Strangers & Angels

When I was young, I dreamed that I might be a rock star.  I didn’t take the fantasy too far; never really gave it a try, but like so many before me, I tried on the notion in my fantasy life.  (It fit in there sometime after wanting to grow up and be an astronaut, a policeman, a pro football player, and before attempting to be a lawyer.  I have since settled on a lowly homeless minister for a vocation.)

Anyway, if I were a musician, I would call my band Strangers & Angels, I think.  (However, I think I would prefer to be a blues musician rather than a rock star… but that’s just me.)  Part of the problem is… I ain’t a musician.  Can’t sing either.  But aside from that, a great idea!!!

I don’t have any ambition to start a church.  Jesus did that already, and so have plenty of misguided preachers since him who broke with the one Jesus started so they could have their own version.  I started a novel once about a church in a fictional West Texas town called Subreption (the word means “lie”), and the name of the church in the unfinished novel was “The Last Church of Subreption.”  The idea was that between the Methodists, the Baptists, and the Christian Church, the name “First” was being overused; and anyway, “Last Church” was going to be the last church Subreption would ever need.  I have always been a little partial to that name, but now I think if I did start a new church, I  would call it Strangers & Angels Church.

Maybe Strangers & Angels should be the title of a good Western novel!  Maybe they could get Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall to play in the movie version.

Coming back down to earth, and to God’s humility a bit…

I was there when God started a “school of prophets” several years ago here in Lubbock, and I was the one to call it “Fat Beggars” in the end.  “Strangers & Angels” sounds too cool.  Part of the reason for going with “Fat Beggars” was that it is the embrace of an insult.  You gotta have humility to wear that name.  It has a way of weeding out the bums who come to us with ulterior motives.  If they think we are going to elevate their pride, the name alone pretty much sticks in the craw, and they shun us too.

But I am looking at the Bible and finding Strangers & Angels to be the handy-dandy designation for God’s Hospitality.  Hebrews 13:2 tells us not to neglect hospitality to strangers for some have entertained angels unaware!  And that passage sends the mind of a biblical thinker straight to Genesis 18:1-20 where Abraham and Sarah do exactly that in one of the founding movements of the people of God for all time.

But that part about “unaware” is actually a bit unique as far as the Bible is concerned.  For quite frequently, if not MOST of the time, when God’s Hospitality is shown to strangers, there is some divine revelation (an apocalypse).  From time to time that revelation is a matter of information, of promise, of blessing, but it also, and most powerfully, is the revelation that God/Jesus is there at the meal shared in the Hospitality (Luke 24:35).  And that most famous of Outreach/Homeless Ministry Bible passages, Matthew 25: 31-46, outlines the practice of God’s Hospitality shown to the poor, the needy, the vulnerable (and quite literally the “stranger”) and reveals that when this Hospitality is shown to such people it is shown to Jesus himself!

Wanna have tea with Jesus??? Invite the strangers and Matthew 25 tells us you are entertaining Jesus (unaware, I guess, unless you read Matthew 25).

Strangers & Angels.

It sounds like a motorcycle club in a cheap romance novel.

But it is a key that unlocks so much mystery in the life of faith.  I hope you will consider it.  And maybe, if you are a musician, pen the song!

(If you do that, please link this blog to it.)

Thanx

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My Label

I find it a common concern among bloggers that labeling people hurts them and is dehumanizing.  I certainly see the danger.  No label holds more disdain that “the N-word,” which I avoid too because of how damaging it really is*, and over the course of my lifetime has become so dirty, even liberals and conservatives can generally agree not to use it.

That’s saying something.

I recall how shortly after Hurricane Katrina scattered survivors across the nation that suddenly there was great resistance to labeling the survivors as “refugees.”  This had not been a dirty word previously, and I still don’t get that one.  A refugee is someone fleeing destruction of some kind or another.  Even Jesus was a refugee, so was Tom Petty.

But that had me remembering that victims of sexual assault did not want to be labeled as “victims” either.  They wanted to be “survivors” instead.  It seemed they were victims of the label “victim,” which to my mind was a fitting term for someone surviving a rape.  Yet somehow that label seemed disempowering to the victim/survivor and made them feel perpetually stuck in powerlessness.

