Church Under The Overpass (pt. 2)

Yankoski, a college student during the time about which he writes, does the unthinkable.  He gets the idea that he should become downwardly mobile and take the form of a homeless person.  A college student aiming at downward mobility?  That seems odd, to say the least.  It didn’t sit well with his parents either.  They didn’t send their son off to Christian college for him to become homeless!

Where does such a radical idea for a young American come from?


And so I will start where Yankoski starts as I reproduce passages from his book dealing with church.  In the opening chapter, entitled Twenty Minutes Past The World, starting on page 14 under the heading, A Flicker of Lightning, Yankoski offers this:

The idea had dropped into my brain one Sunday morning while I sat in church.  The pastor was delivering a powerful sermon about living the Christian life.  The gist of it was, “Be the Christian you say you are.”

Suddenly I was shocked to realize that I had just driven twenty minutes past the world that needed me to be the Christian I say I am, in order to hear a sermon entitled “Be the Christian you say you are.”  Soon I would drive back past that same world to the privilege of my comfortable life on campus at a Christian college.

Thinking ahead to my next week, I knew several things would happen.  I knew I’d hear more lectures about being a caring Christian or living a godly life.  I’d read more books about who God is and about what the world needs now.  I’d spend more time late at night down at a coffee shop with my friends kicking around ultimate questions and finely delivered opinions about the world.

Then I’d jump into my warm bed and turn out the light.  Another day gone.

But we were created to be and to do, not merely to discuss.  The hypocrisy in my life troubled me.  No, I wasn’t in the grip of rampant sin, but at the same time, for the life of me I couldn’t find a connecting thread of radical, living obedience between what I said about my world and how I lived in it.  Sure, I claimed that Christ was my stronghold, my peace, my sustenance, my joy.  But I did all that from the safety of my comfortable upper-middle-class life.  I never really had to put my claims to the test.

I sat there in church struggling to remember a time when I’d actually needed to lean fully on Christ rather than on my own abilities.  Not much came to mind.  What was Paul’s statement to the Philippians?  “I have learned what it means to be content in all circumstances, whether with everything or with nothing” (Philippians 4:11-12).

With nothing?

The idea came instantly–like the flash of a camera or a flicker of lightning.  It left me breathless, and it changed my life.  What if I stepped out of my comfortable life with nothing but God and put my faith to the test alongside of those who live with nothing every day?

The picture that came with that question was of me homeless and hungry on the streets of an American city.

Hard on the heels of the idea came the questions: What if I didn’t actually believe the things I argued with so much certainty?  What, for example, if I didn’t truly believe that Christ is my identity, my strength, my hope?  Or worse, what if I leaped in faith, but God didn’t catch me?  My mind reeled.

And then there were the practical questions.  Could I survive on the streets?  How much did I really want to learn to be content always with nothing?  What would my friends think?  What would my parents think?  My pastors?  My professors?  Would I be okay?  What if I got sick?  What if I starved?  What if I got beat up?  What if I froze?

What if I’m wrong?

Am I crazy?

Will I die?

But already, I had decided.  I walked out of church that morning seized by a big idea, assaulted by dozens of questions, and sure that I had heard deep in my heart a still, small voice saying, “Follow Me.”

I am not reproducing this passage to analyze the fact that Yankoski came to this decision, nor the way he went about it.  Those may well be important questions to consider, but I am interested in WHERE this decision happened.

It happened at church while listening to the pastor preaching the word of God.  This is a fact that almost escaped me, and I did not recall it as I began looking again at passages where Yankoski relates to the church.  But this is significant, I think.

No.  Yankoski was not formally ordained to take on this mission.  The church did not pray on it and nominate him for the job.  But as God was speaking through the pastor during the assembled worship, Yankoski was called to this mission and sent by the church despite the church anyway.  God was working amid his people to bring about this task, and it is a task that Yankoski accepted and fulfilled many years ago now, wrote a book (many years ago now) about, and is still ministering (to me at least) in the world all this time later.

In this series of posts, I will have us look closer at the church vis-à-vis Yankoski’s mission in a number of settings that will prophetically open our imagination to God’s purposes for us.  I hope you will read on them, pray about them, and listen for God’s call on your life too as you witness God’s interaction with his church from the streets.


