SHOULD AULD ACQUAINTANCE BE FORGOT AND NEVER BROUGHT TO MIND

Wow! Are these not about some of the saddest words you ever heard?  I don’t even know what “auld” means! But I am ready to burst out in tears!

Let me stop right here and confess there is a HUGE difference between what I know about today’s hit song and what I think about it.  I have tons of thoughts which I bet are either right or close enough, and if not, they should be adopted as the truth.  Still, like the vast majority of … of … of… well, of both of you reading here… I looked it up on the internet.  Some of my thoughts were instantly confirmed, none really challenged, and I quickly got bored sorting it out, and decided to mostly run with my version.

(Hey! This same way of interpreting things is exceptionally common when it comes to people reading the Bible!  And eternal damnation hangs in that balance!  This is just an old Scottish drinking song, kinda ranks up there in mythology with John Newton’s Amazing Grace.  So, what’s the harm in making it mine?  The song had me at “old acquaintance be forgot.”  (And yes, I thought they were singing “old” when I first heard it, which was too far back in my childhood to remember.  (So, I forgot that too.))

Yeah, the song is mythical on many levels of consciousness.  It’s better than LSD.

Here’s what I learned about it “objectively”: It was a poem first, credited to Robert Burns.  It dates back to something like 1788.  The main title line loosely translates to “for old times’ sake” or something of the sort.  It is sung/recited at funerals and the like but is mostly recognized as the song we sing when ringing out the old year and ringing in the new.  (I presume I have those facts right, and I will not challenge them.  As far as I am concerned, we can leave that part of it’s mythology in tact.)

Here’s a few more things I know about the song: It’s a party song for the holiday; it’s traditional; drunks, especially, like to sing it.  New Year’s Eve (and New Year’s Day (early)) is one of the biggest DUI days of the year!  So, yeah.  This song, even though it has it’s sad, sentimental side, makes for a party experience.  The song, sober, moves between sadness and hope like a mood swing seesaw in verse after verse.  The more drunk you are, the more it makes sense!  And you don’t have to understand the lyrics to take the ride.

So, here’s where I move more into what I think: Being drunk (or just a bit tipsy even (in fact probably not too drunk)) completes the experience of the song.  The repeated line of “take a cup of kindness yet,” just drips with the urge to take another swig!  It becomes rhythmic drinking!  Oh boy!

It’s better than an acid trip.  You go places in your heart and the universe for a moment that are almost unreachable any other way or any other time.  It’s almost like being awake for a fantastic dream.  For just a moment, all your loved ones passed on come rushing back and recede like the ocean waves on the beach – so naturally it feels right.

Those of us filled with youth so much we hardly are acquainted with loss and memories gone and all but forgotten, have plans, dreams, desires, and lotsa, lotsa, lotsa libido with which to conquer the world.  We don’t have a lot of time for the past … yet.  There’s a respect for legacy, but not much with which to experience it.

For those of us old enough to cling to legacy as if it were the only life we have left, there is a fresh understanding that in this moment, this shared moment, we can pay homage even if only briefly, to those we love who time has forgot – to our own legacy which time soon will forget.  Take advantage of this brief moment, pay the homage with all your heart, because this IS IT.  Your whole life comes flooding into this moment on the beach of eternity.

There’s something of a collective, spiritual death and resurrection we share with the world.  Life, meaning, love, hope, desire, and peace can all be touched, kissed, fondled, and felt, for just a moment, for just one more round, with one more verse.  The drink will grease the gears, and soon the lights will go out, but for THIS MOMENT, we can feel it all and care.  Our hearts are full, just for a moment.

My guess is this: The first time, the very first time, a group of drunks were able to wake in the morning and have any memory of… of… “What was that song we were singing last night?”

“Hey, Joe! Not so loud!  My head hurts!”

“No… wait, Frank.  He’s right.  What was that song we were singing last night?”

My guess is that the moment the song survived that hurdle, it was destined to be a hit with staying power.  It’s been ringing in the new for over two hundred years!  John, Paul, George, Ringo, Elvis, and Michael have a high bar to reach!  (Although Dan Fogelberg tried to make a nice end run around it!)

You know?  They say, “If you value your freedom, thank a vet.”  And I am all for that.  But I say, “If you value this song, thank a drunk.”

Maybe head out to skid row on your way to the bar tonight. Take a drunk with you.  Sing it with a bum from Skid Row!  He will soon enough be an auld acquaintance soon forgot and never again brought to mind.

Oh… and Happy New Year.

ARGUING WITH WALLS AND FOOLS

Such argument as this seems futile but it is, nonetheless, why I keep this blog.  Except I don’t normally single out another blogger to argue against.  So, allow me to clarify up front, I aim to be respectful, and I will not divulge the identity of the other blog.  Therefore, it is likely this other opinionater will not find me or my argument.  That will avoid arguing with fools.  Thus, I will take my potshots and cheap shots rather than inviting an honest debate.  But you can decide for yourself whether I am a kook still.  This is a bit unfair in the fullest sense, I know.  But I present the other’s opinion as honestly and forthrightly as I can without exposing them on purpose for humiliation.

But here’s the thing: I found a blog which almost lifted the attitude toward the poor and needy right out of Corbett and Fikkert without showing any sign of familiarity with them.  This was published by a pastor who came to dramatically similar conclusions and chose to terribly misuse the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to make his point.  I don’t know where to be stunned more: a pastor’s terrible mishandling of Scripture or yet another excuse, in the guise of biblical study to mistreat the poor.

This fellow starts off strong too! He confesses he is like the rich man in some ways, that he sees the poor yet manages not to really see them.  I never thought this was the affliction of the rich man in the parable, exactly, but it might be a fair way of thinking of him.  He sees Lazarus suffering there, but he isn’t moved to help.  Certainly, some level of this indifference is clear in the parable, though looking at Lazarus while not really seeing him with sympathy is not a stated feature.  At most, it’s an incidental observation.

