Feelings

Life sure would be simpler without feelings.

Just this morning, I got two toddlers up, fed, dressed -n- going and then I moved to the other room to do some work.  I am able to monitor their play, mostly by ear.  I pause my work every few minutes to go lay eyes on them.  When they see me, they always have some sudden need for me to attend.  They are having feelings.

“Pappa… eshmess paaa!” (Gibberish)

My kids are learning to talk.  A lot of their vocabulary is unclear and some of it is just practice sounds.  You learn to understand some of it by feel.

“Juice” one of them says.

Okay!  I will get you some juice; gimme a minute…

I put a bookmark in my to-do list and make a plan to return to supply juice in about ten minutes at a more opportune stopping point.  I leave the kids in tears.

Feelings.

There are feelings which go with delayed gratification.

Some are disappointment, anticipation, and learning to manage the anticipation without being crushed – patience.  But that learning part comes with time.

A few minutes later, I come back ready to provide juice.  Where are the sippy cups?  I announce I am back and ready, will someone bring me the sippy cups to fill with juice?

My three year old boy is now busy with his electronic toy and too engrossed to look up or answer me.  I am not angered by this, but I did just bookmark my to-do list for him, and now I am back, but he is too busy for me and for the request he made minutes ago.  I am dealing with patience.  Not delayed gratification, per se, since the juice is not going to gratify me.  Feelings, though.  I run through a few ideas in my mind.  I could just put him off again.  He probably won’t notice.  I could put him off again and teach him to be ready when I call, but that probably won’t really teach him that.  Or…

There is his two year old sister.

“Hey, girl.  Can you get those two sippy cups for me right over there?  The pink one and the green one?

She loves to comply!  She dutifully trots over to the cups and starts to pick them up.  She is happy.  She is feeling connected to me (love) and full of joy in doing this task.

Meanwhile the boy senses that she is getting my attention and his cup.  He is feeling  … jealous?  Yeah.  I think so.

He runs to the cups and pulls them from her hands.  They fall to the floor, and he scrambles to retrieve them as she stands there feeling shocked.

I see the hurt feelings on her face as the pleasant expression begins to crack and distort into anguish  and anger.

I could be doing my chores, but I was first ignored and now the task of getting juice is rapidly breaking down into a disciplinary moment.  I am feeling frustrated.  The girl is feeling frustrated.  The boy is jealous, but that is a form of frustration too.

I scold the boy.  “Look!  You just treated your sister ugly and hurt her feelings!  Give her cup back to her!”

Suddenly the boy feels remorse.  He runs back to her holding out the cup and trying to hug her and say he is sorry.  She just stands there stunned as her expression now starts producing sobs.  Her cup falls to her feet.  The boy hugs her and then turns back toward me with his cup and hands it to me so that I can get him juice.

I offer a word of consolation to the girl, but I must say, the whole affront, as ugly as it was, surely looks to me like a ten cent problem while her reaction is looking more like a fifty cent reaction.

I plead with her to bring me her cup.  I will get her some juice!  Juice will make it all better!  I promise!!  But she is standing there looking shocked at me now for not understanding her feelings.

Now I am feeling frustrated at multiple levels.  My grid of understanding, my paradigm – my matrix, is scrolling through various databases in my mind.  I see myself as a child dealing with frustrations.  I see my parents frustrated with me.  Suddenly at fifty some-odd years old, I realize that those adults towering over me when I was a child were quite young.  They were kids!  They were learning how to teach me while I was learning what to do as a small child just like these little ones.  I saw gods; I see kids.  It hits me, these kids look at me and see gods, but I am just Pops – Pops who used to be just “son” not all that long ago!  (Well, fifty years seems short once you have lived them!)

There are other databases being plunged at the same time though.  Just while that one produces nostalgic feelings, I also begin thinking about how feelings are the domain of females.  No.  Not exclusive to females, but fifty years ago the world sure seemed ordered that way.  And I am thinking about how if this little girl would just set her feelings aside a moment, give me her cup, and wait less than one minute, she would be slurping juice and not care what her brother just did.  But she ain’t havin’ it!  No.  She is having a feeling, damn it!  I need to respect that!!!

Feelings.

I just spent much of this week watching the Netflix docu-series called The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.  I don’t know if you have seen it, and I don’t know if I should even recommend it, since it is so damn dark!  It was about as hard to watch as Schindler’s List!

Right now I am mad at God.

I shed so many tears watching that show for a little boy I never heard of and will never know.  Yet, there is that strange phenom where I see my kid in the face of that one… it is a feeling thang!  But if that documentary is even halfway accurate in its portrayal of the story of that little boy, then our world is in deep doo-doo.

DEEP!

Just the first five minutes of the series sucked me in because it opens with an account from a young ER nurse who was there the night Gabriel Fernandez was brought in by ambulance after suffering child abuse.  She looks to be in her mid 30’s, but the trauma in her face and in her words rings familiar to me.

I am married to a PICU nurse who sees THAT GARBAGE at least half a doze times a year in this town.  She didn’t suffer the damage herself; she wasn’t there to see the scene where it happened.  But putting your healing hands on a small, innocent child who has been so horribly mistreated like that damages your sense of the world and your place in it.

It causes feelings that hurt.

The ER nurse describes (like so many soldiers before her, like so many cops, like so many first responders) how your “training kicks in” and “you don’t have time to feel the feelings” while it’s happening.  BUT THEN when the smoke clears, you look back at the gurney in the exam room and see all the blood and trash and gloves on the floor and you realize what just happened here!

And you have FEELINGS there are no words for.

Actually, there are words for it, but they don’t do the feelings justice.  We call this PTSD.  It is a disorder, we say, not feelings.  This is damage, not feelings.

Then I watch the series and before long I witness video records of investigators interviewing the people who committed these crimes, and they are talking about FEELINGS that drove them to do these things to this child.  I witness interviews with teachers and counselors and others who process what they saw and what role they played or failed to play in the short life of Gabriel Fernandez.  And it is the teacher’s assessment that the little boy LOVED (a feeling) his mother who did this to him  and wanted desperately to be loved by her!

Feelings.

I suppose, if you are reading this far, you expect me to sum all this up in some tidy little moral of the story.  I could just say something nice about how Jesus makes it right.  If I were a good blogger, I would provide you with some FEEL-GOOD, triumphalist theology.

I am sure Jesus is the answer, but I have no desire to put a bow on it for you.

On the contrary, it is my view – now more than ever – that God created us naked, vulnerable, delicate and fragile because THAT THRIVES in LOVE.  Hell is any world where that delicate balance/focus is lost.  Getting it back will require a far more sober assessment of these things than we heretofore acknowledge, I think.

I want to belong to a church that takes Jesus seriously.  That kind of serious which picks up a cross and follows through the narrow gate.

I don’t know anyone in my circle of faith friends who ever went off and joined a leper colony in devotion to Jesus.  But I want to be a person of that caliber of faith, and I want to be worthy of a group of friends like that too.

