Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The hippy-poetic philosopher on the corner

There's this man who stands on the corner of a major intersection near my house every day with a sign. The sign never has the cliche "Will Work for Food" or "God Bless You" scrawled on it that most of the other bums use. It always says something different, and somewhat hippy-poetic-philosophic. At the risk of judging by appearances, he looks homeless... the clothes and hair and mountain-man beard... and I wonder if he really is homeless, and where he gets his permanent markers.

Yesterday we were stopped at the light at his intersection, and I read his sign: "I like cold beer and mustard on my fries." It wasn't as poetic or philosophic at usual, and I laughed at the randomness of it, and then caught his eye. He held up a "peace" sign to me and smiled slightly under his bushy beard. In his eye was an old twinkle of knowing something I don't. I smiled in kind and waved, and the light changed and we were gone.

Why did he write that? Was he asking for someone to bring him beer and fries? If so, it's much more bold than the meager requests for loose change at other intersections, especially if it would be feeding an addiction... Or was he doing a social study of people's reactions? Maybe he was just seeing if he could make anyone laugh... Maybe he isn't homeless at all, and just wants to add humor to someone's life.

I felt an urge to swing through the McDonalds at the corner and pick up some fries and mustard and bring it to him. If I did, I would have sat with him on that island in the intersection and begged him to tell me his story. But I didn't. Every time I see him, I wonder about his story, yet I never stop to ask.

I don't think I even need to ask myself "What would Jesus do?" because I'm pretty sure Jesus would take the time to stop. He did in every story I've ever heard about him.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year Revolution

"Here's this week's ice-breaker: What is your New Year Revolution?"

A group of about 25 young adults blankly looked at each other in silence for a minute. Not much of an ice-breaker if it doesn't get people talking, is it? The Sunday school teacher pointed to the guy next to him and said, "You go first!" The poor kid shuffled his feet and mumbled something about not having a revolution, or not being a revolutionary type of person. The teacher backed up and decided a little explanation might prompt better response, so he said, "A New Year's resolution is something you commit to in order to improve yourself, right? Quick smoking, exercise more, whatever... But a New Year's revolution is something you commit to in order to make the world a better place. It can be anything, big or small." The kid next to him got a funny grin on his face and said, "My revolution is to recycle more." A general combination of moans and giggles arose and sudddenly the word "revolution" wasn't so intimidating.

When it was my turn, I found myself saying something like, "I just spent six months - which I originally planned to be two months - in Indiana working with refugees, and my revolution is that I'm gonna go back." In my head I imagined a dramatic pause, the camera zooming in on my determined expression, and the soundtrack to Iron Man playing. But really, my friend next to me continued on with her turn and no one seemed to care all that much about my comings and goings.

Since then, I've been trying to figure out what I deemed so revolutionary about "going back." In Indiana, I have a lot of fun - I've met some pretty awesome people, learned some words in some other languages, tried some weird food, adapted to some cross-cultural relations, and figured out how to make ten words into two words and use gestures and pictures to illustrate them. What's so revolutionary about that? Those sound more like "resolutions" than "revolutions." Relationally, I have tried to encourage the Christians, share God's love with the non-Christians, and offer hope to the oppressed and weary. Teaching English is really a minor part, I think, of what happens, though I guess even that can cause some revolution if it is used the right way.

This morning, I read this verse in I Timothy 5:  "[She] is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble, and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds."

In context, it's more about how to care for widows, but for some reason it resonated with me today as a really good new year's revolution. "Going back" is a bold move for me... yes, possibly worthy of the Iron Man theme song... but it's what I do when I go back that will determine how revolutionary it is. What good deeds will I devote myself to, and how will that affect change in the world?