In recent years, working in mental health, there has been a big push against “the R-word”.  This one also has me a bit perplexed.  The word “retard” or “retarded” is a perfectly good word which means “slow,” but we were not about to replace “retarded” with “slow” either.  As with many diagnoses, especially with regard to mental health, there is a very powerful STIGMA which gets attached to these words and which is sometimes used in deeply hurtful ways.  And changing the culture surrounding the label “retard” has proven time consuming quite expensive too.

I used to work for MHMR, but the whole organization changed it’s name to StarCare some years ago, and you just think about all the stationary, all the website redirects, and building signs that had to be replaced for this!  Our local office still has some of the old road signs directing traffic to MHMR, because it is a long process, and now a bit confusing too!

In recent years there is a push to not label people living on the streets as “homeless.”  They are people who suffer homelessness, but they are not “homeless” per se.  So this phenom has finally trickled down to the streets too.

I hope my post demonstrates that I have a fairly good understanding of the issue with “labeling” people.  It can be very hurtful and disrespectful.  There is a lot of sensitivity about this issue, and I care about it too.

But labeling isn’t always a matter of belittling, disrespecting, and/or dehumanizing people.  In fact, the labels we bear function quite well for lots of purposes.  I am an American.  I am middle-class.  I am a man.  I am religious.  And depending on the context in which these terms are used, any of them has the potential to be hurtful, and all are labels.  But for the most part, they are labels I embrace readily, and they serve as short-hand designations in lots of exchanges, which aid in larger contexts and conversations.  Labels make discussions more manageable, among other things.

I have been thinking about my political label recently.  What label best captures who I am?

I am a “conservative.”

I believe this about myself, but as I look around at other conservatives, I sense rather strongly that I am not really like them.  In fact, I have a number of liberal sensitivities.  On a number of occasions, my conservative family and friends have labeled me “liberal” because of this.

Funny, I feel a bit stung by either label!

Still, I have played with this a bit.  And wouldn’t you know it?  Just recently I was cornered as a liberal in a comments conversation on a blog.  Wow!  I am starting to feel Schizophrenic!  (Oops, that’s another label that hurts.  It used to be a diagnosis, but now it’s a dirty word!)

What am I to do?

As I really think about it, maybe the best label for me is “liberal conservative.”  At root, I am a conservative, but I am a liberal one of those!

Someone reading this will think that makes me a “moderate.”  But I resist that one too.  Here’s the thing: I am not actually somewhere between liberal and conservative.  On issues such as life and death, I am PRO-LIFE, but that, in my view, makes me against the war!  I don’t have my PRO-LIFE ideals limited to the unborn, and I am not, strictly speaking, anti-abortion (in the reductionist sense), I am PRO-LIFE in the fullest sense – even opposing the death penalty. (Well, not completely.  I am for legal reforms on that too, which would all but eliminate it except in cases where the condemned is BOTH proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt AND confesses to the crime (maybe even reserving for those who actually ask for it).)

Wanna talk about taxes?  Suddenly I am more liberal.  Wanna talk about abortion, suddenly I am more conservative.

Maybe I am a conservatively liberal conservative.

Possibly I am a conservative liberal, but I sense in my bones that when I look at the outer fringes of the people bearing these labels, I am a bit more comfortable with the conservatives, or maybe I should say less uncomfortable with the conservatives.  And that may have as much to do with the fact that so many of my close friends and FAMILY would be found among the conservatives than among the liberals.

But at this point, I am mocking the labels a bit too, I think.

Retard is a good word which can be used, and often is, in hurtful ways.  But has it really gone too far?  And anyway, what happens when the stigma of “the R-word” catches up with “IDD”???  Do we have to take down all the websites and stationary all over again in five or ten years to accommodate those who suffer that stigma???

I’m just a bit dizzy with the thought.

Let me sit down a minute.

Okay, that’s better.

I am completely sympathetic to the idea that white people erase “the N-word” from our culture.  Too many people, a whole race in fact, has been murdered, butchered, enslaved, raped, burned alive by the “justice system” and a host of other sufferings all packed up in that label, and it happened at the hands of white men not unlike me.  But these others???

I say EMBRACE the stigma.

