I Enabled Some Homeless People Today!!!

I make it a practice to NOT brag about my giving.  Not that I never do it, and certainly when I do it, I use a pseudonym so as to minimize the self-aggrandizement.  But today I gave some coats and blankets to some homeless people in the park.  This just before the next cold snap sets in tonight.

The thing that prompts my post tonight, though, is that I am so pleased to say I ENABLED these nice people with my giving!  Yes, I ENABLED THEM.  They are now ENABLED to keep warm – warmer than they would have been, especially since two of them had no kind of coat or outer covering at all.

But I was warned just a few minutes before I gave them away not to give them to people who don’t really need them.  (Yeah, and it was a fellow needy person who warned me.  (Jealous???))  Some of these bums, it is said, will sell them instead of keep them.  And being duly warned, I promptly gave them to the people I met a few minutes later in the park.

Now… I could have quizzed them, I guess.

Me: “You do really NEED this coat, right?  You aren’t gonna run down the street and sell it, get some money and buy dope are you???”

Them:  “Ahhh… No sa, Massah.  We not gonna sell dem coats fa dope.  No sa!  No.  We really need dem.”

Me:  “Whew!  Good.  Cuz I was warned not to give them to the undeserving kind of needy people!  I am so glad you aren’t like that.”

Yeah.  I am sure that would settle it.

Of course I could, conceivably, take these coats down to Lubbock’s Premier Homeless Pseudo “Church” (not it’s real name) and let the professionals hand them out to the good needy people.  But no.  No, those are the folks who banned me from the premises when I insisted that we keep the door open on cold winter nights to let these needy people in.  So, really, that wouldn’t work on two counts: 1) I am not welcome there to begin with, and 2) I don’t think keeping people warm is their real priority anyway.

So, I just TRUSTED that these coats would meet the needs of some obviously needy people.  (Actually, I know one of these people personally already, and whether she would sell it or use it or give it to someone in worse need, I cannot say.  But I know her to be needy either way.)  Oh, and they were grateful, thanking me over and over.

And so I gave to Jesus clothes when he was naked.  I did that.  And it ENABLES the poor to the chagrin of my white, middle-class, church friends.  But SO WHAT?  I care far more about what Jesus says than what they say – especially when they contradict!

Thus I brag on it.  I want my church friends to know that I ENABLED some cold people today with needed coats.

Oh, and while I was with them, they repeatedly asked me when I would come back to party with them on the streets.  (I have responsibilities with foster babies that precludes me from doing this much, but I do when I can.)  And that lets me know that they remember the RELATIONSHIP they have with me, the friend that points them to Jesus with a worship celebration of HIS IMAGE that THEY BEAR whether they sell the coats or keep them.

I hope that in bragging on this, some of my white, middle-class, church friends will rethink all their rethinking about charity and just seek shalom without stopping the meeting of needs (as if that makes any sense).

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Panhandling: A Fat Beggar’s Perspective

The local TV news featured a story on Lubbock’s panhandling last week, and if true, accurate, and representative of panhandling in general, it was a revealing story.

http://www.everythinglubbock.com/news/klbk-news/lubbock-police-homeless-outreach-team-tackles-panhandler-cases-in-lubbock/972626021

Panhandling, in Lubbock becomes illegal when the beggar steps off the curb into the street to accept the alms from passing motorists.  That is my understanding of the comments made.  However, as long as the bum remains on the sidewalk, this activity is still within legal limits.

Of course this doesn’t mean it is “okay” with law enforcement or the community at all.  And I was amazed that the reporter generating this story found at least one beggar to confess on camera that he usually takes in about $200 a day from panhandling.

Wow!  I had heard such figures rumored before, but this would seem to be a “credible source”.

I sense that the revelation of that dollar figure on the TV news causes people to chafe.  It is the sense I get.  Perhaps I am wrong about that.  Perhaps, despite my best sense of it all, this very conservative, deeply Republican-voting community looks at that and thinks: “You go man!  Make that money!  Tax free too!”

