“If It Cries” – Why Jesus Doesn’t Abandon the Lost

Preston Searcy does it again. This post barks right up the alley Fat Beggars is all about. I invite my readers to check this post out (and the whole blog, actually). I love the line: If it cries, hold it! That’ll preach, brutha! Amen to that!!!

Preston Searcy

I’ve known Trevor and Karen for a couple of years. They aren’t married, but they have two children together.

Karen was adopted from the foster system when she was ten years old. She can’t remember a time when she didn’t struggle with alcohol or substance abuse.

Trevor, on the other hand, is the youngest of several siblings. He grew up in a loving home, but he also suffers from drug addiction.

I appreciate this couple because they are open and honest.

Most recently, they came to one of our ministry’s pizza lunches. I hadn’t seen them in a few weeks and wanted to catch up.

They were both quiet and stared down at their plates when they talked. I learned they’ve been living on the streets and that both of their children had been placed in foster care. Trevor can’t hold down a job because of his drug habit, and…

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In This HOME, We Are Not Animals

My partner, Agent Z, and I slept on the ground under a gazebo out back of the church we attend a little more than a week ago.  I spent most of the night lying awake.  The bed was hard, not firm, HARD.  The breeze was a bit windy and chilly early on, and constant with its intermittent buffets all night whether heavy or light.  The place we chose was fairly dark, but bright lights shown from the distance on three sides.  And then there was the traffic.  The traffic of 82nd Street was loud and heavy until about 1 – 2 am.  But the church parking lot played host to creeper-traffic as well.  At least three cars came creeping through.  One stayed for about half an our with the motor running, another moved through quickly, but another one cruised by slowly and circled around to come back by at least a dozen times, yet it never stopped to engage us.

I felt like an animal on display, or a rabbit in the grass that might catch one’s eye.

At about 2 am, a cop paid us a visit.  I had drifted to sleep briefly when the cruiser pulled on to the lot.  I must have heard him, because I became conscious then and saw him pass by.  Sure enough he spotted us there and stopped about 30 yards past the gazebo.  A couple minutes later, he approached on foot from the other direction and asked what we were doing.  He stopped short of harassing us, didn’t even ask for ID, but it was clear to me then that we were not completely out of sight.  We had been seen by the creepers.

Then I felt a little like a prairie dog on view for the kids at prairie dog town.  We were sleeping under the gazebo in a little groomed park out back of the church house.  A great place to go pray and meditate, if you don’t mind the noise of 82nd Street, or to take a girl to smooch and do naughty things late at night, if no one is around.  (But we were.)  And we were on display for any who happened by, and there appeared to be a few young people roaming the area looking for a secluded place to park and a cop keeping watch over the area.

It felt embarrassing to answer the cop.  I am sure that if we had been breaking a law, he would have sanctioned us with either a warning, a ticket, or hauled us in.  And there was some concern about that.  I really wondered if it would be meaningful to say, “We are serving Jesus here, just now”.  But we told him we go to this church and yet we are street ministers who sometimes sleep out with the homeless all over town.  For once we thought we would take refuge at the church we go to.  He must have been satisfied.  When he left, he said, “If you need me, call”.

I have since been home in my bed each night reflecting on the experience – that one and a whole lot of others too.  I think about these foster kids and how I am their shepherd.  I check on them a couple times in the night.  I don’t ask them for ID either, but then they are where they belong too – the HOUSE of God where I am a servant keeping watch at the door.

I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the HOUSE of the Lord.  Our feet shall stand within thy gates O, Jerusalem!  (Psalm 122).

I thought about when I was lost and homeless as a young person.  I actually sofa surfed with friends in Denver and slept in my car a night or two back when I was a 20-something.  The experience was brief.  I rented a couple different rooms with no furniture.  One was in Castle Rock, where I took a job at the nursing home which offered cheap apartments on their grounds.  The neighbors were pot heads who showed great concern for me, especially when they dropped in one day and took it upon themselves to open my fridge to find it bare – as bare as the rest of my apartment.  I had been sleeping in a bed roll on the floor.

These kind hearted pot heads started inviting me to eat with them each night, and the husband, who was a grounds keeper, had access to a storage shed where the nursing home collected furniture from residents who died.  He decked out my apartment in dead peoples’ furniture!  And I was loved by these people who then tried to set me up with their young friend on a date.  We all went down to Colorado Springs and found a drug party.  I sat there and watched people I never met before snorting speed and smoking pot.  But what can I say?  They really TOOK ME IN!  It wasn’t the HOUSE of the Lord, exactly, but even this parody of love was far better than the concern I got from my church at that time.

Yeah, I looked up the number at a local church – the same denomination in which my parents raised me.  And I don’t think it was the preaching pastor who answered the call, probably a deacon, but he insisted on meeting me at McDonalds – a neutral place.  He was nice enough at first.  He bought me a burger and coke and asked a lot of questions.  I don’t know if my story added up or not.  I do know I was sober and had not done any drugs, but as my burger came to an end, so did his kindness.

The man pointed out nicotine stains on my fingers and told me that if I quit smoking, I would have money to eat with.  He suggested I get a job, which I already had actually, and get serious about life.  Well, that of course is not bad advice, but not terribly helpful either.  He certainly wasn’t wearing his WWJD bracelet!  And of course his “help” proved to be a very, very pale parody of that other parody of love the pot heads were showing me – AND I AM BEING GENEROUS! as I describe the deacon and his church.

