Seeking Shalom in Lubbock

It looks like we will offer the “Seeking Shalom” class at our church again this winter.  (When will we ever repent?)  I heard it announced at church Sunday. Somehow it sounded like it was a new class, which strikes me as odd.  We even played a short video clip that I recognized from before, so I am sure it’s not new, but a complete rerun from last time.

I just can’t understand.  Even when plainly confronted… even when speechless and not having any defense…

I recall my face-to-face meeting with shepherds and quoting the class mantra interlaced with quotes from Jesus:

“I was hungry and you fed me…”/”Stop meeting needs; start seeking shalom.”

“I was thirsty and you gave me water…”/”Stop meeting needs; start seeking shalom.”

“I was sick and you nursed me…”/”Stop meeting needs; start seeking shalom.”

“…I was a stranger and you took me in…”/”Stop meeting needs; start seeking shalom.”

You get the picture.

The words of Jesus vs. the words of this class.  There is a major, glaring, inconsistency.  I embarrassingly pointed it right out to the shepherds, face-to-face.

Yet still we persist.

I can’t imagine how anyone thinks they represent Jesus or thinks they will seek shalom by way of stopping the meeting of needs.  And my shepherds could not tell me either.  Just sitting there looking shocked when I pointed it out.  And a year later, they are still offering this garbage as a class to the flock and shunning me over it.

And the poor are kept at arms length again this year.

Hmmm…

It’s sad.  Sad, and bewildering.  Depressing, actually.  I keep having hopes for the church, but the church just insists on missing out.

What can be done?

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Jesus “Ghosted” Me???

So I got involved in a conversation a few days ago about how sometimes lovers and friends break up by a method called “ghosting”.  It’s a term I heard around some lately, and here I had someone explaining it to me.  When one of the partners in a given relationship decides to end it (marriage, courtship, steady dating – or whatever), rather than officially announcing the end of the relationship, this partner just withdraws completely without explanation.

The explanation given to me suggested that the withdrawing partner, the dumper, thinks this will go easier on the dumpee.  It’s a not-so-subtle hint, though still a hint, that you can’t argue with or appeal against, a hint the dumper “thinks” makes the process easier.  And so you eventually come to realize you’ve been dumped after a few (or several) missed appointments.  No ugly confrontation.  No second chances.  Just “ghosted”.

After all, breaking up is hard to do.  It’s almost always at least awkward, and usually painful for one or both parties.  And this cuts right through all that messy finality.  It just moves on.

But I don’t think the dumper is making it easier on the dumpee at all.  I think the dumper is making it easier on the dumper instead.  It’s a very selfish way to break up, filled with indifference and smug superiority on the part of the dumper who has just insulated themselves from the ugly work of honoring the feelings and decisions of the dumpee.  It’s a violation of respect.  It is contempt.

I am not saying a relationship should never end.  Sometimes they should, but “ghosting” is disrespectful of the care the dumpee invests in the relationship.  “Ghosting” adds confusion to the denial and drags out the pain and the breakup for the dumpee to figure out over time, while the dumper moves on without the hassle of redefining the relational boundaries.  The dumper is too good for this, and the dumpee isn’t worth the trouble.

Feel me yet???

Just imagine if your wife of 15 years, with whom you share 2.6 children, a mortgage, two car loans, and three credit cards, suddenly doesn’t come home one night.  (Actually, plenty of people don’t have to imagine this; they know it all too well first-hand.)  An end to THIS relationship at all is devastating, but getting the stiff arm and/or getting “ghosted” from it compounds the problem like compound interest on a loan you can’t repay.  Just imagine a society full of this!  (No.  Wait.  You don’t have to.)

Would Jesus ever do this???

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus outlines a process for putting a person out of the assembly.  That nasal laugh that just irritates you so much that you want out of this relationship??? Well, you are supposed to confront the partner about it first and see if you can get that under control.  If you do, then you have saved the relationship!  If that doesn’t work, then you take one or two witnesses with you and confront the offensive partner again, and hopefully this time you restore the brother.  (If it’s not obvious yet, restoring the relationship is the underlying idea here.)  But if that still doesn’t fix the problem, then you take it before the whole assembly and work it out there!

