Friday, December 28, 2007

will the CEO speaketh


As a lowly field agent, I am probably being too demanding of the CEO of the universe to give me a reflective word for the coming year. I'm sure he'll damn well talk to me when he feels like it.

In the last two weeks I've spent many moments communicating with headquarters, forging a moderate-sized trench around their three acre property. But I hear nothing. That is, nothing but the thoughts of a desire I've been pondering for almost two years. Maybe more on that in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, on a semi-related note, I've spent much time communicating to headquarters while manhandling a small hand-held jackhammer powered by air compression. It's funny how isolated one feels with goggles and hearing protection on, working on busting up a concrete area near a drain pipe in some basement.

My father-in-law and I are trying to install a bathroom in one of his rental properties. Yes, odd-jobs follow me. Even in Canada.

Every odd job is another notch of experience. And there's always a built-in moment to call headquarters.


Photo credit here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

little christmas on the prairie


I've always been fascinated with and attracted to Agent Wife's family here in Saskatchewan.

They're very close-knit and have recent ancestors who were some of the pioneers of this province. I guess that's not too impressive as Saskatchewan is very young. It just celebrated it's 100th birthday a year ago or so. But even in the 1940's and 50's when my father-in-law grew up, it was still a very outdoorsy, roughing-it kind of life.

His family basically had to build and maintain most everything they had. I think he had to go to a creek, bust ice, and haul water on occasion. And he always brags about how tough they were with the cold. Like how a glass of water 3 feet from his bed would be frozen by morning.

Agent Wife has this inbred knack of making things work with what you have. She can improvise most anything under any situation.

Me - I grew up in the Houston suburbs, the birthplace of consumeristic wealth and waste. When something broke or became annoying, we just threw it away and bought a new one.

Agent Wife grew up with cousins and second cousins as best friends. They were real close and still talk to each other today.

Me - I just discovered I had second cousins last year. I'm an only child. And my handful of first cousins are scattered or recluses. So it goes.

The newest thing I've discovered about Agent Wife and her family is reflected in her recent post about her parent's household. I never realized how much they welcome in the stragglers and misfits to be a part of their household. The day we flew in they were welcoming in a 10 year-old foster child girl who happens to be a new Canadian resident. She spent most of her childhood in a Ghana refugee camp fleeing Liberia.

This young girl spent christmas with us, travelling the city making the rounds with Agent Wife's family.

Funny: words like "community" are the latest buzzwords in the church realm, like maybe it's a new concept. I think my in-laws have been living community for years without making a big intellectual stink about it.

Agent Wife and I celebrated our 9th anniversary last week. And I can remember back when we first married how we were youthful and slightly arrogant. We wanted to chart a different path than our parents. Like maybe we had it all figured out or something and maybe they were bad role models.

This trip, we're discovering that we want to be more like our parents.

Friday, December 21, 2007

cult of personality


A few years ago I learned to not bring any books to read at my in-law's house in Saskatchewan. Their basement library is vast and slightly fascinating. There are too many items I desire to read, even during a colossal three week visit.

My first choice thus far is No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith by Fawn M. Brodie. Which is odd, as I've never had any interests in Mormonism one way or another.

My reading has opened my eyes to people's ease of following a dynamic personality, regardless of that personality's blatant fraud or lack of "good fruit".

Thus, my reading has opened my eyes to my own following of various individuals throughout my life. None have been as infamous as the mormon prophet. But charismatic, likable people none the less.

So there. I admit that I am not immune to being suckered by a smiling face or etc. I wonder if any of us really are immune to this.

I think the temptation in most people is to get others to follow us. That could be good or bad. And is having others follow us really the call of Jesus. Probably not.

Probably, the challenge of pointing others to jesus involves a balance between being likable and being an asshole.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

turn the other cheek


Being in canada and all and not having kept up with much news, I remember passing by a TV in the airport that was talking about some major shooting at a church in Colorado.

It was something about a crazed gunman killing a person or two. So a church security guard* shot and killed him.

Yesterday, my lefty friend wrote a good post quoting a letter some guy wrote to the pastor of that church. It's pretty powerful, and probably the only real christ-like response I've heard yet.

It's definitely a far better read than the story from the fair mother city's newspaper featuring local pastor's responses. And to think...I use to be employed by one of those social clubs.

Most would question the author of the letter on Lefty's blog (or my response) by stating, "so...should we just wait for a tragedy, unarmed?!?"

My response to that: Probably not. Unfortunately, with a large social club meeting, you should probably spend resources protecting yourselves. Not that I like saying that, nor would I suggest it if I found myself on staff at a social club again.

I think this makes a good case for believers staying outside the mega-church or social club network all together. Because inevitably, one must go in this "armed" direction.


*Hey, they pay clergy. So why not an armed guard?

Photo credit here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

the show must go on


First off: I am an uncle. I had a niece born yesterday. My kids and I go to the hospital to meet her tonight. I love her name (which will not be shared here. Sorry)

My sister-in-law was induced Friday morning. Both Agent Wife and their mom and possibly my brother-in-law's mom had been with her since then. So, after 33 hours or so, my mother-in-law and Agent Wife were fairly wasted.

But, today is Sunday. And by god, maybe there's a special place in hell for people who miss church. Especially on pot-luck Sunday. Especially if you don't bring something for pot-luck Sunday.

I mean, I love my wife's family and all. A lot. And like Agent Wife, I too want to honor them by joining in on what her family does and etc.

But one would think that after a weekend of little sleep and emotional craziness, it might be OK to stay home Sunday morning. Especially since the house ran out of water (there may be modern conveniences here on the prairies, but Pa still has to fetch water down at the crick).

But then again, I'm the guy who's not real pro-church. Or pro-social club. What would I know.

However, this morning's social club gathering turned out OK. I just think there's some kind of invisible, guilt-ridden force that makes people attend the club, even when I suspect Jesus himself would have stayed home in this situation.

*photo credit here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

arrived: frozen prairieland


Somehow, my family and I made it to Saskatchewan after fog delays in DFW. We missed our flight from DFW to Minneapolis by 2 minutes. Literally - 2 minutes. And I always thought that the printed departure time was just to scare you into being on time as they really left about 10 minutes later. Not this flight.

Come on. We were running while carrying two toddlers and backpacks. The next flight wasn't for about 8 hours. At least the airline moved us to another airline via Calgary, resulting in being only 4 hours late as opposed to 10. Not bad. Thank you CEO.

I actually performed a jedi mind trick in Calgary. We had to clear customs and pick up our luggage before checking into the last flight in less than an hour. The guy at the ticket desk says, "aww man, I'm going to have to send you and all your bags upstairs to a different desk to get the right paperwork". That would have been more than a colossal inconvenience, making us miss the next flight.

"No. You can do it right here", was all I said. Man it actually worked. I always knew there was power in our words.

*********************************************

I have started communicating back to headquarters during my treks across the frozen acreage. So far, all I've received was some friendly black lab that appeared out of no-where wanting to play. I named her By-Tor - from By-Tor and the Snow Dog.

Monday, December 10, 2007

happy life day

Syncroblog for December 12, 2007: Redeeming the season.

Can christmas be redeemed from the anti-christ of materialism? Can hanukah be redeemed from lack of music? Can the multitudes of other winter holidaze be redeemed from political correctness? Hell if I know.

But I figure if the entire Star Wars movies can be redeemed from THIS, then anything is possible.



Happy Life Day, suckers.