Embrace the suffering, the shame, the pain, the marginalization of these terms.  It hurts, yes, but it appears that even the label “Christian” started off as a slur.  The church embraced it over time, and it became a badge of honor.  I see my black friends doing the same with “the N-word” and in it’s own way that has begun to be a badge of honor showing resistance to people like me for whom it is off limits!  (That is a controversial idea, I know, but the phenom is self evident, I think.)

I embrace the label Christian and all the cross-carrying implied in it.  I embrace the label homeless and all the shame of it.  I embrace the label bum, tramp, and even weird (that one actually stings me personally).  And I encourage my readers to consider it too.

 

*   I recommend the small book by Randall Kennedy for far more insight into the pain and anguish “the N-word” in particular can and has caused.

It’s not you they are rejecting; it’s Me

In the book of I Samuel, in chapter 8, we find the elders of the church coming to the prophet of God saying, appoint for us a charity system like the 501c3’s.  And the thing displeases the prophet who speaks to God about it, but God says, “Obey the elders; give them what they want.”

Then God tells the prophet, “It’s not you they are rejecting; it’s Me.”

What a fascinating notion!

The prophet as of yet says nothing to God about his own sense of rejection, but God addresses it outright and orders obedience to these wayward elders!

This is jacked up on so many levels.

The people of God do not need a charity system “like the 501c3’s” of those outside the Body of Christ.  That already makes NO SENSE.  Not for the body which walks those dusty Galilean trails pressed in on all sides and healing the blind, the lame, the deaf, the lepers, the bleeding and the dead all while feeding the hungry masses with one boy’s lunch.  NO SENSE at all.

But God tells the prophet, “It’s not you they are rejecting…”

Really?

I totally get it that the prophet is not somehow hermetically sealed off from his own suffering and fear.  Even Jesus prays in the garden, “If there is another way, let this cup pass….”  But no one questions his views or his position on account of this.  No, he is still selfless and pure despite temptations to the contrary.  And he speaks and acts on behalf of OTHERs not himself.  And so I don’t question the prophet in this passage either.

But God answers the question I was not asking.

“It’s not you they are rejecting….”

And I must say, I feel it.  I gotta say, yeah, they are rejecting the prophet.  Not just the prophet, but yeah, him too.  And yeah, he FEELS it.  He knows rejection!

As a prophet of God, he has not reduced the rejection to rejection of himself, but he certainly knows he is rejected.  This is a career ending obedience God demands of him, and God’s statement that it’s not the prophet being rejected is not some instant relief, but rather a compounding of the MYSTERY.

But it is God being rejected.  He says so: “It’s not you being rejected; it’s Me!”

Wow!

We must never lose sight of this.  Even if we are careful not to reduce the thing to that of the prophet’s own rejection, this is ultimately a REJECTION of God!  And really, at the end of the day, THAT is what matters!!!  In fact, when we get this more proper perspective on it, it becomes the truth that swallows up the other truth.  Like Moses’s serpent swallowing the serpents of the magicians in Pharaoh’s court, there is nothing left of the prophet’s rejection when we see that God’s own people are rejecting God!

But God tells the prophet to obey the elders.

The elders are in error here.  They are rejecting God and their program is a program of rejection – rejection of God.  Yet God tells the prophet to obey them and give them what they want – God’s own rejection!

(Wow!  This, it would seem, puts the prophet in a very dangerous place where to obey God is, almost by definition, to be a false prophet. We have now gone where angels fear to tread, I think.  For surely a true prophet of God would not obey people who want him to reject God and to help them reject God too!  Wow!)

God is GOOD!  Mysterious, but GOOD!

Of course we know, with New Testament hindsight, God is paving the way for Jesus.  And in this I pray.  God, pave the way for Jesus among the elders of the church.

I don’t know how You will do that, but I pray it despite all my best prophetic insight and understanding.

Praise the Lord!

Love Hurts

Surely this notion didn’t need a song for people to understand it.  But there is one.  (Several recordings by several artists, but of course the one by Nazareth being most famous.)

The song only got it part right.  Love is NOT a lie.  The embrace of that sentiment is a temptation for one hurt by love, but that cynical idea is very un-Jesus, and Jesus is all about love that hurts.