He treated me like an animal.  And I felt like one.

I remember when I was in high school, there was this clique I ran around with a time or two who smoked a lot of dope.  These kids were so grunge way before Nirvana and Pearl Jam came along, and I wasn’t close with them at all.  They were a bit strange, I thought.  But friendly and accepting.  But I heard rumors about some of them – that they were “Satanists”.  And well, I never asked, never saw direct signs of such, but they sure did seem to know all the really cool underground kind of stuff alright.  I never heard of Hunter S. Thompson and his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas before I met these kids.  I never heard of the Anarchist’s Cook Book before I met those kids.  I never saw such a pile of pot in a teenager’s bedroom either.  So, I really didn’t know what to think about them.  I was always a little uneasy around them, but they always treated me with care and respect.

But to many, they were animals.  And a few years after high school, one of them went to prison for murder.  And I always thought about those rumors and those times I went hiking down in the canyon or up on the mesa with them.  If there was any truth to those rumors, I could easily have been their victim.  But I felt loved instead – so I thought.  Kind of like that kid in the movie Alpha Dog, I was vulnerable.  Or maybe it was just all rumors with nothing to them; maybe they just loved me with their broken love and that’s why I remember them so fondly.

When I got divorced several years ago, I found out just how sheltered I have been all my life.  I mean, I know things… lots of things.   I know things I should not know.  Even as a teenager, I saw lots of porno magazines and a few porn videos.  This was before the internet, so there was no way of getting this stuff, this information, FROM my home, but I visited homes where it was accessible, and I saw things.  People behaving like animals.  Fiendish people doing fiendish things and allowing their animalistic passions to run loose.  And when I got divorced, I suddenly felt thrown to the wolves.  I actually was attacked by more than one woman.  Even was grossly hit on by one cowboy who really hinted a lot with his hands!

I will spare you details!

But I will say, I was in a storm of sexual frenzy.  I was repulsed by a lot of it, but it also was the offer of love – or a parody of love.  And there were times my moral scruples prevailed, and there were times when I failed.  And this circus raged all around me.  Even at church!  In fact, that was where I let my guard down and found myself in the most trouble!  And I finally separated myself from the other animals by secluding, which also was quite dangerous, because by that time I had reached out to a doctor for medical help stabilizing my depression/moods.  But being poor and uninsured, I did not go back for follow up, and when the side effects, the ones that cause suicidal thoughts, came calling in the night, I stopped taking the meds.  And years later, I learned that stopping those meds suddenly like that increases suicidal tendencies all the more!  But at least I was out of the circus.

All these years later, I have a stable home.  I live in the HOUSE of the Lord.  I have a good Christian wife who loves Jesus and we live in the house God gave us working the mission God gives us to bring PEOPLE into his presence.  (We find bringing them into our love is his expression of bringing them into his presence.)  Little people, big people… I am not allowed to mix the two.  There are good reasons for that.  But I sometimes go out on the streets searching, sharing, caring and then come back INSIDE where there are diapers to change and bottles to prepare.  And the PEOPLE who find LOVE in here are humanized!

Hey, if you haven’t already popped over to Thompson’s blog, go check out the story he has linked there to a Texas woman who took a homeless man in to her HOME and changed his life.  And I remember, those pot heads back in Castle Rock, set a bar a little too high for some of my church friends.  But if you want to enter the HOUSE of the Lord, this is how it happens.  And you are no animal in there.  And if the church is reading here, I hope you will take notes…

 

 

Just Some Thoughts I Have…

I share a lot of thoughts here on this blog, and by far most of them relate (either directly or indirectly) with homelessness and bearing the image of God.  Once in a while I stray off that path a bit, and this is one of those times.  Actually, I see a relation to it all, but only in the most complex and esoteric ways.  So, let’s just consider this as being off the beaten path for this blog.

I like to talk about Jesus a lot – mostly Jesus.  And I enjoy conversation about faith and biblical things.  And I like to challenge other people’s thinking and to be challenged by other people.  Sometimes this means debating, but I am not actually a great debater.  But often there is a sense of it.

And often people get into some complex ideas.  So do I, for that matter.  And it really happens when someone is making a complex statement that I find I agree with some parts and not with others.  And then trying to share that, and iron out the distinction between them becomes even more complex.

So say a friend writes a blog post and makes almost 8 or 10 theological points about a passage of scripture.  One or two of them I find really important and meaningful and well said, three or four of them I think are okay, but not crucial – or whatever.  But then one or two I find objectionable.

Now, I can try to engage the post critically, which is my main modus operandi.   Or I can just give it the nod… after all, some of it I really liked, most of it was pretty good stuff, even if less than richly inspirational, and the small bits I didn’t like are, after all, small and possibly insignificant.  But that is not really engaged, that is just flattery.

But of course I cannot engage every blog post all the time like I would prefer.  I don’t have the time or energy.  And of course in the engagement, I might, just maybe, be persuaded to change my mind on some points.  But of course, I am not likely to go in to it thinking that.

So what do I do?  Engage or not?  And if I do, then it becomes complex.  I must of course be nice and supportive of the stuff that I really do like.  And of course if that part is something truly rich and enlightening, then I will be enthusiastic to do so.  But then there are the bits I contend with, and I must somehow go sort out which bits they are and then begin explaining why I differ.  And just as a matter of complexity, that can be a challenge.

