Saturday, September 6, 2008


Think about this: my life for the Gospel.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

UA Flight 922 - Part XIV

I don’t know how I found myself in that detention hall that night.  I knew I was going to have some troubles getting through the border, but I didn’t think I was going to be treated like an international criminal.  But God had some crazy plan for me through all this.  He had his reasons behind allowing me to go through such trials.

Honestly, I don’t know how I came to be in such a predicament.  I thought I did everything the right way.  I thought I procured all the documents they needed.  Thought I proved myself to them.  Thought it was going to end up all right in the end.

I mean, I wrote so many letters to the government.  There was no way they could turn me away.  I had everything they needed, or so I thought.

Okay, so my original Volunteer visa was refused because I was missing one single document.  I furnished it later when I sent in my Visitor visa application.  I figured I could just send in those documents and re-apply without actually paying the $220 cost.  I was wrong.  Figured I could go to England and finish sorting out my immigration troubles with their Home Office.

I wonder if they would believe me.  I wonder if they would actually realize I just wanted to help.  I wonder if anyone would understand...

Dear Sir or Madam:

Tonight I am before you to speak to you with urgency.  I need to tell you a story.  It’s a story of a man who’s been thrown to the side of the road.  It’s not one of those Hollywood blockbusters.  There are no pirates, no knights rescuing their maidens in distress from dragons then gallantly riding off into the sunset; there’s not even any shooting, any guns, any war or anything remotely resembling a pop-culture hit.  But this story is about life; it is about the culture we’re immersed in.

And it is sad.

Please promise me you won’t feel guilty after hearing it because those are not my intentions.

I struggle to tell this story, but I know it’s my duty to let the world take a glimpse at a man they pass by every day.  They don’t even notice – we don’t even notice.  We skip by him merrily on our own way as he sits out in broad daylight.  He sits at the top of Main Street.  He sits in a garden, a park the size of a sand trap at a golf course.  He owns no luxury of a golfer nor does he even resemble a grounds keeper.  Yet he keeps a bench for two or three by himself – alone.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  He said to him, “What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?”

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  (Luke 10: 25-27)

But John’s not our neighbor.  He resides on a bench in Plymouth.  He sleeps on the porch of the Church of the Pilgrimage.  He uses public toilets for his own privacy.  He has no home.  He is not my neighbor.  I have no call to love him as myself.  None. 

I mean, I’m in Middleboro, or you say to me, “Well, I live in Carver.”  Or “I’m from Lakeville.”  “You know, it takes me 40 minutes to drive from Brockton.”  And still others might travel from even farther away.

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.  (Luke 10:30)

“Leaving him half dead.”  John sits on that bench with tubes protruding from his nose.  They make their way to a green oxygen tank that he wheels around wherever he goes.  Tubes that allow him to breathe, but not our air.  Our air is too good for him.  Our air is free.  Our air is something that we don’t think about.  The God of the universe has given us breath for life and we don’t even think about the gallons of oxygen we hoard every single moment of the day.  It’s not even every single waking moment; it is every moment including our dreams, when we sleep, and when we are ignorant of what’s going on in the world.  We breathe the breath of Yahweh.

Some pronounce the name ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Yahveh,’ although in many traditions the name isn’t even pronounced, because it’s considered so sacred, so mysterious, so holy.  In fact, the ancient rabbis believed that these letters actually functioned kind of as vowels in the Hebrew language.  They believed that they were kind of breathing sounds and that ultimately the name is simply unpronounceable because the letters together are essentially the sound of breathing.  Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh.  (Rob Bell)

You see – John collapsed in my store over two years ago.  Hands shaking.  Never steadying, though you could see he tried to hold his coffee and not spill it.  Then he sat down.  Sat down like a normal customer with a normal job and a normal place to live.  He was normal till the coffee went splashing to the ground like waves over a levy.  And his drink beat him to the floor.  The table rocked back and forth, metal screeching on wood.  John didn’t get up.

Those moments were like a reel of film caught on its slowest gear.  The scenes played back.  Repeated over and over.  But John still lay on the floor.  The ambulance was called.  We tried to get him up.  Tried to pick him up and put him back in the chair.

