The Poor Still Sit On The Back Row With The Baptists

I’m pretty sure that my Baptists friends (if I still have any), don’t always appreciate my affectionate humor when it comes to them.  However, in my defense, since I am an ordained Baptist preacher (I know, I know), I feel like I can poke fun at the “fan damily” and hold my head high while chewing gum at the same time.

You see in America, Baptists get pegged as being the group that sits as far in back of the church as humanly possible, thus we call them “back-row Baptists”.  Yet the truth is, this is a tendency of American Christianity I think as a whole.  The reason is, that most of us are eternally inoculated to any chance of catching the real stuff of Christianity, so sitting on the back row suits us as the perfect way to get just enough of something churchy without getting the real thing.  It’s safe there, no one is really going to call us out, and we can exit out the back door before the preacher finishes the closing prayer without anyone giving us a passing glance.  It’s like we really do have a cloak of invisibility.  I guess that’s why I decided to sit the poor on the back with us for this short visit to church, because they too hardly get a notice anymore inside of an institution that used to be notorious for championing their cause in the world.

Back In The Day

Now as one can imagine, this is much too broad of a subject to unpack rightly in a blog post.  But hopefully, I can at least chime in on something that I think we should be able to notice readily.

Of course, it’s no secret that the church in its early beginnings was one that attended to the cause of the poor, the widows, the sick and dying; and took in all of the dregs of society the roman world deemed expendable.  In fact, several of the Pauline epistles were written in the context of Paul and others collecting funds to give to the church in Jerusalem for a famine that they were experiencing.  In addition, the book of Acts tells us that the early apostles had to appoint men for outreach to the poor because the need had become so great; and as they took up the quandary of the poor, the watching world took eye-dropping notice, which is documented historically ad nauseum.  In fact, even as the apostle Paul was coming into the faith after his persecution of Christians, biding his time till he would be released to the gentiles in full measure; in the book of Galatians, he reminds us that he was given the “right hand of fellowship” by the other apostles, and was simply asked to “remember the poor”.

And the truth is, the old testament also bleeds care for the poor and the needy, and it’s obvious extension into the new testament adds to the already exhaustive case for it being one of the people of God’s highest priorities in complementarity of taking the good news to those who have not yet had the chance of either accepting or rejecting it’s truth claims.  And yet, if this is the case, one wonders if we are by and large now still known for being those with this task as our chief modus operandi.

Part of the Problem

And of course, you can bet dollars to doughnuts, that the first rebuttal in questioning my brief thesis here are accusations of the church not wanting to be accused of a mere “social gospel” stance, where we give people a sandwich as a cheap substitute for the “good news” as if the two were somehow mutually exclusive.  The truth is, as lines are drawn in the sand, one can’t help but notice the irony, in that the more conservative branch of the church (who actually still believe the scriptures) have a tendency to err on the side of rejecting the social gospel’s implications, as the mainline branch of Christianity (which seems to believe anything the cultural wind now blows up their skirts) seems to be holding up the biblical standard of ministry to the poor as the only thing that now keeps their skin in the Christian game. And as I contemplate this with a watching eye, I wonder how we have come so far as to separate two things that seem to be a part and parcel of the same gosh-darn message.  As a result, I think those looking in at what we’re up to these days are rightfully bewildered.

Equally problematic, is the fact that part of our hesitation in aligning our cause to the poor is due to not wanting to be guilty of helping those who should have been helping themselves all along (we’re almost sure there is a verse that says that somewhere). The equal faulty logic is that of lumping all the poor into the same basket, which causes us to overlook or simply ignore the obvious casualties that living in a capitalistic economy (the best we’ve come up with yet) can leave lying on the ground all around us unawares.   This includes those of us who can no longer continue to adapt and reinvent ourselves vocationally, or who have no support network to help us pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps; and as a result, can be left holding up a sign clearly visible on our way to Walmart.  This is not to mention the vast number of poor children and the elderly who are the real tragedies of the never ending story which is simply not accurately told by left or right leaning pundits, and whose book has been shut and simply tossed into the “Obama phone” basket.