But I bet not.

In fact the general tone of the report, along with the scrutiny by Lubbock’s police which also featured in the segment, suggests to me that this insight into panhandling drives a negative response.  Especially, as the reporter revealed that most of Lubbock’s panhandlers use the alms they receive to support their drug habits.  And this is likely accurate.  If a homeless person is making anywhere near $200 a day and applying even half of that toward their living expenses with any measure of financial discipline, then they have no reason to be homeless!

Thus, the view of panhandling revealed in the report seems to confirm public suspicions and put it all in an even more negative light than it already was.  And when the police officer directs the public through the media to NOT give alms to panhandlers, I see the powers-that-be in Lubbock coordinate together against the beggars.  Though none of the local charities were interviewed for the particular segment I am referring to (which was a surprise to me), the report listed most of them off and rolled stock footage of them.  This, as it was suggested that these people need to utilize these services rather than beg for alms on the side of the road.

The report (and certainly the officer interviewed) state that safety is the primary concern.  But in my opinion, all the talk of money made and what it is spent on suggests other priorities.

Let’s face it.  Begging is an ugly business.

Yes, I said UGLY.

It is humiliating to ask for money from strangers on the side of the road.  Money for nothing, no less!  And, of course, the bums doing this begging tend to LOOK THE PART.  In fact, the humble appearance largely drives the almsgiving.  If you stand there begging in a $500 suit and tie, people are likely to think you don’t need the alms you are begging for!  It just doesn’t make sense for roadside begging.  (However, it does make sense for too-big-to-fail government bailouts of banks and large corporations!)  Thus, in a proud town like Lubbock, the specter of such humility on major street corners does not create the image we are going for.

It is my personal thought that the UGLY sight of beggars is the real thing that drives this negativity and the subsequent revelation of the news segment complete with police scrutiny and suggestion that these bums be funneled into the community services while effectively shaming those who give alms to the beggars.  It is my opinion that we want to be a proud town, and this activity threatens that delicate image.

So, here is the Fat Beggar’s perspective:

The story revealed the limits of the law to completely stop this activity.  (Thus setting the stage for a proposal in changing laws in the future?)  Begging like this is legal up until the moment a bum steps off the curb, and the concern is for “safety”.  If you, the average Lubbock citizen, have chafed at the sight of this activity and wondered why the cops don’t crack down, now you know.  And if you ever suspected that these bums are actually making tons of money they don’t even need WHILE spending it on drugs in the process, then your suspicions are now confirmed.  Thus maybe, just maybe, you are now armed with the kind of information that can effectively change the situation.  You can contact a city council member, and pressure them for updates in the law.

You might feel justified now since it is clear that this activity is largely funding other illegal activities while Lubbock provides adequate services that any honest, decent people in need could/should access instead of begging on the corner!  And all of this hifalutin thinking has a way of justifying Lubbock’s desire to present a proud image instead of this roadside humiliation.

But what is the real difference between panhandling and selling Lubbock newspapers on the major intersections all over town on Sundays?  While not all of the people doing that job are homeless or addicted, a lot of them are!  And this activity is deemed appropriate even though there is precious little functional difference.  We have dozens, if not hundreds, of poor and homeless people selling papers to passing cars all over town every Sunday.  They step off the curb to make the transaction too, and it isn’t any less dangerous than the panhandlers.  And these paper sellers frequently generate much larger sums of money than the mere price of the paper!  Some of them are making $200 a day too, but only one day a week.

In fact, I can’t see where this activity is anymore attractive than the straight begging.  The little sign that says “News Paper $2.50” instead of “Homeless…  Anything helps” somehow conveys a sense of legitimacy.  Of okayness.  Of pride in actual work.  But that money is spent on drugs and booze too, AND many of the people providing this service are doing it for years on end!  It is not a rung up a corporate ladder – not really.  In fact, in my view, this is all a way of highly regulating the bums!  And conservatives typically complain about too many regulations.  But apparently only when they feel constrained by them and not when constraining the poor with them.