It was a mess. 

Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  (Luke 10:31)

I passed by John the other day.  I like to call him Old Man John.  He gave me that same smile he always gives me.  But I don’t know how he still has the will to smile.  I don’t know how he can smile given the circumstances.  Maybe he smiles knowing he beat cancer two years ago.  Knowing that even though the doctors told him he’d only live up to another six months, he got to prove them wrong.  Or maybe it’s the simple reason that I visited him.  That I stopped to sit next to him.  That I didn’t pass him by, but I’m most likely not even one percent of the world he sees everyday.

So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  (Luke 10:32)

All too often I don’t give the homeless a second thought.  I don’t give another human being room to dwell in my head.  I just don’t think about him.  But homelessness is not a cause, it is a people.  And this group of people is compiled of individuals.  And these individuals are just like you and me.  The only difference is they’ve fallen on tough times.  “Being poor means being an illness, an accident, or a paycheck away from living on the streets” (NCH).

John’s lived on the streets for the past two years since he collapsed in Kiskadee that day.  He’s fought cancer and won, even though he still smokes a butt every now and then.  He still smiles every time I wave at him, or bring him company, or buy him a coffee with loads of room for cream and sugar like he’s trying to regain some of the sweetness about life in a cup of House Blend.  But I don’t think the coffee warms him up.  He says he has no feeling left in his hands, that’s why he never takes the sleeve for the cup. 

I think he drinks it for the satisfaction of feeling normal again.  Feeling like he’s actually a part of society.  Part of the town he helped to build.  The other day he turned to me and said, “I was like you one time – a young 26-year-old coming up in the world.  I had a life and a job and a home.”  John eventually had a wife that he loved as well.  And boys that he fathered.  He said, “You know, I worked and I worked hard.  The others were always screwing around.  It was like life was a competition then.”

I think John’s still competing for life.  Possibly waiting for someone to notice him.

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  (Luke 10:33)

Now “Compassion” as defined by the Oxford American Dictionaries is “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others.”  That definition mentions nothing about the homeless.  It doesn’t mention foreigners.  It doesn’t mention anyone who could possibly be grouped as someone different from our-self.  It merely says “the sufferings and misfortunes or others.”  Those others include John.  They include the man who fell among robbers and was then stripped and beaten till he was nearly dead.  Those others mean you and me at a time when we may fall by the wayside, maybe even into a place where people just pass us by on the other side of the road.

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  (Luke 10:33, emphasis added)

In the Latin that word “compassion” or “compati” means to “suffer with.” 

You see – John always sits to the left side of the bench.  I guess he keeps that extra space open for others to sit.  But no one’s going to sit.  No one ever takes up the offer.  To the world he’s another homeless man.  He’s just one of approximately 750,000 men, women, and children who on any given night are homeless in the US (National Alliance to End Homelessness).  To us, he’s the less fortunate, the beggar even though he never asks for a dime; he’s the man who can’t breathe for himself, who has tubes for extra facial features, who’s losing hair all matted in clumps underneath that old baseball cap of his, which looks more like an American turban falling apart at the seams; he’s that man whose stomach is bloated because an ulcer is ripping at his insides; and he’s that man who, no matter how hard he worked in the past, is still homeless tonight.

And somehow, he can manage a smile.

To me, John is a statue on that Plymouth bench.  John is the reminder of the life I lead.  And he is a reminder of the life God’s made me to live.  Because God – the God of the summer that’s gone, of all the good times we’ve had at the beach with our friends, of all of our laughter and those times we will never forget, and of the adventure that comes when we run wild into the ocean on that first hot day in June is the God who’s still at play in John’s life even as he’s finding it tough to tread the waters he ventured into. 

And that same God prompts us to ask the question, “Well, who actually is my neighbor?”  But figuring out who is your neighbor, is only the first step.  We then have to love our neighbor.

