Monday, October 31, 2005

Jesus mummy

I don't like halloween. I don't hate it or have some ridiculous religious aversion to it. Halloween's just the weirdest day in our culture and I haven't enjoyed it since I was a little kid.

A friend of mine, pastor Bubba, from Johnson County, TX (where rednecks were invented) recently voiced my exact feelings about it. He said something like - if a person from somewhere like Africa, or Haiti (or any other place where average people know A LOT about the dark side of the spirit world) came to visit the US and asked what Halloween was about...we'd have a hard time explaining:

"Halloween is the day we celebrate fear and death. We dress up like monsters and set our yard up to look like a cemetery and scare the hell out of each other. Then the next day we're back to normal...mocking you 3rd world people and your silly "spells" and "magic". Don't you know everything has a scientific and logical conclusion? And the only spirit is God. He lives in this here box that we've placed him in?"

I know all kinds of churches take full opportunity for massive outreach on Halloween. Or at least serve the neighborhood with some kind of carnival and games. Two years ago Agent Wife came up with a porch display for our house. She figured, "These kids want death & fear? I've got a good story about death".

So she constructs this life-size dummy of Jesus just waking up from the tomb, still in mummy clothes with blood stains. He's got this mild grin on his face that practically says, "yeh...I just defeated death...BWA-HA-HA-HA" (well, I just threw in that evil sounding laugh). The Jesus mummy is kind of scary since he's laying up on our secluded porch surrounded by bushes and you don't see him until you get right up to our door.

Agent Wife constructed a new body this year since the old body had to be thrown out when it got moldy. We use to store it under our house and I always feared hiring a plumber one day who might stumble across this body in a plastic bag.

I was happy to see that Darth Vader has made a Halloween comeback. May it be known that in both 1981 AND 1982...I was Darth Vader - way back before it was cool to be him. I had the full helmet, cape and all.

To me, Halloween is still kind of unexplainably weird. And even the Jesus mummy thing is not something I would have come up with. That's AW's gig. I doubt any of the local kids lives have changed while trick-or-treating at our house. But...I guess if you have to decorate your house in gore...

But the debut year of the Jesus mummy, one kid came up to the door and said, "cool...Osama bin laden".

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Agent D

So this afternoon I was taking advantage of the decent weather and father/offspring time by melding the two together and taking a stroll around the hood.

We come up Undercover Lane from the far south end and head home afer a good 45 minute stroll when I run into Agent D. He and his wife & brood run some sort of c-o-c controlled beach head in a prime location within the fair mother city. I've known of D for about 6 years, but don't really know him other than we share the same street and basically the same agenda in life.

So he says, "I've been reading this thing on the internet...are you Agent B?"

"I've heard of him" I say.

Dammit, I've been found out.

Oh well...he promised to not ruin my cover...

Saturday, October 29, 2005


Yesterday I went to visit Momo at the pokey only to discover that he's not there anymore. The lady behind the desk wasn't allowed to give me info of his release date.

If any of you agents in the mother city know of Momo's whereabouts in the last week, please contact me. Thanks.

Maiden voyage

Obi-Wan, Agent Offspring & I went on a walk in the 'hood today. The weather was perfect. I love autumn in the mother city. Temp around 70F (as opposed to my wife's hometown in Canada where it's now like...-10C), sunny, a little breezy, and pecans dropping on the street.

After a week of owning an electric wheelchair, Obi-Wan finally set sail today with AO (in a stroller) & I in tow. We went up & down Undercover Lane then went a few blocks down to the dollar store and back.

Those electric wheelchairs are tough to maneuver. It has an easy little joy stick to operate, but basically there's 3 directions: forward, backward, and spinning around in a 180 (or 360 if you don't stop it quick enough). It's very tricky to veer left or right while traveling forward.

Obi-Wan was doing OK until we got to the store, where I forgot how narrow the isles were. Oh comes the test.

Once Obi-Wan & I were at a grocery store where he decided to try one of the complimentary electric scooters. I thought that was amazing since he always seemed adamant about walking on his own. But I guess he knows his own limits. This scooter didn't have any "brakes". To stop it, you just let go of the trigger. But arthritis makes his hands move slow...which caused him to mow down a couple of produce displays. I still laugh thinking about that. Especially since he put his feet down to try and stop it.

Well, he passed the dollar store test. The employees were really accommodating but the other customers weren't.

So here's to the maiden voyage, both Herbie Hancock's and Obi-Wan's. May there be many more travels.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Pastor Hawking & the Hippie

Today I met with Pastor Hawking and his faithful ward The Hippie. I haven't met with them in a while and they were curious if the izzy group was still around, if we still dispersed ministerial contraband across town anymore, and how The Bossman & I were doing.

Pastor Hawking is probably the only church pastor in this ridiculously religious city that I deeply respect. If the CEO of the freaking universe manifested himself in full 3D form in front of me and pointed a finger at me and said, "Agent B...join a church in the mother city", I'd join Pastor Hawking's church. But only because the CEO made me join a church.

Pastor Hawking has Cerebral Palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. Like most CP folks, he talks with a retarded-sounding voice. When he laughs (usually at his own jokes, which are pretty funny) he sounds like ZZ Top's "La Grange" on super slow-mo ("Ah HAW-HAW-HAW-Haw). The Hippie is also confined to a wheel chair, but has no CP so he's a little more independent. He can drive so he often serves as Pastor Hawking's taxi. The Hippie's a quiet, mild mannered kind of guy, serving the pastor in many helpful ways. For a visual reference of The Hippie, picture a long-haired, handicapped Richie Cunningham. Except he's recently got a haircut but now sports one of those cool outlaw-looking mustaches.

The church Pastor Hawking ministers to is a church of societal rejects. I mean...they're all recovering alcoholics, addicts, quasi-homeless, annoying, ugly, elderly, health problem plagued, and probably people you would not find on church marketing brochures. It's beautiful. And especially the fact that out of this body of 75-100 people, about 80% are new to Jesus. No church transfer growth here folks. This is the real deal.