I only see a cosmetic difference there.  Selling papers is not actually significantly different from panhandling, except that it presents the image of control of the poor and humiliated.  It also looks like almsgiving, almost, but it also looks like work – earning the money rather than giving it freely.  That is where the difference is, and that is much easier to swallow.

On the other hand, giving alms is a time-honored tradition.  It’s been with us since the dawn of time, practically, and is authorized by Jesus.  I am pleased to hear that in Lubbock a person can make $200 a day just for the asking!  That is something to praise!  Not to shame!!!  The fact that much of that money gets used for drugs or other undesirable activities is neither the giver’s problem nor the exclusive domain of beggars.  Plenty of corporate executives use their bail out money, their corporate welfare, or even their hard earned money on cocaine, call girls, and other excesses that break the law, destroy souls, and scourge humanity ALL THE TIME.  Yet we continue to give our money to them every day!

As I see it, the only legitimate criticism against panhandling is MAYBE the idea that stepping off the curb is unsafe.  And thus it could be more appropriate to designate safe places for the activity instead rather than discourage it altogether.  And while I am grateful for the charities and community services Lubbock provides, this is a free country for the rest of us; why claim that for ourselves and deny it to the poor?

I ask Lubbock Christians to instead search your souls and humble yourselves before the Lord.  There is nothing wrong with almsgiving.  In fact, it is a directive straight from Jesus.  There is NOTHING wrong with presenting a humble image, not even as a town.  If our town is “Christian”, humility is our image, and we need not chafe at the sight of it on our street corners.  And if this is a “Christian” town, then actually the cops are presuming too much authority when discouraging almsgiving to panhandlers since Jesus, our LORD, authorizes it.

Women Heroes

This post might seem to come out of the blue and headed off into left field.  I gotta say, it even feels a bit strange to me to write it.  Not sure why.  No good reason, I am sure.  But I have a few old fashioned streaks in me, so maybe that’s it.  Maybe I am old fashioned and feel funny about claiming women as heroes.

But I remember when I confirmed Catholic that I was instructed to pick a saint for myself.  I chose St. Mark, but I considered choosing Mother Teresa or possibly Mother Mary.  I asked if it was okay for a man to choose a woman saint, and I was informed that it would be an unusual request.

Teresa had not yet been sainted, and actually, Mother Mary had not really figured that high on my list, so I went with Mark since I have such a deep affection for the Gospel that bears his name.  Still, I never forgot the impact these women make on me.

In recent years, I have begun to ask my dad to tell and retell stories of his mother, my grandmother, who died before I was born.  I never met her.  But the older I get, the more I resonate with some of the stories about her, and I find her to be heroic.

They say that when she died, the nurses in the cancer ward knew she was gone when the singing stopped.  She was singing for Jesus when she passed.  And that story alone holds meaning for me, but stories of her end runs around church leaders who would call her in for reprimand when she raised donations to send to the Navajo orphanage (and subsequent to that she organized free shipping from the freight company) lets me know that prophetic church work is in my blood – that doing the right thing, even when it upsets my church, is still the right thing to do.

But the thing that makes her so heroic in my mind is that because she was a woman, and it being the 1950’s and 60’s, church leaders did not give her a voice at all.  They expected her to be silent, but she found ways of organizing right in the parking lot!  God bless her heart.  And she should have a monument erected to her memory or what she has done should be remembered where ever the gospel is preached.  But this little memorial note on this humble blog will likely be the most acknowledgment this unsung hero ever gets.

I find strength for myself in her story, and thus she is my hero.

But even the stories of my dead grandmother, if that was all I had, would not likely prompt me to write a post about women heroes in my life.  I am too old fashioned for that.  And God has beat me over the head with an accumulation of such stories.  There are others.

