Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Over a recent game of dominoes I asked Kurt what he wanted to do with himself once he got situated in his own residency (which is coming sometime soon).

"I've always wanted to be a preacher. Maybe once my eyesight gets fixed. I can't read the bible too good right now".

Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever known a better preacher than Kurt. His whole life is a series of sermons. His actions speak louder than words.

I can get along with that kind of preaching.

Monday, February 27, 2006


Piggybacking on the orphan post...

I've always been attracted to the kick-ass version of the CEO portrayed in Psalms 68. And in the midst of this all-wicked-will-perish kinda god are my favorite lines from the 5th & 6th verse, "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonley in families..."

I catch myself often saying that I have no family in the fair mother city. The truth is, I actually do. A large extended one. Recently, Kurt, aka Uncle Kurt, has been made an official part of that family.

Tonight, Agent Wife, Agent Offspring, Uncle Kurt and I were at the hospital with Obi-Wan. (I finally got some diagnosis reports from the nurse. Basically, they're waiting for his legs to heal. His medication was changed today, hoping to speed up the process). On our way out, Obi-Wan announced to all 4 of us that we're all family and that we're the only family he considers family.

Thank for taking away our loneliness, CEO.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Table report #005

It would seem that bold maneuvers by the CEO were at hand today in regards to my dream The Table.

Other than occasional prayers, I have made no physical efforts to lay The Table's groundwork since report #004. Until today.

After Seeing Obi-Wan in the hospital, a friend and I were driving into downtown to visit the library when we passed by the storefront I'm very interested in. There was a pickup parked by the front door in a manner that looked like someone was there unloading things in the storefront next door. I made a last second U-turn to see if they knew who the owner was, since I've had a hell of a time contacting them.

It was her - Sylvia, the owner of the entire building. The one who's name was on the tax records. I asked if the restaurant was for rent and how much. She said she's had too many problems with recent renters and that it wasn't available right now, but nd asked what I wanted to do with it.

"Um...I have this church and I want to start a soup-kitchen type ministry here. I've done this before out of a church building"

She pauses. "That's funny. I've really wanted some sort of Dream Center-type ministry to poor, homeless, addicts, etc to take up this entire building. And I figured it would be churches and people other than me running it. I felt like the CEO was going to make this happen in 2006".

She unlocked the restaurant and showed it to me. Perfect starter size. Holds about 40-50 patrons (legally). The kitchen is small, but very do-able. It is already equipped with vent-a-hood and the fire suppression system (very expensive), 6 burner industrial stove, and a deep fryer. Other equipment would be needed, but this is a fair start.

There are some leaks in the roof, made obvious by the recent rains. And a toilet might be leaking. But very manageable with the right amount of money for repairs and about 2 weeks of work.

Sylvia asked me how much money I had to rent it. "None" I said. "But I'm not looking for a free deal. I just don't have money right now".

She really seemed excited about my vision for The Table. Sylvia's going to Mexico for the next few weeks. She's going to pray about it and we'll talk in a month or so.

The location is perfect. Smack down in the middle of the fair mother city's poverty, prostitution, and drug culture. And it's 100 feet away from a Narcotics Anonymous meeting room...

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Hospital report #002

Obi-Wan's alive and well but a victim to bureaucratic medical red-tape. So it goes.

It's no secret: I'm highly suspicious of the medical industry.

Obi-Wan was to be admitted Tuesday. But the hospital screwed up their scheduling so they sent him home (it's a big event to get him in and out of the house). So he's re-admitted Wednesday. He lies in bed all day with IV meds shoved in his arms and no doctor visit.

Then today, some nurses wrap his wounded legs up like a mummy. Then this afternoon he goes to see the doctor. The doc says he can't do anything since his legs are wrapped. He'll now see Obi-Wan tomorrow.

So...Thursday Diagnosis: more laying around in bed with a gown on and plenty of Oprah. Nurses visit every 20 minutes or so to check up on his oprah. And someone somewhere is paying for all of this.

Then the really funny part: the food. Obi-Wan's a picky eater. If it's not deep fried country eating then send it back. He described his lunch to me (a chicken Caesar salad):

"It had all dis green stuff. It was jus' a big bowl of lettuce! With turkey chunks. Wat da hellz dat? Dis ain't no thanksgivin"

All that to say...Obi-Wan is doing well. He's normal. But somehow I think he'd be doing much better wearing his plaid shirt with denim coveralls, sitting in his easy chair with a fried pork steak and WWF wrestling on TV...