The Church Under The Overpass (p. 1)

Last week I went to Sunday Worship at my usual church after skipping my shower for 3 days as part of a prophetic mission to bear the image of God at the place of shame, pain, and despair in my community.  It was a gap-bridging measure between my very white, upper-middle class church and the poor.  I allowed my own body odor to take over, and wore the same clothes all 3 days.  I also did my best to add the stench of street life to myself with cigarette smoke, beer, trash/rotten food, and time spent on the actual streets of Lubbock.  I wrote extensively about these things in several posts last week.

Among the considerations I wrote about, I dwelled significantly on my own feelings of shame.  It was only a 3-day stink, a far cry from the stench many of my homeless friends emit.  Yet, I really struggled to endure my own sense of shame as I anticipated celebrating Jesus’ death, burial, and especially his resurrection with the Church come Sunday morning.

I took strength, in part, from the fact that Loiter Larry had also accepted the mission assignment a week before, and he also wrote about dealing with the shame.  But in addition to that, I had read Mike Yankoski’s little book Under The Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America over the course of the week leading up to my mission.  This book, along with Larry’s witness statement, gave me a sense of camaraderie, a sense of belonging, a sense of community – that I was not so alone after all – in my mission to be like Jesus.

Yankoski chronicles a time he and a friend temporarily lived as homeless men for 5 months on the streets of 5 American cities spread out across the nation.  He really jumped in with both feet and experienced life on the streets first hand… panhandling (begging/playing guitar on a street corner for money), becoming filthy and stinky, sleeping in the wet, the heat and the cold, exposed to criminals, rats, and roaches, eating from trash cans,  rousted by scorned rich people, security guards, cops, and churches.  By contrast, I was humbled by merely 3 days without a shower!  The mission assignment I accepted was but a tiny fraction of the one Yankoski writes of.

Yankoski’s book as a whole reads like a glorified diary.  There are all kinds of notable experiences Yankoski details.  But for my purposes, the accounts of his interactions with churches (and in some cases individual Christians) make up the heart of the book.  Yankoski, unlike perhaps most homeless people, made a point to attend worship services every Sunday while he drifted the streets of America.  And to my way of thinking, his report(s) about those interactions could easily function like a report card from school.  Some churches slammed an A+, others clearly earned their F, and one church found redemption after botching the Jesus-touch thus bringing their failing grade back up with renewed excellence.

Yankoski found his own imagination stretched in this regard by the kindness shown to him in some cases by fellow sojourners of the streets.  After accepting the charity from a drug addict who offered Yankoski and his friend anything they might need including a car, cash, a place to stay… This man would give them anything he had.  Yankoski had to reassess just what a Christian is.  He asks:

What’s your definition of a Christian?  Is it broad enough to encompass the drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, and broken people of the world?  Jesus said he came to heal the sick.  Drug addicts are messed up just the same as liars are messed up, just the same as all humans are messed up.  We all need Jesus.  We all struggle with personal ways in which sin plays itself out in our lives.

What’s worse?  To not do dope or to not love your brother?  Why do we kick drug users out of the church while quietly ignoring those who aren’t dealing with other, equally destructive sins?  Why do we reject the loving, self-sacrificing, giving, encouraging, Jesus-pursuing drug addict but recruit the clean self-interested, gossiping, loveless churchgoer?

I want to post a series of reproductions of those passages from Yankoski’s book and look at them through this lens.  Matthew 25:31-46 is a Judgment passage of Scripture, and the picture painted there, to my mind’s eye, looks like a court room scene where the poor are called by God to testify about how they were treated in this life by those of us with the power to love and care – or not.  And in that court room scene, I expect we, the defendants, will be hanging on every word they utter.

Think about that; the very people you so easily walk past, drive past, belittle, shun, run off your property, call the cops on, and/or complain about (when you aren’t ignoring them) will suddenly have the Judge’s ear at the trial of your life where it is decided whether you enter the Kingdom Reign of God with the sheep or whether you enter destruction with the goats.  And suddenly, you will be hanging on every word!

I think a series of posts featuring reproductions of Yankoski’s experiences will help you think about that.  And so we will call this series of posts, The Church Under The Overpass.

It’s A Boy!

I have good news!

