Monday, July 30, 2007

the wide path

Both The Tiger and The Bulldog (sons of my next door neighbor Frieda Sanford) finally got busted for some crimes they were rumored to have been doing. I think getting caught was inevitable partially due to sowing and reaping. I’m a big believer in that.

But somehow, seeing their pictures and hearing their names on TV news hit me harder than I expected.

I mean, I don’t usually watch news or keep up with local media anymore. And flashing criminal mug shots on TV is common practice so seeing these isn't usually shocking.

This time it was different. I’ve known these guys since they were 9 or 10. And they’ve been my next door neighbors for over 4 years. And I’ve been to their birthdays, Christmas gatherings, other family parties and what not. Basically, they are a part of my life somewhat.

And finding out about them via the modern day version of being locked up in stocks at the town square was – I don’t know. I don’t have the words for it. Like maybe – what if Agent Offspring #1 & #2 were humiliated on public display for any reason. That would hurt knowing the whole town was gawking at them.

I think I received a brief view of what the mothers of criminals go through. I mean, nobody here is excusing these stupid actions. At least, I’m not. It’s always easy to identify with the victim of a crime. But this time around, fate was forcing me to identify with the perpetrator. This is not the first time for me to be friends with a criminal. But it is the first time I’ve known and been close to a criminal since they were an innocent kid.

A few weeks ago some 17-year old boy shot and killed a 16-year old girl we knew. And a local media outlet interviewed the murderer’s mother. She was in total shock, trying to disbelieve that her son committed this crime, who was “a good kid”. That interview was particularly low for mankind, I thought. Yet another reason why I despise “news” outlets.

Anyway, The Bulldog seems like what some would call a “hopeless case”. I know Jesus doesn’t see him that way, but Bulldog had chosen the hopeless path years ago. Or perhaps circumstances chose it for him. I don’t know.

But The Tiger still dances between forging a new path away from destruction or following the crowd. And the crowd has been especially tempting these days for him.

I finally got to talk to The Tiger briefly about his legal ordeals. He and his brother were arrested and released on bond. A court date is not scheduled yet.

I’m not their parent, but seeing them displayed on local news like run-of-the-mill criminals made me think weird thoughts. Like maybe there’s something I could have done to prevent this.

It’s weird.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

eyeglasses for Obi-Wan

On behalf of Obi-Wan, I ask for your help.

He needs glasses. Bad. His “good” pair is now missing a lens. His secondary pair is so old that its prescription doesn’t work on him anymore.

He lives on a limited social security income, half of which goes to monthly utility bills and food, the other half towards medical bills for his multiple hospital stays in the last 18 months. I know for certain he owes over $7500 plus other various doctors that throw in new bills every month.

Obi-Wan thinks a new pair of glasses and the visit to the eye doctor would cost around $400-$500.

I am flat broke. I have no money to help him with at this time. I told him I’d ask a few friends.

So I’m pulling a stunt here for the first time and asking for money.

If anyone and everyone who reads this has the ability or desire to help my 90-year old friend and mentor Obi-Wan, please do.

My friend the jack-of-all-trades (Miller Talbot) has agreed to be the keeper of the purse. If you want to send a check or whatever, please email him here for mailing instructions.

I figure, what’s $500. Maybe 20 people sending $25 or 10 sending $50 or whatever.

You all have my word: all funds collected will go to the purchase of eyeglasses and any related doctor costs. Any funds above and beyond that price will go towards his medical debts. I help him write his checks for his bills most every day.

And yes, I realize that in the light of the “kiss the ass that feeds you” posts, asking for money on this blog seems unlike me. Well, maybe I’m changing. I don’t know. I still follow the Uncle George method of fund raising (ie: go to the CEO alone). That probably won’t change. I guess. But I thought this would be good to give people an opportunity to give to Obi-Wan.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

pruning boy #009: trees of inconvenience

On the pruning boy job (a nickname for myself at my low-paying manual labor job with Son and Dad Tree Service, Inc.) I get to observe wealthy people fairly often. Most of the customers who hire us live in the fair mother city's upper-class neighborhoods.

For the last three years I have had little money. Unless the CEO instructs otherwise, most every dime I find goes towards living in our house and maintaining our health (food, etc). Thus, my priorities are set accordingly. So I often wonder how other people, rich or poor, deal with their money. Like what priorities they have, what is important to them, etc. I don't do this to be judgmental. I'm just curious. Would I do in their situation, etc.