Adam Gonnerman's Igneous Quill
Swords into Plowshares at Sonja Andrew's Calacirian
Fanning the Flickering Flame of Advent at Paul Walker's Out of the Cocoon
Lainie Petersen at Headspace
Eager Longing at Elizaphanian
The Battle Rages at Bryan Riley's Charis Shalom
Secularizing Christmas at JohnSmulo.com
There's Something About Mary at Hello Said Jenelle
Geocentric Versus Anthropocentric Holydays at Phil Wyman's Square No More
Celebrating Christmas in a Pluralistic Society at Erin Word's Decompressing Faith
Redeeming the season -- season of redemption by Steve Hayes
Remembering the Incarnation at Alan Knox' The Assembling of the Church
A Biblical Response to a Secular Christmas by Glenn Ansley's Bad Theology
Happy Life Day at The Agent B Files
What's So Bad About Christmas? at Julie Clawson's One Hand Clapping

Saturday, December 08, 2007

canada bound, year end reflections


Like last year at this time, my family and I are headed to Saskatchewan for an extended stay, time with in-laws, holidays, respite, an etc.

Traveling to Canada two years in a row is not our norm. This trip’s primary objective is to help welcome our new niece/nephew into the world. Yes, Agent Wife’s lil' sis is due to be induced shortly after we arrive.

Our in-laws made this travel possible. Thank you. And being that my tree employment doesn’t have much in the way of work for me in December and January, it’s easy to be gone.

My secondary goal on this trip is to seek the word of the CEO for the coming year. Last year he gave me a clear word about forging ahead in what we were already doing. I wasn’t real excited about hearing that. But here at the end of 2007, I can say with confidence that “forging ahead” worked. So that word must have been from the CEO. Our year had no shortage of miracles and events:

1) We made it through the year with no significant income generator or new path in life.
2) Our one and only car still runs.
3) We have been quite healthy.
4) I began a quirky part-time manual labor job with Son & Dad Tree Service, Inc. after the CEO revealed this opportunity to me via a dream that previous night. I’m still trying to figure out the purpose of this gig. I think it has a lot to do with humbling, and possible pruning in a spiritual sense.
5) After much desire and prayer, the opportunity op
ened up to travel to the Boston area. I finally met up with several from the agent network after two years of communication. I also met new friends, and the God For People Who Hate Church gig was far better than I anticipated.
6) The functional Evang-e-Dropping Eradication Operation ministry was formed on accident. My eyes are continuing to be opened on the guilt tactics of evangelicals: from hell to love and everything in between. And I’m still trying to determine if guilt inflicted by another is a good thing or not.
7) I am still heavily inspired by the faith escapades of Uncle George. And although hardly mentioned this year, I still dream about The Table while plotting and scheming if not pondering its existence.
8) Watching Obi-Wan’s health skyrocket after an amputation has been inspiring. And the entire debt relief from his two major medical bills pretty much made my year.
9) I believe it’s official that my music act has been resurrected. I foresee many more opportunities with it in 2008.

Hopefully there will be opportunity to trudge alone in the snow around the perimeter of my in-law’s acreage. And here, I would like to receive instructions from the CEO in how to proceed with 2008.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

obi-wan adventures


Agent Wife somehow convinced my dear friend, neighbor, mentor, and all-around inspiration for the Sanford & Son TV show - Obi-Wan to join us for our annual christmas light viewing with our kids. We loaded up The Falcon and shifted into super slow-mo cruise speed through upscale neighborhoods that probably wouldn’t host us otherwise.

I guess The Millenium Falcon, my '93 Lincoln with the peeling paint can be a suspicious-looking car. Especially with a long-haired guy, a tall woman, two toddlers, and a leg-less 90-year old man.

That’s probably why we were followed and pulled over by the cops. Didn’t signal 100-feet before the turn, my ass. He was profiling me. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for jackass. Move along. For crying out loud, how else are people supposed to look at christmas lights?

I think that was the most excitement Obi-Wan’s had in years.

Then today we finally went to his long-awaited eye appointment. He is now due to have cataract surgery in January.

Obi-Wan is black. And I usually refer to black people as black instead of African-american only because you never know when African-american is accurate (and black is shorter to say). I mean, the moment people discover Agent Wife is half-black, they say, “Oh, I didn’t know she’s African-american”. To which I say, “She’s not African OR American. She’s Jamacian-Canadian with a green card. Get it right”.

When I’m out on the town with Obi-Wan, I’ve noticed a unique social grace between black people and Obi-Wan that I’ve never witnessed with anyone else. Other black people who are total strangers will give him the friendliest greeting when they pass by. They won’t even know each other. I assume this is more about his age than his race, so people are being nice to an old guy. But still, I’ve never seen people of other races politely greet elderly strangers of the same race like younger black people do to Obi-Wan.

The first time I ever saw this was in a grocery store with Obi-Wan several years ago. Some young handsome black guy passed by and went straight up to Obi-Wan, patted him on the back, smiled and said something like, “hello sir, how are you doing today?” Obi-Wan responded half in jest like “getting around like an old car, but I’m getting around”. They both said see you later and walked off.

I asked Obi-Wan who that was. “Hell if I know” he said.

Anyway, this special elderly/race greeting happened twice today while waiting in the eye doctor lobby. It happens all the time.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

conspiracy theories


This is just a random thought I had last weekend on the evang-e-droppings gig. There is no deep research to back this up.

It seems like there are basically two different approaches to Christianity: 1) a hell approach or 2) a love approach. And each have their ills. I know these two approaches come across real black or white. This is just for the sake of making a weird point, and possible discussion. There are, of course, multitudes of grey areas and exceptions in real-life.

The Hell Approach – or possibly the hate approach. The tract passers are part of this. They take a “hell” approach to the gospel as a way to guilt or scare people to becoming part of the faith. Those guys in Kansas with the “god hates fags” signs are an extreme example.

The Love Approach – aka “father heart”. This way basically says, “God loves you”. It can also move into areas like, “god would have you be rich and prosper and never feel pain”. Everything aired on TBN would be an extreme example of this approach.

It can be argued that both approaches can be backed up by scripture. The “hells” love things like John 3:36 (“God’s wrath remains on sinners”) while the “loves” go for John 14:14 (“ask me anything in my name and I will do it”).

These are probably poor scripture examples for my point. It’s late. Sorry.

Admittedly, I lean heavily toward the love approach. And I can throw around many scriptures to back that up as well as real-life testimony too. But having recently come from a love approach church (with an authoritarian dictatorship), I noticed something.

Churches from the hell approach do not have to shove “authority” into their member’s faces. Churches from the love approach preach “authority” all the time.

My friend the nurse practitioner suggested that this is because people in the hell church are already submissive as they live in guilt and fear, whereas people in the love church don’t. So leaders in the love church must preach authority constantly.

This makes the love approach somewhat ironic, since authoritarian dictatorships or anything kin to it seems the opposite of love.

Just random and poorly executed conspiracy theories. Any thoughts?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

evang-e-droppings #009


It was another weekend on the Evang-e-droppings Eradication Operation. We netted a whopping 22 tracts. This weekend the tract of choice was the home-grown purple one by the local tract crew.

Last week there were absolutely none to be found. Zero. That kind of sucked because it was cold and rainy and I went out anyway. But there were tons of beer bottles in various parking lots to be picked up – way more than usual. At first I assumed the local tract crew took a week off since it was Thanksgiving. But then I wondered if maybe the night club was closed that weekend, thus patrons had their own parties in the parking lot. I don’t know.

