Homeless adventure, Part I:
In the process of planting a church, one of the considerations one must contend with is how your future Christian community will engage with social ills. For many churches, the homeless and “disadvantaged children” get a lot of thought. In short, Christians care about caring for people; especially the poor and needy.
A pastor then, needs to know how to do that, and how to lead a community in helping those that need it most. There, of course, is no shortage of experts who write a book on how to do such things effectively, and then sell you a copy so that you can lead your congregation well. I decided to take a different approach. Let’s call it an experiment.
I started off with my wife dropping me off downtown on Friday afternoon. I had some water, a change of clothes, a bottle of water, and my guitar. I did not have any money. I did not have any identification. I did not have a cell phone (well, my wife made me promise to take one just in case, but it remained off, and at the bottom of my bag the entire trip). I took some pepper spray, just in case things got rough.
The plan was to spend three days and two nights as a homeless bum; and try to get a feel for how this pastor might be able to connect with homeless and poor people.
And first, a word about being politically correct: for the entirety of this blog post, I will refer to people as “poor,” “homeless,” “bum,” etc.. The reason is not to demean anyone, but to laugh at the people who would be politically correct enough to call them “friends without homes,” or “the transient population,” or “underprivileged people,” but never take the time to bring any home, introduce them to your family, feed them, house them for the night, promise them a place to come back to if they need it, and clean up the inevitable mess they will leave behind. Seeing as how I have lived among them, and brought a couple home to dinner, and pray for them; I reserve the right to call a spade a spade. Back to the story.
I spent the first day out playing my guitar on the street corner. I was a legitimate street performer. Now, I’m a pastor, and so that changes the kind of music that I want to play. I like church songs. I like old hymns especially. But, there was something intimidating to me about playing “Come, Ye Sinners” in front of the River Park Square mall; especially since I sing with a booming voice. I suppose I imagined hordes of passerby being offended and thinking I was some kind of weirdo. I basically refrained.
So I kept it light; old cowboy songs, inoffensive church stuff. Good old songs that might be good outside of a faith context; “Precious Lord,” “I’ll Fly Away,” etc.. I played for six hours and made 8 bucks. The old steel strings on my guitar seriously thinned out my fingertip skin. I thought beggars made really good money.
A drunk homeless lady stationed herself next to me while I was playing, bumming cigarettes from passerby, told me about it; and I followed her there. Her name was Cindy, and she reeked of booze of cigarettes; and she wouldn’t leave me alone. I really was being as warm and friendly as possible. But this lady was literally scaring people away from my empty guitar case. She was rude—talking loudly to me over my playing, getting in the way of people dropping money, or panhandling people as they got close to drop something in. I was irate.
Now just to assure you, my reader, I’m a nice guy. Usually. My profession is to represent Christ to people who need Him most. So I, like you, was disappointed in my judgments. Why couldn’t I just have an open and loving heart towards Cindy? Why did she make me so mad?
I was trying to be polite. Life ain’t easy for a bum.
A cop stopped me at one point. Cindy didn’t move off.
“Hey man, sorry to do this, but you can’t sit down and play. The law says that you have to stand, or sit on public benches.”
I just looked at him. I had made the commitment to myself to just do whatever people asked me to.
The cop must have seen the look on my face. I really wanted to make some money.
“I know it’s stupid. But that’s just the rules.”
“Cool.” I said. “I’ll move it over there.” I was pointing to a spot that had some giant concrete flower boxes, which I could sit on. He nodded. He looked down at my Army backpack.
“You a veteran?” He asked cautiously.
“Yeah. I am.” I said proudly.
“Who were you with?” The perennial question. He wanted to see if he could smoke out a liar.
“3rd I.D., Fort Stewart. 4th Brigade, 1-76 Field Artillery. Did you serve?”
“Yeah,” he said, “Fort Campbell.”
“Ah…” I paused, trying to remember which unit was out of Campbell. It’s one of the obvious ones. “Airborne?”
“No.” He said, almost disappointed. “That’s Bragg.”
“Oh.” Then I added quickly, as the light bulb clicked on above my head, “Screaming Eagles, Air Assault.”