Love is the answer to the world’s problems, and that implies vulnerability.  God is love, (I John 4:8), and God makes himself vulnerable to his beloved.  And his beloved (“the world” he “so loved that he gave his only Son” for (John 3:16)) was only too happy to answer his vulnerable love with a cross and nails.

Yes.  Love hurts.

And it’s likely that without pain, there is no love.

God’s creation is made in love and saved in love.  If you want to be a part of God’s love for the world, expect it to hurt (Matt. 10:38; Luke 14:33).

In fact, the hurt of this world is so severe that the only way to actually address it is with LOVE.  Only love can overcome the hurt.  All other ways of dealing with the pain of the world put pain back into circulation in effort to avoid it.  But love, real LOVE, pays the cost of pain on behalf of the beloved.

The song also claims love is foolish.  But the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world (I Cor. 1:18-25).

So…

How can a Christian come to Jesus, receive his salvation, stake a claim in God’s salvation found in Jesus’s self sacrificial love, and then offer “effective” charity to the poor and needy through loans at interest or working his way out of poverty and into salvation?  How does that translate?

Why is God’s unmerited grace good enough for you, but the idea that you might sacrifice your wealth in painful love for the poor (Mark 10:21-25, anyone???) somehow considered foolish and not “effective”?

Isn’t this a matter of resisting the love so as to avoid the hurt?

Resisting LOVE is resisting Jesus.

My Name Is MUD

I don’t collect a paycheck for my work as a street minister.  I get no money at all.  In fact, the work costs me instead.  It costs me money, time, and energy with practically no compensation and very little encouragement.

I recall starting the Bible program at ACU back in the late 90’s and the special banquet the Bible Department hosted for all us incoming students.  The featured speaker that evening was Eddie Sharp, and his topic was “talking us out of this decision.”

Actually, I don’t know if he entitled it as such, but he made no mystery of it.  In the boldest terms he could find, he warned us that a career in Christian ministry would be a cross we bear, one we do not have to take up.  He warned that there would be controversy, low pay, long hours, thankless work, and we would be dishonored time and time again if we actually devoted our lives in service to Jesus.

Check.

He was right.

In fact, I strongly doubt he knew just how right he was.

My name is MUD.

I have a terrible reputation in the church.  I am unwanted there.  UNWANTED THERE.

Let me be clear about this…

I AM UNWANTED THERE!

Was this because of moral failure on my part?  Did I cheat on my wife???  Did I get caught stealing???  Did I neglect a service???  Did I get caught drunk (or high) on the job???

No.

I took a stand for Jesus among the homeless.  I challenged the church to open the door to the poor.  To SHARE the wealth, the meal, the LOVE.

And I persisted when I encountered push back.

And now I am unwanted by the church.  Sanctioned.  Shunned.  Ignored as far as possible.  I get the cold shoulder.  I have been kicked out.

My name is MUD.

If Eddie Sharp was right, then I answered the call even he tried to warn me against.

Wow!

We have some DEEP issues.

Think I will spend the rest of the day praying for this church.

I ask you to join me in that prayer.

 

Thanx,

Mud

“Our church is not like that…”

You know the people of God are not all “on the same page” when you hear this message.  Of course, you probably knew that when you drove down Broadway Ave and saw all the monolithic relics of American Protestantism, the dinosaurs all but extinct now of American Evangelicalism, littering both sides of the street with stained glass and steeples 50 feet high and each one taking up a whole city block or more (but with St. Elizabeth’s there among them stubbornly (and with stunning beauty too, I might add) representing the Catholics).  So, you should have been cued up to this already, but when the nice outreach lady tells a bum, “Our church is not like that…“, you know there are depths of this yet to be explored.

What am I talking about?

Water.

I am talking about the water.

Still don’t understand?

I know.  You are a fish in water, and here I am daring to talk about the stuff you swim in.  You already know this stuff, and you know it quite well, but it manages not to occupy any space in your frontal lobes.  Like a lobster not even dimly aware that the temperature keeps rising, you ignore your plight.  Like a fish who should be an expert in water, you are too close, to subject to it, to have any objective understanding of it.  You take it all for granted and assume this is how it always was, how it always will be, and the way it should be.

But I digress… and now even my digression digresses.  So, let’s get back on track.