The Expediency that Crept In

 O.K. I realize we all know these things, if we are at least honest with ourselves a little longer than a nanosecond, but for those of us who call ourselves Christ’s followers, our reaction should not be so simplistic and superficial.  You see part of the problem is that the church, who was once known as the defender of the true poor caught up in the tailspin of this thing we call life, has turned what was once a calling and apprenticeship to Christ as true followers on a mission, to a career path whose specializations have choked out the remaining month at the end of the money.  And in this current hour of the mass marketization of the franchise of the church and its mavens in tow, what we find is that sometimes 80 to 90% or more goes to the upkeep of the now finely oiled machine.  As a result, very little is left to send true pioneer missionaries to unreached lands, or to help subsist the poor in the household of God (whom we’ll always have with us); or to also reach out and own the cause of the homeless and poor just outside our stain glassed window.  It is of course no secret that with a church on every corner, and some that span the circumference of a city block, the church collectively (Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants) could solve the problem of homelessness in mere seconds flat.

At the very least, we could do so among those who failed the “dog eat dog world” of our American experiment, and simply need to buy much needed time to reengage in a world that virtually ignores their true existence on any given day.  To be sure there are multiple variables in this equation for consideration outside the scope of this blog.  However, the fact remains, that while the church by and large will continue to bypass the implications of my brief critique and other voices like it, those we are supposedly called to reach with our “good news” secretly know that we are the last true beacon of hope for those who have no power and no voice, and yet they sit back and wonder why we’ve abdicated our one last true apologetic in this late hour.

Back to Business As Usual

And the truth is, the poor really aren’t on the back row though with the Baptists.  That’s my bad.  Oh, they are there with us, but they are in the front and in the middle, desperate for all the hope they can muster before Monday’s realties settle in like an all too familiar friend.  They are there with their predicament, yet afraid to show their true hand for fear of the waxing generalizations of their circumstances, which is always nothing more than a problem of their own making.  They are also down the street, they’re the neighbors who went and took our neighborhood, and to be sure they are also the basket people walking around and mumbling for perhaps some of your loose change.  They are also the kids with a heap of family dysfunction and yet always broken pocketbooks, and those who can’t even buy a job, much less “get” one that can take them out of the “working poor” status.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch; the back-row stumbles in.  Hush now! For the show is about to begin.

Selah

 

There’s Something Wrong With the Ground: Part II

Well, I don’t guess I need to spend too much time on why it’s been over two gosh darn months since I last wrote to you.  After all, you know me by now, and well, this ADHD has really got to stop!  I was however excited about my last post, particularly because I was feeling that I was getting ready to live through it in a whole new way—again, and therefore thought the “experience” would be ripe with fresh and smelly insight for your spiritual aromatic pallet.  And let me just say that I really do hate it when I’m right. OK, well…maybe not. Anyway, in this case, I could really do without the rightness of it all. But let’s get on with it shall we.

In my last blog, I wrote https://marknealprince.com/2019/02/28/theres-something-wrong-with-the-ground-part-i/, introducing the soil problems we all experience in living the Christian life.  I set up a good deal of introduction there as to what was happening in the story, but ended it with the tip of the iceberg in the obvious observation, that the devil often times “is” the guilty culprit of seeking to, often successfully, steal what little meager faith we have.  I gave some description here, so I encourage you to go back and read so it will be fresh in your thoughts.  But the fact is, part of what’s wrong in our soil is our worldview, and the overabundance of lies written into the culture that Mephistopheles himself has been transcribing into the ethos of mankind for eons, ever since man put his first foot on the dust that he came from.  And so then, the “Thief and Chief” quite naturally, and ever so effortlessly, “steals” the morsel of faith that seeks to penetrate the layers of man’s plausibility structures intrinsic within us, that simply will not allow mere natural men (I Cor. 2:14)to believe for any longer than a really bad weekend.  But the plot again thickens.

More Funky Town

Jesus then explains something else funky going on with the ground of our potential, yet seldom ever achieved fruitful faith.  In vs. 20 and 21 of Matthew 13, Jesus gives us another issue to chew our cud with. He says essentially that this ground is called “rocky” for a reason quite frankly.  And it is because though it finally breaks through the impenetrable wall of the devil’s lies with an outburst of initial joy even, because it has not been able to yet sink down some initial rootedness resulting in an actual resoluteness of personal faith, once tribulation as a result of this new-found conviction comes (as certain as death and taxes), it lasts for about as long as jail-house religion, and thus fizzles out like a cheap box of sparklers. And it isn’t pretty.