It’s here the blogging pastor confesses quite powerfully that he is like the rich man in just this way.  And for just a moment, I sense this blogger is really on to something.  It’s here he reveals too that he is a pastor, that at a time years ago, he was leading a church in a rough neighborhood where frequently needy beggars came to him seeking a handout.  He gave them money, he says, even divulging amounts he sometimes parted with for the asking, and I am starting to get a little confused because he just likened himself to the rich man who did not give to Lazarus at all.

This man, presumably, is a seminary educated pastor and not one of those who sends off for a certificate from the bottom of a box of Cracker Jacks.  So, I am really troubled at how he has transitioned as he has.  He presents himself as a giver and likens himself to the man Jesus describes as not giving.  Does he think I won’t notice?  How is the paster doesn’t notice this?

It’s also right about here he claims his “help” – a word he put in quotations to designate how it was not truly help at all.  (I’m beginning to think it’s this diseased sense of “help” which clearly isn’t biblical that corrodes good biblical analysis.  Maybe not, but I sense this is about the same place Corbett and Fikkert make their departure too.)

This already is quite a deviation, actually, from the parable the pastor speaks of.  His confession has subtly morphed.  When he opened claiming he saw needy people but managed it without compassion, he likened this to the rich man in the parable which was fair, though maybe a stretch.  But now his confession is that actually he was giving to the needy, which is completely UNLIKE the rich man in the parable, but complicating things by saying his giving was enabling instead of “help.” (He did not use quotations for the word “enable.”)

Now… let me put a pause on my observations right there for a moment.  I have said this before, many times, but lest a new reader find this (or that pastor/blogger) I concede that giving money to beggars frequently gets used in ways I too consider wasteful.  In fact, if by enabling, this man means he helped a bum get a bottle of booze (a thing he never actually said), I would agree that it happens a lot.  I am not naive about this.

I do not, however, see that as the big problem.  So, the money is misused or abused in some way.  So what?  If a man asks for a few dollars and I give it, his use of it is not my business.  If I give you $10 and you buy a bottle of booze, am I supposed to be worried about it?  Got a verse for this when it’s you and yours misusing it?  Where’s the book, the blogpost, and the advice for it in that case?

But the pastor begins describing how he made a decision not to give money anymore to such beggars, at least not routinely.

Now… let me pause again right there for another moment to say, I don’t fault him for withholding a few dollars per se.  There are other gifts one might give.  Especially as the pastor went on to describe how he would pray with such people, talk to them and try to get to know them.  I certainly see these other things as the more important part of giving than “the money,” and so I am still cool with him to this point, all except for being a bit confused about how any of this is like the rich man in the parable.

I surely think that whether you give money or not, giving of yourself in relationship to the needy is the BETTER PART!  I will question you in perhaps a dozen ways why you suddenly withhold money as some sort of personal policy.  That surely sounds like discrimination to me, like your more worried about the money than the needy person.  But it’s not the worst thing in the world.  If a man needs to eat and you give him a sandwich, you have done right by him.  If he needs to eat and you give him $5 which he uses to eat a sandwich, you have done right.  If you refuse to give a man $5 simply because you don’t trust he will use it the way you deem worthy, then you are judging that man, his motives, his lifestyle and so forth even before he wastes it.

But if you invite the hungry man to eat at your table, you will finally be doing the thing the rich man in the parable failed to do, a thing Lazarus apparently, according to the parable, couldn’t hardly dream of wishing for!  He merely wanted the crumbs from that table!  Now THAT is part of the parable, but the pastor/blogger makes no mention of it.

If the pastor had drawn out this new best practice of sharing his table with the needy, he might have found the parable to be relevant after all to his point, but he didn’t get there either.  Instead, he tells us about an interested young man in his church who stepped up to connect beggars with resources such as jobs and places to live inexpensively.  This pastor obviously is enamored with his efforts to “help” without “enabling.”  He even laments at how little this new help he was giving wasn’t really helping either (though he never points out that aspect of his own observations).  It’s like ripping a page right out of Corbett and Fikkert.

It’s at this point, the pastor claims he is getting to “the point” of his post: He stopped putting Band-Aids on people’s cancer.  (He really called it “cancer” too – using quotation marks.  It’s a metaphor, I know, but truly a harsh one, I think.  And then, almost plagiarizing Corbett and Fikkert, apparently unwittingly, he claims poverty isn’t really about not having money, but about the frame of mind a beggar gets into.  (I presume this is the “cancer” he is talking about.) This, he claims, is the point of his whole post!

But then he returns to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to guide us through a critical study of it.

Ahhhh… Finally, we are going to get into the text!  But wait… no… maybe not.  Not really.  He talks about the parable, but not overly critically or exegetically, mind you, since after all, he isn’t taking it at face value or exegeting it at all, but confusingly confessing how much like the rich man he is, though his own self-description is nearly a polar opposite.

Pastor then speaks of this parable as though he never read it.  He actually claims the point Jesus is making in no way speaks to the money or the gift the rich man might have offered to Lazarus.  He even says the parable in no way condemns the rich in favor of exalting the poor.  This is truly surprising given Luke’s whole narrative goes around doing almost exactly that very thing.

He then says the tragedy of the parable is how the rich man doesn’t realize his need of God until his death.  (Am I supposed to see the pastor in this light too?  He did compare himself to this rich man at the beginning, but surely the pastor isn’t pasteurizing me as a person who doesn’t realize his own need of God!)  Pastor tells us the rich man ignores his desperate need of God!  This is the real problem in the man’s life: he doesn’t recognize his desperate need of God.  Meanwhile, Pastor tells us Lazarus’s relationship with God is implied in the parable – yes, implied, not clearly stated.