Pastor Hawking became real interested in Alcoholics Anonymous a while back. He's never drank in his life but he enrolled in a 12 step program so he could meet alcoholics and learn from them. In the process, he created his own Jesus-centered 12 step deal for alcoholics and now people come to his church for free recovery classes.

Pastor Hawking always wears a tie and sometimes a jacket. He says it's not to be pastoral, but because he gets called in to court at least once or twice a week to testify for one of his church members, so he wants to be prepared.

I arrived to his church's building before our planned prayer meeting. I casually gathered data on the surroundings. Like the 5 or 6 buckets in the sanctuary collecting rain water from the ceiling. Like the dumpy 1940's facility that hasn't been updated...ever. Like the second-hand...everything in the building. Then during our meeting they tell me they've been foreclosed on but have until April 2006 to find another facility to minister from, hopefully one that can become a halfway house for addicts.

I know of the big name church in town that owns the note on this property. And believe me...they DON'T need the money for this building. They could give it to Pastor Hawking and not miss it. They have their own huge modern building with a recent addition PLUS new church office structure down the block.

Those bastards.

Why they're sitting their fat asses on new pews and cushy offices Pastor Hawking, The Hippie, and 80 others are feeding people, ministering to the hurting, freezing their ass off in a cinder block building, dodging leaks from the ceiling, and just being real.

They deserve a better property and I guess this is forcing them to look for one. But they have little money. They're saving their pennies for a down payment in case they find something. They had to stop helping the poor with utility bills so they can prepare for the move. I had plenty of advice to offer them on being a church without a home. I know it all too well.

LORD...what gives?? Why does the izzy group and Pastor Hawking's church minister to the poor then get kicked in the groin out in the cold?? When will this all end?? WHERE'S THE JUSTICE?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Lessons in patience, lessons in greed

[soothing voice] and now..."Deep Thoughts"...with Agent B

Lesson #1 - Pecans

I never in my life thought I'd enjoy things like...trees, plants and you to grow stuff. Maybe I'm learning to enjoy the simple things in life that the CEO gave us. Maybe I'm getting old.

The wife and I bought a house here on Undercover Lane 2.5 years ago. And on our property came a pecan tree. "Hey", I thought. "I've never owned a tree before. I'm gonna use it to the fullest extent". I've lived in rent houses with pecan trees in the yard. I never paid attention to them except that they were a nuisance, with all those pecans dropping in the fall, sap and such. But now I'm a pecan connoisseur. When the pecan season all said and done with in the fall of 2003 we must have had at least a five gallon bucket full or more. I looked up various pecan pie recipes and baked for the first time in my existence. I put pecans in everything, waffles, salads, cookies. Hell, someone should invent a pecan beer. And it might as well be me. Someday.

I desperately looked forward to the following fall (2004). But that's when I learned the ugly truth that pecan trees only put out once every TWO years. Crap. There were like a handful of pecans in '04 but the freaking squirrels got them all. I've since trained Agent Dog to chase squirrels and fling 'em like a rag doll if caught.

Our tree is chock full of them this year. But only a few have dropped as it's still too early. Maybe in the next two weeks. But I've learned that if you pull them out of the tree when the husks are not fully open, they will taste too squishy. They're "green", as Obi-Wan says.

So basically, pecans are teaching me patience. Which sucks because I want my pecans. Now.

Lesson #2 - Okra

The same year we moved in, Agent Wife wanted to plant a garden where a large storage shed use to be which was removed by the previous owners. I wasn't too interested but I helped anyway. All that season I maintained and watered the garden and I became obsessed with it. I love gardening now.

We're far from gardening experts. But this is our third year and we get better every year. For example...this is the first year that I didn't accidentally kill off the entire garden by July 4. It's almost November and we're still getting real good okra. I killed off everything else though. Accidentally.

Picking okra is weird. You would think that if you wanted more bang for your buck (read: bigger okra) you would leave it on the plant longer. Wrong. The longer you leave okra on the plant the more useless it becomes. It gets hard and impossible to cut through. So you can't let it grow too big. You cannot get greedy and your timing has to be perfect.

I have no freaking idea what any of this has to do with secret agent operations, but I've been thinking on this a while. Seems like the CEO is showing me something.

Monday, October 24, 2005


Nothing to report today. Business as usual. El Pico (coffee) at 7a. Handy-Boy gig from 9a-6p. Play with Agent Offspring. Dinner & dominoes with the family at Obi-Wan's. Baby bathtime & bed. Blog.

But I'm enamored with Dr. James' post today. Please read it.

One of my most favorite chapters in one of my most favorite books in the universe (_Blue Like Jazz_) details the author's outreach with some friends at some sort of college campus drug party mayhem. They dressed like monks (?!?) and had a confessional booth set on campus. But the schtick was...when people went in to the confessional, the author and his Christian buddies confessed THEIR sins as well apologized for every boneheaded thing done in the name of Jesus (the crusades, inquisitions, Republicans, etc). Their whole deal was a humble light in a dark place.

Dr. James and friends recently did this same confessional booth gig at a similar event. And it sounds like Jesus placed his comforting arm on the shoulders of several witches and people of pagan religions. Whoa...

After reading this in "Jazz" I've been of the mindset of "apology" vs. arrogance within my faith. Does that make sense?? I mean, I want to do what Don Miller and Dr. James and others did. Maybe not with the booth & costumes (or maybe so). I've looked for opportunities to apologize to non-believers for my arrogance of the past and my faith's arrogance and wrong doings.

Abilene doesn't have any huge drug-fest-pagan type gatherings. At least none that I know of. Abilene has plenty of gatherings which often get over run with church groups passing out tracts or setting up booths that try to make membership inviting. Yuck.

Maybe I should start following the tract passers with my own tracts apologizing for these first tract passers and their drive-by evangelism. Or next time the fair & rodeo is in town I should round up the troops to pay for kids' farris wheel rides instead of manning a marketing booth for our church. "All welcome". Yeh, no shit. Really. I'm welcome to come to your church?? As long as I fit your mold and jump through your hoops.

