Homeless “Ministry” In The News (and not)

I saw two local news items on the TV this morning over coffee that caught my attention.  One is our city’s preparedness to care for the street homeless as the weather is now turning cold and wet.  The statement is made that IF the temperatures plunge below freezing, THEN there will be an emergency shelter open to all comers, AND one group will offer rides to the shelter.  However, for those cold and wet nights when it is not sufficiently freezing to trigger this policy, one of the groups is offering sleeping bags rated for cold weather (with an order of 65 of them placed with a retailer).

No mention is made of the church’s responsibility in this at all.  The Love of Christ in Lubbock, Texas will be handled by the network of 501c3 organizations which will express that love in “emergency shelter” on “freezing nights” and “sleeping bags” for other occasions.  The church of Lubbock can rest assured that the homeless (“the least of these”) are well cared for and Jesus is honored, and thus there is no reason for the church to worry it’s pretty little head.

The other news item that caught my attention was a remembrance piece about the “Haboob” of 2011.  It turns out that yesterday marked the 7th anniversary for that remarkable event.  Most of us remember it well; no doubt it was a high impact event, though no where near as remarkable as the tornado that ripped through Lubbock May 11, 1970.

Like everyone living in Lubbock on October 17, 2011, I have vivid memory of the Haboob too.  But unlike the newscast which brought it all back for our consideration, I recall what it did to Tent City!  I was not on the premises at the time of the Haboob, but when I got there that night, local TV newscasters were covering the story.  The freak storm devastated the tents and wiped out everything some people owned.

What the news did not tell at that time was that Tent City policy in those days stated that to stay on the premises, a resident hand to provide their own tent.  Homeless people with no money to refurbish their loss were kicked out that night.  But I watched one man from among the ranks of homeless (and I filmed it too) as he attempted to repair tents by using broken bits and pieces (the scraps) of the wasted tents.  Out of about 20 tents too badly damaged to continue use, he patched together about 5 – all with no tools!

I watched this man desperately and feverishly labor at this task for hours, trying to help his brothers and sisters, as many as he could, to salvage their belongings and continue their stay in Tent City.  But what I did not see, and I am so sad to report (unlike any of the newscasters then or now) is that no church in this town showed up with replacement tents (which were running as low as $30 at Walmart at the time), no tools to share, and no prayers or help to give.

Little guy – 1 / Church – 0

I hate to sound ungrateful for the crumbs that fall from Lubbock’s Table.  There definitely are crumbs there and they do help!

But I thought this was a “Christian” town.  And when I look at Jesus of the Gospels getting mobbed by poor, broken people at every turn AND the tremendous gift of healing, feeding, and celebrating of those multitudes he demonstrates, I find crumbs of Lubbock’s Table to be a thin parody of the Love of God, AND I find the 501c3 organizations of this town Hurting When Helping by creating a smokescreen for the church to hide behind.

BTW, 65 sleeping bags has the potential to help 65 destitute people to survive a cold night (Thanx so much!), but what about the hundreds of others needing one?  And is that what Jesus would give?  Or would he lay down his whole life to love a lost flock of sheep?

Think about it.

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Mark 3 1-6 My allegorical Reiteration (Fat school of Beggars goes to Bat)

An internet echo bounces back to the Fat Beggars blog. It is worth your time, if you read here, to check it out…

Hard Times Ministries

And then Agent X and His followers went to church; yet the powers-to-be were there to test him.

Is it lawful to assist a homeless man on the sabbath?” they asked Agent X.

The question here is NOT the sabbath. The question is the value, the worth of God’s Children on any day.”

And so they wished to boot out Agent X and all his men as he and his followers defiled the desires and wishes of the church.