In fact, I’ve had this conversation many times with would be inquisitors into the Christian faith. And I often implore, and even beg them to please consider the fact that life is hard enough as it is, and thus it is equally not prejudice when it comes to the pain and suffering it can and many times does dish out.  So then, I very clearly state that if they want a nice cozy religion that suits all their needs, Christianity is not, let me repeat: “not” the religion for them.  For in fact, if one adds “true” and unwavering faith in Christ to their already existing topsy-turvy life, they will by nature of the faith’s essence, invoke even more “tribulation” and “persecution” into the mix.  And sadly so, it can come, and often will come from their own families, from the ever so faithful wounds of friends, and from a world system that only loves its own (John 15:19) and punishes the bastards it finds with excommunication–thus the often lonely narrow path comes into full focus. And for most, this is a hard pill that they cannot possibly swallow.

But then sadly, there is where actually most of us live. Even those of us unfortunately, who have added just enough inoculated conversion in our lives so as to not get the real thing. Of course mixed in with some tithes and offerings, some good ole faithful church attendance, and an occasional good deed with our retirement package smiling back at us as we await our celestial shore.  But make no mistake about it friend, this soil is the soil with all the damn thorns in it, all of them, and the one that keeps us all from the forty, sixty and a hundred-fold fruity pebbles from being descriptive of our lives.

The Perfect Storm

And Jesus finally explains it, so we need to listen.  He tells us that his particular ground is the one ripe with “the deceitfulness of riches” and “the cares of this world”.  Mark chapter 4’s rendition adds “and the desire for other things”.  Luke 8 then piggybacks on this with “cares, riches and pleasures of life”.

So, there you have it.

The trifecta of a daily and always dependable ass-kicking on the Christian path.  We’ll just call it the cares of life (and there are many), the pursuit of money and happiness if you will (deceitfulness of riches), and; if we have done everything right (so we think), will then equal to “the pleasures of life” that will hopefully continue until we break on through to the other side (Doors).

Cares

Both Jesus and Paul talked about one of our nonstop daily cares which no doubt creates so many others. That wonderful care known as marriage or familial relationships.  Yet Jesus and Paul were both in cahoots in saying that though marriage is wonderful and God’s design and all this and that, however, the care of a spouse can and often is a competing care against fruitfulness in our lives, especially if both are living on the same stinking thorny path.  For in the end, both will choke each other to death!  So to care about one’s wife or husband, or children, or extended family, is to add a heaping amount of “care(s)” that can and often does war against the spiritual life of fruitfulness, especially if they are all also simultaneously choking on the thorns, and equally asking, “Thank you sir, can I have another” day after day after day. It’s a never-ending street ripe with everything but…well “fruit” I’m afraid.

Stuff

Those particular cares of course necessitate the other ones, which is the need for “stuff” (George Carlin-google itJ), which then breeds into the American Dream of what can be the “deceitfulness of riches”, because after all, more is never enough.  And the funny thing about it is, in a free-market capitalistic society, some version of “rich” is what we all need now so it seems, not necessarily to keep up with the Jones anymore, but just to bloody survive!  And so even you and I who are immersed daily in the scriptures (assuming there are still some of us out there), daily crying out in prayer of either a purposeful or more desperado kind, are equally those now, teeter-tottering back and forth from the promise of fruitfulness or not, because if we miss a beat, the world system will eat us up and spit us out while no one is even fricking watching or giving a good damn. Oh yeah, we get the deceitfulness of riches part, but what we can’t get away from, what we can’t escape even by swearing by the hair of our chinny, chin-chin, is the fact that we’re caught up in a web that has us all one move shy of being served up as Spidey lunch on any given day!  That’s our address.  This is where you and I live.

The Rub

Oh yes.  Constant cares to the left and to the right. Constant quest and pursuit of riches, or at least enough to get us by (whatever the Hell that means).  The constant desire for pleasures to numb us from waking up to the fact that the Lord we proclaim is ours said, and is still saying to us, and especially now to me; that until we give all our cares (I Pet. 5:7), and relinquish our worries (Mt. 6:25-33) to Him, and instead seek first and foremost a kingdom not of this world mind you, then the ground will never yield the fruit that it was designed for before the foundation of the world. The Christian life will die on the vine. The sound “Well done”, will never be heard.  And all for which we have labored both in our inoculated Christian life and in all our cotton-picking cares, in the end won’t another minute buy (Kansas). Nothing left but Dust in the wind, or better yet: unripe fruit that will never see the light of day, nor brighten others.

