Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The indefinitely homeless Jo-Rob

Jo-Rob was a very interesting guy, we had met him at NeXuS Church, a church for the homeless in downtown Charlotte, NC. He was there every time we had come down to serve and hang out. He seemed to keep to himself, but you got the sense that he would talk with you if you approached him. After getting my standard shelter meal of spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread, I sat down next to him at a table where he was sitting alone. We started with the usual conversation starters when out of nowhere Jo-Rob said, "I felt like the Lord has told me to stay on the streets and minister to the guys I'm sleeping next to on the streets." He must have had the feeling that I was wondering how and why he was on the streets, which I hadn't.

Every homeless man, every homeless woman and every homeless family has a story, some are stories of addiction and horrible decisions, most are stories of tragedy and struggle, but all have a story. Jo-Rob's story may have been one of the most interesting. He was an artist, woodcarving specifically. One day he saw a lion's head in a piece of wood on the side of the road and started carving into it. His friends thought he had lost his mind, but after a couple of days of carving, they started to see it too. Eventually, carving wood became one of his passions. While we were there, some of Jo-Rob's art was on sale at the shelter, it was pretty good, and Seren and I would have bought one if we could fit a large piece of wood on the walls of the RV. Art in general was a deep interest to him. Jo-Rob would reserve rooms at the local library and YMCA and invite other homeless folks in to participate in art workshops and allow their creative juices to flow by painting, sculpting, and reciting poems they had written at an open mic. As Jo-Rob said "the homeless need to be creative too."

As the days and weeks have passed by since I first met Jo-Rob, I have asked myself some tough questions. How many times have people passed by Jo-Rob on the streets and thought to themselves "look at that piece of trash, he's probably a alcoholic or druggie. Why doesn't he just get a job?" "Good Christians" may have passed by asking the same questions. You see, the homeless see themselves through this same lens of a distorted and unbiblical American view. Success is based on the "American dream" of having a job and collecting possessions rather than on a biblical view of liberal equality and grace. As John B. Hayes, author of sub-merge says:
"[the poor] often see any institution in mainstream society as a model of "success" and use that model to interpret Scripture. . . . Not only do the poor need to know that they are not forgotten by God, but even more, they need to know that they are affirmed by Him! They need to know that Jesus Himself identifies with them (see Matt. 25:31-46). If we do not have the courage to enable the poor to see themselves in the mirror of the Word, then they will see themselves in the mirror of the world, and that is not an uplifting picture. After looking into the world's mirror, the poor can all too easily conclude that it is the rich who are blessed, and thus the poor will do all they can to try to imitate them."
Hundreds of ministries that reach out to the poor throughout the developed world have mission statements that include wording about helping these folks into permanent housing, finding jobs, and becoming contributing members of society. In my point of view, Jo-Rob is a contributing member of society, God's society.
The Lord makes some poor and others rich;
he brings some down and lifts others up.
He lifts the poor from the dust
and the needy from the garbage dump.
He sets them among princes,
placing them in seats of honor.
For all the earth is the Lord’s,
and he has set the world in order.

I Samuel 2:7-8

Sunday, December 28, 2008

That's my KING!

We have traveled to quite a few churches during our time on the road, heard quite a few different messages. One of the main themes preached has something to do with the difficult times we are in right now as a society, and as a world community. After the economy crumbles, the anti-Christ takes over and nothing could get any worse, ask yourself one question: where do I put my faith?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Away in a manger

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

This is usually the image that people think of when they envision the birth of Jesus. Docile creatures, angelic looking parents and a baby Jesus that looks more like He is from Toledo than Bethlehem. In actuality, the below picture is more like the real birthplace of our Savior.

For whatever reason we have altered the truth of Christmas to fit what we believe Jesus' birth should have looked like, and it's not like it started in the 21st century, this type of art has been around for centuries. It makes us feel better or something, to know that Mary and Joseph were both attractive people, that the animals didn't gore them, baby Jesus didn't really need anything more than a blanket on that cold winter night in Bethlehem, and that everyone involved was filled with peace, tranquility and happiness. Personally, I like the true version more. This little baby was being hunted, he was a fugitive. Although He may have been a cute baby, Isaiah says that He would be a plain looking guy. He was an underdog. He was born into a land that was ruled by a tyrannical government that wanted to control and abuse His people, and specifically wanted Him dead. Not only that, but His idea of victory didn't fit with most of His countrymen. Victory meant death.

