Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve Rant.

Rant # 1

New Year's resolution. I've never made one. Kinda smacked of a superstition of sorts. That is not to say, in moments of insipid bravado, at arbitrary points during some year, that I haven't made some sort of fallow promise to the air, for posterity sake or whatever....the best intentions of mice and men....that sort of thing. But this New Year's resolution ritual, well it always seemed like the membership to the gym, the copy of War and Peace on the mantle, or the learn French in 4 weeks course on cd rotting in the glove box: good intentions gone flat.

The Wall Street Journal just posted their 2011 celebrity artist "creative" resolutions story. What struck me instantly was the self-centeredness of the resolutions. Now I realize that it was the way the question was presented and the framing of the article...but c'mon? So many bright, talented, presumably rich people and not one act of good old fashioned altruism? So I muddled on. She Knows Entertainment, strike one. Ology (with the exception of Ashley Simpson giving a nod to her son) strike two. Theater Mania....strike three. Geez....

I think my favorite was Justin Bieber's resolution to win a grammy. Can a New Year's resolution be something like that? I mean can you resolve to win a Grammy? the Super Bowl? the lottery? Well count me in. Resolved. Resolved. And resolved! This year I resolve to be #1. I will win everything. Be better than everyone. All others will be less than but not equal to, the great, 2011, ME!

What gives people? (apparently nothing...) Where's the token "I want to strive for world peace"? Have we grown that callous? Or is it cynicism? With the exception of two of our celebrities adopting a pet-shelter dog, where are the open hearts and homes to the cast-off children of the world? I mean c'mon already, if you're gonna take the time to make one, make it good. Just lie to us. Just say you're gonna donate a tenth of your 20 million dollar salary to victims of poverty. Say it, even if you don't mean it. Inspire us to emulation. Do I have to beg?

Rant # 2

Have you ever been to one of those retail giant book stores? Christian or otherwise? There is a section called Christian fiction. Presumably the sterilized versions of romance "novels" and spy thrillers, all impregnated with Judeo-Christian ethic and evangelical underpinnings. Well I take exception to bad art in any form no matter the doctrine, and to be fair I've never read these books, they may be compelling and soul-stirring. I'm even willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But as a Christian, one who believes it is what's in a person that makes them beautiful, I wonder why every cover of every book has a beautiful person on it. Not one ugly, or fatty, or pimply faced wallflower....hmmmm. Now I realize this just sounds like sour lemons from a confirmed "unattractive", and I may very well be, but what message does this send to people about the God of the universe? That He created the beautiful in His image and the uglies are spawns of Satan?

Rant #3

And while we're on the subject of celebrity and beauty....why how come pray tell do they cast some gorgeous girl in a role and then spend the first half of the movie trying to prove just how down to earth, Chuck Taylors and Levis, everyday girl next door she is so that we can relate to her? Why not just hire the girl next door and get to the meat of the film...if there is any.

Rant # 4

Yes. There's more. Jersey Shore. Never seen a single episode but somehow this quantifies for me everything that is wrong with everything, everywhere, all the time. I mean my heart breaks for these kids and yet....

Rant #5

Gratuitously rich much abject poverty.....Argh. I hope 2011 brings a sense of global responsibility, a sense of compassionate connection and kinship...please?

Every 5 seconds a child dies from starvation. Every 5 seconds Americans waste 2 1/2 tons of food. Every 4 seconds a child dies of a water related illness. Every 4 seconds Americans waste 730,000 gallons of water. And that's just Americans.... Argh.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

People Who Just Wouldn't Shut Up....

....have always been my heroes.

Harriet Tubman spoke out against a system that bought and sold people, her people, even her own family. And her fearlessness gave force to her words. She didn't desire her own freedom so much as to leave others behind. They put a bounty on her head to scare her into silence and submission. But no one ever got to collect.

Rosa Parks sat in the wrong section of the bus. The white section. She was told to get up. She didn't. She was tired from working all day, tired of being a second class citizen. Her actions were louder than words. She went to jail. For sitting on a public bus. In America. But America heard her loud and clear. They tried to marginalize her and they failed. Her civil disobedience led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott that made her an international symbol of resistance.

The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr had a dream. And he let the whole world know from whom it came and who would make it come true. And they shot him 'cause he wouldn't back down.
Because he kept showing up places and talking about equality and justice.

John the Baptist took on the world. When the world slept in houses. He slept in caves. When they were clothed in soft linens, he wore camel skin. When the most respected religious men of the day came out to the Jordan, he called them a brood of vipers. He also told a king to repent. They had to cut off his head to silence his tongue.

And then there's my Savior. Whom even death could not silence. Nor the hordes of hell.

Let's me and you be these kind of people. The kind that don't shut up. Let's “Speak up for those who cannot sp
eak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:7-8

Let's be voices for the voiceless.


Friday, November 19, 2010

X-mas Machine.

Because Thanksgiving has been chewed up and shat out by the X-mas machine I thought I just might take a minute to tell you what I am thankful for.


The smell of wood-smoke on winter wind.

Black beans, butternut squash, potatoes and curry.

Sunsets and sunrises and shooting stars and the moon, the lovely, lonely moon.

Friends who fight for justice.

Parents whose shadow I've never had to live in, whose words have never torn me down. Two brothers and a sister who would do anything in this world for me and have. A kid sister, who I miss and can't wait to see in heaven.

International Justice Mission, Not For Sale, Nightlight International, Shared Hope.

And my Jesus. Who is tender with the broken-hearted.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

To Be Alone With You.

In my Itunes library the most played song is "To Be Alone With You" by Sufjan Stevens. 216 times. I was thinking what that says about a person....the lyrics....

I'd swim across Lake Michigan
I'd sell my shoes
I'd give my body to be back again
In the rest of the room
To be alone with you
To be alone with you
To be alone with you
To be alone with you

You gave your body to the lonely
They took your clothes
You gave up a wife and a family
You gave your ghost
To be alone with me
To be alone with me
To be alone with me
You went up on a tree

To be alone with me
You went up on a tree

I've never known a man who loved me

I guess it's because what we long for in love is that beautiful isolation of being alone with someone. Someone who prefers you over everyone else, someone you prefer the same. Someone who you would give up everything for, someone for whom all the things of this world are meaningless when compared to you. Someone who knows your deepest darkest and doesn't turn away. Someone you would rather die than be without, someone who would die for you.