Testimony #006

-Opened the mail today. Received one of our monthly utility bills like usual.
-We have absolutely nil in the bank (not like usual).
-Thank the CEO for his provision. Ask for the means for this new bill to be paid.
-30 minutes later phone rings.
-My dear friend Grandma Nelly wants to hire me for some small landscaping, clean-up job. The pay will cover this bill.

Thank you CEO...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


I've been dwelling on the term orphan lately. When I hear this word I usually think of children. But one of the definitions in Websters that doesn't even mention children describes an orphan as "one deprived of some protection or advantage".

I would imagine that orphans would also be lonely, based on lack of protection or even advantage. Homelessness and the poverty culture can be a very lonely life. Good thing The Book mentions in Psalm 68:5 that the CEO will put the lonely into families.

I'm starting to observe, for the first time in my undercover career, that those on the streets, in the halfway houses, and in some poverty neighborhoods are truly orphans.

For me, that's shining a whole new light on The Book's passages on orphans.

Deprived of protection. Deprived of advantage.

Hospital stay

Obi-Wan was admitted to the hospital this morning. No emergency. He's been needing to get his legs looked at. They are constantly in pain due to poor circulation due to diabetes. He's in good spirits.

Tomorrow he's scheduled for a full check-through by the doctor. I am hoping nothing has to be amputated...

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

of death and funerals...

The family and I went to a funeral today. We knew this man only as "Pops". He is the uncle of our next door neighbor Frieda Sanford and thus, great uncle to her 3 teens.

We knew Pops from the izzy group's grocery ministry several years ago. Pops was a terror on wheels. He really had lost his ability to drive well before his license and car was taken from him. The day he lost his license, a cop followed him into the izzy food pantry after witnessing Pops hit a parked car and continue driving off. Pops had no idea he had hit anything. And thankfully the cop realized Pops was not a hit and run terrorist, but an aging man who didn't need to drive anymore. Pops even hit cars in our parking lot a couple of times. And once, Agent Wife and I saw this erratic driver going down Mockingbird. "Yup...that's Pops", we said.

It was a very small, short graveside funeral. Although Pop's had no kids, I'm thankful he had an extended family who felt close enough to him to pay respects. He was buried in the cemetery I'd like to be buried in, should I be living in the fair mother city upon my end and should my family choose to bury me, as oppose to donating my body to science or something. It's the city cemetery, where all the common folks are buried. Nothing super fancy. Just plain-jane with a lot of history. Local homeless and poor are almost always buried there.

Funerals are a necessity in my life. I try to attend every one possible. I don't have a sick fascination with death or anything. But funerals are the one common event in our society that remind us all how temporary we are on this planet. And I like being reminded of that as often as possible.

I don't fear death. And for me, it takes effort to learn not to fear it.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Crumbs from your table...

Music is a pretty intimate part of my dormant identity. That is, my identity before the secret agent gig came along and I went into hiding (the agent relocation program) 3 years ago.

And I mean intimate as in playing, writing, and communicating with music...not necessarily having a CD collection. Although I did that too once upon a time. I got rid of almost all recordings I've ever had about 7-8 years ago. Occasionally I regret that, but mostly, it was a good move.

I was (and to a degree, still am) mostly into jazz. Or anything with a heavy improvisational nature (ala King Crimson-esque art rock). I use to play orchestral music professionally as well. I preferred most anything modern (20th century). And, of course, I love (and still love) to ROCK. The louder the better, baby.

Recently, Agent Wife and myself have jumped on the U2 bandwagon. This is a return ride for me since I listened to them briefly in high school. I could not escape the peer pressures of Joshua Tree and Rattle-n-Hum, even though I usually preferred music recorded around the year I was born. Give me The Who or Yes any day, baby.

U2 was cool and all back when I was in school, but I never really gave them much thought. I always assumed they were just wussy political rock. Sunday Bloody Sunday? Quit your whining. Don't get fooled again...

I also had a brief 4-5 year period where I was primarily known for "praise music" due to my charismatic dealings and those related peer pressures. The funny thing is...I've never really liked praise music. I love the CEO and I'm willing to play any kind of music, but church music just sucks. I never listened to it much (although let the facts be known... I played in a band that opened for Third Day once. Nice guys). When you're a musician, the charismatic culture places you on a pedestal and tells you that you're called to lead people into worship. How do they know what I'm called to. I was not called to provide emotional dance music for a bunch of christians to jump to. I am called to the poor through relationship. The praise thing was just a gig to me at the time.