Got any ideas? The wheels are turning.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Party weekend

Agent Offspring's first ever birthday party was today. I feel like I've entered a right of passage: a parent who's hosted a kid party. Well, Agent Wife did all the actual planning & hosting. I just did my Dad duties and grilled 48 burgers and took photos.

Our house was the freakin' U.N. We literally had English, Spanish (some Mexican friends), and French (some west African friends) speaking going on all at once. Also several neighbors and friends with little kids came by.

We originally planned an outdoor party but the high was like 50F today, which is artic for Texans (and sub-artic for Africans). So I froze my butt off and grilled while everyone played games inside. But they all came outside for the pinata bash. Agent Wife made a dog-shaped pinata. She must have used super glue, epoxy, and cement. No such stick would work on this baby. The kids should have used an ax to swing.

It was a fun party but no match for a Valdez kid party (see Sept 11, 2005 entry). And no comparison to Manuel's birthday party next door from last night. Manuel is Frieda Sanford's Mexican boyfriend. I say Mexican because he's...from Mexico (as opposed to Hispania). The party consisted of good BBQ grub, tortillas on the grill (the best way to eat them imo), and a hell of a lot of cheap beer. This was consumed by me, Agent Wife, Manuel's nephew from Austin, some coworkers, Frieda, and a bunch of under-aged drinkers.

I've never been in a beer drinking situation with teens. I didn't know what to think. It was easy to jump into judgement mind-mode. These kids were so imature, trying to out drink each other and show off. I'm a light drinker. After two, it gets pointless for me. One young woman started spilling her life's woes to Agent Wife and sharing how CPS took her three kids away, etc. Lord, this woman needs you. Open up her heart for you.

The kids who were drinking (and shall remain nameless) are ones I've known for a long time. Even back from the izzy food pantry days. Lord, may they not fall into the clutches of alcohol. Show them that adults can be responsible with beer.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The (community) 'hood

(From L to R) Obi-Wan, The Bulldog, and The Tiger. They were pulling up into my driveway just after their electric wheelchair races.

I have been very reluctant to post photos of the people mentioned in this blog. There is a fine line between exploitation and innocent sharing. This photo was too good to keep to myself so hopefully this would be categorized as innocent sharing. But I'm writing about these people (names changed) on the world-wide-waste-of-time without their knowing...and now posting their photos. Maybe I'll take it down after a few days. I don't know. Your input is appreciated.

The story of this photo is as follows: Just this week Obi-Wan was telling me that he wanted to get an electric wheelchair. His hands are too crippled and weak to push himself in a regular wheelchair. My junk wheeler/dealer neighbor Frieda Sanford and her boys picked up TWO electric wheelchairs today at a garage sale for $30 a piece (a steal). They find out Obi-Wan was interested so they had the two plus another they've had. While he was out test riding in the street (the first time he's been out in months) the Sanford boys joined in and raced him. It was hilarious. An 88 year old man and two teens racing wheelchairs in the street like punks.

Bottom line: Frieda sells him the one he likes for $60. She makes a 100% profit to support her family and Obi-Wan gets a $2300 wheelchair for $60. It's win-win. Capitalism at its best. Of course, she could have sold it in a garage sale for much more, but she was being nice.

Obi-Wan has a new found independence. He can now join us for walks around the neighborhood. And his nurse was visiting today so she lined up a guy to come over Monday to start building a ramp inside his garage for his new wheels.

Obi-Wan was like a little kid riding around in the street.

Friday, October 21, 2005

More than temporary gig

It's official. Benny likes me and he's placing ads around town to generate work for us. What started as a 4-5 day project at Grandma Nelly's could become a more solid gig around town. I am taking on an additional identity for as long as needed: Benny the Handyman's side kick, Handy Boy.

I'm still a secret agent. Like that guy in most of The Book, I now have my tent making schtick. But no matter where I'll be in the universe, I'm a secret agent for life.


Wacky side note: I was on the radio today. With classic rock radio going on the job all day and listening "for your chance to win" verbiage ad nauseam, I decided "what the hell". I was the 17th caller and Agent Wife and I are going to see R&B act Marcia Ball & Co. at the Paramount Theater this week. I was totally laughing and acting like a ridiculous contest winner on the radio. Which is completely out of character for me but it was fun and I AM excited since we can rarely afford to go out anymore. The CEO's winking at me.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Temporary gig and such

Today I started a temporary handy-man gig at Grandma Nelly's house. I've known Grandma Nelly for ten years and she's been a ministering within the izzy family for a while. I'm actually working for her handyman Benny, who recently had a pacemaker put in so he can't do too many strenuous things, so that's where I come in. I know how to paint well but I've always wanted to know how to mud, tape & bed, texture, etc. which is mostly what we're doing. Benny's an artist at handyman stuff and I'm his apprentice for now. Benny gets the helping hand he needs and I get a free teacher and a job that will bring in some income. A huge answer to prayer. And if this agent gig goes south, I've now picked up a new trade. I've got to stop saying that.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY to both Agent Wife (32) AND Agent Offspring (1). I love you both. October 20th is a day I'll never forget. Obi-Wan baked a cake ("made with orange soda-water").


...and thanks for leaving comments on this blog and especially the quality of them. Thanks for not being divisive (ie: jack-asses). I've read too many blogs like this where some "anonymous" wise guy wants to pick a fight. And since I'm anonymous I guess I can't be annoyed with anonymity. I'm surprised the fundamentalists haven't found this and given me a tongue lashing yet. After starting this blog in August I didn't think it'd last past September. But I find blogging strangely therapeutic. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Agent Nurse

As best as I can tell, Obi-Wan is getting his affairs in order. He's doing things and talking to me about private business issues that only someone near 'the end' would talk about. I'm honored that he would trust me with these things.

