amazing piece by Agent B

If you don’t subscribe to the free monthly e-zine “Next-Wave,” why the heck not? Some of it I could take or leave, and some of it is gold. And now I have a new reason to open up that monthly e-mail: Agent B. Yes, my friend from the “Fair Mother City” is writing for Next-Wave now, and doing a bang-up job at that. This piece in particular struck my fancy, because it describes fairly accurately where C and I find myself at this point on the journey. Please read it with an open heart and mind, knowing that the Agent and Agent Wife are two of the more Christ-seeking people I’ve ever been around. Enjoy!

What I learned from being Kicked Out of Church, by Agent B

Disclaimer &emdash; The following is in no way, shape, or form a “rant”. This is not a soap box whining of some anonymous guy who was kicked out of the church system, and thus feels called to rally the multitudes hurt by the church system and sing in unison “We Won’t Get Fooled Again”. That would be a cool song to sing with a group of angry people, though. But honestly, being kicked out of The Happy Days Community Church four years ago (and thus becoming unemployed as their “benevolence director”) was one of the best things that ever happened in my life. My spiritual journey and relationship with the CEO of the universe has grown exponentially…
I, like anyone else in the “churchless faith” realm, had no plan to one day live out a spiritual existence outside a local church congregation. It just sort of evolved. Or if you’re a church pastor…de-evolved, since pastor’s seem to be the only critics of this path. Some background info…

Agent Wife and I are convinced that the CEO of the universe has commissioned the two of us and our children to walk with the poor. “Walk with”, meaning befriending, joining, ministering to AND being ministered by the poverty culture wherever we live. We have learned to do this by blending into the culture as best we can. By learning their language, customs, issues, and etc. By the way, poverty really is a culture as opposed to a situation involving simply “lack of money”. The best reference on this subject is Ruby Payne’s “A Framework For Understanding Poverty”.

For the first three years of this commission, we served as staff ministers at the Happy Days Community Church. They had a local outreach to the poor called “the izzy group” that gave away groceries, clothing, showers, shelter, cafe lunch, and just a listening ear to the poor. We tried to be friends with the poor and erase that invisible “us vs. them” boundary that exists between the middle class and poverty class. That wasn’t always achieved, but we learned more about the plight of the poor than we ever imagined.

Over the three years at the izzy group, my wife and I found ourselves slowly getting deeper and deeper immersed within the poverty culture. And therefore, by some sort of natural scientific displacement theory, we gravitated farther and farther away from the church culture. I guess the poverty and church cultures repel each other. We somehow couldn’t do both. At least not real well. Following the CEO outside of the institutional church seemed like the next, natural step. But I wasn’t brave enough to do that on my own.

Church no longer made sense. Church is freaking weird. No wonder our poor friends never wanted to be a part of it. It’s not their culture. I don’t even know if it’s the CEO’s culture. I don’t know anything anymore.

Through various church related political ordeals and through our lack of enthusiasm for church function attendance, the entire izzy group ministry was kicked out from the church. Over time, the izzy group could not survive financially. And coincidentally, Agent Wife and I found ourselves in the midst of an active neighborhood ministry of sorts that sort of evolved when we moved in four years ago.

Who would have known that being kicked out of church would become one of the best things to happen in my life. I credit the CEO for initiating this adventure as I never would have been brave enough to pull away from that tit myself: an excellent facility with industrial kitchen and showers, visual prestige in the city, various resources, and of course…a pay check.

The following are just a few of the many things the CEO continues to open my eyes about being outside the social club apparatus of church:

1) Friends

Jesus tells us in John 15 that a friend is someone willing to lay his life down for another. And also, that friends know each others garbage.

I accidentally discovered that the multitude of friends I had at my old church was slightly superficial in light of John 15. Once upon a time, I could have called any number of the 400 plus families on the church phone directory when I was in trouble or needed a sitter for 30 minutes or whatever. But when I was no longer in attendance, those friends weren’t around. Well, actually, I wasn’t around. But it seemed like attendance is what cultivated friendship

My neighborhood is, for the most part, my gathering. Or ecclesia. When we’re in need, they are always there for us. And visa versa. And we all hang out even when no one is needy. I’ve never had closer friends ever.