But a Samaritan as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine.  Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’  (Luke 10:33-35)

You see – love is continual.  It’s the type of love that says, “Okay, so this guy is a complete stranger to me, and he’s not looking so hot.  I wonder if I should help?”  And I’d say that most of us get to that point where we question what we should do, if we should do anything at all.  But God’s prompting us to take it one step farther.  God’s saying, “Yeah, he is a stranger to you, but don’t leave him that way.  Give him all I’ve given you.  Love with what little love you might have.  You’ll still have me.  I’ll always be here for you, but now it’s your turn to be there for that man who’s struggling to stay above the waves of life.  Don’t worry, I’m with you on this one.”

Henry Alden, an early 20th century journalist for Harper Magazine, put it this way:   

Even His Almightiness is eclipsed by His All-lovingness.  He is the father, and we are to recognise Him as such, chiefly in that we love all men as brethren.  He ministers unto us and not we unto Him; we serve Him only in serving all men.  In loving his brother whom he hath seen, man loves God whom he hath not seen.  The loving human fellowship is the real diving communion...In loving one another we find God.

Not only do we find God, but we also find life.  As Jesus said to the lawyer earlier in verse 28, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”  He was referring to first loving God and then showing that same love to your neighbor. 

I realize none of you know Old Man John, but I bet you can think of your own John that you see in the every day.  I bet you can find that less fortunate kid at school.  Maybe he’s the kid everyone picks on, you know, the less popular kid.  Or, maybe he’s the most popular kid, but somehow you can see it’s all a facade and that he’s hiding something really personal.  It could be the quiet kid sitting in the back of the room not really paying attention to the lesson.  It could be anyone really.

But you have the responsibility to ask the question, “Who is my neighbor?”  And then you must act accordingly.  Because, let me say, the most “recent study, published in 2002, reported there are an estimated 1,682,900 homeless and runaway youth” (NCH).  And “according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, five to seven percent of American youths become homeless in any given year.”

The homeless are individuals just like you and me.

You know, I can’t explain homelessness, but that’s not what I’m called to do.  I’m called to help – you’re called to help, to do something for another, to love your neighbor as yourself.  In this respect, the reasons don’t matter much; it’s what you do to change the situation that matters most.  Because you have the ability to help the homeless gain a home, especially youth.

Living in shelters or on the streets, unaccompanied homeless youth are at higher risk for physical and sexual assault or abuse and physical illness, including HIV/AIDS.  Furthermore, homeless youth are at a higher risk for anxiety disorders, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicide because of increased exposure to violence while living on their own.  Overall, homeless youth are also likely to become involved in prostitution, to use and abuse drugs, and to engage in other dangerous and illegal drugs.  (National Alliance to End Homelessness)

Do you get it?  You have the ability to save a life.  And it’s simple.  It only takes a moment.  I’m not downplaying the work that might be involved in bringing aid to someone in need; I’m merely trying to show you that it takes a split-second decision to say, “Hey, I’m going to love on someone else just like God’s done with me.”

You will be that Samaritan who showed mercy.

You will be that person who helps a homeless youth out of a shelter because “in 2005, a survey indicated that prior to shelter 79 percent of homeless youth were attending school on a regular basis” (National Alliance to End Homelessness).

You will be there for the 2.5 to 3.5 million people who will live either on the streets or in an emergency shelter over the course of this year (National Alliance to End Homelessness).

You will be that person who fills the empty seat next to John because even the most simple of acts can be a life changing experience for someone else.

And you will love the God of everything you know “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27).

So may you question who you neighbor is, today.  And may you not pass him by the next time you see him.

(Note: This message was shared at Merge Youth Ministries)

UA Flight 922 - Part XIII

It seems like just yesterday I drove you home from the airport.  I made a playlist on my iPod for you.  I wanted the ride home to be perfect.  I wanted you to have your own soundtrack so you could remember each moment in song. 

I waited anxiously in the lobby.  Terminal E.  I got there way too early; I didn’t want to be late.  But I forgot flowers.  They were at home waiting for you in your soon to be bedroom-for-a-month.  With a card.  And then there was the story I wrote you.  Orange polka dotted journal with poems and dreams and hopes and life and – well, I waited to write, “I Love You” till the very end because that’s the one thing I wanted you to hold onto the most.  It didn’t matter if you forgot the whole story because soon we’d get to make it up as we go.  But I always wanted you to keep those words in mind, on heart and hide them deep in your eyes.    No other words would fit.

