I Give Away My Kid

Do you recall that sermon Tony Campolo published many years ago where he describes his experience in Haiti?  Campolo tells about seeing the devastation of poverty first hand, then getting on a plane to leave, and a woman comes running along side, banging on the door hysterically pleading with him to take her baby as the plane prepares to depart.  Campolo’s guide explains that she wants him (a total stranger) to take her baby from the deadly poverty – even though it means she would never see the child again.

Most people don’t give up their babies, certainly not like that.  Of those who do, most of them are quite desperate.

Campolo wraps up that story saying the guide tries to comfort him, that by leaving her crying like that, they are doing the right thing.  But Campolo also confesses that as he sits back in his seat reflecting on it once the plane was safely in the air, well away from that woman’s desperate plea, he suddenly realizes who that child is.

It was Jesus.

And Campolo suggests that at the Judgment, he will face Jesus who will say to him, “I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink, I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was a baby in need of your help at the Haitian airport, and you left me there to die!”

Giving up your kid.

Wow!

I am a foster parent.

Here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, we take desperate people’s babies.   We keep some people permanently and others we show hospitality to only temporarily, after which, we give them up too.  Giving up the babies is not a new feature of this work, but it is some of the hardest.  Not always, but more often than not, it feels desperate.

Giving up a kid who has become one of us, who came to us in utter dependence, faced fears to learn to love us and be loved by us, to take comfort in our arms, at our table, in our home, and especially one who has been with us a very long time, is heartbreaking.  The heartbreak alone is enough, but the worry about the care this child will receive (or not) is a risk no worthy parent would entertain, unless she were a Haitian mother seeing a rich American boarding a plane bound for the US.

And so I think of (and pray the prayers with) Abraham who simply says, “Here I am” to God when God commands that he kill his son as a burnt offering, a child-sacrifice.  And Abraham dutifully complies, searching for the place for THREE DAYS (a significant number for such an occasion, if ever there was one).  And for THREE DAYS, Abe looks into Isaac’s eyes as they make the trip, and then as if Isaac senses what was coming, the innocent child/victim, asks, “Where is the sacrifice?” – pinning Abe between his rock and a hard place, between his promised son and the God who promised him.  And thus the here-I-am dad, in a cheap bid to not blow his cover, utters those desperate words: “God will provide”.

Oh… to have trust in God like that!

And then I think of (and pray the prayers with) the mother of Moses, who places her three month-old child in a basket down at the river, a river, we presume, is full of crocodiles!  A death sentence by any measure, even an already-too-late term abortion, actually!  Yet it’s not the croc’s that get him!  It’s the evil empire itself, the beast from the sea!!! (as Dan. 7 demonstrates).  I think it’s fair to say she gives her child to God.  And in God’s hands, despite her fears and beyond her ability to manipulate her situation, God makes a great man out of the child she gives.

I think of (and pray the prayers with) Hannah, and we have a record of her prayer!  She couldn’t have a child, but she offers him to God even before she conceives.  (In her desperation, she even appears drunk!)  And we know she keeps her word.  Samuel goes on to be raised by Eli and eventually becomes the king-making Judge of his people when Hannah gives her baby back to God.

But then there is Mother Mary.  A young virgin not even looking for a pregnancy when God gives her his Son to bear, putting her reputation and life at risk.  And I think of that raw day when she gives the boy back to God in what must be the unimaginable nightmare!  And when she gives her son back to God, just look what God does with him!

Who says the Christian faith isn’t about child sacrifice???

I am absolutely heartbroken in this last stage of the foster-care job.  Giving the kid up.  But I join these heroes of the faith for strength and guidance and for their words to God as I give away my kid to the crocodile infested waters, to the strangers who don’t know what they are doing, and to the demons that ravage God’s world.  And I hope that God will do the thing he has proven himself faithful and true to do: make this child HIS MAN.

It is now time.

Here I am, Lord.

Go with God, son.

God will provide.

Advertisements

Crazy Little Thing Called “Church”

What do you think of when you hear or use the word “church”?

Do you think of the Greek term for it?  Do you consider the academic/linguistic definition, as if reading or writing a dissertation?

Do you think of a building?  A physical structure providing shelter, comfort, aesthetic or cultural engagement conducive to prayer, meditation, preaching and worship?  A place with pews, a podium, a heated baptistry, a sound system, candles, flowers, stained glass and all that?

Or do you resist thinking about the structure in which worship happens and instead consider the assembly of worshipers?  The gathering of saints?  The community of believers?

Or yet again, does your inner eye, your imagination, immediately gravitate to the activities associated with worship?

Do you think of a particular faith heritage?  Maybe Catholic?  Maybe Baptist?  Presbyterian?