2) There’s no YOU in TEAM

One of the many things that was assumed about me from my former church was that I was not a team player.

To which I’m still thinking, “yeah…and who the hell wants to be that?”

I mean, seriously: teams are in and of themselves. They do not look out for others outside their team. I’m not much up on sports. But somehow I would bet that the starting pitcher for the Cardinals (whoever he is) doesn’t give a flying rip about the right fielder of the Astros (whoever that is).

And why? Because Baseball is not about Baseball as a whole. It’s about the team. Who wins and who loses.

I’ve watched our poor next-door neighbors The Sanfords bring in a homeless 17 year-old girl who became friends with their daughter. This girl was abandoned in our city by her mother who drove off and left her. She wasn’t originally part of our neighborhood until the Sanfords let her be an honorary member of their family.

When the 17 year-old decided to leave and do her own thing, nobody hung on to her. Instead, they wished her well and welcomed her back anytime.

I would challenge churches to do the same. Don’t hold on to your members so tight that the life gets squeezed out of them. When it’s time for someone to go, let go! And bless them.

3) Jesus never preached on tithing

Despite what I was taught at church, Jesus never once promoted tithing. From what I read in The Book, tithing was as old testament as old school. Jesus taught to give your all and sell all of our possessions and give to the poor.

What does that look like or mean? Am I supposed to sell everything, give the money away and live in the dirt and starve? Or maybe don’t hold on to anything forever? Be generous always? I don’t know.

These same neighbors of mine, The Sanfords, hold on to nothing for long. They make ends meet by hosting garage sales like every other week. One day their house is filled with furniture and stuff and the next week it’s all gone. Then they find some free or super cheap stuff and start all over. Or better yet…they give stuff away to their poor friends (including me).

The Sanfords barely have eighth grade educations, but I think they may be on to something in regards to “sell all you have and give…”. I mean…EVERYTHING of theirs is for sale or given away. All the time.

4) Faith: Concrete or Abstract?

Somehow, living without a steady (or ANY) income on and off for the last four years has really been a boot camp of faith of sorts. I like to have my ducks in a row. But I’ve had to take notes from my neighbors, and thus live one day at a time.

It can be scary and frustrating to not be in control of something like when I can go buy new shoes or whatever. But the CEO says he knows our needs. And he’s always delivered right when there was true need.

Fresh manna might get old sometimes, but hey. It’s fresh.

You’re probably now wondering where this guy blogs. Well, the link’s been in the blogroll all along, but here it is again for all you latecomers: The Agent B Files.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. “I guess the poverty and church cultures repel each other. We somehow couldn’t do both. At least not real well.”

    What a shame! The very ones the church should embrace, it repels. God have mercy on his people.

    Reply

  2. I finally read all the way through this and was once again humbled by those who live without some of the creature comforts I’ve come to rely on. God Bless Agent B. and his wife and children as they continue their mission. This was truly inspiring. Thanks for sharing, Steve!

    Reply

  3. Posted by Chris on June 13, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    Did you read “A Framework for Understanding Ruby Payne?”

    Reply

  4. Posted by Steve on June 14, 2007 at 10:16 am

    I assume you’re referring to “A Framework for Understanding Poverty,” by Ruby Payne, Chris. I haven’t read it, but it’s on my “to-read” list. I’m told (by Agent B, actually) that it does a pretty good job of giving the reader a peek at the mindset and lifestyle of a person in poverty.

    Mandy – no problem. Let’s all get together soon!

    Reply

  5. Actually, “A Framework for Understanding Ruby Payne” is a different work, one that refers to the book that you know about. Here’s a link:

    http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/21_02/fram212.shtml

    I recommend reading it. Enjoy!

    Atena

    Reply

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