“The truth is, a kernel of wheat must be planted in the soil. Unless it dies it will be alone--a single seed. But its death will produce many new kernels--a plentiful harvest of new lives.” (John 12:24)

Jesus was the answer to 400 years of silence. The Old Testament prophets usually told the Nation of Israel to change their ways, or the Lord would change it for them. But after the prophet Malachi, the Lord hadn't said a word for more than 400 years. Jesus was a resounding exclamation point to the words of the prophets, but a baby in a manger, born in a cave, hunted by the government and rejected by an innkeeper, who would eventually be accused, beaten and slain didn't look anything like what the Jewish leaders were looking for. Nobody could make this stuff up.

The two most prominent religious sects, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, believed that the Messiah was going to restore them to power over the Roman Empire, and a little baby born to immigrant peasants did not fit the bill, which shouldn't really surprise us, time and again Jesus worked in non-conventional ways that didn't make sense to the people around Him. The fact is, God sent His only Son into a broken world that rejected Him. From the beginning to the end, from the inn keeper to Herod, this world rejected Him. And even though many of us just love the romanticized version of His birth, His death is what marks our redemption.

“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:2-3)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Jesus in the breadline & The Last Supper

Fritz Eichenberg was a German born artist who moved to the United States in the 1930s. While still in Germany he started drawing politically poignant artwork making fun of Hitler and quickly realized he better split for the U.S. Two of his drawings have moved me deeply (he was an artist featured in many editions of the Catholic Worker newspaper and we have seen these woodcarvings throughout the country).

Jesus in the Breadline

The Last Supper

Both of these woodcarvings speak to the fact that Jesus walked with the "least of these", men and women who most of society thought were outcasts, worthless. As the title clearly points out, in Jesus in the Breadline Eichenberg portrays Jesus as a homeless man, and when you think about it, if Jesus came during the era of breadlines, He probably would have been standing in one. This type of imagery speaks to me, portraying Jesus as someone walking among us. Mother Teresa thought of each and every person she came in contact with as if they were Christ. If we can train our mind to regard everyone as Christ, Matthew 25:31-46 is within our grasp of understanding.

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

I can only hope that each day, as we give water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, and clothes to the cold people of our nations cities, we can see Christ in the eyes of these men and women standing in the breadlines.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holding on to God

Ally loves to shake her head from side to side as she walks or runs. Her hair slaps from one cheek to the other as she kicks her legs back and forth with glee. She has so much joy in her that most of the time I say nothing to her like your average parent would. Comments like "watch out for the corner of that table Ally," or "don't go too close to those steps," are unsaid. She has no idea where she is going as the dizziness sets in. She giggles her patented giggle that could make anybody smile. She seems to not care who sees her or where she is, she is just full of joy and happiness that she can let herself loose and run wild. It is so fun to watch. Most of the time, when you walk with her, holding her hand, she does it just as vigorously. Here is some video of her from today.

This is a lot how God does it. You always have the choice to hold His hand, but it is always your choice. Even though Ally goes nuts on her own without my hand, I think she feels safer while she is holding on. She's just as wild too. God wants us to be wild, but it only works out if we are holding on tight to his hand. If we don't hold on tight, we hit our head on the corner of the table, or fall down the stairs. If we are holding on tight, we exude joy and happiness knowing we are firmly in the grasp of an all powerful God.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I Corinthians 13:1-3 (Andy's Version)

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,
but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have a faith that can move mountains,
but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,
but have not love, I gain nothing.

I Corinthians 13:1-3


If I speak the liberation theology and have solidarity with the poor,
but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I recycle and love the Earth and can understand the stacking functions of permaculture,
and have a faith in the virtues of intentional community,
but have not love, I am nothing.
If I quit my job as a high school teacher
and give all I possess to the poor to travel America in an RV,
but have not love, I gain nothing.

