My days are often spent like a pinball; I bounce between here and there. Oftentimes I circle like a ziggurat, working my around, and up through, the building in which I work. So it was on this day, the day a homeless man asked me for beer money. The day was clear, bright, not hot; in other words a perfect Spring day. The kind of day you wish would last forever, stretching out into eternity. The air was clear as crystal, the sun a golden disk in the azure sky. Nary a cloud scudded by.

It was as I passed through this day, scurrying from a lunchtime game of racquetball, on my way to grab a bite, that I was brought up short. Working in an urban environment for a great number of years now, I’m somewhat inured to the plight of my less fortunate fellow man, to the human pain and tragedy which faces me daily. Yet there was something about this man, something in his careworn face, in the cornflower blue of his eyes, that stopped me. I think it was the eyes, how they reminded me of my grandfather’s. Eyes which had seen so much pain, heartache, loss, had seen accident, illness, injury. The eyes of an alcoholic, spidery veins zig-zagging around the nose between and beneath them.

Eyes which somehow still had a sparkle, a twinkle of mirth and mischief, to them.

So I stopped. He said something; I didn’t catch it.

“You think I’m homeless. I’m from Las Vegas. I had a seizure this morning. Listen, I’m an alcoholic. I need beer. I feel another seizure coming on. I’ll be a big one.”

“I don’t have any cash.”

“You’ve got a card, right? Please, I need your help.”

The naked, plaintive need was plain for me to see, but my mind was a whirling chiaroscuro of conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, I wanted to believe him, but on the other I’ve been burned enough by similar situations over the years to have developed a veneer of cynicism. I was on my way back to work, with my credentials on display. I couldn’t be seen buying beer.

“Listen,” I said. “There’s a Chipotle right there. They have single serve.”

Clutching his weather worn leather bag a little tighter, the man with eyes like my grandfather’s replied, “I’m not going in Chipotle.”

“They’ve got beer.”

“I just need a couple bucks.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, walking away.

——————

I saw him again a short time later, in line behind me at the drugstore where I picked up a prepackaged lunch. He didn’t seem to recognize me, asking about how I was, how my day was going. In his hand was a six-pack of Busch beer. I went back to my busy workaday world.

I’ve wondered about that man.

I keep asking myself, “What would Jesus do?”

What would He have done?

I don’t know how to answer that. Maybe I never will. Jesus did turn water into wine to keep a party going, but would He have given this man that for which he’d asked? Knowing that it was killing him daily by degrees? I wish I had the faith of Peter and John, could shout, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee. I the name of Jesus Christ…”

But I didn’t.

What would you have done?

I believe in the Gospel of grace. Grace here defined as a free gift of God’s unmerited favor bestowed upon sinful humanity. None of us deserves it, yet it’s given freely. I don’t understand that. Yet I embrace it. For I know my need.

As with any gift, the grace that is given must be received. While the invitation is open to all, while there are seats at the table for all, not all want God’s grace. I don’t understand that, either.

For those that receive His grace, and freely come, we’ve not found a license to sin. We find salve for our wounds, balm for our souls. But we find something, Someone, else as well:

Jesus.

And that encounter with Him must fundamentally alter the course of our lives. He gave His all upon the cross; died a death which wasn’t His, payed a debt He didn’t owe. When we come to Him, as with any loving parent, He in His grace, will gently, lovingly, yet implacably, remove from us (as we let Him) all that is not Him. Anything that is not Him, to which we run for comfort, try to assuage our brokenness, fill our emptiness, in which we find identity, He will inexorably take away. There can be no other before Him. In other words, the Gospel of grace is the Gospel of death: a death to self.

Grace is found in, and fills, the cracks, yes.

But make no mistake: it is grace which takes our our sacred cows, everything we exalt above Our Lord. Take it from me (with generous portions of sodium chloride, naturally) that when Jesus comes asking to take that thing away (whatever that thing may be), yield then. You really don’t want His graceful two-by-four upside your stubborn head. Because He will.