The End could hold off for another few years, I'm sure. But I suppose he doesn't want to be unprepared. Today began my training to administer his medicine and insulin shots, should he become unable to give it himself. I don't have a fear of needles, but...I don't know how to finish that sentence.

The average diabetic takes 5 minutes to check their blood and shoot themselves. Obi-Wan takes over 45 minutes, not only due to aging dexterity but...he's so meticulous. He's teaching me things that I discover really don't matter. Like which hand of mine I should hold the blood strip in, etc. But I should carry out his orders and not sway from the teaching. No improv here. This is serious jedi training and everything has a reason, even if I don't figure it out until later.

There's something uniquely humbling about inserting a needle into the bare skinned belly of an elderly man. And I suppose he too is humbled to expose that belly to another.

...and if this secret agent gig doesn't last much longer, maybe I can gig in the medical profession.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

the momo files...

Thanks to the excellent undercover work of Agent S and the comments section of this here blog, I learned that an old friend, Momo, is locked up in the pokey. I'm starting to appreciate the blog-o-universe. Thanks S.

I arranged an impromptu visit at the only place in the universe where I disgard my undercover agent credentials for my "associate pastor" creds. But, I forgot to look like a church guy (ie: wear a oxford shirt or something...ironed). The lady up front was fine with me, as long as my driver's license checked through. But once once past the double gate and wandering around the main inmate hallway, every guard stopped to ask if I was a minister. I guess I don't pass for a lawyer.

Anyway, Momo...the mother city's most famous homeless man and a part-time resident of the local jail, was back in. I never got a clear answer as to why he was in this time. Something involving an empty spray-paint can some cops found near him. And, of course, in Momo's eye's everyone else is at fault and he's 100% innocent. Plus, he has a short temper and zero tolerance for rules, so when cops approach him about anything it's rarely a positive outcome. Momo just starts cussing at them. But he wasn't too upset about being in jail. He's very use to it.

Legend has it that Momo use to sniff a lot of glue and paint. Therefore...he's just a little off. Not retarded or a mental case, he's whacked. Momo once worked jobs like everyone else. Supposedly he was once married and has a daughter and now grandkids somewhere in the mother city. Momo is tough. He's lived on the streets for mostly 15-20 years. He can survive any West Texas weather condition. He always knows where the food is (if you ever see him you'll know what I mean. But he's lost weight in recent years). Most homeless people operate in pairs or small groups but Momo is a solo act. He don't want nobody and unfortunately, nobody wants him.

I love Momo, even when he's a complete ass, which is about 98% of the time. So many of us "middle class" oriented Christ-followers somehow get into the trap of trying to "fix" homelessness. Or eliminate it. Well...the CEO could heal Momo's brain I suppose. But it's looking like Momo will never be the poster child for a Salvation Army program success story. He'll never work a 9-5 gig. He'll never have an apartment and pay bills, etc. He's happy just getting by in life. And writing hate mail to anyone who's ever pissed him off.

Momo's a pretty hardened character but I think I'm one of the chosen few who's witnessed his sensitive side. One night at the izzy food pantry, a mom came in with her young son. They obviously had nothing in life. The boy was poorly dressed for the cold outside, etc. Momo had found some toys in a dumpster earlier that day that he carried around in a plastic bag. He went up to the kid, when few were around, and gave him the whole bag and later said something like, "I didn't have much at his age either. Every kid needs something to play with."

Momo also gets a bad rap for being "lazy" and bossy. But once he volunteered to wash dishes for three hours in preparation for a giant food outreach we were cooking for that night. I've got pictures to prove this. He wore an apron and everything.

When most homeless are making a living flying a sign on a street corner and playing off your sympathies, Momo's standing on a street corner flipping you off as you drive by...until the cops arrest him. He really means well. He's a horrible panhandler because his only tactic is to scare you into giving to him. So he rarely makes much to get by. But somehow he survives just fine.

Today I mostly listened to him talk about this or that. He didn't think my "You look good in orange" joke was funny. Before I left, he wanted prayer. Prayers mostly for his brother who recently got out of prison. I thought that was a pretty selfless thing to pray about being that Momo's sitting in jail himself.

He's convinced he'll be in jail until February or March. Which I think that's a good thing since he'll be indoors all winter. I'm going to try and see him regularly and check in on his court date.

Momo, he acts like the bully of the streets...but I love him.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Bulldog

Of the Sanford teens next door the one I have the least contact with is The Bulldog. He's really a sweet kid. Very respectful to adults, or at least adults who aren't his mother.

The Bulldog has an older sister Jessie (19) who graduated last year. Well, actually the lackluster public school system politely shoved her out the door. She's a little slow, a follower, and craves some attention (a bad combination). But she's real good with young children. Then there's the younger brother The Tiger (16): the family comedian, workaholic, mechanical genius, chock full of common sense, but hates school. He recently opted out of school for court-ordered GED training so he can work full time. So that leaves the proverbial over-looked middle child The Bulldog (17): quiet, but not shy. Not real smart, but not stupid. A little outgoing, yet a little withdrawn. Like Goldie Locks and her bears...just right. Right with a fierce anger streak.

Last night two cops show up in front of my house responding to a call by the Bulldog's mother, Frieda. He got mad at her for something and threw some bricks through the glass storm door and broke some garden tools or something like that. The cops just came over to ease the situation and scare him a little. They let him go after 30 minutes and no charges were filed. And an old college friend of mine was on his way over, whom I haven't seen in years. So he's calling me asking for directions to my house and I'm saying, "it's the one with two cop cars parked in front. And a kid in handcuffs in the yard".

The Bulldog is so nice yet can snap over something stupid his mom says or a prank his wise-ass little brother pulls. His upbringing is a common story in the izzy family and the poverty culture: Mom's single and in poverty, all three kids have different dads, none of them know who their real dad is, and the only male influence in their childhood were mom's abusive boyfriends. Well, for the last 4 years they have a new uncle who seems to give them positive attention. And mom's boyfriend for the last 3 years seems to be the most consistant and positive relationship she's been in ever. And they hung around me some when they were younger. Now they're teens so I'm not cool anymore.

