Archive for June, 2011

By Your Boot Straps: A Story that is all too Often True.

By Your Boot Straps: A Story that is all too Often True.

Here’s how it happens.  You can’t get a job because you don’t have driver’s license.  You don’t have a driver’s license because you can’t afford to get one.  You finally save up enough money from doing odd jobs to learn how to drive after saving for two years to do it.  Then, you can’t afford a vehicle.  So you save for another two years to come up with $1,100 to buy a clunker, except you can’t afford the insurance.  So you drive without insurance because it’s your way to get to the legitimate job you finally got that will allow you to get insurance.  Then your tail light goes out because a mouse ate through your wiring.  The repair will cost a couple hundred dollars that you don’t have because you owe $3,000 to the utility company who just turned your power off.  You owe $3,000 because you didn’t have a job for four years while you were scrounging enough money to get a driver’s license and a car so you could get a job to pay your utilities before they get turned off.  Your pay goes to paying that off so you can cook the food you can’t afford and have to get in inadequate supply from the food pantry.  But…at least your working, so you have hope.

Then, you get a ticket for your tail light being out.  And you get another ticket at the same time for driving without insurance.  You couldn’t afford the light repair, so you sure can’t afford the tickets.  So you start saving to fix the light, and you have no choice but to drive anyway because that’s your only way to get to your job, and your job is your only hope.  Meanwhile, the time is ticking on paying your tickets.  Then you get a letter from the DMV saying that your license has been suspended for failure to pay the tickets that you can’t afford to pay for the tail light that you still can’t afford to fix.  You need the job, so you drive anyway…just to work and back.  You walk miles to do everything else.

Then, on your way to your job which is your only hope, you get pulled over again for the tail light.  They find out that you’re driving on a suspended license and they impound your car and give your another ticket that you can’t afford.  The impound lot charges $50 a day.  You don’t have $50 so it sits there adding up $50 a day to the point where you owe more than the car is worth.  And you try taking two buses to get to work, and get there late.  Twice.  And they fire you.  Now, you’ve lost your car, your driver’s license, AND your job…which was your hope.  And you have tickets that aren’t getting paid because you’ve lost your job and don’t have any money to pay them.

The power gets turned off again because you don’t have a job any more to make payments to keep it on.  Then your rent is late for the same reason and the landlord is calling and screaming at you and calling you a deadbeat and threatening to put you out on the street.  The stress starts to build.  And build.  One day, you’re trying to get some groceries after walking to two miles to the nicer store with better prices, and the clerk treats you rudely…the stress catches up and you respond rudely even though you know you weren’t raised that way.  The clerk escalates the confrontation with a more rude remark.  You then respond in kind.  The off-duty policeman in line behind you who has no idea of your life situation and didn’t hear the clerk’s first remarks sees only a customer who is causing a scene.  He decides to intervene and calls in your information after pulling you aside for a “stop and frisk”.  He’s only doing his job.  He just thinks it’s simple…and there’s nothing simple about poverty or despair.  The dispatcher informs him that there is a warrant out for your arrest for the unpaid tickets.  So, he arrests you.

You don’t have the money to pay the ticket.  So you sit in jail because you have more time than you have money.  Your four kids are at home without supervision. Oh, did I forget to mention that in the midst of all of this, you’re trying to raise four kids?  Where’s the dad? Oh he’s in prison.   One of the kids acts up at school.  Social Services find out they’re living at home without an adult…looked in on by a sympathetic neighbor.  They take your kids.  When you finally get out of jail after serving 30 days among murderers and gang members, you still don’t have a driver’s license because you don’t have a job to earn enough money to get it reinstated.  You can’t get a job because no one will hire you without a driver’s license.  You have no electricity at your apartment.  Your landlord started eviction papers on you while you were in jail, and you will be on the street in about five days.  You can only get five days worth of food once a month from the pantry because somebody figures that’s all you need and any more will enabling you.  You could probably sell that, but it wouldn’t cover what you owe the landlord. Your car is now hopelessly owned by the impound lot owner.  And your kids are spread between three different foster homes and are acting up in them and getting in trouble with the law.  Their own spiral into poverty has begun in another generation, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

And then, you are approached by a gangster who says he feels your pain and has a solution.  If you just sell a little pot for him, you will have enough money to get the license out of hock, get the power turned back on, pay your rent in cash, and get back on track to getting another legitimate job so you can get your kids back.  You can make enough in five days to stop the eviction.

At first you just sell to people you know.  Then one of them brings someone you don’t know.  She turns out to be an undercover police officer.  You get busted with possession with the intent to deliver…and that means prison and criminal record.  Nobody hires people with criminal records anymore, and everyone now does a thorough background check before they hire.  You are done.  And you aren’t even forty yet.

Oh, this is an extreme case, you say? Oh, this is the exception and not the rule? No, it isn’t.  And it all started with a tail light being out and not having the means to fix it. It takes more than boot straps.


