HELPING LELAND’S GRANDMA

The house was small and dark inside, unkempt outside, slumped behind an overgrown hedge like a sleepy hitchhiker by a busy road. I delivered Christmas gifts to Leland (pseudonym), the 5th-grade boy I mentored, and his younger siblings. But his widowed grandma drew my attention. The elderly lady was cold, wrapped in a shawl, huddling near a little oil-fired heater, and wheezing badly.

I hate being cold. My heart went out to her.

It was an all too typical situation. The boy’s father was in prison, his sister and baby brother were children of two other men, his mother a classic example of chronic self-indulgence and irresponsibility. And everyone crowded into grandma’s little clapboard house, living off of food stamps and her meager social security.

The boy was my primary concern, my mentee from the Mentor Role Model program. We met consistently through about the first year of high school when he drifted away. I did everything I could to try and give him a leg up on a better kind of life. I guess the jury is still out on that. But his cold, sick grandma always comes to mind when I pass the now empty house. And the question always comes back: how could I have helped her without further enabling her debauched daughter?

The answer is, I could not.

You may have heard of toxic charity. Toxic charity does for others what they can and should do for themselves. It attempts to meet chronic needs with crisis-response methods and ends up incentivizing behaviors that created the condition in the first place. It also perpetuates the status quo between the rich and the resourceless. It makes the giver feel good while perpetuating dependency and fosters dishonesty to boot. It robs God’s image-bearers of the dignity that comes from the work God created us to do. That’s a bad situation. But recognizing it won’t keep grandma warm.

Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you.” I think what he meant was that, given our sin-nature, we will always have irresponsible people freeloading on their elderly parents. (I did confront the daughter, but that’s another story).

He also said, “You can do good to them anytime you want.” I think that means we cannot always solve the social pathologies that come from our systemic sin-nature, but we can, just for a little while, keep one or two widows warm and trust God to hold their sinning children to account.  

A POST ELECTION PRAYER FOR ALL BELIEVERS

A POST ELECTION PRAYER FOR ALL BELIEVERS

I woke this morning and found about what I expected, an undecided election fraught with the potential for significant conflict in our country. As one commentator said last week, “This is going to make Florida’s hanging chads in 2000 look like a cake-walk.” Thankfully, as a result of that debacle, the Supreme Court rendered a decision that all ballots must be counted and turned in by December 8, six days before the electoral college meets. So, we should have a decision, if no less conflict, by then.

I grieve for our country and pray for it daily, but my chief concern is for the Church of Jesus Christ. We are “the support and pillar of the truth”[1] and cannot stop speaking it even when the world would rather not hear it. But we are also required by our Lord to be peacemakers in this world.[2] We are also commanded to “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” within the Church.[3]

With those three tasks in mind, I offer the following prayer, adapted from 1 Peter chapter 1, and I ask you to pray it with me for ourselves and for all who bow the knee to Jesus Christ over the next month.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade—kept in heaven for us, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Though we have not seen him, we love him; and even though we do not see him now, we believe in him, and are filled with inexpressible joy, for we are receiving the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.

Therefore, Father, we ask that you help us prepare our minds for action, be self-controlled, and fully set our hope on the grace to be given us when Jesus Christ is revealed. Please help us, Father, as obedient children, not conform to the evil desires we had when we lived in ignorance of you and your Son. Please help us, Father, to be holy because you are holy.

Since we call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, help us live our lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For, we were not redeemed with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Finally, because we have been purified by obeying the truth, help us to love one another deeply, from the heart, recognizing that we have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

For, all men are like grass, and all their glory like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.

Amen.


[1] 1 Timothy 3:15

[2] Matthew 5:9; James 3:18

[3] Ephesians 4:3

A LIZARD NAMED MELINDA and other thoughts on neighborliness

A LIZARD NAMED MELINDA and other thoughts on neighborliness

If you are heartsick at all the hatred and strife going on in our country right now, I have an encouraging story for you.

My wife and I recently returned from a beach vacation. It will come as no surprise to those who understand ministry life that I do my best not to look pastoral on these trips. I wear shorts, sandals, and sunglasses everywhere, along with a big hat. I don’t shave. I keep to myself and do things that recharge my emotional batteries. And except for sending a few photos to my immediate family, I also disconnect from email, news, and social media.

Even so, it was hard to miss the headlines about police brutality, racial strife, and riots. Tybee Island, Georgia, where we stayed, is just outside Savannah. We couldn’t help but wonder how that old southern town would be affected. Would there be sullen looks and incivility between the races?  But when we stopped at a visitor center staffed entirely by African Americans, we were greeted with smiles and great courtesy.

The same was true on the beach, where the racial mix is relatively even. Every African American individual or family we encountered, in fact, everyone black or white, seemed to make it a point to make eye contact, smile, and engage in polite conversation.

Then one morning, I got up at 5:30 and walked out to the beach to enjoy the sunrise and take some pictures. I found my spot and just stood there facing east, letting my inner thoughts bob like a kite in a capful of wind.

Several people were out by then, jogging, strolling, and some just standing like me, waiting to meet the sun. Then along came a smallish barefoot man maybe thirty-five years old, round John Lennon glasses, long black hair in a double segmented ponytail down his back, scruffy beard, grey shorts, loose-fitting beige short-sleeve shirt. He walked with a quick, nervous gait, a slender stick like a cane in his right hand, and made a beeline toward me up the sand berm. As I kept my eye on his cane, I thought, six o’clock in the morning, and I’m about to be hit up by a homeless guy.

“Excuse me,” he said, “but are you a pastor?”

You could have knocked me over with a feather. “What did you say?”

“Are you a pastor?”

Only two beings could have told him that. I wonder which one it was, I thought. 

“Yes.”

“Well, so am I. Latter-Day Saints, you know, but it’s all the same. Are you the pastor of…” He named some church nearby that I missed.

“No.”

It was about that time that I noticed the ten-inch lizard—perched would be the wrong word, more like molded—onto his left shoulder. I guess I hadn’t seen it before because it was facing backward and blended perfectly with his shirt, tail hanging down another eight inches or so across his chest, utterly still.

“What’s your name?” I asked, thinking, this guy is right out of Lewis’s The Great Divorce. I wonder if it talks to him?

“Louis.”

“And who’s your friend?”

“That’s Melinda.”

“Oh.” I considered taking his picture but felt it would be impolite.

“Well,” he said, “don’t let the (garbled in the wind) get to you. It’s the new millennium, you know!” And off he went into the morning gloom, Melinda staring over his shoulder, never having moved a muscle.

I’ve been reflecting on that encounter ever since. It occurred to me that everyone we met on that trip, black, white, Asian, Latino, and even a guy with a lizard on his shoulder who I thought was going to ask me for money, acted with an extra measure of courtesy and civility toward one another. It was refreshing.

So, when the world is full of hatred and strife, and you feel helpless about it, remember, we cannot solve the world’s problems. But we can love the neighbor that is right in front of us—even the ones with pet lizards on their shoulders.