NOW… I TRULY HOPE that if the complaint is an irritating nasal laugh, that some good brothers and sisters in the assembly set the offendee straight on this.  There are bigger fish to fry in this old world than irritating nasal laughs.  It really could be that the plaintiff in this case needs to reassess, maybe do some soul-searching and discover REAL issues hidden beneath the surface – and THEN restore the relationship.  But, assuming the problem is something way more legit, and assuming the offender cannot be persuaded to change, THEN the whole assembly puts this person out of the group.  The dumpee is now SHUNNED.

This process is ANYTHING but “ghosting”.

But my church, the Body of Christ I belong to, it seems, has “ghosted” me.  They cannot cope with my behavior or with the message I bring.  And I am all but out… and left to figure it out for myself.

Yeah, the small group that WAS meeting in my home?  I don’t get so much as an email from this group anymore, but I used to be included in ALL the group messages.  But now… without so much as a word TO ME about it, everyone else in the group SEEMS to know where to meet, yet I don’t.  When I reach out face-to-face with the involvement minister about some help with my foster kids, he tells me to “shoot an email” to him, but after months of no reply, I am left wondering.

It’s clear to me that at least SOME important players in my church ARE COMMUNICATING with each other ABOUT AVOIDING ME, but not letting me in on it.  On the contrary, when I show up for worship and bump into some of these folx, they greet me with a smile, a handshake, even a hug!  But it all proves very superficial.  The substance is gone.  I have been “ghosted”.

This happened to me before.  It’s not the first church to do this.  Thus it seems to be the preferred method of break up with churches too.

Not that there have been NO confrontations.  There have!  I confronted my churches, and went straight to leadership no less, with the WORD of God.  And I didn’t come complaining about the color of the drapes or the placement of the poinsettias in the sanctuary at Christmas time either.  No.  I came with the WORD of God pointing out how we are “ghosting” the homeless and how Jesus has WORDS of JUDGMENT about it (see Matt. 25, if you don’t already know this).  And the problem is that church leadership has no answer to this confrontation, but also no desire to get right.

I confronted the Premier Homeless Pseudo Church of Lubbock (not its real name), and leadership there decided to kick me out.  In fact, they made it quite official!  I was sent a letter outlining to me the fact that I was kicked out, AND THE LETTER WAS READ ALOUD TO THE CROWD OF HOMELESS PEOPLE THERE for worship the following Sunday so that they too would be fully informed that I am not welcome among them anymore.  (Of course, this “church” trumped up a charge calling me “divisive”, in order to justify themselves.  (Funny.  I was called “divisive” FOR COMPLAING THAT WE DON’T BRING THE HOMELESS IN WITH US!  The charge, more accurately stated was me being INCLUSIVE.)).  But that is the way power plays work.

But except for that anomaly, “ghosting” appears to be the way of the modern church in my experience.

So it seems I am “ghosted by Jesus”.

And one thing about getting “ghosted”, it’s a bit disorienting.

When Your Evil Is Stupid Too

You have probably heard of the show called America’s Dumbest Criminals, I bet.  Sometimes criminals are just so stupid that they are actually kinda funny.

But what a lot of people don’t give much thought to is the idea that there are really only TWO main categories of reasons for bad behavior.  (Any exceptions are just that – exceptions – and thus very rare.)

The two categories of reasons we do bad things are Evil Intent and Ignorance.  Evil Intent never gets excused, but sometimes Ignorance does – especially for minor infractions. (“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know…”).  However, Ignorance is a shameful thing to plea in a LOT of cases.  Most bad behavior resulting from Ignorance is still a matter of SHOULD-HAVE-KNOWN-BETTER.  Thus, even though pleading Ignorance might save you from paying consequences, you frequently are admitting to your own Stupidity, and thus a bit of shame is still attached.

But sometimes it’s both.  And that is extra shameful, and so we like to hold such behavior up to ridicule.  Thus we have a show like America’s Dumbest Criminals.

But you know the system is bad when you can so blatantly disregard the rules that no one calls you out on it – or if they do, you punish the whistle blower instead of the criminal.

And that is what we have in our churches today.  We hold to a mission statement like “Love God and love others” even pointing out how it comes straight from the lips of Jesus, but then totally disregard his words when he says “I was a stranger, and you took me in…”

Yeah, you really can’t plea Ignorance on this one.  And if you try, you should be called out as BOTH Evil AND Stupid, and should change this behavior before it becomes your shame.

“Love God and Love Others”

The church I go to has a mission statement.  A couple of years ago, leadership examined their mission statement and decided it was good but too long and cumbersome – that no one could remember it and recite it.  So they changed it.