Where is the salt and the light?

I don’t think it’s in our airconditioned sanctuary.  I think it’s in the ER tonight, the PICU.  It either is there or it’s not.  If it’s not, then our world is not being healed by Jesus.

I am sitting here crying about it.  Having some feelings.

The Heavy Lifting of Christian Imagination

In 1971,  John Lennon invited his listeners to Imagine a world at peace.  He presented a beautiful picture of a world living in harmony, and did so with a stunningly beguiling melody.  But of course, he insists we imagine there is no heaven (it’s easy if you try), no hell, no religion too – all with the implication that Jesus is not LORD and has no claim on creation.  Without actually saying it, he is implying Jesus is part of the problem and not the solution.  Still, to listen to the song is to be stirred as the melody takes hold, and you are extremely likely to catch yourself humming it later, but as you listen closely to the message, you are also extremely likely to think (really think) about its message too.  It’s a lot of freight for a pop song.

Rare is the artist who can achieve this level of imagination, and rarer still to enrapture his/her beholders with their imagination too.  It is, after all, just a pop song, yet it defies such reductionism.  It is a special phenom which is rarely repeated.  It is powerful.

Thirty years later, another artist, Bart Millard (with his Christian rock band, MercyMe), offered the world a deeply faith-affirming, stunningly beautiful melody and message inviting listeners to imagine “what it will be like….”  Masterfully, Millard leaves the object of our imagination to our imagination with a very open-ended lyric that seems to take us out of this world and transport us to the next, yet in no way actually reduces the wonders of that world with physical description beyond the singer’s own limited, physical reaction to what he finds there.

Again, we have one of those rare artists who achieves this level of imagination and takes his beholders on a journey into raw inspiration.  It is, after all, just a pop song, yet it defies such reductionism.  It is that, yes, but it also is worship, and worship is powerful.

(Personally, I think if your church employs a “worship leader” or “worship minister” – whatever your church calls this person, then part of their vocational responsibility should include a statement, perhaps an essay, on their THEOLOGY of WORSHIP.  Worship is central to church life, but it is more than mere music, musical talent, and song selection.  It is the playground of Christian imagination, and THAT is powerful!  Or it should be.)

Over the course of my life, it has been both my experience and the topic of many a book, a sermon, a lecture series to deal with the controversy of church worship which has been reduced, largely speaking, to “worship style.”  Are we into traditional style or contemporary?

Whole churches have split over this in various ways.  Some have actually broken apart in animosity with brothers and sister condemning one other over the style of worship they embrace.  Others hold two, or more, services each Sunday where one is more formally traditional (usually the early service) and the other is “contemporary” which generally involves guitars, drums, and synthesizers which mimic worldly pop music.

It seems THIS is where the dust has settled, for the time being, on this conflict which some have called “worship wars.”

Worship wars.

Wow!

Psalm 22:3, an ancient worship song itself, informs us that God is enthroned/dwells in Israel’s praise.

Think about that!

Among all the other important things we rightly, and importantly, can say about worship, our praise of God is where we find his presence – his enthroned presence.  God, manifest as RULER over all creation, is seen in our praise of him.  God, the Almighty – infinite in LOVE, WISDOM, GLORY, and POWER is seen as enthroned and his presence felt and known IN OUR PRAISE.

IMAGINE THAT!

You know what?

I don’t think the church I hold membership in devotes enough of our imagination to that.  I am betting yours doesn’t either.

Just imagine the implications.

God!  Our Father who raises the dead wants to rule the world he made, and his divine rule makes everything right!  We have a role to play in implementing this divine rule, and that is our worship of him!

Hmmm…

Sounds too simple.  Sounds naïve.  Seems… uh… ineffective….  Surely we need to do more.  Surely the making of things right requires more of us than that!  Surely.  Right?

Surely we need money for this.  Surely we need a good strategy.  Surely we need some good people elected to high office, put in positions of power and influence.  Perhaps some TV advertising.  Probably a sound system.  Important people doing important things and making important decisions.  God needs this of us!

And so when we gather to worship, as we do each week, we meet inside our million dollar sanctuary, close the doors, sing our songs according to the styles we prefer, which we are willing to split apart over, drink our complimentary latte, and then walk out an hour later to our Lexus and drive off.

Do you think we are doing the heavy lifting of Christian imagination?

I imagine we can do better.

Our whole reason for meeting, the cornerstone of our faith, is the risen Jesus.  We believe, in a world where cancer kills people, where terrorism kills people, where poverty kills people, where tsunamis kill people, that Jesus was killed and then raised to life!  We imagine this to be true!!  This is our reason to be!!!  This is the cornerstone of all we say and do.  There exists absolutely no metric shared by the world around us which honors this fact.  The only way the world about us knows what we know is when we proclaim it and then bring to bear our worship on that part of creation.

But we ourselves hardly imagine it.

Even Millard’s song dares only to imagine an otherworldly experience.  But there is so much more to imagine.  This is my Father’s world.  He made it, and the creation itself groans like birth pangs, yearning for the revelation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19,22) – and the sons of God are the image-bearing worshipers God made from the beginning to rule over his world!

How many of my brothers and sisters struggle merely to pray?

“I fall asleep trying to pray….”

“Does God even hear my prayers?”

“Sometimes God’s answer is ‘No.'”

And thus we abandon our Christian imagination for more reasonable engagement with the world.

Hmmm…

Jesus, the Good Book tells us, endured the cross for the joy set before him (Heb. 12:2).

I wonder…

I wonder what JOY is worth THAT???

The joy is set before him.  He endures the cross in the meantime.  This does not negate the joy, but the joy is delayed.  The gratification is delayed.  But God is enthroned in Jesus’s praise!  In fact, God is enthroned in the flesh of Jesus who praises God with his whole life, right down to the last drop of blood, right down to the last breath.

Imagine with me a moment the day, the glorious day, when all the prayers ever prayed to God find their yes!  Imagine with me a moment what the sound of that yes will be like coming over the horizon!  What will you hear?  What will you think?

I can only imagine what it will be like….

I can only imagine …

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel?

Will I dance for You Jesus, or in awe of you be still?

Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees will I fall?

When I hear the yes of every prayer of every beggar whose desperate plea ever whimpered up from the depths of Auschwitz gas chambers, from Cambodia’s killing fields, from Ethiopia’s starving children, and from every pimply faced kid with a crush on a girl and a math test to worry about… will I be able to stand or will I fall?

This is more than Brueggemann’s Prophetic Imagination, this is the Christian Imagination which is the heart of worship, which is the task that befalls THESE people and no other.  It is a task we seem to not take seriously enough.

This vocation does not appear on a ballot.  You don’t get a degree in it at school.  It does not require one solitary penny, much less a dollar.

In fact, a naked man, stripped of all his dignity and every shred of comfort, beaten, whipped, and nailed to a cross is fully equipped for this, and so are we, but it requires imagination.