I have yet to officially announce this, but my family and I will be in Canada for almost an entire month beginning next week. I plan to pick up tracts this coming weekend (Dec 9), but if any locals care to take over this operation for any of the next four weekends, be my guest. It’s easy and it only takes an hour or less. I can train you on Dec 9 if you wish.

This operation has existed for four months now. And I had no idea it would last this long. I am still quasi-reluctant to brazenly criticize another believer’s means of spreading the gospel – even if it’s a tactic that I see little if any fruit in.

But the more I pick up evang-e-droppings, the more passionate I become, not so much about the operation, but passionate against a hell message as a means of guilting people into a life of faith.

I have been thinking a lot about drive-by evangelism. At first, it’s easy to recognize my disdain: there is no relationship involved. It’s “Here, Jesus loves you” or whatever, while you hand a stranger some paper and move on to the next.

But the more I read these tracts themselves, I can’t seem to find any love in them.

I John 4 and I Corinthians 13 tell us that god is love. Everything of the CEO is of love, otherwise it’s all just useless noise.

Also, I’ve been pondering two basic approaches to christianity and its accompanying churches: 1) hate/hell or 2) love/father-heart. There are ills within both camps. And of course there are many gray areas and exceptions. More on that later.

Still seeking silence within the cacophony.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

quitting


In reference to the last report, where I mentioned that my family and I are either on a potential spiritual wilderness journey, or we’re just weird and I’m an idiot (I lean towards the former, yet there’s that possibility of the latter)...

After about two years or more of fumbling through prayers and communications in general to the CEO of the universe, I think I finally refined these pathetic ramblings into a brief, three-tiered statement:

Are we in the wilderness? If so, what is the task/life you are preparing us for? If not, open some doors for me to move on into a new direction in life (ie: get out of the fair mother city and get a real job).

Throughout The Book, the wilderness is always where a) a person has no resources except the CEO and b) a person is broken of everything in his/her life in order to go into some new task, ministry, whatever.

For what it’s worth, I’m still praying this three-tiered deal like the persistent widow in Luke 18. So one day on the job at Son & Dad Tree Service, Inc, The Son has me do my absolute least favorite part of this job – split wood.

Truth is, I’m not a very strong guy. I have a high level of endurance because of my thin size so I can work hard all day. But to go at something with repetitive strength wears me out quicker than a weak kitten after 10-15 minutes. Then I’m worthless the rest of the day.

I’ve been working on this small pile of mesquite to split for a few weeks. And every other day The Son makes the pile bigger.

So it’s the end of my day and after about 10 minutes of splitting I figure I’ll just quit and go home. The pile will be waiting for me later. But for some weird-ass reason, I get this notion to keep at it. I kept saying I’d quit after two more. Then another two. And so forth.

And before I knew it the whole pile was finished in like 20 minutes. And I wasn’t wore out. And I got better with each one.

I know this example and my analogy sounds so gay, but maybe this was the CEO showing me about sticking with it through the wilderness.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

pruning boy #012

"Episode 12: Tales from the migrant worker seat"

Within my employment of Son & Dad Tree Service, Inc. there are five seasonal jobs that each come once a year. They involve the maintaining of a certain kind of tree: spring fertilizing, three separate pest sprayings, and a winter fertilizing. Recently, we started the winter fertilizing,

There are usually somewhere between 80-120 customers on our list who want one, some, or all of the tree maintenance jobs. If we work from sun-up to sun-down, we can usually get all of them within two or three days.

These are very easy and monotonous jobs. No where near as exciting as taking down a multi-ton mesquite tree or a tall pine that MUST fall a certain direction. No elements of danger like me sliding around atop a two-story metal roof, hoisting up a fully extended pole saw to a limb that I must catch so no windows will break.

Just a couple of old men and me making routine stops. And a lot of time to ponder the universe.

Often on these tree maintenance jobs, we spend the first hour or so discovering all of the equipment failures since it’s been sitting unused for a few months. Like realizing the spray rig needs a new battery or some repair. Or there’s a flat tire on the trailer. Or the metal scoops for the fertilizer had deteriorated with holes because they weren’t washed last spring.

So I muse: this is fucking brilliant. We are a confederacy of dunces.

Meanwhile, I pray every hour that I won’t be here a year from now doing this again. Yet I’m keeping in mind that I took this quirky job after being instructed so by the CEO via a dream the night before this job was offered.

And I’m still convinced my family and I are in a wilderness period of our lives. The wilderness is where one has absolutely no resources except the lord. The wilderness is where the lord has someone travel as a training period for some greater future task, calling, ministry, whatever. The wilderness can last a long damn time.

Yet, while I enter the backyards of some of the wealthiest citizens of the fair mother city...

...and as I sit in the migrant worker seat (the wood bench in the back of the van with no seat belt and a metal coffee can of tools in my lower back), I ponder...

Just what the hell is this great future task? And is there really a future task?

Maybe I should have sold out long ago for the stellar career and the American dream. And drink a lot more beer.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

jawas


The poverty culture encompasses more than homelessness. The “working poor” is a term usually used to describe the poor that have places to live and they sustain their lives via means deemed undignified by the middle class.

I once wrote on the many friends I had who lived like moles – people who lived off some government pay and holed themselves up in low-income apartments all day while nursing addictions.

Since moving into our current house five years ago, I’ve learned of another subcategory within the working poor: the jawas.

Jawas sustain themselves with the waste and excess of the middle class. They often drive old pickups (or cars with trailers) down residential alleys collecting scrap metal for resale. It’s not a huge income, and I forget the current price per pound for scrap metal, but a full pickup load of metal and old appliances can easily net around $50.

Hell...if I had a pickup, I'd be a part-time jawa too.

Other common valuables are carpet padding, pallets, broken lawn equipment and anything that looks good enough to sell in a garage sale or flea market.

The Tiger has found multiple lawn mowers in the alleys. Sometimes they only need a $2 spark plug to get them running.

As far as I know, it’s not illegal to take things in the alley next to garbage dumpsters. So jawas are not stealing. Once something is lying in the alley, it’s fair game (I think). Most home owners leave unwanted items in the alley on purpose, just for the jawas. Otherwise, the garbage man will eventually get it. In some ways, this act seems kin to the old testament teaching of leaving the edges of the crops for the poor to collect. I don’t know.

When I’m home in the afternoons, it’s common to see two or three different sets of jawas driving by a couple times a month. I recognize some of them from the old izzy group ministry food pantry days.

Recently, my friend Jack and I were fixing up a rental house. We made two huge piles of crap in the backyard of stuff that needed to be hauled off: one to the dump, the other to the metal recycling. We figured there was more than enough for dump fees, some beer, and maybe a lunch or two. But some jawa guy drove up and asked if he could have it.

It was probably better for this guy to have it than for us to drink on the job anyway.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

inner child rantings


My family recently returned from a holiday gathering with my mother and step dad in Houston. We will be making a sequel trip to Canada next month, so our Houston trip was thanksgiving and christmas rolled into one.

Even when it’s not a holiday, my parents shower our kids and us with gifts and stuff.

That’s ok, I suppose. Gifts are nice. Who doesn’t like receiving them?

Although our kids are very young, it’s getting out of hand I think. They are starting to equate grandparents with presents. I don’t like that. But maybe that’s the grumpy, down-to-earth dad in me.