After much thought and consideration, they boiled it down to these five, simple words: “Love God and love others“.

It’s a great mission statement on so many levels!  It actually is a distillation of the first and second greatest commands according to Jesus.  Basically, it’s biblical.  You can’t beat that.

Also, it is short and pithy.  It’s catchy.  You can’t forget it.  You could put it on a bumper sticker and still have room for more.  You can learn it and memorize it in the same amount of time it takes to tell it to you.

And I love it.

I totally approve.  And everyone else does too.  You could search all day and all night, but you won’t find anyone who disapproves.

BUT…

But there is one thing I have come to learn about our mission statement where I go to church: Loving God and loving others, as far as WE are concerned, DOES NOT mean we open the door to the homeless poor of our town and give them refuge in the blessings we enjoy as a church.  No.  We “love God and love others”, but we don’t do that.

Hmmm…

And just when we had every simplified….

Being “Biblical” Means Opening A Bible (At LEAST)

I have come to see that being “biblical” about things does not matter to most people.  Of course if you are not even a Christian, then sure.  But even if you are, it means less and less all the time.  I find Christians discussing things without reference to a Bible all the time.  (I will come back to that.).

Still, I sense there is more to being “biblical” than just citing a passage of Scripture that SEEMS to support your assertion.  This means there are different ways and depths to being “biblical” if we get right down to it, some of more value than others.  But that is a case for another time.  At the moment, I just want to say that being “biblical” at all, is better than not, yet it is the starting place so few Christians, in my experience, even value at all anymore.

I grew up in a faith heritage that liked to call ourselves “people of the book” a long time ago.  Several Protestant faith groups prized this ideal, but few took it to the levels we did.  And while I see that the particular way(s) we championed that ideal had some fatal flaws in it, I find it ironic that even in my own faith heritage today, there is so very little sense of the ideal anymore.

Probably this is the result of reactionary embarrassment.  My heritage became hard to get along with, and largely because of the way we viewed being “biblical” and the way the dust settled between us and others because of it.  And so I recall when I was a kid that my Mom, for a time, taught the Bible class I was in, and did so mostly with a copy of Reader’s Digest in her hand and a few emotionally charged stories from her personal life (or occasionally in the media).  Very little attempt was made to “tie in” these things to the Bible study itself.

In my Jr. High years, this seemed almost refreshing, and I think the other kids felt it too.  But the fact that we very quietly set aside the Bible during Bible study time and favored emotional stories over it, I think represents a subtle shift in the larger church culture.  And it all happened in my “formative years”.

In more recent years, and since I received a formal Bible education, I have witnessed Bible study fads come and go – such as The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.  You don’t hear too much about it anymore, but a year or two after that book was published and started making its splash, the publisher began offering the Forty Days of Purpose study guide, and soon there were Purpose Driven journals, coffee mugs, key chains, Bible covers… you name it, and it was suddenly Purpose Driven!

The book was Spiritual in nature and was peppered all through with Bible quotations, but they were stitched together in Warren’s theological construct, to guide a spiritual experience he developed, meaning these quotations were largely lifted out of their original context and planted back into this marketing bonanza context instead.

Around that same time there were other fads topping the Best Seller lists: Prayer of Jabez, Left Behind, Frank Peretti, and more.  For a while there, it was good to be in the Christian Bookstore Retail Business, and all these books were outselling the Bible.  And every Bible study I visited seemed to be “studying” one of these books.

It got worse.

I remember visiting a church in Seattle around that time that had jumped on another fad where the Bible class gathered round a big screen viewing of The Andy Griffith Show, and after watching a brief episode, we would have a discussion time about how to apply the lessons in it to both the Bible and to our lives.

And in each phase of this, the Bible itself got a little more left behind all the time.  It became a little more foreign, a little less helpful.  If I didn’t have a quote from Rick Warren and the context in which he used it, then I didn’t have much to say that resembled being “biblical”.

In more recent times, I joined a Bible class at church called Seeking Shalom that is intended to help us nice, white, middle-class Christians to understand poverty better and equip us to help the poor.  TO BE FAIR, there was several places in this study course where a Bible was opened and a passage analyzed.  So I am not claiming it was entirely devoid of it.  But there were several sessions where it was omitted in favor of some insight originating elsewhere, and some of these insights became the guiding light around which we attempted to attach some Bible bits from time to time.  (We effectively did for ourselves what Rick Warren had done for us in the past, I think.)