This is the heavy lifting of Christian imagination.  You won’t find it in a coffee table devotional book; it is not a trendy, seeker-friendly appeal.  Your bumper sticker, your Bible cover with your name imprinted on it, nor your seminary degree will embody it.

You have to just sit a minute with it.  Open your heart and your imagination wide… and then wider than that.

How big does your imagination have to be in order for God to live in it?

Let us talk on THESE things and search our hearts and minds for the answer.  Let us encourage one another for THIS.  The world waits like birth pangs for us to be revealed enthroning God on our praises.

(And so do my street friends freezing night after night in the winter cold.)

Celebrating A Special Day

I always shy away  from using specific names, dates, and number of years on the Fat Beggars blog.  While my identity is not a state secret, I go to the trouble of muting it and making it more difficult to obtain sensitive information about me, my family, and so forth in social media.  (You won’t catch me telling the world that we live at such and such address and will be leaving for an extended vacation starting on the fifth….)  Therefore I am not claiming this is the actual date.

Nevertheless, I aim to tell true stories.  Even if some details are skewed, the idea is that the blog represents true stories that otherwise may not be told.

In this post, I want to celebrate the official founding of the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners – the day Agent and Mrs. Agent X got married.

I posted the story of our wedding several years ago, but I think it is worthy of revisiting from time to time.  I am always amazed at how all these years later it comes up in conversation again and again.  Not constantly, but it would surprise you.

Perhaps I should go so far as to retell the story – to write it up all over again.  No doubt I could retell it with better attention to detail, and maybe my memories about it would show erosion with time.  Who knows?  Maybe the power and meaning of that day have actually grown over time.  But for now, I will let the link to the old post suffice.

I invite you to this sweet memory.

https://fatbeggars.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/proph-o-drama-wedding/

The ONLY thing that really mattered to us THAT day was that we invite Jesus, and that we find him there celebrating with us.  Jesus at a wedding???  Sounds almost biblical.

I hope it blesses your day to read about it.

A Communist Trapped In A Capitalist’s Body

There are far more complexities at work in this post than I am prepared to handle, but I expect I have insights that prove important for shaping a number of other conversations.  This is a chance for me to highlight them.  Hopefully I will be able to build on them and refer back to this post as needed as I venture into those others as well.  Yet in the meantime, there is this one, and it is worthy of concern in its own rite, I think.  So here goes…

I am like a fish in the water that does not know what water is … really.  Or maybe I am like a lobster in a boiling pot that starts at lukewarm and gets hotter over time, except the over time part in this metaphor stretches back over multiple generations.  I have inherited a lot of my worldview which I am now challenging, and that means bucking the airtight things my parents gave me too.

There are also many aspects of American life that overlap.  We are not merely a capitalist culture/economy; we are also democratic, predominately white, innovative, patriotic, and number of other things which at some points become hard to distinguish.  Americans have built a government separated from religion to the best of our ability, yet that is not nearly as simple as it looks.  As N.T. Wright once pointed out, Europeans have an official joining of church and state, while Americans have an official separation of church and state, and yet neither one of those statements are nearly as clear as they seem on the surface.

So there is a lot of convoluted processes at work in my observations, and no doubt I will not be skilled at delineating them thoroughly.  For one thing, like the fish in the water, I am way too subjective to see this stuff with great clarity.  But, I nonetheless cogitate on these matters frequently, and I have things to say which may begin to provide handles on these subjects which we had not previously grasped.  Therefore, I invite feedback!  And hope that we can shape up these thoughts as we talk about them.

I am a communist trapped in a capitalist’s body.

That is not an accurate statement at all.  It is a creative way of stating things.  I think it captures the essence of my subject, but leaves a clear defining statement entirely open ended.

I recall when I was young, probably a teenager, that Geraldo Rivera had a talk show on TV (got his nose broken for ratings on it) that once (or maybe dozens of times) featured a person describing themselves as “a woman trapped in a man’s body.”  Today we have clearly defined terms for numerous sexual orientation and gender identity phenomena which are closely related to that idea – not the least “transgendered.”

I don’t happen to carry a little, updated handbook of appropriate terminologies for these things, and I am old school enough to remember when “gay” meant “happy” no matter your orientation.  Therefore in my view the little handbook needs updated all the time, with new editions faster than I care to keep up with, thus I use outdated terminology, and ask you to bear with me on that too.

Point being, before the “correct terms” were invented, the very sloppy phraseology about a “woman trapped in a man’s body” had to suffice, and though I thought then that I understood the meaning, I did not.  Not really.

For instance, I heard a comedian claim he was a “lesbian trapped in a man’s body” once, and I thought the statement was hilarious.  I pulled that funny line out of my hat a few times too!  It made people laugh, and I thought I was hot stuff for saying it until I then heard of a person on Geraldo Rivera’s show who claimed to be a “lesbian trapped in a man’s body” who was seeking a sex change in order to be an actual lesbian!  Then I saw just how technical all that can be.

I am to a point now that I wonder what it means, socially speaking, to be a “man” at all.  What exactly is a man?  What exactly is a woman?  (Don’t get me started on what should and shouldn’t constitute a legal marriage!)  In today’s context, it is hard to know… I mean… because I have very clear ideas about what it means to be a man in 1950’s America and/or the Bible.  But I think it’s all up for grabs today.

I hope I am not coming across as contemptuous about this stuff.  I recognize that real people have really powerful feelings associated with this stuff which I neither want to belittle NOR indulge.  I can only speak on THESE things from my own experience and feelings since I have not devoted any objective research into them.  But I happen to live in this world too, and supposedly my opinion on these things matters as much as anyone else in this “free country.”

Okay… so why am I digressing into all this sex stuff?

Basically to demonstrate both the loose nature of the subject matter AND my subjective place in it.  I also see the high potential for offense or hurt feelings as well as all the misunderstanding, and I tap into the sex matters where there is, I think, a much more firmly established conversation about having sensitivities for other people’s feelings.  Maybe we can apply some of those insights to our conversation about more political things.  I am old school, on some things and not on others.  I have my own ideas, they almost certainly are not yours.  I expect we will need to treat my discussion of communism and capitalism with similar care – IF we want to go forward together.

Look.  There is a difference between being insensitive, mean, fearful, and hateful.  To a large degree, the difference has to do with the amount of investment I have in an opinion.  But there is more to it than that, and I cannot, at present, account for all of it.  Thus I appeal to a sense of grace with my readers here.  If you feel slighted by something said here, please test the waters.  Don’t have kneejerk reactions, recoil, and either run off or blast away at me.  I am OPEN, as I said above, to your help in shaping up these ideas.  Doesn’t mean you will persuade me, but I will try to really listen as I weigh the evidence.

Communism in a Capitalist Society

Technically, I am not trapped in a capitalist’s body; I am trapped in a capitalist culture/society.  Just saying it that way helps to clear up a lot of technicalities for this conversation.  One might wonder why I entitle the post otherwise, and I think really the way I entitle the post does more to hook your attention and get your own visceral reaction.  That is dangerous, but if you are still reading this far, surely you are willing to simmer down and consider responding carefully.