I don't condone The Bulldog's anger but I don't blame him for it either. I'd be the same way if I grew up in his shoes.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

transcript from 4:20p

AGENT B: I have a question. A deep one, I think. What's it like to know you're near 'the end'? I mean...any one of us could die at any moment. I could get hit by a bus tommorrow. And I try to live daily as if that bus was coming tommorrow. But truthfully, I'm 34 and I expect to live another 50 years or so. I want to see my grandkids and so forth. What's it like living day to day knowing that you won't be around another...50 years?

OBI-WAN: Well...I have peace. I have peace because I know the word of God and I know Jesus. I have peace because I believe I've been honest with everyone I've dealt with...

Friday, October 14, 2005

...towards the end

Obi-Wan's getting worse. Age is taxing him, as it will do us all. Diabetes is an added burden. A heavy one.

He loses more and more feeling in his arthritic, clenched hands daily. His legs are losing strength like a tire with a slow leak. And there ain't no fix-a-flat. Monday he fell on his back porch. This morning I find him on his bedroom floor. And it took us both 5 minutes to get him up.

Tonight he took his insulin 4 hours late because he forgot about it. Then he didn't have the strength to get up from his captain's chair. I stayed with him to make sure he took it causing me to miss Agent Offspring's bath time (my nightly ritual). But Agent Wife pulled through.

Obi-Wan knows he has serious decisions to make soon. He went to the doctor on Tuesday and told me that he didn't look forward to the next visit because he thinks the doc will strongly suggest he go into a nursing home. With a tear in his eye, he tells me that if that happens he knows he won't be around much longer. His most recent wife died soon after she was admitted to a home because she lost the will to live. He fears the same.

Obi-Wan's two desires in life: that he can live in his own house and that he can use his own two feet (no wheelchair) all the way until the end.

I've never had a friend that I had to ask "did you eat today?" or "have you taken your insulin?" or "do you have difficulty bathing?"

I've never had a friend that served as a mentor, teacher, cook, and generous giver.

In his bedroom tonight...I was looking at pictures in a frame from his birthday party a year and a half ago. It was a fun night. The Tiger (teenager next door) cooked brisket. Agent Wife made cake. Neighbors came. People from Obi-Wan's church came. The mail lady and her family came. Black, white, hispanic. It was beautiful. Obi-Wan looked so healthy and full of life.

Lord, help us. His two desires are looking unrealistic.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Ministry round table

Agent S invited me to a 'round table discussion' event at Hardin Simmons University. It was a luncheon/discussion with four area ministers within the benevolent arena talking about their ministries to a crowd of students from the Logsdon School of Theology. Initially I feared going - on the assumption that I'd be listening to a bunch of do-gooder talk laced with buzz words I shun. Words like social-ministry, high-needs, benevolence, and programs. Much to my surprise, those words were used, but only few and far between. And I think they were used due to lack of any better words and not out of sterile hearts. The overall message was great. And I now truly feel that the new vibe of the church culture is to get off its ass, look at the neighborhood around them, and serve those who live in that neighborhood. This is such a good thing for me as I was beginning to think that nothing good could come from church culture. So much for absolutes.

I feel like such a weird ass. I'm not wanting to paint words about myself nor place myself on a pedestal. But sometimes I feel like some sort of John the Baptist-type, eating my bugs and wearing what's practical and comfortable regardless how freak-a-zoid that is to much of my society. Yet sometimes there's need to relate to the anti-Johns, churchy, and student types. As if any of us are perfect. I can remember when I was a kid and some local family at our church would return from the mission field in Africa. Man, they were like aliens. Their clothes were out of date/style, their kids were freaks, and they didn't know how to relate to our pop-culture referenced communication. I felt like those African missionaries today...walking into a culture I once identified with but can't no more. But everyone there went way out of their way to make me (one of the 3 "invited guests") feel more than welcome. As I walked in a guy at the door ushered me to the front of the food line and had me cut in front of the students, to which I totally felt uneasy about but the students were good sports.

Then Agent S allowed me to sit at the table reserved for the speakers & host. The host talked to me, asked who I was, etc. Then he made a comment if I wanted to say anything to the room of 75-100 folks. Hell no. I'm undercover. I'm a horrible public speaker. And I always find some sort of way to insert a cuss word in disguise. And THIS wasn't the kind of crowd that would find a cuss word funny. They were like - wearing ties and skirts and all. And I'm thankful I had enough sense to wear my one and only button-down shirt with a collar as opposed to the usual ragged T-shirt. There's only ONE time in my entire existence where I was TOLD BY GOD (and I mean that literally) to address a crowd. It was my last church (charismatic club) where the members were constantly helping themselves to our food pantry to the poor that I was operating. And all were helping themselves out of inconvienence (too lazy & cheap to walk to the store across the street), not out of poverty or humbleness. The pastor of izzy tried getting this situation fixed with the pastor of the church a few years no avail. Yet we kept having large, expensive quantities of food go missing before we'd open up to the izzy family. So...the CEO makes it clear for ME to publically address this and how to handle it, etc. And hating to speak, I performed my best Jonah immitation and RAN LIKE HELL. But some sort of fish appeared in my life and forced my brain on the right track. I made my speech...with directness and love. And all went mission accomplished. And I made the comment of "sometimes we all need a good Balaam's Ass-whipping". And I've never been invited to speak since.

The weirdest encounter of the whole meeting was that sitting with me at the table was one of the other two invited guests - a man that I recognized as Obi-Wan's pastor. Obi-Wan has spoke many critical words about this young gentleman. And I, not wanting to join anyone's negative crusade rant, have defended this pastor - generally giving the guy the benefit of the doubt. To which Obi-Wan insists the guy is lousy. After meeting this pastor briefly I'm not so sure that Obi-Wan's claim is incorrect. But I won't get involved in that. Ahh...the soap opera of a small town like the mother city...If this guy only knew how many times I've defended him.