Do you think of a particular political organization and of either libertine or oppressive politics that seem associated with some of the more vocal vitriol spewed by more than a few church people?  Do you think of a voting block?  Of a special interest, pressure group?

On the other hand, do you think of a bunch of Fundamentalist has-beens, out of touch with reality, and caught up in their pie-in-the-sky religious beliefs which very nearly match any form of delusion associated with mental illness?  Of these people becoming increasingly irrelevant in a modern, technological world, yet clueless about it?

If you are like me, depending on the context in which the word is used, you likely race to any one or two of these angles associated with the word “church” at any given time.

The CHURCH of my youth.

Even though I live in a complex world of modern, scientific and technological advancements, of political and civil rights and economic forces, of pluralism, post-modernism, and political correctness, I am a churchman, which means, among other things, I have deep affection for the church.  And like most people who love church, I was raised in it and have rich memories of my life’s formation in it.

Nostalgia.

No matter how erudite, hifalutin, or just plain careful I am when thinking about church, I have strong magnetic pull toward a rather mythical, childish sense of comfort in my memories of church when I was a kid which at the very least delude my thoughts if not govern them.  Like a pair of comfortable, old shoes, they may not be the most sensible or practical, but I can’t hardly stand to part with them.

I remember my grandfather shining his shoes on Saturday night, of getting dressed up in “church clothes” and hustling and bustling through the bathroom and waiting in the car for the straggler so we could leave “on time”.  I recall familiar liturgies and old songs (many of which we don’t sing anymore), and I chafe at the new versions of Amazing Grace.  I recall how my particular faith heritage held a very devout and strong belief that we were the “true church” and all of the others were counterfeits doomed for destruction.  (And I recall the comfort I felt in that since it meant I was “in”!)

Actually, I could go on and on and on with this nostalgia.  But this is enough for my purpose presently.  No doubt some reading this will recognize themselves in the exact description I offer here while others will need to tweak it just a bit, but will still resonate quite powerfully.

But then I start thinking how far all of that is from what I read in my Bible.  Just imagine worshiping with the church in Rome when Caesar is feeding Christians to lions or using them as torches for his garden parties!  Bro. Wilson might think it a priority to shine his shoes on Saturday night, but if Sister Johnson’s usual spot on the pew is left empty Sunday morning because she and her children were fed to the lions last Friday night, then just mentioning such a priority feels a little petty and cheap.  If the Atkins girl wants to have a “church wedding” in the family tradition of her mother and grandmother, but she is getting married to a Lutheran boy that knocked her up whom we don’t recognize as “Christian”, and thus the elders deny her access to the sanctuary for her ceremony, that just doesn’t compute in a world where a dozen Christian brothers were rounded up and crucified last weekend and set on fire as entertainment in the royal court.  And for that matter, parking our Lincoln in the lot next to the Jones’s Lexus (as we keep up with them) which we raced from the red light just doesn’t sound like the bunch in Jerusalem who sold all their property, gave it all to the church so that the poor among them lacked nothing.

And it’s about this point that I realize I am not alone in this broken nostalgia.  This comfort I take in the heritage of my youth is not a comfort in Jesus – not the same comfort our forebears took!  But it sure is popular among my friends and family who NEVER discussed ANY of this stuff with me before.  Not even a little.

I’m not sure now if I have actually ever attended a real church at all!  In fact, I am a little scared of the prospect.

Thank you Ron Highfield!  (If you want to know what I am taking about by that, see this link to his very insightful blog post.)

Yeah.  We got this crazy little thing CALLED “church”, but not only have the gates of hell withstood it, it did not withstand the pressures of American culture.  And it has me wondering where I belong.

Hmmm….

My Experience with Moral Horror

In my last post, I quoted Christine Pohl from her book Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition.  I noted how validating it is to find such a term as “moral horror” associated with the failure of Christian hospitality – especially in the book of such a fine, respected Christian scholar and publisher.

Validating.

Yes.

Deeply validating.  And appreciated beyond the telling.

But sterile too.

And this is what prompts me to blog: I am a first-hand, eye-witness to this MORAL HORROR.  I report to headquarters what I have found (prayed about it).  I testify before God and the blog-reading public what I have seen and experienced (prophesied).

I have done this, not simply to tear down what others have built, but to expose the indifference masquerading as AGAPE in Lubbock, in hopes that leadership repent and that the moral horror come to an end.  It is reasonable that any God-loving, reasonable people would see this for what it is and seek the change.  THEN we can actually share the LOVE of God for his creation – like heaven on earth.

Think of it.

And my experience?

I, once upon a time, was a member of the Premier Homeless Church of Lubbock (not its real name), and tried – TRIED – tried to volunteer as a chaperone for the homeless there on a freezing, cold winter night.  But leadership there arbitrarily denied me the opportunity AND denied the homeless access (a service this church actually did provide on other cold nights before).