Let me go further down this path.  I am not the kind of communist you are likely thinking of when you read even the technically clarified statement.

First off, I ASPIRE to communism; I am not, at present, actually practicing communism.  

(I am imagining all the old school readers I might have attracted to this post who are clicking off right now!  Or all the old school readers feeling the red in their faces beginning to boil up inside.  If you are still here, please continue to bear with me a bit more.  You may still be in utter disagreement with me at the end of this, but I don’t think the words I use thus far clearly represent me.  I need to build more on them, and so if you are hot right now, you are hot about something you don’t yet understand.)

I aspire to communism, but capitalism is all I have ever really known.  Capitalism is the economic oxygen my lungs know to breathe, like a fish in water can’t breathe the air above the surface.  There is a certain kind of comfort I take living in a capitalist society.  I know the rules, the mores, the norms, the customs and so forth – even though I am frequently on the losing end of it.

Okay, there are new dimensions of problems cropping up with that statement, now, and I know it.  I just spoke of capitalism as if there is a winning end of it and a losing end.  I am aware that are many friends and neighbors, as well as best-selling authors, lecturers, professors and so on, who have studied on these matters far more than me, and some of them speak of a pure kind of capitalism which is not corrupt with greed and abuses.  I don’t know of any who claim this is the kind of capitalism we currently enjoy, but I am aware that there is at least a hypothetical capitalism which actually works for the masses and not just the few.  I am also aware that the terminologies and the explanations of it are beyond my current level of understanding.

(There, I hope I averted a truckload of misunderstanding and potential hostility by saying that.)

So, back to the point of the paragraph before last:  Even though I am on the losing end of much (if not all) of the capitalism as we currently experience it in America, I have come to take comfort in it.  I like going to the nice grocery store where I get my ribeye steak wrapped in cellophane, kept fresh at an appropriate temperature, and where I get my milk and eggs, and literally hundreds of other needed and wanted items.  I find it odd that my grocery store offers a concierge service and sets up a grand piano played by a musician wearing a tuxedo, but hey… okay.  These are the gimmicks that go with creating business models which compete in free markets which are empowered by huge amounts of capital.

I really like my steak.  I don’t want to have to grow it, kill it, butcher it, and store the whole animal.  I just want the steak in the cellophane.  I used to get it for $2.95, and I thought then I was getting robbed, but now I am happy when I can get it for $5.95.

And what is with that “$.95” bit?  Who are we kidding???  That .95 is practically the next whole $1.  Practically.  But if the retailer backs off the price just one or five pennies, then they can make it appear that the steak is just $2 or $5 when really it’s practically $3 or $6!

It’s a game of perception.  There is no actual lying going on here (at this point), but it’s not actually honest in the truest sense either.  It’s a game.  It’s an open secret.  We are all in the know, but the effect still works.  It works so well that you can’t find a business in all of this town, the next, or the one after that which sets the prices any other way.  And that is because this little game works to the advantage of the sellers.

Technically we aren’t talking about corruption yet, but I am being screwed out of the next dollar on item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item in purchase after purchase after purchase after purchase after purchase after purchase after purchase in store after store after store after store after store after store, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year!

I am like a fish in water who can’t breathe the air beyond the surface!

Wanna talk about corruption?

I don’t really need to at this point.  Just stay with the honest and fair ethical business and see it for what it is as plain as the nose on your face!  My grocery store has a concierge service and a grand piano!  What for???

It is the business model my store uses.  It costs me more money to purchase my steak there because of this, but the management is banking that these perks make the store competitive with the other stores around town!  (And I thought competition was meant to keep prices down!  Turns out things aren’t as simple as that either.)  So they factor in the price of a concierge service and a piano player into the steak!  And I pay more for it!

Meanwhile, I work at a job where the boss has cut all manner of expenses so that she can be competitive in our business too.  However, she has added a few superlative services too, perks she charges more for the customer to receive too, but my wage has stalled in an effort to keep our overhead down, and now that steak is not only more expensive, but it is cutting deeper into my budget percentage wise too.

AND YET I AM MORE COMFORTABLE WITH THIS LIFESTYLE than communist because I have an idea that communism automatically means standing in long lines for a simple loaf of bread with poor service and limited supply.

And I am talking about a capitalism where I have not even looked at corruption.  This is what I am comfortable with assuming everyone is honest and ethical!  I have comfort in THIS.

THUS, I ASPIRE to communism.  I am not actually comfortable at all with communism.  Communism does not honor my rugged individualism; it demands we all trust each other!  I never have really experienced it.  Even to the extent it looks attractive to me, the idea of switching over is so full of fear that it remains an aspiration, and not something I actually achieve or even work toward.

Secondly I am not aspiring to Russian or Chinese communism.

As it turns out, capitalism is not the only kind of economy that can be corrupted.  Communism can be corrupted too – maybe with ever bit as bad a devastation as the capitalism.

When I was a kid, I used to hear people speak of “godless communism” sometimes, and while I am sure that phraseology bore the weight of sentiment and complexities which are largely foreign to us today, I nonetheless want to contrast the communism to which I aspire with those kinds of communism we both tend to have more familiarity with and more fear of.  On the contrary, I aspire to biblical communism – particularly as we find in the book of Acts in the New Testament.

This is not the Marxism you have read about.  This is the church!  The church in Jerusalem, the foundation church of all churches, the one whose missionary efforts kicked off all missionary efforts and all churches everywhere.  This is THAT church, and it is a poor church.  This is a poor church, but apparently at least some of the congregants owned property, and they began selling all their property and giving the money to the church!  And the church redistributed the wealth so that none of the poor lacked anything!  And it appears they found success in this!  Problems too, but success as well!

This is not godless communism, this is God’s communism.  This is not capitalism of any kind, but it is the kind of economic practice we find pleasing to the Lord!  This is the kind of economic practice we find pleasing to the Lord who came to SAVE THE WORLD.  This economic practice, therefore, in some way or another enables, impacts, endorses, or embodies the salvation Jesus brings to the world!  It is connected in some important way.

I don’t have it all figured out.  I can’t see that deeply into it… just how it fits and what exactly drives it or what it drives.  I have lots of questions, but I can plainly see it is a natural outgrowth of loving Jesus, and loving Jesus is involved in the redemption of all of creation!  It is INVOLVED!  Just how, I can’t explain, but I have some guesses.

I am thinking of the rich man who asks Jesus (Mark 10) how he can inherit eternal life.  There is a lot there to explore in that exchange, much of it may well prove worthy of exploration as part of this discussion, but at the moment I draw your attention to the last bit where Jesus tells the man to sell all he owns, give it to the poor, count his riches in heaven and come follow Jesus – that part.  I am thinking that the church in Jerusalem is somehow enacting that command.  Perhaps with some variation, but the relationship between the command that rich man fails to follow and the following of a church that wasn’t, strictly speaking, biblically commanded to do it.