Today, the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners has completed the adoption process, and I have a son!  I am finally legal to tell you his name and publicize his life in social media and all that, even though he has been living under this roof as if he were my own kid for over a year.

So… without further ado, let me introduce you to Baby Agent X Jr!

I am so excited to have this child in my life and in my home.  Actually, this is the answer to many prayers.  Mrs. Agent X and I prayed four years ago asking God to give us a house and fill it with foster children – and some we can keep.  Two years ago, God moved us into his house.  (Yes, I live in the House of God!)  Then a year later, he moved in with us, and you can read in I Kings 8, II Chronicles 5, and Ezekiel 43 about what that looks and feels like (and I will say that a house full of babies looks and feels just about like that).

Now that God has blessed me with service and a place to rest in his house, has blessed me with his presence, and then has blessed me with a son too, I devote this child to God.

And I ask any readers of this blog to celebrate with me.

This is so incredible.  God is so good to me!!!


Prophets of Consumerist Doom

I find prophets everywhere, actually.  Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Pink Floyd… just in the pop music industry alone, I find prophets lined up cranking out hit songs.  And I think they are real prophets alerting us to real insights that we need to live our lives better.

However, by far, I find these prophets talented only in so far as they show us what is wrong with our world.  Some do it better and more profoundly than others, but almost none of them offer real insight for how to deal with our problems.  Oh sure… “All you need is love”.  I will agree with that, as far as it goes.  But this is one of those fine examples of a pithy statement that says it all at one level and yet says nothing at another.

It takes divine guidance to take prophecy to the next level, and most of these prophets are pretty good at the apocalypse (and making a buck off the process), but very few actually point the way through the mist.

My endorsement of the following video only goes so far.  I think the video does an excellent job of uncovering the problem.  In fact I think if you aren’t rattled by it, you aren’t really watching.  And though the end of the video attempts to offer a way forward, I think the answers it offers are anemic at best.

Still, I think it is a worthwhile presentation that should have us talking about our world at deeper levels than usual.  It gives us handles on the conversation.  I ask my Christian brothers and sisters to talk about how Jesus addresses the world depicted here.  Seriously.

The video is 5 years old now.  But I think it is still timely.  If you have a couple of hours to devote to it, I think you will find a lot to talk about.

Here it is:


Really? God? Is This Your Answer To My Prayer???

So I have this lengthy prayer list.  An ever growing list of homeless friends that I pray for by name almost daily.  In fact, it is a daily habit that only occasionally gets interrupted.  And last night/this morning, one of the lead stories in town is about a homeless man on my prayer list.

Please pray for the woman he victimized.  I do not wish to belittle her trauma at all.  But of course the other person in this crime appears to be a victim of neglect by a system that does not care – enough.

I invite my readers to pray for this one too.  Perhaps together, we can assure that he is not neglected by prayer.

Here is the story:

Proph-O-Drama Wedding

I have referenced this event several times in recent posts and conversations. For this with interest in such things, here it is again.

Fat Beggars School of Prophets

Perhaps you woke up to this news headline about a wedding getting called off at the last minute and the reception then given to Sacramento, California’s homeless.   It is a touching story.  I certainly want to commend the bride’s family for their kind charity.  And though plenty of critics will find cause to beat the When-Helping-Hurts drum, the only criticism I can offer is to ask why the homeless were only invited when the wedding was called off?

I have personal experience in exactly this scenario.  I want to share with you the story of Agent X and Mrs. Agent X’s wedding.  It was way more humble than the headline-making party in this morning’s news, but it was intentional by design.

When Agent X asked the future Mrs. Agent X to marry him, they both came from previous failed marriages.  Both were children of divorce.  Both were keenly desirous to…

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Operation: Apocalypse (application form) … again

I will keep preaching it ’til it takes…

Fat Beggars School of Prophets

Still not dropping it, ya’ll.

Yes… Fat Beggars School of Prophets is like the US Marines. We are looking for A Few Good Men. …and women. Please print off and fill out the application form and mail it in to the church address listed on it. There is still time to ring in the Apocalypse, and you can be part of it.

Okay readers.

