Tuesday Tuneup Ten

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Do you ever listen to my answer to that question?

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. I guess not.  Well, I summoned you because I am disgruntled.

Q. Disgruntled?

A. Is there an echo in here?

Q. Why are you disgruntled?

A. Cognitive dissonance.

Q. Meaning?

A. I simultaneously hold to two conflicting systems of values.

Q. Specifically?

A. As a Christian, I believe in forgiving those who have wronged me.  As a guy who spent twelve years on the streets, I believe in rewarding loyalty and punishing betrayal.  

Q. Can’t you forgive them and punish them at the same time?

A. (nods) The concept of chastening.  I’m afraid only God has the rights on that one.

Q. But supposing your son or daughter had wronged you, wouldn’t you forgive them and still “chasten” them, as you say?

A. Sure I would.  But these people are not my sons and daughters, nor am I their father.  One of them is a 63 year old man.  Another is 62.

Q. What about their own fathers?

A. Neither of them is alive.  And if they were, I doubt they’d take my side.

Q. Then doesn’t that leaves the Father God to do the chastening?

A. But Father God might not be their father.   

Q. How can that be?  Is not God the father of all?  

A. Not necessarily.  According to Scripture, their father is either God the Father, or “their father the devil.”  Look what Jesus said once:

You are of your father the devil, 
and you want to do the desires of your father. 
He was a murderer from the beginning, 
and does not stand in the truth 
because there is no truth in him. 
Whenever he speaks a lie, 
he speaks from his own nature, 
for he is a liar and the father of lies. 
But because I speak the truth, 
you do not believe Me. 
“Which one of you convicts Me of sin? 
If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? 
He who is of God hears the words of God; 
for this reason you do not hear them,
because you are not of God.”

— John 8:44-47

Q. Do you really think it’s all that black and white?   Are there a bunch of liars that are children of the devil and another batch of truth-seekers that are, like, God’s kids?

A. (nods again) Black and white thinking.  I don’t like the concept much either.  But as the article I just linked to points out, a lot of times we engage those approximations because the language lacks wording that will sufficiently describe the “middle ground” or “gray area” without having to use too many words, thus impeding communication.

Q. What do you mean by that?

A. Well, take the word “God” for example.  Any intelligent person engaged in the vaguest search for a definition of that word will first have to admit that “God” is only a word.  Like all words, it has a meaning.  Many meanings.  Different meanings for different people, and so forth.  So one person will say, “I don’t believe in God,” based solely on their preconceptions as to what that word means.

To one person, “God” is an old man with a long gray beard sitting in the clouds somewhere.  Do I believe that meaning?  No, I do not.  But the same person who holds to that idea of “God” will often speak of a “force” or a “higher power” or even of the Universe.  Who’s to say that those descriptives are not of God?  And yet, they say they don’t “believe in God.”  To me, it seems that they do believe in God.   They just won’t use the word God, because it’s loaded down with stigmatic preconceptions.

Q. Then why do you keep using the word “God?”

A. Ease of use.  It’s simply easier to say the single word “God” than to keep saying, “Spirit or Power of the Universe or whatever you want to call it.”  I get tired of using too many words when one will suffice.  I use too many words as it is already without having to add yet more words to the mix.  

Q. But why does the single word have to be “God?” Why not use some other word, if “God” is so loaded down with stigma?

A. (frowns) I find they all fall short.  The other words “Spirit” or “Universe’ somehow lack sufficient power or personality for me — or maybe command or authority — something like that.  I don’t know exactly.  But really, Questioner dear, aren’t we veering a bit astray of the subject?

Q. And what, pray tell, is the “subject?”

A. The subject is the black-and-white codification of humanity into a batch of Satan’s babies as contrasted with the real children of God.   I believe the words of Jesus I quote run deeper than that.

Q. In what way?

A. In lots of ways.  For one thing, I think we’re all born “children of the devil” in the sense that we’re too unsophisticated to grasp the concept of a loving Father God apart from our own earthly fathers — who, let’s face it, might not be all that loving.  We’re innocent.  We’re vulnerable.  We’re easy to con, to manipulate.  I learned that on the streets.  The people who were pushovers seemed to be so faultless, yet in a very real sense they were the devil’s babies.   The hustlers, the thieves — they had them over a barrel.  In order to realize the authority of the True God, and to see yourself as His child, there has to be some kind of revelation, leading up to a transformation.  One gets to the point where one refuses to be hustled any further.  One says to oneself: “Screw these guys!  I’m a child of God!  I don’t have to put up with their garbage.”

