Sunday, February 18, 2018

This is Christ's body....

I was minding my own business, drinking coffee before church when my friend Will came up and asked me if I could do communion for someone who didn't show. Despite going to church my whole life, I had never served communion before.  At first I was too young and then later I never felt worthy of the honor. But trapped by the need, I consented. This in spite of what I knew would inevitably  happen.

When it came time, I turned to my partner, Andree and said: "you take the wine"...because I'm a spiller - I spill. I had this terrible vision of dumping a melange of wine and grape juice down someone's spring frock. As it was I was going to have problems with the crackers - I mean wafers. Because what I feared came true as soon as the first customer walked up. As I looked them in the eye and spoke the words the tears began to pool. Each time I said them the pool got bigger. I dared not reach up and wipe them away, that would have just resulted in me serving the crackers - dang! I mean wafers - off the floor.

I prayed "Lord please don't let me blubber" and He didn't but by the end my eyes were so full of tears that I couldn't see much of anything. But sometimes tears help us see more clearly, indeed sometimes we can only see the truth through tears. And my truth came through loud and clear. For while I was saying one thing, another was imprinting on my soul:

This is Christs's body, broken for you
This is Christ's body, broken for you,
This is Christ's body, broken for you,
This is Christs's body, broken for....me.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Damn Cats



In remembrance of Yanti Ardie 's deceased cat Smoky. A po-em:

Cats, cats, cats
Damn all cats
They make me sneeze
And scratch the door
They bring dead things
Lay them on the floor

But they're warm in bed
And they purr purr purr
With scratchy tongues
And fuzzy fur
So I love damn cats.
I miss mine so.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Somebody else's problem

I was strolling down Lindell on a crisp, bright winter's day, enjoying the sunshine gleaming off of the new fallen snow.  A huge round young black man yelled out from across the busy street:  "hey mister, hey wait!" he jay-ran across, heedless of the traffic and pulled up puffing in front of me, his St. Louis street vendor certificate blowing around his neck - "it's a mooch", I thought.

"Hey mister, I represent (he mumbled some alphabet soup agency) and would you like to buy...."  I put my hand up - I was prepared for such simple come-ons:  "I'm sorry, I never purchase from or give to organizations that come up to me on the street, it's just my policy, I'm sorry."  I turned away and walked off, congratulating myself for handling the situation in a philosophically consistent way.  He muttered "I was just tryin' to make a living".

But I didn't really hear what he had to say because he had already ceased to exist.  With my statement I had defined him outside of the circle of people and things that I had to worry about - I had made him "somebody else's problem".

In his brilliant (well at least to me) Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy Douglas Adams described the theory of a "Somebody Else's Problem" field - an "SEP" for short.  In Adam's cracked cosmology SEPs were used to make things invisible - by defining something as "somebody else's problem" one could get people to walk by spaceships, buildings, even massive mountains without noticing they were there.  And that's what I had done to my rotund interloper.  After all, I had learned as a boy on the streets of Kebayoran Baru that one couldn't possibly help all of the people who needed it.  There were too many of them and their needs were too great - to survive emotionally you needed to harden yourself and look past the pain and suffering around you.  Indonesia had taught me to build my walls high and tight.  And it worked - I now am a master at making things somebody else's problem.

Yet Jesus came to make everyone His problem.  I sometimes wonder what it must have been like to be Him:  fully human and yet knowing, indeed, feeling the seemingly infinite roar of sin and pain and needfulness around him.  I can hardly handle my own troubles, yet He confronted an entire world's.  No wonder He sometimes fled the crowds - there were too many, it was too much.

What the young man was really saying to me - what we all say every time we come into each other's presence - was:  "I am here, I am real, and I matter".  For if Jesus came and died for each of these then how can they not matter to us?  How can they simply be "somebody else's problem".  All of these thoughts and a few more besides flashed through my mind as I fled down the street.  They rose to a crescendo and stopped me in my tracks.  "Aw crap!" I said and began to backtrack - of course I could help him - I had a few minutes and I knew exactly what he was doing wrong - didn't the clowns at the agency teach him anything?  "First of all you don't go running up to people yelling in inner city Saint Louis - do you want to get your ass shot?  Let me tell you how to engage people respectfully in a conversation, solicit their help, get them on your side so they want to buy your...what is it you're peddling again?"  I double timed back up Lindell, rehearsing Sales 101 in my head - where was he?  Gone.  How in the hell could a guy that big disappear so quickly?  Gone.

"Lord forgive me.  Please help him, show him the answers to his questions, show him that he is loved, heal him from any harm that my indifference did him" - it didn't seem like much.  After all, I was going to fix him.  But I sensed a feeling of completion - it was enough - it was OK.

I turned around and headed for the office.  For a while after that I stopped averting my gaze from the people on the street, I looked in their eyes, I said 'hi'.  In some small way I widened my circle a bit and let a few others in.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."  Whoever.  And none of them are somebody else's problem

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Free Too

I hear what you're saying
I see what you mean
I know what you're doing
But I want to be free

I stood there when she said it
She came straight up to me
So filled with His spirit
So gentle and free

I hear what you're saying
I see what you mean
I know what you're doing
But I need to be free

I was there when she said it
She came straight up to me
So filled with His love
So beautiful and free

I hear what you're saying
I see what you mean
I know what you're doing
But I must be free

Monday, October 30, 2017

I want to be free

I hear what you're saying
I see what you mean
I know what you're doing
But I want to be free.

Love's not an excuse
It isn't a lie
It doesn't come in youth
But only when we die.

When we die to self,
Die so we can live,
Die to receive
Receive life as a gift.

Love's not an excuse
It isn't a lie
It doesn't come in youth
But only when we die.