And then there is the matter of how well I know the other person or not.  If we have been long time friends and have done this kind of thing before, it should go well.  But if I hardly know you or you me, what are the odds that your feelings might get hurt?  What if I come off as a jerk?  Does that even really matter?

And once we are talking about feelings, there is a possibility that arguing an issue on the merits can get a little confused with insults for those with a thin skin.  And this is still a matter of complexity at this point, not whether I might really intend to belittle you.

There is so much risk.

And then there is the matter of how much disagreement is okay before we cant be friends?  What issues are more important than our friendship?  I mean if you are pretty sure you want to be an idolater and want to blend your love for Jesus with a bit of pagan worship, I really might oughta draw a line between us, but if we both love Jesus devoutly, and if one of us worships Catholic (I am Catholic btw) and the other devoutly Protestant, should this line exist?  Surely one of us has some mistaken views about Jesus (and actually almost assuredly both of us do), but do we have to have those mistaken bits worked out before we can extend true and deep fellowship to one another?  (I trust I have offered two scenarios where the choice is easy to see, but with an eye toward all the harder choices in between!)

And if one or both of us persist in some mistaken views, and if some of those views are buried in complexity – thus making them hard to sort out just on that level alone, not counting real spiritual commitments – how do we move forward together and honor Jesus and one another?  Is sorting this stuff out important at all?

I have a blogger acquaintance who loves to explicate scripture.  He often does a wonderful job of it.  Very imaginative, powerful, and engaging.  Lots of people follow his blog and respond with comments that are very supportive.  This blogger has demonstrated, to my satisfaction, that he loves Jesus deeply with his heart and his mind.  And I praise his work because it is well deserving of it.

One of the points he frequently makes, one I agree with completely, is his view that so much traditional Christianity has mistakenly told us adherents that the goal of our lives is to Go-to-heaven-when-we-die.  He calls this a mistake, and I agree with him.  And in doing that, he is engaging a larger conversation in a manner much like I describe in this post.  But then the same brother also holds a traditional view of “legalism” and paints the New Testament’s Pharisees with that paint brush, and I disagree with him on that.  I have taken him to task with it a few times to no avail.  And I have come to expect these things from his offerings.  He does not see a need to change his views.  I don’t have some incessant desire to continually hound him about it.  I like the one bit, not the other.  He knows this about me.  I know his view too.

I admire the guy and his blog.  But there is not much more to say really.  Not that I can see.  I sense that he and I are actually a lot alike.  I sense that he admires me too.  But there is this stubborn thing.  And I don’t know what to do with it.  Sit back and be patient, I suppose.  I have no reason to believe he will ever change his mind.  I have no reason to believe I will ever go back to his view (I once held a view very similar, if not the same).

And of course that is just one example.  There are others.

What about my church?  Same thing there too.  Some fine point of theology becomes a sticking point for me in the sermon or the Bible class.  I raise my objection.  I don’t have some innate need to heckle the teacher to death.  I really would like to have my questions answered, but I am not the only one in the class, AND after all, I really could be looking at it wrong and not know it.  After all, if I knew which bits I was mistaken about, I would change them!  And I have no need to change the teacher’s mind, necessarily, but I really would like to have my concerns heard, understood, and acknowledged AT LEAST.  Because as the lecture moves on from here… building on the bit I object to, there is a sense, to me at least, that I am now left out of the discussion from way back there at point C or D.

But then there is the matter of the church vis-à-vis the homeless.  The way the church practically ignores the homeless while sending boat loads of money to the nonprofit homeless ministry across town.  And I blog on this stuff all the time hoping someone will take notice and make changes.  And I really must be stubborn on this point, because those are HUMAN beings sleeping out in the gutter and in the cold while we tell ourselves we are the Body of Christ in here!  And that actually is a Matthew-25 JUDGMENT ISSUE!  With very, very, very little hope that the church will wise up to it.

And there are other issues too.  But these will suffice for my ever growing post here.  One I make no actual conclusions in, just ponder them and offer them for referral when every now and again this kind of thing comes up.

Severe Weather Alert, The Homeless, & God’s Shepherds

We face our first (of likely many for the season) severe storm alerts tonight in our city.  The wind has become ugly all afternoon with blowing dust to match.  No, it’s not a Haboob, but I didn’t notice anyone taking a picnic to the park today.  It’s ugly.  And thunderstorms are forming in the area now.

The gutter is likely to flood tonight, so…

Where do the homeless go when the weather gets bad?  There are some options for them in our city, but none involve the church (unless something has changed since I last heard of it).  Tent City (“Grace Campus”, these days) has a barn that will hold street drifters as an emergency shelter, but that is the only option I have heard of in recent times, and I am unclear if they will take people in for spring thunderstorms.  But I am out of the loop – what with keeping foster kids and all.

So… where does a street-homeless person go if the thunder and rain and hail come down in the night?  That is a good question.

I often look around for such impromptu shelters when I am out and about.  There are a few abandoned buildings, carports, and businesses that are closed for the night which have a corner or overhang someone could huddle in if they really had to.  There are bridges and overpasses, but those stand to flood underneath when the storm rages, so they are probably not wise.  But then most of the other options I just suggested involve breaking a law or trespassing/loitering where that is not allowed.

A guy might be able to walk the aisles of a Wal-mart or some other all-night retail store.  He might even get a bit of sympathy from management for the duration of the storm, but there is no guarantee.