Assuming you still hold any value for the ASSEMBLY of God’s people for worship, prayer, mission and fellowship (because so many American “Christians” are so thoroughly done with “organized religion” now that practically everything I say ASSUMES tiny fractions of agreement, which it turns out assumes A LOT), then it is clear the people of God are not on the same page.  This, of course, raises the largely ignored question (at least in today’s spiritual/economic/political atmosphere) whether any of them are on the page with Jesus at this point.

But do any of us even care about that???

NOW…

Discounting for unintended sin, mistakes, and just plain falling short of the target (as opposed to willful disobedience), it is clear that we all stand in need of grace.  There are no “perfect churches” – something evident as far back as St. Paul’s letters to Corinth, Philippi, Galatia and even Thessalonica.  St. John criticizes the church rather heavily too (just read the opening chapters of Revelation or III John to see what I mean).  But when you are more interested in “Cowboy Church” or “Biker Church” than you are in the Methodist Church, then you have taken the sins of Corinth and run screaming into the night with them.  You aren’t even quibbling about doctrine anymore, you just want your very self-centered sense of taste and style honored more than you want to see Jesus honored in the diversity of his Body and its parts.  But honestly, even that is just the offspring of the quibbles and squabbles between Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and literally dozens (if not hundreds) of squabbles and factions born out of the Lutheran break with the Catholic Church.

And MOST of us Protestants hold that the Catholics are not on the same page with Jesus!  Thus we don’t roll with THEM!

Point being… We aren’t in any better position for our trouble.  In fact, the world looks at (not a divided church, but) a splintered and pulverized church!  The body of Christ split like atoms!

And so when I hear a nice lady from the outreach ministry address a couple of bums at Tent City who have just quarreled with a pastor from a staunch tradition about his “legalism” with which they claim to take offense, and the nice lady wants to assure them (out of earshot of the pastor) that Jesus loves them and will reach out to them by claiming “our church is not like that….“, and goes on to stake claims about how open armed her bunch is by contrast, I wonder if that means her church is on the same page with Jesus.

On the surface it sounds good.

Right?

But I was raised in one of those staunch traditions that claimed we do church like we find in the New Testament.  And though we overstated our claims by a country mile (a mix of metaphors, but WHO CARES???), the attempt to do so surely has more merit than not.

No???

I mean, what I am getting at is if “Cowboy Church” is more cowboy than Jesus, then the standard I must measure by surely is God’s Word.  I have yet to find a worthwhile opposing view to that.  So when I ask the nice lady if the nice folx at their church which is “not like that” but rather open armed to the poor and sinful people of the world if they sell everything they own and give it to the poor, then …

…why am I the nut for asking?

 

I read this about the church in Acts 2 and 4.

That Jerusalem church was not a perfect church either.  But they did that!  They sold all their property, gave the money to the church, and the poor lacked nothing!  And it seems to gel quite well with Jesus’s instruction to the rich man seeking Life in the Age to Come.  That rich man turned Jesus down that day, but the church in Jerusalem featured in Acts seems to have thought his words applied to them too.

That’s all IN THE BIBLE!

But I am a kook for raising the point???

What do you think the nice lady told me?

Well, it turns out her church is “not like that” either.

Not on the same page with Jesus.

AND…

Not interested in getting on that page.

Hmmm…

I am all for God’s grace.  I need it for me too.  I totally get it that I live in a Christendom that does not do like the church of the New Testament, that does not do what Jesus tells us to do.  I get that if St. Paul or St. John were to write to or about us that they would have some harsh critical things to say.  And while I am not OKAY with that, I appeal to the grace of God with regard to it.  But when we hold no interest in repenting and working out our salvation in fear and trembling – NO INTEREST (I said) – then we have a new problem.

Yeah.  It turns out, “our church is not like that.”

We just turned out back on Jesus.

And when we then throw up smoke and mirrors to hide this stuff from ourselves and others AND go yet a step further to TEACH how bad doing these things Jesus would have us do are (see Lupton, Corbett, Fikkert and friends for this), then we are entrenching ourselves in opposition to God.

And sadly, our church is like that.