It’s time to take this blog to the next level.  Rather than seeking “followers” as per WordPress, the goal here always was to affect ministry on the streets and in the churches of Lubbock.  However, this blog has proven that it reaches a Christian audience far beyond this locale (95% or more, of which, live in homes).  It’s nice to write ABOUT these things and it’s nice to read ABOUT them too, but it never was the goal.

Someone made a blog post just today (a…

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Got Dibs?

Twenty one days ago I posted the application form for those wishing to join Operation: Apocalypse.  I gave instructions in that post on what to do.  It got some “like”‘s.

So what?

I posted it again.  And then again.  And I have reposted it several times now.  I expect I will post it yet again.

Look.  This is a small blog.  Small readership.  And that’s fine.  But as I have stated several times in recent weeks, I don’t write here to entertain you.  Your casual readership is not wanted.  Like the US Marines, Fat Beggars is looking for A Few Good Men (and women) who are moved to action.  Winter is coming; the seasons are now changing.  The homeless are left outside the church YET AGAIN!  Have you ever spent the night with them in the cold looking at locked up church house doors?

Well, if you read here much, you certainly have read about that.  How about you DO something instead of just read about it?

But, like I said, this is a small blog.  Small readership.  What can a small blog with small readership do?

Not much.

Who are we kidding?

But I am not playing.  Enough with the talk.  Like Gideon whittling down the size of his troops, I have spent the last 21 days trying to shed dead-weight readers.  Move along!  Your service here is done.  We got the click on the counter.  Thanx.  And I have said as much.  I have turned the shrillness nob up to eleven!  I have become as obnoxious as I can with a straight face and sincerity.  My God!  I even flirted with praising Hitler!!!  What does it take to run you off??? I have tried to offend you, scare you, put you “on the spot” and for what?

I am now having what appears to be an explosion of readers!  Last week I got more hits on this little obnoxious, offensive, disturbing blog than I have seen in months.  And it seems to be growing!

But I am seeking action.  And you readers, for the most part, remain anonymous (which is fine).  And that means I might not see action that is taking place.  (That is fine too, but pardon me if I remain frustrated about it.)

What can you do?  The problem is so complex.  There is a reason it’s called “intractable poverty” and small blogs with small readership are not likely to fix it!


I didn’t suggest that you would fix it.  I said take action.

And the action I call you to is prophetic.

Does God use small shepherd boys to take out giants???

So, the mission doesn’t make sense.  So what???  The forces are small.  So what???  Every bit of this requires faith and humility.  But more people are reading about it every day.

I wonder what more I can do.  I rose to my own challenge.  I didn’t merely call you to stink on your own.  I even exempted you if it interferes with your livelihood.  But I have disturbed the comforted as I attempt to comfort the disturbed.  And more and more of you are playing witness to it.  I don’t know who most of you are, but I sense I make you nervous.  GOOD!  You should be.  The complacency of modern, Western Christianity has church house doors locked with humans milling around outside in the cold of night.  The church needs to imagine herself differently and imagine the world she is called to bring order to differently.  She thinks she is too small in numbers and wisdom, but she is married to God, the Almighty, and he loves her!  So we really have all we need already.  We don’t need another dime.  We don’t need another book.  We don’t need another seminar.  We sure don’t need to turn either church or ministry into a business.  Yet I wonder what more we can do.

If you are reading this, you have instructions.  Print out the Operation: Apocalypse application form and follow the instructions on it.  (Find it here: )  Send it in to the church listed there.  Flood the secretary’s mail box with applications from all over the country.  If all my readers do that, I will hear about it.  If all my readers post it on their Facebook pages, word will spread.  If my readers humble themselves before God and start skipping showers for three days before going to worship on Sunday, pastors all over the nation will begin to take note.

Am I seeking some personal limelight with this?  No.  I have taken measures to mute my identity.  It is not about me.  It is not about you.  It is about God working in the brokenness of our lives instead of our successes.

Yeah, I drive up on a parking lot of a church and park next to Lincoln, Cadillac, Lexus, Mercedes, and Hummer, and I don’t see (or smell) any of the people who slept outside of this place in the cold last night.

I walk in and find a latte bar with complimentary coffees of every kind, donuts, and goodies, and then I enter a sanctuary where the lights are dimmed to add to the rock-concert effect that the worship team creates, and I find that none of that attracts the Matthew-25 Jesus to enter in, but somehow makes him feel unwelcome (well, that and the lock on the door, the security cameras, and the “no loitering/no trespassing” signs – cuz I never met a cold homeless man who turned down a cup of hot coffee).