It occurs to me that the very obvious, though unspoken, fact about this teaching is that it quickly makes a poor man out of a rich man!  THAT, I think, is what makes this teaching so hard.  It is what makes excuses for not following this teaching so easy.

But what if we turned toward it?

This brings me back to all that comfort I keep finding in a capitalist system that is slowly screwing me, God, and everybody.  I have comfort in it, which is actually quite ironic!  And I have flat out dread and fear for the command Jesus lays on this rich man, which the church in Jerusalem as depicted in Acts 2 and 4 seems only too willing to follow.

Here is some more complexity for you…

This is CHURCH business, not state business.  Never mind the fact that the United States officially separates church and state, AND never mind the fact that such a separation is more clear on paper than in reality.  This is a Jesus THANG.  It is for Jesus’s people.  And somehow it appears to me that if Jesus’s people really put their money where his mouth is, then his salvation for the world begins to blossom in ways we cannot foresee, AND that a secular state will never even dare to imagine – won’t even try.

Thus I am in no way trying to overthrow the government we have either with revolt or with ballot initiatives.  I don’t think there will ever come a day when we will successfully argue communism through the legislative process, nor do I think God wants us to try.  I think, rather, God wants his church, his own people, to take the leap of faith into the eternal life he offers and somehow beyond that, beyond what probably we even dare to imagine, THAT will thwart the powers of darkness which corrupt both the capitalism we currently practice AND the communism produced in the East.  But that requires faith to find out, in my estimation, and no calculation this side of that leap is going to bring the clarity that would possibly offer comfort too.

Meanwhile, whatever church(es) do this almost certainly will become poor.  And that is what we find in the Jerusalem church.  It is the very thing which seems to have scared the rich man out of following Jesus’s command – out of inheriting eternal life.  And thus, it would seem without that witness to the world, the world goes on grasping at these other two options.

There is a LOT of speculation packed up in that on my part.  But as I read the Bible and follow Jesus, this is the juncture where I find myself now.  I speculate on these things in these ways.

I struggle like a communist trapped in a capitalist’s body.  I am scared by the notion too.

Thus, I am open to being talked out of this.

So please… talk me out of this!

Otherwise, I might just take the Bible too seriously… it seems.

 

Sounds

“You can scream at the top of your voice, but it will not be heard” – shepherd from church. This blog post says otherwise…

Open Roads and Sidewalk Thoughts

From the moment you walk in you hear it. Sounds. Some unintelligible. Others indistinct noises of machines whirring, of plates clanking, of footsteps shuffling. Some sounds are as clear as can be, but they seem to be lacking any context. But these sounds come from people. From people inside of their world either by choice, by circumstances, by their situation, or by being stuck. It is hard to tell the reasons why in the hearing of the sounds themselves.

But with a visual, there seems to be enough information available, at the very least, to put some kind of rudimentary backstory together, not for the story’s sake, but for the conversation’s sake. And now, let us deal with the sounds I heard.

Upon arriving to the locked doors, there is a sign. “Please push the red button to unlatch the doors.” The sound of a buzzing, a distinct click as…

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False Alarm (Please Go Back To Your Comfort)

Due to misguided conviction, which upon close examination proves entirely unbiblical and has NOTHING to do with the love of Jesus, this blog has mistakenly called Christian attention to the plight of the poor in Lubbock, Texas.  It is with our sincerest apologies that Fat Beggars School of Prophets, full of shame and sorrow, regretfully retracts the prophetic alarm sounded from Ezekiel’s wall.

Please return to your regularly scheduled programing.  There is no need for you to concern yourself with the roughly 500 street-homeless individuals toughing it out on the streets of Lubbock, Texas.  The church has deployed the expertise of 501c3 organizations in place of the actual Body of Christ, and so there is no need to bother Jesus with this little, tiny, insignificant issue.

Go back to your comfortable life of shopping, fine dining, football-game watching, middle-class, hard work decorated with a very compartmentalized Christian faith.  There is nothing more to do or see here, and we completely apologize for the interruption.

Please…

No, really.

If you are troubled at all, please just write check to make the problem go away and drop it in the collection plate OR, if you like (for more hip conscience salve), visit our local charitable coffee bar and purchase a nice latte which sends $1 of every $10-drink you buy to the afore mentioned 501c3 organizations.  This issue is completely under control.

Again, we completely apologize for the inconvenience and any discomfort.  Please pay no attention ever again to the Fat Beggars School of Prophets.  They may scream at the top of their voice, but it shall not be heard again.

Thanx and god Bless…

-The Management

“Crucify Him! Crucify Him!! Crucify Him!!!”

If you had been there when Pilate tried the Lord, would you have joined the chorus?  Would you have shouted judgment on Him??  Would you have said, “Crucify Him!” too???

(In the strictest sense there are logical and theological problems with rephrasing the question this way, but bear with me…)

If Jesus were on trial now at the District Court in Lubbock, would you join the chorus this time?  Would you shout judgment on the Lord again??  Would you say, “Crucify Him!” now too???

(Yes, it was a one-off event, not to be repeated, and even the idea of repeating it convolutes it’s power and meaning which is God-ordained and to thwart it would be to thwart God (which is impossible anyway), and no, the District Court in Lubbock does not carry out crucifixion nor tolerate shouting mobs, and thus the thought experiment breaks down under such scrutiny, but – BUT – but we can still talk about YOUR heart and your RELATIONSHIP with Jesus by asking this/these questions. )

Basically, setting the dramatic effect aside, do you stand WITH Jesus or AGAINST him?

Look.  The thing is done, and cannot be changed.  But you – YOU – you are either changed or not.

God loved you so much, he gave his all for you (the most famous verse in the Bible).  He gave his one and only Son up for you… gave him into the hands of an angry mob to be beaten, whipped, tortured, mocked, and killed in an orgy of CONTEMPT as a ransom for your life.

He sent his Son to his own (people), but his own did not know him.  He sent his Son, the Son of God, to his own as a lowly peasant from Nazareth.  And CONTEMPT asked, “What good thing ever came from… from… from Nazareth?”  He anointed him Messiah, God’s-chosen King, but the people saw only an impotent rebel-prophet.  He built an army out of other peasants, especially the lame, the blind, the deaf, the leprous, the weak – the beggars, and he called them “disciples” and disarmed them except for eyes to see what would happen next and a couple of swords to ensure that he would be counted as one of the transgressors.  Thus the God-chosen King’s army looked like a bunch of bums to the watchful eye of the established “religious leaders”.  And Jerusalem did not recognize the Day of Visitation.

So perhaps those people there that day shouting “Crucify Him!” sinned in ignorance.

Entrusted with the Oracles of God, if ever there were a people on the face of the earth who should have been in “RELATIONSHIP” with God, these were the ones.  But they were blinded by their own pride and CONTEMPT.  But still there seems to be some sympathy we should extend them for this surely was a divine sucker-punch.