And in this way I know we are created in God's image because this is exactly what He wants....

To be alone with you.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Buster. Day Three.

My friend Adam took a job in Florida so I'm dog-sitting his pit bull Buster for a few weeks. Don't let the sunglasses fool you, Buster can see into the soul. And the soul is made of meat.

Buster barks at the wind, at invisible boogies that trouble him so. He growls when he's angry, happy, anxious, etc... It's easy to know the difference. Except in the dark, when he's standing over you in the bed, teeth shining in the strange half-light.

He has been a little down, missing Adam and all, and so he doesn't eat his food. But then when I add the special favorite gravy morsel goodness in a can to his dry food he scarfs it down. Come to think of it, Buster may be less melancholy and more a master of the human psyche.

To watch Buster belly up in the soft autumn sun, scratching his back on the grass, writhing like some strange beached sea creature, is to envy him. I suppose if I weren't so self-conscious I might join him. And I may yet still.

Things about me that spook Buster: My cell phone vibrating, my alarm clock announcing the waking hour, my sneeze, and especially me running into a wall or door in the dark, which I do, half asleep in a strange house.

Buster has one trick. He shakes. Whenever he isn't being paid his due attention he will remind you of that particular skill by placing his paw squarely into your personal space. He has a knack for finding your most personal space.

I used to have a number four on my keyboard. 123four567890. How many times do I really use the dollar sign anyway? I shouldn't have been typing during playtime.

Buster has a rope. It's a foot or so long with a frayed knot on each end, maybe 2 inches in diameter. He loves to grip it in his teeth and have someone pull the other end. It reminds me of the game when I was a kid and one of the older guys would let you get a free punch in on their shoulder. Just so you would know what it was like to punch a solid wall. Buster is just letting me know that with very little effort he could rip my arm out of it's socket and sling it around the room like a sock puppet.

Me and Buster, we'll do just fine. Besides, I'm skinny. I'm prolly pretty tough and stringy. But come to think of it that describes Buster's favorite chew toy.

The Little God Inside Our Heads.

On a church sign near where I work it reads " Like Coca Cola, God is the real thing."

Last night my friend Whitney stopped by. We stood staring at the black curtain of the new October sky and the thousands if not tens of thousands of stars that were visible in our little corridor of space. We stood in silent awe, amateur astronomers,
drinking in the majesty of creation.

Whitney spoke first. She asked if I'd seen the man and the woman walking down Hattiesburg's main drag carrying the large wooden crosses. I said I had. She asked in a somewhat leading tone what I thought. As is my particular idiosyncrasy, I asked If she really wanted the truth. Which my friends know means I have a strong opinion on a subject. She smiled. I smiled. And then she answered her own question, insightfully so. She said it kinda makes the cross and the sacrifice of Jesus small.

Yeah. Real small. Soft drink slogan kinda small.

Another friend, Laurel, has a quote from an As Cities Burn song on her Facebook page. "I think our God isn't God if He fits inside our heads" it says.

I tend to agree.

We live in a world desperate for something real. Something more than a slogan, more than a soft drink. Something, or someone that can save us from ourselves, from this path of destruction we're blindly ambling down. The church has that something, knows that someone, and yet we reduce it and Him, to sloganeering, second rate plagiarism, and a bland, watered down hipsterism that the world sees right through it. What if instead of wooden crosses we carried our cross like scripture dictates of Christ's disciples, by dying to our old nature and living the new life by the Spirit? What if instead of the symbols of things we lived those things? Isn't this why we have been warned against idols? Because the symbol of a thing becomes that thing, at least in as much as it becomes small, so easy to fit inside our heads.

What if instead of offering the world a Coke-sized God (and a smile) we offered them the One who created the universe, holds it in His hands, who knows every star by name. What if instead of a soft drink slogan we gave them the Living Water from which no one ever thirsts again.

So for Whitney who said, "I don't even like Coke." Let's buy us a bucketful of those letters and do some vigilante church sign editing....

And for Laurel who is the only person I've ever met who loves the sky as much as me, and for anyone else out there, may God grow larger to you every day and yet ever closer still.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Hero.

Not sure if you're anything like me. I grew up in faith. That is my mom says my first word was Jesus and my childhood was surrounded, saturated by church and Christians and God. As I grew my faith grew and then I became a teenager with a rebellious streak a mile wide and to use the Christianese vernacular...I backslid. And as I did, as the shimmer of this world seduced me, it also, as it always seems to, caused me to wonder if God was angry at me, disappointed or even disillusioned by my moral lapses. I would return to Him, a little (or a lot) worse for the wear. Try hard to win His favor back. Only to repeat the whole sad cycle again later.

And so it was, much later, after one of my longest lows that God tenderly loved me back to Him by the Spirit. Without judgment, or anger, and certainly no disappointment. And from then on it's been a whole lot easier for me to come to Him with my struggles, to trust him with my failures. I know He loves me. His tenderness saved my life.

But to be honest, it's Jesus I've always had a little trouble with. Not the cross, or the dichotomy of His nature, or any of His miracles. Jesus just came across to me as a little terse, harsh even, and in my broken-heartedness I have always been a little fearful that He might become exasperated with me, or at the very least, that I wouldn't have been one of the guys He would've wanted to hang out with.

I go to a small believer's meeting called Ekklesia here in south Mississippi. The "pastor" Michael Dixon goes to great lengths to explain the person of Jesus in the equation of: Jesus is God and God is love and therefore everything Jesus did, said, and was can and should be understood in that context, viewed through that lens of love.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have been confronted anew in Isaiah and 1st Peter by the humble, silent suffering of Jesus. How He did not blame me in my guilt, but for the joy before Him endured it. I have been falling in love with Jesus these past few days in a special way.

This morning, top off the jeep, fall in the air, sunshine like a tidal wave I was kinda blindsided by reality. The dead dark moon of impossibility eclipsed the beautiful blazing sun (Son) of His promise. My faith wasn't going to cast that mountain into any sea....I was probably gonna just crash and burn into the shear face of it. But then....

The Holy Spirit showed me Peter, trying as he might on stormy seas, to reach out in faith to a Jesus that he sometimes couldn't understand. Peter sinking in an impossible situation and immediatly Jesus....reached out....right where Peter lift rescue him.