I am done ASKING you to THINK about it.  I am calling you to action.  This action will not cost you any money, very little time, but it will ATTACK your own pride and complacency.  And there will be no mercy to either of those things.

They used to have a poster down at the post office with a picture of Uncle Sam pointing right at you.  The caption said, “Uncle Sam wants YOU!”

But I am saying, Jesus got dibs.

Stinking Up Church From My Perspective

Loiter Larry rose to the challenge and accepted the mission assignment a week ago.  He came back and reported on it.  He described how timid he was, and how he showed up just a bit late.  Then it was mostly uneventful.  He shook hands with one person – ONE PERSON.  Nothing was said to him about his smell.

I began thinking, that’s probably the standard.  No one talks about it.

Oh, Larry suffered a lot of shame.  He worried that someone might talk about it… behind his back.  But other than his own anxiety over it, there was no evidence that his mission made any difference to anyone except himself (and maybe his readers).

Here’s an ironic thought:  I think I smell a conspiracy.

I went to church this weekend and repeated the mission assignment where I go.  I went expecting Larry’s experience to be mine too.  And it was, mostly.  I really felt the sting of shame.  I worried over it too.  But I had Larry’s experience to learn from and I had a copy of Yankoski’s book describing his experience with it too.  So, even though I felt a lot of shame, I also felt emboldened.  And sure enough, no one spoke to me about it.

I don’t want to be unfair about this.  I think it’s possible someone still might come to me and bring it up.  I met a few people who made mention of my placard or my shirt, and I handed them each a business card with the blog address on it.  By now I have handed dozens of them out at church.  But so far no one there has commented, liked, emailed, or privately mentioned having read here to me.  It’s like the social phenom called Studied Non-Observance.  There is an unwritten rule that church people should ignore homeless folx on the one hand and prophets on the other.

So I was emboldened.  But let me just tell about the way my morning went, and I hope you see my boldness in the telling of it.

The Play-by-Play

Before leaving the house

I woke up in the living room, since I wasn’t about to go to my bed.  I woke up early.  My mind was on stinking for church.  I recalled when I was a small child how my grandpa would shine his Sunday shoes on Saturday night.  He was on a regular basis preparing for church a solid 12 hours before going.  I had started skipping showers on Friday morning.  Not exactly the same, but it somehow made me remember the old man.

I had foster children to prepare for Sunday worship.  I cleaned them and dressed them up, while I began to fear that I just didn’t stink bad enough.  No one in my house actively complained to me.  I remember working in the Psych hospital and witnessing a patient off their meds go for over three months with no shower.  The scrubs this patient wore actually turned from blue to brown – and that was in a clean hospital environment.  The smell of this person was so bad, other patients did not want to eat across the room from this one.  And here I was hoping to up the intensity because even though 3 days is bad, it just wasn’t bad enough.

I was considering stuffing one of the baby diapers in my pocket to ratchet up the stench.  But then I thought if I could build up an extra good sweat in my current clothes one more time, it would be more natural.  I dug out my insulated coveralls, put a coat on over that, and began doing calisthenics.  Somehow, I just wasn’t getting hot enough, I thought.  Then I remembered a stocking hat I keep in my bag.  I went to grab it.

It just so happens, I have not used my bag for a few weeks.  But on Saturday, when Agent Z and I hit the streets, I grabbed it and stuffed my Bible in it and some communion supplies.  But I didn’t realize until we were downtown that sometime back I had taken a brown bag dinner to a study group meeting and left the leftovers in a baggy down in my book-bag.  The leftovers from that meal had rotted thoroughly, and the stench was overpowering.  When I found it, I just threw it all in a trashcan.  But the stocking cap had been right under it.  And when I pulled it out, the stench of that rotten meal filled the house.

I promptly put the stocking hat on my head.  I almost threw up from the smell!  It was a gift from God, I thought!  I finally had my stink on.  I overwhelmed myself.

The smell was so bad, after about 5 minutes, I had enough of it and tossed the hat.  But the residue stayed with me.  I asked my wife and kids, and they assured me I was smelling rank.