Fool me once, shame on you.

Fool me twice, shame on me.

And now we – WE – we self-professing Chriistians of Lubbock, Texas who champion – CHAMPION – champion the “RELATIONSHIP” we have with God… We who preach it, …we who claim it, …we who reduce our whole reason to live down to that beautiful little word R-E-L-A-T-I-O-N-S-H-I-P… yes WE are entrusted with that oracle in Matthew 25:31-46.

We know deep down in our bones that Jesus is “the least of these brothers” – the poor, the needy, the beggars, the homeless – and we run – RUN – run like the Father to the prodigal son and throw a party when we see him on the corner with a sign and compel the crippled, the lame, and the poor who cannot afford to repay us this kindness to come in – COME IN – come in to our hospitality, our warm sanctuary, our LOVE where we can have that RELATIONSHIP.

Right?

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

Will you answer the door?

Or would you sooner shout, “Crucify Him!”?

 

 

The Cacophony And The Melody

I am not a musician (nor a poet).  I am not an artist.  I am not actually a mental patient (but I play one in my mind), yet I have been accused of “looking like” one, and I have, on a couple or three occasions in my life, been prescribed psychoactive medications.  I either have appreciation for all of these or maybe a few affinities with them even, but I am none of them.

Rather, I am a prophet of God – I hope.  God speaks to me, or at least I imagine he does, which might be just my imagination, but even that might be God!  (Let that bake your noodle!)

I also am an old “metal head.”

When I was young, I was into heavy metal music.  I didn’t like it all, indiscriminately, and metal was not the only kind of music I liked, but it was my go-to favorite genre.  In it, I heard music – rich cacophonous music and powerful melodies.  I thought it was the natural progression and expression of pop music AND was particularly suited to young people.  To my parents, the general sound of it was cacophony, but I heard the melody in it, and I thought it captured the true sense of me and my world.  (That part is debatable, but it is what I thought when I was young.)

Heavy metal music features the electric guitar mostly.  The guitar tends to be the central feature, but it needs to be accompanied, usually, with heavy beating drums and base.  Beyond these features, the styles within the genre are varied (and there are exceptions even to these main features).  Some metal is very dark and brooding, some slow with heavy swing beat, other is light and fun-oriented, party music or very fast beat (some groups call themselves “speed metal” and so forth).

To my way of thinking, metal was always meant to be an insider’s genre.  It wasn’t meant for anyone and everyone “to get it” so to speak.  It was meant, so I imagined it, to repulse more people than it attracted.  I sense, though perhaps this is my subjective interpretation, that metal was birthed from punk rock and the blues, but it had the spirit of a red headed step child that took a beating from these parents.  People not enthused and attracted were meant to be offended.

I remember the first time I visited a Hard Rock Café and saw a famous guitar mounted on the wall (might have been Jimi Hendrix’s, but I can’t recall clearly now), and looking at all the middle-aged people enjoying the meal and ambiance and thinking – oh man… this music is “your father’s Oldsmobile” (as the old advertising slogan used to say).  I could plainly see that rock/pop music had its traditions and all, but I thought the real thrust was that it was supposed to upset your parents and old people, not up-and-go mainstream!  I was disappointed by what I saw.  (Sellouts!)

Still, not being a real musician myself, I consider my musical appreciation to be second-class after a fashion.  But I nonetheless note that one of the fairly regular features of many a-good metal song is to begin the opening portion with some tame, tranquil (even), and often classical sounding bit of tune which after a few bars collides with the cacophony of thrashing drums and guitars or maybe a growl or screech from the vocalist as the real metal part of the song hijacks the lullaby.  This is the part where I heard melody yet my father heard cacophony.

Why am I talking about all this?

I am sure, this far into this post, that I am overkilling my point.  But, perhaps I am somehow artistically demonstrating it at those levels even as I analyze it with the logic.  I think that my prophetic message, much like heavy metal music, takes a page from Moses’s account about Jacob wrestling the Angel and prevailing with God.  Even great classical music uses this technique, however, normally going the other direction.  A piece of cacophonous music which your ear strains with difficulty to make sense slowly becomes rewarded with a sweet and ingenious melody that only the master craftsman can compose and the master musicians can produce, but it creates a lovely experience that your mind and heart hunger for again and again – thus you listen to Mozart and Beethoven repeatedly for the joy of it.

I am not an artist, but I find prophets are LIKE artists in intriguing ways.  There is no limit on the art.  Beauty is in the eye (ear, nose and so forth) of the beholder.  At that level ANYTHING goes, and yet, somehow there are rules to this stuff.  Of course part of the art is knowing how and when to bend or break one of these rules or several of them and to what extent.

When it comes to heavy metal, some musicians and groups are quite talented at the craft, but many of them are not.  Many of them cannot read music, never studied it, and for that matter barely know how to produce it.  (This, in my view, tends to be more prevalent among the party bands who are more interested in banging out a good time than getting a particular sound or harmony.)  But even that is sort of a rule AND the breaking of it.  Others are master craftsmen, such as Randy Rhodes (R.I.P.) who as I understand it, studied classical guitar and then brought major influence from that into the metal genre.  And actually, the metal and hard rock genre is full of guitar virtuosos.

So here I am producing cacophony.  The general subject matter of this blog is Jesus vis-à-vis homelessness.  That already is repugnant to so many people on so many levels.  Everyone from the atheists who don’t care for Jesus to the rich who don’t care for the poor are already offended by what I say, even before I start.  And then there is the matter of whether I am a master craftsman.

I am neither a Bible scholar nor a great writer.  I write trash as trash, in service to trash, on behalf of trash and do so as if I expect you to find treasure here.  That is the clash of cash -n- trash in a nutshell.  But right at the nub of my message is the idea that Jesus (and therefor God) presents himself to you from below your contempt.  Jesus says he is “the least of these brothers” and “behold I stand at the door and knock….”  You have an Angel to wrestle if you want to see and know him, and perhaps that Angel’s name is Contempt.

I think most people driving by the sidewalk of the blog-O-sphere, roll up to the red light at the intersection with this blog and quickly double check the lock on their door and quickly divert their eyes away – most people.  A few resist driving down in this neighborhood altogether… but of course it seems these days that the homeless are everywhere!  And to the extent you see Jesus in this blog or in the bum on the street corner, it is a sign of how much you wrestle the Angel.

There is a party here – the party of the Apocalypse.  When God comes in Almighty Judgment, there will be a proverbial velvet rope and a bouncer deciding who gets into this party and who doesn’t.  It will be a shock to see the sinners, the whores, and the bums getting in first and the first class getting in last (if they get in at all).

The fact is this.  I am not the musician.  I am the instrument.  And the sound I make is a cacophony seeking a melodic resolution.  I encourage you to listen carefully for the emerging melody!  The Master Musician playing me knows far better than you or me what he is doing.