“Yeah.” He smiled. “You aren’t living on the street are you?”
“Uh, for the time being.”
“There is no reason for vets to be homeless.” He lectured. I was inwardly awed. This cop is hassling me to get help. I never would have thought he would be so helpful. I wondered if he was a Christian. “There is a Veterans service building over on 2nd and Wall, and I want you go check it out. They do good work, and like I said, there is no reason for veterans to be homeless.”
I thanked him, feeling stupid for being a fake bum. Just before he pedaled off with his partner, he said, “Thank you for your service.”
I shook his hand. “You’re welcome. And thank you for yours.”
I quit halfway through my guitar playing, and went to City Gate; a Christian organization that provides food for bums like me; and also legitimate ones. Cindy told me she knew right where it was.
And then it hit me. Perhaps as we were wandering over to the City Gate to get some chow. (Cindy says without pause or breath or punctuation, “Oh, it’s usually good stuff my boyfriend and me used to come down here all the time when our food stamps was out and they usually got pretty good stuff you remember my boyfriend that Indian guy…) Nobody likes this lady. She just needs human interaction.
I start digging into her past, as lovingly as possible. In fact, she seems to enjoy the questions, and answers them with the honesty that perhaps only a poor drunk bum can muster.
She had a family. They loved her, but they didn’t like her drinking. She left them for booze. She was homeless, still is. She plans to get off the streets as soon as her money comes in. SSI owes her a big back payment that will get her indoors. Outdoors sucks. Don’t you worry, Cindy has got a spot. In fact, she won’t share it; unless perhaps I want to cuddle. (I assure you, I don’t). Her husband divorced her. But, she can still get drunk. She’s bounced from man to man, in prison and out. But, she just doesn’t want to quit drinking.
Now, at this point, I’m thinking what you are. You can’t live indoors, but you can afford to drink at a bar?
Yep. Cindy can. The little bit of SSI that she gets goes straight into the barroom fund.
I was repulsed. Deeply. How can someone be so selfish?
We got chow and I said goodbye to Cindy. The folks at City Gate were very Christian. They gave me better service (they seriously come around and fill glasses and bring you plates of food) than I have had in a restaurant probably ever. I got into a conversation with a guy named Larry. This dude is so passionate about reaching people for Jesus that he recruits church people to serve with him. And they simply feed poor drunks like me and Cindy. Sometimes they have time enough to talk with us too.
Pray for them.
Disappointed at mt inability to love like Jesus, I went downtown again to play some more guitar. Nothing happened. Nobody tipped. I took the advice of some other bums and went outside the bars and played some soulful stuff. Nothing happened. After a few hours, I packed up everything and set out to find a place to sleep. I was going to hike the ten miles or so to get well out of the city and find a place to camp.
God had other plans.
Standing on a street corner, a man walked up to me and asked for a local bar that was good. I started naming names, but the guy was from out of town. Mike was his name. I think he thought I was a bum. He kept asking me if I’d show him around, and then he would gently ask about drugs.
“So, what are your vices?” He’d say. “What do you do to really have fun? Girls? Coke? What?”
I was his tour guide for the night. Not having an ID, I couldn’t order anything at any bar, and when I did, I got asked to leave. No ID sucks. Mike volunteered to pay for whatever I wanted to drink. We hopped from place to place, talking politics, religion, family, etc.. It was mildly fun. His problem is that he thinks the world is getting better and better, and that technology is going to save us from our incessant problem of human versus human evil. I laughed.
“Like, if the iPhone just keeps getting better, one day we’ll have an app to feed the world and end human suffering, and deal with the Hitlers and stuff?”
“Yeah man. Just as long as we can keep Big Corporations and Big Government out of it. The evil at the center of the universe is human competition man. Seriously.”
So, we talked like that till almost midnight. Then he had to go, and so did I. To pay me for my kindness of showing him around, he bought me a bottle of beer at a convenience store. I drank it en route to my sleeping spot.