But then Jesus said to Peter one of those phrases that always put a wall between me a Jesus, made me think He wasn't very tender, "You of little faith, why did you fear?"....As if God the Son didn't know.

It was for Peter he asked, not to castigate Him, but to reinforce to Peter, that rescue was never in doubt, there was never any need for him to fear, for me to fear. Impossibility isn't a bad thing, it's that place where only a miracle will suffice, where only God will get the credit, and where our faith will grow.

And so I fell in love with Jesus again this morning. He is my hero.

Monday, September 20, 2010

On A Day Like Today.

When your wallet's fat and full, when the light, the weather, the very timbre and tenor of the day defies description. When laughter is your constant companion, and gravity has no claim on you as you float from place to's on those days when you say things like...I think I'll go to my favorite restaurant, order my most favorite meal, and then of course the decadence of some dark chocolate dessert chased by darker espresso!

But there are other days. Empty pocket days, dead channel days, static on the airwaves kinda gray days when you'll eat anything anyone offers, as long as it's free....just to quiet the rumbling and the nausea...just to be done with it already.

And so it with other things...the days when love is worth the wait, worth any price. When your list of non-negotiables is long and sacred and without a shadow of compromise. When your heart is happy to be held in His hands and your eyes are fixed on things above. Heady days, days of looking at yourself straight on in the mirror, days of self respect and contentment. Days when she might be about to turn the corner, but even if she's not, days of peace and patience and the lingering of longing and the promise of love.

Ah, but there are other days....the dead letter days, free-bleed nights, when a hand to hold is more preferable than oxygen, when a hug could save your's on those days when it would be so easy to make some easy to tell yourself that you've deluded yourself with romantic notions,
adolescent and pathetic. It's on those days when the temptation to give your heart away is greatest that you have to rage against that urge the fiercest....for if you are His than your heart is His and only His to give....

And He who made you...well he knows where you fit...He knows who is your other half...the last piece to the puzzle of you...the picture finally coming into focus....

Thanks to J- for opening a window this morning and letting hope back in...hope you find that perfect seashell...or that someone perfect finds it for you...

And to everyone one else....if anyone's out there....if You can trust Father with your soul for all eternity....well than trusting Him with your heart for just one lifetime is nothing too hard.

And if I might be so bold....might be allowed one moment of gratuitous self-promotion....if you're out there....I'm waiting....empty pockets and notebooks full of poems....a little more lost in Him.
...on a day like today...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I Am A Little Braver

We live in the fear of being found out. Of being unmasked, of having our secrets spilled, our truth held to the light and exposed for the thin, counterfeit it is. It could be the things we do in secret, the things we hate, but feel compelled to do. It might be the shame of failures that haunt us, that visit us at the most inopportune times and steal our joy. It might be the self-loathing that is borne of years of insecurity or the gray fog of depression that never lifts (and the sunny smile we wear to hide it) might be all of these and more.....

And if this were our lot in struggle alone against the onslaught of so much sorrow....well then I'd of pulled the trigger a long time ago....I'd of run my Jeep into a concrete embankment.....

But as Isaiah prophesied "He was lifted up even though many who were appalled at him. His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and His form marred beyond human likeness.

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Men hid their faces from Him, He was despised.

But yet still He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and yet His Father laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth."

Sorrow, shame, self-hate, addiction, depression, disappointment, and despair were nailed into the cross....through the tender wrists of Jesus. And because of that I adore Him.

And because He never said a word, because though He was innocent he did not speak up and cast the blame where it was due...on me.....He is my hero.

And because He ripped the mask off of hell and death and the grave. Because he exposed the philosophies of men for the counterfeits they were. Because He allowed Himself to be stripped bare.....I am a little braver. I can face the day.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Out Of The Mouth Of Babes.

This past April my friend Sam and I traveled to D.C. for an IJM conference. We spent time in and around the capitol, stood where MLK gave his "I have a dream" speech, walked the solemn, heart rending halls of the Holocaust Memorial, and criss-crossed the city on subways and shuttle buses. On the walls of the public transit vehicles were PSAs and other messages on every subject from littering to child abuse. One campaign had quotes from school children and one particular quote from a fifth grader named
Carolyn Keshap broke my heart as well as blowing my mind. She said:

"I stare at the fire. It is dimming. Now it is nothing. I light it again. I wish it were that easy for me to restart my life. Considering how many people I have hurt."


I do not know what "hurt" this little girl thinks she has perpetrated on others, only that the perfect poetry and the emotional immensity of her words left me breathless.

Today as I sat far from D.C, far removed from the fifth grade, and on the other side of the gender divide, I conjured Miss Keshap's words, tried to wrap my clumsy mind around the colossal significance of them. And I was reminded that children often blame themselves for the crimes of others. That abused children will many times assume that they are being repaid for their own disobedience or failures or even that they should expect the abuse because of their lack of worth. I know these syndromes have been documented in enough books to fill a small library, but those words, on a bus, written by a fifth grader, said more in that small space, then a thousand libraries full of textbooks written by
PhDs. And not just that, but her words articulated the cry of so many devastated hearts of people of every age, the need for approval, acceptance and love.

Not sure what to say but that I hope Carolyn has somebody to tell her she's beautiful and full of worth and wonder. And I hope she has gotten over her self-loathing and will believe them when they tell her. But more than anything I hope she does get to start again, born anew, into the family of God by the sacrifice of the Son, adopted by the Spirit and sealed for all time.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Child Like Faith.

Faith is a much maligned concept. For the Marxist it's the delivery system of the opiate of the masses. For the Scientist it is that bothersome admittance "we don't know" or at very best the ongoing challenge to prove everything. For the Theist it is in some form or another, that way in which a soul touches god. Many a Christian sermon (and certainly many non-christian ones) have been preached on the subject, for better or worse, trying to capture that element of knowing that transcends belief, for without faith the scripture tells us, it is impossible to please God.

We live in a modern world, full of miracles of medicine and marvels of technology. It has caused a certain level of "sophistication" that makes modern man much less susceptible to un-skeptical belief. Think of a prophet four thousand years ago seeing his predecessor taken up into the air in a chariot of fire and then put that in the modern context of the many types of aircraft that actually to do just that. With a little imagination most of the miracles of the bible can, at least on the surface be somewhat explained away by rational if not modern conventions. And on the converse, many of the mechanizations of modern society would seem like miracles to even the great fathers of our faith.

