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!