I remember a session where the concern was that if we air drop food to these starving people, we will put local rice farmers out of business.

Think about that a minute.

It sounds really wise and all, very insightful. . .

. . . if your guiding principle is to grow an economy.  But what if your guiding principle is to be “biblical” in some sense?

Do we see Jesus feed hungry people?

Yes.

Does he show any concern about putting local rice farmers out of business?

No.

But this is how we spend our time “Seeking Shalom” as a Bible class where I go to church.

I think we need to “get back to the Bible”, as we used to say.

I fully concur that just that simple phrase alone does not really address the problem.  But I am also sure that gutting it of its meaning is a greater disservice.

Think about it.

Kiss It and Make It Better

I got all these homeless people living with me in the House of God (aka Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners), but they are all Two Year Olds and younger.  You might think that is just a waaaaaaay different category of homelessness, and you’d be right, but it’s not as different as it seems.  The overlap of commonality is far bigger than it appears until you look closely.

I have played host to both homeless children and homeless adults, and I can say with confidence that the level of responsibility required for keeping kids is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay higher.  All the other differences are small by comparison.  The only guests who have never stolen from us are the smallest ones, but then they are the ones who require the most minute-by-minute attention too, so even there, the honest perspective tempers the differences.

So with the commonality being so much more than it would seem from the outside looking in, I start thinking just how far this dynamic goes.  I mean, are there things I can say about adults based on the experience with children that might prove important?  And sure enough, as I think about it, some things begin to surface that I want to share.

These toddlers run and jump and fall down A LOT.  They are both fragile and rugged at the same time.  When they fall, and I hear the thud, I immediately think to myself, “Oh no!  That had to hurt!”  And sure enough, sometimes it does.  But I have learned not to charge in to quickly, but rather to wait for the cry.  The cry is a better indicator of how bad the booboo actually hurts than the sound of the thud.

I say this because sometimes the thud resonates in my bones and even scares me.  When I react in that moment, the sound of fear and care in my voice communicates to the child that they should cry, and I should make a big production of fixing the booboo for them.  And the little ones oblige!  They don’t disappoint.  The crying gets underway, and the fixing turns into a big production, and we all share this big rollercoaster ride of pain and fear and salvation.  It is rather dramatic.

But IF you wait for the cry before voicing your fear and care, it turns out that the homeostasis of the social atmosphere tempers the pain the child may (or may not) be experiencing.  It’s actually alarming how often the terrifying thud does NOT produce the cry, but the child shakes it off and goes right back to playing.

This, of course, is a judgment call – one the shepherd of the sheep learns to make.  And like all judgment calls, it is more an art than a science, you can judge wrong quite easily.  No one makes perfect judgment calls every time.  And I would say it is important to err on the side of caution where safety is concerned.  A legitimate injury met with indifference is the worst possible outcome (and could land me in jail!).  But at this level of judging, the cry is almost always an accurate indicator.

But then there is the response.  In all the booboos I have ever faced (and there have been a few high risk situations), none of them ever required EMS activation.  I did take a child to the ER a couple of times in the past for complications with an on-going medical issue, but out of all the run/jump/falls that ever occurred here at FBHWOS, not one has required so much as a Band-Aid (yet).

Quite literally, 100% of the booboos we have had to fix in this ministry have amounted to a Kiss-It-And-Make-It-Better emergency.

Seriously, it’s practically miraculous!

Kiss It And Make It Better – Wow!

Who knew?

What power is there in a kiss, a hug, a gentle touch?

Miraculous power!

It’s amazing how much ATTENTION people need from each other.  If my kids sense they are not getting my attention, after a while they begin to cry.  Somebody hit somebody; somebody got bit.  Someone took someone’s toy.  The social order breaks down, and the children get mean.

If, on the other hand, I walk in the room where the children are gathered, I am a rock star!  They come running.  If I get down on the floor on all fours, the giggling and smiles takeover every face!

And a lot of the time, that scary sounding thud that sent a chill through my bones, the one that lets out the cry, well, a lot of the time, that kiss and hug make all the difference.

And it occurs to me that what I am describing here is WORSHIP!

Yeah, the word “worship” in English comes from the old language which contracted and dropped the “th” from the middle some generations back.  But it used to be “worthship”  It means to express value – worth.  How much is this worth?  We know by watching you shell out your sacrifice of worthship.  (Frequently, this means money.)