Most of the tree jobs we do involve simple trimming. This can be for looks or to remove the dead or for something practical (room to walk/drive under a tree, etc.)

A while back we were called to come remove a couple of two and a half story tall pine trees from this woman's front yard.

The reason: they were starting to put cracks in the drive way.

That's it. They weren't dead or dying or about to fall on a house. Just cracking some cement.

I mean hey, this ain't a pro-tree hugger report. Although I'm sure John Denver would be proud. But the fair mother city is not known for its trees. The city is located in a semi-arid region on the cusp of the desert. It's not impossible to grow trees here, but it ain't easy. Pine trees especially. They take a ton of water and you'd have to be wealthy to have mature ones in your yard.

And to hire some moe, larry & curly team like us just to dispose of them because they're an inconvenience...

Well, I don't know where to go with this exactly.

I guess having money means you can deal with inconveniences, whatever those are in your life. No pesky waiting or doing without.

Monday, July 23, 2007

the purse

(Luke 9:3 - Jesus sends out the twelve): “Jesus told them: ‘Take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, NO MONEY, no extra tunic’.”

(Luke 10:4 - Jesus sends out the seventy-two): “Do not take a PURSE or bag or sandals;

(Luke 22:35-36 – The night before Jesus gets killed): “Jesus asked them, ‘When I sent you without a purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?’ ‘Nothing,’ they answered. He said to them, ‘But NOW if you have a purse, TAKE IT, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one’.”

It is not my usual practice to cut and paste scripture to my liking. But assuming any of the above verses have any link to each other: what do they mean?

All recorded by the same author (Luke), the first two accounts shows Jesus sending out his followers and instructing them to take nothing.

I only assume this is to show them that the CEO will provide, thus avoiding temptation to rely upon one’s own means. I don’t know.

Then, just before he gets hauled off and eventually killed, Jesus tells them more or less to stock up because all hell’s about to break loose. And also “arm yourselves”.

I never understood that sword part. Especially in light of “turn the other cheek” and all related teachings. But that’s a different topic.

In honor of my upcoming three year anniversary (Sept 04) of unwillingly becoming income-less and thus, going at this mission thing without a “purse”, I choose to ponder over this trio of purse verses as saying “First, learn to minister without money. Then when money comes your way you will know how to handle it well”.

That’s a huge stretch. But I’d love to hear everyone’s take on this subject. Thanks.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

coming out of the closet

There are two confessions to be made here. These are issues I’ve been hiding for some time out of fear of being misunderstood and lampooned. Also, these feelings have been hidden because I fully didn’t understand what they were for years.

I think I am “emergent” and “missional”.

Yeah, I know. These are huge, trendy buzz-words in the blog-o-world. Most everyone has some sort of sign or button on their blog identifying themselves with these/this movement(s).

I don’t want to join a movement, because the nature of any movement is usually temporary. That, and I’ve never wanted to be a member of much of anything. Who likes to be pigeon-holed? I don’t even like keeping many books or CDs around because people like to judge you based on those collections. Despite my appreciation for avant-guard jazz, 20th century classical, prog rock, and The Who, someone seeing my copy of Lynyrd Skynyrd's first recording would write me off as a dumb redneck. Which is sad, because that disc is a masterpiece.

I don’t know if emergent and/or missional is another pop trend. They seem to be both deep and entrenched in the CEO’s ways. But since I don’t want to drink the kool-aid on anything, it’s easier to avoid these labels rather than defend them.

However, Agent Wife and I stumbled into this weird life four or five years ago. We had no clue what we were doing and it was difficult to explain it when asked by our church-going friends without sounding egotistical or maybe condemning to those who asked. As if we had “found the true way” and everyone else was wrong.

But everything I read on emergent and missional rings a huge bell of familiarity. Like, “hey, I think that’s what we’re doing”. When you fear that you are alone on a journey, one naturally seeks fellow travelers.

There are plenty of definitions of both emergent and missional out there. My brief take on them are as follows:

Emergent (as I understand it):

1) There is no kool-aid to drink. No secret handshake. No church headquarters. It’s a conversation as opposed to a denomination. You can be a Southern Baptist Commando or a Lesbian Ordained Episcopalian Priest and both be part of the “conversation”. The gist is, your anti-beer stance or gay rights cannot be the end-all trump card for your part in the conversation. You have to LISTEN to the other. Wow, listening. What a concept.