Stall Recovery

Stall Recovery

I don’t know anything about flying, though I do know quite a bit about flying by the seat of my pants. I am not a pilot, but I learned something the other day about flying…and crashing. When an aircraft stalls there are warning signs and alarms. It’s of crucial importance to known the signs and sounds so well, that the pilot can react immediately.  Stalling in an aircraft means that the airframe has lost lift and the air flow across and below the wings has ceased to be sufficient to keep the airframe in the air. In short, the airframe is not flying.  It is falling.  The instinct is to pull back on the yoke in order to take corrective action.  But the right thing to do is to push the nose of the aircraft down in order to regain lift, and then once lift is re-established, regain control of the aircraft. The corrective action is aggressive, not passive. Pushing the nose of the aircraft down is counter-intuitive and even seems a little crazy, but it is the only chance the crew and passengers have of surviving.  A failure to rightly diagnose the problem very quickly and then immediately react to it counter-intuitively out of discipline often proves fatal.

Stalling is a part of the missional journey for a community, as well.  Communities stall and immediate corrective action is needed.  The action needed is also counter-intuitive.

Know the warning signs and sounds.  There are certain sounds and sights that should be just as much of an alarm as the one in the cockpit in a stall warning system.  What is the sound? It sometimes sounds like, “If you switch from the organ to that guitar music, we are leaving!!”  That sound definitely means that you’re stalled. People are focused on being entertained in worship instead of the mission. Another very loud alarm: “This isn’t working. We need to go back to the old way.”  That sound might as well be, “Go back to Egypt! Go back to Egypt!”, and it means you’ve definitely lost momentum.  “They want blue carpeting, but we want red carpeting.  We’re sure that red is more Biblical.” This definitely indicates a stall.  People are focused on the building instead of the mission. “You know what time she came home? And her car was parked out in front of that young Dr. Jameson’s house all night.  You know they must be sleeping together.”  That’s a stall alarm.  If people have time to gossip, they aren’t busy enough in the mission.  Get the picture? There are alarms that should go off for you when your missional community is stalled, and knowing what they are is critical.

Train your people for it.  We make a mistake when we preach only what one of my friends and mentors calls “Candy Canes and Apples”.  If all we’re giving people is feel good, prosperity, secure your own salvation stuff, they will be unprepared to recognize the signs of a stall and how to react to it.  We have to work on these things from time to time when things are good, not when they’re already in crisis.  Crisis without preparation leads to fear and panic, which lead to bad and often fatal miscalculations.  This isn’t really an “education” thing.  It’s a training thing: When you stall, do this without thinking about it.  Training.  We have to reduce the time it takes for the community to interpret signs and alarms so that we can go as quickly as possible from alarm to proper reaction.

Push the nose down.  Get moving in any direction doing almost anything action-oriented.  Most leaders in a stall in the mission will pull back on the yoke, pull the brakes…for one reason or another: lack of know-how, fear, lack of proper training and discipline.  And what then happen is you lose momentum, lose inertia.  An object in motion tends to stay in motion.  An object at rest tends to stay at rest.  Get moving in any direction…even if it’s only you and then draw people in to provide momentum.  It’s easier to turn a moving vehicle than to get one moving when it’s stalled. Discipline yourself to move when your brain says stop, to run into the stall instead of pulling back from it.  This is pretty counter-intuitive stuff.  Don’t stop to self-check or hear everyone out or rewrite your by-laws.  Push the nose down and get moving on anything that makes people move in one direction together.

Once you’re moving again, then make adjustments and get back on track with vision and purpose. Once your community is moving as a missional body again…IN the mission field and IN the mission, then adjustments are easy to make.  Reconnecting what you’re doing to your vision and purpose will be a part of that process, but it is much easier done once you’re moving then while you’re sitting still.  Your values reflect the state you’re in.  That’s why it’s essential to get right back into it.  All of a sudden the alarms will stop going off.  People will be more concerned about incorporating a kind of music that the people you’re trying to reach like, and those stupid worship fights will stop.  Nobody will care about the color of the carpet.  And nobody will have time to be talking bad about anyone because their hearts will be too filled with the concerns of the mission.

The 4,000 Club. Really?

The 4,000 Club. Really?

I don’t know many things.  In fact, I am a very simple man on a lot of levels. But I do know that we will all one day leave this earth.  I’ve been watching, and I haven’t seen anyone last much more than a hundred years, and I’ve seen a lot more leave this life unexpectedly a lot sooner than that. And coupled with that knowledge, is my belief that we will one day all stand individually before the Lord and account for our lives.  Two of Jesus’ teachings come to mind as I think about that: 1) “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded, and 2)” When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat…As you do unto the least of these, so you do also unto me.”  From these I have learned that the blessings in my life are from God and that they are never for me alone.  Whatever God has placed in my hand or in my life has a purpose beyond my own well-being.  And one day, when my great gettin’- up morning comes, I will meet my Lord face-to-face and account for how I have used those blessings for God’s purposes.  And from those quotes I have also learned that I am never to turn my back on people in need that God has placed in my path. I am never to exclude people whose circumstances would lead society to see them as somehow less than me.  They are not less than me. They are my brothers and sisters.  I am to help the people I can help, and that will be the standard of accounting when I stand before the One who died to give me the opportunity to stand in His Courts at all.

