Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Jesus Freak Quits Reality, Part 2

I have always been one that when I find a good thing, I dive into it no matter what extremes it brings us to.  Looking back, it seems as if we had become saints of compassion.  Certainly people looking at us from the outside thought that we were insane in our desire to help people in need, ignoring the faults of those we helped.

            Trust me, we were well aware of the faults.

            There was the time that we had accidentally left our checkbook on our counter one night when we had five folks come over to dinner that night.  One of that group stole our checkbook and we were unaware of it until they had cost us over a thousand dollars of checks and overdraft fees.  But we realized that it was our fault for leaving such a great temptation out before the poor, so we refused to give the bank permission to press charges against them.

            Another time we allowed a girl with her infant to stay in the living room of our apartment.  She didn’t stay very long, as she was uncomfortable with the conjunction of her tweeker4 lifestyle up against our fanatical Christian one.  At one point, she left her child with us, without us knowing when she would return.  Diane took the opportunity to clean the baby to a sparkling polish and to give him some regular food.  When she still didn’t return after a couple days, we considered the options of trying to raise the infant ourselves, or of calling foster care.  Eventually, when she was done partying, she returned to pick up her child, leaving again immediately.  Our closet was filled with her possessions for almost a year before she picked it up.  The baby was eventually picked up by Oregon’s child services. 

            On the other hand, we became more involved in a small Mennonite church.  What is a Mennonite?  I didn’t know at the time, myself.  I was an avid reader of history and theology and I finally read a biography of Martin Luther.  At one point, there was the description of a group whom Luther opposed in his later years, whom the author (anachronistically) called “Mennonite”.5  His one line depiction of them was that “they believed in living out the Sermon on the Mount literally.”  I thought, “Huh, that’s what I believe.  I should check these guys out.”  I looked up “Mennonite church” in the yellow pages and discovered one in the Portland suburbs.
Happy  Peace Mennonites!

            The next Sunday I visited them with my son. (Diane was busy having her all-day morning sickness.) I wanted to hand out tracts, as was my wont, but they had no public sidewalk near the door.  So I just attended the service.  It was wonderful.  It was small, but had a mix of ages, social levels and all kinds of people in need.  And they were truly a community, seeking to confess and to assist each other as much as they are able. When I spoke to them about our ministry to the homeless, they sounded genuinely interested, not—as our evangelical friends—avoiding the subject.  Most of all, the teacher, William Higgins, was a man of intellect and of true service to Jesus.  That didn’t mean (as my arrogance determined) that he couldn’t use a good dose of radicalism, but I’m always good for that.  I went home and told Diane, “I think this is the church we’re looking for.”

            We joined Peace Mennonite, which only increased our opportunities to assist others.  We not only were continuing to assist those in need at our home, we were participating in a community of people in need, challenging and assisting as we were able. 

            A woman and her son arrived, having just moved from out of state.  She told us, in confidence, that she had taken her son from his father who had been given custody, because her ex-husband was an abuser.  Then she traveled across the country.  This was, according to the law, kidnapping, but we decided to help her out.  Diane and I had her stay in our living room for a while, but found that she had some cracks around the edges of her mind.  Like when I walked into my living room late at night to find the heat up to eighty degrees and she and her son were walking around in the nude.  “What do you think you’re doing?” I yelled at her as she hid behind our kitchen counter from my adult male eyes. 

            When she was moved to another church member’s house, another family called the police on her because, it seems, they didn’t like her.  She took her son and ran, and the New York state authorities wanted to speak to us.  We explained to the district attorney that we were trying to offer sanctuary for her, hoping we wouldn’t be persecuted for harboring a fugitive.  “Don’t worry,” she told us.  “You are a church.  You need to do what you are supposed to do.  We do what we are supposed to do.”  At least we weren’t in trouble.  This time.6

            Because of an interest in Peace to help the needy, a group of us got together and decided to hold a regular meal for the needy in Rockwood, our suburb of the Portland metropolitan area.7  Our first Wednesday meal, advertised on telephone poles throughout the Rockwood area, brought in four guests.  Soon, however, we were feeding thirty to forty people a week.  Diane, myself and others in the church took this opportunity to meet more folks, to listen to their stories and to share our stories as well.