I think there’s something about my parents and that generation. It’s something about how they prefer showing love with a checkbook. I personally think throwing money at something is the easy way to deal with anything (that is, if you actually HAVE money - even a little). There’s little if any commitment.

Like handing $5 to the homeless guy with the "hungry" sign instead of asking him to join you for lunch at a table.

Of course, I wasn’t seeking any deep thoughts or commitments when I opened up my French press coffee brewer gift. I practically cried. I’ve wanted one of those for 10 years.

I mean seriously. I’m not trying to be some ungracious punk. Am I?

Call me a jackass. But ever since I was a teen or young adult I’ve always wanted family, including aunts, uncles, and grandparents, to ask me things like:

Who are you B?

What kind of things are important to you and why?

And honestly, I’d like to be able to ask those same questions back to them.

Swimming is harder work in the deep end. But its benefits usually stick around much longer.

Monday, November 19, 2007

fair mother greeting


For years I have joked that here in the fair mother city, the standard greeting to a new person is “hi, what’s your name?” followed by “what church do you go to?”

I was maybe half joking. But it’s very possible to be asked the church question somewhere in conversation.

The other night I had a stellar gig for my solo instrumental act. One of the local museums had their annual fund-raiser. There were literally hundreds of people there. Yep. Hundreds of the hoity-est toity-est people in the fair mother city forced to listen to either my act and/or the jazz combo made up of former professors and various acquaintances of mine in the other room.

This was just what I needed to come out from my five-year self imposed exile on the music scene. A huge answer to prayer (thank you CEO). If I don’t score some serious paying dinner party type gigs out of this then there's something wrong with all of us.

Anyway, like everyone else, us musicians got access to the full catered meal AND the two, count them, TWO open bars. This is where I learned that I probably shouldn’t drink too much early in my set. I was playing fairly loosy-goosy, but they liked it anyway.

All four of us musicians sat at a table together and about three others joined us: some rich, elderly guy with a yankee accent, his wife who was half his age and looked like Geddy Lee from Rush’s early days, and a sharp-looking guy with a shaved head who loved jazz. And scotch. At least I assumed so since he had like four glasses with him.

I asked the jazz and scotch lover how long he had been in the fair mother city. He said six weeks. “Wow”, I said. “What brought you here?” He really didn’t look like someone who planned to blend in with the locals.

He said he was some kind of real estate developer and saw some good opportunities here. Right on, I said. Develop something with good live music. I’m in. He laughed.

Then one of the other musicians, a minister by day, asked him, “so what church do you go to?”

I couldn’t believe it! I mean, I don’t think it’s wrong or incorrect to ask that question, I suppose. I just thought I had made that question up as a gag. I guess it's real.

The jazz lover gave a very diplomatic response, “No where. Got any good suggestions?”

Nice.


*photo by businessweek

Sunday, November 18, 2007

evang-e-droppings #008


The tract collecting has not faded away. Unless I receive instructions from headquarters to stop, I have yet to cease this operation.

This week’s collection was dismally low (22) compared to last week’s record of 61. But the low number was overshadowed by the $20 bill I found. Who says that being a secret agent doesn’t pay.

There’s been a new assortment of tracts lately. All of them seem to follow a 10 commandments schtick, ie: what laws have you broken lately?

Last week after collecting the 61 tracts, I spent a good bit of time with Little Wing who wandered through the area. Too bad he wasn’t around today. I might have shared the $20 with him.

I like Little Wing, even though he constantly refers to himself as “we” and rarely makes sense. But sometimes I think that’s because I’m not smart enough to understand him. Once I asked him what he had been doing lately and he said something like, “We’re trying to figure out the subtle inconsistencies of black versus white within the red, white, and blue.”

Too deep for me.

Still convinced we believers in Jesus are suppose to deliver people from demons, I asked Little Wing if he wished he could stop hearing the voices in his head. He said yes, he’d like them to stop. So I offered to ask my god to take them away and he graciously accepted.

So we prayed. And he was thankful for the praying. And I don’t know if anything happened.

Maybe next time.

Friday, November 16, 2007

juxtaposition


Our children’s unofficial grandfather is my dear friend, neighbor, mentor, and instant-coffee brewer Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan is 90. He’s been wheelchair bound since his left leg was amputated in February, but he’s still convinced he’ll soon get out in the yard and fire up his home-made BBQ pit that’s made out of a deep freeze.

Obi-Wan doesn’t have nice stuff. His house could probably get condemned by the city if they found out about it. Most of the electrical outlets and hanging lamps are some rigged setup of his from 35 years ago with wires hanging off the ceiling, etc.

My family goes over and eats dinner at his house once or twice a week. Sometimes we bring grub. Sometimes he cooks depending if he’s in the mood for fried catfish nuggets or pork steaks.

The last couple of dinners there, Obi-Wan left his TV blaring in the living room while we ate in the dining area. And both times it was tuned to TBN. I think that’s the only channel that comes in clear at his house with rabbit ears. TBN must have been having a pledge drive of some sort as people were preaching (sort-of) in front of a studio audience and asking viewers to call in now.

A scroll ran across the screen asking for pledges of $70, $700, or $7000.

I have no deep thoughts here. Just reporting on the weird mix of wealthy looking televangelists asking for money in the context of Obi-Wan’s dilapidated house.

*Photo from Wilson Tai

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

bullshit

*This post is part of a synchroblog on the subject “Money and the Church”. So, sorry if some of this material sounds familiar. Other blogs on this subject are linked at the end of this post.


Does god want you to be rich? Does he want your best life now? And what is that best life supposed to look like? Does it involve having nice stuff? I don’t know. Probably not.

Based on all possible common evidence, the guy we christians follow (Jesus) had very little possessions if anything. He was recorded to have said, “The son of man (that is, himself) has no place to lay his head.

Yet many Christ followers look at god as a loving father who wants “the best” for his children. How should we define “the best”? Somehow, “the best” for gulag-bound North Korean christians probably doesn’t equate with “the best” for westernized suburbia christians. Just a guess.

Twice recorded in Luke, Jesus sends out his followers to share the good news to neighboring towns. And both times, he instructs them to bring nothing: no extra clothes and no money. I suspect this is partially because money (or money-making devices) combined with the good news is a terrible testimony to the world.

Kind of like, hey...is this god/faith thing real or are we a bunch of charlatans?

The people who don’t follow Christ can’t take our message seriously if we’re consumed with trying to make a buck from this message in any way.

George Carlin, the least quoted person in church, once did a comedy schtick that mocked people who believed in “an invisible guy in the clouds that watches your every move. He demands you follow his ten rules, and if you break just one, it’s eternal torment in hell for you baby. Oh, and by the way...God loves you”. The crowd roared. And then George added:

“Oh yeah, by the way...this god, he needs MONEY. Lots and lots of MONEY.” More screams of laughter. “He sees and knows your every move, but this god can’t seem to manage his damn money. So he needs yours”.

What a sad message to those non-believers that we christians follow a guy who fed 5000 people with some kid’s lunch, yet we refuse to start up a church, ministry, or whatever the lord tells us to do...until “you pledge $50 a month in support”.

Uncle George (that is, 1800’s British orphanage operator George Muller, not Carlin) is one of the few missionaries who refused to advertise his needs to people. He went straight to the father and to no other with his needs. Through days, months, sometimes years of waiting, the lord always provided just as need arrived. The waiting can be grueling.

Waiting is a difficult concept when we bow to the god of convenience. This false god has the most prominent pedestal in American culture and has many followers.