But it being midnight, there were a few things that I had to consider. First, the entire place was starting to get a bit sketchy. Here is the real problem that I had with “homeless people.” They aren’t dangerous, until it gets night time. Then, bands of teenagers without a place to go, or anything to do, start roaming the streets. They are incredibly stupid. They don’t realize that the kind of bullying that they do may easily wind up killing them, or someone else. They don’t care. I stayed on main streets and varied my pace, steering clear of anything suspicious. Those kids are drunk, high, and ready to be violent at the drop of a hat.
I found my way to the Maple Street Bridge. There is a way to get down under it from the South side of the river (the downtown side). I jumped a wall, and scrambled down under the bridge. I was immediately scared, my neck hairs raised in alarm.
Blankets everywhere, bottles, glass, cans. This was a homeless mecca. But, strangely, no people. I started to feel like I was in a zombie movie. I reached down and gently pulled out my pepper spray while my eyes adjusted to the lack of blazing street lights.
In the Army, they taught us to use SLLS in critical moments of reconnoitering. Stop. Look. Listen. Smell. I knelt down and swiveled my head slowly right, slowly left; taking in what my eyes could. Nothing. I listened. The traffic overhead had a zipping sound to it as tires whizzed over steel and concrete. Nothing else. No heavy breathing, faint laughter, or conversation. I smelled. Other than the vague odor of dust and urine, there was no smoke or body odor or anything else that would indicate human presence.
Satisfied that I was not in immediate danger, I started down towards the river. There is a crazy weird kid’s park down under the bridge. Not sure who uses that but drunk and high bums. If I were a kid, I’d stay the heck away.
I made my way down to the river and hiked along it till I was well away from downtown. I hopped from rock to rock until I was actually down at the river’s edge. The lights of downtown reflected off the babbling water. It was picturesque.
I peeled off my clothes, being covered with sweat. I slipped into the river and took a bath. Man, it was cold. The green slime on the rocks was problematic. I swam out a ways until it was hip deep. I splashed around a bit and dunked a few times; scrubbing my body and hair violently in lieu of soap.
I crawled out and then washed out my clothes in the river. I set them on a large rock, spread out, to dry by morning.
I found a big rock bowl in the hillside next to the river that I could lay in. I spent the night shivering and wishing for a bed. Sometime in the middle of the night, I heard a skunk moving around by my head. I got up quick as a flash and yelled as I ran away. I threw rocks back up at my previous position so as to scare the skunk off. The last thing I needed was to be sprayed. There’s no getting that smell off.
And while a hobo might be able to wander around in the mall for a while without getting harassed: a hobo that smells of skunk butt is not tolerated.
In due time I went back up to my spot. The skunk was gone. I did a few pushups to stay warm, and then fell back into fitful rest.
Cindy was right. Sleeping outdoors is for suckers. And pastors.
The night passed without further incident.
Homeless Adventure, Part II:
The room gets bright early when your room is the rocky hillside just west of downtown Spokane, along the river. My biggest fear was the home dwellers on the opposite bank looking over and seeing me, calling the cops, or interfering with my life in some other manner. I suppose the unknown is worse than reality.
I imagined the house dwellers rising early, and peering out over a steaming cup of coffee, taking in the river scene; probably as they get ready for work. Then, aghast, they see the homeless dude curled up on some rocks down by the river, his old clothes spread out on a rock. I then imagined the home dwellers angrily dialing crime check, giving the cops my description (large homeless man, wearing odd looking khaki pants and a pained, self-pitying expression). The cops rush to book me in the county jail, disapproving looks scratched into their faces.
Damn hippie homeless bums. Get a life.
Meanwhile, the home dwellers rush off to work in their expensive sports cars, mad that their favorite barista served them their favorite drink a few degrees too hot.
In my heart, I think I shook my fist at the home dwellers on the opposing bank. In an act of self-consciousness, I got all my stuff off the rock before it was dry and packed it away. I found another spot behind a large boulder, further in towards the river. I actually got most of my rest there underneath a warming sun. I felt hung over from the incessant shivering of the previous six hours.
I think I spent two hours under the morning sun, snuggling a rock and working up the courage to face the day.
In the end, I needed breakfast, and I needed to get back downtown to get some. I knew from my pastoring experience that the Central United Methodist Church hosts Shalom Ministries; an organization that serves breakfast.