But what about God’s Shepherds?  Where are they???  What does a shepherd do?  Luke 15:3-7 anyone???

I know full well that not every shepherd of the sheep can or should be out searching for the homeless in the storm.  Some shepherds are too old and brittle for that job.  Some already have their hands full down at the cancer ward.  Some are tending to yet other needs, and that is okay, up to a point.

But how many shepherds serve on teams that hold meetings weekly or monthly?  Can they not coordinate?  And don’t count on the Premier Homeless Church to do this; they started running all their flock off the property at night several years ago and have worked hard to shape public perception of that as okay.  So, a shepherd of most any church in town might be tempted to think this task is covered already by other pastors, but that is not the same as leaving 99 on a hill to go after the lost one, now is it?  It’s your job to look into it.

I hope you will.  Tonight is one of those nights when God’s shepherds go looking.

A Fat Beggars Bible Study (BS) Lesson #2

(I began this BS Series over a year ago and dropped it.  Today’s offering picks up the series again.  For those interested in BS Lesson #1, find it here:  https://fatbeggars.wordpress.com/2015/11/10/a-fat-beggars-bible-study-bs-lesson-i/?frame-nonce=1ec948100d)

Today’s text, brothers and sisters, comes from Mark 10:17-31.  It may not be the most famous Bible passage, but it surely is one rich people hold dear and meditate on as they fall asleep each night!  If you want your wealth validated by God, there is hardly a better passage of Scripture for you to study.

Yes, this is that story of a poor man, homeless in fact, that came running up to Jesus to ask him what he should do to have abundant life.  Most translations depict him as “poor”, which is close enough, but the discrepancy is the part where he comes to Jesus and calls him “good”.  This is a bit problematic in both the Greek and the textual variants.  The really old manuscripts use a Greek term there that could be translated “501c3 charitable organization” instead of Jesus.  This means that the homeless man comes to a non-church organization (some folks call it “para-church”, but even that admits that the organization is not actually Christ or his Body).  But this should set the stage now for the action God obviously wants us to see.

This bum comes to the 501c3 and asks how to get abundant life, which we know Jesus brings because he tells us this in John 10:10.  And the 501c3 rightly tells the guy to follow God’s law just like you find it in the Old Testament.  But the homeless guy said, “Yeah… I know all that.  I actually live by the Ten Commandments and as closely as I can to the Sermon on the Mount too, but it seems like something is missing”.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I hear a homeless person say they sense something is “missing” from their life, the first thing that pops into my mind is … A HOME!  Maybe that’s just me, but if you analyze the word “homeless” it pretty much means “without a home”, and you don’t actually need to know the Greek to get that.

But it is at this point the 501c3 exposes the man’s heart and helps him see the many things he is “lacking”.  He lacks sobriety on the one hand, and if he will just get some job training, join AA and NA, take a course in resume-writing and interviewing (not to mention anger management and an art class), AND if he attends all these classes every day without missing more than three in a month or showing up late, THEN he could get a locker to keep his stuff in, get on the list for a shower, and use the phone!

The homeless man looked at his options and thought to himself, well, it’s not like they are offering a miracle here or nothing, but if I do ALL THESE THINGS, then maybe, JUST MAYBE, I can eventually translate a locker, a shower, and use of a phone into a job at McDonalds or Wal-mart.  Then, IF I can make it through the probationary period without getting fired for showing up late (since I don’t have a car) or for slipping back into my addiction… Who knows?  Maybe I will finally save enough money to put down for first and last month rent on a lease for an apartment!  Yes!  This would be the abundant life Jesus talked about!

And just as he was mulling over the offer of the 501c3 to join their program, some fellow homeless people came in the shelter reading a story in the morning paper about a rich man who sold everything he had, gave his wealth to the poor in the form of $100 bills all around the downtown library, all in an effort to honor Jesus.  When the director of the 501c3 heard of it, he turned to the crowd and said, “Children, How hard it is to enter into the American Dream!  No one can enter it without lots of hard work.  When a rich person gives away their wealth to the poor, they actually hurt the poor and harm this process – even derailing it!  How much better it is to sell all you have and give it to the 501c3 and then truly help folks obtain the abundant life!”

And the homeless people gathered around the shelter that day said, “Behold!  We gave up on all hope for a miracle or for someone to actually LOVE us to follow your programs.  But if there is a guy handing out $100 bills at the library… I just remembered I have an overdue book I need to return there.  Sorry if I miss the NA class.  Please count it as one of my 3 excused absences…”

And life at the shelter went on as usual.

…This Just In…

One of our Fat Beggars operatives in a state far, far away sends us this video that dramatizes quite nicely our sense of bearing the image of God with the poor by throwing a little party.

I hope you will click the link and watch this:

Thank you (Other) Agent D!

In Response…

This post is a response to the post I find on Jon Kuhrt’s blog Resistance & Renewal:

A Soft Touch? Why Christians Need to stop being doormats.

On Resistance and Renewal

Please follow the link above to get the other side of the story here.

I have one caveat to place here at the start.  I regret that I do not have the time or energy to craft a better response.  I am way too busy with kids and other commitments for a well-crafted, sensitive, even thorough response.  But the issue is very important to me and considering the fact that Pope Francis prompts Kuhrt to respond to him, it seems now is the time.  So at least my response to Kuhrt is timely.  I also want to extend my respect to Kuhrt for all his work and for the open-mindedness he shows us when he welcomes dissenting opinion.  Thank you for that Jon.