In the Bible, the word “worship” means to bow down (like bowing before royalty), but it also means “kiss”.  There are levels and dynamics to biblical worship that go beyond the scope of this post, but they are all related, nonetheless.  But it helps us to think about kissing and about the image of God to see into the mysteries of what is happening when we Kiss It And Make It Better.

Way back at the beginning, God created the humans IN HIS IMAGE, IN THE IMAGE OF GOD HE CREATED THEM MALE AND FEMALE.

Now, of course the “male and female” part implies a bit more than just kissing, but we will dial back our analysis just a bit and stick with the kissing, which almost certainly plays a role in that more robust sense of bearing God’s image.  And the thing is this: we kiss those whom we value most.

Oh sure, there are social cues we live by in America today that limit our kissing in various social situations in ways other cultures do not observe, but kissing someone in our culture still expresses value, even if there are other ways to express it for various people in various situations.

My point is this: Whether or not we do a good job of representing God’s image in the world, when we sense we are being  valued by others, we are lifted out of our pain.  When we express the value and demonstrate our worthship of others, whether or not they do a  good job of representing God’s image in the world, we lift them up out of their pain (at least in part).  And kissing plays a part in this worthship process.

In fact, the converse is also remarkably powerful.  When these image bearers are ignored, and other objects replace them as more worthy of value (worship), then the whole world suffers for it (especially those we ignore).

It is no mistake that Jesus identifies himself with the poor, the stranger, the needy.  Want to make the world a better place?  Show these people you value them like as if they were Jesus himself!  The whole world will benefit from this Worship in Spirit and Truth!

Now… sometimes the appropriate response is to activate EMS.  Sometimes you need to hold job training seminar and the AA meetings.  Sometimes the elaborate response is called for and needed.  It’s not like mere decoration is going to fix it.  BUT… it is amazing the extent kissing it makes it better!

I really think this is why Jesus tells us, in Luke 14, to party with the poor!  

Seriously, when you go out on the streets and alleys and beat the hedgerows and compel the poor to come in to the party, WORSHIP happens!  Correct worship.  Good worship.  Godly worship.  Jesus, in the least of these, gets valued.  And that is right at the nub of what is wrong with the world in the first place.

Think about it.

And then kiss it and make it better.

Giving Thanx for Drug Addiction

When I was a teenager, I was an Ozzy fan.  One of his not-so-big hit songs was called Thank God For The Bomb.  In those days, during the Cold War, there was a feeling that assured, mutual nuclear annihilation kept the East and the West from blowing each other off the map – from blowing away the map itself.  So the self-professed Prince of Darkness sang a song of Thanxgiving to God, no less, for “The Bomb”.

I think it was meant to be ironic AND to poke a hole in the disingenuous rhetoric of the powers-that-be.

Nevertheless, it characterizes a whole category of thankfulness that, if taken seriously, is bitter/sweet.  It’s a category we do take seriously when life has handed us a bushel of lemons from which we have made lemonade.  In recent weeks my dad has begun speaking of “gift” when referring to the divorce that once devastated his life.

I don’t know about all that, actually.  In both cases, whether The Bomb or The Big D (and I don’t mean Denver), calling either one “good” in some sense seems to stretch it to the breaking point.

Nevertheless, I can confidently say I am deeply thankful for the children who come to live in The House of God here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners.  The ones who have made this their permanent placement all came to us within days of their birth.  They don’t know the homelessness from which they come, but they were born addicted to drugs.  That is what prompts them to live here with me (with us).

The fact is… I am now surrounded by beautiful people God made for his glory.  Each one priceless and precious beyond compare!  I am so deeply blessed!  And while I am deeply sorry for our world, broken as it is with drug addiction (among other things), this home and this gathering of people forming a family on this Thanxgiving Day would not have happened if not for drug addiction.

So, in that deeply ironic sense, I am thankful, so it seems, for drug addiction!

Should make for an interesting offering at the Thanxgiving table when we all list off the things we are thankful for this year.

Perhaps this is just one small way we are called to be a light in a dark world, to join the small light that overcomes the darkness (should come as a surprise to the Prince of Darkness!).

So What Is Stopping Us?

In my previous post I asked if you heard of the rich church that sacrificially gave up their best hospitality for the lowliest of homeless people and worshiped together.  Of course, you haven’t.

Backing up just a bit, you DID hear about the rich church… CHECK!