2) It’s OK to not have all the answers. I grew up around a church culture that was convinced it was right all the time, despite their own ills and sins being exposed. Since I know of nobody who has died and come back to life to tell all how it is, I think it’s safe to say “I don’t know” on most things concerning faith. Doing things in hope demonstrates faith, I think.

3) And oh yeah, it’s OK to use words like “bullshit” and not get ostracized.

“Missional” is used to describe a church or missionary that does not “create sanctified spaces (church buildings) into which unbelievers must come to encounter the gospel. Rather, the missional church disassembles itself and seeps into the cracks and crevices of a society in order to be Christ to those who don’t yet know him.”*

I’m not planning to wear the emergent or missional t-shirt. But I won’t avoid those who do.

* P. 12 of The Shaping of Things to Come by Frost and Hirsch

Thursday, July 19, 2007

calling all agents...

The youth minister, who happens to be the room mate of my first ever internet friend the construction worker, is part of a peace keeping convoy bringing aid to Cuba.

The group he was with, Pastors for Peace, was stopped at the border yesterday near McAllen/Browsville, Texas. Homeland "Security" have seized all of the laptop computers and supplies they were bringing.

If you would, please write a nice but firm note to your elected reps here or here.

Thank you.

And note, the youth minister is scheduled to visit me here in the fair mother city within the next week or two. I hope this doesn't dampen those plans.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

testimony #030: least of needs

We recently received something from a friend that we've always wanted: a small deep freezer. You can read more about it here.

It's funny. Several times throughout our undercover calling this has happened: we'll be in need, o
r even GREAT need in some area, usually finances or whatever. But instead of bringing what we've asked, the CEO will provide us with some end-of-the-list, trivial desire of ours.

I'm not complaining. It's cool and it's an answer to prayer (I think). We've always wanted a small deep freeze. But I start wondering, how's this going to get us through August?

This same thing happened last November. I purposely neglected to report on how the CEO made a trivial desire of mine come true: a backyard storage shed. The materials were an inheritance of sorts, and I got hands-on building experience as a friend offered to design, construct, and bring his tools at no charge. And we were in HUGE need: no money for December, and trying to figure out how to get to Canada, as Agent Wife's family was expecting us for the holidays.

And somehow, the CEO provided not only for December, but January-March as well as Canada travel.

Not saying that THIS month will be a repeat experience, but you never know.

Thank you, CEO.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

six million dollar man

Obi-Wan has not graced the presence of these reports much in recent times. But he is still an active participant in my life and (I assume) I in his. He is basically back to his pre-christmas 2006 self, sans lower left leg.

For those recently joining us, my elderly friend, neighbor, and all-around personal guru Obi-Wan, has been through hell and back physically and maybe emotionally since the new year.

Obi-Wan is a diabetic and old. And basically, old diabetics have almost non-existent circulation in their feet and lower legs. His leg had been giving him all kinds of hell for months. Sometime after the new year his health dropped so rapidly that I was convinced he was on his way out, soon to join the CEO. He was as weak as a kitten and could no longer walk, even with aid of devices.

After amputation surgery in February, six weeks in recovery, two weeks in rehab, adjusting to home life with his long lost prodigal son Lamont, then running his son off to never be seen again, Obi-Wan is back to the old guru I once knew.

Granted, he’s now wheelchair bound. But he’s the same old guy again. I’m now getting re-use to him. He may be able to “walk” again real soon. A rehab nurse works with him daily helping him train to use what he affectionately calls his “peg leg”. Actually, it’s more like a device from a sci-fi movie.

Obi-Wan: 90 years old. Diabetic. Prostate cancer. WWII vet. Gas station explosion survivor. Amputee.

We can rebuild him.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

observe: exhibit "A"

I found this in our alley as I was taking the trash out. It appears to be a card that was placed in a food box assembled by a local social club, one that I use to deliver ministerial contraband to about two or three years ago.

This most likely blew out of the trash container when the trash truck came by to empty it. I’m pretty sure I know which neighbor this originated from, but that’s not the point here.

The point is, dear reader*, that I now have black-n-white proof (or black-n-blue, symbolic of the spiritual abuse heaped upon the poor) of the kind of religious bullshit I fight against every waking moment of my life in the fair mother city.

Here’s your crumbs. Now let us guilt you into thanking a god, who would love to slap you around for not ATTENDING a social club apparatus that makes no sense to you or your family’s culture.

Why can’t the poor be served? Period. And maybe that service to them will be the Jesus they come to know and fall in love with?