I recall back in about 2004 when Special Agent D and I began hitting the streets of the Vandelia Village and especially 65th Drive (the most notorious street in Lubbock for drugs, prostitution, shootings, car thefts, and murders) that we encountered a number of people (including cops and security guards) warning us to stay away.  But SAD and I were adamant that we were looking for trouble so that we could pray for it and hold worship services in front of it.  “Trouble”, we figured, was the enemy in whose presence God had set the table for us (see Psalm 23).

I wasn’t stupid.  I plainly saw the risk.  But when I found out that Emma Holloway, an 85 year old widow lady from our church, lived in an apartment down there in the hood AND that stray gunfire from a drive-by that killed one guy came into her kitchen window and lodged in the wall by her refrigerator AND that she considered her presence there as a mission God had given her, THEN I decided that Special Agent D and I needed to step up our game.  Young men of 18 or 20 regularly answer the call of our nation to join the military.  Surely SAD and I could take prayer to the troubled streets for Jesus!

Emma became a hero.  An example that both inspired me and comforted my fears.  If she could live there day in and day out, night in and night out, then surely I could show up to pray every other weekend.  And if I were hurt or killed, I was in good company.  Her story gave me strength.

But as I mentioned above, Mother Mary is a hero too.  I think of the strength of faith that little girl had when Gabriel informed her of God’s plans for her life.  “Behold!” she says “The handmaiden of the Lord.  Let it be to me according to your word”.

I am blown away by that.  She goes with me into my prayers frequently to talk to God.  And when I see her there praying next to me, I see that I need to grow and become more like her.  Her story challenges me, but also gives me strength.

I don’t believe for a moment that this kind of heroism is common among women.  Rather I find these to be rare women.  Nor do I find heroism unique only to women, but I am intrigued to find it there nonetheless.  There seems to be something helpful about the feminism of these heroes to me.  Perhaps it is only my perception, but in each case the love this person has for God and others translates into uncommon courage.  Look up the story of Nurse Joan Black who disarmed and active shooter in her hospital with a hug!  When asked about her bravery, she said she “saw someone who needed a hug”.  And that hug saved so many lives that day.

It is easy to recognize courage, but easy also to be intimidated by it.  But these women seem to open up a path through the mist for me.  I find courage in my love for God and others when I look to these women.  Their stories help me and give me strength.

I saw Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, the biographical movie about Desmond Doss who heroically saved the lives of 75 of his fellow soldiers despite being a conscientious objector and facing heavy enemy fire when his movie came out a couple years ago.  Doss’s courage was ever bit as stunning as any person in all of history, but his story seems out of reach.  I cannot imagine myself having his courage.  But Mother Mary, Emma Holloway, and Grandmother all invite me to love with a heart that gives me courage.

And despite my old fashioned ways, I claim these women as my heroes.

Enough With All The Talk

Fat Beggars School of Prophets

It’s September.  “Indian summer” still, but already a few days have hinted at Fall.

The Halloween store is open and banging a business now.  School is back in session.  Football season is started.  It will be Thanxgiving and Christmas before you know it.  And the Winter cold is coming.

What will we do about these homeless folx in our streets?

What WILL Jesus do?

I am glad there is a Red Cross out there.  A Salvation Army out there.  A few soup kitchens and shelters too.  But none of these are Jesus.

You are.

You are the church, the Body of Christ.  Where two or three of you gather in his name, there he is.  Why are you leaving his work to the 501c3’s?

Don’t know where to start?

Really?

Pray on it.

But really, the clock is ticking on Winter already.  If you are having a brain fart and…

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Feeding 5000 A Fish For A Day (with Jesus)

So here we are, the modern church, surrounded by homeless people (refugees of a burned out, selfish American Dream), and we sense (rightly) that Jesus would have us care… that he would have us DO SOMETHING.  And we want to help – really.  To REALLY help.  …well, sorta we want that, yeah.

And we discovered a long time ago, in fact even our grandparents knew this, that helping this problem never seems to really solve it.  The poor, it seems, you always have with you.  (I might have read that somewhere.)  And when you give a dollar to a wino, it gets spent on more wine.  So, we feel a little foolish for our efforts that seem to never get the traction we want.