            Story is important.  Many people feel that the gospel is to be shared through a clear presentation of propositions, a quick, life changing proposal of one’s need and the opportunity in Jesus to live a new life.  There’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but that’s not the way the gospel or the message of God had been presented in the past.  It is important to note that we are called by Jesus not to necessarily be preachers, but witnesses.  A preacher summarizes truth.  A witness relates a personal experience.  It is story that truly changes lives.  If we have a story of how following Jesus changed our lives, when people adopt that story on their own, that is how their lives are changed.  If they have a story of how Jesus led them to a new existence, that is what will change our lives.  If there is something we have done in our spiritual life that we think applies to others and share it, that is giving the gospel.  But if we stand apart from people, not sharing our lives nor allowing them to share theirs, then the gospel will never be lived, only talked about.

            So the time of “Table of Peace” as we called it was a time of story sharing.  We listened and sometimes, if it was appropriate, we shared.  We also helped as we could.  Soon, the homeless came in large numbers, as well as others in more temporary need.

            We moved to Rockwood (Portland's up-and-coming ghetto) to be closer to the work we were doing at Peace Mennonite.  One day, driving home from work, I was pulled over by an officer for a light out, who pulled behind me in our apartment parking lot.  As the officer was looking at my license, I noted that he was taking an awful long time.  Eventually, he came back and asked me to pull up my sleeves, slowly.  I thought he wanted to check my arms for track marks.  After he was satisfied with my arms, he wanted me to recite my Social Security number without looking at the card, which I did.  He told me that someone with a felony had a copy of my driver’s license and that he was using my name and was a felon.  He released me because I had no tattoos on my arms.  The next morning, I left our apartment early for work, only to be stopped by a police officer, with flashing lights all thoughout the street in front of our building.  I thought, “Oh, no!  They must have changed their minds and decided I was the felon after all!”  The officer that approached me simply told me to return to the apartment until they told me to leave.  I asked what was happening.  A man across the street from apartment had pulled out a shotgun early that morning and started shooting up the neighborhood.  Eventually we discovered that Rockwood had the highest crime rate and the most dangerous gangs in the broader Portland area.  By the time we found that out, we weren’t surprised.

            All this time, I was working in a bindery.8   I would fill machines full of paper which would eventually come out as stapled books.  Eventually I became the shipping and receiving guy.  The owner of the bindery respected my religious fanaticism, as he was a lapsed Catholic.  I was doing well, but it didn’t mean that it was without conflict.  I took a Nazirite vow, which meant I would not cut my hair, to remind myself that I am not meant to work in secular industry.  This gained complaints about my hair from a supervisor in the plant, who called me in to rebuke me for my appearance.  I told them, “I have made a vow before God.  You can fire me, but I won’t break my promise to Him.”  They decided to ignore it.  Another time I heard a client and my boss laughing at how the client had chased a begging homeless person down the street with a weapon.  I was so furious, I wrote a scathing note to both of them warning them of God’s judgment for such hatred.  The client demanded that I be fired for morally chastising him for his action.  He yelled at me, threatened to get me fired and I responded, “You have no right to harm the weak.”  Again, I kept my job.

            It seemed that the longer I worked in a secular occupation, the more driven I was toward my spiritual fanaticism.  In the morning on the bus I would write essays or dialogues about New Testament issues.  In the midst of my work day, I would be meditating on theological or Scriptural ideas and continually be jotting down little notes to myself on whatever spare pieces of paper I could find.  In the evening, I would take an hour or two before going home to work on my Jesus Project.  This was to write down every saying of Jesus in all four gospels onto note cards, to reorganize them according to subject, and then create a subject index of all the sayings.  This project was the source of all my writing.  I kept reducing my hours at work so I could spend more time in the afternoon working on my projects.

            And once a week I would go to the Grotto to do some intense praying.  The Grotto was a Catholic church as tourist trap filled with gardens and mediocre art suitable for mediocre worship.  I would go to the bookshop, plunk down my two dollars, and receive a token to take the elevator up to the second level.  Once there, I was transported to another place.  Superficially, there was a rose garden and a “peace garden” and a garden in dedication to St. Francis of Assisi.  But for me, the statue of St. Francis was the saint himself reminded me to sacrifice for the poor.  The rose garden was the Church—not a building, but the universal community— filled with both living and dead flowers, with Jesus tending it in a surreally. 