Where's my turrets medicine...

*A gentle nod to Uncle George and his frequent addresses throughout his autobiography.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

the waiting room

There’s a secret I have that I’m confessing here. My family and I receive two different government assistances: Medicaid (for both of my children only) and WIC (Women Infant Children – a food assistance program consisting of mostly free milk, eggs, cheese, and cereal).

Go ahead all of you political conservatives and Limbaugh disciples. Rip me in two for getting free stuff from the government and call me lazy or whatever. I can take it.

I never planned or desired to be on assistance of any kind. Call me fiercely independent or idealistically na├»ve. But I’ve been on my own since I was 18.

However, I did move in with my mother for the summer when I was 19, in between my first two years of college. But after that experience, I vowed to never live with a parent again. And I admit, throughout college I received various financial helps from my parents like rent my junior year, and car insurance, etc. But by age 22, I had become completely weaned off the parental financial tit. So call it what you want: on my own at 18 but not fully independent until 22. Whatever.

And I also admit or confess this: I am highly critical of any grown adult who still lives WITH or OFF their parents to any degree. I don’t know exactly why this bugs me, so maybe it shouldn't. Maybe its because my parents split up when I was 18, three weeks after I moved to college and I never had the option to move “home” because there was no home. Or maybe it’s because people just need to freaking grow up.

And lastly, I admit: in recent years I have asked my parents for financial assistance. Twice. But I repaid (or attempted to repay) in full. That’s because I do not want to give anyone, especially family members (who think I need to move from this secret agent life and get a “real” job) the upper hand over my life. I am a grown man. I don’t need any outside influences dictating what I or my family needs. I don't want to receive anyone's assistance thus becoming their slave to bully around.

All that to say: I never planned on receiving government assistance. Ever. It just kind of evolved.

It started almost three years ago when Agent Wife was pregnant with our first. We paid the doctor in cash monthly and I was saving up for the big balloon payment due at the birth. This method is FAR cheaper than insurance, btw.* Anyway, six weeks before the birth we lost all forms of ministerial pay with no warning. I became “unemployed” right before fatherhood. We received a months salary and that’s all we had.

So during our next doctor visit I practically grabbed the doc by his lab coat and begged for a cheaper alternative, as I was now a desperate man. This is when I learned that doctors are far removed from the actual payment process of their patients. This is when I learned that to most doctors, you are just another yacht payment or country club fee.

Anyway, some lady at the office desk suggested we apply for Medicaid as it sounded like we fit the profile to receive it. So we applied. Not only did we get the rest of our medical/birthing experience covered, but our child was covered for the following year. Plus they suggested we get on the WIC program since the requirements are identical to medicaid's.

And a year later Agent Wife was pregnant again. Mental note: don’t trust the catholic birth control methods. So we got on Medicaid again and renewed Agent Offspring #1’s coverage which had expired.

So recently, I went to the Medicaid office to get an application for AO#2 who turns 1 this month. And I’m trying to remember why I’m still doing this. Oh yeah, we’re poor. We barely make enough money to cover bills and food every month. We have no money for the kid’s routine doctor checkups.

As I walked into the waiting room, I remembered the first time we visited that sterile, undignified, and desperate place. It was the first time that we had been on the other side of the counter. At the old izzy group food pantry, we were always the givers. Now we were the ones asking for help. It was humbling. And I could see exactly what the poor went through. The lack of dignity. The desperate posturing.

All those times at izzy, we tried to erase that “counter” boundary. But in the end, WE were the givers and THEY were the receivers. There was an invisible boundary between us and never the two shall mix.

In some weird way, I feel that being on government assistances is part of my extended secret agent field training for some future mission by the CEO.

I hope so. Because my desperate prayer these days is to have an income where I can get off assistance for good. I think that’s an OK prayer to request. Join me if you will...

* - If we had medical insurance, I’m told the entire birthing experience would have cost the insurance company $7000 and possibly up to $10K. And of course, the average insurance for a family my size is about $500 a month forever. Paying cash for the entire birth experience would have totaled less than $3500.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

"fuck": the unforgivable sin

For a long time I’ve tried to figure out why christians avoid the use of cuss words. You know: damn, hell, shit, piss, bitch, (for some unknown reason) ass, and of course fuck. There’s probably more, but it’s been 13 years since I student-taught in a middle school, thus I’m quite behind on the world of cussing.

If christians don’t want to cuss, that’s fine by me. But why do they shame people who do?

