throw tables if he can’t even get inside? What is a Master of a House to do???  Apparently the servants watching the door(s) have fallen asleep (Mk. 13:35-36).  Hmmm…

So, the vision reveals three things – all of which are addressed in the Bible: 1) God is the humble stranger we might have invited in (Gen. 18:1-21; Mt 25:31-46; Heb. 13:2), or not; 2) Jesus’s desire that his disciples all be of one accord (instead of splintered into denominations that cannot worship together (Jn 17:21)) seems to be under threat: 3) thus his house is not served by alert servants (Mk. 13:35-36).

Do I sound judgmental?  I try to imagine if God were one of us and if I were in his prophetic shoes, and so, is the prophetic vision I get just distasteful judgementalism that should be dismissed?

Or is there sin we should be addressing?

Perhaps Good Friday is a good time to think about it.

Jesus is crucified at the edge of town again tonight.  If you want to find him and … say apologize for not being ready to receive him in the HOUSE he gave you to live in, you can find him at Tent City on the corner of 13th and Ave A or under the Interstate overpass below the Flyin’ J.  You can find him all around the Wal-mart on Ave Q and the Marsha Sharp Freeway.  And if you look very carefully, he has a crash spot behind the bushes on the southeast corner of the South Loop and Slide Road – yeah, look close right up in the bushes there on the corner across the lot from the old Rooms To Go store.  Look around the playa lake behind the Stripes truck stop on 50th and Ave A.  Check out back of that little church by the Sonic and Family Dollar on 34th Street.  Walk around the park below the Park Tower Apartments on down Ave. Q and 27th.

He stays there too.

Go now.  The night is young.  There is still time to pay homage to your prophet King on Good Friday when he receives his crown.

Yeah… What if God was one of us???


The Lost Lamb

If I have any readers… Go check out Tom’s post.

Hard Times Ministries

If the extreme destitute could ask you one last question, “Do you want me.” Most Christians, if they were honest would say “No”.

In actuality for America alone I am speaking of several hundred thousand people at least, but for this article, I’m only speaking of one.  The lost lamb.

And if that lost lamb were a homeless girl with three kids or more the answer becomes even more emphatic.

And since we will never tend to the thousands that are lost, let’s concentrate on the one.

Our answers still vary:

“We are sorry, we understand but there is nothing that I can do.  Peace be with you.”

“It will work out for you in the end.”

“God bless you, little girl.  I am sure God will help you.”

“Count this all joy.”

“I am sure it is most difficult for you.  I’ll keep you in my prayers.”

As anyone…

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