And then again, Jesus was struggling on the streets of Lubbock with no one to champion His cause. Jesus concluded that all had forsaken Him and His people for the churches cursed His existence. Among the harsh cold streets and whispering of the wind: God’s voice could be heard for the forbearance of His Holy Spirit. In that day even those who walked among the righteous shuttered to think…

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“Bring In Those Pets and Plants…”

Down here in West Texas, we don’t experience a monolithic Winter cold all season long.  Oh, it gets cold alright.  Not as cold as Denver, Cheyenne, or Missoula, but cold enough to harm or kill anyone stranded outside after a cold front blows through.  Thus our Winter consists of “cold snaps”.  Freezing weather that frequently gives way to relative warmth several times a month.

This means that our weather forecasters tend to use catch phrases to “remind” us of the fact that since another freeze is on the way, there are certain precautions local people need to take that they might forget.  Things like “Drip your faucets”; “Turn off the automatic sprinkler system”; AND “Don’t forget to bring in your pets and plants”.  It turns out such forgetfulness can be deadly.

Sadly, no one reminds the church to bring in the people.

Okay, that’s not true.  Jesus does (Matt. 25:31-46).

So why do we blow this off?

I spend a lot of energy on this blog dealing with the reasons why.

Actually, I say it is basic contempt for the poor, a demon deeply rooted in American culture.  But the church puts up quite a smokescreen to hide behind, and addressing it involves more complicated answers.  Chief among the smokescreen issues is a little book called When Helping Hurts.  This book (and especially those endorsing it) goes to extraordinary lengths to both justify contempt for the poor and promote it in the church.

Meanwhile, our community faces its first true cold snap of the season tonight.  The forecasters will remind us to bring in our pets and plants, but our churches will hold seminars teaching us to not help the poor who suffer the Winter cold through the night, and to fear that the help we might have offered would actually hurt these freezing people instead.

“I Don’t Care Where You Go, But You Can’t Stay Here”

The words above are an exact quote that I heard first hand come from the mouth of the Executive “Shepherd” at Lubbock’s Premier Homeless Pseudo Church (not its real name) as he addressed a group of more than a dozen homeless members of his own flock on the front lawn of his church building on a freezing, cold, Winter night just a couple of months before I got kicked out of that church.  “I don’t care where you go, but you can’t stay here”.  Shepherd words if I ever heard them.

Can you see what I have a problem with here?

Yeah.  I point out stuff like this, and it gets me kicked out too.  And this garbage passes for “church” in Lubbock, Texas every Winter.

Breaking The First Two Rules of Fight Club

Breaking the first two rules of Fight Club is more fun than obeying the other ones.  If it’s your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight.

But the assignment given out at Project Mayhem is that you must start a fight with a complete stranger – and lose it.

Hmmm…

Finding Jesus in Fight Club seems a stretch.  I mean if you have the stomach for such intense vulgarity, then you MIGHT actually look at this Messiah portrayed crucified before your very eyes.  (Sounds almost biblical.)  (No.  Wait.  It is.)

Losing?

Well, isn’t that pretty much the picture you get of anyone hanging on a Roman cross???  No doubt Caesar thought so.  It is exactly what he intended and exactly the way he orders his world.

And I can’t help but recall how James Hetfield and friends pounded the idea into my brain that I follow the God that failed.  The God St. Paul portrayed before the eyes of the Galatians crucified.

…but “losing”???

Pick a fight with a complete stranger and lose it.

Hmmm…

Except this portrayal of Christ crucified before my eyes is God’s deeply ironic victory; is it not?

Doesn’t the same St. Paul tell the Colossians that on the cross this Messiah disarmed the rulers and authorities, put them to shame, and triumphed over them?  What a strange weapon???  What a strange victory???

Pick a fight?  Yes.

Lose it?  Yes.

…but no…

Not if you LOVE the one you pick the fight with.  For then the fight is not against flesh and blood, but against the authorities and rulers, the principalities and powers, the demons and dark forces that push us around and make us believe that we must order the world in fear and hate.

Pick the fight, and lose in one sense – fail in one sense, but win in the sense that really counts.

This is God’s world.  He made it and ordered it a certain way.  A way in which the vulnerable, naked, even naïve (but trusting) humanity bears his image and calls all of creation to bend the knee to the one whose image we bear.  Yes.  You were made to walk on water, to stop the sun in the sky, to throw mountains into the sea.  That is the world you were made to live in and for which you were equipped with naked, vulnerable trust.  And at one level, when you pick and lose this fight, you win this life.

