The night before Thanksgiving Megan and I went downtown for a nice dinner and a movie for "date night." When we finished dinner we had some time to kill before the movie started so we meandered the blocks of our little downtown Colorado Springs. Megan couldn't finish her meal at dinner so we asked for a box from the waitress and asked that God would afford us the opportunity to interact with someone who was homeless and hungry to whom we could give the rest of her meal as we walked around.
As we were walking around, we were stopped by a homeless man that we had interacted with before. His name was Rick and we had talked with him this past summer on our mission trip that we took to our own city. He didn't remember us, but we remembered him. Rick stopped and asked us if we could spare some change. We could smell the alcohol on his breath (and remembered that Rick struggled with the bottle when we interacted with him in June) and felt it would be unwise to supply him his own demise.
"I'm sorry. I'm an alcoholic and I think I may be a little drunk right now," he said.
Megan and I had recently talked about the importance of being Jesus in the flesh by valuing people. Since we were killing time anyway, we tried to value Rick. We gave him the rest of Megan's meal and put it in his backpack for him. We asked him questions, looked him in the eye - had a normal, decent conversation with him for about ten minutes.
I felt a weird, but clear prompting from the Holy Spirit. I have read the gospels a lot lately, noting the frequency and intentionality of the way Jesus touched people who were not often touched. And I knew the prompting was not just some fleeting thought.
The prompting was clear: Give Rick a hug.
Before we said goodbye, I asked Rick a question I have never asked a homeless person:
"Rick, I would like to give you a hug. Can I give you a hug?"
"Yeah. Sure, I'll take a hug. It's been a long time since I got one of those."
And there I was, feeling a bit awkward, standing on the corner of that downtown street hugging a man that probably hasn't received a hug in a long time, thinking to myself that this is what Jesus would probably be doing if he were here in the Springs. Hugging the homeless. Hugging guys like Rick.
And I thought of how much more intentional I can be with my touch. I wondered why I had never offered a hug to homeless men and women who probably haven't received much value or attention or dignity from many people.
I am not sure who got more out of the experience: me or Rick. But I think we both needed that hug...
Last week, I was sitting having lunch at my second office with a good friend of mine. We were talking about how oftentimes the concept of submission to Christ is seen in the secular world as indifference. ("What do you mean that you don't have a career track laid out?" "What do you mean 'if the Lord wills it I will..." "Don't you care about your life and what kind of life you want to live?")
There is a bit difference between submission and indifference. But, we wondered aloud, what is the difference?
We pondered this more and narrowed it down to an interesting thought: the difference is in the 'whatever.'
An indifferent 'whatever' is wildly different (and opposite) than a submissive 'whatever.'
An indifferent 'whatever' doesn't care (i.e. "I don't care where we eat today...whatever...")
A submissive 'whatever' cares a great deal (i.e. "Whatever you want me to do, God, I will do it...whatever...")
It's not just semantics or tone or voice inflection. It's motivation that makes the difference. What my motive is when I say the word 'whatever' will have a radically different impact upon my life.
I must tell you: I am extremely impressed by the level of humor of the readers of this blog. Contest #1 was a success. Thanks for your participation. I laughed my butt off.
All the entries were awesome and it was extremely hard narrowing down the winners of the first ever BSG Create a Caption Contest. But after much deliberation with the judging committee (i.e me) here are the winners:
Third place goes to Steve McCoy:
"Get those hard-to-find gifts at the Goat Barn."
Second place goes to DS who wrote:
"Gives new meaning to 'Take Your Kids to Work' Day."
And the grand prize goes to Paul for his enlightening exposition and interpretation of Matthew 25 in the Message Remix 2.0:
"He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. And the really naughty goats will be stuffed into back and placed on Korean transportation for all of eternity, where there will be wailing, gnashing and teeth and the possibility of a more eco-friendly paper bag is non-existent."
Congratulations to our winners.
Check back tomorrow for the start of Create a Caption #2 with a new picture.
In 1963 the lives of three historical figures ended:
JFK, the 35th president of the United States, was assasinated in Dallas.
Aldous Huxley (author of Brave New World) left this brave world.
The great Christian theologian and author C.S. Lewis died in England.
But the most poignant event (at least to my life) that happened on this day occurred in 1975. On this day in 1975 two lives were joined together in marriage. Dave and Debbie Briggs pledged their undying faithfulness to one another.
And today, my parents celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. I am so overwhelmingly grateful for their loving, faithful, God-honoring example of a healthy marriage and a great exhibition of what it means to be loving parents. They have left an indelible mark of what a healthy marital relationship looks like, one that marks my marriage for the better.
Eugene Peterson stated so clearly and profoundly: "The most radical thing someone as a Christian can do in Western culture is to get married and stay married."
I am eternally grateful for my parents who have done an extremely radical thing.
Whenever I am around people I have never met before or when I travel people ask me the two most important American questions people can ask when they first meet: "What is your name?" and "What do you do?" (notice the question is never "who are you?" but that is for a later post, indeed).
Anyway, when people ask me that question I get quite interesting responses. People start out gregarious and upbeat.
'Hi there. I'm Joe. What's your name?"
"Hi Joe. I'm J.R."
"Great to meet you, J.R. What do you do?"
"Well, I'm a pastor."
[long pause] "Oh..." [another awkward pause] "I had a cousin that was married in a church in Iowa several years back by a...pastor. Do you know that pastor in Iowa?" [I'm not kidding. As if you were an attorney and you knew every attorney in the state of Iowa].
"No, I don't."
"Well, uh, nice talking..." [and they usually scurry away to find someone else to talk to who is more interesting. If they are sitting next to me on a plane, they would usually return to their USAToday].
These conversations frustrate me to no end. Why am I making people feel uncomfortable? What is it that I am doing? How can I make this more enjoyable than pulling wisdom teeth? Why is it that pastor is such a negative word these days? How did that happen? Briefly, I believe it is because we have experienced a separation of Jesus and the way his followers live that it confuses and frustrates a world that is watching us.
Anyway, all this to say, I have changed my answer.
I am no longer a pastor.
At least not in my response.
When people now as me the question, "What do you do?" I now respond with "I am a practical and educational theologist." I do this not to make myself sound better than I really am, but to sound intriguing and to drop the negative stigma that the word "pastor." in hopes of entering into worthwhile and significant conversation.
Usually when I say that is what I do I get an inquisitve response:
"Really. I don't think I have ever met a practical and educational theologist before. What exactly is it that you do?"
"Well, I help people be attentive to God." [a line I stole from Eugene Peterson].
9 times out of 10 in these situations I have a fascinating conversation about life and faith and people's struggles and wrestlings with trying to be attentive to God and what our role is in all of this. I have had some brilliant conversations with those who are far from God than from those who have grown up in the church their whole lives.
NOTE: I want to encourage you to do two things: (1) don't steal my line and (2) if you are a pastor, drop the "p" word and come up with your own unorthodox, intriguing description of yourself that might lead to more worthwhile conversation with others.
I have found it quite interesting that if I can re-explain what I do in terms that are not alarming or have no negative stigma attached to them I end up in some great conversations.
Why didn't I decide to change my professional job title a long time ago?
So, if you see me and ask me what I do, don't expect to hear me say I am a pastor. Expect me to say that I am a practical and educational theologist that helps others be more attentive to God.