HOW DO I GET THE IMAGE OF GOD IN ME TOGETHER WITH THE IMAGE OF GOD IN YOU?

I am not a country music fan, not really.  A little bit, sure, but not much.  I only mention it because I was visiting my dad and he had country music playing as I was meditating on hospitality, and between these things, the title of this post seemed to present itself to me like a bad country song.

I am no musician either, so I will not be writing the song, but I can almost hear it in my head, and it is helping me think more deliberately and creatively about the role of hospitality in God’s kingdom rule.

All my thoughts suddenly and closely approximate the romance of country music.  That almost magical spell that comes over a man and a woman who meet and find themselves drawn to one another by “love at first sight,” as we sometimes call it.  There is something healing, something right, something mystical about opening yourself up to one another in evermore risky layers of vulnerability.  No guarantee it will be reciprocated, but enough hope and expectation of it that once the encounter is entered, the process elicits reciprocity in mysterious ways.

What if the image of God revealed from within you toward other image bearers elicits revelation in others?  And what if revealing God requires humble vulnerability and love, the kind that naturally unfolds on the stage of hospitality?

When you invite a person into your home, you make yourself vulnerable to them.  When you seat them at your table, you share your life’s sustenance in that vulnerability.  When you lodge that person in your guest room, you demonstrate uncommon trust/faith.  When that person reciprocates, plays the role of a gracious guest, you call this process “family.”  In fact, this is a process my parents shared with my grandparents in our home many times growing up, and which we shared when we visited my grandparents, and it was always considered a very special treat.

So what happens when we share this with strangers?

Hospitality done well (and especially done well by both hosts and guests) turns strangers into friends, enemies into brothers, and fear into faith.  It involves risk, but so does romance (and judging by the sales of country music songs, there is no shortage of people trying to do that).  Risk can be mitigated, but it must not be eliminated, and attempts at eliminating it kill the hospitality, and thus the potential transformation of strangers into friends.

Hospitality is the stage upon which God’s transformative power unfolds.  Jesus sends out 72 missionaries taking nothing with them, no supplies, with an expectation that they will find hospitality and unfold the Gospel message on that stage.  Hospitality is not the only place the drama of Gospel salvation unfolds, but it is perhaps the main one and perhaps the most powerful.  A world-changing insight here.

When was the last time you experienced the transforming power of the Gospel??? Whether receiving the blessing of salvation for yourself or revealing it to others?

Does your church have an evangelism program?

They don’t?

Oh, they do???

So, you are trained to hang out down at the mall approaching complete strangers with a Gospel message about how they are hell-bound sinners if they don’t listen to you instruct them on the love of Christ?

How is that working?

Oh, you send your kids on a service project mission to Mexico to build a house or to LA to feed the homeless in a soup kitchen?

How many deep and abiding, Christ-centered, personal relationships have you and your kids cultivated doing that over the years?

Wow!  That many?

How many souvenir tee shirts do you have from those short term mission trips?

Wow!  That many?

Every invite a bum into your home to eat and take refuge?

What difference do you think THAT would wake in a bum’s life?  In your life??  In your Christian home???

Sounds risky, huh?

And it is.  But powerful too.  But you would not know that if you spend all your missional energy trying to eliminate the risk, trying to keep social and economic lines in the cultural sand well preserved and protected rather than erased and rendered meaningless.

Think about it.

How can I get the image of God in me together with the image of God in you?  And what if the image of God is born supremely on a Roman cross?

Think about it.

ENTERTAINING ANGELS UNAWARE AT SIMON’S CRIB (Luke 7:36-50)

(Sometimes, these things just jump of the pages of my Bible at me right out of the blue, and I wonder why didn’t I hear this in at least one good sermon somewhere in the course of my life, or why didn’t I read this stuff in one of those fancy, hifalutin theology books I paid an arm and a leg for?  This post highlights one of those times.  I will never read Luke 7 the same again, now.)

Go take a few minutes and read Luke 7:36-50, then come back and let’s talk.  I think you will want to refresh yourself on this, because what I have to say next is going to vastly expand anything you ever read or heard elsewhere, and you will want to have the text fresh in your mind.

Did you read it yet?

… no…?

I can wait.  Go ahead.

… no really… I can wait…

Okay.

So, there is this Pharisee who invites Jesus over to the house for dinner; eventually we find out his name is Simon.  While Jesus is there reclining at table, a sinful woman bursts in on the party and begins sobbing at Jesus’s feet prompting Simon to have some new thoughts about Jesus and Jesus responding with a parable about forgiveness.  Jesus pronounces that the woman’s sins are forgiven her at which point everyone at the table puzzles over who exactly this man is.

That is a bare bones synopsis, leaving out tons of details.  But then Luke leaves out so many details that us modern readers might wish for already.  However, there are a number of details we can supply to the story with a rich understanding of history and of Israel’s hope for a messiah, and then there are the fresh ideas that jump of the page for me, just today, when I look at this story through a theological lens of HOSPITALITY.

HOSPITALITY.

I have surveyed many friends over the years on this now, and when it comes to biblical hospitality, the go-to passage of Scripture on this is Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect HOSPITALITY with strangers, for some have entertained angels unaware by doing that.”  I am convinced that the writer of that passage has first, and foremost, in mind Abraham and Sarah as they entertain the Angel of the Lord in the form of Three Strangers in Genesis 18.  But we see others too entertaining angels (or God) all through the Bible at various points (Gen. 19:1-14; Jdgs 13:15-20; Matt. 25:35-40) and, perhaps most importantly for our purposes today, we see it in Luke 24:28-30, since that is a major example and is found in the same gospel account as we are already looking.

One of the main things I learn from Prof. Joshua Jipp, author of Saved By Faith And Hospitality, is that passage in Luke 6, just one chapter before our present study, Jesus announces his messianic mission from his hometown synagogue by declaring the “Year of the Lord’s Welcome.”  (We usually translate it as “favor,” but Jipp makes a theological and linguistic case for translating it “welcome” instead.) And this sermon appeals to the Old Testament’s prophetic vision of Jubilee, the forgiveness of debts.  Jesus, then, characterizes his whole message and mission as one ushering in God’s Jubilee.  Jubilee, which is referred to as “the Lord’s Welcome” by Luke’s Jesus.

According to Luke, the writer of our present passage, Jesus’s whole message and mission is about God’s HOSPITALITY.  Jesus is welcoming God’s people into God’s kingdom, into the creation of God’s love.  Luke’s Jesus is on a mission to spread the invitation to join God in his hospitable forgiveness.  And there are so many hallmarks, then, of gracious HOSPITALITY jumping off of page after page of Luke’s account of Jesus’s life’s work.  

Consider the Good Samaritan who hosts an injured stranger in his care as he heals from a beating.  Consider the party the father throws for his prodigal son returned home from a foreign land.  Consider when Jesus invites himself over to the home of Zaccheus where that cheater turns over a new leaf.  And consider how Jesus instructs us, in Luke 14, that when we throw parties to make sure and invite the crippled, the blind, and the poor who cannot repay the kindness.

Assuming everything I have said so far is on target (obviously relying heavily on Joshua Jipp too), two things are coming into focus (at least for me here): 1) HOSPITALITY is not just incidental, not just a random bit of any given scene – probably not in the whole Bible, and certainly not in Luke/Acts, and 2) HOSPITALITY is a transformative process bringing salvation and the Kingdom of God to bear on the world – there is power in it that we would not want to miss!

And so it is that as I come to Luke 7:36, and there find a Pharisee inviting Jesus to come for dinner, I am suddenly intrigued to see a story where something important happens in the midst of HOSPITALITY.  (I also am just a little jealous that Simon gets to have Jesus over for tea kinda like so many of my friends in the psych unit, but I don’t.  What would you give for a chance to host Jesus for dinner at your house tonight?)

But we need to throw a pause on this scene right there a moment.

This Pharisee inviting Jesus over for dinner is not exactly the same thing as that; he is not the messianic welcome committee.  No.  Simon the Pharisee is providing a service, not so much to Jesus as to the rest of Israel here, and it comes across as something of an obligatory duty he performs.  One in which Jesus is almost beneath his contempt.

Here’s the thing: Israel, in the times of Jesus, was filled with people hoping and yearning for God’s messiah to come and save his people, alright, and they knew, largely due to the way King David had been anointed in obscurity and right under the nose of King Saul, that this messiah might very well arise from obscurity again.  But, there were literally hundreds, maybe thousands, of men popping up from obscurity making claims to be the Chosen One of God who would save the people, and many of them would then build up a following of “disciples” or warriors and rebels and the like, and then they would go pick a fight with Romans (or other enemies of God’s people) and their rebellion would wind up getting them killed.  After a few dozen, or maybe a few hundred, of these messianic wannabes, as we might call them, managed to put together their ragtag rebel armies, recruited from the young men of surrounding villages, and getting a lot of people’s hopes up in desperation and all, only to get them killed, it seemed someone should try to vet these characters.

This was a service Pharisees were particularly good at.  They vetted messianic wannabes.  And mostly, and rightly so, they found that these messianic wannabes were not in fact the real thing.  