But the non-believers of his day witnessed Uncle George's faith and actions, who never performed a show for money. And many were turned to this loving god through his examples.

Money is not a bad thing. It is a resource that can make stuff happen sometimes. Good stuff. Like feeding and sheltering people, research towards disease elimination, paying daily bills, or whatever.

Money-making combined with gospel telling, extravagant and or wasteful living, and placing personal comforts over human suffering is a terrible testimony to the rest of the world.

Let god’s provision be the testimony, not the manipulation game towards others.


**special thanks to the freelance writer of Boston for the link on the mansion photo...


The Check That Controls at Igneous Quill
Pushing The Camel: Why there might be more rich people in Heaven than in your local Church at Fernando's desk
Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes
Lord, Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz at Hello Said Jenelle
Zaque at Johnny Beloved
Walking with the Camels at Calacirian
Greed and Bitterness: Why Nobody's Got it Right About Money and The Church at Phil Wyman's Square No More
Kirk Bartha at Theocity
Money and the Church: A Fulltime Story at The Pursuit
But I Gave at Church at The Assembling of the Church
Moving Out of Jesus Neighborhood at Be the Revolution
Money and the Church: why the big fuss? at Mike's Musings
Coffee Hour Morality at One Hand Clapping
Bling Bling in the Holy of Holies at In Reba's World
Magazinial Outreach at Decompressing Faith
Money's too tight to mention at Out of the Cocoon
Bullshit at The Agent B Files
The Bourgeois Elephant in the Missional/Emergent Living Room at Headspace
When the Church Gives at Payneful Memories
Who, or What, Do You Worship at at Charis Shalom
Greed at Hollow Again
Silver and Gold Have We - Oops! at Subversive Influence


Monday, November 12, 2007

testimony #037: medical debt relief


As mentioned in this report, my friend Obi-Wan owed $4600 to a local hospital, which was impossible for him to pay. So I filled out paperwork for a hardship case two months ago.

We have not heard from them. But, Obi-Wan has not received his usual monthly bill for a while. That looked promising.

So today I called the woman who gave me the paperwork in September.

She said his account has been cleared and they forgot to send a notice about it. Obi-Wan no longer owes the local hospital $4600.

This is a massive ordeal for me. Not only a faith boost, but this appears to be a personal lesson in not putting too much faith in plans: the CEO of the universe will use whatever means he wants in whatever time frame he wants to answer prayer.

For those who have been following along since July: I posted and emailed a plea for $500 to help with Obi-Wan’s eyeglasses. If we ended up with more than $500, the extra would be applied toward his $7000+ medical debt.

We received $850, which blew me away that everyone is so generous. Then the deal shut down as Obi-Wan wanted to see his regular eye doctor who couldn’t schedule him until December. So I contacted the donors to return the money.

Meanwhile, we stumbled upon a deal where we could apply for hardship towards a $2800 debt to a local rehab outfit. His debt was canceled within 24 hours of turning in the paperwork. So I decided to try the same stunt with his $4600 hospital debt, which we were informed this morning of the good news.

Overview...

My plan: beg for money on the internet for his eyeglasses and hope to decrease Obi-Wan’s debt.

The CEO’s plan: eliminate the whole damn debt via simple paperwork ordeals (hardship case applications). And take care of the eye work in December. Which by the way, my friend The Corporate Guy offered two months ago to pay for Obi-Wan’s eye ware when the day came.

My dear friend, mentor, and fried pork steak chef Obi-Wan is a debt free man.

Thank you CEO.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

so, you want a homeless shelter?


Dear Citizens of Abilene, Texas (the fair mother city):

Rumor has it that you want a homeless shelter. I’ve heard this for years, even back when I helped run a once-a-week shelter with the izzy group ministry at the Happy Days Community Church’s building.

This subject always seems to come up around this time of year, when the weather gets cooler and a local ministry does its annual food/clothing and all-around resource drive. And of course, something like the recent sad news of a homeless man’s murder can make this a front-burner issue fueled by local media, even if it’s nothing more than a platform for funding local ministries.

Most people who want this shelter are christians and thus, followers of Jesus’ teachings. Sounds good to me.

What I don’t understand is: why are we expecting someone else to do the dirty work? You know, some volunteers or poorly paid employees of a non-prof to be the ones to do this?

Why don’t YOU do it?

Seriously. Why create another building, another non-prof, another system, another machine, another heartless nightmare where people become projects and trophies?

Abilene has some 150* church buildings. And I would bet all of them are fine, functional facilities that only get used three times a week at most.

Why not buy a bunch of inflatable air mattresses and open your church's doors? Maybe one or two nights a week? Maybe only during inclement weather? Hell, if the churches won’t do it, why not open the doors of our homes to an individual or two?

If we christians follow the teachings of a guy who fed 5000 people with some kid’s lunch, then why do we wait for the million dollar check to fund some imaginary group of heroes to do this for us?

Start with what you have. Let’s get going.



*not an accurate count, but in 1997 the official number of registered churches (not buildings) was 147.

Friday, November 09, 2007

what preachers aren't preaching #005


Preachers rarely talk about Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:5-13. You know: “don’t pray like those hypocrites who stand up in church meetings and on street corners to be seen by men. Go where no one can see you.”

“And oh yeah, by the way, don’t keep on babbling wordy nonsense”.

What exactly do these words mean?

If this passage is as literal as it sounds, how do these words of Jesus weigh up with: a) christians rallying against lack of prayer in school and b) public outdoor prayer assemblies like the National Day of Prayer events held downtown every May?

How come preachers don’t emphasize praying behind closed doors and out of the sight of other people?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

murmurings in the fair mother city


There's a letter to the editor in Abilene's local paper that's worth reading here.

The author of the letter was also interviewed in one of the stories about Eric McMahan's murder, found here.

I have met this guy about a year and a half ago, during the same sting operation at the downtown baptist beach head where I met Eric. The author is not homeless, but once was and is now on a mission to help our friends on the street. Or so that's what I gathered.

He once talked of organizing a "million man" march of homeless folks through downtown Abilene to protest Abilene's church culture. He got the idea from Momo, of all people. Momo wanted to sue every church in this town for not doing what Jesus said in the bible.

Anyway, the letter is poorly worded, but his gist gets across. The "comments" section has some interesting conversation. (You can now comment on stories from the on-line newspaper like a blog).

More than one person in the comments have referred to the church scene as a "social club". Ha.

And all this time I thought I was the only one who used that descriptor...


Monday, November 05, 2007

Eric McMahan obituary


Usually here on the agent b files, all names are changed to protect the guilty. This blog report will be an exception.

As reported here, on Sunday October 28, 2007 in the fair mother city of Abilene, Texas, Eric McMahan passed from this life. He was the victim of a supposed random murder.

My friend Scott (aka Agent S - former agent cohort here in the fair mother city and current resident of the Dallas area) helped me realize in a recent email that this was the Eric I briefly knew. During the early months of 2006, I had performed an undercover operation at City Light Community Ministries (the downtown Baptist Beach Head). This lasted about two or three months until my cover was blown and that operation became difficult to continue.

Eric was present during my cover blowing. I also remember playing a few cut-throat games of dominoes with him, as well as Little Wing, Momo, and several others. He was, as all others have mentioned, a very genuine guy.

Since there was no printed obituary in our local paper, we wish to bring dignity to the death of Eric McMahan and his surviving family, wherever they are. We mean no disrespect to his family by posting this without their consent.