I headed out back downtown. I got to the church, and the back door was locked. One of my homeless brothers was camped out next to the door in one of those foil survival blankets. He looked pretty out of it. Pretty asleep.
“Is it locked?” Another dude beside me asked. His shoes were half military boots, untied. He looked pretty pissed off. I tried the door. Locked.
He cussed a couple times. “I’m going to the House of Charity.”
I asked if I could tag along, not knowing where the House of Charity was.
“Whatever.” He said.
He headed out, shoes flopping. His head wagged from side to side in a perpetual scowl.
House of Charity actually took a bit of time. We talked a bit, but he seemed to not care much about life. A really heavy lady started yelling for him, plodding along behind us with her walker. I can’t remember the guy’s name, or her’s; which is too bad, as that is my job.
“I think that lady wants to walk with us.” I said. He scowled.
“I ain’t no f~(&!n babysitter. I ain’t never seen that f~(&!n lady in my life.” He tread faster. I looked over my shoulder.
“Hey! Hey!” She yelled, gulping down air as she pushed her walker faster. “Wait up! I can’t walk that fast!”
I felt bad. I looked over my shoulder at this overweight lady pushing her walker, pleading with my travelling companion to slow down. I didn’t know what to do. What is the “right” thing here?
I just kept up with the dude, as I needed to get some breakfast.
When we got there, there was a long line. They had some bums behind the counter serving us. It was all in all a pleasant experience. Most of the people in that place are either long time regulars, or they are simply trying to keep their head down and get a meal. I, like most of the other people around me, generally did not like the loud people, and kept a distance.
I filed through the line and got a pastry and a cup of coffee. I thanked everyone who was serving. Most people did.
I sat down and ate breakfast. Then I wondered what to do.
I looked into my styrofoam cup hard, as if it would give up the answers. I couldn’t do another night like I just had. I needed to find a spot. I also needed to find a blanket. Some money wouldn’t hurt, so I could buy some ibuprofen, and anything else I needed. Money would make a good backup.
Interestingly enough, even though I had now spent somewhere close to 24 hours as a homeless man, I felt something completely foreign to me.
I felt lonely.
So moved by my own loneness, I went to the front counter and asked if they would open up the chapel, which is a totally windowed room (no privacy) in the center of the meal/day room. The lady at the front desk gladly opened it up for me, and let me in. I brought in my guitar and my hymnal.
I began singing like it was nobody’s business. I sang from the very bottom of my heart, and listened to the rich guitar chords melt together with my voice and bounce off the windows. The acoustics, because of all the hard class, bounced my music into multiple layers. It was awesome.
I closed my eyes and played Amazing Grace, It Is Well, I’ll Fly Away, Precious Lord, Oh Lord My God, and many others. A guy knocked on the glass door. I let him in.
I think his name was James. He was older, and kind of tall and lean. He said he worked security for Third Day on occasion. But now, he was homeless because of “bad decisions, and a belief that I can fix people that I can’t.”
I kept on singing, and he listened, and when he knew the words of a song, he joined in. I suppose we shared in our loneliness together. We were two souls that hid from a cruel world, by being washed over in worship of a common Lord and Savior. It felt good.
I must have played for three hours. I played till my fingertips were raw from the steel strings; and then I played some more.
James (now that I think about it, that can’t be his real name. Hey James, if you are reading this and can correct me, go right ahead) started praying at the end.
“Lord, thank you, thank you. You know I needed this. You know I was so low. You care so much about me by sending this guy to play music that I needed to hear. Thank you.” He went on like that for a while.
I was moved by how genuinely James believed that I was there because God wanted to make him feel better. Perhaps it’s true. If it is, that’s amazing.
Another guy came and joined us, though he just sat in the corner and listened. He was drawn by something. When I asked if he had a favorite song he wanted me to play, he said: “Nah. I don’t really know these songs. It is just good to hear someone sing like they mean it.”
I finished after a bit, maybe 3 or 3 ½ hours. I started to put the guitar away.
“Ok,” James said, like a detective on the case, “So why are you homeless? Clearly you don’t have to be if you don’t want to.”