Imagine if you had a few sons of about fightin’ age and there was a new rebel leader looking for recruits every Spring.  You would want to get the rabbi’s endorsement before you just let your kids run off with this or that “messiah,” even if you wanted desperately to believe in him.  

This is why, in various gospel accounts, we see Jesus arguing with Pharisees so often.  They are, in a sense, on the same team, but the Pharisees are weeding out the fakes from the real thing.  The problem is, though, they don’t recognize the day of their visitation.

And it turns out that this Pharisee, Simon in Luke 7, seems to prefer a method of inviting potential messiahs over to dine.  Contrast this against other Pharisees who might hide out in a grain field spying on a “messiah” and catching his “disciples” picking grains and eating them on a Sabbath or attending worship on a Sabbath to see if the “messiah” is going to heal anyone on the Lord’s Day of Rest. 

It’s right about here that I am beginning to have a new level of respect for Simon.  He actually invites a potential messiah over to the crib to eat.  That’s hospitality, y’all!  

So, what exactly is so wrong with this then?

Hmmm…

Well, for starts, it seems that Simon has reduced his hospitality to this political maneuver.  I’m beginning to wonder if Simon’s little game here isn’t expected of Jesus.  “Come get Simon’s stamp of approval, or forget your asperations,” it seems to say.  Simon’s dinner is a political check list thingy.  Coming to eat with Simon has become an obligation, a hoop a “messiah” must jump through, not a genuine grace offered by Simon.  

I am guessing, of course, but this is the kind of twist that so often accompanies political games.  It’s a real-life way of looking at a real-life story.  And anyway, we can plainly see when Jesus confronts Simon about his disingenuous hospitality where he winds up comparing Simon’s hospitable care to that of the woman who barges in on them.  

“You did not wash my feet…. You did not greet me with the customary kiss…. You did not anoint my head with oil….  She washed my feet with her tears and hair, kissed my feet with no care about how it looks to others, and she has anointed me with perfume.”

It appears that Simon is very self important on the one hand, and on the other he thinks Jesus is barely worth his time to share a meal with him.  Through his actions, Simon has tipped his hand.  We already know based on these things that Simon doesn’t regard Jesus as God’s Chosen Messiah at all, but rather is tolerating Jesus’s presence, perhaps as a matter of routine or minimal etiquette.  This likewise says two other things about Simon’s hospitality: 1) it is counterfeit, reductionist, and not heartfelt; it’s obligatory and dutiful maybe, but not loving, 2) this feigned hospitality is blind to the truth of who Jesus really is.

You see, you and I both know something Simon doesn’t.  We know that Jesus is, in fact, God’s Chosen Messiah.  Simon thinks “if this man were a prophet, he would know….”  We know that Simon doesn’t know that he does know, and that he knows a lot more as well.  We know that Simon entertains Jesus, the Angel of the Lord, unaware, but we see even a new twist in that, for certainly Abraham and Sarah did that, but if you go to Genesis 18 and contrast the no-expense-spared spread that Abe tells Sarah and the servants to prepare, and the way Abe attends to these Strangers who appear as nothing more than passing vagabonds trespassing, you will see the difference is overwhelming even though they both entertain angels unaware.

Also, in contrast to Simon is this sinful woman.  I don’t specifically know her sins, but a woman with a reputation as a sinner strongly suggests she is known as a whore.  She is a cheap tramp that Simon would never invite to his home under any circumstance.  And she barges in uninvited.  (I must say that I am a little troubled by the idea that Jesus would deign to jump through Simon’s hoops and come to his political, checklist dinner in the first place, except that being God’s Chosen and possibly knowing all things, as well as being humble enough to submit even to this humiliation, Jesus wants to use this opportunity to provide us with these contrasts for our edification and the conviction of our hearts.)  And so, perhaps riding the messianic coattails of Jesus, she shares his ticket to ride even though she has barged in, and she quietly assumes the role of host, blowing Simon’s uppity hospitality away with her humble, heartfelt HOSPITALITY!  She loved much!  

This pitiful whore’s love comes across as a big social imposition on Simon’s style, but in God’s economy, it’s right and good.  This lowly whore’s love is more real than Simon’s tolerance.  One of these is forgiven much and the other little.  

And then as so often happens in the Bible, a special revelation is shared, a special blessing, an identity disclosed, one of those moments that gives us those spiritual goosebumps that is so hard to explain comes to bear on this story at Simon’s table too.  Only, it doesn’t happen.  It become anticlimactic here in chapter 7, but will become overwhelmingly climactic in chapter 24.  

Do you see it?

In verse 48, (that’s chapter 7, verse 48, to be clear), Jesus forgives the woman’s sins.  

Oh, what a blessed moment that is!  This woman (he called her a woman as he spoke to Simon in v. 44) who has bore this reputation for her sin, a reputation which would prevent her ever being invited to an important party, is now forgiven, and that burden is no longer hers ever again.  She invited Jesus into her love, and she finds the special revelation of her forgiveness there.  But to everyone else at Simon’s table, the question becomes, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?”

They should, like the disciples at Emmaus, have their eyes opened just then, but they don’t.  And this is doubly ironic when you figure the question actually answers itself!  

It helps if you have read a little of the theological research of N.T. Wright, I think (though I am not convinced the point is lost without his work).  But the Bible always imagined that the “return from exile” would be a time of “God’s forgiveness of sin.”  Those hoping in a messiah to arise from obscurity and save God’s people would almost certainly view his work as completing Israel’s return from exile which would be both a return geographically to the Promised Land, but also freedom from foreign oppression.  That last part was still not achieved in the time of Jesus.  But a dinner party designed by a Pharisee to determine the real Messiah from all the fakes should be able to welcome this blessing too, yet apparently Simon’s was not.

I probably could say more on this passage if I took the time to think it through and the time to write it all carefully, but this post is getting long enough, and I have other duties in life to which I must attend.  But I don’t want to end just there, exactly yet either.  I sense there is something in the realm of application yet to provoke some thought.

I think Luke’s Jesus is on a mission to welcome humanity, and all of God’s creation, into God’s will, into God’s kingdom rule.  I think that is a transformative process which, when fully explored makes demands of us in vulnerability, humility, allegiance, love, charity, and other generosities, and does so in uncommon ways and at uncommon levels.  (I don’t think we are really preaching and teaching this stuff at nearly the depth we should be.)  And I think, Jesus is calling us to be both gracious hosts and gracious guests in the lives and homes and churches of others.  The HOSPITALITY becomes the stage upon which this transformative process unfolds, and the whole world is yearning in birth pangs for us to be revealed in this transformation.  Strangers, enemies, and even poor and needy people become friends, allies, and brothers as so do we, and as we become our brother’s keepers.

I think Simon’s hospitality shows us where and how we might be counterfeiting the process and Who we might be entertaining unaware.  It is so easy, especially due to our fears and our prides, to confuse tolerance for love and then not be forgiven much.

I hope your church will welcome prophetic, messianic wannabes with love and charity and find Jesus in them.  Some of them my be surprised to find Jesus in them too, and we may as well get used to that as a possibility.  And I hope that with them any whores that barge in will also be welcome and forgiven.  

I think if your church did just that and nothing more, then your church would make a tremendous impact on our world today.

COMMUNION MEDITATIVE THOUGHT

(Yes, yes, yes… for those few of you from the classic church of Christ heritage googling and stumbling upon my title for this post, I am one of YOU. Welcome.  I hope you will stay for the whole thing…)

Churches of Christ are a weird bunch.  Historically dreaded, especially by Baptists, we have a history of caustic relations with “denominations.”  We might prefer to think of ourselves as unique, a nice word for it, but actually every single denomination and all the non-denominations are unique, and so that only saves face; it doesn’t say much.  I will not try to exhaust all the ways we are unique in this post, but I want to highlight “the communion meditative thought” for a moment, and suggest one of my own.

“The Communion Meditative Thought” practice

“The communion meditative thought” is a common feature in worship services within the Church of Christ non-denominational denomination.  Not all congregations do it, and they don’t all do it the same, but in my experience, more of them do it than not.  “The communion meditative thought” is a short sermon, a sermonette sort of, that usually is offered just prior to the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper.  Normally, this speech is short, maybe five minutes.  And the brother, deacon, elder, or minister offering it wants to creatively “direct our thoughts” to the Table with some meditative remarks.

These meditations usually are offered by a different brother each week and consist of thoughts unique to that brother.  They always point to the communion service in some way.  Many, especially when I was very young, tended to be more biblical in nature.  Quoting  I Cor. 11 with little personal commentary or sometimes John 6 would make frequent appearances in this moment.  Other times, a brother might describe memories growing up in church and his maturing discipleship from childhood through young adulthood, maybe even middle age and beyond as it pertained to this meal.  And then other times, a brother would offer an interesting story, sometimes biblical/sometimes not, but would link it to the table meditation.

Whatever the offering, it always seemed there was a desire to segue from secular and profane life to worship, and from simple worship to the most holy point where we eat Jesus’s body and drink his blood.  This is always a very somber portion of the worship service in churches of Christ, and parishioners almost always sit quietly meditating as it is done.  This quiet mediation is normally, and subtly, associated with eating “in a worthy manner” – though the ministers and theologians among us will most often suggest that passage is referring to something else besides our meditative thoughts.