Really?  It’s not stated but implied?  Look up the meaning of the name Lazarus and come back and tell me that.

This is a slipshod approach to the parable at best.  I was so contorted by his words, I ran and looked up the parable to make sure I wasn’t wrong about it.  I double checked the meaning of Lazarus’s name.  Notice the rich man is not named in the parable, but the name Lazarus means God helped me.  Not God “helped” me. and not God made sure not to enable me,” but just God helped me!  That certainly implies a relationship.  In fact, it pretty much just states it outright.

But now Pastor wants to describe what he believes is the point of the parable (not to be confused with the point of his post).  He qualifies it saying it’s the point as he sees it, rather than just telling us the point of Jesus’s story, which would be far better.  However, I am inclined to cut Pastor a break on this since he obviously makes no effort to exegete it.  The point as he sees it is twofold.  1. Being rich might make this life easier, but it’s no guarantee of going to heaven.  2. Being poor doesn’t guarantee you have a right relationship with Jesus.

Now… pausing again, I must agree with these statements.  Being rich is no ticket to heaven and neither is being poor.  However, are these really the two-fold point Jesus is making?

For those of you unaware, this parable appears in Luke’s gospel chapter 16.  This is the only place it appears in the Bible.  Luke’s gospel very specifically sets out the story of the one Simeon describes, chapter 2, as being appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, in chapter 1, says “the poor will be filled with good things and the rich sent away empty.”  All through Luke’s gospel, the humble (who usually are poor too) gain favor with Jesus while the proud (who frequently are rich) suffer his scorn.  The exceptions prove the rule! This parable is set in the narrative where these insights are already well established!

Earlier in chapter 16, we find the parable of the unjust steward, and shortly after the telling of that one, Jesus confronts Pharisees who love wealth!  While I think you can make the case that the rich man isn’t opposed by God strictly because of his wealth, you really gotta demonstrate it, because there’s precious little to go on otherwise in this parable IF YOU ACTUALLY READ IT.  You have to work out that humility/pride part to get there.  You really need to discuss the rich and powerful centurion in chapter 7 who humbles himself before Jesus finding rare favor for one in his position to do it.  Pastor/blogger made no such effort.

The rich man in this chapter-16 parable is a proud man who doesn’t associate himself with Lazarus, shows no mercy on the poor man’s suffering, and thus, when they both die, he finds their roles almost reversed. (Rise and fall of many in Israel… anyone?)  If he, being rich and powerful, not unlike the centurion in chapter 7, had humbled himself seeking the benefit of the lowly beggar, he would have found favor with God.  If he had shared even the crumbs from his table with Lazarus, he might have found favor.

As for this whole enabling angle, shortly after this parable is told, in chapter 17, Jesus heals ten lepers yet only one thanks him for it.  It is alarming to Jesus too, but Jesus in no way acts like healing the other nine was some mistake.  While this point is not about giving money, per se, it nonetheless jives, I think.  After all, in chapter 6, Jesus said, “Give to all who ask,” and in no way outlined how the giving of money would be wrong or “enabling.”

This blog I read was an astounding exercise in making the Bible say anything you want.  This pastor started off strong, so it seemed. He sounded confessional, but then twisted his way into the parable of the rich man and Lazarus only to twist that parable out of its shape.

He did at least go to the Bible to make his point, but he didn’t really listen to the Bible once there.

I don’t wish to argue with this person or shame them.  I don’t think I am smarter or better than this pastor.  But he did write THIS post as a PASTOR, and I expect better excellence from a shepherd.  I am troubled since I believe the real point of the post, not the one actually stated, is to tell people not to help the needy too much or in some wrong way.

Why?  Why would that be the point?

What actual need is there of this caution?

I suspect it is a smokescreen, really, a way to comfort the comforted when they are disturbed by their own wealth in the face of poverty – whether that be a mentality or a lack of material possessions.  If that is the case, this man’s twisting of the parable in his post is making it say nearly the polar opposite of its real point.  It’s conscience salve, a self-justification.  I say it is all the more dangerous because the pastor makes the claim to be a pastor and twists a passage of scripture which, in reality, obviously has to do with the selfishness of the rich man in the face of Lazarus’s need.

While the pastor/blogger claims he offers prayer and friendship with beggars, he winds up downplaying that part in the bigger picture.  It barely gets passing mention before being abandoned completely.  I wish he had worked that part out more.  I expect, if he found real value in it, he would have wound up exploring shared meals with the needy as integral to his getting to know them, in showing his care for them, AND would have taken one of the logical elements of the parable he chose to explicate to a new point which would bear up powerfully in the love of Christ.

Rarely is the giving of $5 or $20 life-changing for the poor for good or ill.  The sharing of our time, our lives, our meals and so forth though has tremendous power to change the lives of the poor for good.  The cash is incidental.  IF the pastor had taken his post in that direction, I would have been impressed.  As it is, he misleads us to keep our money and tries to make us feel good about it.

This is all the more tragic since he opened by confessing, he sees the poor without really seeing them.  His misuse of the parable cements him in that problem.

FAT BEGGAR’S NEWS ANAYLYSIS

I’ve been too sick to pay close attention to news items for the last week, but a few are so big, they keep recurring in the headlines every other day at least.  Here at the end of 2022, I notice how much they have to do with homelessness, yet that word doesn’t seem to come up.  (Of course, maybe I missed it when I was too sick to listen.)

The main story, the really big one spawning some of the other big ones with it, is the blizzard.  It didn’t hit the entire nation, but it waylaid a lot of it, crippled holiday travel, and still threatens lives and property days later.  Neighbors are asked to check on neighbors to see who is alive and dead.  The National Guard is called in to help.  Motorists are stranded, cars left in snowbanks, airports jammed with stranded travelers, and that story goes on and on too.  It was the Christmas that keeps on taking!

Am I really the only one who sees homelessness in all this?