 

Please Don’t Throw Your Cigarette Butts In The Urinal (It Makes Them Soggy And Hard To Relight)

Agent dc was here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners the other day rocking a baby, playing with the children, and visiting with us adults (Mrs. Agent X and I) for a couple of hours.  While he was here, I asked if he had ever read Shane Claiborne’s book The Irresistible Revolution.  He had not.  So I sent a copy with him when he left.  A few days later, Agent dc returned for another visit, and if you have ever read Claiborne’s book, then I don’t have to tell you what the topic of conversation was on his next visit.

Oh yeah.  He had been reading Claiborne, alright.

He wasn’t finished with the book, but well into it, and was feeling swept up in it.  And so we talked about some of the things he was reading, and pretty quick we all had smiles on our faces.  And one of the features of that book, one that is never overtly analyzed in the book, but which becomes part of most conversations about it (in my experience), is the joy – the thrill, the fun, the adventure – of Christian living that Claiborne’s example sets forth.

Oh, it is daring, alright.  Some parts of Claiborne’s experiences exhibit uncommon bravery and sorrow.  A lot of us white, middle-class, law-abiding types would not go sleep in an alley or on concrete while serving the sick and the poor of Calcutta or purposely break laws which would get us thrown in jail, or even more, purposely head into a war zone where the United States was dropping bombs by the mega-tonnage so as to pray with the people being bombed.  And I get that.

But on every page of his book, Claiborne exhibits a curiosity and a joy in the work, in the adventure, in the face of fear which is incredible and which is attractive.  Claiborne goes to jail, but he is enjoying his mission!  He goes there singing and full of hope, and takes on an unjust legal system in the courts and prevails!  Most of that is quite biblical, actually!  And yet almost ENTIRELY missing among the assembly where I hold membership.

I don’t know if that is your experience or not, but I am thinking odds are good that it is not.  How much of our faith is saturated in guilt, somber reflection, dry theology and doctrine, laborious study, analysis of all the things we stand against, judgment, and … well… fear?

Don’t get me wrong.  There are times and places in which any or all of those things are appropriate, but why do they seem to dominate?  And in those moments when they don’t dominate, why do they chase after us like hounds to pull us back into our entrenchments?  That doesn’t seem right.

So as we were reading and talking about Claiborne, we noted the stories of a man who regularly faces humiliation, pain, fear, and death – REGULARLY (or frequently, anyway!).  But his story is saturated with joy and delight.

Oh, and he seems to be confronting the modern church every step of the way!  He is saying and doing all the things that, in my experience, piss off the established church!  But those of us reading and talking about his little book are swept up in the adventure, the fun, the joy that saturates every page.

And Claiborne is not interested in your money.  There is a note in the book where he encourages his readers, to the chagrin of his publishers (who bravely did not edit this sentiment out of the published draft) that if you can borrow and loan this book instead of buying it, then please do so!  And when Claiborne wins his case in court and receives sizable settlements, he takes tens of thousands of dollars and holds a Jubilee party on Wall Street in New York City where he tosses all the money in small bills and change all over the street so that ANYONE who needs a few dollars can just pick it up drifting on the breeze!  And he lives in a commune of sorts, growing his own food, sewing his own clothes, and loving on the poor, the destitute, and sharing his home and goods with them – almost diametrically opposed to the American Dream at every level!  And in all of this, God glories in Claiborne’s humiliation, but Claiborne finds joy in the trials!

Agent dc, Mrs. Agent X, and I all have a sense that we want in on THAT!

All of this has me thinking again about a time when Mrs. Agent X and I were loving on a cheap, crack-addicted, prostitute a number of years ago.  We were recalling all the serendipities we shared with this woman as she would sober up for a couple of days and come stay with us for holidays and birthdays.  About how Mrs. Agent X baked sweet potato pies which we wound up delivering to the crack house where our friend shared this little blessing with the other crack addicts.  And about how after spending gobs of money on cigarettes, we learned to treasure hunt cigarette butts in ashtrays all over town!

The first time I saw a bum picking through an ashtray in front of the Walgreens, the picture that presented looked so shameful to me.  I was repulsed!  The ick-factor of just touching those things struck me powerfully, truth be told.  But it opened up my mind and imagination too, and as I turned into the humility of doing that myself, I learned where to find the “good ones” – especially near healthcare facilities where nurses and doctors who can actually afford the habit sometimes light up a high-end brand for just one or two drags before disposing of it on the way in to work or conference.

Who knew?

Who knew I would gain this expertise?  But this kind of treasure hunt became a source of great fun for the Agents X, and a fantastic source of joy for our crack addicted friend!  And we together served God and found rich joy there in the humiliation!

This was one of the points in our life where we found ourselves sharing in that joy Claiborne so easily depicts!

But…

This is not the first time I have posted that story.  I posted a different version of it about a year and a half ago.  And as I recall, I was wanting to highlight this sense of joy and blessing hidden in the humility then too, yet at that time the small group from church had not yet “ghosted” me, and so I emailed a link to the post to several of the people in that email list.

Sadly, I mistakenly included a fragile soul struggling with addiction who had become part of our group.  (To be honest, I don’t see the problem here, but I certainly see the potential need for sensitivity there alright.)  One of the shepherds in my group went ballistic on me.  This is when I received the email telling me I can “scream at the top of [my] voice, but it will not be heard.”  He went on to scold me in the most intense terms about how I only do damage and hurt people.

This was the church response to my story about cigarette butt collecting for Jesus.

You know what I think?

I think I provided that shepherd an awesome opportunity to seek and share this joy with that person struggling with addiction.  But he, instead, wanted to damn me more than do that.

AND…

I have let the last year and a half live in the shadow of his poor shepherding of both that addict and me.

Look.  Do me a favor.  Please don’t throw your cigarette butts in the urinal.  It makes them soggy and hard to relight.  And also, please don’t scapegoat me and use me as the excuse when the addict you are showing love falls into relapse.  Relapse is a fairly standard feature of addiction, and there is always some excuse for it, but maybe if you try loving the addict and sharing joy with them, you just might have success you never imagined.

But that would suggest some change on your part.  It would mean you are joining Jesus in the party. (Luke 14:12-14 anyone???)

 

Who Moved My Rock?

(Warning: This post is NOT going to matter!)

I have a truly anti-climactic, self-absorbed, boring and pointless story to tell, which I wouldn’t wish on any reader ever.  Let me take this opportunity and talk you out of reading it.  Click off right now, and spare yourself the trouble.  There is NOTHING to see here.  And so, if you are still reading, then I presume there is almost no way I can shake you off.  Welcome to my story.  Here goes a real rambler….

Okay…

Starting with just the basic facts: When I was fifteen years old, my family moved from a small town in Texas where we had lived for over five years to another small town way out west.  It was a sad move.  Very hard.  I don’t think any of us really wanted to go, but Dad had been fired as a preacher by the little church he served, and despite his dismissal from the flock of our very bass-ackward, fundamentalist church, practically everyone else in town who was not a member lamented this move too.  Several people came to my dad asking him to start another church and assured him they would join it and support him.