Unable to keep more than three “strangers” in my own private home (where I was raising four young children at the time), I got in my car and drove down to the Premier Homeless Church of Lubbock (not its real name) shortly before bedtime that first night after the temperature dropped to freezing, and found about two dozen homeless people (actually members of our church, no less) bedding down on the concrete under the awning to the side of our church building which was locked up and empty of worshippers at that time.

Think about that a minute.

The House of God sitting empty while the needy, the beggars, the poor, like so many lepers, crippled, and blind before them, pressing in on Jesus for all they are worth as the winter night set in and the ambient temperature plummeted.  Huddled in blankets on concrete, my brothers and sisters shivered against the cold that night.  Nearly thirty of them!  And it all happened under the cover of darkness while the public (the constituents of this “Christian town”) sipped their hot chocolate, said their evening prayers (if they even do that), and prepared to go to bed in their fine homes with guest rooms sitting empty night after night all over town.

“Moral horror” is a pretty good word for that.

I was faced with selecting 3 needy souls to take with me.

How would I choose only three to open my home to?  I sought out the ones who were most sick and least prepared to survive the night.

And I drove away with those three, leaving the rest there shivering and huddled outside a locked up church house while NO ONE else in this town cared enough to help, to come and see it, or even to read this blog years later.  (Well, okay, a few have read about all these years later, but that is the sterile part again.)

I have other experiences (similar in the broad strokes) with “moral horror”, but this one kicked it up to a new level for me.

“Church” just ain’t been the same for me since.

But I have gone to that “church” now for most of the last decade trying to find any leaders there who will open their eyes to this moral horror and address it with repentance and with the LOVE of God.

 

“Moral Horror” (Listening to Christine Pohl)

Moral Horror” is not a term I invented.  I don’t imagine I would have coined it in a hundred years of study.  But when I found it from the pen of Christine Pohl, in her book Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, it just jumped off the page at me.  A respected Christian scholar from a respected seminary, published in an elite publishing company talking about the failure of hospitality as a “moral horror” seems to go far beyond validating the message of this blog.

Allow me to quote:

Because Christian hospitality reflects divine hospitality, when it fails it is especially devastating.  Claims to have run out of resources or to have “no more room” are particularly problematic when we reflect on the abundance of God’s household.  There is a certain moral horror associated with turning persons away; when refugees are excluded and left in danger, or when homeless persons are left outside on freezing nights, it is rarely morally sufficient to say that there was not enough room.

The wideness of God’s mercy and the generosity of God’s welcome must frame our thinking about limits and boundaries.  God’s kindness continually challenges us to consider our commitments.  Jesus and the stranger stand outside, asking our communities to enlarge their borders and to share their resources.  As we welcome the poor, the stranger, or the marginal person, they help us to remember that each of us is an alien and a stranger, welcome by God’s generous invitation.

Christine Pohl, Making Room, pages 129-130.

Worship With The Babies

More weekends than not, anymore, I stay at home and worship with the babies.

This is not my first choice, but the indifference and UNwelcome of me at the regular assembly is so raw, and the transport of four babies all under the age of 3 is so cumbersome, that I generally just share worship here with them at home.  House church.

And I share the Eucharist with them.

Worship with babies, like most activities with babies, makes me recall how I learned to do things.  I remember walking into the drug store with my grandpa and wanting that toy horse up on the shelf behind the counter.  My kid sees the toy car on the display at the door and immediately wants it.  But when it comes to “communion”, my experience was that I watched the adults “partake” of it for years before I “understood” either it’s meaning or the reason it was prohibited for me.

I recall watching all pie-eyed as the bread was passed in front of me.  Then a moment later the “fruit of the vine” was passed by.  I can recall turning in the pew, getting up on my knees, and trying to watch the people behind me take their turn at it – until my mother’s hand would usher me back to my proper seat, that is.  I had no idea why it was important to me, but it was!  And I wanted in on it!!!

None of that is available to my kids today.

And I don’t prohibit them anyway.

But I recognize this means they will not see it the way I do.  They will not have the same feelings for it that I do.

Not that it’s a bad thing, but we will not share this experience of it.

Jesus says, “Let the children come…” and so I do.  I share it with them, bless it for them, eat it among them, and include them in a ritual they have yet to grow into.  Like when I was a small child playing dress-up in my dad’s Navy uniform, it was waaaaaaaay too big for me, but I could imagine myself being like him.

It’s not my connection they ultimately need anyway.  I hope it’s Jesus who meets them there at the Eucharist, and I hope he meets them there again and again and again throughout their days.