His eyes shone at me like headlights, I guess I was the frozen deer.
Do I lie? Is it alright with God if a pastor lies about who he is to homeless people to get an “immersive” experience? What would change when I told him? In the end, I decided to tell the truth, and leave it as simple as possible.
“I’ve got a wife and kids. I’m just being a bum for the time being. I’ll go home in a little bit.”
And that was it. It was all he needed. I thanked the two of them for listening, and then I packed up and decided to move on. I still had much to accomplish. On my way out, some people were talking about free lunch under the freeway. I headed that direction.
My pack felt heavier than before. I felt a big blister forming on pad of my foot, squarely on the ball of my foot. But, there wasn’t anything I could to about it but walk.
Just as I was getting to the freeway, I ran into the heavy lady that was trying to catch up to me and my guide as we headed to the House of Charity. She had a younger and rough looking guy helping her. She was standing next to her walker/seat, with a cardboard sign that read “Anything helps.” She was at the intersection, just by the light, hoping for people to give her some money.
Now, growing up we called this “begging.” I’m not sure if people still call it that. It certainly has a negative ring to it. It seems to be associated with an extremely low social standing. Like, when a man begs a woman to not leave him, he is expressing a shameless love; somehow the act of begging lowers his self-value.
Beggars, I think as a rule, don’t want to be called beggars. But I don’t know that. I’m just imagining myself standing on the corner like her, with a sign, and not liking it when someone inevitably drives by and yells, “Beggar!” at me. I didn’t have the nerve to ask the lady. So I asked something else.
“Hey, how much money can you get doing that? I haven’t had any luck playing my guitar downtown.” I said.
“Oh, it all depends.” She replied, “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.” I’m not sure if she was giving me a non-answer because the begging revenue stream is so unpredictable, or if she was trying to get me to move off her primo spot. So I thanked her and left.
I found my way to the spot where they serve lunch under the freeway every third Saturday. It’s right across from Lewis and Clark High School. I got there an hour or so early. There were a couple of cars parked nearby, and a truck with a grill on it. Some church folks were unloading the lunch fixings and setting up tables. There were maybe 8 church people.
I introduced myself, and asked if I could help. They let me move a couple of things. The leader of the group, who was an older (like, 50ish) guy, came over and made conversation with me. Nice guy.
He’s one of the leaders at the church up on Northwest Boulevard. Dang me, now I can’t remember the name of the church. They are meeting in the old daycare place, anyone who knows the name of it, please leave a comment below.
He kept probing with questions until I told him I was a pastor living like a bum. He laughed.
“I was homeless at one point. Drugs, alcohol, all of it. God saved me.” He said. “I’ll leave you to your work, and come visit us some Sunday.” (This is the abbreviated conversation, all of which I cannot recall).
I pulled out my still damp laundry and stretched it over the brick wall in the sun. I was hoping it would dry. I sat down right in front of my laundry to keep an eye on it, on the wooden bench built into the wall. After sitting for about five seconds the overpowering smell of urine hit me. I realized I was stretching out my laundry, and sitting, in someone’s favorite late night pee spot. Dang it.
I got up, and picked up my laundry. Dang it. I tried not to think about the nastiness now on my clothes, and permeating my jeans. I moved to another spot. I sniffed first, and figured it was better than my first spot.
I left my laundry out till it was dry, and then packed it away. Lunch was ready. The line was forming.
The people that I stood in line with were drunks, bums, addicted (I swear two teenage girls were so high they could not see straight), and destitute. I kind of felt strangely at home. Everyone was minding their own business. It might as well have been the grocery line at the store. A couple of people were joking with one another, or talking. But all these people, like me, were just normal folks with a lot of pain and problems. And, they have a sixth sense for knowing where a free meal is.
I got a burger with no condiments. I ate the beans which had a scorched flavor to them. But, it filled my belly. And I moved on, after thanking the Christians under the bridge; who care so much about the destitute, and clueless pastors, that they feed them and serve them right next to someone’s favorite late night pee spot.
I headed downtown looking to make some money. I got down to Riverfront Park, and there was some kind of event there. It was Unity in the Community, and all the smart street musicians were already in the best spots. Dang it.