I waited for months to tell you.  I tested the world with those words.  I fought to find out if I really meant them; I found it was all true.  I tested them in prayer.  And God gave me more love to give to you.  I tested my tongue and kept patience, kept silence; I wouldn’t let love arouse itself before it so desired.

And now I wait again to tell you in person.

“But we have to wait my darling.  My love.  The timing isn’t right for us to be together, walk together side by side and each in hand till...”

            Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved,

                        behold, you are beautiful.

Words seem worthless today.  I try calling you, but it fails; you didn’t pick up.  I wait for you to call; you never called.  I try writing you, but all I write over and over is “I miss you.”  And words are worthless because they cannot convey how heartsick I am for you.  They cannot show the struggle of being without you but only wanting you – here, with me.  They cannot yell as loud as my lungs let loose when I realize I’m here without you.  And that realization haunts me every day. 

They cannot capture your beauty.   

They cannot hold your hand for me.

They cannot kiss you goodnight.

They cannot wake you up.

They cannot tickle you when you’re ticklish after some wine.

They cannot laugh with you and joke with you and poke fun at you.

They cannot watch you as you walk up to me – slow motion, near motionless with your dress dancing in a breeze, flowered and summer-sun-lit like you are the main attraction.

They cannot hug you, hold you, squeeze you till you laugh like it’s all a reminder that I’ll never let you go.

They cannot run fingers through your hair.

They cannot make millions of faces at you.

They cannot pick you up and swing you around.

They cannot bring you out for dinner.

They cannot walk you home at night.

They cannot listen to you.

They cannot lie with you in the sun; try protecting you from sunburns even if Marconi beach burns your bum to the point that you cannot sit down without a blanket.

They cannot carry all of your belongings for you or shoulder your burdens or be there like a friend, one of those friends who stays up with you all night to make sure you dream sweetly even if the next day brings you an excess amount of stress.

They cannot bring you to coffee shops or out for tea.

They cannot pack a picnic, drive to the beach, then sit in the car like its our blanket because we’re acting like the day is perfect even in the rain.

They cannot play truth or dare with you.

They cannot play cards with you.

They cannot watch movies with you.

They cannot nap with you on the couch.

They cannot go for long drives with you, alone on back roads through forests and round the lakes up to Maine and back again till you get sick of it, but I hope you never get sick of me.

They cannot be intimate with you.

They cannot love you like I love you.

            Behold, you are beautiful, my love,

                        behold, you are beautiful!

I don’t know if you’ve ever been so heartsick that it keeps you awake at night.  Like a restless insomniac.  Or like a person who just likes looking at the stars.

I keep the blinds open at night.  Sometimes I lay there looking out.  Tonight I wandered into a field.  I fled from all the lights.  I traipsed into the unknown till it was me and the heavens shooting their rocks like marbles flaring through the moon’s veil.  And I thought of you.

            You are altogether beautiful, my love;

                        there is no flaw in you.

I thought maybe I could catch her a star.  But the stars seemed out of reach tonight.  And yet I couldn’t get over the wonder and awe of a God who’s created constellations to connect the dots from adventure to life – a life in the wild in the raw naked sky.  I got lost looking up.

This might sound like gibberish to you.  You might say I’m out of my mind.  But when you’re in love there’s nothing else you think about.  You spend your days waiting to go home and see her.  You keep spinning your phone in your hand just in case she calls.  You sit down to write her letters but you never finish them because you tell her what you wrote before you send it off.

Love is a continual action, an obsession of sorts, but healthy in every degree.

            You have captivated my heart...

     you have captivated my heart with

                        one glance of your eyes.

She told me once, “You can’t help who you fall in love with, but you have to choose what you do about it.”

I told her I missed her.  Said I’d be seeing her soon.  Said I’d bring jewels and wonders from far off lands.

She laughed and thought I was crazy, but she said, “I love you.”

And I was content to wait one more day.

            How beautiful is your love...