All the rich professionals, the elaborate church building, the orchestral choir and all that lavish stuff.  Yeah, you heard of all that.

Going forward a bit, you MIGHT hear about the church where the pastor teaches exceptionally well about the love, the humility, and the sacrifice of Jesus, and his powerful persuasion to be like Jesus…  CHECK!

All those rich Christians affording a fantastic sermon from a skilled orator.  Yeah, you heard of all that, probably.

A church that puts this stuff together AND actually acts LIKE Jesus as a result?  …NO CHECK!

At the end of the post, I ask WHY NOT?

What stops us doing it?

What stops a church full of blessed resources, just bursting at the seams with God’s blessings … a church devoted to the teachings and example of Jesus, from opening the door to the poor?

I am sure there are more than one reason for this.  But I am asking.  So let’s list them off.  Let’s name these demons!

Did You Hear About That Church Where They Tried Real Hard To Be Like Jesus?

Did you hear about the rich church where nearly the whole membership was white, middle, and upper middle class?  And most of the more influential members and leaders were made up of professionals: lawyers, doctors, engineers and politicians with high office?  And they meet in a beautiful, ornate, and rather large, chapel with stained glass windows reaching high up to the vaulted ceiling?  And the orchestral choir is made up of professional musicians enjoying world-class acoustics in their million dollar sanctuary?

I mean, so far, yeah, you heard about this place.  Right?

But I am talking about the one where since early summer the pastor has been leading the flock to consider more seriously how they can be like Jesus, to imitate him in love and sacrifice.  So they spent three months studying how Jesus touched lepers, fed hungry people, forgave sins, healed the sick, championed the cause of the poor, and then spent three more months analyzing how Jesus purposely praised the humility of others, practiced humility, and then actually sacrificed himself in utter suffering and humiliation as an act of love for completely undeserving people who turned on him, spit on him, killed him, and when it was all done were just utterly bewildered by his kindness.  Did you hear about that one?

I mean, so far, yeah… maybe.  Maybe you heard about it.  But come to think of it, maybe not.

But I am talking about that church made up of all those professionals, spending so much time in study and meditation on the sacrificial love of Jesus that come the Sunday before Thanxgiving when the temperatures outside were plummeting, they decided to actually be like Jesus.  ‘

So they opened up the chapel, put on a dozen pots of coffee, started making breakfast burritos in the kitchen like an assembly line at Ford Motor Co. while deacons began driving church vans and oversized SUV’s around town looking for homeless people to bring to church.  And then in shifts, the vans and SUV’s began dropping off the needy who were welcomed inside where they were met with coffee and food, with warmth and hospitality!  And the house got so packed full with the poor that the church members could no longer physically fit in the building with the guests, and the crowd reminded them of that fisherman’s hut in Capernaum where the four friends ripped the roof open so they could get their paralyzed friend lowered down to Jesus.  So the church members dragged out blankets and took seats on the frozen lawn while the deacons ushered the homeless into the sanctuary where as honored guests they could enjoy the music in warmth.  And the sound system deacon wired speakers out on the lawn so the whole assembly, both inside and out, could join in the song.

And the church thus tried real hard to be like Jesus!  The church sacrificed deeply to love the poor, the stranger, the hungry, the thirsty, and in showing hospitality may well have entertained angels unaware!

Yeah.  Did you hear about THAT CHURCH?

No???

Why not?

A church like that would make the papers, wouldn’t it?

I mean wouldn’t the papers be printing GOOD NEWS if a church really tried to be like Jesus?

“Happy Holidays!”

It’s been more than sixteen years since I moved to Lubbock.  A nice “Christian town” in the middle of a “Christian nation”.  And one of the earliest controversies I remember getting sucked into was the debate over whether it was okay to say “Happy Holidays” when greeting people out and about.

Well, it’s almost Thanxgiving again, a sure sign we are getting close to Christmas, but, of course, Christmas is still more than a month off.  Also, Christmas is followed closely by New Year’s Day.  And let’s not ignore the fact that New Year’s Eve is as much a part of the holiday, if not more, than New Year’s Day.  Additionally, some families celebrate Christmas Eve as well as Christmas Day, not to mention all the seasonal parties at the office or the parties with “the other side of the family” which may find themselves scheduled anywhere throughout the month.  (Of course you know ALL of this already.)

I will admit that Christmas is the KING KONG of holidays, but it is not the only one!  Also, the older I get, the more Halloween seems to inch closer to the “holiday season”, unlike when I was a kid and it seemed sooooooo far away.