The music I have written has always been instrumental. No Lyrics. Except my high school garage band once played a song I wrote called "Big Winnebago" - about my fantasy of driving around the country and helping the poor. Maybe I am prophetic. Well, except that Winnebago part. And the driving part. Then about 3-5 years ago I've penned and partially penned several songs (w/ lyrics) that couldn't be categorized as "praise music". They were really about truth and social injustice. These songs have yet to see the light of day.

Then, thanks to Agent Wife's sister (lil' sis), I get U2's newest recording for my birthday last month. I wanted to hear it primarily because of mentions of it in the blog world by people I trust.

I remember in high school people telling me that U2 was "christian" rock. I didn't know what that meant due to my coc upbringing. Back then the coc never used the words Christian and rock in the same sentence. Unless it was one of those tracts discussing the evils of Kiss and The Plasmatics. And, as you could expect, christians distance themselves from U2 because of the singer's use of the word fuck in various press meetings. I have no love or endorsement for defeatist language since there's much power in the spoken word. But it's funny...a person can follow the CEO, claim Jesus as his king, give much to the poor with love...but say a certain word and people of faith immediately shutdown and discredit you. "Fuck"...the unforgivable sin....that's a whole new blog post...

Back to the point...most of the tunes on this U2 disc are more about social injustice than praise or worship. That is, the kind of touchy, feely, bless-me kind of praise and worship . I assume acting upon injustice is a praise and worship of the CEO.

Bands from within the church realm (Delirious, Third Day, etc) may effectively preach to the choir. But outside the church camp, U2 has taken a "less talk, more action" approach. And the world's listening.

I've never put any faith in popularity contests like the Grammy's. But U2's latest is like...album of the year or something. Get this...a faith riddled, social injustice recording is the most popular disc on the planet.

I can't think of a better choice.

From the brightest star
Comes the blackest hole
You had so much to offer
Why did you offer your soul?
I was there for you baby
When you needed my help
Would you deny for others
What you demand for yourself?

You speak of signs and wonders
I need something other
I would believe if I was able
But I'’m waiting on the crumbs from your table

Where you live should not decide
Whether you live or whether you die
Three to a bed
Sister Ann, she said
Dignity passes by

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Fine Line

There's a fine line between being like an animal and being human.

There's a fine line between engineering a wind proof camp with tarps, plastic sheeting and rocks and walking barefoot in a comfortable home.

There's a fine line between watching your back 24/7 and crawling around the carpet on all fours chasing a giggling toddler.

There's a fine line between saving your last package of peanut butter crackers for when your really hungry and eating hearty meals until your full.

There's a fine line between Satan mocking our humanity and Jesus restoring it. (And the word I got from the CEO this week was restore. Go figure).

I had opportunity to witness that line get crossed recently.

I forgot how freaking good that is to see.

Friday, February 17, 2006


I've had opportunity to get to know Kurt today (briefly mentioned in this post).

Occasionally I come across a homeless person who completely breaks the mold of the standard homeless persona. That would be Kurt. This 68 year old docile guy could be your grandfather. Sweet, hard-working, and honest, he has no "issues". If I was just reading this and not writing this, I wouldn't believe it. Well, we all have issues with something somewhere. But homeless people's issues are usually obvious. I've drilled Kurt fairly hard today. He's just the real deal. A honest, loving Jesus follower who was dealt a lousy hand in life and lives homeless as the result...and has no bitterness about it.

Raised in an orphanage in Macon, Georgia, Kurt never knew his real parents. He had a sister who was adapted out to a rich family. He heard she had gotten married but never knew her married name.

Kurt was disqualified for military service due to a crippled hand he was born with. He worked various jobs, lived with a woman for 7 years until she died, was a transient off and on, and was addicted to cigarettes and alcohol.

So I asked him how he came to know the CEO. There was no big magical moment or radical conversion in Kurt's life. He just up and decided one day to quit all of his addictions and vices and visit a church. He became a follower of Jesus and has been one ever since.

Kurt is a big believer in the CEO meeting all of his needs. He returned to the fair mother city last spring. He needed a bed roll and prayed for one. Then one evening while sitting in a downtown park, a freaking cop of all people pulls up and asks Kurt if he wants a bed roll, and pulls it out of the trunk. Yay CEO. And it's nice to finally hear a positive story about local law enforcement out of the mouth of a homeless man. Even the CEO's agents can exist within police-dom.

Kurt has spoken much prophecy into my life and the life of the izzy group about the CEO's provision. Kurt thinks the izzy group hung the moon. Which is funny...since he had only come around the original version of The Table at izzy for about 3-4 weeks. I remember him well as the sweet old man hunched over with the crippled hand who washed our dishes those 3 weeks. But I can't believe he'd remember me, my wife, The Bossman, or any of us like he has. After those few weeks Kurt had ended up in Salt Lake City for a few years before returning to the fair mother city.