So I headed off to the backside of the park, on the footpath that goes around by the IMAX. I found a bench and started playing my guitar. I was tired. I was needy. I was dealing with a lot. I needed a few old hymns.
So there I began recklessly playing and singing the old, in-your-face, Jesus hymns. I sang from my toes. I filled my little section of park with the music that brings the angels to their feet.
Nobody put any money in.
Now for an observation. Street performers have an unhealthy relationship with the public. At this point in my adventure, so did I. There was no avoiding it. I found some sort of validation by money being dropped in my guitar case. I couldn’t help it.
I didn’t feel like I was begging. Probably I was.
And then a lady walked by with her husband (I’m assuming). She looked at me deeply. I kept singing. She walked by and then turned around. She pulled out a bill from her purse.
She dropped a $10 in my guitar case. Then she pointed a finger at me, and said with conviction in her voice:
“Buddy, I hope you know what you’re singing about.”
I kept playing, but said in between stanzas, “You bet I do.” She walked off. I kept playing.
A little bit of change was dropped here or there. People were being generous compared to the day before.
Then, about an hour into it, a couple of cops on foot patrol walked by. The lady officer looked at me as they went by. She was tallish, blonde hair. I didn’t miss the side arm. I wasn’t sure if she was giving me the stink eye. I really didn’t want to stop playing, and wasn’t sure if I was breaking any rules or not. She and her partner walked by. I kept observing using my periphery vision, and kept right on singing.
They stopped maybe 100 feet from me. She was talking to her partner. Then she walked back towards me, while he watched.
She came right up to me, and picked up a few pages of my songbook. She slipped a $20 in, and closed the pages.
“I want that to go a long way for you.” She said. She smiled, and walked back.
Not sure why, but that act of grace burned in my heart. I sang more. I felt like I was glowing.
I stopped about fifteen minutes later. Quit while you are ahead. I made thirty some-odd bucks. Nice.
Then, I went into the AMC theater and watched Elysium. I was out of the sun for almost four hours, sitting in the AC before and after the flick. It felt good to be back in civilization, with nobody watching me.
That’s the thing. In this experiment I found that the problem with being homeless is that you have no space. You have no place to call home. There are places you can stay, but the place isn’t yours. You basically have no ownership in society, or in life. And, perhaps more importantly, you feel like society doesn’t want you around. Probably they don’t.
After the theater, I headed across town to the Union Gospel Mission for some dinner. It was a long walk. I cursed myself for not being smart enough to figure out the bus system, or even thinking of it till then. Every step was killing me because of the growing blister.
Once I got to the Mission, the arrangements were great. The food was plentiful, and good. I talked to a guy across the table from me, who wasn’t much interested in talking. In the end, I was polite enough to leave him be.
After dinner, I inquired about a blanket. I didn’t want to spend another night shivering myself skinny. I also needed to find a place to stay. The Maple Street bridge was too far away to walk. My blister was killing me.
“You sleeping outdoors?” The worker asked me.
“You know, there is no reason for it. You should check into a bed here. I’m sure we’ll have room tonight.” I didn’t want to explain myself again.
“It’s only temporary.” I said with a half smile. “I have something that is going to work out soon, but I just need a blanket for the night.”
“Well, we don’t have any.” He said. “Sorry.”
“Cool. Well, do you know if there is a thrift shop nearby? I have some money, so I could buy one. I just need to get my hands on something that will keep me warm tonight.”
He looked at me hard.
“Let me see.” He disappeared behind a nearby door. He emerged with an old white curtain. “This is all I have, and I don’t think any place is going to be open around here to buy something.” I took the curtain.
“Thank you.” I said. “I’ll return it when I’m done.”
“No, no, no.” He said. “You keep it.” I nodded, and then I left.
I headed up towards my church (then, I’ve planted a new one now) Emmaus, on 12th and Perry. On the way up I noticed a building under construction. I had a thought.
I waited until the coast was clear, and then I jumped the fence and scrambled inside the unfinished structure with my bag (which was huge at this point, being my assault pack, strapped to a guitar, strapped to a rolled up curtain). I slinked inside and had a peek around.