And the path within the peace garden was a symbol of my life, the Christian life.  I walked from the rose garden along a curved path, which like in a Narnia book would transport me to a magical place, hidden by trees and bushes, crossing a small stream.  Then I reached the birth of Jesus, reminding me that even as Jesus had to sacrifice all of his glory to become human, so I must sacrifice myself and my life to be like Jesus.  I walk a little ways further, across the stream again, and I reached the death of Jesus, reminding me that even as Jesus sacrificed his honor and very life for the needy, so must I.  Then I walk a longer path to the station of glorification, which tells me that resurrection is to be found, but only if I pass through the first two stages of sacrifice.9

It is in the Peace Garden that I received God’s call.  I would walk back and forth among these stations, talking and listening.  Amidst this place, God’s voice told me, “I want you to quit your job and work full time for the homeless.”  This call wasn’t really shocking to me.  After all, I knew that I was not to spend my life putting together insurance manuals and transporting them to print shops.  But there were certainly problems, here.  Quitting my job meant, of course, no income.  No money for insignificant things like rent or utilities or groceries.  It meant working full time in an occupation that no one really accepted or liked.  I offered these complaints to God, who didn’t bother to answer my concerns.

In an age-old spiritual tradition, I began arguing with God.  Not so much about the calling itself, but with the lack of resources for the task.  After about a month of arguing… well, one couldn’t call it arguing, really.  After all, one can only argue if the other responds.  This was more about complaining.  In any case, after about a month of complaining weekly about God’s call, I narrowed it down to one problem—I needed a guarantee that my family would be provided for.  They cannot be living on the street or without food.  I am responsible for them and I won’t take on even a call from God, unless they are cared for in that way.  God responded, again, with silence.  A lot of writers are like that, I found.  They seem to have so much to say in their book, but get close to them, and they say very little that you couldn’t have thought of yourself.

In a one sided manner I discussed this over with God, every week, for months, planning myself as much as I could, but needing a promise that my family would be cared for.  Finally, I received the promise I was waiting for, “I will care for your family, you need not worry about them.  You quit your job and do the work I called you to.”  But then He added one more bit: “Everyone will reject you.”

Now I had work to do.  I got home and began to write out the plan that had been given to me and how I figured we could do it. I would quit my job, get some plane tickets for Diane and Ian and Nikki to go to Northeastern Pennsylvania to stay with my wife’s family for four months.  I, on the other hand, would begin to establish a ministry to the homeless out of Peace Mennonite.  Then, if need be, after that we could live with a Vietnamese family who lived with us for some months years ago.   I wrote it all up on the Macintosh, using different fonts to make it look cheery and interesting.
Full disclosure: Not Diane.  

I printed it up and handed it to Diane.  She read it over quickly (it always bugged me that she could take something I spent hours on and read it in a few minutes!) then turned to me and said, “Okay.”  I was stunned.  This was an explosive document for my family, giving up everything to explore a new life that has no clear path, no income, no way of making a living.   She registered my non-verbal complaint and replied, “Well, I don’t like it.  I don’t want to do this.  But if this is what God wants, then it’s fine.  I can accept it.” (See how radically awesome she is?  Or insane.  Whatever.)

I didn’t leave it there.  I handed it to the church leaders and had them pray over it, to see if this is really an idea from God or just my own active imagination.  They affirmed that they felt it was from God as well.

A few months later, for forty days I did a twelve hour daily fast to dedicate myself to the Lord.10  On the last day of that fast, Good Friday, I left my job at noon.  The next day, I shaved all my hair off.11  My  two year old daughter, Nikki, cried because some stranger had stolen her daddy’s voice.  A week and a half after that, I kissed my wife and two children goodbye as they flew to live with her mom for four months in a crowded, stressful house.  I lived on the living room couch of some friends of ours.  A new life had truly begun.


5. Mennonites are the title given to a radical branch of the Protestant Reformation.  Their earliest beliefs were simply that Luther and Zwingli didn’t take the Reformation far enough and it needed to be more biblical.  The early issues had to do with infant baptism, the Lord’s supper and purity of the church.  Because of the first issue, the early groups were called “ana-baptist” by their enemies.  The name intended to condemn them for “re-baptizing” people, while the early “anabapitsts” actually saw themselves as giving the first baptism for believers.  This group was terribly persecuted in Europe, many of them travelled to the New World, where they were given the name “Mennonites” because so many of them carried works of Menno Simons, a Dutch Anabaptist pastor.