I see people complaining about wearing the same clothes over and over for days on end, about sleeping on the floor in public places, about missing work while the bills pile up and the paycheck shrinks.  It’s a world of Christmas chaos and misery out there.  The problem seems intractable and complex.  It may take years to get to the bottom of it all.

Did anyone notice the story on ABC News a few nights ago where the couple up in New York (I think it was New York (Buffalo?)) took in guests overnight?  Turns out a shuttlebus of foreign tourists got stuck in the snow near their home and came knocking to ask for shovels to dig out with.  This couple had foreseen the storm, stocked up on essentials and prepared to hunker down for the storm, but had not anticipated keeping guests – a shuttle full of them!

Turns out they made new friends!  Turns out this breakdown was a huge serendipity!  Granted the miracle came a couple days after Christmas, but we could still call it a Christmas miracle, I think.  These needy strangers found room at the inn!  Those tourists with so much travel money they came from half a world away to visit the USA suddenly found themselves destitute and at the mercy of the elements.  Without the kindness of strangers, they might’ve died!  But as it turns out, even the homeowners who stocked up, ostensibly for themselves, found the sharing to be such a rich blessing to their lives, the thing made the national news feed!

I love that story!

Contrast it with all the other stranded people toughing it out in airports, luggage lost, sleeping on floors, no shower for days, bemoaning, complaining, crying… and I get it!  I totally get it!  Someone connect the dots!  This is a taste of homelessness!

But then contrast all of that with the other big story: Border Security (or lack thereof).

It also is a story of homelessness, the weather impacting it too.  Gov. Abbott pulled his stunt again, and I am not without sympathy to his purpose, but hey… once again… not cool.  (Think of the story making the headlines if our Vice President had opened her home the way that other couple did!  Especially, think of the power it would have had if she opened her home in the Name of Jesus!  Oh, well… The story that could have been…. (I will let you in on a little secret: The Republicans are setting the Jesus-bar so low even Vice President Harris could jump over it!  The church of America today has sold out to the great whore! Turn the tables on her!  Show her up!)

Meanwhile, the border is overwhelmed with people who didn’t purchase a ticket to fly with expectations of arrival on time or with expectations of checked baggage keeping up with them.  No.  In some cases, these homeless people paid thousands of dollars, even life savings, to have the mere chance to walk thousands of miles through many nations, not their homelands, to finally, finally, finally reach the US border, wade through the river, and promptly face detainment and arrest.  When interviewed, I am blown away by how many of them smile despite their destitute circumstances and claim it was all worth it for a chance at the dream.

Which homeless are living the dream?

These are homeless stories about the intractable problem of homelessness.  There are few simple answers, but there certainly is one: HOSPITALITY.  And it has made the national news.  The hosts of that hospitality testify to the rich blessings they find in it!  Their guests testify likewise!

Do you want God to bless America?

Consider his WORD.

Start with Hebrews 13:2.

Just a little news analysis from a fellow vagabond.

Happy New Year

TWO WOMEN

There are a few old stories that make the circuit every once in a while, passing for new with the unsuspecting gossips hungry for a new juicy bite of flesh. When I was a kid and microwave ovens suddenly became ubiquitous, it seemed every sixth grader and their dog had a cousin who knew a guy who knew an old lady that washed her cat and tried to dry it in the microwave. Or there were the two lovers smooching out on Lover’s Lane late one night when the escaped convict got loose, and the young man left his girl hiding in the car as he went to get gas, but she spent the night shivering in fear on the floorboard listening to her dying lover clawing at the car door for help.

I bet I heard each one of those stories three or four times before I began to suspect they were more mythical than real. Sometimes the story is real or buried beneath layers of embellishment and indulgence.  Sometimes, there is some truth in it, but how can you tell by the time it’s so worn out? You probably heard about the pastor who showed up at his own church appearing like a homeless man.  Wow!  That one is wore out!  Despite the powerful conviction that story conveys, it’s as impotent to change a church as sugar water is to help your headache.

I could go on and on like this, I am sure, and you would recognize at least a dozen of these tales. If you are the perceptive type, you heard these before, and usually there’s an element of annoyance in hearing them again.

Did you ever see M. Knight Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense?  Then a couple years later did you see Nicole Kidman in The Others?  And did your sixth sense see the plot twist coming like a freight train in a tunnel while watching the Kidman story?  How disappointing is that?  Kidman’s movie was well done, but it follows essentially the same formula, and this little fact steals the thunder out of an otherwise great movie!

I felt like I was seeing dead people the whole time!  I wanted my money back!  I hated this for Kidman, because I am otherwise, pretty much a fan.  And this little phenomenon, rare though it is, when it comes up is a killer.  The moment my sixth sense is triggered, I start looking for the exit; I jump in and hit the punchline before the storyteller gets the chance. If I can humiliate the jokester, maybe they will think twice about springing that one on anyone else again.

Right?

Yes, except every now and then the sixth sense fools me.  The bewilderment opens new doors to my imagination.  And that has me thinking about another story I found featured on a blog recently.

I tend to write a lot about homeless, think a lot about homeless, and I read other’s thoughts on the homeless too.  There’s quite a lot of formulaic thinking out there about how to deal with, or react to, the homeless.  There are professional opinions, political opinions, religious opinions, bleeding heart opinions, humanist opinions, and occasionally some mixed bag opinions too. It rarely takes more than a couple paragraphs before I sense which kind of opinion is taking shape, and frequently it’s stated in the title.

So, it was surprising to me to run into that old familiar story about the two women again, as I browsed blogs featuring homeless, and found a new twist I had not seen before.  It’s an old story, very old in fact.  The two women hit the road together shortly after their lives are devastated with massive loss.  Vulnerable as can be, they lean on one another resourcefully and manage to bob and weave their way through perilous times.  Two women traveling alone owning nothing except their names which they struggle to share openly to others.