India has been so much in my thoughts this month. Last night as I was driving home from work a little before midnight, I thought about a young boy I met one night at a believer's meeting. After the service many of the youth came forward for prayer, most wanting some measure of supernatural ability to pass their exams or for divine favor with instructors or school administrators. (One cannot overstate the borderline obsession in Indian society with excelling in school. It is the one road out of poverty, that one chance to escape the wheel of fate. And as I so painfully learned, the suicide rate among teenagers is spiraling upward as those pressures increase in light of emergent Indian middle class.) But other prayer requests were for healing, some for themselves or for a family member. After the long line dwindled to a few stragglers a woman approached me with her son. They had not been at the meeting but had been told someone was praying for the sick.

The young boy, barely a teen, had a look of pain mingled with apprehension on his feverish face. He was holding a bandaged hand upward in his other hand. He grimaced with every step. The "bandage" looked more like he was holding a fistful of trash in his little hand. The dirty, yellowed tatters taped together in a most distressing fashion. I carefully removed the bandage exposing a festering cut on his thumb. The original gash probably a quarter of an inch had blossomed into a infected gouge almost four times that size. The boy was worried sick and hot all over. I went to my room and grabbed an anti-bacterial wipe, a bandage and some triple anti-biotic cream. I gently wiped his hand clean and then put the cream on with a clean bandage and told them to come back the next day. I said a prayer for the boy as I returned the items to my room.

The next night the boy was back and we repeated the careful process of unwrapping his damaged thumb. There, after 24 hours, was a tiny cut, mostly healed. The boys fever was gone and the look of wild wonder and incredulous awe on his face was only eclipsed by his relief and thankfulness. I reapplied more cream and a fresh bandage and never saw him again. Until last night that is, when his little face popped into my tired brain and the Holy Spirit showed me what I had missed from the whole incident.

Jesus said unless you become like a child you won't enter the Kingdom, that the Kingdom belongs to such as these. In our modern "sophistication" we lack the ability to be amazed by God. We lack that wonder and awe that transposes the mundane into the sacred. I have long since ceased to be impressed by the internal combustion engine, I take for granted the impossibility of space travel, I can call or email anyone in the world instantaneously and I don't give it a second thought. But that young Indian boy, who was suffering needlessly, experienced a tiny bit of modern nicety and was blown straight away.

I have heard many a Christian lament the lack of miracles in the modern church, heard them blame the "ye of little faiths" that populate the pews in the 21st century. And I share their frustration. But it may just be that our faith has become so "sophisticated", so grown up, that we can't see the many miracles all around us. The perpetual miracles of sunrises and sunsets, the incredible and infinitely practical force of gravity, the all surpassing miracle of salvation. I believe we are so bored by our ease and excess, so inoculated by advancement, we can't see the wonderment of the infinite in our midst. And when we are not thankful for the little miracles, when we hold a sense of entitlement to them, it hardens our hearts, steals our awe.

We must become like little children again if we ever hope to see both the miraculous we long for and the very face of God. For it is the innocent of heart that see God. The scripture tells us that it is the Holy Spirit in side of believers that cries out Abba, literally, Daddy. It is the indwelling Spirit then, in this sense, that allows us to see everything through the filter of this impossibly intimate paternal relationship. Everything, from sunsets to space travel becomes a function of that intimacy, the lens of our perpetual understanding is focused by it. We are given back our awe, restored of our innocence by the Spirit of adoption,
literally, born again.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Gospel According To Mark.

I have this little exercise in spiritual scholarship that I do. It's really a simple thing but as with many simple things in the realm of truth, i find it quite profound. It goes something like this: if I'm going to be
at a conference or have an extended stay somewhere, somewhere for at least a couple days where there are a lot of people, I ask the Holy Spirit to show me the most humble person there. That is, to show me who is the most Christ like, who is the one with the servant's heart, that one person radiating sacrificial love.

On my way to India this May I prayed my little prayer on the long plane ride. To be honest, it's always a little emotional, this little prayer of mine, it conjures Christ on a lowly donkey, Christ wrapped in a towel washing feet, Christ naked on a tree. My skin is flushed, my eyes wet as I am typing this. Such gentle love, such humble sacrifice, this Savior.

What made India so remarkable in this respect was how it is very much a part of their culture to serve, to humbly submit to all sorts of of ignominious tasks and relentless
sufferings. And so it was, that as I spent time with the Believers at the little churches in and around Tuni, that I forgot my little prayer, surrounded by so much humility, so much love.

My daily routine in India began around 4:30 a.m.. Watching the sun rise over the little town from the flat roof of the concrete home, watching the poorest women, barely awake, walking to public toilets or wells. I would read some, pray some, but most mornings I would stay distracted by such lovely people doing such unassuming tasks. As my second week was winding down, I was finishing my morning ritual and as I was walking down the steps I saw a dark figure in the shadows. I stopped and adjusted my position to see, but not be seen. There, sitting on a small handmade bench was Mark. He had something on his lap and was busy about some task. I crept quietly down another step until I could make out what he was doing. He had a wet rag and was thoroughly washing a pair of leather sandals.
He worked intently in the stillness of the morning shadows and when he finished he quietly replaced the shoes by the gate leading into the house. A few minutes later pastor Kommina appeared out of the dark house and slipped his feet into his newly washed sandals. Mark bowed his head in respect as is Indian custom, his palms pressed together in front of him. Then the two 65+ year old men opened the gate to the road and climbed into Mark's rickshaw, one sleepy pastor, and one most incredible humble servant, peddling his friend to the outer villages to preach the gospel. And me, alone on the steps, cheeks hot with tears, heart crushed by the weight of the answer to my little prayer.

It would take a book to really do justice to the humility that Mark embodied, (or is that the Humility that embodied him ?) and there were so many countless others that were so very humble in their own right. I will never forget Mark or the gospel that this soft spoken man of so few words, lived so very loud.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Oh, forgive me this rant. (part 3)

We've all read Jesus saying something to the effect of how it will be better for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than a certain town who's hearts were hardened to the gospel.

And that's astonishing. I mean we regard Sodom and Gomorrah as ground zero for sexual perversion. And yet Ezekiel doesn't directly mention this aspect when he rebukes God's people.