A little Irony

And I’m wondering just a little bit here.  Perhaps maybe, this gargantuan step between the thorns and the fruity pebbles has to live and grow in the betwixt and between, and the vast uncertainty of life, and come out on the other side both saying and eventually meaning, sometimes again and again,what Habakkuk learned who said (bled):

 

Though the fig tree should not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the LORD;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

GOD, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s;

he makes me tread on my high places. (Hab. 3:17-19)

 

 

Selah

The Narrow Path Thing

Blog ADHD

I guess you could say I’ve gotten a little off focus lately, with you know… with um, that narrow path thing I’m always going on about.   It’s of course always on my wayward heart and mind as it relates to the part of it I see drastically missing now in the church, and equally in this here ragamuffin. But I can’t let it go.  It won’t let me I’m afraid.  Old age and senility is a bitch I guess.

You see after at least 50 years of reading the scriptures devotionally, academically and in mostly utter desperation to grovel to the crumbs from God’s table in order to get through the given day, its commissioning and its constant beckoning to be on that exact path, will not escape me.  I want, I need, I have to be on it—but, there aren’t many travel companions as a Nazirite once opined.  And so I’m walking, I’m hobbling along.   But here I go again, thinking I can, thinking I can, and resting in the fact that somehow He can, through me…conceivably.

A Prophet’s Graduation

So yes, it haunts me pretty regularly, it is true.  And I often wake up from my grandiose narrow path dreams mesmerized at the fact that Christianity went and stole Jesus right from under our noses as we were sipping our lattes, planning our next weekend excursion, and tipping our way into the final icing on our “cake life” of the treasures that yet await us in heaven—or so we’ve been told.

But I’m not so sure.

And though I’ve been accused of sometimes being a “wanna be” prophet of woe, I get the feeling that perhaps I’ve now graduated from the class and am the real McCoy now. Not that anyone is listening, but I’m beginning to feel the “Thus Saith the Lord” off in the distance of my ears ringing, and so I’m speaking it out for those of us who have ears to hear and eyes to see.  But maybe first we need to lose the air pods, cut the noise off, turn the lights down or simply turn around.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign

It’s funny how things go in life. There are little signs, little guideposts along the way that you know are leading you to something, even when no one else may be paying bloody attention.  And then God subtly reminds us in that still small voice thing that there are yet remnants of witty bitty prophets of worldly insignificance who have not yet bowed the knee to Baal or Molech, and who confirm to us that the answers that have been blowing in our collective wind have the potential to raise up a valley of dry, dead as Hell bones if we will let it.  That’s happened to me a lot lately.

It started with a few epiphanies that I wrote in my prayer journal which I then posted on social media, as those rare instances where you feel God pointed his finger right through the sky and into your heart and soul and “stuck” around for a month of Sundays.  Things such as:

We absolutely must drop the notion that as a Christian, everything we say and do will be liked by others regardless of our earnest desire to be winsome. In fact, if we are now to truly follow Jesus, we will more than likely earn the title of court jester”.

Or this:

“Either you work for the glory that is now, or for the one Jesus says is yet to come. But very rarely does He entrust both to us”.

And then last but not least:

“Either we believe all of what Jesus said was true or we don’t. But it’s high time we absolutely believe that the behavior should reflect our conclusion on the matter”. 

 And if that wasn’t enough, Ann Voskamp walked in my reading life and upset what was left of my own very self-protected, yet very broken applecart.  The one, two punch.  Kaboom. She came, she conquered, I’m now done.

So, What Is the Narrow Path Anyway?

And so, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a pastor friend of mine several months back.  The poor guy actually read some of my blogs a time or two and so he asked me, “Mark, so what is the narrow path anyway dude”? And I thought to myself, “Why’d he have to go there”? Foul ball.  No, but really, I’m glad he did.  Because perhaps I need to redefine it for myself again before I can sheepishly begin to articulate it to others.  Drumroll please!

You see the truth is the narrow path is designed to tell us something right out the gate.  It says to us ever so, I don’t know, OBVIOUSLY, that by the road being narrow, and few finding it, that the way is…well, hard I think.   Cruciform.  Yep, I’m sure of it.  In fact, G.K. Chesterton once said about this exact fly in the ointment that “The Christian life has not been tried and found wanting but has been found difficult and thus left untried”.  I couldn’t have said it better myself G.K. You see the narrow path first and foremost has to mean that if the Christian life costs your nothing to walk it, speak it and live it out in Sodom and Gomorrah (in case you thought you were in Kansas), then more than likely you took a detour of some kind, and that perhaps if you see all your friends there with you too, you may need something akin to a minority report.

