Today I really want to share with you something my friend Brandon wrote. Brandon is one of my core ministry partners here in Fort Wayne, and is a very dear brother. What he wrote is very authentic, and sounds a lot like our daily lives here - our struggles and the ways God challenges and draws us closer to himself.
So I was just settling down to do Bible Study and clean when five of the boys showed up. They weren't scheduled to come; we don’t have tutoring today. In fact, they were specifically told not to come, as both The Todd and I have a lot to do around the house tonight. The guys proceeded to just go nuts, nearly burning the house down when they left the ice cream lid on the stove and bumped the burner on. And I was kind of mad at them. I wanted to do my thing tonight, you know?
Anyways, I was very angry internally. Just overly so. After a squirt gun fight that wended in and out the house, against my orders (how dare they?!), it came time to take them home.
I dropped the boys off, silent and brooding.
You see, I’ve struggled lately to see the “holiness of the ordinary”, as someone famous who I don’t care to look up called it (and as someone decidedly not famous has been telling me repeatedly to seek). There are large decisions ahead, and it’s easy to get caught up in dreams, easy to not think about real reasons for doing real things.
After I dropped off my last kid, I headed into WalMart, realizing I was close to my favorite little store and one of the things to do on my list was to go into the toiletry aisle and stare at the cavalcade of choices for twenty minutes before picking out the wrong deodorant, toothpaste, and shaving blades. I literally glared at the People of WalMart. A little out of character, I know. I was just like: “Look at me, people! I’m large and handsome and angry.” You laugh. Those were literally the thoughts in my head. Sin is simple. And it makes us simpletons, eventually obvious to others.
My cashier was sweet. She elicited a sincere reaction from me, the first I’d had in two hours. And that one, small, thing- the earnest way she told me to have a good day, affected me. I prayed as I walked out to my car, which smelled of sweat and Africa, finally, asking my God to humble me. Telling him, confessing that my heart is so far removed. “God why did I view this good thing as such an inconvenience? My heart is wrong.”
I asked for forgiveness and help to simply follow his commands. That was what I realized - I wasn’t following his commands. And leaving WalMart, I saw an opportunity to do so. Scott was sitting there.
I stopped to give the nameless, homeless guy some money, thinking for once not of a redemptive moment for myself, but rather that I shouldn’t let the oppressed retreat in disgrace; may the poor and needy praise his name. And doing pure and undefiled religion to the least of these. For once. Remembering from Micah (6:6-8) that it’s only ever good to obey.
I gave him the cursory once-over that we give. You know, peruse the wear and tear of the cardboard of the sign, and the leather of the face. The openness of the eyes. Deign whether the content of the sign “seems honest enough”… or is boring. This is the once-over I give. The fleeting thought comes in…..”booze and cigarettes and drugs. Why give him money?” But thankfully in this moment the thought, you know, fleeted.
I parked across the street and walked over. Handed him $20, and sat down.
Scott, it turns out, is a people person. Most homeless folks become decent at it by default, of course, but Scott’s always been that way. He worked for Lee’s Chicken, drew up the hospitality training process for them. Then he made seats for GM. Made mistakes. Forged a check. Went to jail. Lost most of his teeth. The ones that remain are yellowed and craggy and spaced unevenly, like a metaphor that I can’t think of. Other than that, though, he keeps himself surprisingly clean. He hasn’t worked for two years.
And it was his birthday. 53, today. As we talked over life’s hardships and blessings, he kept on about how thankful he was. Earlier, he’d received a couple of five dollar bills. He felt like God was blessing him on his birthday. He knew it, actually. And I could tell….the guy was just loving having someone to talk to. We connected over music and expression and people pleasing and working against feeling shame from humanity but being freed from the guilt of sin. And he is definitely ashamed. He does work a bit, and always leaves a little bit of cash if someone puts him up for the night. He has his demons (no Demons, though) but he likes people too much to seem high maintenance if they’ve showed him kindness. He doesn’t look up at folks unless they wave him over to their car windows to drop some cash.
And at some point during this conversation, we started to get interrupted. A lot. People kept calling him over to their cars. He sang (captured it in video), and mid-song he was called over. He let loose with a gut-wrenching spoken word, (didn’t capture it) and was again compelled to stop by a motorist with money. Each time his eyes came back more wet.
“It’s my birthday!” He yelled. “God just keeps blessing me on my birthday!” And then he’d stagger back to me and sit down and look at me super directly, like crazy people do, and say “Anyway who doesn’t believe in God is an idiot. He takes care of me daily. I always have enough to get by.” I like to look at people like that.
He eventually had to give me hugs, overwhelmed with gratitude. His face was befuddled. I imagine that he was more noticeable to people, as a homeless guy in his homeless element having a real conversation with someone who wasn’t homeless. There was something a little startling about it, perhaps, that made it tougher for people to just pass by. Or maybe it was all Jesus, and the human “why” doesn’t matter.
Whatever it was, his last bus came, and my responsibilities remained. We left. We left with his best day of all time, statistically. One hundred and twenty-nine dollars.
And we left on the note that I’d just come and speak to him again. Not money. But words and time if I had it.
My anger is, of course, dissipated. In its place is a little bit of joy and humility, and virtually nothing else. I know my humanity, a little bit. I know my tendency to sin. But, the last verse of Scott’s song rings true.
And I have to ask you: How cynical are you? How did you feel when he said it was his birthday? Was he lying for sympathy’s sake? How about when you heard the amount of money he received today? Indignant? “Hey that’s more than I make?” Something like that? What about me? Have I exploited him so that I can feel good?
I ask, not to indict you, but because I know how I read all too often. How I’ve been trained to process the world around me….with an (un)healthy dose of 21st century self-awareness and snark.
Look, we can always choose to be cynical. Snark abounds. Snark is easy. I could have written a dozen funny, snarky articles in the time it took to write this. Freaking snark.
Genuineness is rare and it is required by our God.
For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.
And the simple command is to love others as ourselves. If we can, we should. The point of love isn’t to do it only if we know how it’ll turn out. Or only if we can control what happens, and always make sure we’re not enabling.
It’s not even just to help the person.
It is to take action to obey God.
And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'
Scott’s last verse rings true. He asked me to let you know.