Instead he says:

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it. (Ezekiel 16:49-50)

I suppose the abomination might have been the sexual perversion they are so known for, but God seemed more concerned with their spiritual pride and lack of compassion in light of the suffering of others, in such stark contrast to, and in spite of, their own "prosperous ease".

So what of a gospel that is preached that offers "prosperous ease"? What of a community of believers that has excess food and everything else while millions go without? What of a modern church who's heart is hardened to this truth, that pure religion before God undefiled is to take care of the orphans and widows?
What of a haughty people who think they deserve to live like king's while so many live as slaves?

I believe God is giving the first world church a very small window of time to repent. And if we don't, if we won't renounce these prosperity teachings and spend ourselves on behalf of the poor, all the ease we have known is going to disappear like water vapor and wind-blown smoke.

I believe God will do it, cause if He doesn't, well then I suppose he'd have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Oh, forgive me this rant. (part 2)

There are very few things that make me see red. I mean, blood boiling, teeth grinding, white knuckle rage red. Add to that list : The Prosperity Gospel. Specifically the preachers that preach it, the stations that let them, and the publishers that disseminate that shite. Pardon my French.

So I don't have a television. I haven't had one in close to a decade. But my dad and brother's do and love sports. So it was on the occasion of being at my parent's yesterday and waiting for a World Cup match to start that one of the Christian networks was on.

This preacher. This shepherd of God's flock. This man entrusted with caring for the bride of the Son of God was spewing such contemptuous vile that I was physically nauseated. He began by saying God wants you to be blessed. After making the audience repeat it several times he chastised them by saying they weren't getting it. But, to make sure they realized just how filthy rich God wanted them to be, he began to give an exhaustive list of his many possessions. This included, but was not limited to, 3 corvettes, all that had been miraculously donated to him by someone who had heard from God to give them to him. Apparently God had forgotten the first two Corvettes when he charged his servant to give the preacher yet another one. Silly God. He went on to mention another time when someone called him out of the blue to tell him they wanted to give him yet another Corvette, but of course that was just silly, silly! He already had 3!! So a BMW, of his color preference, was shipped directly from the factory in Germany to his mansion. Glory!

Then he began to tell the audience, Christ's beloved, that they should tithe one month's mortgage payment and that God would pay off their entire mortgage very quickly, just as God had so graciously done for him.

To be honest, that was as far as I made it. The ensuing aneurysm that I would have suffered if I watched another second of that perversity dictated that the channel be changed immediately.

If this were just a very isolated case, Youtube fodder that had a couple hundred views, we could laugh and dismiss it. But it's pandemic. The prosperity gospel is a cancer on the Truth. It must be irradiated, poisoned, cut out with severe prejudice. The world is watching us and we are showing them what god we worship. What motivates us, what our hearts desire.

How can we ever be forgiven for allowing this to be preached. There are thousands of families across the world living ON GARBAGE DUMPS!!!! That's me yelling so my head doesn't explode.

There are 300 million people that live on less than a dollar a day. That's the same number of people that live in ALL of America. 1 out of 5 childhood deaths are related to poverty or unclean water. 30 million people live in REAL slavery because poverty creates such favorable circumstances for evil men to exploit them.

Are all these people God's discards? Are they the refuse of Heaven? Does He not hear their cries? Perhaps it's because they don't realize God wants them to be blessed. If they would only just pay one month's mortgage, I guess they could panhandle for some change, pay it forward to God and within a few short months they too could be navigating the streets of poverty ravaged sub-Saharan Africa in their new sports car, a sure testimony to God's approval of them.

What?!!! Really?!!! These people are dying because the rich first world church is letting them die!!! We spend their portion on every whim of our calloused hearts. Christians give around two billion a year for world missions, about what they spend on chewing gum and scrap-booking. We spend ten times that on lawn care. 20 times that on potato chips. I could go on and on and on.... Suffice it to say it's reprobate and we are derelict in our responsibility to the poor. And then, with no fear of God, we pervert the gospel with the love of Money. I mean what else would cause a man to want 4 sports cars and talk about wealth with every breath. He loves it and so do we. Look at the Country Clubs we worship in. Look at the precious metals that drip off of us while we raise our hands in praise. Look at the espresso bars and the big screen televisions with the PS3's and the sports complexes out back. My God what have we become!?

Jesus said the love of money is the root of ALL evil. WOW!!! He said love your neighbor as your self. If you have two corvettes, er...coats give your neighbor one. In fact he said if they ask for your coat, give em yer shirt too!! But seriously. Put your family on that garbage dump, what would you think of the prosperity gospel then? What would you think about Christians that didn't spend their wealth to save you from your desperation?

We must divest ourselves of the things of this world. Before it's too late.

I'll shut up now. I'll let the Prophet speak. Forgive me, but please listen to the word of the Lord.

Ezekial 34

1The word of the Lord came to me: 2“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

7“‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

11“‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

And for the people of God:

17“‘As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. 18Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? 19Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

20“‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Fair warning. (part 3)

Ok. So Maybe I should just really sort out everything I want to say on a subject before posting....

just occurred to me what Jesus was telling the rich man when he told him to sell all his possessions. Earlier, in Matthew 13:44,45 Jesus told two parables. One about a hidden treasure and one about a pearl.

In the parable of the hidden treasure a man has unexpectedly found a hidden treasure. In his joy he sold all his possessions to buy the field it was in.

In the parable of the pearl, a merchant was looking for fine pearls and found one of great value. He went and sold all his possessions and bought it.

How had I never made the connection before....arghhh.

Nonetheless, and in spite of my obtuseness, in these two short parables, Jesus reveals His reasons and motives behind telling the rich man to sell all his possessions. Jesus wanted to be the man's joy. Jesus wanted to be the man's treasure. Jesus wanted to be wanted.



Fair warning. (part 2)

One thing I forgot to say about the stories of Zacchaeus and the rich man, the very thing that was my first revelation when I revisited the story, was this, that Jesus was not the one who called into question either man's sin or righteousness (in fact the men themselves brought it up). Jesus was not, nor is He, sin obsessed (like the modern church seems be at times). He was fully confident in the power of His presence and love to transform the hearts and natures of those that believed in Him. Fully confident in the person of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin, and righteousness, and judgment as the gospel of John tells us. And I can tell you from experience, I've never made friends with somebody by them telling me what was wrong with me. Never fell for a girl who was bent on bringing to light my shortcomings. It is God's kindness that leads us to repentance. Our kindness that expresses that to a fallen world. We all know John 3:16. But John 3:17 is just as mind blowing. That God sent Jesus to save us, not to condemn us. Amen!