Over the years, I recall a few of these short speeches and how the impacted my mediations.  To be honest, most of them don’t,  But I remember many years ago a young man rose to offer his meditative thought and talked about walking his dog in the park, about letting this rowdy dog off the leash to romp and run for a few moments, and how the dog would be so excited and run off.  Then he, the master of the dog, would hide behind a tree and watch as the dog realized that he was “lost” and would begin sniffing the trail, starting at the last place he had been with his master and hunting until he found the master again.  This, he said, was metaphorical for his experience with God and with meeting him at the Table.  This young man too would run wild, then sense he was “lost” and come back to the Table, the last place he had seen his Master, and would reunite there in love and joy.

The story made an impact on me at the time.

It’s not biblical in the slightest, but it connected to an emotional component that so often was missing when a brother would quote I Cor. 11 like reading the directions on how to bake a cake or assemble a new bike from Sears.

The Gospel of Joe and Communion (Wide and Deep)

Today, I am finding a treasure chest full of communion meditative thoughts in the Gospel of Joe.

There is no way I could exhaust all the thoughts, all the robust insights and feelings, all the poetry and music I find in the story of Joseph in Egypt feeding the whole world bread which certainly was from heaven and restoring himself in salvation to his brothers who all but killed him, who scorned him, sold him into slavery, and lived a lie about it for many years afterward.  The connection, the edification, the celebration, the meaning of it all goes both wide and deep, both far and near.  The echoes of that story with the story of Jesus resonate profoundly, and the differences illuminate new dimensions I otherwise would not find, I think.

All this, and I have never, in all my life, heard a brother take us to the Gospel of Joe for a communion meditative thought!

But if I was tasked with delivering that little message next Sunday, I would definitely go to Joe, find Jesus, and meditate there.  And I want to talk about it.

What about Joe?

Joe represents Jesus at so many points, at so many levels, and yet somehow I identify more readily with Joe too.  He had big dreams, he shared them, then he paid for sharing them.  I have made it to middle age, and I know what it means to hit that mid-life crisis, to see how futile my life is in the big scheme of things.  My life is not working out anything like my guidance counselor, my admission counselor, or even my academic advisor IN THE BIBLE DEPARTMENT (of all places) suggested, hinted, or promised.  Not one bit.

Jesus, of course, did not see his deity as something to be grasped, but humbled himself to the form of a slave, even to death, death on a Roman cross where God raised him up.  That comes very near a parallel with Joe who was sold into slavery, was as good as dead, and whose father thought for years that he was, in fact, dead, but those old dreams of bowing low to haybales and stars came true after all.  At the name of Joe, every knee of his brothers, and everyone else in the whole starving world came to bow to this slave who was left for dead.

Joe may not himself be the bread from heaven, but he is the savior of his people, of the whole known world even, and he saves with bread from heaven, bread revealed in heavenly dreams that only Joe, with God’s blessing, could interpret, and even then, Joe could in no way orchestrate the king’s reaction.  That irony is purely divine, but it puts Joe in the savior position where he then feeds his family and the world the life-saving meal of the ages.

Feeding the whole starving world is something only Joe and Jesus do.  No one else feeds the whole world that precious, life saving meal. When I come to communion, it is entirely appropriate for me to see the miracle in both Joe’s and Jesus’s stories.  This is for everyone.  Everyone who will come, humble themselves, and bow down to this most ironic slave-become-king, second only to God.

This worldwide feeding program, which in no way teaches a man to fish, but gives him a fish creating the dependence on the provider by design, is missional in purpose.  This meal is for all of creation.  God’s beloved creation needs this meal to be served.  And this fact is highlighted by, among other things, it’s placement at the climax of the sweeping, epic saga that rounds out the first book of the whole Bible, a book that begins with God lovingly recreating the whole thing, and then lovingly sustaining it all through a salvation meal.

This grand story is not just some template or precursor to Jesus either.  Oh, it is that, but not just that.  It shares too much with Jesus to be just that.  But it does emphasize the width of God’s love and desire to feed all peoples of all nations within his creation.  This meal is FOR everyone, everywhere, at all times both ancient and present, and both present and future.

But the story is terribly personal too.  Joe, his father, and his brothers all bear deep, soul-grinding burdens which grist around in the mill of this epic page after page, chapter after chapter getting more and more raw with each turn of the page.  Hope just keeps getting lost, more lost with each passing stage of the story.  Life sinks deeper and deeper into that pit in which those brothers cast their father’s favorite son like a nameless grave or tomb.

Joe goes into captivity, lost in the empire, never, it would seem, to be heard from again.  He is a slave.  The only glimmer of hope here is that he rises to a level of responsibility and trust, an ironic place of honor within his captivity.  But that tiny shred of hope, which Joe would gladly trade for freedom and a chance to return to his father every single day he wakes up in this condition is then threatened when the master’s wife accuses him of hanky-panky, presents seemingly damning evidence, and Joe is sent to the dungeons of empire.  We could almost call it the Sign of Jonah. The descent is dark and ominous, and presumably drags on for years.

But of course, Joe repeats this glimmer of hope motif where he earns trust, responsibility, and whatever honor there is to be had as a convict down in that hole. No doubt there is a lesson in humility to be mined out of that recurring theme, and we will give the nod to it here as we race on to bigger things, for certainly, even when life turns all around later (as those of us who have read ahead already know all too easily), having learned this lesson in humility will help him shine in greatness all the brighter.

But Joe’s career as a dreamer makes a second appearance in this phase of life.  This time the dreams are no longer his, but those of fellow convicts.  But Joe, the dreamer, has had a lot of time in slavery and prison to think about dreams and where they lead, and so his second career move is not in having the dreams but in interpreting them.  The dreamers now, though, are the cup bearer and the baker.  These are the king’s banquet officials.  They also represent in deeply symbolic fashion the bread and the wine of Kingdom Come.  We could do a whole communion meditative thought on just this point, I think, and probably more than one.

But that downward trajectory isn’t finished with Joe yet.  Upon correctly interpreting the dreams of both dreamers, Joe pleads with the cup bearer, the blood of communion, to remember him when he comes out and speak a good word for him.  By this point, Joe is as good as dead.  Not in a scientific sense, of course, but in a poetic, symbolic, narrative sense, as well as in a sense of dreams so utterly crushed as to be irredeemable, Joe’s life is over as the cup bearer emerges from prison and forgets Joe there.

We have, here, more narrative insight into Joe and his experience on a soul-grinding, emotional and spiritual level than we get with Jesus, yet with the two stories sharing so very much, we can presume safely that Jesus is orchestrating Joe’s story SO THAT WE MAY KNOW HIM all the better.

Neil Diamond once said in poetic fashion, “Did you ever read about a frog who dreamed of being a king, and then became one?  Well except for the names and a few other changes, if you talk about me, my story’s the same one.”  Neil Diamond is Jewish, by the way, and is no doubt thoroughly familiar with the Gospel of Joe, even if he resists the Gospel of Jesus.  But that little insight into fairytales goes double for Joe’s story vis-à-vis the story of Jesus.  Except for the names and a few other changes, the story is the same one!

We see ourselves in Joe, I think, easier than we see ourselves in Jesus a lot of times.  Jesus, at first blush is too holy, to divine, too perfect for me to really identify with.  I sense a gulf between us that I rely on him to cross since I can’t love like he does, since I can’t be perfect like he is, since I can’t sacrifice the way he does.  But Joe?  My life is very different, and yet, I can see myself in that losing game – shortchanged by my brotherhood, left for dead by the betrayal of people I once thought had my back, and the slow rot of mediocrity and middle age as all my youthful potential slowly drains out of my life.  Yeah, it’s kinda funny how I can see myself in Joe, and now that I see Jesus in him too, I find myself meeting Jesus in some shadows of my heart I had not expected.

What about Joe’s daddy?

Jake is by no means a sinless man.  Just read nearly any chapter about him in the Book of Genesis, and you will find flaws and worse.  Yet in some ways he takes the role of God the Father, the father of many sons, one of whom is even more special than the others who also are special, and who collectively are his legacy, his family.

Jake gets hoodwinked by his sons.  But he too is a liar.  And he did kinda set his favorite son up for this disaster by indulging the dreamer.  They were jealous of Joe’s place in their daddy’s heart.  Much later, we will read how Pilate knew the Jews were jealous of Jesus.  I find that ironic, since jealousy isn’t actually the word that comes to my mind in that instance.  When I read of Jesus, I see a peasant whose life mission is to go and die a terrible death I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  I don’t think of either myself or those Jews as jealous, not initially.  But, if I consider deeper, more spiritual insights, I might come to that observation eventually.  Somehow Pilate does.  But when I see Jesus in Joe vis-à-vis Jake, I see it all too clearly.  Every horrible thing those brothers say and do to Joe signal the depth of their jealousy, and their father/Father put it in motion himself.