Q. One says?  Or you say?

A. Both – along with a lot of other people who have managed to escape all the trappings of street life.  I’m a lot better off spiritually than I was earlier on.  I was such a pushover I believed all those lies I heard from pretentious preacher’s pulpits.   It’s like I always say, before the age of 51, I believed just about anybody who wore a badge.

Q. And now you don’t?

A. No, I don’t.  And obviously, in the passage I quote, Jesus didn’t either.  Those were Pharisees he was talking to — religious hypocrites very much like those who betrayed me.  Like I said, there’s a lot of depth to what the Master is saying here.  He speaks on many levels.

Q. Such as?

A. This.

(The Answerer takes a very deep breath.)

A. There are people who are so caught up in the game that they can’t tell lies from truth.  They lie so much and are lied to so often, they come to expect it from everyone.  You would think that the truth would stand out like an orchid in a petunia patch with people like that.  But somehow it doesn’t.  They are so used to lies, that when someone speaks the truth like Jesus did, they don’t hear it.  Their minds immediately begin to speculate and calculate.  

Speculate – by which I mean they speculate as to just what kind of a scam the truthful person is trying to pull.

Calculate – meaning they calculate a response designed to trap the one who tells the truth, and get them to say something completely inconsistent, to prove them a liar.

Q. And you are not one of those people?

A. Sure I am – in a certain context.  I test people all the time.  But the testing is of a different nature, because it follows an inward process of trying to dredge out the lies within my own heart.

Q. Are you lying to me, Andy?

A. Verily, verily, I tell you no lie.  But this is because I find myself lying to myself at times, and compelled to share that lie to others.  And when I do, I stop to examine my motives.  What am I trying to conceal?  Who am I afraid of?  Who am I trying to impress?

Q. Then what happens?

A. Then, when someone like that fellow who betrayed me lies to me, I don’t swallow his lies, because I see the same lies in my own self.

Q. Really?

A. Really.

Q. So the streets have made you sharper?

A. Can’t speak for my sharpness.  I’m an old guy, and my intellectual powers are naturally on the wane.  But I’m a bit more discerning between falsehood and truth.

Q. Andy, what is the bottom line?

A. This.

(Another deep breath is taken.)

Q. People seem to think that all those years on the streets are supposed to have crippled me to the point where I should have no higher goal than to sit in some meeting and raise my hand as an alcoholic or a drug addict, and then get down on my knees (and stay on my knees) and humble myself before every Tom, Dick, and Harry on the block.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

I came off the streets realizing I no longer had to take crap from just anybody.  I came off the streets seeing through all the Mainstream garbage that I swallowed so wholeheartedly before.  I came off the streets discerning that all those money-chasing money-hoarding money-worshipers who look down on poor people are the liars — not me.  They lie to their own selves, and yet they don’t stop to look within, to really see what’s inside them, to be able to discern with accuracy what’s going on around them.

So the bottom line is, I’m not going to get down on my knees before all those Mainstream robot clones, or to their “God,” whoever they think he is, or cow-tow to whatever they think it means to be a “Christian.”  I know what I’m about – or beginning to find out anyway – and on my spiritual journey, I ain’t taking no shit from nobody.

Q. Do you want to know what I think?

A. Shoot.

The Questioner is silent.

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Wisdom

Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.

She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.

Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
those who hold her fast will be blessed.

–Proverbs 3:13-18

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The Eye of a Needle

A man came up to Jesus and asked:
“Teacher, what good thing must I do
to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me
about what is good?”
 Jesus replied. 

“There is only One who is good.
If you want to enter life,
keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not murder,
you shall not commit adultery,
you shall not steal,
you shall not give false testimony,
 

honor your father and mother,’
and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

All these I have kept,”
the young man said.
“What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered: 
“If you want to be perfect,
go, sell your possessions
and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this,
he went away sad,
because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, 
“Truly I tell you,
it is hard for someone who is rich
to enter the kingdom of heaven.
 

Again I tell you,
it is easier for a camel
to go through the eye of a needle
than for someone who is rich
to enter the kingdom of God.”

Matthew 19:16-23

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Tuesday Tuneup Six

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. I really wish you would stop asking me that.

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. Because today’s the Big Day.