Jon Kuhrt’s post on Resistance and Renewal is another installment in his bid to refute Pope Francis for instructing the church to give to needy people. As part of that giving, the Pope makes allowance that giving money might be a part of that charity. Kuhrt, who works in poverty ministry/charity as a Christian, says Francis is mistaken for this and argues against this papal instruction.

As part of this second post refuting Francis, Kuhrt adds a link to a humorous video which mocks the naiveté of a church vicar (a church official, for us Americans) as he deals with a street beggar who, it quickly becomes obvious, seeks only to abuse the church’s monetary charity and break trust by spending the money on drugs.

The video is short. It is likely to make many viewers laugh. And it definitely depicts the church that gives money as stupid, and therefore weak, ineffective, and shameful.

A few paragraphs below that, Kuhrt offers a link to an official UK site that seeks to correct the kind of naiveté depicted in the video. The bulk of my response in this post is designed to answer Kuhrt – especially the advice he promotes by way of this link.

Under the link “Helping Homeless Callers”, we find this heading:

“How To Help Homeless People”

The name of the article is “How To Help Homeless People”. I want to take care that my rhetoric express a respectful disagreement here (a courtesy I believe the humorous video fails to offer). So please hear me carefully when I say this. This link is designed to help church folk know how to help the homeless. And that is great. I have no problem with someone writing a pamphlet, book, or website with such a goal in mind. But when addressing the church with the idea that you might instruct her, I think it is important to locate your source of authority. And for most of us Christian types, that needs to at least INVOLVE scripture – if not flat out take scripture as the basis.

I am mindful that plenty of us Bible-thinker types will want to explicate the meaning of passages of scripture as we apply them to our mission. The explications and applications of scriptural analyses will likely be arguable. Just because someone cites a passage and then makes an observation or instruction does not actually settle the matters involved. But when scriptural analysis is entirely omitted, I suggest, the rest of the analysis is, to put it mildly, suspicious. In fact, I really would go so far as to say it is not a word FOR the church at all.

The church is all about listening to God, trusting his word, obeying even if it SEEMS ridiculous to do so. There are literally countless examples of this all through scripture. I will just pluck one and use it here.

Consider Israel’s raid on Jericho. The battle plan God instructs is to go march around the city once a day for seven days. Then on the seventh day, they march around it seven times. Then they blow trumpets (Josh. 6).

That is God’s battle plan for God’s people on that occasion. It does not make much sense in a “secular” light. In fact, it looks worse than naïve. It looks downright stupid. And, in fact, I know of NO OTHER occasions inside or outside the Bible where such a battle plan is offered, considered, or followed. It is absolutely ridiculous in every way, except that it is God’s word. Like giving money to a fiend, it sounds exactly stupid. But Jesus says to give to all who ask (Luke 6:30), and he tells at least one rich guy to sell everything, give it to the poor, and come follow (Mark 10:21). He makes no mention of how smart it makes you look. In fact, if you live like that you are certain to look a bit foolish. And I am not even getting into St. Paul’s notion of God’s wisdom and foolishness (I Corinthians anyone???) But according to God’s word, Israel marched around Jericho and found a deeply surprising success by doing so. And we, the church today, take that story, as part of the word of God, as authoritative. We do not take the “Housing Justice”, the folks who publish the link Kuhrt offers, as authoritative at all – and they make no appeal to God’s word at all.

If we were ANY OTHER organization except the church (the people of faith called by the God of the Bible), then I would not have this criticism of Kuhrt or the link. But we specifically are exactly the organization that is the exception here. Kuhrt is not acknowledging that. But he is promoting a “wisdom” from somewhere else entirely and directing it to the church specifically. As the link describes itself, it is “a guide for clergy, staff, and parishioners”.

I have said enough there to make my case. In fact if you can refute these observations with scripture, then I will shut up about it. If you think you can extrapolate a worthy refutation from scriptural principles, I will give you my listening ear (however, this will be a weaker case than refuting with scripture). If you can’t do either, than my case holds water and you now have to explain to God why you thought the church should nullify his word to do your “wise” thing. And as I have made clear, if you are not the church, that will fly for you – I’m sure. But if you are the church, you don’t have that leg to stand on.

SO… what I say next is just icing on the cake really. I have a lot more reaction to Kuhrt’s post, but it is all just “extra” after that. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to go ahead and drive more nails in the coffin. Let me pick apart a few more statements from the link.

“It can be hard to know how to help because homeless people often have multiple needs, and accessing support services is complicated.”

The good folks at “Housing Justice” (sorry, I am not British, so this is foreign to me, but seems clear enough for our purposes here), are addressing the church, staff and parishioners with this publication, but then also suggest “it can be hard to know how to help…”. Thus, the publication with which to advise us. But as I have already argued, why not just go with scripture as our guide?

I am beating a dead horse at this point. But they did specify that they are helping us (the church) with tasks that are hard to know – at least hard without any reference to scripture. And even though I have already made this point in the larger picture, I sense the fact that it comes up in this publication this far in, rhetorically sucks the church back into leaning on the “Housing Justice’s” wisdom instead of our own understanding or that of the Lord (Prov. 3:5 anyone?).  Since the publication actually uses these words, I wish to point this out and go ahead and beat the dead horse.