The following is an obituary by Scott:

Eric

He was short, and small with a beard only when things were a little bit personally shaky. He never missed a meal at City Light. Leah, my wife and food director at City Light, still has a music box hanging from her car that he gave to her when we left Abilene. He was so regular at our Sunday Morning Worship that I asked him to read scripture at our last Christmas Eve Service. He did it reluctantly but pulled out some giant glasses and did a bang up job. It was one of those fragile moments that are terrifying and achingly beautiful at the same time. He had a spot in the dining room that he always sat in. Maura, who saw him everyday as the CL secretary, said that they all miss seeing him in his spot each day. He never caused trouble, he was always polite, and was quick with a laugh. He even laughed at my jokes which few people get. For Leah especially, he was part of her family of ragamuffins and malcontents that found comfort and acceptance in her little nest of a dining room. There was no drama surrounding Eric, just a life trying to make it, to reach the next thing. He was no dummy. He knew he had a drinking problem and spoke to Leah about getting help. His murderers viewed him as less than an animal but we viewed him as a friend. The difference can not even be calculated.”

Eric: thanks for making the streets of the fair mother city a better place. We miss you.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

beware of false prophets


I am a huge fan of debt-free living. It is a necessary background of the secret agent life. Being an agent would be close to impossible, or mega-burdensome if I had to spend my time working just to make big payments on things that probably weren’t meant for my life in the first place.

But that’s just my personal mantra. Charge away if you want. Build your fa├žade of a life for all I care.

There’s a popular Nashville based radio host/author that many mega churches have embraced with open arms. I mean, churches actually have classes on this guy’s teachings. I suppose the ‘get out of debt’ part of the teaching is good since no one else is telling the church to quit spending money like spoiled brats. But as far as I’m concerned, the good qualities of this guy’s message stops there.

If this message was about getting out of debt so that you can a) be generous with your wealth and support the widows, orphans, poor, missionaries, stop injustice, whatever or b) live simply so when the CEO tells you to GO, you can go or c) all the above, then I could totally go for that.

Americans by and large are huge babies when it comes to having and wanting stuff. And their stuff ties them down like a ball and chain, making it difficult to do the things the CEO might have you do. The church in America is not immune to these ills. They could use a spanking or two. We are to be in the world, but not of it, etc.

But Uncle Dave’s* basic gist for living debt free is to a) build a self-made safety net and b) live low now so that tomorrow you can live like a king.

What faithless bullshit.

1) Safety net: I know, I know. There are plenty of (old testament) biblical references on planning ahead for a rainy day. Such as Joseph and the seven years of drought. And if the CEO of the universe has guided you to stockpile for Y2K or buy every kind of health and supplemental insurance, who am I to question you.

But Uncle Dave’s first rule is to have a $1000 cushion in your bank. Well damn, if I had $1000 bucks in my bank account at any one given time, I’d be seriously looking at property downtown to start The Table. $1000 bucks? That’s like a whole years income in some parts of the world. Sheesh, Who needs faith or trust? I’ve got my $1000 padding to keep me from falling on my ass.

Uncle George (no relation to Dave) once wrote something to the effect of, “if a person has stockpiles of resources, then in the time of need the lord will direct him to those stockpiles”. In other words, who needs the CEO and his miracles when we have our own means.

2) Live like a king: this is directly opposed to the teachings of Jesus. Building wealth for the purpose of living and dying comfortably is the secular teachings of our culture. So, why does the church embrace Uncle Dave’s teaching on this?

Somehow, I don’t think the underground, persecuted churches in communist nations are too concerned with building wealth for their personal comfort. I think they signed away comfort when they joined Jesus. Just a guess, though.

Uncle Dave speaks with knowledge and authority on the subject of debt and wealth building. But his message is not from the CEO of the universe.



*not an official uncle here on the agent b files...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

ailment as identity


Saturday night was another backyard BBQ at the Sanford’s, which will probably be the last as weather is getting cooler. It was Manuel’s birthday, but it wasn’t a big bash as he was driving to Mexico early in the morning. So only a handful of Sandford party regulars were there including my family and I.

Frieda’s close friend Gloria the Drunk Driver is one of the regulars. Gloria’s son Miguel was there, who I’ve heard a lot about but never met until now.

I have heard people refer to themselves as a “crazy-magnet”, as in: every crazy person they run across is attracted to them. I guess I’m kind of a crazy magnet too. And I don’t mind. But I’m more of a messed-up/desperate person magnet.

Miguel clung to me like Limbaugh on pain meds. He’s 40, lives with his mom the Drunk Driver, spent seven years in prison, and claims to have a real bad knee which keeps him from working the manual labor jobs he once knew well. He rambled on and on about his knee, especially after he asked me what I “did”, and I told him tree trimming.

This is what destroys me and makes me wonder if I’m not following the great commission: I believe in healing.

I really do. I believe as a Christ follower I am supposed to heal people. I am not a charismatic nut or a Benny Hinn fan. I don’t believe in big shows or slapping people in the forehead and making them fall or whatever.

But I do believe in healing folks. Whatever that means. Pray with/for them right then and there for a miracle, I guess.

This belief is partially because I myself am a product of the CEO’s healing power. I was diagnosed a depressive in the early ‘90s. After faith and much prayer I have been healed and off meds since October 1995.

When people like Miguel give me an ear full of medical woes, in a non-threatening way I try to ask something like, “do you wish this problem could be fixed forever?” And I mean this in a way to spur imagination. Like, hey – what would your life be like with out this ailment or whatever?

And amazingly enough, no one can ever answer this question. They dodge my inquiry and go on and on as if any kind of cure or healing is not an option.

NOT AN OPTION!?!

To most people in our western culture, having some sort of physical ailment is their identity. It’s who they are. And they get kind of pissed if you suggest that their identity could be erased and they could become someone else.

I don’t understand how people flocked in masses to be healed by Jesus. Or how the shadow of the disciples could pass over ill and make them well.

Jesus must have started somewhere. Maybe it was being a consistent listening ear to the ills of others.

There must be a better tactic to my “ailment cure” inquiry. I can’t imagine people not dreaming of life without an injury or illness when they occur.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

tragedy on the local streets

Tragedy has hit the local homeless scene in the fair mother city. You can read about it here, and it's corresponding story here.

This act is not surprising. It's a well known fact that various gang initiations involve harming or even killing a person. And since homeless people are easy targets and crimes against them are rarely cared about or reported...

I think the national numbers reported in the story are way low, personally.

Nice to see that legendary homeless couple Sally and James made it in the local paper. I'm sure they don't care for the exposure. Damn media.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

evang-e-droppings #007


After an unintentional two-week break, I was back at the evang-e-dropping eradication operation. I was out of town two weeks ago and last week was too cold and windy for my head cold. This weekend I was flying solo (no family help), which is OK by me.

The local tract-passing crew has a new tract. It’s purple and a little larger than the standard business card.

To give them positive credit, this one isn’t ridiculous or judgmental like the demon head one. And it isn’t too corny like the popular DZHENOU one. Instead the new purple tract has like some doctoral dissertation type of explanation of why Jesus died on a Roman cross. It takes up both sides of the tract. It’s seems a little wordy.

I can’t imagine some half buzzed partier actually reading this tiny printed thesis. Maybe that’s why I found about 50 of them on the ground. But I guess I shouldn’t criticize this tract. I can’t think of a better way to express my faith in feeble words on a small card.

Maybe that’s why I don’t do tracts.