Sadly...he looked all over for us on his return. And confusingly enough, another church and ministry to poor people occupy the building we were once in. But thankfully we found each other at the Baptist Beach Head.

Some real good news. I asked Kurt why he didn't receive social security since he was 68. He said it's because you have to have an address. But he's recently worked it out to use the BBH address and he should be getting his first monthly pay in March. He plans on getting an apartment real soon. When that day comes, I may post a plea for furniture donations and/or money to buy household items. Stay tuned.

Thank you Lord for returning our friendship and for providing for Kurt's needs.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Obi-Wan Tales Chapter IV: something like that

Once I was helping rearrange some items in Obi-Wan's living room. I stumbled across this device that had a huge red button on it and phone cords hanging out the back. I ask "what's this?"

"Oh, that's my 9-9-1...or 1-1-9. Something like that".

Agent gathering

The first ever agent gathering of various callings from within the fair mother city met today in my kitchen on Undercover Lane. Jack, The Librarian (Agent S), and yours truly rambled over sandwiches and sacrament. The world's problems weren't solved, but thankfully we didn't create such a lofty goal anyway...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Para-church = para-crock

I'm familiar with the term parachurch. Supposedly for the last 50 years or so, this term is used to describe an organization that cooperates with a church or churches that accomplish some ministry end. I am also familiar with parachurch because this was the term often used to describe the izzy group ministry several years ago.

I'm not a big fan of
parachurch, the term or the concept. The concept is basically this: the parachurch (parasite) does ministry, such as giving away free groceries to poor people, etc. It is hosted and/or supported by a church (the mothership). Parasite does the dirty work, mothership does the Sunday social club. And never the two shall mix.

The church has a habit of creating separate entities to do the mission of Jesus instead of being the mission themselves. I guess this is to prevent their Sunday club from getting messy or becoming different.

I only know of a handful of churches that I would consider being a mission first and a meeting secondary. One of them is Pastor Hawking's church here in the fair mother city. Then there's pastor Bubba of Johnson County, Texas (south of Ft. Worth) where rednecks were invented. His church of about 250-300 feeds and outreaches hundreds of trailer parks throughout that entire county. And literally...the whole church shows up to do the work (not just 5 or 6 people). Also, Pastor Bubba's former associate, Pastor Jimbo, who does the same kind of gig in the impoverished Sansom Park area of Ft. Worth where lots of poor elderly folks live.

Who said church has to be an orderly, routine meeting with sacraments, worship songs and preaching. What's wrong with turning it into a BBQ party for the poor once in a while?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


I'm not a scholar of The Book, but I read it. As I understand, in the 2nd half of Matthew 25 Jesus himself gives us the only picture of what the immediate after life might look like. Possibly judgement day. I don't know.

Six things: Did you feed me? clothe me? something to drink? care for my sickness? invite me in? visit me in prison?

Not: Did you preach to me? convert me? ridicule away my culture? expect me to join your culture? attend meetings? have perfect attendence?...

...just saying.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Testimony #005

Out of the blue, a local business man friend of mine (that I was meeting with) gave me a handful of Visa debit cards that he received as gifts from his company but never used. They have $30 each a piece. I don't know if I can pay bills with these, but we should be able to eat and buy gas, etc just fine for the next few weeks.

Thank you Lord. Your provision is always timely.

Obi-Wan Tales Chapter III: Explosion

(This is an onging series of stories from the life of my 88 year old friend and neighbor Obi-Wan)

Obi-Wan moved to the fair mother city in 1953. He left his life long home in the Waco area to start fresh after two failed marriages. As I understand, both of his previous wives had cheated on him.

He's relayed the story of moving to the fair mother city several times to me. Working at a service station in Waco, down and depressed from his recent divorce, a traveling insurance salesman (a "white christian guy") from Tennessee suggested he cash his paycheck the following Friday and buy a bus ticket to West Texas. There were plenty of jobs in Abilene, Midland, and Odessa at the time. And the Tennessee guy offered to wire Obi-Wan the money for a return trip home if things didn't work out.

Obi-Wan took his advice but never needed his offer for return fare. He worked in various service stations in the mother city from 1953 until he retired in the mid 1980s.