How can they trust anyone?  I’ve met homeless women before who are very, very wary of men in general, including street ministers!  They must be shrewd.  These women put their faith in one another, but you’d be surprised the way they speak of God.  God, it seams, has dealt bitterly with them.  In fact, they have fallen on such hard times that dragged them down so bitterly, the one woman takes up a street alias, “Bitter.”  This is how she and God relate!

What 501c3-charitable organization or church wants to help a woman who thinks God makes her bitter?

I’ve read a lot of opinions about homelessness on the internet, in journals, and books over the years, but this is a case study for which, even though it’s a familiar story in the gild, no one, to my knowledge, has rendered an opinion.  It occurs to me, based on my experience in the field, that any street ministers worth their salt would, of course, handle the obligatory first aid to such a person (socks, a blanket, food, and/or medical treatment if necessary), but upon relating the finer points of The Gospel would want to challenge all this bitterness!

The bitterness is not God’s fault!  The woman simply feels bitter, but God’s love is always there just waiting for her to surrender her hard feelings and come running home – not unlike the prodigal son.  But this woman actually changes her name to Bitter claiming God has been bitter with her!  And that is an element that comes across in nearly all retellings of this fabled story.

As the blogger aptly noted, and I must concur, practically no one ever adequately considers this.  I surely hadn’t.

Is this woman (are these women) so far beneath our contempt that we just don’t care what she (they) thinks about her relationship with God?  Isn’t this something a Christian ministry would seek to address?  And according to this old tale, the fact she changes her name like this is a point clearly stated, but the resolution of it is never handled by those of us in ministry.

Isn’t that curious?

We just accept this without comment or afterthought. It’s a huge thing, if you really think about it, but no one ever addresses it.  Not really.  Does God make this homeless woman bitter or not?

If you have been reading about homeless ministry over the years, you surely have familiarity with this story too. I will certainly forgive you if you aren’t familiar, but if you are, which most of you are, I think, then surely you, like me, are in awe over the fact this little detail isn’t dealt with somewhere by someone!  The blog I found this on illuminated for me what was hiding in plain sight!  My sixth sense was never triggered before I found this blog!

So, these needy women with nothing left to their name (except the bitter dealings of God) shrewdly rely on one another for survival, and eventually their story ends (if it can be called an ending) on a very bright note!  They do, in fact, find relief for their predicament, lasting relief at that.  But how do these women, dealt with bitterly by God, manage such a thing?

Well, it appears, at first, their unusual dedication to one another is key to their survival.  They ingratiate themselves (well the younger, more attractive woman especially does) to a rich man who turns out to be a relative of the older more bitter woman.  The younger woman goes to work on the same farm taking only the meager leftovers for herself and the old woman.  It’s a variation on the will-work-for-food theme you often find on a beggar’s sign, but she manages to catch the eye of the rich man.

She plays the hand she is dealt (the bitter hand at that) very shrewdly!  It is a perilous moment in the story, because there are farm hands around who could easily take advantage of such an attractive, young woman with no attachments.  But the rich man invites her to lunch!  Then he instructs her to stick close to his crew, and she will be safe.  Meanwhile, she continues to be faithful and true to her partner, the bitter old woman.

The two women’s lot in life is suddenly improving, but still is very tenuous.  They, as yet, still have no HOME to rest in, but inch by inch, they are proving themselves despite the bitterness of God.  And when the young, attractive woman explains what she is doing to the bitter, older woman, the bitter older woman realizes that in God’s providence there is a chance this rich man, who she knows to be a relative, might take a proper interest in her young friend and redeem them both from their homelessness.

So, what does this bitter, old woman instruct her young, attractive friend to do?  How will they get off the streets for good?

This bitter, old woman wanting a roof over her head instructs this young, attractive partner to sneak into the bed of the rich man from church, pull back the covers, and lie there like only a young, attractive woman can do, and see what happens.

Well, if you read this story before, you know they manage to sidestep any hanky-panky, but not only does this young, attractive woman put herself in danger of hanky-panky, she also risks soiling the reputation of the rich church guy who potentially might save them.  So, there’s quite a lot of unappreciated irony going on there in that part of the story too, really.  But the rich guy lets her sleep there near him (do you think he really slept?), sneaks her back out early in the morning, but then he goes to court on her behalf, gets her ID straightened out, and then marries the woman at the foot of his bed!

This is not the kind of story we generally tell in church!  Oh, you heard it there, but it managed to get the emPHASis on all the wrong syLLABles.  It is not the kind of training with which we prepare ministers in seminaries.  Oh, there are plenty (AND I MEAN PLENTY) of ministers who fall into the arms of some attractive, young woman in their bed (or even not in their bed), who soil the good name of Jesus and bring scandal upon themselves and the church but marrying the poor in order to save them from the streets is generally NOT part of the program or any opinion I ever read on any homeless blog.

But there is still that thing about the bitter way God deals with Naomi, who’s birth name means nice! She now goes by Mara, or Bitter!  She credits God with this bitterness, and yet as bitter as it is (and certainly it is all of that), there is so much irony too.  An unappreciated irony.  If nothing else, we see God grinding Naomi’s life through his refiner’s fire, at no fault of her own, yet producing from that baptism by refiner’s fire, the bloodline of dynasties.

I mean, when I reread the story of Ruth after finding this blogger’s curious inquiry, I found a lot of irony in God’s dealings with the homeless!  I found so much irony, it just blows almost every opinion I ever read about handling homeless right out of the water!

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS TWO TYLENOLS AND AN ALKA-SELTZER

How do you handle a bum Christmas? What do you do if for Christmas you need to take a “sick day”? How does this work, and who decides?

I mean…

If I take a sick day from work, I have a bank of three before they begin to cut into my vacation or my paycheck. If I take a sick day from school, I may be excused with a doctor’s note, but (depending on the assignments and coursework) I will need to do “make-up work” or reschedule a test etc.