Still, we feel compelled to do something.  But what?

Oh yeah… grandma always said, “Don’t give the bum money, he will just waste it on booze.  Instead, go buy a sandwich for him and give him something to eat instead.”  And this truly is wise advice!  A hungry person will not pass up fresh food.  And you can side step the waste of buying booze by doing this.

But somehow this still isn’t enough, we think.  And so we feel a bit perplexed, but sometimes we break down and give the money anyway.  We feel foolish for it, but it feels like Jesus would want us to.

Meanwhile, we vote conservative and listen to conservative talk radio hosts and so forth who rag on liberals for wasting money on the poor.  This makes us feel even more foolish, and a little torn.  Maybe even double minded.

But then some best-selling Bible teachers publish a book that tells us to rethink charity and to change the way we do it so as to be more “effective”.  And as part of that process, they even ask you to take an oath not to do for others what they can do for themselves.  They basically baptize the idea that if you feed a man a fish; you feed him for a day; but if you teach a man to fish, you can finally make him go away!

But Jesus just ain’t with that program.  Really.  Go read the gospels.

Take, for instance, the feeding of the 5000.  To be fair, this tale is not intended to be instructional about poverty relief.  But just because that is not its intended purpose does not mean it has nothing to do with it.  It does.  And we certainly see Jesus break all the rules of the best-selling Bible teachers who make it appear that there is no real conflict with your conservative politics and your Bible.

Jesus has his disciples get in a boat and cross the sea in an effort to get away from the mobs of needy people for a bit of rest.  But the mobs see where he is going and run there on foot ahead of the boats!  When they all meet up again, Jesus feels compassion for them because they are like sheep without a shepherd.  They are all in a desolate place where there is little or no resources.  And they are hungry and weary from running after Jesus!

The disciples have a brilliant idea.  They think Jesus should send the crowds away to the towns nearby to purchase food for themselves.  “Problem solved”, they think.  And the beauty of this is that they would not be doing for others what the others could be doing for themselves!  Wow!

There is just one problem.

Jesus doesn’t like the idea.  He says, “You feed them”.

Oh snap!

Yeah, you feed them.  And of course the disciples suddenly feel inadequate for the task.  But in Jesus’s hands, the crowds are fed – at least for one more day.  And that is just how Jesus wants it.  It points to him as God, as provider, as Manna From Heaven!  And that always was about making crowds of people dependent on him!

So, Jesus feeds 5000 for a day, and he gets them to stay!  And we could all take a note from that.

Somebody Tell Jesus To Stop Meeting Needs And Start Seeking Shalom

A poem/prayer for the Seeking Shalom class from the Lupton Center:

I was hungry, and you fed me…

Stop meeting needs and start seeking Shalom

I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink…

Stop meeting needs and start seeking Shalom

I was a stranger, and you welcomed me in…

Stop meeting needs and start seeking Shalom

I was naked, and you clothed me…

Stop meeting needs and start seeking Shalom

I was sick, and you nursed me…

Stop meeting needs and start seeking Shalom

I was in prison, and you visited me…

Stop meeting needs and start seeking Shalom

Give to all who ask…

Stop meeting needs and start seeking Shalom

You give them something to eat…

Stop meeting needs and start seeking Shalom

One thing you lack, Go sell everything you own; Give it to the poor; Count your riches in heaven, and come follow me…

Stop meeting needs and start seeking Shalom

When you throw a party, Don’t invite all your rich friends and family; Invite the poor, the lame, the blind and the humble WHO CANNOT REPAY you…

Stop meeting needs and start seeking Shalom

What can I say?  This embarrassing messiah didn’t get the memo, it seems.

Hmmm…

Just Open The Door!!! (Don’t Talk Yourself Out Of It)

“I was a stranger… and you took me in…” – Jesus.

“I was a stranger… and you did not take me in…” – Jesus.

“Behold!  I stand at the door and knock.  If you open up, I will come in and party with you!” – Jesus.