6. She was eventually caught by the authorities in Arizona and she and her son were transported back to New York.

7. Rockwood is an odd suburb.  It is officially in the city limits of Gresham, Portland’s largest suburb.  However, it retains a Portland zip code.  So, although it is serviced by the Gresham police department, fire department and is under the oversight of the Gresham city council, every Rockwood address is “Portland”.  Rockwood also used to be a quiet suburban neighborhood.  Now, because of gangs and low-income housing, it is the slum of the Portland metroplex, having the highest crime rate in Portland.  Large grocery stores closed up shop in this neighborhood because they couldn’t afford the crime.

8. I started working as a temp for The Trade Bindery and then I was hired by Associated Bindery.  Interestingly enough, although I haven’t been there for years, I am writing, right now, in a fast food restaurant across the street from that bindery.  I can see the van I drove for years in the corner of my eye.

9. The Birth, Death and Glorification were actually beautiful woodcuts, placed dramatically throughout the Peace Garden path.  As of this writing, they are still there.  Check it out:  Go to 84th and NE Sandy in Portland where the Grotto is.  Go to the book store and ask for a token (it costs a few dollars per person, sorry).  Then walk past all the seats before the grotto proper to the elevator shaft.  Go up the elevator to the second level.  The Francis statue is one of the first things you see.  Walk past that to the Peace Pole.  One one side of the pole is the rose garden, and on the other is the Peace Garden path.  Enjoy.

10.  There are a lot of different kind of fasts.  There’s the no-food-water-only fast that many people are familiar with.  Also there is the cutting off the fat fast that some associate with Lent—that would be ceasing with something unnecessary for forty days, such as chocolate or television (as if chocolate were unnecessary!).  The kind of fast I was participating in is a food fast, but for only a partial day.  This is an ancient practice, which Muslims practice every year for a month—from the break of day to the dark of night they eat no food.  This is a better kind of fast for someone who works full time.

11. The cutting off of one’s hair is how one ends a vow in the Bible, specifically the Nassarite vow.  For more information about the Nazirite vow, look at Numbers 6:1-21.  I didn’t sacrifice doves.  But I did burn my hair.  It stank to high heaven.  And I didn’t drink wine afterwards, because I think wine tastes awful.  I did have me some grape juice, though.

The Jesus Freak Quits Reality, Part 1

As I was growing as a Christian, there was one thing that I really wanted to become: a missionary.  

Missionaries are cool!  Or so I, the Christian nerd, thought.   Perhaps you, as a young person or an adult have met real missionaries.  In this you might realize that by our cultural standards, missionaries are about as uncool as could be.  They wear twenty year old clothes, and many of them speak in a monotone, and once you have seen about twenty missionary slides, you realize you have seen them all.  Sure, nowadays missionaries might have power point with the slides that pop in and out in cool ways, but they are still the same slides full of people you don’t know.  Kind of like watching your uncle’s vacation slides.   (The only exception to this are medical missionaries.  They bring home the most intense, gross slides possible, and show them just before the potluck.  I think they do this so they could get more to eat.  Missionaries are always so skinny that it seems that they don’t eat enough.)

            For me, however, as a teen, missionaries were the coolest thing anyone could be.  Anyone can read about Frodo, or watch movies about Indiana Jones or play a Narnia video game, but these guys lived out adventure every day.  I mean, Jim Eliott, who died trying to present the gospel to a tribe who had rarely seen white faces before and was killed for it.  Then his wife, Elizabeth,  went back to the same tribe to teach them the gospel!  Wow.  Hudson Taylor was told that he was too sick to go to China, but he traveled there by boat many times in his lifetime and traveled to the interior where missionaries had never been.  Of course, he did get sick, but that didn’t stop him or his message.  Wycliffe Bible Translators go to tribes whose language is not written, creates an alphabet for them and translates a book in the new language—usually the book of Mark—and then teaches them to read and write using that book.  How cool is that?!  And missionaries to Muslims are the secret agents of missionaries—going undercover to Muslim countries to secretly present the gospel and begin underground churches.1  Awesome.  C’mon—just tell me that missionaries aren’t cool.  Kinda like extreme sports, but more religious, and more real.