But how do you handle Christmas when you are sick as a dog?

I never had to deal with this before. Christmas is like the one day of the whole year no one fakes an illness. There’s no policy for this of which I am aware! You gotta be nuts to get sick on Christmas!

So, if this were my employer, I would just eat into my sick day account of allotted days off with pay. Most likely, that would just be a simple matter of my boss taking the lumps for my absence, and I would be glad for the bank of sick days to draw from. Only if I had already used up my sick days going to the Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, and Van Halen concerts over the summer, would I be in trouble with the policy.

If I were in school, well…

If in grade school, especially the early years, there’s not much work to make up. Missing two or three days in primary school is more a disruption of routine than a serious gap in covering material building to a point. So, no real harm done. If I am in a college course, I might miss a vital lecture or a test which could be tricky to compensate for, but there are ways to do it. There might be a make-up assignment and so forth.

When it comes to Christmas, you pretty much screw the pooch. You miss this, and you are toast. There’s no policy or grace. You don’t get a “do over” or any make-up assignments. (Can we talk about the “twelve days of Christmas” now?)

It’s a little like your wedding day. You either get this, or you don’t. And the bigger and fancier your shindig, the bigger the risk of a great fall.

How do you save Christmas? Where’s the prof. to beg for better grade? What do you do with a sick-day Christmas?

You get humble. Really humble.

A D- Christmas probably isn’t a passing grade, definitely isn’t something to brag about, but it is a grade that can be brought up in the last moment to acceptable – if you can get a miracle.

Nobody I know wants to open a Tylenol for Christmas unless they are really sick when the time comes. But it just so happens, when that is your perspective, that Tylenol looks pretty good.

’tis the season (like a broken record)

Here it is: Your obligatory Christmas Eve post. Enjoy AGAIN…

Fat Beggars School of Prophets

This being a traditional Christmas post on the blog, I hope one day an angel will answer the invitation and knock at this door. Everything below is copied from the Christmas Tradition blog post:

….

It’s Christmas Eve now. A night filled with expectation. Expectation of God. Expectation of LOVE. The candles lit, the stockings hung, the Christ-child is in his manger, and all through the house… not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse.

This is Christmas – ground zero.

Camp Jesus: Ground Zero

And my heart hurts for anyone who (like that celebrated Mother and Child of old) does not have a home to be in tonight. For anyone who is not with their family.

I really want you here with me, celebrating. We have a fire. We have some hot chocolate. There is room for one more.

It might be meager, but if you ain’t too…

View original post 201 more words

SOCKED IN

Those of us blessed to be inside the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners today are “socked in.” Hoping this might be sorta fun, we stocked up on hot chocolate, firewood, and made a pot of chili. Boy, I wish we had more people with us IN HERE making the most of such a time as this.

But there are complications. Some of us are sick. The rest of us are due to get that way soon. Pounding headache, body aches, cough, sniffles, and the like. If the medicine is helping, I’d hate to know what it’s like without it, but it’s a stretch to call it “help.”

We already have cabin fever to go with it. I got little people who want to stretch their wings, their legs, and run. School’s out, and teacher let the monkeys out! They are sick too but not as bad as me. (I’m so glad we aren’t drifting on a Titanic lifeboat at sea, in fridged dark waiting for rescue.) It could be so much worse. My little ones have no idea. They suffer, but they don’t know real suffering. God bless them!

Can you imagine having the same symptoms I list above but standing on the curb waiting for the “day center” to open?

My God! That’s suffering, and it’s right here on the streets of this Christian town!

I watched the news reports last night. It was the winter solstice, the night of the memorial for homeless deaths. It’s a chance, so the organizers claim, to commemorate people who die while on the streets, and often don’t get so much as a funeral of any kind. Their nobody-friends can hold a candle and pray in the cold with the charity organization and any of the public who wants to join for an hour every year. And there is a crowd, of course, but not that many people living in homes. Mostly the crowds are the poor.

The organizers, in the face of this winter blast, say they will take people into their shelters on emergency basis the next two nights. That, of course, is the bare minimum of Christian charity, and I, of course, applaud it as I wish for more. But I am puzzled why they offer this service now since they kicked me out of their church for confronting them when they refused it several years ago.

I would be there volunteering if they hadn’t sent me packing.

And since I am sent packing, I cannot say with conviction that they are lying about this service to the TV cameras. Perhaps they had a true change of heart and now offer it for real! I am not there to say otherwise. But I am clear that several years ago, they made the claim without following up on it, and that triggered my confrontation.

Ah… but this observation is now “making it about me.” Which I don’t want to do either. Nevertheless, I cannot help but wonder what the issue is, if it’s not getting rid of me.

I certainly hope my street friends are being kept warm last night, today, and tonight. I certainly hope they are welcomed inside, given rest, coffee, and basic human care. I wish our church were doing this on a Jesus-basis. It occurs to me, we could divvy up strangers between various well-to-do Christian homes, put an individual in that spare room God blessed you with, give them a shower, breakfast, and prepare an extra stocking on the mantel.

Just imagine the impact keeping a person like that would have on their life, especially if you kept them all the way through Christmas.

I am fully aware that not all cases would turn out as some storybook ending. There is a risk, of course. But I am sure also that some will turn out very positively, and the imaginative care will make a lasting impact on both the homeless and the home that brings the stranger in for the holiday. I expect if in a town as Christian as Lubbock we got merely 50 homes to participate, we could surely have 10 very positive storybook endings, another 10 relatively positive, and I am being conservative about this.

But if we are really Christian about it, we should be able to find a minimum of 200 homes willing to try, willing to sacrifice their lives for Jesus in love. Once again, I am being conservative.