I mean, there’s no list of forbidden words in The Book. No “thou shalt not say this or that”. Probably because the compiled writings that made The Book weren’t originally written in English. Or even King James English.

Despite what most people believe, I’m really not an advocate of “cuss” words. For reasons beyond my comprehension, they don’t seem to fit in most of my life situations. I’m told cuss words are not “constructive”. So I figure I have no need for construction in man-to-man settings and this blog. I also credit this limited usage to my church upbringing and possibly my middle-class, professional culture. I don’t know.

If anything, I’m a huge proponent against “defeatist language”. That is, words, accusations, or possibly innuendo used to defeat and/or destroy an individual, your self, or possibly a group of people. IE: I try to avoid using words that tear people down. There’s a great power in words. With words the CEO created the world, James 3 explains the tongue’s power, people bless and curse, and etc. That’s a slightly different subject.

Then again, I’m the guy that believes John the Baptist calling the crowd a “brood of vipers” was an ancient equivalent of “you religious mother-fuckers”. So, maybe there’s an exception with defeatist language when used against the religious establishment.

But christians, who are well known for ripping people to shreds with back-biting gossip and destroying individuals in a deacon’s business meeting, absolutely shudder and shame a person into oblivion if “fuck” is uttered within a distant earshot.

Why? It’s as if the offender loses all credibility forever. No forgiveness whatsoever. The offender might as well cease to exist with the offended. Persona non grata.

U2’s lead singer is a famous example. The guy, to my knowledge, claims to follow Jesus, writes and sings songs that have multitudes of wealthy westerners rethinking social injustice for the first time ever, and uses his fame to help relieve poverty and its related ills around the world. Yet if the guy utters “fuck” a half-dozen times during some banal awards ceremony, the christians disown him like he never existed.

Why is that?

One of the latest and most common christian responses to cussing is something along the lines of “if you say something on the forbidden list, you truly are unintelligent”. Why is intelligence held in high esteem? I didn’t know being smart was a prerequisite of faith.

Man, those poor mentally handicapped people. I hope they enjoy hell.

This response from christians, like others they come up with, are just 1) a nervous response to a culture they are uncomfortable with, thus they try to belittle the offender into a defensive posture while simultaneously removing the offender’s ability to cuss back in response and 2) a manipulative and strong-armed tool to “get those around me to align themselves with my beliefs and practices”.

Believers shouldn’t manipulate anyone into some sort of action or behavior. They should only model the behavior they value. The CEO doesn’t twist people’s arms. Why should we?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

happy mexican 4th of july

The hispanic culture is one of the most party-down cultures on earth.

We were invited to about four parties but could only make one. So the first invite was from some good friends of ours who live outside of town past the airport. They are related to the Valdez family across the street from us.

These two guys from Dallas were going to be there with their guitars. They are pros and entertain in the DFW area. The guy on the right use to live in the fair mother city nine years ago, and I knew him then when he played at the El Phoenix. I got to bring the 10-caliber and sit in with them and hack some bass lines through a bunch of spanish songs. I survived.

I love this culture. Local musicians know that the money is in the hispanic/tejano scene. People from Mexico party 7 days a week. And they truly respect live music as it brings people together.

It was great. Everyone was singing and having a blast. Old ladies singing like there was no tomorrow. Half drunk guys playing little harmonica solos. And I think there were only about twelve of us.

CEO - may I sing like there's no tomorrow.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

kiss the ass - addendum

My sincere apologies for offending, if not being clear. Admittedly, I am not the world’s greatest writer.

I want to state here that I never tried to make an absolute statement of “if you ask people for money, you are an ass kisser”. If this came across in the “ass” series, I apologize.

I DO intend to say that if you ask for money to do your mission, how do you do so? Do you try to sell your mission for maximum financial potential (ala manipulation tactics)?

And within asking this, I restate: is this a means, or THE means of the CEO providing for you? And are there other ways? Is playing “the game” of partnering and fund-raising a version of faith or not?

And secondly, I never meant to say “you are a puppet master if you give to missionaries”. If that’s how it originally came across, I am sorry.

I wanted to ask: if you are some sort of kingdom financier, what makes you give? Do you have expectations from the missionary? And if so, what are they?

I don’t care to beat a dead horse, but I had hoped to dialogue and discuss funding missions and such. So please leave comments here on these subjects.

If this mission-support subject is old, stay tuned. More reports from the fair mother city along with my observations of cursing in regards to religious people are coming shortly.