            Since the missionary life was the most extreme, most interesting job in Christian ministry, that’s what I wanted to be.  Going to foreign countries, preaching the gospel, helping the needy, learning new cultures—that is the life!  Well, it’s a life, anyway.

            Of course, as with most ideals, reality will often splash cold water on a person to wake them from dreamland.  Yeah, missionaries have lives of excitement, but the reality is more often excessive stress and burnout.  Missionary agencies are full of concerns about insurance and safety.  Mission team leaders are interested in assisting their new recruits “fit” into the society, rather than allowing radicals for Jesus.  Let’s face it, real Jesus freaks just aren’t acceptable to anyone—not even the church.  The “mature” church wants to hone down the rough edges of the extremist servant of Jesus.  I—as an up-and-coming Jesus freak— often heard statements like these: “So, Mr. Kimes, while we appreciate your enthusiasm and your willingness to sacrifice, we have certain safeguards that we must insist you comply with if you are to be a part of this organization.”  “Steve, must you constantly insist on being a saint?” The final straw, however, came when a team leader wanted me and my wife to live upper middle class lifestyles in the midst of a poverty-drenched nation.  I guess the normal path of missionary work just wasn’t for me.

            After years of being led and tagged along by missions organizations (whom I deeply respect, by the way), I was cut loose.  God stopped me from pursuing that avenue.  So what is a Jesus radical to do when the focus of your service is set aside and you are cast adrift?  Well, I suppose you settle down to have some kids (of course, I didn’t have them—Diane took care of that part, with great personal sacrifice), get a job, live a quiet existence….  

I tried that.  I couldn’t stand the quiet. 

There was an entire church out there that didn’t understand God’s extreme message through Jesus.  They didn’t know about Jesus’ plan for the poor or the church’s part in it.  The majority of churches were preaching grace-without-sacrifice because they didn’t want to look at what Jesus’ message really was.  So what do I do?  Ummmmm… I know!  Of course! Pass out tracts in front of churches!

            There is an art to passing out tracts in the United States.  You have to assume that if you pass out tracts on private property, the owners of that property will have you thrown off, possibly having the police called on you.  This means that you must remain on public property—sidewalks, primarily. As one security officer colorfully told a friend of mine helping me pass out tracts in front of a Christian concert one time—“This”— meaning public property—“is your area.  This”—meaning the grass of the school—“is mine.  You stay in yours, and I can’t bug you.  But if you come over to mine, I will crush you.”  This means that many churches are out of bounds, because the main entrance of the church is surrounded by private property.  But there are many churches in which the main entrance faces a public sidewalk.  These are the churches you can pass tracts out in front of.

            Then you must consider the tracts themselves.  You cannot pass out the standard gospel tracts to churches.  Let’s face it, the standard gospel tract is just an evangelistic sermon that most Christians have heard a thousand times—nothing new.  Frankly more cliché than a message.  No, churches need to hear about the message of Jesus, which most churches have ignored as the gospel in exchange for a butchered, misunderstood version of Paul’s message.2  So I wrote tracts myself, speaking of the need to obey Jesus as our king, of giving to the poor instead of ourselves.  I wrote provocative titles, such as, “Do You Love Jesus?”, “A Letter to the Bride” and “Bad News for the Rich.” 

            Then, once every week or two, I’d go out about nine on a Sunday morning and pass out tracts to those who are entering a given church.  Most would accept the tract, thinking that it might be part of the service that day.  Often a representative of the church would come out and ask to see what I was handing out.  I gladly showed them, telling them that I am not in opposition to their church or their church’s message, but I am just attempting to assist their ministry.  I would always attend their church service, singing with them and being a positive, quiet part of the congregation.  Then I would stand outside again.  Sometimes I would bring my two year old son, who would help me pass out the tracts—after all, who could resist taking a piece of paper from a cute, hyperactive toddler? 

            Most of the time, after a church representative read over my tract, they would shrug their shoulders and say, “This looks fine.  I guess you can do this.”  But once it was different.