Why would you want to win at that that other level where your prize is the order you dreamed up and now must defend against all comers?  And whatever sad world order you dreamed up, I bet it didn’t involve walking on water or mountain moving sex.

Think about it.

The Sign Says “OPEN”

I live in a very well established, white, middle-class neighborhood.  (I have shared this before.)  I estimate that about 90% of the houses here are occupied by their owners, not renters.  The properties are well-kept for the most part.  Though this is not a high-end neighborhood, by a long stretch, it fits very comfortably in “the American Dream”, I think.

I like to take leisurely walks, jogs, and/or bike rides around my neighborhood.  This area is pleasing to the eye; its virtually a garden in which my neighbors and I live and make our homes.

Each property is unique.  No two are alike with enough difference between them that no one would ever confuse one for another.  AND YET they are not all that different either.  There is a strong, though unofficial, sense of homogeneity.

I wonder, sometimes, what makes my home stand out.  How would a stranger know that the “welcome” mat at my house really means what it says?  Though the visual difference is quite subtle, one of the key distinctions between my house and virtually all of my neighbors is that I have no home security placards on my fence or in my flower bed.  Like all my neighbors, I have a “welcome” mat, but no subtle cue for you to keep your distance coincides with it.

As I have noted before, I find the pairing of those things to be ironic.  One sign signals you are wanted while the other signals to keep out.  It’s all the look of welcome with none of the burden – and thus not authentic.

(Reminds me of church!)

But there is this one house about five blocks from me where it is obvious that the lady decorates her yard, flower bed, and porch with a slightly off-beat sense of décor.  Her house sits on a corner lot, and there is a door facing each street.  The thing that I find remarkable about this place is that one door has a “welcome” mat, but the other bears a sign that says “Open”.

Open.

I like that.  A sign on the door that says “open” is odd, but it takes “welcome” to the next level.  Don’t you think?  It gives cause for pause at least.  This isn’t a place of business; it’s someone’s home.  They are not taking money from patrons; they welcome people.  Or so I think.

One of these days I will knock on that door and see if it is really open.  I hope it is.  I notice a huge Texas-size smoker and grill out by the back fence, and if that place is really open, I bet the food is worth the stop.  I just wonder if the couple who lives there is named Abe n Sarah…  (Gen. 18 anyone?)

“Like Talking To A Wall”

Church leaders refuse to listen.  What is going on here?  Is this the church of the Bible?  Is this the Body of Christ?  Does Jesus hear my prayers?  So why can’t my church hear from me?

I am both Catholic AND Protestant.  And right now, this very moment, my church is behaving very badly and turning a deaf ear to those it victimizes.

The Catholic Church is in the news, making headlines around the world with sex abuse scandals.  The Vatican is hosting a meeting of bishops from around the world today, but the hottest issue the church faces is not on the agenda, and the sex abuse victims claim that talking to the church is “like talking to a wall”.

Hmmm…

That’s my church!  I am a certified member of that “Body of Christ”!

Meanwhile, I also am a member of the Churches of Christ.  And in Lubbock, Texas, the Churches of Christ take a lead role in serving and helping the homeless.  I joined these efforts years ago.  During my time serving, about a decade now, this ministry has grown to more than a million dollar budget, a network of ministries and support staffing, and partnerships between churches, businesses, governing agencies, and private funding organizations.  And also during that time, I have been kicked out of this network when protesting the practice of throwing the poor out of our church-house doors to freeze to death in the winter cold.

Yes.  Kicked out.

At first we were taking the poor in – on a very limited basis.  I was one who volunteered to help.  But suddenly, and arbitrarily, “leadership” stopped this practice.  The ministry I was offering was blocked by powerful people in powerful positions of “leadership”.  My ministry was walled off by the church.

I called to verify.  I made appointments to talk to leaders who blew me off.