Next they say:

“The purpose of this guide is to help churches respond to this growing need safely and effectively.”

Now they want to help us respond with safety and be effective. But this is not necessary even at this level, not if the church is listening to God’s word. Jesus would have you pick up a cross and follow him (Matt. 16:24). Taking up a cross is anything but a concern for safety. If the church is so concerned with safety, then let the church talk to God about that. But it is clear from scripture that the early church does not share this concern. Look at Acts 4:23-31. Just when the fledgling church finds some of its members thrown in jail, some executed by the state, and many are hiding, they ask God (not to keep them safe, but) to MAKE THEM BOLD! And to speak the word boldly! And as we know God’s word is plenty effective it does not return to him in vain (Isa. 55:11).

Then, sadly, the link to the Housing Justice publication actually says it again:

“We are working together to help churches be safer and more effective in their outreach to homeless people…”

Frankly, this statement with no sense of biblical reference really borders on dishonest. Helping churches? Is that the states job? Is that your job? Who helps church? Is it not God? And even if there is a sense in which you or I might “help” a church, why would we go anywhere else but to God to get that help? Yet the Housing Justice makes no mention of any effort in the slightest.

Then they say this:

“Don’t give money … No matter what their story is, do not give homeless people money.”

There is not a single iota of Bible that tells you not to give money. On the other hand we have all kinds of examples of money raised to give to the poor, alms given to the poor, and the affore mentioned rich guy directed to sell all he had (which would land him DANGEROUSLY in the ranks of the poor) as he gives his wealth to the poor. The statement here actually contradicts scripture.

NOW… I am willing to entertain the idea that you don’t always have to give money. Acts 3:6 depicts Peter saying that he and John have no money to give to the beggar, and he goes on to give something better. That is true. That is fine. I am not denying that. On the other hand, Kuhrt and the Housing Justice are denying that giving money is good, and that is a problem.

Giving money is often the weaker of gifts. I will not dispute that. But it also has a strength, which Kuhrt and the Housing Justice appear to negate. And that is that giving money is giving respect. The avoidance of giving money is giving DISRESPECT. And that is a problem they have not come out of the shadows with.

Then there is the matter of redirecting the money to their charity instead. And of course giving money to their service is a wonderful thing to do. But when someone comes out and says “Don’t give your money to XYZ, give it to me/us instead, that has a nasty ring to it in EVERY situation there is, EXCEPT for when we are talking about the poor and the addicted, and the only reason it’s not there is BECAUSE these folks don’t have our respect (when we go down that path).

And then the publication hits us with the concern for safety yet again! And of course I have already challenged that, but since it comes up multiple times in the publication, I will mention it again now in refutation.

“Keeping safe … Don’t put yourself, or others, at risk … Put your own safety above the needs of a homeless caller.”

Yeah, just like Jesus says, “Put your own safety above the needs of the homeless…”  And then that is exactly the attitude and behavior he models…  NOT!  This is a strange thing to say to a church, a group who are dedicated to taking up a cross to follow Jesus. Crosses are not SAFE!

The next bit I want to challenge is the advice to “be wary…”

Really??? How about be like Jesus and be vulnerable. Taking up a towel and basin and kneeling before another to wash their feet is a posture taken by the lowliest of servants (in fact this comes very near literally being a doormat of a servant!) AND puts us not only in a humble position but a ready place to be kicked in the face! And this is biblical! On the other hand, being wary – AS A PIECE OF ADVICE – is asking us to be suspicious… to be ruled by fear. This is entirely unbiblical, un-Jesus.  But here is the quote:

“Be friendly, but wary …   However do not let uninvited callers into your home or office.”

Yeah, keep the outside.  Never take a stranger in… Apparently the Housing Justice never read Matthew 25:31-46!  And this is one of the FEW places Jesus warns us about the coming Judgment.  But the Housing Justice would have you join the goats because you did not invite the stranger in!

And here we go with the “Don’t give money” thing again.

“Never give money… Money can feed an addiction, which in turn destroys their life.”

Then the document advising the church lectures us on managing expectations and behavior. This, I fear, is code for manipulate the manipulators before they manipulate you.

“Managing expectations and behaviour”

Some homeless people will call regularly, particularly if they are treated with kindness. Be honest with them about the limits of your capacity to help. Be clear about behaviour which is not acceptable in and around church, for example drinking alcohol, swearing, littering etc.”

Did you notice the phrase “Be honest … about the limits of your capacity to help”? This is the Housing Justice advising the Body of Christ (bypassing the head, I might add) to open your exchange with the homeless with the limits of your capacity to help. And I can just see Jesus preaching to thousands and saying, “OKAY, you might have heard that I am the Son of God and all… You might have heard that I heal the blind with a touch, leprosy with a touch, and even stopped bleeding when my garment was touched. But I need to be honest with you about my limitations. I only did that on Sabbath to upset the authorities, but really the rest of the week, I cant do that. So you will have to deal with my limitations….”

As a church, that just does not compute. On the other hand, when Jesus is faced with 5000 hungry people (sound like the poor to you?) he tells his disciples, “YOU give them something to eat!” (Mark 6:37). And the funny thing is that the disciples are the ones looking at their own limitations and trying to excuse themselves. They don’t need the Housing Justice to convince them they can’t handle the needs of this many people; they already think they can’t. But the church is the very Body of Christ, the Body of which he is head. And I am thinking this publication is distracting the church from a clear vision of itself and its work.