Not what my tract said
            I was planning on standing in front of a large church that I had not heard too much about.  They were non-denominational, and I had heard they were somewhat Charismatic.  I looked over my tracts and decided to pass out my “Bad News for the Rich” tracts.  After about fifteen minutes, a security guard came up and asked me to not pass them out in front of the church.  I refused, politely saying that I was on public property.  He left.  A church representative came out and requested that I pass out the tracts after the service, rather than before.  I shrugged and agreed.  Then I went in to participate with the service.  The worship music was powerful and loud.  Then the pastor taught a bit before the offering about the benefits the congregation would receive if they gave.  An offering was taken.  Then the pastor taught again about the need to give to the church.  Another offering was taken.  More singing.  Then the pastor came out again, insisting, imploring, demanding that everyone in the congregation give to the church for their new building project.  This money was not for the poor.  It was not for the needy.  It was to make this already wealthy church (and the pastor in his five hundred dollar suit) wealthier.  At the beginning of the third offering, I left, disgusted.

            I was in a church that taught prosperity and wealth to those who gave to their church.  I was angered and horrified that such churches could go so far apart from Jesus’ teaching.  Jesus taught “blessed are the poor” and “sell your possessions and give to the poor” not “give to the wealthy and you will be rich in your life.”  I waited outside with my tracts to hand them out in opposition to the messages I heard inside. 

            A man sat next to me and talked to me about what I was doing.  I explained it to him, and my anger at the messages inside.  He calmly, quietly, spoke about how he had been ministered to by those inside, how he had been healed by prayers there and how the Lord had spoken to him in the congregation.  He admitted that they were extreme sometimes, but generally they are good people. 

            Then the congregation started coming out.  I passed out my tracts, but few were glad to receive them.  Some took them, looked at the title—“Bad News for the Rich”—and handed them back.  Others refused to take them, one saying, “I believe in prosperity.”  I answered, sarcastically, “Really? I believe in Jesus.”  Another decided to explain heatedly why I was so wrong, and we entered into a brief argument.  And then, silently, a man handed me a card with a verse on it—Ecclesiastes 9:14-15.  There were no more people, so I left.

            After such an exhausting experience, I stopped at a restaurant to get me a sandwich and a drink.  I prayed about my failings in approaching this church.  I was angry, and allowed that anger to get the best of me.  I should be more humble.  And besides, I thought.  I was telling this church, as well as all the others, how they needed to give to the poor, and support the homeless.  But what am I doing?  Do I know even one homeless person?  What poor am I helping?  I quietly prayed to the Lord and asked him to lead to us a homeless person, whom we might assist with a meal on occasion.    Then I opened the Scripture to Ecclesiastes and read the passage—“A great king attacked a city with mighty army, but a poor man was able to save the city from within by his wisdom.” 

Not Ed, but not that far off
            Late that afternoon, Diane, Ian and I were waiting for a bus to take us to our home group of our church.  My wife was pregnant again with our second, but she was doing well enough to go with us3, and make the long walk after the bus line petered out.  An older man came up to us and told us that he had just gotten out of the hospital and needed some change.  His name was Edward, and he was homeless.  I explained that we were just going off to church, but that I would be glad to have him over to our apartment the next night to have dinner with us.  He took our address, we got on the bus, and who knew what would happen from this.

            It is important to note my wife’s exemplary character in this.  Not only was she not offended or put off by this invitation, but she was in full support of it.  In our first month of marriage, it was Diane who invited a mentally ill man, just out of prison to stay with us until he got his own place—to my own chagrin.  Frankly, between the two of us, she had the bleeding heart.  I was a cold conservative, just stuck doing what Jesus told me to do.  So she was pleased to see me taking the initiative here, so she could be assisting those whom she wanted to help in the first place.  So we wrote out our address and invited him to come over sometime.

            About two in the morning, we received a phone call.  A bartender was closing his shop and Edward was still left.  The only address Ed could give him is the one we gave him earlier that day.  He was wondering if he could drop Ed in a taxi, dropping him off at our place.  We were young, foolish and full of energy (at that point).  Reluctantly, we agreed.  

            Soon, Ed arrived, drunk, unable to walk on his own and incoherent.  We allowed him to collapse on our couch and spend the night.  We soon regretted that.  For in his sleep, Ed yelled at the top of his voice as if he was in a war, screaming out obscenities and horrors which we could not see.  Diane and I hardly slept all night. (Our son, Ian, on the other hand, began his training of sleeping through loud noises, a necessary skill that is significant for his well-being to this very day).  Concerned that he would wake our son in the night, and for our own sleep patterns, the next morning we invited Ed back for dinner, but disinvited him from spending the night.
The next day, Ed came knocking on our door, smelling strongly of Red Dog wine.  He claimed he needed something to eat.  We offered him food, and a listening ear or two.  He came over, from that time, almost every night, and eventually brought some of his homeless friends in the neighborhood.  Soon, we were known for offering free meals, any night of the week, for those who needed it.  We invited the homeless to our dinner meal, and we were soon giving food to folks every night of the week, except Thursday, when we went out to have time just with our family—which soon included Nikki, our second child.