Along with Agent S, the board panel featured Dave Terrace, director of the largest, most well known ministry to poor people in the mother city, L&C. We have a history together. A brief and probably unresolved one. Three years ago izzy was supposed to merge with L&C. A merge I was never excited about and I'm glad never happened. It was obvious that once we merged that izzy was to be completely disolved and The Bossman, Agent Wife, myself, and a few others were expected to be nothing more than 'employees' of this new super ministry. Our hearts,dreams, and desires were to become L&C's. The Bossman finally saw the light and decided at the last minute to not merge - a decision that's given us a black mark in the mother city or so I feel. The soap opera continues...

Overall, I was very glad to be there if anything, to support S. But as it turned out, my eyes were opened to the changing heart of the church culture by and large. I'm sure there are still subtle territorial agendas within individual ministries across the mother city, but those territorial boundaries are slowly being erased.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Legend of "Finger" Joe

**We begin a new series here on the Agent B Files. "The Legend of..." posts will report on the many 'characters' from the "izzy" group family's past (izzy=nickname of the ministry I'm associated with). There are many in the izzy family - too many to mention. These reports will be presented when there's recent contact with the individual...or if there's a positive reason to mention someone from the past as I generally try to avoid nostalgia. The September 6th, 2005 entry (titled "Momo") is the first unofficial post in the series, so we begin with the second...**

I was running a failed errand today in the Millenium Falcon. At the corner of E. Hwy 80 & Judge Ely I see "Finger Joe" flying a sign. So I open the door to yell at him. My electric window isn't working. Most every electric gizmo in the Falcon fails one month or the other, but she'll still outrun the empire.

Finger Joe is an old standby from the old, old, ancient izzy days. Even back when The Bossman and some others use to gather at a homeless camp known as the hole in the wall. He'd come by the church building very rarely. His memorable schtick was that his middle finger on his left hand was injured. He couldn't move it. He could close all of his fingers on that hand but the middle one...which stuck straight out. And he'd always introduce himself or start a conversation with something like, "Hey...I can't get a job. This finger won't work" [showing it - flipping the bird]. It's hilarious because he has such an invasive personality. And he's inebriated about 90% of the time, so he's flipping the bird while practically yelling. The sad thing is that I think he was serious and not looking for an excuse to flip off people. I've seen this schtick pulled on many unsuspecting church people. Which still makes me laugh. I can only remember seeing Finger Joe 100% sober only once, maybe twice. And he was like...a real peaceful, almost scholarly guy.

So today I ask what's up. And he mumbles something unintelligable than gives me the finger line. But this time he had his middle & ring finger taped together with black electrical tape. I don't know what that was about.

I'm surprised he is still in the mother city. And that he remembered me. Lord, I miss Finger Joe. Take good care of him.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Just what the hell is faith anyway?

So I read all the standard notes in the book on faith (Hebrews 11, etc). Done. Faith is believing what you don't see. Believing as though it were. I can do that (or so I arrogantly think). I've done that for exactly 10 years this month (The anniversary of my "deliverence". And no, not the banjo kind. I'm manic depression-free 10 years and counting).

Financially speaking, we have not received consistant support (ie: a paycheck) since we were removed from the institutional club 3 years ago. No big deal. Things came up here & there. Music gigs, house painting gigs, investment gigs. So...I guess we were receiving consistant support. Just in an offbeat way.

So whenever people ask what we do I say, "I'm an undecover agent". And when they ask who paid us I get kind of cocky and say, "God always meets our needs". Like I was really believing that or something.

So...why is it when we have a close call (like last week when the month changed) did I panic? IS that lack of faith?

And why is employment so synonymous with identity in our culture? - That's the one I hate the most. "I'm a student". "I work with a consulting firm". "I own an exterminator business".

Well gee...I just sit around on my ass until the CEO puts some needy person in my path. Then I go with the flow of that relationship, if I don't screw it up. Yay me.

An aquaintence came by this morning while I was home and innocently asked me, "Did you not have to go in this morning?". It caught me off guard. "Uhh...yea...sure", I reply. Go "in". Why do I feel like I am supposed to be ashamed if I don't have a specific place 'to go' between 8a and 5p?

And then there's our parents and in-laws who probably think we're aliens. Or bums. Don't EVEN get me started.

Secret Agenting is a weird gig anyway. You never really have 40 hours of "work" a week. One day you got nothing going on at all. Then you'll be with someone consistantly for several days straight. Then some kids come over needing attention. Then a stranger shows up on your doorstep in the middle of the night. Then some poor neighbors invite you over for BBQ and cheap beer. I can accept this life as I'm "good" at it and I love it. But why do I get fidgity when other neighbors wonder why my car never left the driveway all day? And why do I think that finances aren't coming these months when they have for the last 3 years?

Lord - I faith has wandered off. Thank for your provision and for the day to day life you give us.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Middle man (the twisted world of non-prof Part I)

There's a great story (or in my view, an expose') in the local paper this morning about the mother city's chapter of The United Way. I'm not a fan of The United Way. I'm a huge critic of the non-prof world in general, but there's MANY more posts on that subject, I'm sure.

The United Way is the epitome of what I refer to as 'outsourcing one's giving'. They're a "middle-man". And most people want to eliminate middle men. If you have money that you want to give to another in need, WHY skip over the heads of the needy to hand it to an institution? And that instituion obviously keeps a percentage to keep themselves afloat (a reported 36% cash or 12% with "services", depending how you define "services"). Then their board chooses where the money goes - which is always another institution (a local "mom-n-pop" non-prof or a Salvation Army, etc). Then THAT 2nd institution keeps a percentage to keep their ship running, etc. So by the time you give a buck to a group like The United Way, actual POOR PEOPLE might get helped indirectly with like...20-40 cents of that dollar (my unscientific speculation...but I've BEEN a part of the non-prof machine so trust me on this). My favorite Simpson's quote is by Krusty the clown - when questioned about the proceeds from the benefit recording for the boy in the well: "Hey...them limos out back ain't free".