Perfect. There was a roof, clean-ish floor. And above all, a stack of fiberglass insulation was in the corner. I laid it out into a mattress, and rolled out my curtain over it. I laid down.
It was glorious. I set up camp there. I left all my stuff there and headed out to the Perry District, just a few blocks away. I brought my money. I determined that I needed some ibuprofen, some chewing tobacco, and some batteries. But first, I dropped by my buddy Ted’s house, being two blocks away, and on the route.
He was cutting back his garden.
I volunteered to help him if he would let me have a cold beer in his fridge. It went down so well, I helped myself to another. I was sitting on his couch, drinking my beer, and thinking about how this fit into the experiment. It probably didn’t.
I’m sure homeless people have friends. I’m sure they use their friends for their couch, and for their beer. I told myself I was being true to the process. In guilt I left ten bucks for Ted. I spent a couple of hours at his place before I moved on to the HiCo Mart. I got my stuff there.
I swallowed about six ibuprofen. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.
On my way back, I stopped off at the Shop, where they were just playing a community movie: The Hobbit. Now, I’m a Tolkien fan. I’m also a sucker for free movies with a bunch of strangers. I also had a pack of Red Man that wasn’t going to chew itself, and a blister the size of a four quarters stacked up. So I stayed; finding a comfy spot in the back.
I used the edge of the plastic battery packaging to lance the blister. A teaspoon of liquid poured out.
About fifteen minutes in, I decided a good night’s sleep would do the trick. Church was first thing in the morning (10 AM, which is plenty early for this bum). I walked to the construction site.
Lancing the blister proved to be a horrid idea. Why didn’t I know that?
The I got there, brushed my teeth, wiped my body down with baby wipes I brought from home, changed my clothes, and then sat on some planking next to a window. It faced towards the freeway.
Loneliness hit me like a meteor. I cried, looking out at the city lights and feeling so far away from people.
And here is where I will end the story (the rest is just me falling asleep and getting up and going to church).
First, being homeless is being lonely. The loneliness that I felt in two nights and 3ish days was oppressive. I’m a pastor, and a pretty intelligent and moral guy (In my humble opinion). But by the end of it, I wanted to get totally drunk, or something. I needed to medicate my physical pain, and my emotional pain. No wonder people who live without a home, or much comfort, are often mentally unstable. You live that life for a week and it will affect your sanity. Guaranteed.
Second, food isn’t the problem. I never missed a meal. In fact, I would wager a guess that the biggest purchaser of illicit drugs is the Foodstamps money. If you are a Christian, and you want to help the homeless, giving them money while you drive by is the second to last thing you should do. The last thing you should do is be mean. Help the homeless by befriending one or two. Don’t alleviate your inward anguish (placed there by God to make you care for others) by putting money in their hands. Be their friend first; and if money is the real problem, or food, then you can provide without getting duped.
Third, I was humbled by how many Christians are out there taking care of the destitute and needy in the name of Jesus. Nobody else is. Period. At every turn, there was someone taking care of me in the name of their Lord. That blew me away. I thought that lots of well-intentioned people are out there lending a helping hand. I thought I saw stuff like that all the time on TV. But, in reality, it’s just the Christians.
And I was scandalized at how little I was proselytized. I was expecting some kind of “accept Jesus and then we’ll feed you” type of thing. But nobody told me about Jesus. Nobody even told me that they were offering me free food because their Lord compelled them to. I got no reason whatever.
I met up with one of the Christian people that served me later on. They really wanted to hear my opinion of what they were doing. I asked them why nobody even talks about Jesus as they serve. I was told that it was discouraged by the organization. Homeless people don’t want to be hassled about Jesus, they just want some food.
I’m not sure what to think about that. It still doesn’t sit right with me.
Since that adventure, I find I pray for my friends from my adventure much more. I wonder what has happened since then; and I wonder if perhaps I might be called to go back and live among them for another little bit, and tell them all about God’s grace. Maybe I can sing a bit more too.
May God’s grace abound in all our lives: under the bridge, under a roof, or under the stars.