Jake certainly lacks the omniscience I associate with God the Father, and so being hoodwinked for him in this story seems easier for me to imagine than to think God is hoodwinked at the death of Jesus.  God knows what is coming next; he’s God, after all.  But, when I see Jake despair over the loss of his beloved son, I have direct access to the pain in the heart of God.  God is God after all, and in his mysterious ways, he can feel pain too.  When I look at Jake, I get a feel for what he feels.

What about Joe’s brothers?

There are ten of them in on this bushwhack, but they are by no means one monolithic voice in the charade.  One brother wants to save his life, at least spare him death.  But there are no brothers who want him to continue his reign of favor over them.  They are all utterly jealous to the bone.

And isn’t that like you and me?  If I sat down to dinner with my brothers and my daddy and one of the brothers, known to be Daddy’s favorite, began telling stories of dreams he has at night where I and all the rest of us brothers, bow down to him in some strained humility, I would chafe.  And if Daddy just indulged him all the more, I would chafe all the more.  Wouldn’t you?  Do you really want to sit down to dinner with THAT table conversation?

Admit it.  You don’t.

And as the chafing goes on for days, weeks, maybe even years, you begin to look for a way to counteract it.  But of course saying “counteract it” is to put it very mildly.  My jealousy has begun burning a little deeper than something so mundane.  An opportunity to kill him would get my attention too.

But, I have a conscience.  I don’t run around desiring to kill, normally.  I might have a mind to kill six days out of the week, but surely one day I have a different voice on the matter.   My voice of reason, of peace, of patience might be weak in the face of the others, but it might also be just enough to prevent me from committing murder.  I very likely will commit some hateful deed in response, but probably not that.  And the brothers as a group seem to go through this kind of process.

Then they go home, present an extravagant lie to their father, and they must live with it.  So, they do.

Years go by, and they keep their dirty little secret.  It festers in their soul, but they bury it just as dead as that lie about their brother.  And there is no telling all the little ways that lie bubbles up and churns in their lives like Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart, twisted as they must be now for years on end.  How do they sleep at night knowing they have a brother out there somewhere, knowing that their father grieves deeply and all for a lie that is not true?  But they build their lives on this lie, and it becomes the cornerstone the builders of this life accepted.  It becomes the bedrock around which everything else must now turn… for years on end.

Every birthday, every anniversary, every possible occasion for remembrance.  Whenever they gather, they must lie in remembrance of Joe!  They must surely pay dishonest homage to their father’s grief.  I wonder if they don’t feel as though in some twist of fate they are bowing to the memory of a dead brother all despite themselves.  Their brotherhood is a lie.  Every holiday and family picnic is tainted with this lie.  And it goes on and on and on with no relief.

They probably get used to it in some ways, at least some of the time … eventually.

And they probably decide it’s best just to make the most of it now that it is done.  Just gotta lump it.  Tough it out.  But whatever they do, they don’t talk it out.  They don’t come clean.  They don’t spill the beans.  They stuff it down deep, and there it rots, spoiling everything it touches for years on end.

But unbeknownst to anyone, anyone except God the Father, after so very long a descent into that pit, that pit which has sucked Joe in at the betraying hands of his jealous brothers, that pit that sucked Jake into eternal grief, that pit that embroiled the brothers in their lie for years on end, the King of Egypt has a disturbing dream – two, in fact.  And he awakes from them so overwhelmed by them that he calls his greatest wise men from his courts to come and interpret them, but they cannot.

The thing is so troubling that talk of it gets around the palace.  Staffers and servants, wise men and magicians, probably even the lawn boy all get in on the gossip, and finally it comes to the attention of the cup bearer who then remembers Joe in prison, the very thing Joe had pleaded so long ago.  It’s a long shot, of course, but the cup bearer knows a guy.

Now, this is not just a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy either.  It’s more extravagant than even that.  No.  This cup bearer is gonna speak up from a place that is not his to speak up from, and he is going to get all confessional about it too.  He is not one of the king’s dream interpreters, but an ex-con who the king himself sent to prison once upon a time.  The king might have forgot that by now, and surely the cup bearer doesn’t put that on his resume or bring it up at evaluation time when he seeks a raise.  But on this occasion, of all occasions, he thinks he might just know a guy who can really help, but this is going to require some complex explanation.  He is going to remind the king about the time he really screwed up and went to prison.

But while he was there, he met a man in that god-awful place who rightly interpreted his dream and that of the baker.  Since none of the nobles can do it, perhaps the king, if he is really and truly that disturbed and that serious about getting to the bottom of this, wants to take a chance on a convict, he might care to try Joe.

And the king is that disturbed and that desperate for help.

It is here, at this point, long after it is too late for Joe to realize his dreams of grandeur, and from truly obscure channels too, that God moves in the most mysterious ways.  In fact, he has been moving mysteriously all along all through this channel.  He gave Joe those dreams and favor with that father who made the brothers so horribly and terribly jealous.  God paved the way to the greatness which is about to be thrust on Joe, the greatness which is the stuff of youthful dreams, by way of a pit in the countryside, by way of slavery, by way of false accusation, by way of years upon years rotting in jail under the belly of empire, and then, as one last divine irony, to channel through this cup bearer’s humility and confession and the king’s desperation.

And then Joe rises like a star.  Like a shooting star.  Like a rocket shot into space.  Suddenly Joe has a name which is above all names, well all but one or two.

The rise to greatness is stunning.  It is so utterly costly too.  It is both Joe’s dream AND NOTHING LIKE his dream at the same time.  It’s so impressive that when Joe gets married, shortly thereafter, and has kids, he actually names them things like “God has made me forget my pain,” “God has made me prosper in my troubles.”  You know you have come to a new heavenly place when you can say that, when you can name your children like that.

Then one day his brothers come into the courts of Egypt looking for food.  Joe recognizes them, but they do not recognize him.  They bow low, and the dream is fulfilled, and yet whatever pride and arrogance Joe once had has been ground up with his soul over the course of this drama.  Joe sees the very brothers who wanted to kill him, who sold him into this slavery and despair, and he sees them bow down to him.  And he is stirred deeply, deep in places Joe didn’t know he had.

You want to know what Jesus feels when you come asking him for food out of the blue, having rejected him with your sin and betrayal?  Ask Joe.  Joe knows that feeling.  And now you do too.  You know the heart and the mind of Christ as you meet him the place you don’t even recognize him.  Here is what Jesus feels: just listen to Joe.

Joe’s soul yearns for word of his father, of his beloved brother, of life back home.  It has been soooo long.  It has been so devastatingly long, and the lie was so hard, so high, so deep, so wide and so stubborn for so long, that he had no access to any information, not even a morsel.  But the yearning is still there.

“Is your father still alive?” he asks.

Let Jesus ask you that question at communion.  Take that meditative thought to heart.  Is his Father still alive?  And then consider the implications of the answer you give.  If you say, yes, you are telling Joe that his father is still alive.  You are telling yourself that God is alive, and that dark places in your own heart you dare not look into are coming into the light for healing and hope and joy beyond measure!

Still, Joe puts the brothers through some hoops.  They go back and forth from father to bowing before Joe.  They receive food and fear, fear since the money they brought was not accepted, but secretly put back in their travel baggage, causing the brothers to remember their guilt.  It’s actually a confrontation with GRACE!  And grace wants to know EVERYTHING!!!  They must talk about what they have done, perhaps for the first time in a long time.  The anguish of bearing the burden of their lie has taken a toll.  They sense God is judging them, and this stranger who is both their judge and their grace, their bread provider and their inquisitor, is unrelenting.  He doesn’t seem to know them like he actually does, but he finds a way to get right to the heart of their business.  And they struggle with him over it.

And then, in the middle of this grand, worldwide, food-salvation program of cosmic proportions, Joe sets his brothers down to dine with him.

Separate tables, of course.

Yet dine together they do, despite the separation.

And in this I again see Jesus at Eucharist.  Jesus who I cannot see with my physical eyes, dines with me just out of sight, all while knowing me in ways I cannot fathom.  He knows my sin, and I struggle to confess it.  He feeds me free of charge, and yet scandalously so.  I struggle to accept his kindness, and to be worthy, to be holy, to be joyous at this incredible moment.

And Joe feeds me double portions from his table as Jesus, overcome with emotions, must step back behind the veil and weep over me.  His heart is broken for me!  And my heart is only beginning to discover how broken I am for him.

All in the wide face of salvation and barns packed with food enough to feed an empire for seven years of famine.  And right in the center of this is the deeply personal story of Joe and his brothers and of Jesus and me.

The Gospel of Joe feeds me yet today.  It feeds the world even still.  And this, I believe, is because Jesus is bursting out of that meal even as that meal points to the heavenly banquet of the Age to Come.

Did you ever read of a slave who dreamed being a savior, and then became one? Well, if you talk about Joe, except for the names and a few other changes, the story of Jesus is the same one.

Not bad for a communion meditative thought, I ‘d say.

And we are only scratching the surface.

Joe reveals himself to the brothers in the meal.  Jesus does this too (see Luke 24).  And he sends the brothers back home to retrieve their father, to tell him the Good News!  And to bring him back where the real food is.  This is a “communion meditative story!”