Yeah… Really.  He said these things.  Look it up.

So how is it that his “Church” (his “Bride”, his “Body”, his followers) put a lock on the door, a security camera to watch, and an ADT sign in the flowerbed to protect the door against Jesus?  And why do we charge money for books, videos, seminars, and web courses AND THEN listen to them as they help us keep the doors locked in an effort to not “hurt” by “helping”?

That’s Jesus out there!  Somebody turn off the video and open the door!  Really!  Just OPEN THE DOOR!  And stop making all these hifalutin excuses.

Representin’

One of our deep, deep, deep cover operatives sends a photo snapped at a local Wendy’s.  I do not recognize the person in the photo, but I definitely recognize the shirt!

Thanx for representin’!

And it just so happens that I was able to pass out a few of these shirts last weekend and again today.  It is clear to me they are in hot demand.  When street people see that it’s me AND that I have some to give away, they come mobbing me.  I get a taste of what Jesus felt as he was pressed on all sides by those seeking him for his healing touch!  Perhaps the shirt has healing power???

The front of the shirt says “Fat Beggars School of Prophets” and the back says “Jesus Was Homeless”.  Over the years, I have given a lot of thought to these messages.  They are humbling.  If you wear a shirt that says “Fat Beggars” on it, you are accepting humility.  Most people will not make the connection from the insult “Fat Beggar” to II Kings 6 & 7, and the story of the beggars bringing the good news of salvation to the nobles, but they will make the connection to the pain of the insult.  Thus to wear it is to absorb the insult and nullify it!  There is power in that!

The second message, “Jesus Was Homeless”, is fairly well evident to MOST of us familiar with the Bible.  (There are some weirdos who argue against this.)  And it too is humbling, but dignifying too, because it puts us in company with King Jesus who we all respect even in his humiliation.

So… I am so thrilled to see the shirt out there in public.  I am thrilled to have people send me snap shots of people wearing it!  Now, I just hope it gets the public (and especially the church) talking…  and caring.  That too would be healing and powerful.

Hey… we can hope.

Behind The Scenes / Behind Closed Doors (Talking about the Homeless behind their backs)

I spent a good deal of time and energy shedding dead weight and long distance readers on this blog over the course of the late Fall and Winter.  (Let me say that IF you are dead weight and/or long distance, you actually are still welcome to read and participate with this blog, but I aim to engage local Lubbock people ESPECIALLY.  Please don’t feel put out.  If you had the perseverance to stay despite my efforts to get rid of you, then I take that to mean you are serious about being here.  And so, you are welcome despite the rhetoric otherwise.)  And as part of the move to focus locally and shed distance readers, I began to make efforts to directly address street homeless people with our mutual concerns.  But recent posts have begun to deal with lots of erudite and theological engagement with my Bible class at church.

I will not deny that I personally take a measure of comfort camping out in that sort of mental space.  This blog has done a LOT of that kind of thing over the years.  But just when I begin making efforts to engage the streets more directly WITH this blog, I find myself doing direct business with the church.  I am part of the discussion behind closed doors!  But I am sticking up for the Jesus on the streets.

I apologize for all the erudition of late, but ironically, I think it is pertinent.  And by no means is erudition exclusive to street people necessarily.  Plenty of street people know their Bible deeply and/or have college and grad school degrees.  Perhaps not most, but plenty do.

But I hope you see that I am a bit off the trail I intended to go down at the moment, yet still working for the cause.  What can I say, I am representing the locked out behind closed doors as best I can, and I am sharing that with you – any who care to log on.  The only thing I hide is the identities of the players.

 

God’s Homelessness Relief Message

Under Pharaoh and the Egyptians, the message was: MUST MAKE BRICKS.

Under the Nazis, the message was perfected and changed to: WORK WILL MAKE YOU FREE.

I will not deny there is work to be done in our world, not for a minute.  But when people are oppressed (whether by murderous slave masters, addiction, or poverty), God’s message is most decidedly NOT a work program.  Rather it is:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…