I Corinthians 13:1-3 (Andy's Version)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Buy from Koinonia

Listen up people, because this is the first and possibly the last time I will suggest that you purchase anything (I'll leave that to every guy in my life group, minus Tats). Koinonia Farm sells their products online and through mail order (I guess you could purchase it in person too, but I don't think many of my readers live in rural southern Georgia). Go to their website ( to find their catalog. Their main agricultural product is pecans, and they use it in chocolate, brittle, cake, and other candies. Don't like pecans, that's OK, they also sell peanut butter, party snack mixes, chocolate without pecans, free-trade coffee, which is very good, and much more. I had some chocolate and I don't think I will ever look at a Hershey bar quite the same.

Any proceeds go towards helping the people in the greater community of Americus, Georgia. This was the birthplace of Habitat For Humanity, and they have many ministries that reach out to the community such as a home repair ministry called Heart to Heart and a community outreach center that offers classes and counseling to all ages from youth to the elderly. You can go to their website for more information on all of this.

You couldn't do much better with your spending: helping people in need as you eat chocolate. Americans spend approximately $282 billion on Christmas gifts, that breaks down to $935 per person. Buy some pecans from Koinonia and do your part :)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Hoarding Hope

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles
the glorious riches of this mystery, which is
in you, the hope of glory.

Colossians 1:27

A few weeks back I met a guy named Mike. It wasn't the best circumstances, we had broken down a few miles from the RV park we planned to stay at for the night. I was able to get it started and we literally coasted into our parking spot. The next morning I went to the park office and asked if anybody could drive me to a Freightliner dealership about 20 miles away. Both of the staff behind the desk said that they were "on the clock," but this old fella said he would drive me. He was smoking a cigarette as I climbed into his truck, I introduced myself, but he didn't say much. I tried to get him talking, asked him questions about him, how long he had lived in the area, what he did, where he lived. I asked him about the history of the area (I'm a trained history teacher, I have to). He just didn't budge, he just wouldn't keep talking. I wanted him to talk simply so I could get my mind off of the broken down RV back at the campsite.

At Freightliner I bought the part I was needing and then got back in Mike's truck. I prayed to myself, "Lord, please give me the opportunity to tell this guy about you." As we pulled out of the parking lot Mike started talking about himself. He wouldn't stop, it was great, other than his life was sad. His wife of many years had passed away ten months ago, he lost his job (probably because of the depression that set in after the passing of his wife), he had experienced a lot of health issues all of the sudden, and he had no idea who to turn to. He now had obvious financial issues. He needed somebody to talk to, and he talked the entire time, nonstop. When he told me about his cats that he had gotten for his wife and that now they were the only company he had, he started to tear up, he was lonely, he had no hope. When we got back to the RV I invited him to come in for some coffee, he declined. I asked if he would like to have lunch with the family, he said no again. He mentioned that he had too many things to get done and got back in his truck and waved goodbye. I had missed an opportunity, I had hoarded hope.

I could easily say that hope is the one thing that people are looking for. All across this country we have met people who simply need the hope that is inside of us. If we, as Christians, believe what Paul wrote to the people of Colossae, then we must believe that we have Christ in us. We literally have the hope of Christ living in us. If we don't share that hope, the hope of this world, we are hoarding it, keeping it to ourselves. Mike needed hope, the one true hope, Christ Jesus. I had Him living inside me, and I didn't intentionally share Him with Mike. We are so consumed with our daily lives, with fear, with complacency, that we don't fully recognize the power that lives in us. A power that is unrelenting, but it can only be fully realized when we tear down those walls of complacency, of fear. How many Mikes walk through the doors of Christian churches in this nation and are ignored because we are so consumed with our own agendas and we don't fully tap into the Spirit of God that is within us. I'm reminded of the lyrics to a Casting Crowns song:

Does anybody hear (Mike)
Does anybody see
Does anybody even know (he's) going down today
Under the shadow of our steeple
With all the lost and lonely people
Searching for the hope that's tucked away in you and me

God has given me a lot of opportunities to let Him out, and I have, but Mike was searching for the hope that's tucked away in me, and Jesus was whispering to me to let Him out. I hoarded hope.