And I can’t help but think if we only had 10 positive storybook endings to this holiday hospitality, it would be enough to make the TV news, a truly GOOD NEWS story on the evening news which could open doors all over town next year.

Call me crazy, but I really to try to believe in God and his word, and that’s where I got all this idea.

And yet I am being conservative.

What if God chooses to be very liberal in the riches he lavishes on us?

He can do that if he so chooses.

Sometimes I think we forget it’s all really his prerogative.

It was God’s weather that socked us in. I’m sick as a dog over here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, but we are hosting 5 little rug rats for all we are worth! We hope for a storybook ending we may or may not see. But that don’t slow us down. Our kids aren’t waiting out at the curb for someone to open the door and let them in. Nah… They spent the night in here socked in with us. That’s love, not the bare minimum.

A DYING BLOG ABOUT A DEAD BLOG ABOUT ANOTHER DEAD BLOG (WAITING FOR RESURRECTION?)

I have a blog fantasy. It’s not the usual kind of fantasy.  It’s sorta weird, admittedly. It’s not a wish for more likes, more visits, more comments. (Though more discussion is one of my blogging fantasies, I am still talking about something different).

This blog is dying. It’s more dead than alive, really. And, actually, that brings me to the current fantasy.

My fantasy is that someday, perhaps a very long time from now, this blog will be discovered, the value in it appreciated, and then my blogging life will not have been for naught.

Christmas is upon us. Every year at Christmas Eve, I repost the same thing. Every year. Same thing. It’s a heartfelt post. I sit here every year, enjoying my family with a tug on my heart about anyone who isn’t inside celebrating family, life, and love like we do. And I know some people are performing vital work in the ER, standing guard aboard ship or at the sentry post, or a few important jobs like that, but there are a lot more people working at some menial work, some corporate retailer (some corporate Scrooge). And then there are those who simply have no place to be.

Many of those are newly divorced, in jail (or fresh out of jail), stuck in the mental ward… and finally those on the streets.

You’d think all that hot cider and cocoa-nativity celebration would have us remembering Baby Jesus in a manger, in the barn, when there was no room at the inn, and with all this fresh charity in our hearts we would be beating the hedgerows and bush, the alleys and byways compelling lowly people into God’s PARTY of all parties! 

And so, I blog about it.

And my post just hangs there in the air, mostly ignored by the wide world of web.

Many years ago, I found a blog by a homeless blogger who passed through Lubbock of all places WHEN he published the blog! Ain’t that somthin’? And I was so excited when I found it, but I didn’t run across it until the blogger had left town, moved on, and quit the blog – dropped it like a ghost blog for me to find (like two years later). 

My effort to like, comment, and connect was too little too late.

The blogger was gone.

He WAS HERE. I COULD have connected. I JUST MISSED him. 

Even his blog was brief. In all the years since, he never came back and connected with me, though I left him my contact, hoping, like a message in a bottle, maybe, just maybe, he would find me. Then I linked his ghost blog to my dying one.

I will make my usual Christmas Eve post again this year. I always take a few minutes out of my Christmas Eve family time to cut and paste it on again. I doubt more than a couple people find it. I doubt there’s much you can do with it. If, by chance, you saw the post and found a beggar to bring in with you, you surely could post your experience and leave me a comment. That would be … would be… hmmm… divine.

If that happens while I am still around to receive it, I would be so very, deeply blessed. Wow! There’s a fantasy.

I don’t dare indulge that kind of fantasy. It’s too much to hope.

And so, I withdraw to the lesser one. The long-range fantasy in the long view.  The one where someday after I am gone and this blog is a ghost, someone finds the post, is moved by it, set free by it, touched… whatever… and then welcomes a needy person (aka Jesus) into their home. 

https://fatbeggars.wordpress.com/2016/12/22/so-you-think-you-know-what-homeless-people-are-about/

SKINNING THE HOME RIGHT OFF THE SOUL (THE EMPIRE HAS NO HOME)

When I was growing up, my rebellious kid-sister, only entering middle school, changed her name to snub our parents. It was not an official name change, but she dropped our family name and adopted the last name of a favored rock star. She decided to stop using the familial “mom” and “dad” and addressed our parents by their first names. It was “just a phase” as we said at the time, but with her maybe it was a bit more than that. (Her adult life has been a struggle with drug addiction.)

Imagine, for a moment, you are raising children and one of them decides as a tweenager to change their name, to address you by your first name, and maybe even put a lock on their bedroom door requiring a key to which you have no access. Would you think it’s time to reinstate the spanking? Would you try something more creative and say… change the lock on the front door? Maybe add a lock to the fridge? Something a bit more poetic? Basically, would you transition to tough love?

How do you discipline a child behaving like this?

Your child is rejecting your authority on the one hand but is too young to leave home or just throw out on the other. This child doesn’t leave home but acts like it. This child just checked out! But like Hotel California, she ain’t leaving.

You quickly discover that any and all tough, discipline you apply drives this child deeper into isolation. So, you take the new locks off the front door and the fridge and stock up on favored ice cream trying to woo the child back into the family/home vibe. But now you are acting like the easy-to-get floosy who, once you’ve had her, no one wants again.

You can’t win this kid back either way! You’ve got, hopefully, five or six years still to turn this around before the child graduates high school and leaves.

The picture I paint here is a bit extreme, but it’s not unheard of. It’s far more likely you experience this level of indifference with your kids while they are away at college – that taken-for-granted, gone-are-the-car-keys, collect-call home for more money, see-ya-later, family vibe where you reconnect, if you do at all, when your kid comes home at Christmas and unloads five bags of laundry on you. Merry Christmas! (Don’t put this story in your annual newsletter.)

Does that sound familiar to anyone?

Yeah, this is a far more common experience.

