Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Motorcycle manna

For 2 years I have not received a paycheck. The CEO has always sent us exactly what we need month to month. I don't know how else to explain this. It's even more difficult to explain this to parents or in-laws. They think we're nuts. We probably are.

A year ago we were hit with the news that all possible funding sources for us and the ministry had dried up. This really hurt as I was due to become a dad in 6 weeks. I, like the guys in the boat with my friend Jesus, began to panic at the sight of the storm. And, of course, He showed me this was no 'big deal' and calmed the storm. Long story short, the CEO always provided in an efficient manner and we never went without anything. Which is very reassuring to me because a at least a couple times a year I get discouraged with this secret agent crap and wonder if I'm doing the right thing in life. Yet deep down I know I am. But a steady paycheck would sure be nice.

Well 6 weeks ago I again get bleak news on the financial front. We have enough money in the bank to get our household through the September budget then we'll have zero for October with no 'predictable' prospect of pay. I fell for the temptation of looking through the classifieds for work last week. Didn't see anyone hiring undercover agents or anything with my limited skills.

Then out of the blue I get a weird phone call from my old High School friend M.C. Hammer. Hammer & I have known each other since 5th grade in our hometown of Houston. We lost touch after graduation (over 15 years ago) yet through the miracle of the internet I found him last year so we met up for lunch one day in the metroplex (where he now lives) in Aug '04. We've emailed several times since but last week I get his phone call:
"B. I'm trying to get a new job in Ft. Worth so I need to get rid of some stuff before the move. I have a dirt motorbike I need to get rid of. I don't have time to mess with it. Do you think you could sell it for me in your fair mother city? You can keep the money."
Supposedly this bike's worth between $900-$1400.

Hammer's always been predictably weird. His weird antics are not predictable. Just the fact that he'll be weird is predictable. God is kinda like Hammer. I never know how he's going to provide. I just know He will.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Poverty, the foreign culture

OK, I'm new at this blogging bit. My posts are long now but will hopefully become a single paragraph in the near future. Hey...I have a lot of pent-up stuff that wants to come out...

I've found the best way to discuss poverty to the middle class is to relate to poverty as a foreign culture. Imagine going to a country far different from your own. I've been to several rural villages in a remote area of South Africa and I'm an American. Rural Africans do things far different from the way I do things. They don't do things *wrong*...just different. They look different, eat different foods, dress different, their homes are made of mud with dirt floors. Their customs are far different from mine, etc.

Poverty is a foriegn culture as compared to the middle or wealthy class. Poor people don't do things *wrong*...just different. Their priorities are far different from mine. Sometimes these priorities may seem wrong, but I've known middle class folks who've had screwed up priorities as well (ie: me). Poverty folks dress different, live differently, drive different cars, spend their money differently, and on and on.

Believe me...I'm not one to recommend books. I absolutely hate it when someone hands me a book and says something to the effect of, "here...this will change your life". They usually mean, "here...this will make you think like me which will make me happy". Anyway, if you want to read the best book on understanding the poor read "A Framework for Understanding Poverty" by Ruby K. Payne, PhD.

"Framework" is not a churchy book. It's not even a Christian book (although Dr. Payne is a Christian, I understand). It is a thin, 150 page textbook/workbook written by an educator for education students. Her basic purpose was for teachers in training to be prepared to know 'why' the poor act the way they do since most first time teachers may be working in the poor parts of town. The overall theme is how poverty is NOT a lack of money. It IS a lack of one or more resources in which money is just one of the list of 8. Resources like financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems, relationship/role model, and knowledge of hidden rules. Also, there are 2 types of poverty: situational and generational. The 2 are completely different.

Facinating if not essential for anyone ministering to, working with, or befriending the poor. I highly recommend this book - which can be found at most college book stores (I got mine 6 years ago at Hardin-Simmons).