Q. You mean, Tuesday?

A. Well – that, too.  But it’s not just any Tuesday.   Barring the catastrophic, I will finally be with my daughter for the first time in two years, and with my ex-wife for the first time in 16 years.   And my ex and I will be sleeping under the same roof for the first time in 28 years.

Q. How did all this come about?

A. I believe you asked me that already, two or three Tuesdays ago.

Q. Can you run it by me again, please?

A. Whew – I barely know where to start.   And I disdain to unveil personal information about my family here.  Let’s just say that I’m a person who was on the streets for about twelve years in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I learned a lot about people during those twelve years, and a lot about life.  Of course times were hard, and moments were miserable.  But I was given valuable information during that period of time that I have since been compelled to share.

sacrificesI have noticed, however, that not everyone wants to hear this information.  They would rather cling to old stereotypes that make them feel comfortable, because the truth would cause them to look inward, into places within themselves of which they are afraid.

Of course this has been disturbing to me.  When I was homeless, I watched as old friends of mine, people with whom I had thought I would be friends forever, began to reject me one by one.  They didn’t return emails or phone calls.  They got all bent out of shape over relatively little things that gave me the feeling that, if any of these people had landed on the streets, they wouldn’t have lasted more than a week or two.

Before too long, I realized that most of these people were never my friends at all.  In fact, there were times when I thought I had never made a friend in my life — until I had become homeless.

While people of privilege were blowing me off left and right with half-truths and transparent forms of Mainstream Doublespeak, homeless people were telling it like it is.  Sure, there were scoundrels among us.  Of course there were those it is best off to avoid, and yet the streets made it next-to-impossible to do so.

I was hit on the head with guns.  I was pistol-whipped.  I was raped.  I watched all my possessions being burnt to bits before my eyes.  Not one person in my former life who professed to believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins lifted a finger to help me.  The only Christian who continued to believe in me, who treated me as a Christian, is a woman who knew me from the Internet, in a distant State, who never ceased to treat me as an equal, as a friend.  And she is among my best friends to this day.   But as far as people from the church I used to attend when I still was making money in this world?

They told me to go to counseling, to see a psychiatrist, to go into some kind of live-in program of some sort, or to merely “check in” to a shelter – as if they had any clue what bureaucracy would be involved, or what atrocities I would be subjected to in that so-called “shelter.”  The shelters in my world were little more than glorified jailhouses, and I far preferred to sleep in seclusion, absolutely alone.

Did any of those Pontius Pilates actually help me?  If you want to call an occasional lunch date at the price of a lecture “help,” I suppose they did.  Believe me, I was grateful enough for the lunch to put up with the lecture, however irrelevant that lecture may have been.

The continual experience of condescension, dismissal, and disrespect that I received from so-called Christians was such a far cry from the acceptance, dignity, and love that I was receiving from my homeless friends, I would become infuriated at the thought that these “Christians” actually thought they were doing the will of God, when they continually treated a man who was suffering like a bag of dirt.

Even to this day, I have difficulty getting my own eyes to see the naked truth.  Even in the last week, I appealed to former friends of mine, thinking surely they would express some happiness or joy over this reconciliation — when all they did was continue to raise their eyebrows and write me off as “crazy.”

But when the mother of my only daughter reappeared in my life, and I had learned that she had been through trials very similar to that which I and others endure on the streets, she didn’t write me off as crazy.

And the Lord Himself seeks such to worship Him.

Q. John?  Chapter Four?

A. John.  Chapter Four.  The day will come when those who worship God will worship Him neither in Jerusalem nor on the mountain – but the true worshipers will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

The Questioner is silent.

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The Resurrection and the Life

Lazarus.jpg

This time-honored story, while not dealing directly with the Easter story, nevertheless reveals the realities of resurrection and of eternal life that have to do with the saving grace and power of Jesus Christ.  I hope you all have a blessed experience of God’s undying love on this day.

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus: “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

“Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

Jesus told her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Anyone who believes in Me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in Me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

“Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” So Mary immediately went to him.

— John 11:17-29
New Living Translation

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I Never Meant to Hurt You

I tried three times throughout the week to do a decent take of this old Laura Nyro song.   I think this might be the one.  I thought it would be a nice gesture for Good Friday.   There are a lot of people, including Him, whom I did not really mean to hurt.   But I hurt them anyway, although I loved them.  I am glad He paid the price for all of that.  It’s a far greater price than I could pay.