Oh, and while I am on the subject of “when I was a kid”, the phrase “Happy Holidays” was but one well-established holiday greeting.  In fact, “Season’s Greetings” were just as acceptable, though I will admit that the phrase “Merry Christmas” was the gold standard.

But hear me out now, this will all matter by the end, trust me.

When I was a teenager working as a bag boy at the supermarket, I recall a time when I carried out the sacks of groceries to the car for a couple one evening about three or four days after Christmas, and I reflexively said, “Merry Christmas” as I finished with them.  It suddenly hit me that Christmas was over, technically, and I could see it went sideways as the expression on the man’s face mirrored the notion I was having.  “Christmas is a year away!” I thought, and so I turned again to correct myself and said, “Happy Holidays!”

At that exact moment, I made “Happy Holidays” my standard go-to greeting for the season.  Technically, it even covers Halloween.  I can even pull it out on Valentine’s Day, except Valentine’s Day seems to stand alone, making the plural of “Happy Holidays” sit a little funny.

But then I moved to Lubbock, the “Christian town” in this “Christian nation”, and the first time I greeted an old guy I knew from church with the phrase “Happy Holidays”, I suddenly found out what a bastard greeting it was!  I mean, you would think I stayed up all night devising an insult for this man.  He went ballistic.  And it so happened that we were in a public space, not many people around, but a few, and he set out to enlist others to set me straight.

Suddenly I was learned and durned about all the Jews and Pagans and their holidays and how liberals were infiltrating Christmas with their trash religion and holidays, smuggling in this dark evil with the phrase, “Happy Holidays” and how my use of it was treasonously giving aid to the enemy!

Welcome to Lubbock, Texas where the Christians have their ISSUES well sorted out!

I don’t hear much about the “Happy Holidays” controversy any more.  It seems to have fallen to the wayside.  It seems to have gone the way of “Forty Days of Purpose”.  It seems to have been “Left Behind”.  Apparently it was a mad fad for Christians.  (Do Christians need to have mad fads???)

But you know what hasn’t gone away?

Winter cold that accompanies the Happy Holidays.

You know, back before I was kicked out of church for knocking on the church house door to bring in the poor, I used to volunteer and celebrate with the homeless in this town at the officially sanctioned celebrations.  There are a number of ministries that reach out, especially during the Happy Holidays, and it creates a news item that splashes across our TV’s all through the Season’s Greetings.

The Methodists hosted a lavish turkey dinner and invite the community in for it just a few days prior to Thanxgiving Day.  And it was a fantastic meal.  If you don’t mind a bunch of smelly homeless people eating at the table with you, you are welcome too.  Or you can volunteer to cook/clean.  But on the actual holiday, all that would be over – history.

The Premier Homeless Pseudo Church (not its real name) and the Sally historically have provided a big meal on the actual holiday, AND provide space to watch the football game.  But unless the weather is particularly icy, that operation gets shut down (sometimes before the game ends), and all the homeless people get the boot!  (I know; I’ve seen it.)  But this part never makes it on the TV news.

Hmmm…

The homeless are loved lavishly when cameras are rolling.  But by the time that game comes on, no one is watching anymore.

How about this year, we change it up?

Are you listening to me church???  (Or does my voice have no volume?)

What if this year we work for peace on earth and good will for homeless people and God’s people?  What if we say, “This year, there IS room at the inn… in the House of God!”  And what if we turn Turkey Day into a fancy potluck down at the church house?  What if we get all the grannies cooking, and the shepherds seeking lost sheep?  What if we deploy the young, able-body men as overseers of the flock to stand guard and eject troublemakers, but focus more on hosting Jesus in the inn?  What if that “fire side room” was filled with bedrolls, and the whole church showed up to eat and party and camp in for the night singing Christmas songs, telling Christmas stories, eating turkey and roasted marshmallows, and everyone acting AS ONE – rich-n-poor, proud-n-humble, head-n-body?

Think of it!

Sure there will be a mess.  I know that.  I know there are logistics to deal with, but can you see the PARTY?  Can you see Jesus???  Can you see the IMPACT a welcome like this makes on the poor and on YOU?  Can you see what Jesus MIGHT do miraculously in this that all your best planning and all your avoidance of hurting when helping cannot account for?

I can.

Open your eyes!

And Happy Holidays!!!