Outside the church (club) Part II

I do not wish to offend anyone. On this blog, my refering to churches as 'clubs' or even 'social clubs' is not meant to be insulting or cynical. Cynicism, last I checked, is not a fruit of the spirit. I have never seen anything good grow from cynicism so forgive me if I come across that way.

For years I have felt there was something weird about churches yet couldn't put my finger on exactly who, what, when, where or why. Then I met the poor. The poor are REAL and I love realness. The poor can't hide their sins as good as those reading this blog (middle class?). It's hard to hide one's "homelessness" (dirty clothing, weathered skin, perhaps an alcohol stained breath). And I'm convinced that being homeless (well...90% of the homeless) is the result of many things that all boil down to a lifestyle of deceit. Please...I'm not trying to shove all homeless folks into a box. Everyone has a different situation. Guys that hold signs on street corners (called 'flying a sign') are almost all con artists. They told me themselves and confessed this. They shared with me their tactics (very methodical and thought out) and what they spend thier earnings on (rarely what was advertised on the sign). It's all a lie. Another example: many people in the poverty culture are overweight, even obese. Sure, affordable and free foods given away at church pantries are usually some of the most non-nutritional and fatty foods available. But being overweight can demonstrate several sins: sloth, gluttony, undiscipline, etc. WARNING***I AM NOT JUDGING PEOPLE OR THE POOR. I am making the point that the poor's sins are MORE VISUALLY OBVIOUS than my sins. My sins are easy to hide from others: oh...that porn link just appeared in my email box. Might as well peek - it's not like I was looking for it. Judgemental comments swim in my head daily. Why do I stare at some women's body in public? Lust?? The list goes on. Forgive me, G-O-D.

Oh yea...back to church/club. The 'club' nickname for churches was stolen directly from Reggie McNeal's book "The Present Future" about the postmodern/emergent church debate. I really didn't like this book. Well the first 2-3 chapters were great but the rest went downhill fast as I interpreted it as highly religious. Meet the new boss...same as the old boss (another post). PF started very fresh an truthful: Christians by and large have sold out Jesus' mission for the shallow practice of "what keeps the church (ie: club or institution) running". Let's face is a club. There is membership, expectations, a hidden mold to fit into, dues to pay (that ink toner ain't free), etc. The organism is truly an organization or institution.

While working at izzy which operated in a local church I fell in love with the poor. And the more I became close friends with the poor the weirder church became for me. Example: immbedded within most Christian's minds is the desire to get people to join our church. We come up with cool programs, marketing schemes, etc (this should be an entirely different blog post). At izzy, we operated a food pantry for the poor in the community. Then later a clothing room, showers, soup kitchen, overnight stay for the homeless, and a computer lab for the community. Out of the hundreds or 1000's of different people who came through our door I can think of ONE who 'joined the church' we were housed at. And that person never quite fit the mold of membership and was a huge burden on the church members due to her poverty culture. Yet I'm not disappointed with this woman. She was expected to completely change cultures just to 'fit in'.

My basic gist here: the poor are a foriegn culture and the club member Christians have often expected them to fit into the club's mold. Get with the program, etc. Honestly, I have NO PROBLEM with my Christian brothers who attend club. If that's your calling than go be blessed and do it. But I know what MY calling is so I'm going with it. I'd rather be at my 'lost' neighbor's backyard BBQ on Sunday with good grillin', cheap beer, and loud Spanish music than sitting through another talk on 'how to maintain the club'.

Hopefully this post will give reference to future posts that mention 'club'.

Outside the church (club) Part I

I have not been part of a standard church group for almost 3 years. I am a Christian. I'm a drop-dead Jesus freak and not ashamed to say so - he's my friend. I am absolutely in love with the poor and impoverished of our fair mother city and I want to introduce them to this friend of mine.

Somehow after stumbling into my true calling as a minister to the poor through the izzy group (which has imbedded me within the poverty culture of our fair mother city) not being part of "the church" seemed to be a natural progression.