Look, I could go on and on like this. But I think you get the idea – UNLESS you are resisting it (and if that’s the case you really SHOULD be asking yourself, Why? But of course that is probably the very last thing you are doing IF you are resisting it.

I want to reiterate one last time that my real case here is that this advice does not come from God. It is directed to his church, but it surely is not his wisdom or instruction. I totally understand that his wisdom looks like foolishness to the world, but of all people, the church needs to trust him despite that and be a witness to the world of his glory. After all, we believe Jesus was raised from the dead.  We are the only organization that LIVES by that belief.  If we don’t, who will?  It is our reason to be.  Caring for the poor is actually minor by contrast.  Still, how we treat the poor is going to take center stage.

The rest of my observations after that are just icing on the cake. I really could get long winded as I uncover contempt in the hearts of those who claim to care while running headlong in the DON’T GIVE MONEY direction. But I will let you figure that out for yourself, for as long as your are resisting this message and the message of God’s word, you don’t actually have eyes to see or ears to hear.

Plunged Again

I was in need of my daily shower when it was time to go, and I said, “Nah… It will be a bit more authentic this way”.  So off we went with a goal to actually meet people this time.  And it worked.

My sidekick, Agent Z, and I hit the streets again yesterday/last night.  I asked Z what would be the most important thing we could change this time.  He wanted to actually meet some street-homeless people.  I agreed, but I really thought we would up our odds if we just moved our exploration downtown.  But before we got far, we found a whole bunch of homeless in our part of town and learned a lot more for our efforts.  If at first you don’t succeed….

Yeah, the afternoon sun was actually heating up the streets quite a bit for the last week of Winter.  Agent Z and I thought we might do well to purchase cheap, cold sodas and pass them out as ice breakers.  But before we got that far, as we passed through the intersection of Slide Road and the South Loop, we found at least four beggars stationed on the medians at each crosswalk.  We knew we had to get out and introduce ourselves.  For even though this was the other direction from our church (located on 82nd Street), it was only about a mile from our house.

We decided to pull into the parking lot by the Mexican restaurant out by the Rooms To Go furniture store.  And this was when our eyes were truly opened.  As we pulled into our spot, I realized that right there in that busy intersection, barely concealed by the bushes and trees, was a camp spot!  A homeless camp spot right under our noses and practically in plain sight!  How could we have missed it all this time?  We drive right by it every day.  Thousands of people drive right by it every day!  I couldn’t believe it.  We definitely have homeless in our part of town.

We approached the spot, which at that moment was occupied by two people, a man and woman we will call Agent D and Agent T, sitting on a blanket next to a shopping buggy.  Agent Z and I introduced ourselves and sat down with D and T and learned a lot from our brief exchange.

The first thing that really thrills me is that they knew who I was!  I mean by reputation.  They had familiarity with Fat Beggars and were excited to meet us.  And Z had packed (providentially, it seems) a box of Pop Tarts in his bag to share with any new friends he might make, and sure enough when he produced them T, the lady, exclaimed that she had been wanting Pop Tarts earlier that morning.  As evidence of our divine appointment, it turned out Z had even brought the exact flavor she had been hankering for!  What can I say?  It was clear to us all that God was blessing us.  And then we began to learn things.

Yes.  There are homeless in our area.  No.  Most of them do not camp here.  They transfer to our side of town during the day and return downtown in the evening.  But a few do stay, and they stay well hidden.  This much we suspected, actually.    But when I asked if any of them ever stay on church property, the notion perplexed them at first.  Agent D began criticizing churches who run people off and named a few names.  But upon further reflection, D spoke of another homeless friend who worked out an arrangement with the Bacon Heights Baptist Church to stay in the play ground on their property.  In fact Agent D began singing the praises of Bacon Heights Baptist for treating the homeless so good!

I had no idea!  I am not saying that Bacon Heights is the greatest church in town (I don’t really know), but I am saying that Bacon Heights has a good reputation with “the least of these brothers” on the streets of Lubbock, and that is truly important come Judgment Day (Matthew 25:31-46).  Go Bacon Heights!!!  I really need to send a thank you note to the pastor there.  If any of my readers here want to click the link in the paragraph above and find a way to send them a note, that would be really cool.

I really could tell a lot more about our plunge, but I don’t want to drag out this post endlessly.  And really there is a lot more we could do still that we have not even begun yet.  But Agent Z and I capped off our plunge by spending the night in the gazebo behind the church we have begun attending up on 82nd Street.  We did not encounter any more street people after we got there (though we did meet a nice police officer at almost 2 a.m.), but we ourselves camped outside our own church and prayed extensively for the place and the people who meet there.  And when I got home this morning, I was in a hurry to shower the two days of stench off myself, since I was in a hurry to run down to the foster care agency and accrue some training credits.

Before I sign off on this post, though, I have one last request for readers (local readers anyway).  I would encourage any followers of Fat Beggars blog living in Lubbock to purchase boxes of Pop Tarts and leave them in the trees and bushes in the landscaped SouthEast corner of the intersection of Slide Road and the South Loop out by the Mexican restaurant out front of the old Rooms To Go furniture store.  I am sure our friends will find them and thank God for them if you do.