But before they go, Joe tells the brothers not to be too hard on themselves for this.  What they meant for evil, God used for good.  They were all putty in his hands all along.  So there is no need to argue on the way home.  We need to see that we are all caught up in this thing, all have fallen short of God’s glory, and yet God was working in us all along despite that.  Joe’s story gives me a flesh -n- blood narrative of all that working out somehow, and does so in a meal story – a story about eating to tell while eating.

You don’t have to be a member of the Church of Christ to have a good “communion meditative thought,” but it helps.  Perhaps this is one of the treasures of our heritage, if we will actually treat it as such.  And that is ironic too.  But perhaps you might visit a Church of Christ once and ask if you can share your “communion meditative thought” too.  If that congregation is so blessed, I hope you will consider sharing the Gospel of Joe with them and finding Jesus at the Table afresh, doing business with you the way he does with Joe’s brothers.  You and that church enjoying “the communion meditative thought.”

THE VIEW OF YOUR CHURCH FROM THE CURB

My desire for blogging is to emphasize more the kind of post I recently published regarding the Fat Beggar’s View From The Curb.  That post might not be as “successful” by other standards (or the standards of others) as it is by mine, but I sense it gets back to the main thrust of this blog, the initial focus anyway.  I am pleased that it does so with simplicity, packing a fair bit of heavy theological ideas into simple language without a lot of jargon, fine points of doctrine, or snooty academic ideas.  I don’t quote Scripture in it, but if you know the Bible, you can likely recognize some important passages informing it.  But mostly, it highlights everyday experiences – experiences certainly available to all of us everyday.

In my estimation, that post takes you there.  At least it invites you there.  It invites you to the curbside to look through a biblical worldview lens at the world around you.  It is a humble viewpoint, one available to anyone no matter their wealth, status, importance, position… all of that stuff. The only thing inhibiting you from accepting the invitation is your own contempt for it.  So, if you can get past that, you can experience those things too.

Who knows?  You might – just might – come to different conclusions than me.  You might see the world differently than I do, even in that vantage point.  

Yet, I am certain that this vantage point will change your view from what it is now.

In this post, I once again draw on my experiences and paint a picture from that vantage ground, but I dwell more on the thinking that developed while I was there.  Again, if you do what I did (or something similar), you might come to other conclusions, but I still think they will be greatly enhanced by the experience probably joining mine in similarity.  

In addition to the Bible, I read a lot of heavy theology books by various scholars from all over the world.  I enjoy doing that, and I learn from them greatly.  I find their work to be indispensable, quite honestly.  But the kinds of observations I share here, I find in only two publicized Christian ministers (at least that I have read), those being Shane Claiborne and Mike Yankoski.  Both of those ministers went to the curbside and looked back at the church when they made their observations, and I find myself largely concurring with them as I go there and look back at the church too.

In this post, I draw on my experiences bedding down among the homeless on sidewalks, parking lots, alleys, and empty lots adjacent to church buildings.  Many nights I did this in adverse weather conditions with wind, rain, blowing dirt, heat, or cold.  While some nights the experience was surprisingly pleasant, most nights were challenging to say the least.  Long hours suffering the hard turf and relentless wind, lying awake praying and looking at those locked up church house doors prohibiting welcome, shelter, and the love of Jesus.

You getting the picture?

I am a white, middle-class, American man.  I could, at any time, get up, roll up my bedroll, walk back to my truck and drive home.  I could at any time, go home, get a shower, crawl into bed, maybe watch some Jay Leno or whatever, and rest.  I might even get some quality Bible reading and prayer time there.  But I chose not to grasp at middle-classdom, and rather humbled myself to the point of sleeping on a sidewalk in the cold.  Jesus could have called Ten Thousand Angels, and I could have just gone back home for the night.  But he didn’t, and I didn’t.  I stayed.  And I prayed.

Staying there like that, in my experience, compels prayer.

Ever struggle having a “prayer life”?  I have too.  But I never had trouble praying when there was a tornado warning bearing down on my town late at night, never when taking a wrong turn in a “dangerous part of town” in LA, H-town, or Denver late at night, never when bedding down with the homeless and trying to sleep as I am utterly exposed to the elements or to dark figures roaming the night.

That’s hour after hour of miserable prayers looking at those locked doors with a sign overhead claiming to be The First Church of Jesus – the same Jesus I studied in college and grad school.  The same Son of Man who likewise has no place to lay his head.  The same Jesus who welcomed beggars, whores, sinners, and riff raff of all kinds to follow him, to be healed by him, to listen to his preaching.  The same Jesus who as the Good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep.  The Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine in search of one lost lamb and then upon finding that lamb carries it back over his shoulders to the sheepfold for shelter, care, and healing.

From the curb, there is a very stark contrast between the church with locked up doors and that Jesus.

I have walked up to the church building where I assemble for regular worship with the congregation that meets there, and I have come both at the appointed hour and at all other hours of the day and night, just to look at it. Just to assess it.  As a white, middle-class, American man, coming at the appointed hour, I tend to feel rather welcome.  Not overly, mind you, but at least as welcome there then as I feel at Walmart when the greeter welcomes me (under the watchful eye of approximately 200 closed circuit security cameras). 

I feel welcome as long as I play a certain kind of role.  

I am not talking here about the role of the whore caught in the act, the role of the paralyzed man lowered through the roof, or a blind beggar who just will not shut up as Jesus passes by.  No.  There is another role I am expected to play, I think.

This other role is not overly prescribed; there is lots of room for improvisation, but it has a look, a sound, and a feel (and a smell too) that the congregation is going for, I think.  This role is best played when I drive a decent car, wear contemporary styles of clothing and hair, and especially when I keep my mouth shut and my wallet open.  

I find that some people are gifted with the right kind of verbalization for their mouth to be welcome when open, but I find that mine is not, and the silence of most is more welcome over all.

But when I walk past the property on an average Thursday afternoon, or most any random time when there is not a regular worship service or a special event (and special events can be exclusive to women, to youth, to men, to elderly, to wedding parties or funerals and so forth too), that the place seems closed. 

Closed.

Yeah.  I said, Closed, like as in “closed for business.”

There is not a sign actually saying that, but it has the look and feel of a business during the off hours.  And in fact, it is located in the commerce district on a busy street where many shops, stores, fast food and slow food restaurants are intermingled with churches of other varieties which also look almost like closed up businesses.  Not that they are confusing, really.  For after all, most of the businesses have more windows and less steeples, but other than that, the large parking lots, the large marquees, the manicured lawns and shrubs, all adhere to the business district theme.  (Thanx, Victor Gruen.)

And, well… like any other business, when the place is closed, I am not actually welcome to just hang out.  

In fact, many churches actually post signs that prohibit loitering!

So, when I arrive there late at night, I can approach under the cover of darkness, alright, but I feel very dirty, very scandalous, and deeply unwanted there at that hour.  There… THERE where the sign claims this place is a church of Jesus.

You know…  I don’t think I have to be homeless to feel excluded, actually. 

I recall visiting a “nondenominational” hipster church a few years ago and feeling very “uncomfortable” there.  Oh, the welcome committee people said all the usual, nice clichés to me, even led me to the free latte bar, but even the sermon was specifically geared for young people who are trying to climb the corporate ladder, and that wording is a close paraphrase to a refrain the preacher repeated several times.  Then there’s Biker church, where I feel welcome, alright, because those people aren’t anything if not cool, but I didn’t have the bike, and so my brotherhood only extended so far.  I wasn’t cowboy enough for Cowboy Church, not trucker enough for Trucker church, and I’m not Baptist enough for Baptist church (but that is getting into some deep stuff there).

So, if church is all that exclusive for average people, what do you think it looks like from the curb to the homeless – the people who mob Jesus on page after page of the gospel accounts?

Yeah.  Laying there outside those locked doors praying for hours on end gets you seeing things from this vantage point.

I expect that my pastor(s) tend to see it all very differently.  They see all the “good work” we are doing.  All the volunteers who join so many service projects and give so much time and money to make this thing go.  They post bulletin boards inside, webpages on the web, and create video clips for the assembly where we brag on ourselves to ourselves.  And I don’t meant to belittle any of that volunteerism, any of that good work, or any of that giving.  That is a true and legitimate observation, I think, but not the whole story.  Not by a long shot.  And in fact, I really think that the church at large in America today is dying overall.  And it is dying while in denial.

I suggest the church, the pastor, and any concerned reader here, go look at the church building where you worship from the curb.  Step into the shoes of really any random outsider and consider carefully the difference between the welcome of Jesus on any random dusty, Galilean trail and the welcome your imagined friend finds looking at your place of worship from the curb.

And, since it looks so deeply incongruent with the picture of Jesus in the Gospels, I wonder how much and to what extent any of it actually is church anyway.  Maybe you will wonder that too.

That is what it looks like from the curb.

 

A FAT BEGGAR’S VIEW FROM THE CURB (FIRST TIME OUT)

I haven’t blogged about my street experiences in a long time.  But then my experiences there are becoming evermore distant memories.  Still, those memories have value, I think.  Those experiences gave me a perspective; they taught me lessons; and they were notable adventures sometimes.  All of that is worthy of blogging.