Anyway, I met a new homeless guy. His name is Jones. He was digging in the dumpster of the nightclub for aluminum cans. His operation was pretty slick.

He had a shopping cart and a broom. He’d throw out all of the cans he could find onto the street. Then he’d pick the cans up and put them in his cart. Afterwards, he’d pull his broom out and sweep up any mess that he created.

Most homeless people are assumed to be messy slobs. Truth is, they may not dress pretty, but most have dignified ways about them. Jones was no exception.

Jones only had one eye. And he wasn’t much of a talker as he had a schedule to keep. Some biker group on South Treadway leaves a bunch of beer cans every Saturday night. He was on his way to collect them.

CEO – I still don’t understand this tract eradication gig you got me doing. But I enjoy it, I guess. I just wonder if you’re using this as a means for me to gain relations with folks on the streets again after five years of being hidden.

Friday, October 26, 2007

more willy reflections


Sometimes I try to figure out why Willy’s death hits me harder and stays with me longer than the death of any other person in my life.

I think about death fairly often. I find that practice healthy as opposed to morbid.

Hopefully, by reminding myself of death I will value the “now” in life. This helps me love the ones I’m with in life. Sometimes, it helps me like the life I’m in. And occasionally, it helps me leave the computer or any other self gratifying isolationist gimmick and run around the house chasing my three year old son playing shoot the monkey*. Because, you know, maybe for some tragic reason, tomorrow we won’t get to play shoot the monkey ever again.

I think Willy’s death affected me because of the complete erasure of his life. He left this world with little physical evidence of having ever existed. He had no spouse. No children. No family other than his gay brother from Coleman, Texas who was dying of AIDS at the time (I wonder if he’s still alive. He had no phone so I don’t know how to get in touch with him). Willy left a meager handful of material possessions scattered in his apartment.

Willy walked the streets one day and was gone the next without a trace. The only evidence he had lived was our memories and a few photos I had taken.

Willy’s brother donated the body to science as he had no money to bury him with. There wouldn’t even had been a memorial service or obituary notice had the izzy group ministry not decided to do those.

Something about that...leaving no evidence of your life...leaves me broken.

But I guess that kind of death is good. In a way it’s very noble and humbling. Perhaps all of christ’s followers should strive for a death that does not reflect on self.



*This game requires one of these, the best toy ever invented. Ever. It’s a monkey with rubber bands in its arms and it screams on impact. We run around taking turns shooting each other with it. And I sing “shoot the monkey” to the tune of Peter Gabriel’s Shock the Monkey.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

6th year death anniversary

Hey Willy,

We lost you six years ago tonight. You jack ass.

A few weeks ago I swore I saw you at HEB. I did a double take anyway, even though I knew it couldn't be you. I drive by your old window daily.

I have a house now. And two kids. We're no longer with the izzy group ministry, which is a long story.

I still get that shortness of breath when I think of your passing. I only get that from your death and no one else. Like maybe it's hard to believe you are really gone. And that damn Willie Nelson song that was played at McDonalds the morning after your death. "You were always on my mind". Damn that song.

Your passing was the beginning of the end of an era in my life. It got me where I am now. Thanks.

what preachers aren't preaching #004


Does god want you to have good things? And what are good things?

Does god want you to have the best life? Right now? And what is that supposed to look like?

Many preachers preach some sort of version of a "health/wealth" message. I think this grew out of the charismatic movement from the 1970's. And I'm sure that movement came from christian faiths based in western countries.

Somehow, I can't see the handful of believers meeting secretly in a barren North Korean countryside preaching this message.

Why don't preachers preach "follow christ through death"? Or "we must die to everything to follow him"? And what do those mean?

Somehow, I believe god doesn't want you to be rich. And god doesn't want you to be poor.

God wants you. Period. Everything else must be moot point.

Do you have two cloaks? Share with the one who has none.

Do you have no cloak? Ask god to provide you with one somehow. I don't know.

...just random early morning thoughts on a rare day-off. But somehow I'm thinking: if god wants us to have "the best" as in "nice stuff, situations, life in general", then those persecuted christians in third world nations must not have got that message.

Silly third worlders...they must be taking that follow Jesus unto death stuff literally...

Monday, October 22, 2007

testimony #036: date night

Some of our parents are in town for a visit. They offered to watch our kids tonight and gave us cash to go out. A very rare treat.

Since our all time favorite dig Szechuan has been closed for over a year* for remodeling, and since my head cold could use something small portioned and ridiculously spicy, we went to our runner up - Ann's Thai Kitchen.

It was fun to be on a brief agent respite and date with Agent Wife.

Ann Thai must be the hangout for everyone in the fair mother city who doesn't fit into its religious, west Texas mold. There's not too many gathering places for local Europeans, art students, and lesbians.

Thanks CEO.


*what's up with that Chef Huang?!? Will your new place be opened in time for my peking duck birthday meal in January?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

name them one by one


Today was Agent Offspring #1's 3rd birthday. It was also Agent Wife's birthday.

We had a big kid party planned and somehow I managed to get word out about it being AW's day too, making it somewhat of a surprise party for her as well.

Despite my massive head cold, all was great. Usually when we throw a party of any kind, we invite the whole universe and only about 5 people show up. This time, the universe came.

It was weird but fun to see friends from all aspects of our life together in one back yard.

It's easy to whine and gripe when going through the daily blues. Then I pull away from my naval long enough to see that our life is really all right. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

Thank you CEO.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Momma T*


I have been reading the new and somewhat popular book “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light” as edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk. It is primarily a book of compiled writings and communications of Mother Teresa and her various church superiors dating back to 1928.

This book was fairly popular media fodder because of the two or three chapters where Momma T expresses her “darkness” and overall doubts in everything. Or as I call it: the blues. Or the shit.

Go figure: she was human.

But what struck me far more than the darkness topic was her overall preparation for living and serving the poorest of the poor and its accompanying waiting period.

Admittedly, I know little about Catholicism other than the negative information my evangelical faith troupe taught me while growing up. But I developed an overly fair respect for Catholics a few years ago when I was involved with a ministerial contraband operation with a little catholic church on S. 8th and Jeanette Street. They were amazing. I still have no overt respect for church government or hierarchy in general. But my current view of Catholicism is: they can keep their religion, but I’ll back up the way they serve the poor any day.

Through this book, I learned that Momma T’s original assignment in Calcutta, India was that of a school teacher in which she served for 19 years. She had visited the Calcutta slums occasionally and built a relational heart for the poor over a period of years.

While on holiday in 1946, she received a vision from Jesus about her living amongst the poor slum dwellers and serving them as opposed to her teacher assignment. The next 2-3 years were months of begging and pleading with her superiors to start this new mission, despite their initial brush off, and discipline testing.

I know it was only 2 or 3 years before Momma T actually began the Missionaries of Charity that she became known for. But I imagine that period was hell. The waiting. The desire. The knowing that she heard the CEO in this, despite what her earthly commanders would allow of her.

And leaving her order of nuns to do this new mission was no small event. To leave the “loreto” nuns (a specific order of nun, I think), Momma T had to renounce vows made 19 years earlier. Which is the equivalent of getting a divorce. It was a big deal.

I think this book showed me clearly that sometimes following the CEO’s call means completely blowing apart man’s system of religion and that a waiting period is always part of that game. Always.



*this nickname was borrowed from one Shane Claiborne

Sunday, October 14, 2007

the branding


Next month will be the 10-month anniversary of my branding.