My only dealings with the local United Way is when I was employed at a local TV station 10 years ago. Once a year the managers hit up all us $6/hour employees to give to the annual United Way campaign. I think I was one of the few that refused to join in. Hey...I couldn't justify giving to something I didn't know much about plus I could barely survive on my pay as is. They really frowned upon not joining in. I suspect there was some sort of kick-back/benefit from the United Way to the station if a certain amount was donated.

My favorite lines from today's story is a quote from this newspaper's publisher (and UW board agenda THERE) stating that his employees (ie: the chick writing this story) really enjoyed giving to the UW. Then her following statement made me spew my coffee with one of those Nelson laugh's (HA-ha):

It's appropriate to bring United Way fund-raising into the workplace because of the number of people touched by its efforts, said Abilene Reporter-News publisher and United Way board member George Cogswell III.

''I believe it, and I share the message,'' Cogswell said.

Last year, the Reporter-News ranked No. 4 among company donors.

Employees respond ''because they wanted to,'' he said. ''They really put their money where their heart is. There's no arm twisting.''

Reporter-News employees who donate to the United Way are invited to a party at Cogswell's home and are given paid days off from work.

I hope this young reporter still has her job tommorrow.

Anyway, I understand that groups like The United Way help individuals who WANT to give, but work full time, have no way of knowing WHERE, if not better WHO to give to. So the UW says give to us, and we'll take care of it. As I'll state over & over in this blog...if at all possible...give of yourself. Donate YOU. Build a relationship with someone. Be REAL. Don't take them on like some "project". Don't place yourself higher than them. Be real friends based on the book's writing in John 15. Cut out the middle man.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Friday, October 07, 2005

Hate the sin...ner

I get this email yesterday from someone from my former charismatic club days. It's one of those chain type, forwarded emails that's trying to get the word out to "all christians" to vote for some proposition in the Texas legislature defining marriage as being man and woman. Or something like that. I admit, I pretty much deleted it as soon as I got the basic gist of the email, so I don't remember the details.

I guess this crusade is kind of weird because:
#1 - We're in freaking TEXAS. We're a far cry from Massachusets (however you spell MA), San Francisco, or flipping Canada. If the majority of Texans actually approved gay marriage in a public, voting sort of way, the ghosts of Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, and all the heroes of the Alamo would roll around in their graves so much as to cause an earth quake to sink Texas into the gulf. And besides, there's not enough liberals in Austin to even halfway pass something like that. So drop the fear tactic emails.

#2 - Since when did homosexuals become "the enemy"? Last I heard, my friend Jesus hung out with folks like this. Or I'm sure he would have at least had a beer with them once in a while.

Yea, sure. We followers are quick to say "hate the sin, love the sinner". Really? Do we love the gossipers but hate our own backstabbing words? Do we embrace the fat asses but hate our own experiences at feed-trough mega-buffets, front row parking, and drive-through fast food?

On the issue of voting in general, I'm not sure where to go with that yet. I'm not sure that the CEO would have me to be politically charged. Politics is not my mission. Maybe it is for others. Does fighting homosexuality in the voting booth bring the kingdom of God?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

plight of the 'working poor'

I read this from the local paper. Due to the overall cost of rising fuel prices PLUS recent hurricane damage in the gulf...natural gas (ie: heating bills this winter) are expected to be 60%-90% higher than last season. And I thought last season's was higher than usual. in, almost DOUBLE.

The article states:
Residential customers who paid an average of $367 from October 2004 to March 2005 could expect to pay $690 during the same time period this year. That's an increase of more than $50 a month.

This has nothing to do with greedy energy companies as by law they cannot profit from rate increases. This is supposedly about lack of supply. Things like this devestate the working poor: people with jobs that can barely support their families with their already low wages.

All I can say is 1) Churches & ministries to the poor...brace for impact. It's gonna be a tough winter. And 2) I know it's cool and trendy to give to various hurricane relief efforts right now. And those victims obviously need your support. But maybe start scoping out people in your own neighborhoods and community, build friendships with them (if you already haven't) and offer to help them out one month or so. People like elderly on fixed (social security) incomes, single working moms, poor families with several kids who are really trying hard to make it on their own, etc.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Bossman

A main character in the life of Agent B that I've yet to introduce is The Bossman. By all accounts, he is the "pastor" of the izzy group, thus I am his "associate pastor". These are titles we don't use often. And I rarely, if ever, use mine. Well, I use it to visit guys at the local jail. Man, it's amazing. Tell jail keepers that you're a pastor and they roll out the red carpet and toss you the keys. There's hardly a background check that I can remember. And when I go in, they just open the two security doors, lead me to a room with the guy I'm visiting, and leave us alone for as long as we want. I'm extremely thankful for our local jail's respect for the pastorate and/or Christians. But someone could lie and say they're the pastor of The Church of the Affectionate Holy Moly, then use it as a ruse to smuggle in weapons and drugs real easy.

So anyway, The Bossman is technically my boss and pastor, but he's really a friend on a similar journey as me. He has only been in ministry to the poor for 10 years, but his previous career facinates me and is the majority of the inspiration for my 'Agent B' persona.

The Bossman spent over 20 years as a US Federal Agent with the OSI - Office of Special Investigations. The OSI is like the FBI on the military level, if I understand correctly. They mostly investigate crimes involving military personel, but often assist local law enforcement if neccessary. So basically, a guy who spends two decades carrying a badge and a .45, investigating dead bodies, working secret service for US government oficials (including Ronald Reagan and Dan Quayle), going undercover for weeks to do a drug raid, busting in doors and kicking ass is now a compassionate minister to poor people.

Being a Fed honed The Bossman's skills as a 'behavioral scientist'. He can spend 2 minutes talking with anyone and can have them "figured out" like if they're hiding agendas, etc. And most people let their guard down around him because he portrays himself in public to be some old dirt farming hick. He doesn't abuse the poor with this tactic but I've watched him in action when meeting with local business men who had agendas with our ministry.