I hear what you're saying
I see what you mean
I know what you're doing
But I want to be free.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Addendum to On Freedom

And my Kids. Praise God for them. They had lost all the trappings of wealth that they were born into: the private school, big house, beach cottage, winter skiing. But they never complained or blamed me. The only thing they said when then came back from their first week of public school was  "the kids here are nicer". My daughter would frequently ask me to help her with school projects and for a couple of hours I would lose myself with her. One day I offered to drive her home - it was cold and snowy - but I ran out of gas right in the underpass of a rush hour freeway. I shouted with frustration and and cursed myself and she broke into tears. But my son was there to help us within minutes. He was always there when I needed him. Their steadfast love and refusal to judge or complain was the greatest gift anyone has ever given me.

Monday, October 16, 2017

On Freedom

Four years ago I moved into a minivan. I handed my house keys to my Son and told him to sell everything and give the proceeds to his mother. With my business bankrupt, my marriage gone, my self respect and confidence in tatters, I moved into the van to die. I was in despair, everything that I had built my life on was in ruins.

I spent nine months there. I overnighted in strange places - one was an auto body shop amongst the wrecks. I went days without speaking to anyone. I experienced 100 degree heat all the way down to minus 15f - not windchill - temperature. My toes still tell the tale. I kept clean by bathing in men's rooms and occasionally strolling brazenly into the local College's faculty locker room as if I were a Professor of Indigence, the Hobo Sage.

No one from my Church came looking for me. A couple times old colleagues came by and gave me money - claiming that they had forgotten to pay me for work I'd done.

I was angry at myself and at God. I acknowledged that I had wrecked my life but insisted I didn't do it alone. I was an active Christian: tither, promise keeper, BSFer, sunday school teacher, Deacon:  the full Yaweh. From where I stood it seemed that God had let me run off the rails. I told Him "you let me do this to myself". His answer was: "Yes, I did. Now pay attention."

Spoiler alert: I didn't die. Which was a problem: what exactly was I supposed to do? I couldn't sit still so I started walking which led to thinking then to ideas and ultimately writing. Early on I wrote angry polemics against God. I would send them to my pastor friends. They were hot stuff, I'm sure I could get a gig writing for the Atheists if I still believed any of it. The irony was that I had announced  that I was 'done' with God yet He had never dominated my thoughts so much as in that van.

And then slowly, at first almost imperceptibly I began to see people differently. I started really looking at them, looking into their eyes. I began going up to complete strangers, trying to understand them. It made them really, nervous. I became friends with the disabled woman who worked at McDonalds. I had always avoided her  because her small twisted body made her slow. But I had become slow too and it allowed me to see what I had missed. It was a revelation: up until that point I had looked upon most people as "tools" to be used or obstacles to be gotten around. But there, at the bottom I began to see people for what they truly are: God breathed miracles, on their journeys to eternity.

Then Mom called: Dad had cancer and needed my help. So I became my father's primary caregiver for the last 18 months of his life. The truth is I never really knew my father until then. And then as if by plan, the week Dad died an old friend called asking me to join his new west coast software venture.

It was shortly after that I strolled into this building on a Sunday morning and someone said 'Hi'.

God brought me full circle. From failure and despair to renewal and purpose.  So how did I change? First of all I am so much more holy than I used to be (snort guffaw)...No, that's a lie. I am the same knucklehead I've always been.

What God did with that time was teach me what it meant to be free.

Free to fail. And being free to fail, free in Christ to truly try.
Free to see myself and to see others for what we truly are.
Free to be honest, to confess sin openly, and ask forgiveness.
And Free to really love, to love God and to love you.

John 8:32 "and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

But I'm still that knucklehead, ask anyone: "Is he really?" "Oh, yes, without a doubt".

Most of you are young, talented and industrious and you will go far. But I'll let you in on a secret: Someday you're going to fail. And I pray that when you do, you'll find the freedom that comes from knowing that you can't possibly live up to God's Standard - the only one that matters. That's the edge we street veterans have. We know that there's nothing we can do by ourselves.

So during this time of feasting and plenty remember that crucial truth that street people know better than anyone else. And take a moment to stop, listen and learn from them, it will bless you. I say this  not because "There but for the Grace of God go I" no, I say it because "There with the Grace of God went I".

One more point: One of the reasons people on the street look so defeated is that they are often so very alone. There is really nothing quite like 'street alone', people everywhere ignoring you. There's a song that expresses that loneliness well. It's not particularly pretty but it is True. The Song is The Wrestler by Bruce Springsteen.

Have you ever seen a one trick pony in the Field so Fancy and Free?
If you've ever seen a one-trick pony then you've seen me.
Have you ever seen a three legged dog making his way across the street?
If you've ever seen a three legged dog then you've seen me.

Then you've seen me, I come and stand at every door.
Then you've seen me, I always leave with less than I have before.
Then you've seen me, when my blood it hits the floor.

Tell me friend can you ask for anything more?
Tell me can you ask for anything more?

Have you ever seen a scarecrow filled with nothing but dust and weeds?
If you've ever seen a scarecrow then you've seen me.
Have you ever seen a one armed man punching at nothing but the breeze?
If you've ever seen a one armed man, then you've seen me.

Then you've seen me, I come and stand at every door.
Then you've seen me, I always leave with less than I have before.
Then you've seen me, when my blood it hits the floor.

Tell me friend can you ask for anything more?
Tell me can you ask for anything more?

These things that comfort me I drive away.
This place that is my home I cannot stay.
The only faith I have is in the bruises I display.

Tell me friend can you ask for anything more?
Tell me can you ask for anything more?

Have you ever seen a one legged man trying to dance his way free?
If you've ever seen a one legged man, then you've seen........me.

 Thank you.