I also think the narrow path has to mean something that sounds an awful lot like LOVE.  No, not the easy peezy, Japaneezy kind for goodness sakes, that simply loves those who are “loveable”. Even gosh darn pagans do that. But something more akin to enemy love I heard a teacher once say, or that at the very least seeks to love and bless even when others will occasionally, or perhaps frequently curse and join ranks with gossip columnists eat up with days of our lives of which they mostly know nothing about, or who secretly hope for our final undoing.  Yea, I think it’s that.  And It’s not a cheesy love either that simply “grins and bears it”, but one that often is “butt hurt” and yet chooses to love anyway, and to bless anyway, and even gives a tunic and goes a mile or two further, and even turns a sore cheek now and again. Something about “love bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things” rings a bell.  Yea, I think this is to walk a narrow path–sometimes alone I’m afraid.  In fact, oftentimes of late it seems.

Oh, and I think it might have something to do with FORGIVENESS too perhaps.  Yea, so Jesus kind of talked a lot about that I believe. We are to forgive.  Not necessarily to forget, but maybe to throw it in a “sea of forgetfulness” or something like that maybe.  Like God did, and always, always does.  Maybe its “seventy times seven” or maybe “to infinity and beyond” as Buzz always said.  It means sometimes saying, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”, or maybe even “Forgive them, since I too have often been unforgiving and unloving too”.  You know, tit for tat.  Reciprocal FORGIVENESS maybe even.  Love and forgiveness have to be the dynamic duo I’d say.  Yea, that’ll work.

Oh, and perhaps it means to GIVE maybe.  Oh not the 10% thing necessarily, though perhaps not to its exclusion somewhere, or to something, or to even someone. In fact, to walk with the narrow path jive turkeys, it means giving a lot; maybe everything, even when knowing it is pearls thrown to some swine of sorts.  Maybe even most times.  No return on investment, no pragmatism, no accountability, and no blind man coming back to thank us. Just giving out of our plenty and out of our nothing maybe, for some joy set before us perhaps.  Very Macedonian-like methinks.  Very Pauline if you will.  And perhaps Petrine, and Johanine, and all very disciplee and stuff.  Or better yet, very Jesusesque don’t you think?

It means giving a good damn about all the plight you see both inside and outside your four walls without scurrying about so quickly so as to not think hard or deep enough about what it is you just saw, or if there is anything I or my collective brethren should do about it.

It means churches not so hung up on services but perhaps more SERVICE to others, both in and outside the sheep gate.  In word and deed.  Good news and Good works alright.  And maybe, just maybe even with one of them there church thingies on every city block in the good ole bible belt, maybe we become a real talk of the town and own the plight of the homeless, the mentally ill, the widow, the single Mom and the fatherless. And perhaps while we’re at it, instead of churches becoming more like mausoleums, gymnasiums, Tony Robbins workshops, and the only spot you get your weekly “ex cathedra”, they become more like homes of refuge to those types.   You know, the ones Jesus said are actually like looking directly at Himself I believe, and are the difference between becoming a right-handed sheep or a left-handed goat-for-nothing.

Hard Times At Narrow Path High

Yea, I think it kind of means all those things, and of course a whole lot more.  But, that’s a good damn start, I think.  That’ll get us going I believe. Yes, the difficult road of love, forgiveness and where we actually store up what we have and what we haven’t somewhere else I heard a man born in Bethlehem once say.  And whether or not we hang around sinners, beggars and whores, or stay comfy inside church doors. Hey, that rhymed!

But you can bet that it’s a lonely, sparse road though this narrow path thing.  I’m telling ya.  And evidently, there are few there be that find it I heard a Galilean once say. But perhaps you’re either in or your out, you sink or you swim, you separate boys from men, put on your big girl panties, or something like that.  But what I do know is, that the narrow path doesn’t get a word in edgewise around here much anymore, and I think that’s why the church increasingly looks pretty much like everybody else on that other road over yonder–safe and secure inside a cocoon of orthodoxy, while the rest of us are busy not even applying the itching ear salve their serving up on any given Sunday.

Selah