Well, all of that is factual, though subjectively emotional too.

But here’s the part I really want to talk about: The Rock.

I was just a kid at the time.  I went from elementary school through junior high and into high school in that little town, and I felt deeper roots there than anywhere I had ever known in my short life.  I had hoped my friends there would be life-long friends.  But we were leaving, and so one of the little, very personal, child-like things I did before going was that I set up a rock on a fencepost and wondered how long it would stay there untouched..

The rock was not very big.  More than a pebble, sure… probably twice as big as my fist.  Big enough I felt sure no wind short of a tornado would move it.  And I found a sturdy fencepost in a fence which looked like it had been there all my life already, and I placed the rock squarely on the top of the post.  I checked it, and it sat there solidly.  In fact, I checked it regularly for a couple of weeks before we left town, and took every opportunity to inspect it to see if it wobbled or moved.  It did not.

The fence was inconspicuous, but it was not hidden somewhere in no-man’s-land.  It was near a public area, a fence roughly midway between the Boy Scout hut and the baseball field, yet thirty paces off the road too.  In five years of living there, I had never seen that particular fence, and most certainly that particular fence post, disturbed in the slightest.

Thus my rock was hidden in plain sight.  I intended it to not be noticed, and I called no attention to it.  In fact, I told no one about it EVER.  It was just a witness between God and me alone.  Our little secret thing.  Yet it was almost like a pile of stones one of Israel’s patriarch’s might have set up at Mizpah or at the Jordan crossing, except in this case it was just one precarious stone inconspicuously left atop a fencepost.

It was my mark on the world.

It said I WAS HERE; I belonged.  I remember you; do you remember me?  But it did not shout or seek attention with anyone but God.  And I knew I was leaving it for him to watch, because once I was gone, even I would no longer be able to monitor it.

I knew there would come a day when it would be moved.  But how?  Under what circumstance??  Who and when???

I was assuredly never going to know.  It was a thing that once done would not be appreciated by the one who did it.  Still, through the years I have wondered about that rock.

In fact the first year or so after moving away, I am sure I contemplated that rock many times.  I can see myself as a new student in my new school the next fall finding my first-period class and standing there at the door waiting for the teacher to arrive to let in the students.  I watched so many kids pass by, all of them seeming to have friends, seeming to know where they were going, having a reason to be there and a point to their lives… while I waited for the bell to ring.  I think I thought about that rock just then.

Eventually, I too had friends to be with and places to be and things to do, and my world was a swirl of newness – everything from parties to campouts to sledding in the snow.  We had a new house, new TV shows premiered that fall, there was a new football team to cheer for, and some of my new friends had driver’s licenses (as soon I did too) which also opened up new vistas.  And yet in the midst of all that swirl, I would think about that rock and wonder.  .

It’s funny to me now more than 35 years later that I think about that rock still – maybe even more now than I did when I was a kid.

I went back to visit that little town with my family two and a half years later, actually.  The townsfolk (not the church) actually put on a banquet to honor my dad and us (his family).  As I recall, I was overwhelmed during that visit by how much all my friends had grown up and changed in the intervening time.  A year after that, I was graduated from high school and left home, and my travels took me to a town near that Texas town again, and I dropped in for a visit then too.  Then a third time, twenty years later, I had an opportunity to stop in on that little town yet again, this time with my dad who was treated like a rock star mobbed by groupies and autograph hounds backstage when the townsfolk discovered he was in their country store!  Yet in none of those visits did I check on the fencepost to see if the rock was still there.  I mean “the rocket’s red glare and the bombs bursting in air gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,” but I failed to see if my rock was.

I had not forgot it, but I didn’t get the opportunity to investigate it, and it didn’t seem important enough to try.  And anyway, I felt it was too personal – that I would be embarrassed to mention it to others.  And anyway, maybe I didn’t want to see it was moved – a bit of denial.  I could hope it was still there if I did NOT look.  So, I let the rock remain a mystery in what seemed like perpetuity.

That is… until five years ago when my wife and I drove my stepson to San Antonio to drop him off for advanced military training as a United States Marine at Lackland AFB.  Our little road trip allowed us to swing by the old home town and spend an hour poking around.  I didn’t seek anyone to visit, only the rock.

On that day, roughly thirty years after leaving that rock on that fencepost, I finally had the chance to drive down there, get out of the car, and walk up to the spot.  And what I found was a completely renovated plot of land!  The fence was gone, not just the rock!  Not only that, but just down the road two hundred yards, was bridge across the creek bed which led into the park.  I think of all the times (and all the time) I ever spent on or crossing that bridge, and yet it was replaced with a new one!  Ironically, though, the old one, in disrepair and disuse, is still there right next to the new one.  If I would have had any idea about the temporality of that bridge, I would not have given the rock on the fencepost any thought.

Go figure. But that bridge is another story for another time.

So, I searched the fence line carefully for a rock at the place where I was certain I had left it as a kid when I was nervous about my place in the world and any impact I might have on it.  I wondered aloud to God about it.  When did it move?  How long did my little mark on this world, “set in stone” no less, last?  Did it last one year?  Two??  Ten???  Twenty????

Did it last even one day?

How did it get moved?  Did someone finally notice it, walk up to it and take it in hand and ask themselves or God, “Who put this here?  How curious?”  And if they did, might I ever find out who it was, and would they remember it now?

Talk about your long shot!

In the Shawshank Redemption, Andy leaves Red a box buried under “a rock that has no business being there” next to a stone wall under a tree, which years later Red finds, and by which their friendship finds new life outside of prison.  That too was a long shot, but this? THIS???

Talk about your long shot!

The futility has me asking:  Did someone accidently back their Chevy up to the fence and bump it and drive off, thus without even knowing it erasing my little mark on the world?

As you can see, I have given a lot of thought to that rock.

Who moved my rock?

I knew it would move when I put it there; I knew it.  I did not actually expect it to stay, but still thirty years later, I walked out to the spot just to check.  Just to check.  An adult, still worried about what that kid so long ago had done.

And in the years since, I have not talked about it.  But I have given it far more thought in recent times than I did as a kid.  I mean, I wasn’t thinking about that rock when I went to the Metallica concert in 96 or to Chicago’s Sears Tower in 2001.  I wasn’t thinking about that rock at my mom’s funeral or watching the sunset over Yarnell, Arizona.  There were many, many special moments in my life in which that rock was the furthest thing from my mind, but it was a rock, and I was sure that short of a tornado hitting it, the wind would not move it.  It lacked permanence, but it had staying power – certainly if it continued to be unnoticed in obscurity.

And why did I choose impermanence and obscurity for my rock?  Why did I do that?

Because I shared it with God, and I know he is into those long shots.  It’s his thing.  And I wanted in on THAT.

So, who moved my rock?

God only knows.