He once survived a huge explosion of some sort at a gas station near N1st and Grape St. around 1957. I can't remember the details, but something highly flammable erupted near Obi-Wan. He would have been blind to this day had he not covered his eyes and face with his arms. The scars are still on the bottoms of his forearms. The explosion was so big, it was said that it could be heard and felt outside the city limits.

Obi-Wan really doesn't remember what happened. When people arrived to help, they found him wandering around the sidewalk in a daze, trying to catch the money that blew out of the cash register. He barely remembers doing that.

He supposedly spent several months at the hospital (in the "special wing" Hendricks hospital had reserved for black people). Thankfully, the owner of the service station (Obi-Wan's boss) paid for all his medical stay out of his own pocket. The boss also paid for a turkey dinner for that upcoming Thanksgiving.

All of Obi-Wan's friends were telling him to sue his boss. "Sue, sue!", they'd say. "You could get real rich on this deal."
"Why would I want to sue him?", Obi-Wan would say. "He's paid for my hospital stay, so I'm not out any money. He even bought me a Thanksgiving dinner. The explosion wasn't his fault".

This is one of the many character traits of Obi-Wan. He's always been content with who he was and what he had. He's never coveted more.

And somehow, I feel that this content spirit is what's allowed him to live this long. He doesn't desire much else in life.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

"just the beginning"

The family and I attended the Salvation Army's church service this morning to see our old friend Terry (written about HERE 3 weeks ago) graduate from their detox program.

I have never been to a Sally Ann church before. It was kind of cool. Like an old-timey country-esque chapel with a subtle rowdiness to it. And rowdy is very good when you have a toddler like us. 15-month-old babies and quiet, sterile church services don't mix.

It was a packed house today, not only due to Terry's grad, but the Major (who looked exactly like Dick Cheney) had a grandchild being dedicated.

Terry's 2 kids Jason and Sally were present. We haven't seen them in almost a year. When Terry went up front for his quick ceremony, all the other Sally Ann guys started whooping and hollering. I didn't know it, but Terry's a pretty good speaker. He gave a quick little sermonette, complete with visuals (like a bullet...to illustrate how he had to "bite the bullet" to enroll in the first place).

It was hard to hear most of what he said because of his crying and the microphone setup, but I did understand two important things. First, he publicly apologized to his kids for the hell he's pulled them through. Then he left the podium saying "this is just the beginning".

Thank you again, lord, for showing us the rest of story. And thank you for Terry's proclamation that this truly is the beginning...

Friday, February 10, 2006

Plate-glass souls

My Fridays at the Baptist Beach Head are getting harder and harder. Today was only my 4th week to join in. As much as I desire to make friends with the homeless and poor again, I'm finding it easier and more tempting to stay home.

Hanging out at the BBH is not rocket science. For an hour or 2 I sit in the basement and play dominoes with folks who are waiting their turn for a shower. Then I go upstairs and help Leslie set up for the lunch meal, usually setting the tables or pouring drinks. You can train a monkey to do my job.

My undercover, covert operative is to develop relations with the poor. And about 10% of the folks I see are people I knew well from the old izzy days 3-6 years ago, so I would assume that I already had in-roads with them.

Last week my cover was blown. I was playing dominoes and the woman who's 2nd in command of the BBH came down to bring up one of the homeless guys for a meeting. On her way out she looked at me and announced, "He'll be right back, Agent B"...

I thought I was about to get shot or be used in hostage negotiations. Every head in the room (about 8-10) slowly turned to me after her words were innocently muttered, and the look on their faces was "oh...you're not one of us. Your one of them". The two previous weeks the homeless guys accepted me without suspicion. Sure, I don't "look" homeless. But I blended in so they never took notice of my presence. Until now.

Today, my old pal Momo (also see here), who usually goes through a jack-ass spell once a month, was at the front door parking his buggy when I arrived. He asked point blank, "So why do you come here? Have you finally found a new place of worship or are you here to bull-shit with me?" "Bull-shit", I smirked.

At the old izzy ministry, Agent Wife started a women's group called "Friends", named after Jesus' words in John 15:15. A schitzoid woman named Jerriann saw right through it. "We're not friends. Friends go and do stuff together. Like go to the mall, and watch movies". She was right. In the end, it was just another program and we were just ministers pushing a do-gooder agenda to feel good about ourselves.

The poor can see right through us. They know when people are being real or fake. I don't believe I'm faking it at the BBH. But Momo and the gang of new faces suspect something's up with me.

Either the gig is up or I need to stay on target.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Community: buzz-word or reality

No doubt, one of the most well used words within the christian culture of the last several years is community. And that can't be a bad thing. But everyone's definition of community is as numerous as the stars.