First Freeze Contest

Each year, at this time, all of the local TV stations hold a “First Freeze Contest.”  You surely don’t have to live IN LUBBOCK to know what I am talking about.  Oh, sure, each network station uses a different name for it, the prize for winning, and the sponsors are all different too, but the concept is the same.  Nor is this contest exclusive to Lubbock, so I think anyone reading here will readily know what I describe.

Go to the website, register to win, and be the first to guess the correct day, hour, and minute (or the closest guess to it) as the official airport temperature falls to 32 degrees F.

Simple right?

Yes, and today Lubbock’s temperature is flirting with it.  As of posting time, we are only one degree away, and the morning is young!

Aren’t YOU excited???

Yes.  All the major networks run this contest.  All the local TV stations are talking about it, watching minute by minute to see when the first freeze officially happens.  With roughly a quarter million people in this “Christian” town taking an interest, I would call this bit of news a “big deal.”

But in all the buzz over our first freeze, I am not hearing anyone talking about the homeless.  

To be fair, possibly I am just not listening carefully enough, but I gotta say, I have been watching this annual event in this “Christian” town for many years, and I do not recall a single time any of this buzz ever produced a single comment on the plight of the homeless as the first winter blast hits us.  So, I strongly doubt I missed it this time.

This has me thinking of starting my own “First Freeze Contest” too.  Here is how it works:

Take a drunk bum, park him squarely under the “no loitering” sign down at First Church, and come back every hour to see if he is froze to death yet.  Each church can participate!  In fact, we have enough bums to go around under every “no loitering” sign on the steps of every church house in town.  And the moment a homeless bum freezes to death, the whole church of Lubbock can be ashamed before God.

Helluva prize, but one we all seem keenly interested in winning.

Private Jets, Starving Children, and … the CHURCH

Here is a framework for the worldview in which I operate:

In this world which YHWH, the creator God of Israel, made in his infinite LOVE and WISDOM, and in which the human creatures in particular are made to bear his image (represent him), when I see ANYONE owning, using, and keeping a private jet WHILE ANY child ANYWHERE in God’s creation is known to suffer hunger, then those private-jet people are very selfish, self-centered, and egocentric and thus do not bear God’s image insofar as they keep those jets.

It practically goes without saying.

If we ALL shared those jets, then this argument would not hold up.  But the fact that they are private, particularly, makes them problematic.

These are markers, in my worldview, of the edges of practically everything.  Let us situate ourselves IN THAT framework.  Where is the church in all this?

I don’t personally know any wealthy, private-jet people.  I know they exist, but I don’t know them personally.  Yet I am quite comfortable LABELING them as “selfish.”  Every last one of us deals with selfishness, even innocent babies.  But at the outer limits of excess, we find the problem undeniable at practically every level.  Private jets are a luxury, an excess, and not necessary to anyone (if we search very hard for exceptions, we might think of security measures required for world leaders such as royalty, and while I can just begin to have a bit of sympathy for that, I will still ask why there is so much need of security in a world in which THESE people are the leaders; it seems they have lead us to this conundrum).  Nevertheless, basically, private jet usage is the outer limit of excess.  No one NEEDS a private jet, much less two, three, or a whole fleet of them.  And at root of every instance where one is used, is concern for SELF.

On the other side of this framework, the children starving are completely innocent.  No starving baby is in that situation because of poor choices on their own part.  OTHER people made poor choices which landed the child in this position, and that is by God’s design (not his will, but his design – for he created humans to live naked, vulnerable, and interdependent upon one another, and thus bearing his image – something self-evident in the neediness of children!).

Now…

I know that not all people in the world adhere their lives to the existence, much less the will, of YHWH, the creator God of Israel.  There are non-believers out there, and I don’t have too much to say to them on this subject except “Repent, the Kingdom of God is near!”  And then wait to see what conviction the Spirit of God might bring on their hearts and minds.  But when it comes to people claiming to belong to God, to his church specifically, I have a whole Bible full of God’s Word to appeal to which takes us deeper and deeper into HIS desires, HIS will, HIS Salvation, and presumably, THESE PEOPLE have a vested interest in listening to HIM.  Thus I have a lot more to say to God’s people.