Then I traded emails and text messages that did not yield even an inch.  (I literally was told, “It’s a leadership decision, and you just have to accept it”.)

I became a founding member of a group of homeless prophets, and suddenly I was summoned to a series of meetings.  These meetings were civil, but fruitless.  Again, there was no reasonable explanation and no compromise.  “Leadership” did not yield one inch.  I was still walled off from the ministry I formerly shared with my church.

I held a communion service with the other prophets under the security camera at the church and ceremonially knocked on the locked door quoting Revelation 3:20.

Soon after that, I was banned.

In subsequent years I have joined church classes (other congregations) and confronted this practice with other leaders in the network.

And I am shunned.

Meanwhile, in the last three years, two homeless people on the streets of Lubbock have frozen to death.

And leadership tells me I can “scream at the top of my voice, but [I] will not be heard”.  My “voice has no volume”.  Talking to me is a “waste of time”.

Talking to my church is “like talking to a wall”.  That is what I hear on the CBS Morning news.  See the link for more:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/vatican-youth-meeting-clergy-abuse-left-off-agenda-today-2018-10-03/

I am a member of two churches.  One rapes children and the other throws the poor out to the cold of night to freeze to death.  And talking to the church is “like talking to a wall”.

Really?

This is truly a sad day.

If I belonged to some secret organization, a clique from school, or a gang, this would at least make sense, and I would leave such a group outright.  In fact, such groups should be disbanded.

But I am talking about church here!  And there is a terrible phenom at work here that victimizes the powerless and stonewalls the voices of confrontation.

Addressing these things is “like talking to a wall”.

Truly a sad day.

A Bible Study (BS) Meditation For A Cool September Evening

Did you ever read that story in the Bible about the lost boy who returns to his Father?  It’s a famous one.

Yeah, it’s a story Jesus tells – actually it’s the third in a set of three.  First he tells of a man who loses one of his lambs and leaves the rest (99 out of 100) to go search for the lost one.  When he finds the lamb, he hoists it up on his shoulders and carries it all the way back home where, upon arrival, he throws a party to celebrate.  Then he tells of a woman who lost a coin, how she searched and cleaned and searched until she finds it.  Then she too throws a party to celebrate once it is found.

Then thirdly, Jesus tells of the lost boy.  And in this story, the third in the set is meant to have the real punch.  It’s meant to have a rhetorical impact, and so the story gets a little more involved – a little deeper in detail and mood.

It turns out there is this Father who has a wayward son that takes off with the family fortune.  The kid very foolishly spends it all on wine, women, and fast livin’.  And it doesn’t take long before the kid runs out of money and finds the bill has come due.

What then?

Well, this lost boy slips into poverty.  He becomes a lowly bum.  His lifestyle and finances are totally bankrupt, and he finds himself aimless, lonely, poor, and lost.

He knows he does not deserve any kindness from his Father, but after assessing the situation, he thinks he has nothing to lose by returning home to beg mercy.  Expecting his Father to be stern with him, but hoping that even that sternness will be better than the hopeless, homelessness he now endures, the boy risks it and heads back to his Father’s house.

So, the boy heads back for home, back to face his stern Father and endure whatever wrath that may involve so that he can also find some second-rate mercy too.

And then what happens?

Well, of course, this is the third story, the part of the story where the rhetorical impact really unleashes its shockwave.  The first two stories told of a lost sheep found and a party, a lost coin found and a party, and now we have a lost boy coming home to his Father.  You might expect a party…?

Yeah, so the boy returns to his Father’s house and finds one of the servants tending the door while his Father is away.  The servant recognizes that the boy is his own brother!  This broken brother is one of the lost sons of the Father/Master, alright, but he also sees plainly that the boy has brought all this misfortune on himself with his wild lifestyle.  The brother/servant/door keeper certainly does want to help, but he has read the book When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert, and he doesn’t want to ENABLE (look up that word in your concordance) the kid and do further harm to him.