In one sense I have heard
community talked about in the form of a hippie-like christian commune where families share belongings, resources, bills, and privacy. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I've heard of a local pastor's wife talking about replacing the seats within their church's sanctuary with pews so people can sit closer together "to create better community". And I've heard everything in between.

The word
community itself can be like a square peg being shoved into the round hole of our religious boundaries. Community is the cool thing now, so we'll somehow meld it into our personal gameplan.

The Bossman and I were recently talking about the elderly. He once asked his grandmother (she's still alive and in her upper 90s) what she did for fun when she was young. She relayed this huge, exciting story about everyone getting together in an old barn late on Saturday nights to...churn butter. That was it. Their "fun" was about working. They worked their asses off all week so that they could get together to work some more on Saturday night. But they sat around and told stories, jokes, laughs, etc while making something for everyone to use all week.

In The Bossman's grandmother's youth, the local church was also a very needed form of community as well as the butter making bash. They worked hard all week at great distances from other people (out in pastures, etc), then Sunday they went to the church house to worship and get reenergized from friendships.

I'm not so sure that this "traditional" church model (ie: go to the building...there's your community) is fully null and void. It must be necessary for someone, as many still employ this method. But some folks live in neighborhoods and areas with great needs. And traveling 20-30 minutes by car to go to a building that might foster a manufactured community would be unnecessary if there's one such community surrounding their home street. Or apartment building.

Community...it's a good word to popularize. Especially if it's a springboard for christians to start serving the least of these. But if it's "meet the new boss, same as the old boss", don't count me in.

The Agent Network continues...

Met yet another fellow agent in the fair mother city today - the Jack of all trades.

Had good coffee, real conversations, true prayers, and a lot of hopes and dreams shared.

I highly recommend reading the writings from his blog. The connecting continues...

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

This just in...Abilene: a cheap-ass town

The local paper has announced stunning news (free registration may be required to read). Abilene has low wages. Yeah, no duh. As stated in this post, there are a lot of poor people in the fair mother city for a reason. The news story states that Abilene ranks 5th to last in state-wide wages. Houston is first with at $900 a month. Abilene is $526 and Brownsville area is at $450.

I can see the injustice with the border towns that rank the lowest. Most of those communities are made up of immigrants or illegal aliens, therefore employers can easily get away with paying their workers magic beans since immigrants will work for any wages greater than those of their friends and family in Mexico. I'm not justifying this act. It's still a crock.

I've long suspected that the primary reason for the fair mother city's sucky wages had to do with the hyper-religious culture she's infected with. And secondly, like the border towns, we have a fair sized population of immigrants too. Thirdly, college students-a-plenty. They'll work for pop tarts.

I have no scientific proof on the religious culture theory. Just a lot of speculation and 17 and a half years experience in the fair mother city working for some of these outlets.

A year ago (when I contemplated my calling as an undercover agent) I interviewed for a local mom-n-pop business. It was a very technically involved job requiring a lot of customer service skills. It sounded great. They needed a sales rep who'd do other various tasks including local deliveries. This company was on the fast track to franchise out nation wide in 10 years. All in all, it sounded like a great ground floor opportunity, as in I or whoever got the gig could become part owner someday if they played their cards right. Then the stale-mate. "We pay $7 an hour". Well...good damned luck finding a COLLEGE student who'll work 40 hours a week. $7 an hour, eh? I've got a mortgage and a family. I've upped my standards, so up yours.

It seems most every business in town (or at least the ones I use to work for) is owned and run by christians. They had the control and power on wages in their establishment. Plus, many of these same business owners served on local community development boards that supposedly help bring new jobs to town. So these business owners would appear to have more influence in the job market and economy than just their personal business. I would hope that they'd take a more justice filled role and raise the standard of wages within their own businesses, and let healthy wage competition run amuck with new companies that come to town. That is, if they'd give incentive for new companies to be here in the first place.

It's well known that local waiters & waitresses are frustrated with the church crowd. Local christians are notorious for being the cheapest tippers around. They'll under tip (if any at all) or even pull out a calculator to figure out exactly 10-15%, down to the nickel or round down. So much for giving our all...

I bring up the tipping ordeal because I assume it might parallel my low wage conspiracy theory. Christians tip bad. Therefore, maybe they pay their workers bad too.

A religious spirit seems to make people cling to what they have. This spirit might have people take care of their own in a Galatians 6:10 kind of way. But that's it. Little generosity beyond their own boundaries.