The ones that Jesus refers to as “Lost” seem to me to be people who are separated from God’s present Kingdom and are suffering horribly as a result.  The lost son in Jesus’ story in Luke who finds himself broke, wasting away, and wallowing in a pig sty comes to mind. His predicament is an obvious one. He one day finds himself in a place that he was not created to be in, having arrived there as the fruit of a series of choices and assumptions that monumentally missed the point.  But we often forget that that story was really about TWO lost sons.  The son who stayed home turned out to be just as lost…just as disconnected from his father’s heart…as the one in the pig sty.  The son who stayed home had also monumentally missed the point…that the blessing is in our willingness to connect our hearts to the things that are breaking God’s heart, and that the blessing is in our willingness to use ourselves and our resources joining our lives and cause to God’s cause.  That is really the only truly great blessing to be found on this side of the river because that is what it means to participate in Heaven on Earth.

So, to my point. Anyone who has ever been involved with youth sports knows that there is very little about them that reflects the Kingdom of God. We all go into them filled with joy and hope for our children and within a very short time, we end up bruised and bitter at the experience.  Some of the worst human weaknesses and meannesses are exhibited there in spades.  Exclusion is the modus operendi…the community value.  One day I overheard several women who had never given me the time of day in spite of daily path-crossings were talking among themselves and thinking no one could hear them…or perhaps they knew people could hear them.  These were the “beautiful people”, wearing fur and sitting high up in the stands in the best seats. Doctor’s and “successful” businessmen’s wives all. They were talking about “The 4,000 Club.”  They were saying that so-and-so had just joined their club and they could now invite her into their group, and maybe take her out for coffee.  It took me a while to understand what “The 4,000 Club” was.  The 4,000 referred to 4,000 square feet in their house.  In other words, their standard for inclusion was whether or not a person’s house had sufficient square footage.  That was the standard by which they judged the value of a person…the yard stick for their life’s efforts.  4,000 square feet.  At first, I was angry.  Very angry.  The sick kind of angry that seeks to do damage. I stewed for days about it.  Not because I wanted to join their club, nor because my house doesn’t have 4.000 square feet.  I don’t even know how many square feet it has and I don’t own it anyway.  I was angry because these people have been blessed with amazing wealth and power and influence, and instead of using them to make the world better, they horde the blessing to use as a tool to exclude and humiliate people that I love…and that God loves.

After a couple of weeks of me seriously hating and suffering for it, the Lord finally spoke into my black cloud.  The Lord reminded me that there were two lost sons in that story, and that both of them were breaking God’s heart.  These women were dearly loved by my Lord…he had given his life for them as much as he had for me.  And I was told not to seek to do justice upon them, but to seek compassion for them…for THEIR suffering.  The Lord reminded me that though reaching them will be far harder than reaching drunks and druggies and gangsters and societal outcasts, they are just as much a part of the mission of the Kingdom as any other part of it. They have missed the point.  Will that 4,000 square feet be the measure of their life and breath? Will they stand before the Lord and when asked to account for their lives, will they stand proudly and say, “I owned a home with 4,000 square feet.” And when the Lord asks how many people they used that home to help and who they invited into it, will they say, “Help? Help who? I invited other people with 4,000 square feet in their homes into my home.”  4,000 square feet. Really? Squandering God’s blessings to only end up in the pit of pettiness…smallness…must be a form of suffering that a pig sty pales in comparison to.  At least in a pig sty we know that we are surrounded by pigs and don’t mistake those pigs for friends. And there will be eternal implications for this kind of pettiness.  This kind of meanness will echo across the chasm between this life and the next.  And if these people aren’t reached for the Kingdom, it will be a Kingdom they can never enter because they will never see it as worthy of entrance.  It will have the poor in it, and the filthy, and the least of these – the very people that these women have spent their life and breath putting beneath them and shunning. These women are breaking God’s heart.  God loves them beyond words, and they are lost and very far from home.

The mission is to reach the lost…those that are easy to reach, and those that are hard.  I don’t know how to reach these women or other people like them, but I will be asking the Lord that very question in my prayers for a long time to come. I can reach the addicted, the excluded, the poor, the violent, and the hopeless because I have been all of those things.  But “The 4,000 Club” is a can of worms that I have never been inside of, and every can of worms opens only from the inside.  How do we reach into that kind of pettiness? How do we speak a word of hope and life to people who think that their hope is in a house and that there is absolutely nothing that their life is lacking?  How do we help people to see the true wealth found in bowing down before the King when the ones we are trying to help to see think THEY are the king?  I want these women’s day before the Lord to be a good day for them as much as I want my own day of judgment to be such. I have learned not to rejoice in the downfall of others…even those who have contributed intentionally and viciously to my own downfall. Vengeance is God’s, and once you’ve seen it visited on someone, you will never want to see it again.  How do we help these women out of the pig sty they have built and now are starving in?   I do not have answers to these questions…yet.  But I have learned that there is a blessing to be found in asking them. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”