So…

We have said some things now about the selfish excess of private-jet people, the innocence and God-willed dependence of children, and the heart of God here.  Just based on these observations, we have the wherewithal to confront private-jet people for their excess.  This is a thing that just does not belong in God’s world – despite a US Constitution or any human devised governance.  It doesn’t belong in God’s world already anyway, but it ESPECIALLY does not belong in God’s church!

Thus when I see famous televangelists raising money for YET ANOTHER private jet for their collections, I cry foul!  There is no room for that in the world to begin with, and certainly not in the heart of God’s people who are made in His image.

Still, I don’t actually spend a lot of time or energy confronting televangelists either.  They are just a bit beyond me.  Like I said above, I don’t personally know any private-jet people.  If I did, I would confront them about this.  But I have this worldview constructed here, and in a sense we have uncovered something of a spectrum – a line – along which is plotted God’s will for our use of wealth and material goods.  And THIS way of looking at it explains, then, my confrontation with the church of Lubbock.

I went to the school(s) of this town (and region), both church of Christ and Baptist where I was academically trained in thinking about God and church and ministry.  I happen to know church leaders personally.  And when I find excess of selfishness locked up behind church-house doors while needy people (yes, they suffer in part FROM their own poor choices, unlike innocent children, but we have already established that in God’s creation we were meant to be interdependent) then I have something to say: OPEN THE DOOR!

All of this post is intended to be a framework case for my words and actions.  Theological to be sure, but I do not dive into any pertinent Scriptures here or recite experiences.  I merely set the stage upon which I do a lot more thinking.  And therein I ask where we think God would situate his church.

 

In case that matters to anyone.

Thinking In Terms of Spiritual Triage

“Triage” is a medical term.  It has to do with making quick decisions about who will be saved and who will not.  It’s a rating system.  In an event with mass casualties, a doctor (or qualified medical personnel) will quickly pass through the mobs of needy people and bloody carnage, assessing and making snap judgments based on the level of need and the level of urgency.  If you are deemed “too far gone,” then you will be set aside, hopefully with pain management until you die, but, at that point, you are without hope of salvation.

I grew up watching the TV series M*A*S*H, and I recall how this process was portrayed.  Sometimes those snap judgements get second guessed, and sometimes those initially deemed beyond hope actually get saved.  Maybe we need to take a second look at our Spiritual Triage as a church today.

Now I am a grown up, a street minister, and as I reflect on these things, I wonder if my church is not engaged in (or maybe disengaged from) Spiritual Triage.  I think about how many preachers, family, and friends I know who refer to the church as a “hospital for sinners” and rightly so.  One of the main features of Jesus’s “earthly ministry” (as we sometimes call it) is his healing touch, his healing encounters with leprous, lame, blind, deaf, mute, bleeding, sinful, and even DEAD people.  It’s almost as if Jesus does NOT triage people, but rather saves them all!

And yet I would ask: Does Jesus come to heal the healthy?  (Consider Mark 2:17 or Matt. 9:12 for instance.)  How much time do we see Jesus spending with the rich and powerful?  The well???

Actually we do see this on a few occasions.  The vast majority of those scenes prove him confronting such people rather than healing them, but look again and see that a few such scenes show Jesus healing and helping such folx.  (Consider the unusually HUMBLE centurion in Luke 7 for instance.)  We cannot, and should not, deny these exceptions to the trend, but neither should we pretend they are the norm.

It is quite clear to me that Jesus does NOT hang around with Caiaphas, Herod, or other nobles rolling out his “seeker-friendly” annotated scroll or coffee bar.  On the contrary, he finds himself waaaaaaay out in the middle of the wilderness, completely vulnerable and unprotected from germs and cooties, with a bunch of needy people who failed to pack their lunch!  And he feeds THEM!

Might we see some form of triage in this???

No doubt Jesus dies for the sins of Caiaphas, Herod, even Hitler, and really ANY human being who will humble themselves and accept his grace, but he doesn’t seem to waste a lot of time and energy winning over these sorts.  According to the trend, the norm (for which there are exceptions, but we must remember they are in fact EXCEPTIONS and NOT the rule), Jesus seems to treat those as either beyond salvation or not nearly as urgent.  And I don’t see anyone second-guessing his snap judgments on this.