Right?

I remember the first time I went to a street corner on a busy intersection to “fly a sign.”  I must take care to call it “fly a sign,” since I was not actually begging for any money.  Instead, my sign asked for prayer.  I did not need the money.  I was one of those people you sometimes hear about in that jaded and contemptuous proverbial manner who actually has a nice house and doesn’t even need your money.  So… I didn’t beg for it.

But I asked for prayer instead.  And I thought that would be fair game.

Now… backing up my story just a bit…

Preparations

Before I set foot on that corner (the center island in a major artery where it meets the freeway (to be more descriptive)), I was enthused by the idea.  I started yearning to go.  At first, it was just a crazy idea, but it wouldn’t let me alone.  Eventually, I decided I needed to plan for it.  And that really stepped up my game.  I had to answer a number of questions such as: When? Where? For how long? 

You might think you could simply walk out there and sit down, and really you could.  But I wanted to experience the life.  Just a taste.  And as I considered things, it occurred to me that I would be seen there by the driving public at large, and in this town there is a very, very good chance that I would be seen by a friend or two – maybe even my employer.  I might need to explain myself, and I had no idea when, to whom, or what kind of circumstance such inquiry might arise.  (Would it come up at a party, a church potluck, the break room at work?  Would it come up at a job evaluation or even a job interview?  Such things are possible, and they might be delicate situations.)

So, I prayed on it a lot.  I began considering how ashamed I would feel seeing friends and family or colleagues driving past me… looking, puzzling, talking….

I would imagine conversations resulting from my adventure.  Perhaps an attractive girl from the front office or from the coffee shop who sometimes talks with me might see me there, and just when I think I might be landing a date with her, she inquires.  Maybe my boss asks, and I tell him that I want to know for myself what the poor are experiencing there.  Maybe not the whole picture, but a part, an authentic part.  And maybe he wonders if my doing so reflects poorly on the company.  (Thus, I made sure not to wear the company logo shirt as I did this!)  Maybe someone in my Bible class will see me and ask about it during Sunday school and give me an opportunity to witness where it really counts.  Maybe.

There were so many “maybes” to consider.

The one thing I was sure of was that I would have to deal with humility.  Uncommon humility.  I didn’t realize how proud I was, actually, until I began pushing myself to consider all these possible situations.

I had to prepare my mind for the distinct possibility that by humbling myself like this, I might not get that date after all.  I don’t know any women who want to date a homeless man.  All the more bizarre to date a man who wants to be LIKE the homeless!  (Yes, Mrs. Agent X was a rare find!!!)

I had to plan to be humiliated like I never had been before.  

I was not guaranteed to experience this utter humiliation, but I was really, really risking it.

And yet, in all of this, I was feeling the draw.  I was yearning for it.  I sensed that I was embarking on a faith adventure more authentic than I had known before.  You really might see me out there, and I probably would not have a reason, an explanation, that would justify myself to your liking or mine, and most definitely would NOT save face.  It would likely just dig me in deeper into humility.

And so I finally was prepared.  

I chose the busiest street corner within a half mile of my work.  That way the odds of being seen by coworkers would be astronomically high.  Almost impossible to miss.  And I chose to be there on my day off, but at about the same hour of the day that the crew punched out.  I was expecting to be seen.

Hmmm…

Execution

Then I went.

And you know what?

If any of my coworkers saw me, I did not see them.  Ha!  And no one ever brought it up for question.  Not once.  

That doesn’t mean I was unnoticed.  It doesn’t mean coworkers didn’t talk.  It just means I didn’t see them seeing me, and they never broached it with me if they did.

But you know what I did see?

I saw thousands upon thousands of motorists pass me by.  

There is no way I could count them all.  I could not have counted one fourth of them.  I spent a couple hours out there being passed by over and over and over again, three cars abreast each way, and when not stopped at the light, passing by at 35mph.  

It was so deeply impersonal.  

At first, I didn’t have the nerve to look motorists and vehicle occupants in the eye.  I was still struggling with my own pride.  But eventually, I got up the nerve, and then I was overwhelmed by the masses of people who would not look my general direction.

Eventually, I decided that there was a built-in resistance to looking at me that most people were dealing with, because a lot of the time I sensed it would be more natural to look in my direction, but people would turn away instead.  Hundreds of them sat idle just two feet away from me waiting for the light to change and looking this way and that… any direction by mine!

The ocean of indifference was overwhelming.  

And for a while, maybe the whole first hour, I thought this was the case with everyone.  There were too many to be sure, but out of thousands of passersby, I did not connect with even one.  

And then I did.

One.

One car where the lady looked.

Then I spent twenty minutes trying to decide if it was just a blank stare or disgust?  She sure didn’t go by thinking I was worth her time to stop and talk to, but I could see she read my sign.  

Hmmm…

Eventually, there was another.

Then another.

Not in rapid succession, but I began to see that there were a few.

And then a woman in a beat up hatchback rolled through the intersection, turned into a nearby parking lot, circled around and came back to my spot, caught the light red, rolled down her window and tried to give me $5.  

I refused it, but she insisted.  I refused again, and she relented.  I assured her that I really only wanted her prayer, and she struggled to accept that.  She was moved by my presence, and I felt a power go out from me then.  A connection deeper than I am prepared to understand.  The eyes of her heart were open, and she saw me.  She was moved with compassion.  She did not want me to sit there suffering need, and she had $5.  She was obviously poor herself and obviously didn’t have much, but she wanted to share the “two mites” she did have.

It was a sacrifice.

I could see more in that exchange than she could.  Unless… unless maybe she was an angel from heaven checking on me.

That very first outing was representative of many others I have undertaken.  I have found myself far more ignored than engaged on the curb.  It is dehumanizing, shameful, hot (or cold), dry (or wet), and loud and hazardous.  And I spent a couple of hours there praying and bearing the image of God at the place of shame, pain, and despair in my community, and then I packed up my sign and went home, took a shower, brushed my teeth, prayed some more and watched Matlock (or something stupid) on my TV.

And it was a view I got from the curb.

PROPOSITION A (A PROPOSITION TO JOIN JESUS WITH IDOLATROUS PROSTITUTION)

Voters in Lubbock, Texas are being asked to consider a proposal for a city ordinance which will create “a sanctuary city for the unborn.”  It is rare that “municipal elections” generate as much interest as this one, and I expect that if this proposition wins the vote, Lubbock will likely become a news item nationally, if only briefly, as a result. There is a lot of unusual attention afforded this decision, and even I want to add my thoughts to the mix.

My neighborhood, in a nice area of town (though definitely not one of the wealthiest), is covered in political lawn signs stressing that people of Lubbock turn out to vote in favor of this proposition.  There are a few signs opposing it, and I figure in other areas of town there are more of them.  The local news outlets are featuring debates daily/nightly.  And though I don’t expect my input to sway a single person, I want to offer some ideas that otherwise are going almost completely ignored, I think.

Allow me to come clean up front: I consider myself Christian and conservative.  I also am a foster/adoptive parent whose 24/7/365 work pulls the rug out from under most (if not all) of the excuses/reasons for getting an abortion.  As far as “values” are concerned, while I definitely value “the right of a woman to do with her own body as she sees fit” as a major value, I still value human life – especially “the life of the unborn” – just a little higher. In fact, I can’t think of any circumstance where when the two values are pitted against each other that I don’t value the life of the baby more than the liberty of the woman.  I will always hold the value for life higher in every debate.

You would think, then, that I would be in favor of voting for Proposition A, the proposed ordinance to create a sanctuary city for the unborn in Lubbock, but I am not.  

Now… if – IF – if this ordinance is in fact passed, and if it ever actually saves a life, I will be happy about that.  A life saved should be celebrated, and God works in mysterious ways – even city ordinances which are far more symbolic than meaningful, and I would not want to be cut out of that party.  (I wonder if there would be a party.)

But here’s the thing: I keep hearing the usual arguments on this even though in name, at least, this “sanctuary city” idea is a brand new angle.  It’s still just a new gimmick in an old game.  

The standard “liberal” side of the debate echoes in this proposal all over again: “Women should have the right to decide their own healthcare.”  Roe v. Wade has already established the law of the land, and this ordinance will be in violation of it.  This ordinance, even if put in effect, will be only symbolic for its cause, while inhibiting healthcare options on the other hand, will cost time, money, and energy to defend it in court, and is doomed to fail in the end anyway.  All cost, and no real benefit.  (These arguments do not reflect my values, but they are reasonable.)

On the “conservative” side, likewise echoes in this debate: “This proposition, if passed, reflects ‘the will of the people’ whether symbolic or not.”  The voters should be heard and headed.  This is a “Christian city” and you can go pretty much anywhere else in this land to get your abortion, but the “Christians” in this town shouldn’t be forced to aid or allow this sinful, murderous practice.  And anyway, there is an exception written into the proposal allowing for abortion if the pregnancy puts the mother’s life in danger.  (Also, insightful and reasonable arguments, in fact that last bit smuggling my personal values back into the abortion camp (sorta).)