Again...nothing scientifically proven here. Just a bunch of conspiracy theories. And I enjoy dabbling in conspiracy theories, which is probably not safe hobby.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Legend of Johnny Schitzo

(subtitled: Back from the Dead)

*I usually don't like to post photos of the people written here, as to avoid exploitation. But this one was too good to pass up. It explains Johnny well...

One of the handful of familiar faces I've encountered at the downtown Baptist Beach Head on Fridays is the young Johnny Schitzo.

Johnny has got to be one of the most difficult humans to be around in the fair mother city. He's annoying. It's almost as if his annoyingness gets custom molded to each person he's around. As if the demons that reside in him know just what bugs you personally.

He's really like a modern-day "Legion", or so I think. I believe in demon possession and I believe it's the CEO's desire (and the mandate for his followers) to set these captives free. But I'm still reading the manual on that one. I don't know if exorcism involves a specific ritual or just love. Perhaps it's different for each possessed person. I think the timing is key. The CEO's timing for his glory.

Well anyway, after not having a social/ministerial apparatus like the izzy group anymore, I run into Johnny Schitzo for the first time in over 3 years. Johnny isn't the complete stereotype homeless person (ex: grizzly Viet-nam vet w/ a backpack and camo pants). He's in his mid 20's, almost always rides a kid sized dirt bike (usually stolen), lies like a maniac, has a major clepto problem, always trying to be funny and laughing with a comical-annoying laugh that never ends ("ah HUHUHUHUHUHUHUH"), and tries to pick verbal fights with anyone who'll dare debate him on any useless trivia. This is probably what gets me since I hate debating with a passion. But I've learned how to engage Johnny without letting things get haywire.

Johnny is really like a little kid without any parents. I've seen his sweet and child-like side, which comes out when no one else is around. Most homeless folks have a camp somewhere hidden in town. It's usually a very private question to ask where a homeless guy sleeps, but I asked Johnny anyway. He told me he used to sleep in the Rose Park bathroom. I don't like using the BATHROOM in the Rose Park bathroom. I can't imagine sleeping in there. Back when the izzy group ran a once-a-week shelter, I remember Johnny sleeping on the air-mattress, curled up in a fetal position, going to bed before all the other guys and being the last one to wake up in the morning. I think it was the most sleep he got in a long time.

Now here we go...I have the BEST story EVER. Of ALL TIME. And it involves Johnny...

One day about 4 years ago an unidentified homeless man was killed by a passing train here in the fair mother city. The local law enforcement called in Hewie Marks, pastor of a well known church with homeless folks, to identify the body. According to Hewie, identifying a body that was hit by a train is pretty difficult. But the dead guy kind of looked like Johnny Schitzo, had a bike like Johnny's, and was carrying a bible with Johnny's name written inside. Bingo. Johnny Schitzo is dead.

Word got out all over town on the streets. Even a local TV news outlet announced Johnny Schitzo being dead. That night was the evening for the izzy group's shelter. Guys who literally hated Johnny (which is about everyone on the planet) were now out on the porch crying. "I can't believe he's gone". "I was just with him yesterday". "He didn't look suicidal". "Why'd he jump in front of a train?!?" We were all out on the porch mourning, asking the CEO "why".

Then...as the CEO is my witness...out of the dark, down the sidewalk we hear that familiar happy-go-lucky, annoying kid-like voice: "Hey. I heard everyone thought I was dead".

Like Christ on the road to Emmaus, Johnny was standing in our midst. And there was silence. Then there was screaming. Guys who were just crying about him were now hugging and kissing him. We brought Johnny inside the building and everyone freaked out. It was like a huge party.

And the sad part is, within 30 minutes everyone went to hating him again, but only mildly. Johnny has that effect on people.

Hewie Marks had misidentified the body, a mistake I remind him of every time I see him. Hilarious.

Imagine wishing you had one more chance to say goodbye to someone who had passed. Or saying all the good things about a person that didn't have many good things to talk about. A bunch of homeless guys got that chance four years ago.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Us vs. Them

Ugliness comes in many forms. And probably the worst form of ugliness is the kind you cannot physically see. Invisible ugliness. It's nasty. It can be all around you. It can permeate your speech, actions, expressions, relations, and basically your very being. But you can't actually "see" it.

Many christ followers, even (if not especially) those who work in some sort of social-service apparatus, have a clear distinction between themselves (the ministers) and the recipients of services (the ministerees). It's US VERSUS THEM.

Us, the christians versus them, the non christians.
Us, the middle class. Them, the poor.
Us, the responsible ones. Them, the irresponsible ones.
Us, the ones with our crap all together. Them, with their lives a mess.
Us, the volunteer do-gooders. Them, the lazy recipients.