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A Sacrifice of the Heart

If you are a person who knows what it’s like to be poor, have you ever noticed how quick people of privilege are to attribute aspects of poverty to something that has absolutely nothing to do with your financial situation?  Such as, for example, your mental health?

I live in a city of approximately 26,000 people, 30% of whom are at poverty level.  Most of the poor people in this city are reasonably happy and healthy.  This is one reason why I enjoy the unique city in which I live.   But it appalls me how readily some of my wealthier friends will assume that my current poverty must have been caused by a mental health problem, a drug or alcohol problem, or (quite simply) a moral failing. 

Although I will be the first to admit that I have mental health issues requiring treatment, I find it disturbing how often these issues will be cited as the reasons for my impoverished condition.  Many of the wealthier people who say such things would become much crazier than I am, if they, too, were to suddenly lost their shirts as quickly as I did in the year 2004.

The people who most often allude to this fallacy will usually make no attempt to actually understand my condition.  They are clearly looking for a scapegoat — something beyond the scope of their experience that they can use to shift the blame away from the realities of poverty that they do not wish to look at.

“Hey Bob, I really hate to bother you for another loan.  I know you’re busy, but my car just broke down terribly.  I need it to get to work, and I just can’t afford the bill.  Is there any way at all you can help me?”

“Well, Bill, I know you always pay me back, but I’m getting to be a little bit bothered by the fact that you’re not many progress.  Don’t you think it’s high time you dealt with your mental health, so that you won’t be so chronically down on your luck?”

friend in needOnce again, this is classism – pure and simple.   It can be incredibly frustrating when one is doing their best to maintain a healthy relationship to society, and the frequent setbacks endemic to poverty are dismissed as signs of poor mental health.  Of course one’s mental health suffers when encountering such setbacks.  But poor mental health does not cause those setbacks.  This is only an assumption on the part of those whose lives are such that they never have to experience such setbacks, and thus don’t know what those setbacks are like.

In short, they don’t know what it’s like to be poor.

Now here’s another thing I’ve noticed.  It is often assumed that someone who experiences a life crisis that hurls them into abject poverty — or even homelessness — has gotten there as the result of a moral failing.

“Obviously, Bill screwed up.  Nobody gets from where he was to the streets that fast without having done something wrong.   That being the case, I have no sympathy for Bob whatsoever.”

“Amen, Brother Bob.”

But the reality is that many people of privilege are extremely slow to let go of what they’ve got. In many cases, their natural stinginess is the reason why they’ve managed to accrue so much in the first place.  But many poor people, knowing what it’s like to be poor, will give another poor person the shirt off their back.  I myself have been known to give my last twenty dollars to another poor person if I felt they needed it more than I do.  When I do so, I am confident they would do the same for me, if the tables were turned.

A lot of people become poor as the result of something good that they have done — something that a rich person, under the same circumstances, might not do.  For example, if one’s mother or father is in poor health, perhaps dying, a person who is lower middle class might have their parent come live with them, despite having to take on added medical expenses.   A rich person, under the same circumstances, will often send their parent to a retirement home.

Granted, the richer person can afford to send Mom or Dad to the retirement home, and the poor person cannot.  But if you were aging, ailing, and dying, where would you rather be?   In a retirement home among total strangers?   Or with your kids whom you love, knowing that they love you too?  Where would you rather die?   With your children by your side?   Or not?

It is not a moral failing to take care of an ailing parent.  It is actually an act of self-sacrificial love.  Love, in its purest form, involves sacrifice.   When one sends one’s dying mother to an “old folk’s home,” what sacrifice is involved?  Only money.   But when one invites their dying parent to come live with them, that is a Sacrifice of the Heart.

I find it ironic that people of poverty often are more giving and more loving than people of wealth, and yet in our society it is often assumed that poverty is an effect of moral failing.   While moral laxity can certainly lead to poverty, it is definitely not the case that poverty necessarily results from it.

When Jesus appeared on the earth, who did he generally hang around?   Rich people or poor people?   Anyone with a cursory background in Scripture will know that he hung around the dregs of society, the outcasts, the lepers, the pariahs, those who were so dirt poor they were ostracized and vilified by the Pharisees and Saducees of their day.

If the first arrival of Jesus Christ were to have occurred today rather than two thousand years ago, you know who He would hang around?

The homeless people.  For my homeless brothers and sisters are the lepers of today’s society.  Let them in!   Let all of us in — before it is too late.

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