Oh going Christians who hear this are ruthless. They take it as if I've personally insulted them. And believe me...I'm not trying to get them to 'join me' in some sort of idealistic crusade of bolting from the church. But on average, many of them are over zealous in getting me and the family into church. I think their reaction exposes their own fleshy idols, but I won't push that issue. In social settings I'm always asked, "so where do you go to church?" My smart-ass side usually says, "hey, I don't GO to church. I AM the church". Then they say with a nervous laugh, "Ha ha. OK. No but really, where do you go?" Truthfully, I chicken out and skip the smart-ass comment and mumble something like, "we just worship in our home" because it's true, that's what we do. This response receives both positive and negative comments about some sort of home church movement. Mostly negative.

My spiritual upbringing was typical yet weird. Or maybe 'typical' IS weird. I grew up in Houston. Only child. My father had a vague baptist background but never seriously commited his young life to my friend. My mother was completely unchurched growing up. Bingo - I'm born. They have an epiphany (which I am convinced was the Holy Spirit, aka The Ghost) in that they found themselves new, young parents who wanted to "raise their son right" and felt that 'church' might have something to do with that. They sought out Christians who gladly showed them my friend Jesus. Boom. When I was 3 mom & dad were baptised at the church of Christ and have been members ever since, thus raising me the same. I commited myself to this friend Jesus at age 11, although I later wondered if I knew what I was doing since baptism was like a right-of-passage for youth in the coc and I didn't want to be left out. Nor did I want that loud preacher visiting my home one night unexpectedly. I had no deep family roots in the coc and thus searched for more of this G-O-D in my college and post college years (even though I attended a coc sponsored school).

After college I later suffered through a diagnosed manic depression illness fueled by many things, namely idolotry through music and a messed up relationship with a girl I dated for 2.5 years. Depression IS miserable. You see no way out. Things that once made you happy don't anymore. Medication just hides the effects of depression...but it's still there. Like sweeping dirt under a rug. Then alone in my room one night I remembered my friend whom I barely knew by that point. I pray, "JESUS, heal me of this. I want out". Boom. I am healed. No more depression. Can't explin it. I stumble across a group of semi-charismatic coc-ers who embrace me and during this period my life changes. Later I get involved in a full-blown charismatic church where I meet and befriend the poor. After 3 years of much political ballyhoo between the church and it's unwanted child 'izzy' (the benevolent ministry of the church), here I am churchless and loving it.

More later...

Monday, August 29, 2005

Obi-Wan (Floyd) Kenobi

Agent wife & I bought a house about 2.5 years ago. I call it a borderline neighborhood: bordering between middle class and poverty culture and slowly teetering towards the latter daily.

2 months after our move-in I met Obi Won on his front porch. Obi-Wan is an 88 year old black man who's lived in our neighborhood for 35 years. Growing up on a farm in Chilton, TX (outside Waco) he's had his share of life experiences (racial predjudices and forgiveness issues that I'll never experience, I'm sure). Obi-Wan worked in service stations all his life except for the 3 years he served against his will (drafted) in the US Army during WWII. He's outlived 2 wives: wife #1 - Margaret who died in the early 1980's and wife #2 - Katie who died the month before Obi-Wan & I met. Then there were 2 other wives before them that he really doesn't consider wives since they cheated on him then left him (or so that's his side of the story). Non wife #1 - Roberta wanted a divorce while he was over seas in WWII and left him when he returned to the US. Non wife #2 - Jennie Mae mothered his 2 kids and 2 step kids. Both step kids were from the same man but the 1st kid came before Obi-Wan's marriage and the 2nd kid came after the birth of Obi-Wan's kids during his separation from non wife #2. Confused yet??

In 1953 while working at a service station in Waco and depressed from 2 failed marriages, a traveling insurance man (a 'white Christian guy from Tennessee') suggested he try new scenery. Jobs in West Texas (Abilene, Midland, and Odessa) were plentiful at the time. The man suggested that Obi-Wan cash his paycheck that Friday and buy a bus ticket. If things didn't work out in the new place the white man offered to send Obi-Wan money for the trip back to Waco.