No matter how you view it, there's always someone sitting behind a counter and someone standing in line at the counter.

Even when we try desperately to eliminate this invisible boundary between ourselves and the poor, its still there, one way or another. For example, the ways we talk about the poor with our inclusive/exclusive language (like the first sentence in this paragraph). Or the ways we don't include the poor in our personal lives.

I believe the best remedy for "us vs. them" is in Jesus' words from John 15 in The Book: "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my father I have made known to you".

"Us vs. Them" employs hierarchal boundaries of master/servant, daddy/son, king/subject, etc. These are all necessary relationships in one aspect of society or another. But being friends eliminates hierarchies. If two people are truly friends, than one is not higher than the other. Each knows of the crap that the other holds and each can speak into the other's life.

I have found that friendship (ie: relational model) with the poor is the best means of ministry. It not only brings a greater trust between us and them, but those expected to "minister" can also be "ministered to". We're all sinners and ain't none of us got it all figured out in life.

I have learned far more lessons from my "poor" friends and have received from them far more than anything I have given them.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Agent Jr.

I met up for the first time with another secret agent in the fair mother city today.

Agent Jr. is a masters student at the local university, is currently interning with a coc run inner-city beach head in prime location (which I've had agent dealings with in the past), and has plans to move to the Boston area with his wife this summer to start some sort of community/missional type church. So, of course, I'm thinking "missional, community, Boston...I know some guys doing that". Maybe their paths will cross someday...

As always, It is very refreshing to gather with another fellow agent, especially one in the fair mother city. Especially one with such an excitement for this city, even though he's being reassigned soon.

This is the 3rd secret agent from the blog world I've met face to face (2nd in this city) who has similar orders from the CEO as mine. As stated here before, this blog-o-universe has proven effective for me. Not a waste of time at all.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Separation of church and state: the flip side

Spent a good deal of time with The Bossman today at my house. During some of our business ramblings I sought counsel in formation of The Table, particularly in the arena of what I consider government intrusion.

I am not a right-winged nut. I am not a member of the Republic of Texas, living in the foothills near Ft. Davis and refusing to recognize the State of Texas as my government or anything like that. I just want to build relationships with the poor of the fair mother city and possibly use food and various resources as a means to do so. And I don't want any government intrusion to trip me up along the way.

There is a huge grey area in which I've been long confused. Restaraunts in our city (like all cities) must pass a scheduled health inspection by a local governing authority. Any place that serves food to the public must pass certain guidelines. Understood. Churches with kitchens are not under these guidelines as they don't serve the public, just their members. I have no intention of exposing the exclusive nature of churches (serving only its members), but rather stating that I fully agree that churches shouldn't have to go under a governmental guideline. Because they are the church. And everyone in this day and age screams "separation of church and state". This phrase is usually mentioned when religious people step into the government's business. But church kitchen inspection would clearly show the opposite: government getting into the church's business.

Although 99% of churches in the US give the government free reign over them by selling out to non-prof status of 501(c)3 or even the lesser used 508(c)1a (corporation sole). But I ain't about to enter that subject. Not on this post.

So my big question is...if a gathering place called The Table is created in the future, and by biblical definition it becomes a church, and this church is the kind of church that feeds people in a cafe with no pulpit-type preaching or bulletins to pass out...does The Table need government run health inspections?

The Table would have nothing to hide. I would want it to have above standard operations as a mark of the CEO's excellence. But I really don't want the government to have a foothold in it. Or an invisible leash around our necks.

This happened at the old izzy ministry with the original version of The Table. Things were going well for months. Then the city discovered we were feeding 20-30 people every weekday without their official "OK", so they shut us down for a week or so until we had their inspection.

I want to render to Ceasar and all that jazz. I don't care if others label me a rogue, but I don't want to be one. Rogues are always self-centered and prideful.

I had originally thought of avoiding the city government by calling The Table a church and having folks sign a "membership" list before getting food. This is a church. These are its members. Period. The folks could renounce their membership on the way out after eating for all I care. The Bossman reminded me of a former church in the fair mother city that had a school that the city shut down. It got pretty ugly because the church was trying to fight back via the media and other worldly ways.

Another alternative The Bossman suggested was getting a house in a depressed residential area and outfitting the kitchen and living room to be The Table. And perhaps have me living in the house or letting someone else live there. Thus, it would be a residence and the government can't regulate how many people come to my house to eat and hang out for community.

The ideas are endless. Does anyone have more suggestions or words of advice?