1. There is controversy about missionaries to Muslims.  Some think that we shouldn’t be evangelizing to a religion so close to us.  Some think that it is cultural hijacking.  Certainly at times missionary work truly is cultural imperialism.  However, most missionaries are today trained to separate the cultural from the spiritual.  All Christians can agree that Jesus is something that needs to be communicated to others.  While the Qu’ran does have some good information about Jesus, most Muslims do not.  It is reasonable to go to another culture to give them the opportunity to experience something that could change their lives for the better.

2. This can be seen especially in relation to behavior and lifestyle as taught in the New Testament.  The modern Protestant church is, for the most part, deemphasizing the need for any lifestyle demands in the Bible, except for the most general guidelines, which, conveniently, match Western middle class values.  Jesus and Paul, however, are firmly in agreement with Jesus that faith requires an accompanying lifestyle.  And rather than being fuzzy ideas about “love” Jesus and Paul’s ethics have specific teeth.  The issues of oppression is only one issue dealt that they deal with, and they don’t often connect with the “family values” that most Republican preachers claim that the New Testament teaches.

3. Diane truly suffered through three pregnancies.  Her “morning sickness” was twenty four hours a day for months.  Her second pregnancy truly was easier, but the first and third were horrific.  Kind of like a really long bout of illness.  Which is why one of our earliest names for our firstborn son was “flu-bug”.

4. “Tweeker” means one whose life is about taking methamphetamines.  This is an almost bi-polar lifestyle, with lows in which one is desperate for pleasure and highs in which much is done but nothing is accomplished.  Not most tweekers are thieves, as the media often assumes, nor are they dangerous.  However, it must be admitted, they tend to be self-absorbed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


It is time to proclaim to my people and to give them a message from God. 
“Don't speak quietly, but use megaphones and outdoor speakers! 
Inform My people of their wrongs, for it is time for them to repent!

“Everyday I listen to them and they pray to me, as if they were a people who were holy and loving and that hasn't ignored the commands of God.  Every day they praise me, declaring, "Praise you Jesus!  We love you, our Father! There is no one else but You!  Holy is the Lord!"  How excited they are to be in my presence, to honor me with their words and give me their songs!  They raise their hands in worship and close their eyes, emotions elated.

“And then they turn to me in anguish and cry out--
‘Why are our prayers not being answered?
  We ask for healing, but we still live in our diseases.
  We ask for sanity, but we still struggle with our minds.
  We ask for purity, but we still fail you daily.
  Haven't you noticed our praise?
  Haven't you seen our commitment to you?
  Haven't you paid attention to our faith?’

“But you don't understand what true worship is.
Worship is not just what you do in public,
Nor is it songs you sing in private.
The true worshiper brings me with them in their actions to others
The true lover of God treats the needy with equality and mercy.

“On Sunday you receive communion, you pray for your needs, and you take a day of rest, but you make demands of food service workers.  You want rest and so you demand labor!
On Monday you enact your ritual of morning devotion, but you scream at your children to fulfill your petty demands!
On Wednesday you go to a Bible study, but you mock the homeless man on the street!
On Thursday you sing songs of praise with a recording, but you insist your employees work hard for you for minimum wage!
On Saturday you bow your head for your friends in need, but ignore the letters and calls for enacting charity!

“Is this the worship I desire? 
For one to seek to be in my presence, but ignore the needy who are constantly in their presence?
You are lords, you are gods
You have god-like resources in your hands.
How do you think I will listen to you, if you will not listen to the cries of the needy?

“The worship I desire is that of humility, of surrender, of giving to the needy.
I hear you say, "But I give!  I give so much that it pains me!  I give so much money that I fear I shall myself become impoverished!"
Where did I ever say, "Give to the congregations of people that are already wealthy?" 
In what Scripture do you read, "Surrender your wealth to the rich?"
Did my servant not say, "Tell the people to stop bringing their wealth, for we have enough"?
Did I not say, "Sell your possessions and give to the poor"?
Didn't you note that my people collected an offering so that the resources might be distributed to the needy?
I never asked for cathedrals!
I never demanded opulent sanctuaries!
I never commanded my servants to act like the unrighteous wealthy!