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fair Warning.

This feels like a sermon. But here goes....

Last week I was revisited by a sing-song melody of my distant childhood. As I placed it I began to sing along. "Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree to see what he could see." And so on.... So I reread the story of Zacchaeus, the miniature tax collector and found it quite compelling especially in contrast to another rich man in scriptures that met Jesus.

In Luke 19:2 we learn that Zacchaeus was a wealthy high ranking official. The next 8 verses sum up his encounter with Jesus. The itinerant Jewish rabbi was entering Jericho and Zacchaeus wanted to see Him. Of course as the song clearly notes, due to his diminutive stature and the throngs of gawkers, Zacchaeus was having a great amount of perturbation in that respect. So he ran ahead of the crowd and he climbed a tree. Now as much as I know about first century customs, which isn't a lot I suppose, this activity of running and climbing was very unseemly for a man, especially one of prominence. But it was an earnest act. One of apparent desperation and humility, and Jesus not only noticed but responded by inviting himself to the tiny taxman's house for dinner, an act in Jewish custom that signified in no uncertain terms the commencement of a friendship. Zacchaeus instantly renounced any and all fiscal impropriety and promised four fold reparations to the wronged at which point Jesus declared that salvation had come to the wee little man. Amen!

In Mathew 19 verse 16 another rich man has his life collide with Jesus. The short account has the man asking Jesus what good thing he can do to find eternal life. After a rhetorical question that might have been more a comment on the mans motives, Jesus gives him the Mosaic response telling the man to obey the commandments. This the man had done without fail since his youth. So Jesus said simply and yet improbably "If you want to be perfect sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor." (And as Luke 18:22 adds, to follow Him.) We all know how that went over, for the man was very rich and sulked away. Prompting Jesus to tell his disciples that "it [was] easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven". Ouch.

Two rich men. Two completely different outcomes. But why? What struck me first was each man's desires. The rich man in Matthew was looking for eternal life, Zacchaeus, well, he was looking for Jesus. The bible says God gives us the desires of our hearts. The ones we state and the hidden ones that rule us I suppose. Zacchaeus wanted Jesus. He got that and eternal life. The rich man wanted eternal life, but the price was too high. His desire was for his wealth more than anything else. He didn't get eternal life because he didn't desire the one in whom eternal life is found. He wanted heaven, and so Jesus offered it to him, but in the future tense, if he would spend himself on behalf of the poor. (Not, I suspect to "buy" his eternal salvation by some "good" work, but to show the humble repentance of his heart.) Zacchaeus just wanted Jesus and Heaven was given to him, that day, right there, "salvation came to his house". God responds to our urgency, our desperation, our earnestly, humbly seeking Him.

Secondly, Jesus says in Luke 19:10 that he came to seek and save that which was lost. Zacchaeus knew he was lost, knew his own corruption and greed. Certainly everyone else did as per their reaction when Jesus decided to eat with him. The rich man on the other hand was righteous by the religious standards of the day. He had obeyed the law and the prophets and this would have been well know in such a close community. In his pride, or maybe his religious conditioning, he missed what Jesus had asked him, albeit cryptically, "Why do you ask me what is good? Only One is good." In essence, there is no eternal life through your good works, but only in heaven's good work- The coming of the Christ, to seek and save the lost. And then the man's true desires were exposed, as desire's always are, in the self-evident truth that "where your treasure is there will your heart be also".

The final thing that I wanted to mention was this. Zacchaeus met Jesus and instantly gave half of his possessions to the poor. In the early church those that had experienced Jesus had all their possessions in common. This was the reoccurring theme of those having experienced the redemption of the cross and the Person of Jesus, and their subsequent desire to give back all they had in worship of the one who Sacrificed all of Himself for them. A primary external manifestation of a heart being filled with the loving presence of God is the desire to love others, to meet their physical needs, and to share in their suffering. A heart that has been transformed by God's sacrificial love will do this instinctively, organically, and spontaneously with great joy. It is the fruit of the Spirit that naturally grows from the seed of salvation. Which begs the question? What do we, the elect, do with what we have on behalf of the poor? Are we so incredulously fulfilled by God's tender longing for us that the world and it's possessions have dimmed and faded in importance? Or are we sulkily resisting the Holy Spirit when he asks us to take care of the least among us, to really love our neighbor as ourselves? If we really have met Jesus, if He is really the desire of our hearts, is He enough for us down here? Is He our treasure?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Two Weeks in India

I have wanted to put words to my I think are better suited. What a beautiful people. What a deeply humbling and heartrending two weeks.

This little girl was a bit self-conscious. She was very wary of the pale person with the camera. And rightly so I suppose.

At the Bay of Bengal I met this girl with an infectious smile. She was quick to volunteer for a picture though her siblings were a bit more suspicious.

The younger brother of the girl at the Bay of Bengal. I especially like his American flag patch on his jean jacket. He wore it proudly but wore nothing else. His shyness I suspect was not modesty though. Naked and half-naked children were everywhere. With the heat index approaching 115 everyday I think they had the right idea. Jean jackets notwithstanding.

This young man wore his very best and suffered a bit for his trouble. Even in the shade of a porch the heat was suffocating. His sweating didn't in anyway dampen his song though and what an incredible voice he had. I didn't understand his Taligu language but his passion and his faith were evident.

These kids lived at an orphanage. They were timid and slow to smile. When contorting my face into ridiculously silly gestures failed to illicit smiles and probably served only to reinforce my alienness, I got them to pose with my sunglasses. This brought the smiles by the bucketfuls. Though the consensus was that I looked like Jesus I spent considerable time trying to convince them they were created in God's image and that Jesus was Arab and probably favored them more than me. I hope my interpreter conveyed those sentiments better than I felt I did.

The shelves in the orphanage were empty. There was not a single toy. They had nothing save for the kindness of believers and each other. These girls took to spinning and twirling and their laughter was the most amazing sound! There are 35 million orphans in India, 18 million of whom are homeless. After putting 20 some faces to a small percentage of those statistics I can only say that it leaves one shaken and sick.