Obi-Wan boarded a bus, got off at the first stop (our fair mother city) on a Saturday, spent the night with a friend's relative, attended Macedonia Baptist Club the next morning (where he's still a member), found a service station job on Monday, started working on Tuesday ("and I've worked ever since"), got his own apartment on Friday, and has been in the mother city ever since.

Due to his age and health Obi-Wan doesn't get out much anymore. He hasn't been to his club in 2 years. And church/club dealings will be posted later. So I usually try to spend my Sunday am at Obi-Wan's house, where the bacon is cooking, tasty and the preachin' is even better.

Yesterday morning was no exception. Obi-Wan was preaching to himself before I arrived. He went on and on about the funeral preparations for wife #2 a couple of years ago and how the minister didn't do her justice by not letting her female friends speak, etc. "So the message today is about how people will eventually let you down, so forgive them anyway?", I ask.
"No" he said. "Never forget Nobody".

I love Obi-Wan. With exception of Agent Wife, Obi-Wan is my best friend. I never stop learning from him.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

bite the bullet...get a blog

I never wanted a blog. Nope. Never. I'm convinced blogs are for people with ego problems. Or maybe confidence issues.

"A blog?" I says to myself. "Only if I was completely anonymous". I can't see putting my personal digs on the world wide waste-of-time. There's dignity within me somewhere. I've been journaling since 1991. I have a stack of chemistry notebooks (light blue canvas cover w/ dark blue binding and yellow pages) written in black felt ink...all for the possible amusement of my great great grandchildren. They'll probably post them on the world wide brain implant web in 2091. What will I care. I'll be dead.

I want to live in reality 24/7. Realness is how the CEO (G-O-D) operates. I grew up with a lot of falseness in my & dad only pretending to get along when we were at church, etc. I don't watch TV
because of its overt fakery. Therefore I don't own a TV - and not for some kinda religious reason. I seldom watch movies and when I do I watch them with caution because I don't want to be sucked into that fantasy universe for too long, especially after the movie's over (sci-fi fans anyone?? - Yes, I use to be one). I really don't like plays. At all. I know those actors go home at the end of the night just like me even if they tried convincing me otherwise for 2+ hours.

All that to say: I despise falseness but I have an alter ego: Agent B (aka secret agent B). Yes...the irony puzzles me. But the reason for "Agent B" lies within the CEO's book. Matthew 6:1-4 to be precise. I am, by all uses of the term, a minister. I "work" (highly exagerated quotes) within a benevolent group (izzy) in Abilene, Texas - the mother city. Izzy once had a physical location where the poor, homeless could "go". I, therefore, could easily spew answers of my "occupation" at middle class social affairs:
"Yes, I work at Izzy. *We* minister to the working class poor and homeless."
"Oh that's SO GOOD", they'd reply with a mothering affection. Then they'd change subjects and talk about a new TV show.
Yay me. Whoopee. I got my reward!! Throw Matt 6 down the toilet. Who needs a heavenly reward when we have man's approval.

Through circumstances beyond my control (and I truly believe the CEO know's what he's doing) Izzy has been through a 'Job-like' crisis. We lost most everything. No building, no identity, nothing. Yet we still exist. Izzy was thrust into a semi-anonymous role in our community (hey...we ain't looking for press). Thus...Agent B comes to life. Izzy may have something more concrete in the future, but who cares. I'm just a field agent now and loving it. A missionary, I guess, imbedded within the poverty culture of the mother city, USA. No name tag, no office (does Starbuck's count?) no big sign on a building, etc. Just friends, neighbors, and situations throughout the city and beyond.

...and I still don't do well in middle-class social rantings about my "job". Did the CEO's son (Jesus) have a job? At the wedding party where he provided the booze from water tap did he mingle with strangers? And when asked for his line of work what did he say? 'I'm your saviour'? 'I defeat sin'? 'I'm a physician'?

So there it is...the pilot post. We'll see if this blog lasts through September '05...