Make no mistake: He loves as we are, where we are, but loves us enough to not leave us there.

So, yes, grace is free. But not pain-free. Jesus is the cosmic cow-tipper. Upending our comfortable, carefully controlled lives He longs to give us something so much better.

James Prescott has written, and just released, a book called Mosaic of Grace God’s Beautiful Reshaping of Our Broken Lives, wherein he writes so much more eloquently than I ever could about grace. Consider this your not-so-gentle reminder to pick up a copy of James’s book at your bookseller of choice. Find James on Twitter, Facebook, and on his blog, James Prescott.

 My concern with the border wall isn’t so much who it keeps out, as it whom it will keep in. I’ve long enough now to have experienced, and observed, the phenomenon known as “the law of unintended consequences.” Which simply means that we, as inherently fallible beings, can never fully comprehend all of the ramifications of a given action. 

In the near term, a wall way well stem the tide of illegal immigrants, but what it mean for America 10, 20, 30 years from now? Will it be used to keep her citizens in? We have seen the fall of commuism in our lives, and don’t want to become another East Berlin.
The good Lord above gave us all heads and hearts; we must be a people who uses the former to guide the latter. 

We have to think before we speak, or act. And before that, we’ve got to pray for that wisdom which comes down only from on high. Then, when we as certain as can be that our motives are as pure as possible–not tainted by doubt, or fear–then we act, speak, step up to whatver it is God is calling us to. Notice I said “act,” and not react. For there are far too many thoughtless reactions these days.

In any case, this is my $.02. Take it as you would anything written online; with large doses of sodium chloride.

100% Pure Molly


No. This isn’t about that Molly–the drug. But it is about 100% pure Molly of another kind. My son’s best friend, Molly the canine. He so loves her that, since getting a job, he pays his sister to take care of her.

I digress, and need to backup to the beginning. It was three years ago that Molly entered our lives. We got her as a rescue. As such, two things are true of her:

1) We don’t exactly know her breed–other than possibly part Cockapoo.

2) She was spayed at just weeks of age.

Number one above isn’t so much of an issue as is (and isn’t it always) number two. You see the veterinary literature suggests that spaying too young can lead to health issues. These can include growth and/or maturity, cognitive problems, and in Molly’s case, seizures.

So here we had this cute, sweet, playful little puppy doing the things puppies do: pooping, peeing, playing, chewing…

And seizing. Out of nowhere, she would drop, losing control of at least one side of her body. At the time, we didn’t know of the link between spaying and seizures; we thought she was just sick. Sick, and that the rescue shelter hadn’t disclosed the issue. When contacted, they affirmed that we could bring her back; whereupon she would be promptly put down.

We weren’t about to do that.

So we just loved her.

Molly is still with us, has grown out of the seizures, but still has a problem which had persisted since puppyhood:

She doesn’t just chew; she snaps.

We’ll be watching out daughter playing with Molly (this little girl loves animals), and  they’re happy, having a great time, frolicking , running, and then for no particular reason at all snap! go her jaws. This is not a playful bite, but a quick, powerful  slamming. Molly inst upset–isn’t snarling, growling, and she hasn’t been hurt. The closest we can figure is that she’s overwrought–over-excited–amd this is how she behaves. Being a dog, we’re not sure that even she knows why. It just is.

Not being canine behaviorists, we can only speculate that PTSD being a thing with people, it’s entirely possible that it’s a thing with dogs as well. Molly suffered childhood trauma: was born into less than ideal conditions, removed from that setting, cleaned up, operated upon, separated from her mother and siblings, introduced into a new environment, and then to top it all off had seizures as well.

It’s no wonder that life sometimes is too much for her. Why she’s dysfunctional. Why she gets anxious outdoors, preferring the security of her crate.

I bring that all up, because it’s like that with dysfunctional people, too; they probably don’t even know why they are they way they are. They have suffered some kind of childhood trauma, and adopted a particular set of coping skills to make life survivable. Understanding this–like Molly–give us a way to love them, have them in our lives.
One could, for instance, be having this awesome conversation with your loved one, be feeling the familial bond, like you’re relating, then the <snap>  comes. Just like Molly, out of nowhere, one is cut, emotionally bleeding.