This was taken in the village of Vata Pradhi (?spelling?). I cannot find this village on a map. I was told I was the first American to ever visit them. By the looks on their faces I'd have to agree. They, like so many others I met, were shy and standoffish. So I decided to frown desparatly in an attempt to make them smile. It worked! And oh what smiles they had!!

This woman defied description for me. She had this fierce look of independence in her eyes that was tempered with a deep compassion. Her story must be incredible. She tenderly corralled the children on to a porch where they sat covered in flies and lice, their clothing with stitches on stitches and safety pins doing what zippers and buttons once did.

This was my favorite picture that I took. Something about her dingy, tattered dress and her intense beauty personified all of India for me.

Love this shot. The henna vine wrapping around her arm, her silver bracelets and pink dress. And again, though you'll have to trust me on this one, what a smile.

This precious woman was the first believer in Vata Pradhi, 20 years ago. She flagged us down as we were leaving to offer us cookies and tea and to give the pastor her offering; A rooster, a bag of field peas, and some rice. It was a little hard not to get choked up by the exchange.

The aforementioned rooster with a most extraordinary man. His servant's heart and generous smile were indefatigable. Again, everything about him defied description. Certain people's story must be told in their own words to avoid sounding contrived or inauthentic. I suspect this gentleman would fall into that category of autobiographers.

My last day in Tuni I went to a traditional, albeit small, Indian wedding. The service proper started at 4 a.m after a night of dancing and singing. For the first time in two weeks I was not the only one lost in the language. The ceremony was entirely in Sanskrit. The bride and groom had to be continually prompted through sign language to fulfill their ritual obligations. What struck me the most were the elements of foot washing and the use of veils. It seemed to me in a culture where so many hopes, dreams and societal standings are tied to marriage that the gospel could be contextualized in a powerful way drawing reference to the mystery of the church as the bride and her bridegroom Jesus. A reoccurring thought I had and one I'd like to study.

There are other pictures of course. Ones not taken, ones not shared. Of the abject poverty and grotesque suffering. I suppose they should be shown, but not right now. Right now I wanted to introduce you to India at her best. Through the beauty of her people. In her innocence and lack of modern sophistication. What i want you to know about India, what I want you to learn from her, what I learned from her is this. In the villages anyway, the people I met were truly thankful and had no sense of entitlement. They were not spoiled, in any sense of the word. And maybe that's why I feel I owe them both an obligation and an apology. First to protect them from being westernized and secondly, I hope I left nothing of myself there. Nothing but the love of God. And if I did, I am truly sorry.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Bone Factory.

When I was 15 I went to Mexico on a mission trip with my church youth group. We pantomimed bible stories for the school aged children. I was tallest in the group so I played Goliath in one skit. Our interpreter read the story of the shepherd boy who would be king, his five smooth stones, and the horrible six-fingered Philistine. Whenever she said the name "Goliath" I would roar and raise my cardboard sword and tin foil shield and the children would squeal as one and collectively shrink back from where they sat on the dirty concrete floor.

The day before we returned to the States we drove into Monterrey. The road stretched out before us long and flat and dull, with only a few sparse shacks that barely passed muster as businesses along the way. One proffered fresh fruit, while another offered tire repair in two languages. A smell began to bring comments from our crowded van that soon turned to complaints and simulated gagging and then into pervasive nausea and noses buried in shirts or held between thumb and forefinger. The smell increased at an alarming rate until it was burning our throats and keeping us from deep breaths. Our guide informed us of the origin of the wretched stench.

She pointed to an industrial structure rising out of the dirt. It was nearly a mile from the main highway and the only brick building for miles. She said it was called the Bone Factory by the locals. It was a processing plant for an ingredient in soap. The roadkill and waste from slaughterhouses was brought there and allowed to rot in a chamber and at certain intervals the carcasses were incinerated to reduce them to bone ash. This sediment was then taken somewhere off site and added to soap as a substitute for pumice as an abrasive. We were all barely able to keep from vomiting at this point. After getting on down the road a bit and upwind of the Bone Factory I mustered a question about the workers and there ability to work in those conditions. Our guide explained that the workers along with those living in this area had lost all sense of smell and taste. We were astonished. Even more so when she told us just how bad the smell was when the factory had been in had closed 2 years previous.

I hadn't thought about the Bone Factory in years until last night when I was reading Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel's book "Children Of The Flames" about Josef Mengele and his wicked experiments on the twins at Auschwitz. In it, one of the twins, Eva Mozes, recounts an incident that happened after the war.

"A couple of years after the war, our Rabbi in Cluj decided to hold a memorial service for all the Jews from our town who had died in the Holocaust. The Rabbi said that if anyone in the congregation had bars of soap left over from the concentration camps, we should bring it to the temple. He told us it had to be "buried" because it had been made from human flesh. It was the first time I had heard that. Before we left the camp, my twin sister and I took whatever we could with us. At a time when goods were scarce, I used the soap all the time. After the Rabbi's address, I felt terrified. I thought, "Maybe I used soap made from my family." For years, I had continuous nightmares. Every night, I dreamt I was washing myself with soap made from my parents or sister."

The "bone factories" of Auschwitz spewed the ash and stench of 8 thousand Jews a day into the German countryside. From the fires of that hell may or may not have actually come soap. Scholars and historians have come to a relative consensus that this was probably one of many lies perpetrated on the Jews by the SS to further break their spirits. (Although there have been a few documented admissions of former SS scientists who did experiment with a process of using human fat to make soap.) Nonetheless, I remember my repulsion at the horrific smell for those 5 short minutes that afternoon in Mexico, and at the thought of using soap made from rotting animals. But I cannot even begin to imagine how young Eva must have felt having lived years in the shadows of the Nazi ovens. Each day breathing in the stench of the dead, and everyday since wondering if she had washed herself with the remains of her family.

I have a very keen, borderline acute, sense of smell. Some small consolation I suppose for my almost as acute nearsightedness, but it has left certain indelible marks on my psyche. One, of course, was the bone factory in Mexico, but another this past weekend at the Holocaust Museum in D.C.. This week marks the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps by American soldiers. There were special exhibits and events all week at the museum. But the one exhibit that affected me the most, the one that will stay with me the longest, was the thousands of confiscated shoes of the victims of the camps.