It turns out that the boy arrives on a cold, rainy, September night, and the servant/brother keeping the door at the Father’s house tells the kid there will be no lodging for him in his Father’s house, but there is a 501c3 organization across town that claims they keep an open door.  Of course that is not actually the case either; rather they have a barn they open up during severe cold nights, and the boy can check with them and see if it’s open.  If it is, he will be welcome to stay there.

It turns out this open door is not in fact open, neither is the barn, AND the people running the 501c3 are actually gone on vacation to Tahiti sipping drinks with those cute little umbrellas on the beach.

The boy asks where his Father is so that he might speak directly to him – he is supposedly the Master of this house.  Right?  And the servant/brother tells the boy, “Oh yeah, you will probably catch him down at the fancy new coffee shop that sends all their profits from all the fancy lattes to the 501c3 guy so as to help without hurting.   There is a good chance he is there helping you right now by drinking a latte, but if not, he might be at a seminar the owners of the coffee shop and the executive guy from the 501c3 host at the local university where they talk about helping without doing harm and without ENABLING poor choices and bad behavior.”

This is the story Jesus tells.  It’s a famous one.  Most people are familiar with it already, but it MIGHT be new to you.

Yeah, you might oughta look into this story.  You can find it in Luke 15 in your Bible.  You might need to know a little Koine Greek so that you can really understand all of that part about the When Helping Hurts stuff, but Wow!  What an impact Jesus makes with the rhetorical effect in that third story!!!

Thank God for that 501c3!  If it wasn’t for their barn on the other side of the tracks, the Father’s house might have to take a wayward son in on a cold night.  That’s where you find Jesus when he gets to Bethlehem too – in the barn!  (Luke tells that part too.)

 

CRUCIFORM II : The Itinerary of God

The Son of Man will suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed…. The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of evil men and killed….  The Son of Man will be handed over and betrayed….

This is the teaching of Jesus, and it is a hard teaching for sure!

It is the itinerary of God, outlining his goals for his own mission, ministry, and most specific purpose.

It is also absolutely unacceptable!  Just ask St. Peter.

There is no way Jesus means what he says here!  He CAN”T mean it!!!  Surely not.  Not this.

Some of my critics think there is a lack of joy – of the fruit of the Spirit in general – in my blogging.  Some critics think all the confrontation, controversy, and arguing is somehow unfit for service to Jesus.  Most of my critics just avoid me and the blog as much as possible.  They close their ears and turn away.

If you look closely at this blog you will find that the vast majority of the concerns expressed here are boiled down to one point: OPEN THE DOOR.  That is not really complicated.

I address a number of smokescreens the church of Lubbock throws up to hide this simple concern behind, and that is where most of the complexity is on this blog.  But if the church were to simply open the door, bring in the poor, and provide shelter on cold winter nights, my blog would be out of business.  I would hope – HOPE – that we could celebrate Jesus among us once we are all sheltered inside with a party (like the Bible talks about in so many places), but I wasn’t confronting, arguing, and all that back when we simply took the poor in for the night (even without a party).  No.  All this confrontation stuff happened when church leadership very purposely kicked out the poor and kicked me out too for insisting this decision was wrong.

I hope my critics can see that IF we opened that door (and especially if we threw the party for Jesus as well), that it would make my joy complete!  I would not be endlessly arguing and confronting.  I wasn’t doing that back before my church purposely changed policies that began excluding the poor.

Yes, there are other issues.  SOME of them are even important, but most are not.  I really don’t care if Deacon Wilson’s wife wants the blue drapes but Bishop Johnson’s wife wants the burgundy instead.  I only care that they get along as they work it out.  Point being, I don’t have a dog in every fight that comes along.  But I have personally joined “the least of these” in the cold of night camping just outside that locked church-house door, and I have witnessed two of them die from our lack of care – death by freezing!  How cruel is that?  So, the color of the drapes might well upset a lot of folks, but that is not the kind of thing I am riled up about.

BUT, look again at the quotes from Jesus at the top of this post.