My guess is that the conservatives promoting this idea want to “test” the conservative Supreme Court and see if they can’t ultimately change or undermine Roe v. Wade.

These debate points are all pretty standard by now, and we are only shoe horning them into the new idea that Lubbock might outlaw abortion within our city limits.  

But you know what?

It’s all vanity.

For starts, Lubbock is no longer advertising ourselves as a “Christian” town/city.  We used to, but we don’t anymore, and having lived here for the last two decades, I have noticed.  This town used to actually pride itself on a robust “Christian” heritage, but that has quietly slipped away.  

The “Christian” culture is still here, of course.  It did not just go away.  But the artifacts of “Christian” influence on this municipality are now relics of yesteryear.  We have huge church buildings on nearly every street corner, but pastors are not packing the pews like they used to do.  This city was historically a “dry town” up until the last decade when voters changed that too.  But most telling to me is the cultural emphasis on Texas Tech University, the Buddy Holly museum, a strong economy, and decent restaurants among a few other local attractions which in no way compete with those found in Dallas/Ft. Worth or Houston.  These are the ways Lubbock promotes itself in TV ads and travel brochures and efforts to attract new business.

Any mention of Jesus, of Christian faith, of religious heritage (all of which is quite strong here) has quietly yielded to the thrill of football games.  Meanwhile, Jesus never – NEVER – never makes it part of his kingdom cause to write or call a congressman, test the courts of Rome with social agendas, or campaign for votes in a democratic republic.  Instead, he takes the instrument of criminal execution and glorifies God in his crucified flesh.  All other campaigns amount to fooling around with temple prostitutes honoring Jupiter or Mars or Zeus and friends.  The “Christians” of Lubbock don’t seem to know it, but they are already divided and defeated, and joining this battle just proves it all the more.

And sure enough, nothing draws the “Christians” of Lubbock together quite like a football game (an altar to power if ever there was one).  All those Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, non-denominatinals, and everyone in between, “Christians” who can’t seem to get it together for Jesus all get it together with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, “back sliders,” hedonists, college kids, pagans, artists, “liberals” and abortion rights promoters to cheer on the local football team!  

So, when the same “Christians” who passed new laws making it legal to purchase booze in this city a few years ago, and who get together to worship at the altar of Texas Tech football with all the enthusiasm and fervor of a snake-handling religious service, suddenly strike upon my value for the life of the unborn and seek to play politics with that against “liberals” in some symbolic ploy to win points for “conservatives,” I am not impressed.

Now… hear me carefully here:

I am not saying “VOTE NO on Proposition A” here.  No.  Not at all.  

I am saying, DON”T VOTE one way or the other – especially on Proposition A.

Those promoting that proposition are doing so largely in the name of Jesus, but are taking that name in vain as they do it.

Look.  I feel the angst of this too.  I look at the last two presidential elections and see a whole party who champions (among other “liberal” values) abortion, the killing of the most innocent humans in the world, pit against a presidential candidate who opposes that, but who in almost every other way is so offensive to Christian values and virtue as to pulverize any semblance of unity left in this country.  

And for what?

The cult of Trump.

I don’t want to claim that every little thing Trump ever did as president was bad.  No.  I am not a hater, certainly not for political sake.  I have a short list of things I appreciate about his presidency, but on their best day they all serve lesser gods than the Kingdom of God, and that is a fact too.  He was an exceedingly vain and narcissist man and president – almost diametrically opposed to any humility or love we find in Jesus, and yet due to his political twists, he became the champion of “Christians” nationwide.

He made America “great again” if you say so, but he did not glorify God.  No.  That was a photo op, not glorification of God.  Jesus glorified God, and did it on a Roman cross.  It’s a whole other category.

And THAT gets to my point here.

The right to life of the unborn might win in this election, but at what cost and with what baggage?

You “Christian” types surely know that when Jesus was born, Herod killed all the babies in Bethlehem in a vain effort to get Jesus too.  

Let that bake your Christian noodle.  Jesus, who took the place of Barabbas at the climax of his life, was whisked away leaving all of Rachel’s children to die in his place at the start!  (Almost a divine abortion.)

Hmmm….

I don’t think we are approaching life in this creation of God the right way.  Not in Lubbock.  And I don’t think an ordinance establishing us as a “sanctuary city for the unborn” is really going to honor God either.  (But I will celebrate if it saves a life!)

I wonder where the prayer is on this.  Pastors all over town are urging the few remaining pew packers they still have to vote in this election, but they have quietly set aside the power of prayer for the prayer for power.  No, I know, they said to pray too, but they really meant VOTE.  They are pimps peddling fornication in a voting booth.  Pastorbation.

You know what else?

I have personal experience in Christian ministry in this town reaching out to a cheap whore with the love of Christ and making such an impact in her life that the social workers at the Planned Parenthood office actually reached out to our church to ask the ministers there what we had said or done to make such an important and profound change in the health and life of this woman.  

Can you say, “Mysterious ways”???

I assure you, there was a lot of prayer and absolutely no voting going on in that one.  And God was glorified when Planned Parenthood called the church to look into the light.

Why didn’t we maximize that?  That should have made headlines in this “Christian” town.  But I don’t think anyone hardly knows of it or remembers now.

I think we were already so sadly seduced by the vote that we hardly noticed.

And in the years since, Lubbock no longer advertises our heritage of faith as a part of the attraction of this place which might cause you to relocate here.  (Not that they ever should have, but it nonetheless provides a window into my point.)

I am quite certain that if Proposition A is passed in Lubbock, Texas, whether it ever is deemed to have saved a life or not, it will actually perpetuate the fight between liberals and conservatives and will cloud the real issues about whether or not God is glorified all while “Christians” attempt to lord it over others with a vote. 

NAKED PEOPLE OF THE BIBLE (pronounced NEKED)

Here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, we take time to actually study our Bible.  Not a lot, but some.  And well… since the oldest student in our course of study is four years old, we take a pretty light-hearted approach.

I am not trained as a teacher, especially not for small children.  And the bulk of the discipleship I bring consists of routine prayers, songs, and reading toddler/little kid Bible story books (and occasionally a movie such as Prince of Egypt).  The payoff seems to be mostly in the routines.  My kids are learning to recite The Lord’s Prayer, to sing Jesus Loves Me and Amazing Grace.  I can’t help but think they would have more Bible knowledge and exposure and it would all be more age-appropriate if we were in Sunday school at church, but with the pandemic, we have been homeschooling and home-churching.  So, I hope God is working on these little lives through me.

My kids know the names Adam and Eve.  They don’t know the story of Creation.  Not really.  But they recognize the names of several of the main featured characters in the Old Testament, and of course we talk to Jesus several times a day.  But I quiz them sometimes and get an idea of how much seems to stick.

This has me thinking of what I learned, how I learned it, and when I learned it (at their age(s)).  I think of little grannies teaching in nurseries at church, of flannel boards, of songs – many I can’t remember anymore, but which I can find on the internet.  I think about my “level of understanding” in those old days, and the importance church had to me.  Somehow it seems like I should be aiming at the experience I had, but in the end I neither know how to do that nor have the equipment.  And anyway, I don’t know that it would be as helpful for my kids as it would make me feel good about their discipleship.

Every now and again, I find myself trying to explore depth of theology with the kids that lose their interest.  It’s hard to know just how much I should stress deep thoughts and how much I should just tell fun stories about shepherd boys and giants, about a lion’s den and a prophet, or about a big fish swallowing a preacher.  When I was in the first grade, a little older than my kids are now, I remember listening to my dad preach to adults.  I remember being with him and listening to other preachers.  I remember some of those old sermons.  And I also remember quizzing a few other first graders on some of these matters way back then and determining that I was unique for listening as I did.

No doubt lots of good information and theology went right over my head.  I don’t think I understood that all of these stories fit into a grand metanarrative.  For all I knew, St. Paul and Jonah could have been friends, maybe next door neighbors.  It didn’t occur to me for many years that they did not live at the same time or that St. Paul might have studied about Jonah in his own Bible studies.  There was a strange mix, then, of doctrine, theology, spiritual formation, entertainment, and all that which didn’t make a lot of sense in some grand scheme other than it was all very important to the people who were very important to me.  I valued it, but could not explain why.

I’m about there again, now too, only this time with the passing on of this faith.  I have all this soup to share.  I have broken little people eager to eat it, yet I am not a dietician who can skillfully prepare and then feed.

Except with the grace of God.

Right?

And so we revisit the stories A LOT.

Did I say “routine” before?

And we often start at the beginning and work our way forward through the stories.  By now, my kids have heard so much about Adam and Eve repeatedly that I am almost bored with it.

And we look at the story books together, and there they are.  Adam and Eve.  Naked.  Always their private parts covered by the bushes (in the children’s illustrations) – the very stuff they tried to hide themselves with when they sinned and God confronted them.

Yet, my kids are far more interested in noticing the buffalo, the butterfly, the rabbit and fawn, the ladybug pictured there in the scene featuring Adam and Eve.  We see many of these same creatures on the next page where the story of Noah appears.  So we get to revisit all of that again there too.