We’re all conditioned to trust our family members, but then get seriously sidelined when they let us down, hurt us. We have to bear in mind where they’ve come from, the hurts they’ve borne, and go prepared. That to my mind is the difference between a reaction and a response.Forewarned is forearmed.

Make no mistake: this is  not excusing bad behavior, but understanding its origins. Like Molly, people don’t often know  they’re being hurtful. Like your loved one (or mine) for instance. They says things probably because that’s how they were spoken to. They don’t know there’s something wrong. Just like Molly getting over excited and snapping her jaws. She’s not trying to be bad, she’s not trying to hurt anyone; she’s just being Molly. 

Understanding this is the difference between reacting to a perceived (or actually hurt) and and having a prepared response. It’s knowing that the hurt will come, and having a plan going into that time without always being so hurt, so caught off guard, by them. We go into any interaction with the understanding that sooner or later the <snap> is coming. In the case of Molly, she goes back into her crate for a cooling off period. With people, much as we want to at times, we can’t simply lock them away.

But we can excuse ourselves, having determined in advance just what our limits are, and what to do when those boundaries are crossed. It could be words: “that’s unfair,” “it hurts my feelings when…,” or it could be simply getting up and leaving ourselves. If my family has learned anything Molly, it’s that when she’s acting out reprisals, reproach, recrimination, or call it discipline doesn’t work. People aren’t so very different; defensive behavior will almost always escalate situations. Or as the Bible says, “a soft answer turns away wrath.” In the case of these difficult situations, and especially in cases where people just don’t even know they’re being hurtful (and tempers can easily flare), sometimes that soft answer is simply walking away–thereby gaining much needed space and perspective.

It’s amazing what we can learn from a little dog, isn’t it?

How do you handle the Molly’s in your life?

There is scene in The Lord of the Rings which Professor Tolkien felt was the pivitol moment of the book; in it, Gollum nearly repents, having been won over by Frodo’s kindness. But the well-meaning Sam interferes. Chastened by Sam’s meanness, Gollum sulks off. Following are Tolkien’s thoughts:

“For me perhaps the most tragic moment in the Tale comes when Sam fails to note the complete change in Gollum’s tone and aspect….His (Gollum’s) repentance is blighted and all Frodo’s pity is (in a sense) wasted. Shelob’s lair becomes inevitable” (Letter #246).”

One wonders how often this happens, e.g., when a sinner is close to repentance, but one of God’s well-meaning children interferes? More often than we’d care to admit. There will be much one day which we will have to answer for. Many surprises are in store.

Along these same lines are the all-too-often instances of when a brother, or sister (or both), are hurting, and reach out for help. Let’s say that they’re getting help, finding some measure of mentorship, of folks coming alongside them. Things are happening, God is moving.

Then the church steps in.

The church leadership. If the church is a hospital, they are its doctors facilitating a connection to the Great Physician. Not this time. Not on their rounds.

The church says “No, you can’t do it that way. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting helped, making connections. You’re not doing it under our auspices. You have to stop.”

There again, Gollum is shut down, shut out, feeling cast aside… Wondering “What did I do wrong? I thought the church was supposed to help me? Isn’t this a spiritual hospital? God was moving, my struggles were getting better. Why did you shut me down?”

Brothers and sisters this ought not to be. But it happens over and over again. 

Have you been there? You think you’re doing the right thing, reaching out, in evangelicalese getting “plugged in,” but it blows up in your face, and then crumbles into dust… Leaving you wondering why you ever did this in the first place. You’re left feeling like you’d find more camaraderie, more acceptance, down at the corner bar. At least there they won’t judge you for being a sinner seeking solace, relief, healing.

What do you do when the church fails? Where do you go?

Who has the words which bring you life? Can life be found? Is it worth trying again?

Jesus, where are You in this?

Jesus