(Oh… btw, I thank God I have a wife, who though she does not understand, is willing to endure God’s call on my life.  Thanx to Mrs. Agent X for her loving, patient support!)

Arriving at church

Finally, I loaded up babies, and we headed up to church.  I grabbed a placard Agent Z made a while back that says, “The Least of These Slept On the Streets Last Night – Matt. 25”.  I attached it to the baby stroller and wheeled us in to the sanctuary.

We were met at the door by a door greeter who handed us a program/bulletin.  I handed the greeter a card.  Then I shared greetings with a widow lady in the lobby we invited over for dinner a few weeks ago.  She spoke to the babies, of course.  I did not detect that she smelled anything funny.  She made no mention and no funny expressions.  And yes… I was scrutinizing the Looking Glass Self!

We were there a few minutes early, so I took a seat near the back and to the right, not far from one of the main entrances.  I unloaded our gear and set the placard facing the door where people coming in would see it.  I knew that perhaps as many as 100 people would walk past the point where I was sitting.  Some of them would know me and greet me.  Most would not.

Shortly before the worship service started, my sister-n-law and her husband found us.  She asked if the seats just behind us were taken, but before she and I had a chance to talk about it, her husband, who was shaking my hand by that time, suggested to her that they could sit on the other side of the sanctuary.  (I have to just assume he was moved by the smell, because he did not say that in front of me.)

As the song service began, I noticed another couple come up behind us.  They almost took the two seats just behind us, but after a moment, the slipped a few paces away.  Again, I am left assuming I know why.

The song service was good.  And we opened the worship with communion and a collection.  Then sang more songs before the pastor stood up to preach.  He preached from several passages in Luke’s Gospel – passages that featured Jesus “touching” undesirable/poor people.  He delivered an impassioned sermon about how the church, which is the Body of Christ, is to do for the world around us like Jesus does to the world around him.  We too are supposed to touch these people.  He even suggested that he thinks Luke wrote this gospel with churches like ours in mind – people of means, people very much like middle, to upper middle class lifestyles.

As the service concluded with more singing and some remarks from one of the bishops (and two baptisms as well), two different women who are familiar with my foster babies came down the aisle and stopped to hug on the child in my arms at that moment.  Neither one let on that my smell was offensive.  But that would be extremely unlikely or unnecessary as worship was still in progress.  But they had each just sat through a sermon about Jesus touching undesirable people and the admonition for us to as well.  So….  Hmmm…

Finally, one last person greeted us before we left the sanctuary.  My wife’s uncle.  He is a doctor and all, but he is a humble man.  And when we got married, he particularly stepped up to serve the homeless in the serving line.  So, I am not surprised at his gentle kindness at all.  But still, he said nothing of my appearance or smell.

At long last, as we were making our way out the door, the babies in the stroller and me, a man I do not know held the door open for us to walk through.  He read the placard hanging from the stroller and made polite comment about it.  I told him we work in street ministry, and I handed him a card and invited him to check out our website.

The Get-Away

With that, it was done.  We loaded up and headed home, where I wasted no time steaming up the bathroom.

When it was all said and done, I didn’t get any direct feedback over the smell at all.  And honestly, I don’t know what to expect.  There is no doubt that toting babies and looking homeless sends a mixed message.  The nonverbal social cue is mixed up.  The idea of telling someone they stink is a taboo almost as bad as stinking itself.

On the one hand, if I was better connected with these people on an interpersonal level, I think they would feel more open to inquire.  Yet that might suggest that someone there reads here too sometimes.  But that says something sad about church too.  Why after more than a year of attending there am I not better connected?

But then there is that other part… the part this blog addresses all the time.  The fact that a church… of all institutions… a church… with homeless people gathered round the property at night should know what to do with them.  And this one has a preacher preaching very powerful sermons preparing this church just as much as a sermon can to actually TOUCH them.

So, let me say this by way of expectations: If you read here with any regularity, AND if you go to worship assembly with any regularity (which you should, btw (Heb. 10:25)), then the next time you meet someone at church who stinks like they haven’t had a shower in days, invite that person out to lunch afterward and find out why they stink – even if you have to come right out and ask.  And then see if they have any needs your church might be able to TOUCH.