It occurs to me, the old story about the young bride who cooked her family recipe ham for her young husband and cut the ends off it as she prepared it – which alarmed him.  He quizzed her, and so she quizzed her mother who had always done it that way, who then quizzed her mother who had always done it that way only to find out that grandmother had done this because it was the only way to fit the meat in her pan.  Even if I put them through the experience I had, there is no way to determine if my kids would share the same feelings and understandings of it.

I share the meal with the kids, but I give them to Jesus at this meal, and he parties with them.

I hope they have precious memories of it.  I hope they grow ever more into it.  And I hope they meet Jesus there again and again and again.

Creep (in church)

When we were here before,

I couldn’t look you in the eye.

You’re just like an angel.

Your skin makes me cry

You float like a feather

In a beautiful world.

I wish I was special.

You’re so F’n special!

But I’m a creep.

I’m a weirdo.

What the hell am I doing here?

I don’t belong here.

I don’t care if it hurts,

I wanna have control.

I wanna perfect body;

I wanna perfect soul.

I want you to notice

when I’m not around.

You’re so F’n special.

I wish I was special!

Whatever makes you happy

Whatever you want

You’re so F’n special.

I wish I was special.

But I’m a creep.

I’m a weirdo.

What the hell am I doing here.

I don’t belong here.

-Radiohead

quoting “The Least of These” upon arrival at worship in the American Church

You Can’t Handle The Truth!

“Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns.  Who’s gonna do it?  You???  (You Lt. Weindberg?)

I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom.  You weep for Santiago and curse the Marines.  You have that luxury.  You have the luxury of NOT knowing what I know, that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives.  And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, SAVES LIVES!

You don’t want the truth, cuz deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you WANT me on that wall.  You NEED me on that wall.

We use words like Honor.  Code.  Loyalty.

We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something.  You use them as a punchline.

I have neither the time, nor the inclination, to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it.  I would rather you just say “Thank you” and be on your way.  Otherwise I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post!

Either way, I don’t give a DAMN what you think you are entitled to!!!”

– Jesus Christ

speaking to the homeless on behalf of his white, middle-class, Evangelical, American church.

(cited in Second Opinions chapter 1, verse 1)

“LAST CHURCH” You Will Ever Need (or want) – Prophetic Service Announcement #2

Okay, I know yesterday’s PSA was sharp, witty, to the point, even powerful and true to real life…  BUT… It still was a cheap shot.

Yes, I know many a TV preacher, many a seeker-friendly church, many a billboard or TV ad make it easy to be so critical – maybe even necessary.  In fact, they invite the cheap shot with all they’ve got.

But it’s still a cheap shot.

So, in the interest of the four fingers pointing back at me, let me invite you (and myself) to LAST CHURCH, a humble gathering of meager souls that meets (when we can) in a half-empty storage unit or in a barn.  Sometimes (rain or shine) under a bridge by the creek on the dump road.  One time in a van.

The members (hardly more than a dozen) frequently sell all they own, which usually ain’t much, and give it ALL to the collection basket (Deacon Humble’s ball cap).  And if you showed up on GIVE ALL Sunday, everyone else there would watch you fish around in your wallet when Humble’s hat comes around.  So, you might feel a little bit on-the-spot just then.

The singing isn’t professional or polished, but it has heart.  The preaching sounds more like a fellow searcher than a professional philosopher.  And the prayer service seems to last for more than an hour as this handful of sinners gathered together confesses all their weaknesses before God and one another – struggles with alcohol, street drugs, turning tricks for a quick buck, and every now and then someone confesses something really heinous that disturbs everyone else to hear it – like having sex with your parent or something worse.  But the tears of sorrow and confession seem so genuine and cleansing, and the price of admission is only EVERYTHING YOU’VE GOT.

If that’s the church you find, would you consider attending it?

What if I invite you?

Will you come?

Really?

It’s not a perfect church by any stretch.  Not even a particularly good one.  But if I took you for a visit, would you consider making it your church home?

Would you even come for a visit?

Do It Yourself Christianity (Prophetic Service Announcement)

Are you tired of waiting on the Lord?  Is Your faith in God helped by the rewards of hard work and conservative investment strategies?  Is your desire for a worship assembly to look like you, vote like you, and/or provide you with the opportunity to network with people in business and industry, giving you a competitive edge in the world of finance and career opportunities?

Then come on down to First Church at the corner of White Privilege Boulevard and The American Way.  The coffee bar opens at 9am.  Contemporary worship service starts at 10 am, followed by a pro-business devo at 11 am, and a brief sermon by our acclaimed Pastor Bates (shouldn’t take more than five minutes).

 

Please stay for our after lunch motivational speaker, and come in the evening for our tax-shelter seminar.

Here at First Church, let Jesus know you are an AMERICAN Christian, and assure yourself a pre-boarding pass in first-class at the Rapture!