But then one day I pointed out that Adam and Eve are naked, and suddenly my little kids are giving their nakedness attention.  I almost felt a little dirty talking about this with my adopted/foster kids of very young age.

How did those grannies address this when I was in the church nursery or the very youngest Bible classes almost 50 years ago? The Sexual Revolution was in full swing in those days outside our church house doors, but the prudish, post-Victorian reaction inside was also alive and well.  I had no concept of that level of thought at the time.  But, I am sure I learned early that Adam and Eve were naked.  I am sure that fascinated me.

I remember a certain uncle in my family, a well-to-do relative with a fine home in another state.  He was a devout Christian man too.  And we didn’t visit this uncle often, but when we did (maybe once a year), it always was a treat, as I recall.  I mention him because in his fine home, on his coffee table in his parlor, he kept a book full of pictures – reproduced paintings mostly, I think.  I don’t recall the title, but I am sure its topic had to do with the American West back in frontier days.  And there was one painting featured in the book picturing a scene with a Native American wearing only war paint.

The picture did not show a full frontal depiction of the man, but his butt was clearly visible.

No bushes, like the Adam and Eve pictures in story books or flannel boards.   No Jesus-on-a-cross with-a-loin-cloth pictures.

No.

We saw booty.

BOOTY!

A man standing out in a prairie, presumably hunting a buffalo or about to sneak up on a battle, and doing so in the nude.

Wow!  What a concept!

I don’t remember clearly now all my thoughts about that, but I am certain that it captivated my young imagination.  I am sure that shortly, if not immediately, I applied my experience with that painting in that book to my thoughts about Adam and Eve.  By the time I was in public school, the phrase “where the sun don’t shine” was thoroughly complicated for me.  The idea of BEING IN THE GARDEN NAKED seemed ideal yet weird.

I didn’t want to take my clothes off.  I was way more modest than that.  In fact, I got a little scared at the idea, and couldn’t entertain it long.  But it still called to me somehow.

I never ironed that out.

I moved on to other things, but that dissidence in my cognition and in my emotions, though rather minor in the big scheme of things, never has been ironed out.

And here I am talking about Adam and Eve with my little kids.

I kinda freaked, to be honest.

They seemed interested, and I felt like I was talking about matters too holy for us to handle.

So, I immediately told my kids, “These are the naked people of the Bible.”  (In Texas the proper pronunciation is not NAKED with a long A sound, but NEKED with a short e sound.)  As soon as those words came out, I told my kids, “Now… if you ever see naked people out back in the bushes behind the house, call NINE-ONE-ONE!”

They didn’t laugh.  They are only 2, 3, and 4 years old.  I laughed nervously for them.

But now they plainly see that Adam and Eve are the naked people of the Bible.  And in fact, my kids are apt to ask me to read to them “the story about the naked people of the Bible.”

I’m glad that is how they think of Adam and Eve.  That nakedness is really, really important.

Why am I writing about this on the blog?

Not sure.

Perhaps it’s just cathartic, if that is even a thing.

But, there seems to be a new depth here for me.

This too happens when you move from the role of student to teacher; in nearly any subject, just the change in roles – even with the same old curriculum – opens up new depths of meaning.

I am not advocating for nudist churches here.  I will stop short of that.

Let me repeat that, because I think when I get down in this rabbit hole, some reader will forget I said that.  So, here it is again: I AM NOT ADVOCATING FOR NUDIST CHURCHES HERE!

(Did you get that?)

(Good.)

But…

But you do realize, (Don’t you?), that in the beginning, waaaaay back when everything God created was still “GOOD” that the people were naked… right???

You were made to be naked and vulnerable with God and one another.  Nothing to hide.  No fear and no shame.  And in THAT condition, it’s not YOU the rest of us actually see anyway.

It’s God.

God in whose image you were made!

And there is work to do in that world, alright, but it’s work that does not involve “sweat of the brow.”

Do not worry about what you will eat or wear, says Jesus, but seek first the Kingdom of God.

Have you ever really considered that?

Yeah… THAT is the ideal.  That is THE MARK, which when missed is sin.

Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened, and they tried to hide from God.  They made coverings for their nakedness from the bushes all those Bible story books hide them behind so my kids won’t actually see God when they look at the pictures.  But God gave them animal skins to cover with instead.

I ask my kids, “Where do the animal skins come from?”

We look at the picture again and talk about the buffalo, the fawn, the rabbit and all those creatures who are now tasked with giving up so very much in so deep a sacrifice to hide the private parts of the Adam and the Eve.  That seems like a steep price to pay for eating from the wrong menu, but that’s what God requires.

Is God just being mean and arbitrary?

And then, of course, as Christians, we see that we “put on Christ” and in a sense wear him – hoping that he is seen in us.

So… what does all of this say about nudity?  What does it say about vulnerability, integrity, honesty and the like?  What does it say about “privacy” (a hot topic in today’s world where medical records, finances, security cameras, iPhones,  and internet connections are concerned).  What does it say about commerce in general, about bank accounts, retirement accounts, building bigger barns and greed?

The naked people of the Bible have nothing to hide until they sin.

How might I get my little kids to consider any of this stuff?

How might I get you to consider it?

HIGH VOLTAGE AMERICA

America is quite a revolting place.  Our “Founding Fathers” revolted and put in place a certain kind of order for us to govern ourselves.  But it started with revolt.  Some white people didn’t like the tax system, and so some people got killed, a new flag was made, some new songs sung, and so on and so forth.

But it’s not actually the voltage that kills you.  It’s the current.

Currently, just within this year (and just within the last 12 months), Americans have boarded up businesses and downtown districts, not because of COVID (just think of all the complaints about how virus precautions have killed business!), but because some white people don’t like the outcome of the last presidential election.  Sore losers running around lying about it for political gain and just when we let our guard down, they storm the capitol pitching their temper tantrum – an offense I thought by all rights would get you shot dead on sight!  (I still don’t understand why the capitol grounds aren’t bloodstained for that kind of treason.)

But while all the white people are embittered and rioting over being taxed too much or out voted too much, we have black people rioting over getting murdered too much.

I really hope that Maxine Waters didn’t disrupt an otherwise orderly carriage of justice with her trigger happy mouth.  I sure don’t want to go through this again.  I really hope America learns the lesson on this round and not more rounds of this, and while I sympathize with Waters’s position, I think the judge in the Chauvin trial was right.  She needs to keep her mouth closed right now.  We already know her position and the stakes.  We don’t need to be educated on it.  There will be plenty of time for her words on the other side of this, assuming they are needed.

Meanwhile, here on the street corner in Lubbock, Texas this morning, it’s cold!  Unseasonably cold.

It’s not so cold as to cause someone to freeze to death unless they are really caught off guard, but being the back side of April in this country, that really could happen.  A street bum shedding that coat and long pants two weeks ago and being unprepared last night won’t have the benefit of the “Survive The Night” wagon with their hot drinks, blankets, and invitation to come indoors.  That’s a Christmas season thingy, not an Easter season thingy.

I hate to involve myself with matters over my head, like politics and riots and all.  I mean, I do think that stuff is important, and that as an American I have a right to an opinion and even a duty to be informed, but I don’t want to come off as some big know it all (Ps. 131:1).  I am not some know it all.  I just notice these little things while the big things get all the attention.  I wonder if these low voltage things matter to anyone.

MAYBE IT JUST DOESN’T JAZZ YOU…

…but it does me.  And I am so jazzed that whether you are or not, I am gonna say it again.

A few weeks ago, I posted The Gospel According to Joe.  You can link it here:

https://fatbeggars.wordpress.com/2021/03/21/the-gospel-according-to-joe/

I know I am not the greatest theologian.  I know I am not a great blogger.  But I am still jazzed by the Jesus, the Gospel, the mystery of God, I find in Joe’s story.  I just don’t think some of this stuff is mere coincidence.  It is the Word of God!  There are dimensions of poetry and music in it that I will never grasp, but I catch these little tidbits that no one else ever seems to talk about, and I am totally enthralled.

I find communion – Eucharist – in the story.  This grand sweeping epic that bookends the book of Genesis with creation and Joe and sets the story of God off on a particular trajectory we will follow all the way through St. John’s Apocalypse.

And one of the tidbits that just reverberates so tremendously that I feel like I have to yell in order to be heard from the clatter and cacophony surrounding it is that when Joe gets in prison and starts interpreting dreams again, the two men who come to him for this service are the cup bearer and the baker.

Cup and bread.

This cup and bread almost slip in and out of the melody unnoticed for what they are.  But they are set within a grand story about God feeding the starving world through an enslaved, left for dead, thought dead, convict and right under the nose of the greatest imperial king that ancient world ever knew!  The world is starving!  But Joe feeds it.  Like bread from heaven, he feeds the whole world.  And within that story with this cup and this bread there is another meal where Joe is restored to his brothers who want him dead, who live a lie that he is dead.

I see Jesus in every heartbeat of this story.

I come to the table, and I am one of his brothers who wished him dead, who has been living a lie, but who he is doing business with in deep places I can’t access.

And I think that is absolutely tremendous.

It makes me want to go partake Eucharist RIGHT NOW!

How about you?