What's funny is that one of his last assignments was posing as a drug buyer here in the mother city. He use to bust up the dope sellers. Now he ministers to those same dope sellers. His background helps him (and me) know where to look for 'the least of these', how to identify with their needs, speak their lingo, etc. It's also funny to see the dynamic of character The Bossman contains. I've seen this once hard-hearted agent cry about the poor on many occasions. Yet one night at the shelter during the old izzy days I watched him instantly snap into agent mode when one of the homeless guys was getting too rough and unreasonable. I'm convinced "agenting" is a good background for ministers to the poor. It's not neccessary but it can't hurt.

Today, like many days, The Bossman and I went to some remote secret location within the mother city to smoke a cheap cigar and discuss things of the CEO. He's not perfect. Nobody is. He confesses his sins to me often. But he's a good boss.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Inspiration from a cartoon movie

As stated before, I'm not big on pop culture especially TV or movies. I promise, this is not some "I'm more spiritual than YOU" routine. Most people find joy in these entertainments. I don't. Simple as that.

There's always exceptions to the rule. I like Star Wars OK (the original 1977 one). But I can only watch it maybe once a year. I'm a sucker for The Simpsons. Little known fact: I am the first person to bring The Simpsons to the mother city back in the spring of 1990. Abilene didn't have a FOX affiliate at the time so I imported it via my mom's VCR in Houston and introduced it to my freshman dorm friends. The local ABC affiliate picked it up during season 2 and aired it 10:30 Saturday nights against SNL. Needless info.

With the aid of good beer and margaritas, Agent Wife and I can get stupid in front of Animal Planet most any weekday night. Some friends almost had to kick us out once. AW loves shows involving slapstick, animals, kids, and practical jokes and Animal Planet actually had all 4 in one show. Me - I love those animal cops shows. Why? Because I can't believe they're real. Which makes it funny. For crying out loud, on one show this guy was getting read his rights and handcuffed AT WORK because he...get this...burned the wiskers off a cat. And I've actually known people who burn cigarette butts on their kids arms and nobody hauls them off. But a guy burns wiskers and gets his Miranda Rights and a cellmate named Bruce. Hilarious. Then there's the angle on these animal cops shows that these SPCA cops can ONLY exist in big cities. Because intellectual redneck towns like the mother city wouldn't put up with animal rights nonsense. Good golly miss molly, my neighbors the Sanfords go through dogs like Oprah goes through baked hams. They'd have been locked up in the state pen to rot by now. They literally have new dogs every 1-3 months. Then these dogs die, and they get more. It's one of the aspects of the poverty culture I haven't figured out. It's like they have no value on life or love for another. Last month they got 2 new pit bull pups, to which I reply, "ahh...more dogs to neglect, eh?". They died last week.

Anyway, I'm way off subject. The majority of my view of TV stems from my 3 year stint as a master control operator & production worker at a local NBC affiliate. It's amazing how wide your eyes open to TV's falseness when you manufacture programing for a living. So when we married 7 years ago, we decided no TV in the house, period. However, Agent Wife & I received not one, but two new computers this last year. Each are equipped with the latest gizmos like DVD players. So we discover movie watching. Or really she does and I just borrow my friend's Star Wars boxed DVD set.

Anyway, we borrow this cartoon movie called The Incredibles one night. I'm sure all 4 people who read this know what The Incredibles is and I'm the last on earth to discover this *film*. But the basic story line goes like this: there's a community of super heroes out minding their own business and doing what super heroes do (saving people, fighting crime, etc.) and enjoying life doing what their "called" to do. Then one day, with circumstances beyond their control, they have to quit. They go into hiding, get "real jobs", live amongst real people, and hide their hero talents. Except occasionally they'll sneak out late and go save some people just to get it out of their system. Then low and behold, in the end they get to be super heroes again and everything is all right. The end.

It was a good movie. It did it's job: entertain and turn your brain to mud for an hour and a half. All good fun. Then Agent Wife states something profound like, "Wow. That movie really spoke to me". To which I say something dumb like, "Spoke to you? A cartoon? HA-ha (Nelson laugh)". Then she explains, "This movie is like our life. We were doing our calling. The izzy group was ministering to hundreds of poor people a week. Giving groceries, clothes, making relationships, etc. Then with circumstances beyond our control izzy was removed from the building and had no resources. We went into hiding for various reasons, moved in amongst the people, started a family, and maybe someday everything will work out." Yes, that's what I'm believing. She's right.

I'm not saying we're super heroes or anything. Just undercover operatives.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Jones County respite

Agent Wife, her young friend Princess, Agent Offspring & I loaded up the Millenium Falcon for a camping trip at some friend's property in Jones County. I love the mother city. One reason - it's big enough to be a city with all the amenities most cities offer. Yet it's small enough to only take 20 minutes to drive from one side to the other. And this area of the world is so sparsely populated that it only takes 20-30 minutes to drive into the country and get away from it all, as if we had driven for hours.

Our friend's the Carr's allowed AW, AO, & Princess to use their vast landscape as a camp ground. The girls and baby slept in a tent while I roughed it in the Carr's trailer hitch camper.

Jones County is a unique landscape in West Texas. The soil is mostly white sand, like a beach with mature oak trees, prickly pears and various wildlife (deer, squirrels, tale of bobcats, and... many frogs). It was hot and dusty. Autumn is here so it's 90F as opposed to 100F.

It's so good to get away, even if it's only for 24 hours. For me, the break wasn't only about babysitting, talking to the CEO, and downing Shiner Bocks, but I also got to do some manual labor. This morning I helped the Carr's mix & pour cement for a new slab they're making for a shed. Mixing cement for the first time in my life was more therapeutic than sitting under the stars with a Shiner venting to the CEO. Who would have known? And if this secret agent gig continues in the direction it seems, I'm now skilled in a trade.