What makes that middle school kid so profoundly wayward? Is this really a “phase”? Is this a “natural part of growing up”? My two-year-old goes through a phase experimenting with independence like this which seems far more natural. Calling your dad Lowell to his face is not natural even when you are forty-five and your own kids are producing grandchildren.

I ask you, dear reader, to consider “root causes” of homelessness NOW!

Is this just a bad seed, a wayward child born under a bad sign? Or are there social and cultural forces at work here both pulling and pushing your kid from outside his skin? How much of this is your poor parenting, and how much is the influence and impact of the internet, peer pressure, TV and movies, pop songs, and the like.

But let’s not stop there. Let’s ask how much of this is due to “the system” of education and cultural norms? How much of his is practical, if you REALLY think about it?

Is it possible my baby sister sensed the oncoming independence about to be thrust upon her by her family and culture and felt rejected in her soul? Was she rehearsing for independence? That might be a good idea, considering….

How exactly does the American Dream work? (I’m not simply asking how you achieve it, but how the phenom works.) What exactly is it? How is it passed from one generation to the next? Is the Dream something given to you, or must you take it (even fight for it)?

The birth of our nation is celebrated on “Independence Day.” At the root of American Pride is a sense of independence. There may not be as much truth to the Dream or to the culture as we’d like to believe, but we think of ourselves as a nation of self-made men (and women too, in recent times). How does human in this picture go from being the most needy, humble, vulnerable, trusting and loving creature in the food chain to being a self-made person, growing up and LEAVING HOME to invent (or find) themselves on their own terms?

And just exactly how “natural” is that?

In all of human history, what other cultures put their offspring on this altar? (We are a unique people, are we not?) What god is honored on this altar? At least with Molech, you burn the child in sacrifice, but our god requires we skin the home right off their soul over the course of about eighteen years.

How far can a society go down this path, stripping the HOME out of the child, generation after generation, before we come to a homeless generation?

Can someone from my church please address this?

(What other expressions of this pain are there besides just street homeless?)

THE FINE PRINT OF YOUR FAITH

You have heard it said, “The devil’s in the details,” but I tell you to READ THE FINE PRINT AGAIN.

What is the cost of discipleship?

Is it “dying to self” as they say?  OR is it to be found in killing your world?

If Jesus is LORD, then he is LORD of everything. As the other old saying goes, “If Jesus is not lord of all, he is not lord at all.”

When you lay your life on the line for God, you not only put your own ass on the altar, but your kids, your money, AND YOUR PRECIOUS country. The WORLD is not the same with Jesus in charge.

I don’t think modern, American Christians are wise to this. And, honestly, it terrifies me as much as anyone else.

It came home to roost (for me, personally) afresh this very weekend as I read some debate between Christians on social media (I suspect they were trying hard to align their faith with their politics and finding it difficult) about our love and care for the homeless and then turned to watch headlines about America’s failed border policy as immigrants flock to El Paso in unprecedented numbers while the city is poised for an influx which should dwarf even that in the coming holiday break.

I even read (on a cite I do not particularly trust) that Gov. Abbott is investigating faith groups reaching out to immigrants since their charitable care has the (dare we call it side effect?) added complication of encouraging more of this border-breaching activity.

Illegal immigrants are just another expression of homelessness, and, by the way, are bedding down on El Paso streets along with the home-grown homeless – compounding “the problem” to infinity and beyond (my apologies to Buzz Lightyear).

That debate between the Christians I witnessed seemed (I will distill those remarks through my personal filters) to pit good stewardship over against sacrifice. It’s all well and good (in theory) to sell all you own, give it to the poor, and come follow Jesus, but what happens to the world when we all do that? Who will manage the resources then? And anyway, didn’t we give our word to the bank we would pay them back? If I give all I have to the poor now, I will be reneging on my responsibilities (thus invalidating my integrity and trustworthiness) to that fine institution! I can’t just sell it all and give it away like Jesus says BECAUSE I AM ALREADY COMMITED TO HONORING GOD WITH MY STEWARDSHIP.

Hmmm… interesting. 

I can’t run around irresponsibly reneging on my responsibilities in the name of God! Right? I have to be greedy because God tells me to in the fine print! Right?

(Wow! Pharisees could travel far and wide to make converts for hell worse than themselves with such sermons!)

Like some (both) of you reading here so far, I too thought this all sounded a bit too erudite, a bit too philosophical, almost a made-up problem of ethereal significance for armchair theologians to kick around while quietly not selling all we have YET AGAIN and baptizing the idea in holy stewardship. After all, if someone fails to manage the resources, there won’t be any, and soon we will all be destitute!

But then I changed channels, and, with this stuff still echoing in my brain, I saw the border crisis and applied all this ethereal stuff to that for just one moment and realized, if we do like Jesus says, we won’t have a border at all. And in a matter of hours, if not minutes, we may as well not have a USA either. That bank suddenly would be irrelevant, and we would all be lost in poverty, overrun with strangers, and chaos would ensue. God surely doesn’t want that! (My God! Even Democrats wouldn’t have an America to defile anymore!)

My God! Think of it! If we really took this sacrificial part seriously, the world would change! 

And we would suddenly find out if God is really lord or not.

It’s all right there in the fine print. They don’t spell this part out for you when you get baptized at summer camp in the seventh grade, but it’s all there like the devil in the details just waiting for humanity to face it.

No wonder we take the name in vain! To take it seriously is too heavy to lift!

Thank God for his mercy, or none of us would stand a chance. This stuff is so very fearful, dreadful, and awful to comprehend. (Let us pause and sing Psalm 131.) Humble ourselves before God, the beginning of wisdom is fear of God. We are right with him when we humbly love him and one another. Keep your focus on Jesus showing that fearful love for us as we reflect his glory to the world around us and discover miracles too big for our hands.

I am not the steward. I am not the shepherd. I am small, and I don’t know it all. But I know who is; I know who does. That is about all I can manage, and it is too heavy for me to lift.