Well, that is the Jesus we find in the Gospels.  What about Acts and the Epistles???  As St. Paul clearly outlines, the church is the body of Christ.  Wanna see Jesus today???  Yeah.  Go look at the church.  The church is his body.  The expression of God in human flesh.

Right?

Well, according to Acts 2 and 4, we see the church behaving very consistently with the Jesus of the Gospels.  The church is busy selling all they own (sacrificial care) and providing for the poor so that no one lacks anything.  Wow!  (That is awfully close encounters with cooties!)  St. James, in his Epistle, tells the church not to show partiality to the rich while neglecting the poor.  Even St. John would have us consider whether we have the love of God in us if we see brothers in need yet do not provide for them.  I could go on and on with this.  But for our purposes, this will suffice.

If this metaphor of Spiritual Triage holds up to scrutiny, we find it true for both Jesus in his “earthly ministry” as we sometimes call it, AND in his church (at least as we find it in the New Testament).

But let us look at our world and our church today:

Today I belong to a flock that meets in a multimillion dollar “church building” firmly located in the white-flight district, home to massive stained glass, a steeple that can be seen many blocks away, manicured lawns, jungle gym, prayer garden, a “fire side room,” a banquet hall, dozens of Bible classrooms, a massive kitchen, a parking lot filled with Lexus, Cadillac, Lincoln, Mercedes, and other fine automobiles, and well over 90% white faces sporting smiles with the latest in dental care.  (Just on the surface of things, IF this is the same body we meet in Acts and the Epistles, and IF this is the same body of Jesus we meet in the Gospels, THEN it is quite clear we have him kept “in a box” and well protected from danger and cooties!)

Meanwhile, the newspapers, TV, radio, and internet news headlines feature the mass casualties and bloody carnage of addiction, abuse, neglect, poverty, homelessness, even mass shootings and hopelessness along with swelling prisons EVERY DAY!  And our town has a plentiful share in all of those!  But when you walk into our “church” you are worlds away from all of that.  We are protected from it, sealed off by ADT security signs in the flowerbeds and “no loitering” or “no trespassing” signs on the parking lot.

No cooties here!

How are the masses of hurting people going “press in on him” or lay their sick in the path of our Jesus in hopes that even his mere shadow will fall upon them? (Consider Mark 3:7-10 or Acts 5:12-16 for instance).  Such folx make our headlines EVERY DAY, but our Jesus hides in a box deploying 501c3 organizations to keep the buffer zone between us and them.

But we are “seeker-friendly” to the wealthy with the fine clothes and the gold ring!  Never you mind that fewer and fewer of them are seeking us out anymore.  (Oh, you didn’t notice that the American church is shrinking and dying?  Guess those handfuls of mega churches you find on TV had you fooled about that.)

Yeah, I think our church today has this triage thing backwards.  We are wasting our time and energy on those beyond saving.  And not only that, the TRUE irony is that WE are the patient in need here, not the physician with the healing touch.  Our deepest sickness is the pride which sustains this delusion.  We have become the Caiaphas, the Herod, the nobility Jesus does NOT waste too much effort on, and we strain hard to make out like the exception is the norm and that we are part of it.

What is wrong with this picture?

I invite you to explain it to me.

JESUS: THE GREATEST HOMELESS MAN WHOEVER LIVED

Wow! I should have wrote this myself!!! Glad, actually, to find someone else saying this stuff too. Let me be the first to shout the AMEN!

Screenshot_20191006-163727~2White Christian America is deeply entrenched in the Protestant Work ethic…and materialism. This work ethic is based on the very un-Biblical theological idea called Pre-Destinationism.

Pre-Destinationism is the idea that if you work hard, store up material wealth and are frugal…that your material success is an indication given from God that you are ”pre-destined” for heaven.

This widespread practice lead to the vast capital reserves necessary for developing the immense industrialization of the West. It is at the root of Capitalism and it’s attendant destructive practices, materialism and greed.

Yet, White American Christians erronously envision Jesus as being an industrious small business owner…a private contractor/carpenter.

Jesus renounced the world, greed and the hoarding of wealth. He became a homeless man…the greatest homeless man who ever lived.

He instructed his followers to renounce wealth, to share all they had and to show compassion on the poor/socially ostracized. To unite with these…

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