 

A Different Kind of Reality

I really could be dead wrong about some of this, but I am certain of this much: Living in God’s creation – and thus treating it as God’s (the property of a loving Creator God) – gives me the opportunity to explore his love.  Let me say that again: e-x-p-l-o-r-e his love.  The bits I am wrong about are not something to be ashamed of or count as some kind of sin.  As long as I prayerfully, carefully, respectfully honor God every step of the way, looking to his word for his lead, I am free to explore, to try and try again.  (I mean, I know not to kill, to lie, to take the Name in vain etc… but that still leaves lots of love and creation to explore.)  To decide one bit is not going to work out as I’d hoped, but another bit might.  All that is okay, as long as I can look God in the face and smile with integrity.  It opens me up to a different kind of real.

I am opened up to this view of exploration largely from observing AND participating in the lives of my kids.  I look them in the face and talk sweet baby-talk, and then I see the little face respond to me in vulnerable love.  I put food in the mouth, and it is remarkable how deep and how often the cries of life calm like Jesus stilling a storm.  I especially enjoy the experience of taking a baby by the hands and aiding them to stand up on their own two feet for the first, second, third and four-hundredth time.  The wobbly little dance – exploring their new part in creation – is divine.  I love the smile we share AS the child discovers what standing feels like.  Eyeball to eyeball, humanity is transferred from one to the other, but really we both find new depths actually.

In all of these little exercises, and hundreds more, the child holds my hand, looks into my face, mirrors my joy as she fumbles and foibles and eventually masters a new step in life.  Every tiny second of this experience is like a day or a 1000 years.  Every second of this experience burns deep neural pathways in my brain and that of the child.  Each second of this experience is a life-giving little party.  Each second of this experience is play and exploration for both of us.  Each second of this experience heaven invades earth!  Each second of this experience humanity is formed from the dirt and Spirit is breathed between people.

This is what I mean when I speak of exploring God’s love – God’s creation.

 

This may seem limited to babies and small children, but that is an arbitrary limit we of little faith – we of little imagination – place on ourselves.  When I feed a child, I don’t leave her to eat alone.  I either hold the bottle or spoon feed her as we talk and play, as we smile and love.  The child eats off my plate.  The child looks longingly at my food, and I share it.  The mother’s breast is the primal meal – you can’t get more intimate than that, of course, but I find my role is quite close actually.  And yet even that is a pale imitation of the King’s Feast at the Table of the Lord.  “Behold!  I stand at the door and knock… If you open up, I will come in and eat/party with you….”  (Rev. 3:20).  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation!” (II Cor. 5:17).  “Behold!  I am making all things new… (Rev. 21:5).  “When you throw a party, invite the poor… and you will be blessed BECAUSE they cannot repay you!” (Luke 14:13).  Yes, we need to stretch the imagination and include adults as well as children in the process of exploring new creation.  Jesus, it would seem, shows favor to the children on the one hand (Matt. 19:14), but to the poor on the other (Luke 1:53).

And here is where we soooooo often get this wrong, when thinking about the poor.  We set out to turn these poor people who cannot repay into people who can repay SO THAT they will THEN be fit to party with.  But that is not what Jesus says.  And it seems soooooo counterintuitive to trust him because that would suggest we might not (after all) try to FIX the problem.  But that is not living in God’s creation, that is wisdom from somewhere else.  Probably the same source of wisdom that gave us Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.  Rather, we need to hold the hands of these folks and eat with them, looking into the face of NEW CREATION as we all learn to stand on our own feet (however long that takes and however many missteps that might involve and whatever end result that might look like that we had not expected!)

Yeah.  Even the babies crap all over my love.  But it never occurs to anyone that we should not be patient with them as they do it.

Am I suggesting we just enjoy being crapped on?  No.  I am not.  Certainly we should count it a joy when we encounter trials (James 1:2), but I doubt seriously that is the trial James had in mind.  Nevertheless, it goes with children and with the poor both.  We might as well accept that.  But in both cases, with much patience and time and care the love we give transforms them and us.  And though there are differences in how we love adults and children, the commonalities are important too.

As I said above, “I am opened up to this view of my participation in creation largely from observing AND participating in the lives of my kids.  I look them in the face and talk sweet baby-talk…” and so forth.  Well, I have personal experience that I for one cannot deny where I have participated and observed street homeless people explore God’s grace as we partied on the streets, in the alleys, and in the parks.  I can’t help but recall the first Lubbock’s Parade of Homeless event when dozens of homeless folx turned out to worship on the street and entice cars of passers by to “Honk if you love Jesus!”  We passed out neon colored shirts that grabbed attention, then we shared communion on the busy street corner and attracted the outreach ministers from Aldersgate Methodist Church to join us!  And I cherish how as we bedded down in the park that night, Agent Zero actually said, “Welcome to my place”.

Agent Zero and a couple of his friends had seen our party and actually walked over 3 miles to find us at the park where we spent the night.  Think of it.  These guys saw a worship service in progress and found out we were moving it to a different park 3 miles away, so they walked for over an hour to join us!  When was the last time you ever heard of someone walking miles on end for a chance to join others in worship?  Yeah, and they pushed a Wal-mart buggy filled with odds-n-ends the whole way!  And I am saying, you aren’t likely to imagine such dedication, but I have seen it with my own eyes.  And I really think, based on the explorations I have made, that celebrating Jesus in those babies and in those homeless folx puts you in a different kind of reality.