“Here is the worship I demand:
To work to stop injustice
To release people from their oppressions
To give respect to the lowly and outcast
To speak kindly to the needy
To give good food to the hungry, not leftovers
To welcome the homeless into your homes, not run down shelters
To give appropriate, warm clothing to the needy, not your cast offs from dinner parties

“Stop treating your brothers on the street like shit!
Stop disrespecting your sisters in shelters!
Stop distancing yourself from those who haven't showered!
Stop being those who create the outcast-- but rather eradicate the outcast from among yourselves!

“If you do this, if you give respect and resources and love to the needy among you,
Then I will raise you from your bed
Then I will deliver you from your anguish
Then I will eradicate the fear that destroys you”

Then the Lord will be known among you, and not hypocrisy
Then the righteousness of God will surround you
And protect you
And nurture you.
Then you will cry out to Him and He will answer
Then you will truly be in the presence of God, and not just a sham

But first you must remove from yourself those who point at the needy and call them unworthy.
You must surrender your shameless wealth from among you.
You must establish justice in your churches--
And more than that, humility.

The humility of giving to those who are not grateful
The humility of surrendering time when it seems not to help
The humility of listening to those who seem to be able to teach you nothing
The humility of honoring those who cannot honor back.

Then in the midst of this dark time, your light will shine to the heavens.
And the depression you are covered in will be transformed into joy.
God will guide you into the right way
And in the midst of terror, God will melt away your fear.
God will give strength to your bones and breath to your lungs.

And the ancient foundations
The building of Christ himself
Will be restored
And you will be called the Repairer
The rebuilder of the Temple
The revival of the Spirit of God.
                                               -Paraphrase of Isaiah 58

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Prophetic Parable

Once there was a good Christian man.  He would read his Bible daily, praise God every Sunday and he treated his family well.  He had a small business which was not doing great, but pretty well.  He was able to make his family comfortable and take them on a vacation every year.

Every day he would walk to his office from his house.  One day, as he was walking to his office, he saw a man in disheveled, dirty clothes, holding a sign which said, “Homeless—anything will help.”  The disheveled man looked, pleading with the Christian with his eyes.  

The Christian turned his head, saying to himself, “He needs to get a job instead of bothering good people on the street.”  

The next day the Christian saw a filthy woman holding a sign which said, “Pregnant and homeless, please help.”  She asked him, “Could you spare a few dollars so I could get a motel room?” 

He replied, “Isn’t there a shelter you could go to?”  She said that there were no shelters for single women.  He said, "I'm sorry, I can't help you."

The next day the Christian saw a man with brown skin and unkempt hair sitting on the sidewalk with one leg missing.  The man asked with a deep accent, “Could you please assist me in any way?”  

The Christian became upset with all of these interruptions of his pleasant morning meditation, and he yelled, “Can’t you people just leave me alone?  Why don’t you just go back where you came from?”

 As he walked into his office on that third day, the Christian had a heart attack and died.  The angels picked him up and delivered him immediately to the Father for judgment.  

The Father looked down at him and said, “I sent you three of my angels, to see how you would respond to them.  I have brought them here to witness to your action.”  

The first angel, no longer disheveled, but wearing white robes said, “This Christian refused to help me.”  

The second angel, no longer dirty, said, “He told me to find a shelter, but offered no help.”  

The third angel, with his leg fully intact, said, “This Christian told me to go back where I came from.  So I am here.  He refused to help me.”  

The Father looked at the man and judged: “You have done evil to your brothers and sisters.  I gave you many blessings, and you refused to help those in need.  You will be punished eternally.”

As the enforcement officers came to take the Christian away, he called to the Father, “But Lord, Lord—what about my family?  Shouldn’t they be given a chance?  Please send one of these angels to them to explain to them their sin so they can repent.”  

The Father replied, “Do they not read my Word daily?  If they ignore the one who has been risen from the dead, they will not listen to an angel.”

-Based on Luke 1619-29 and Tolstoy's story, "Where Love Is, God Is"