There they were piled on either side of the walkway, boots, sandals, loafers, even what appeared to be a pair of heels that would have been worn for a night on the town. Of course the shoes were in every size imaginable, the tiniest revealing the youngest victims. As gut wrenching as the sight of those miniature shoes was, what scarred me most was their smell. I have long disdained the smell of molded, damp, leather stored in airless places. That smell gets to working on my gag reflex rather efficiently. But I am thankful now for that smell. I will never forget those shoes, the brutality of Nazi torture. They will never become just a photo facsimile shut in a book, shelved among many other books, every time I smell that smell I will remember. I will remember the ovens, the "bone factories" of the Nazi camps, I will remember Eva and the twins. I will remember what happens when the world sleeps through the screams of the defenseless.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Oh, forgive me this rant.

I was sitting in the emergency room with a friend and our seats faced the front window and the television. The program was chronicling the life and times of a fallen starlet. Her career had hit the dreaded "rock bottom", and she was slowly trying to climb back up the mountain of artistic acclaim. We watched as her limo took her from one record label to the next for them to tell her that they didn't want to release her latest album. She reminisced about her days of glory from her mansion's commercial sized, granite paneled kitchen. She was quick to mention her faith and she even cried at one point.

I'm no marketing guru. But honey buy yourself your own record label and release your songs already. Jeez.

Next up was a preacher telling us to send him a "seed" and that if we did, God would bring such a harvest of cash and possessions into our lives that we would never want again. It's the familiar shtick we've heard for years and yet the audience was full of "believers" ready to testify to the financial "miracles" that had befallen them at the very hour of their desperation when they had obediently sown a "seed" into the particular man's ministry.

Now this begs a question, at least to me anyway. Is the only fertile soil on God's once green earth the pockets, wallets and bank accounts of these snake oil salesmen? I mean not once do these men encourage the unwashed masses to sow seeds into the lives of the the impoverished around them. Never do they actually put the sowing and reaping scriptures they are so fond to preach in the biblical context in which they were spoken. Of course not. Where's the profit in that.

In the ten minutes that I've been writing this 150 children died of malnutrition. Another will die before I finish typing this sentence. According to World it costs 2/3rds of a cent to feed a person a half a cup of food. My 3 dollar Americanos twice a day could feed a family of 5.

Here's a few scriptures for you madam and for you preacher man.

And especially for me.

Deuteronomy 15:11 For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, “You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.”

Psalms 82:3-4 Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; free them from the hand of the wicked.

Proverbs 31:20 (It is said of the Godly woman that) She extends her hand to the poor, Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.

Matthew 19:21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Luke 14:13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.

Galatians 2:10 [They desired] only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.

2nd Corinthians 9:8-15 God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written: “He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.” Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, and by their prayer for you.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Father Jeremiah and the Illuminati

Father Jeremiah feared the subversive Illuminati most. He said they were the shadow government behind all governments, and most of the churches. Father Jeremiah was a Russian Orthodox priest, curt with disenchantment. He had a wizard’s beard and a monk’s hooded cloak made of black wool that smelled of stale sweat and mildew. Around his neck hung relics of a dying sect, silver-plated and peeling badly. He lived alone on Mars Hill Road in an electric blue and neon orange sanctuary whose front porch frowned at passing cars under the weight of a roof unequally distributed between its two outer posts. On one of those straining supports was tied a giant gong from Ethiopia whose other end was fastened to the house by thick nautical rope. Hanging by the front door that centered the porch was a mallet that Father Jeremiah used to wake the morning and announce the Holy days. Tied to the other post was a moon-eyed dog that wore the spotted coat of its wild desert brothers. Inside was candle-lit mostly, with a few dim bare-bulbs in the darkest halls and the bath. The walls were dark earth brown, eighteenth century icons hung like windows every six feet or so. The copper and brass images of long dead saints stared into the dark rooms through these windows and flickered with artificial life from the candles that clung to the walls between each flaking frame. In every room there were ornate canters slowly smoking incense into the air, black pepper and cloves.

The air was thick with damp, mildewing, slow-rotting wood. On the dark table in the largest room, the one with the fireplace, the sole source of heat, sat piles of undelivered newspapers. In the corner was a cot where Father Jeremiah had been sleeping off January in this one warm room with its stone hearth and picture less mantle. I was there to fix a shower drain but first was taking the makeshift tour of the musty little museum, listening to its eccentric curator reminisce about Russia and his fellow priests whose exploits of faith he would never be able to duplicate. The silence of the dead saints on the walls must have seemed to communicate their approval to Father Jeremiah for his pious humility because arbitrarily he would stop before one of them and say a silent prayer of thanks for their indulgence.

We had tea as I helped him roll and bag newspapers for the paper route he ran for some spending money. He gave me stern warnings of all the clandestine goings on of the dastardly Illuminati. I sipped my tea slowly and tried to read this man old enough to be my grandfather. What if any joy had his religion brought him? Here he was cloistered away in his tiny temple afraid and alone, the Jesus frozen in a frame on the wall unable to comfort him, unable to ease his fears. We finished our tea and the busy work that kept the lulls in conversation from being too awkward. Finally we said our polite goodbyes and I drove home a little sad for my new friend. I never saw Father Jeremiah again. My mom said he came into the drug store where she cashiered now and again to buy a case of beer, but that he never spoke and rarely ever made eye contact.

Maybe this is why our Heavenly Father warns us against graven images. Maybe it’s that Jesus becomes so familiar, so innocuous, so much a fixture in a room, that He ceases to be the risen savior that kicked the teeth out of the Beast and razed Satan’s kingdom to the ground. Or maybe it’s because Jesus becomes a fixed point in space, static and powerless to overcome our fears, our failures, our loneliness, or even the dreaded Illuminati.

I always meant to go visit Father Jeremiah again, I’m very sad and somewhat ashamed that I never did. I wish that even in my youth I could have somehow found a way that day to communicate the vibrant joy that knowing Jesus gave me. Wish I could have shared the comfort of the precious Spirit. Wish Father Jeremiah could have felt the tenderness of his heavenly Father the way I have so many wonderful times. When I close my eyes I can still see that old dog with its milky white cataracts. I can still hear the deep roar of that giant gong. And I can still smell Father Jeremiah’s mildewed robe from when we shook hands goodbye.