Excuse my vagueness on this subject. Specifics may reveal my identity. But it’s a briefly worded branding upon my arm that was supposed to remind me daily of killing off any self-centered desires of mine.

Or, at least, that’s what I think it means.

In November 1997 this branding was a hot topic. And how could it not be? The professional had to shave the area in order to brand properly. Plus, a fresh branding is real bright and shiny for days. It was physically obvious and attracted much attention that I wasn’t looking for.

People often looked at it and asked what it meant. I often rattled off some words of Jesus found in John 12 about “a kernel of wheat must fall to the ground and die before life can spring from it” or something religious-sounding jumble like that. Hey, this is the fair mother city. You can get away with saying stuff like that and people think you’re cool and dangerous.

Then I noticed that my branding was immortalizing me in the eyes of some as a “cool christian”. You know, like those christian-rock star types with cool hair and tattoos. Or maybe the offspring of Jim and the late Tammy Faye. You know, they may look like cool, artsy hell’s angels, but really they’re just safe and religious. They’re “cool christians”. I didn’t want to be one of those.

Few people ask me what my branding means anymore. And that’s good, because honestly, I don’t even know what it means anymore.

So the other night in East Texas, I was with some obscure relatives of mine the night before a family reunion. And an aunt of mine I haven’t seen in like 20 years sees my arm while we sat in a restaurant. She’s not particularly faith-oriented or religious that I know of. And that’s always fine with me.

So she asks, “what’s that on your arm mean?”, expecting a quick, flippant answer. Or, that's how I interpreted her query.

So I answer, “I have no clue what it means” and allowed the subject to change. Honestly, I don’t know what it means anymore. The meaning seems to change daily.

In recent years I’ve wondered if my decision to be branded with these words was youthful arrogance. Like maybe I had everything all figured out. But if I remember correctly, my reasons in 1997 were about exploring. I wanted to know what it meant. And if I woke up seeing it every day then maybe I’d eventually learn its definition.

And back then I swore I heard the voice of the CEO say that these words were “to be put on you”. So like a dumb-ass, I took it literally.

All that to say, it’s been 10 years and I still have no freaking clue what my arm means.

Meanwhile, did I miss a chance to share something deep with an aunt I know little about? Maybe. But we were in a crowded diner with nine people at a table.

And I feel really awkward about sharing Jesus and, I don’t know...DYING...in a flippant, drive-by way in close quarters over diner grub. Oh well.

CEO – give me better responses to questions over this branding.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

iron sharpens iron


Sometimes we need another human to point out the blatantly obvious in our lives.

As of late, I have been working with Jack on some rental houses. The owner wants them fixed up to sell. The work is easy and I find it enjoyable, but it's frustrating because we are expected to do things I wouldn't normally do if left to my own opinions and devices.

We're basically white-washing everything and covering up the ugly. No overly pro work done here.

So anyway, sometimes amidst the mundane that is flat white paint, Jack and I ramble on about this or that. And today I ask his opinion about if he thinks the CEO of the universe is trying to show me something in my weird collection of income these days.

I mean, I'm working a lot. Sometimes full days: mornings on the pruning boy gig and afternoons with Jack. And yet I feel like I'm laboring in vein because my wife's and my monthly income only comes to half of our monthly needs. And our needs really ain't that big.

I'm working my butt off and we still ain't cutting it. But somehow, the CEO provides just fine month to month.

So Jack asks how long have I been out of college. "13 years".

"How many of those years have you worked full time in a regular job?"

"Five"

"So basically, you can't see that the CEO has taken care of you 8 of the last 13 years?"

Hot damn. I never thought of that. Thanks!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

evang-e-droppings #006


The Evang-e-droppings Eradication Operation is proving to be an ulterior operation of the CEO to expose the ills of my heart and mind.

The operation itself is fairly uneventful. This weekend we collected an average number of 33 tracts. Last week was 22. I blame the low numbers on the wind. Nice to know that those guilt inflicting devices are now littering some other block in the fair mother city.

Meanwhile, in recent weeks I shifted our operation to a time of day different from when this deal started two months ago. This new time was better for my family and I.

This new earlier time happens to be when several local homeless folks pass through the area. We ran into Little Wing again. We exchanged pleasantries and I introduced him to my wife and daughter as he was passing through en route to the Salvation Army. But then I later saw him alone on a secluded curb with a cigarette.

Over the years, I’ve seen examples of the poverty class being uncomfortable by the middle class. Which is usually true the other way around. I wondered if Little Wing had made up an excuse to not have to converse with Agent Wife and myself for long. Or maybe he really wanted to be left alone. Either way, I can relate.

Then we ran into Mack near his usual set of benches. I finally discovered who Mack was. He’s the uncle of Agent Wife’s young friend Princess (the incarcerated teen). The poverty culture in the fair mother city is fairly inbred. In more ways than one.

Mack’s a talker. And he’ll go on and on about how everyone on earth and his family all have problems, but makes himself sound like he’s got it all together. Even Stevie Wonder could see how that’s a crock: Mack’s homeless. People on the streets are almost always there due to some major issue in their life.

As he’s rambling on about how great he is, how Princess is messed up, how he’s the best parent his teen girls have ever had, and how he refuses to work for $6 an hour ($10, maybe) I’m thinking, “So is that why you’re on the streets? Because you’re a stellar father? And you’re worth a better wage? And everybody’s messed up but you?”. But I kept my mouth shut.

I hated going home knowing what I was thinking in my head.

Really, how am I any better than Mack?

What separates me from the Macks in our world?

Friday, October 05, 2007

sometimes, faith can suck #002


Most don’t really think about the freakish faith antics in that which is Noah’s Ark.

Just the word’s “Noah” and “ark” conjures up Hallmark-ish mental images of boats, rainbows, and smiling cartoon animals. That’s really weird.

It’s probably the one tale in The Book that is openly accepted in the realm of non-believers. I’ve seen greeting cards, posters, and various room decor with happy-go-lucky images of a smiling old guy on a boat with animals – often sold in places that are not particularly “christian stores”.

Noah is like a Disney character or something.

My daughter turned one last summer. At her birthday party a neighbor gave her, get this, a “Noah’s Ark Playset”...from Wal-Mart. Yup. Noah is a mere action figure at my house. Complete with an unrealistic boat. And smiley-faced animals.

And thank god Wal-Mart left out that post-flood scene of Noah drunk and naked in the tent.

I’m still waiting for “The Ezekiel Playset”, with the fire-cooking dung feature.

For some weird reason, I recently read this story. As best as I could, I read it keeping the Saturday morning cartoon Noah out of my head as much as possible. I even tried to avoid the thoughts that plagued me in my youth: the logistics of gathering every freaking animal in the world and caring for them on a boat for a year. That’s really weird.

Instead, I wondered when the CEO told him, “build an ark”...I wonder what that was like. I mean, HEARING the CEO. Was it a real audible command that no one could mistake or ignore? Was the CEO standing in front of him in 3D physical form, pointing and instructing? Or was it more like how I sometimes think I hear the CEO: some vague, weird-ass thought that came in my head.

And to follow through with the massive task that was unexplainably weird: building a football field-sized boat in the middle of the desert when it hasn’t rained in forever.

What’s that like? Was Noah happy and excited when it finally rained because he realized it wasn’t voices in his head, it really WAS god? Meanwhile, all his friends were drowning and screaming.

Thinking you heard the CEO tell you to do something that is laughable and makes no sense to the surrounding world, then acting upon it and sticking it out for years...

What’s that like?