You see I have this mistaken idea that sensible, Jesus-loving, Christian leaders can, and will be, persuaded by respectful debate.  But it turns out, I am wrong about that.  (Yes, I went to meetings and traded emails, text massages, and phone calls with these leaders for a LONG time before it came to all this).  And when they weren’t moved by the love of Christ and simple reasoning, I confronted them with prophetic acts.  And they still make NO compromise (which is good, because there is no room for that here, really) and they do not repent.  But I keep operating like maybe, maybe eventually the right words at the right time will finally connect and make a positive change.

But, look again at the quotes from Jesus at the top of this post.

Jesus has no such expectations for his prophetic mission.

The fact is… somebody has to die.

You don’t want to hear that; I don’t want to hear that.  But Jesus is saying that.

Where is the joy in it?  Where is the fruit of the Spirit in it?  But isn’t it quite confrontational – prophetic???

The writer of the New Testament book we call Hebrews says that Jesus died for the joy SET BEFORE HIM.  The JOY is set before him, you see.  Look at that carefully.  The man of sorrow has the joy set before him.

What joy is worth that?

I want to know.

Do you?

Well, somebody has to die for us to get there.

I am sorry to say that two people freezing to death on the streets of Lubbock in the last three years isn’t enough dying.  But the son of man will be handed over to evil men.  And it isn’t the good arguing that is going to persuade them.  For that matter, there is no evidence I am privy to that Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, or any of their fellow leadership staff members ever were persuaded.  I think their nonsense just got swallowed up by the glory of Jesus and we all pretty much forgot them.

Meanwhile, it was God’s will and Jesus’ singular mission to die and turn that inside out for any who would follow him.

Did that mean Jesus stopped confrontations, controversies, and arguments?  Far from it.  Those things increased all the more until he died.  Those things played a role, a vital role.  But they were never his goal or his point either.  And they never persuaded the “religious leaders of his day” (as we are apt to call them), nor will they persuade the religious leaders of our day.

But maybe, maybe we will take up a cross and follow.

in a word: CRUCIFORM.

A Poor Man’s Miracle

I have a “praise report” (as some of us term it during regular prayer requests).  Yet this praise report is a deep cover case.  I dare not reveal even the secret agent pseudonym for this one.  And actually, it is all so very fragile.  Kinda like Moses’ mamma floating baby Moe in a basket into the Nile River among the crocodiles – he’s alive right now!  And that seems miraculous, alright, but it could all go South very, very easily!  Still, we dare to hope!

It’s like that.

Perhaps my very perceptive, very close readers here (do I have any of those?) will recognize that many months ago I posted about one of our agents in need, and even without asking – without any solicitation whatsoever – money came pouring in to the Fat Beggars office.  Every penny went to the need described (not one penny to “administrative costs” or fraud).  And upon receipt of that funding, the special agent was able to purchase a camper trailer to live in!  Yay!!!

However, there is still monthly rent.

Well, between intermittent work and other arrangements cobbled together with prayer and sticky tape, this agent has managed to keep this home-owning style homelessness afloat.  But those special arrangements started unraveling and the end came in sight… creeping ever closer.  Disaster looming.

This agent reached out to me again.

I was already watching and praying.  Praying fervently.  Very concerned.

But I have no money to give.

None.

When this agent reached out, I lamented that I used to be able to secure help at church, but since my church read the book When Helping Hurts a few years ago, all that help dried up.  I was so ashamed of my church as we spoke.  I mean, I am talking to a homeless person who has managed to cobble together a life OFF THE STREETS!  But it is still a very precarious situation!  But my church is more anxious about helping too much or helping in some wrong way to be bothered with this case!

But I told this deep cover agent about my prayers and my continued concern.

And yesterday I got a text.

“Good News!” it said.

The land lady, it seems, does not actually NEED the rent.  This is not a commercial enterprise where the camper is located, and so the meager rent is not a livelihood thing.  BUT, it turns out, the secret agent is a valued neighbor to the land lady!

Wow!

And so all that is require, really, is to pay the electric bill!

Who could have seen that coming???

We will call it a poor man’s miracle.