I saw him again

I saw him again today, standing on the corner of 9th and Hennepin. We had a slushy mix of rain and snow last night, and today the sidewalks were covered in water and ice. Every curb sported at least a three inch-deep puddle. I spotted him standing there under the red awning of the closed porn shop, and I lowered my gaze. Thankfully I was too busy navigating the icy puddle and maneuvering around the crowd of people who just stepped off the bus to make eye contact.

He just stood there, arms in his coat pockets, bag resting on the concrete sidewalk. One more person passing him by.

Do you have any spare change?

Do you have any spare change?

How are you supposed to answer that? Of course I do. I have fifty cents in my bag and another dollar in my wallet. Do I need it? Not really. I could fairly easily part with it.

But how do you answer the request, usually from a homeless person? Some people like to answer ‘no,’ and quickly walk away, rationalizing that free hand outs won’t help anyone. And there might be some truth to that. But part of me thinks that’s just a nice excuse to clear your conscience and walk away guilt-free.

My standard answer is to pat my pockets and mumble something like, “No, sorry, I don’t,” –which is usually a lie. I’d have to dig that fifty cents out of my bag and I’d be two minutes late for work. Even though I get there ten minutes early every day. There’s one guy I recognize. He always stands on the corner of ninth street in front of the closed-up porno shop. A bag sits on the ground next to him and he stands there with his hands in his pockets, looking rather purposeful. Twice he’s asked me for change, but he hasn’t asked recently. He must recognize me and figured two times was plenty. Now when I see him I’ve taken to keeping my eyes on the pavement and not making eye contact.

I can’t help but wonder if there’s a better way. Is it a good idea to give fifty cent handouts? Does that accomplish anything? Is there a way I can help these people more? I saw a guy standing on the corner of a shopping plaza holding a sign that said he needed work. Are jobs that scarce? Sometimes I wonder if these homeless people truly have gotten a bum deal (no pun intended), or if they’re just lazy. I understand that it’s difficult to get a job when you have no place to stay, but is it really as bad as that? And if so, isn’t there a more reliable way I can help then giving you my spare change? It just seems like we need a better solution.

Jesus Didn’t Have a Chance

I don’t think Jesus has a chance. No matter what the guy does, he loses. If he pleases those with a religious sensibility, he offends the masses. If he somehow manages to win the favor of the masses, he enrages the religious types. The guy just can’t win. I think a lot of Christians are in the same place today. If you can present Christ in an appealing manor to mainstream society, the religious subculture banishes you as some kind of sellout. And if the religious community accepts your presentation of the gospel, mainstream society exiles you to the very community that’s already heard and accepted your message. No wonder the guy turned water into wine.

Do not tell me we are a Christian Nation

Is your God big enough to face difficult questions? He doesn’t even after to answer them, but does your God even face them? I question some Christians whose God doesn’t seem to be up to the challenge of hard, life shattering questions. That book says something negative about Christians? Well, I better stay away. These song lyrics aren’t Christian, I better switch radio stations. What kind of a faith do you have if it’s always tucking its tail and running? It’s often the same kind of faith that’s so sure of itself it’s got its head up its ass. Am I being too harsh? I don’t think so. The Bible warns against pride, and Christians proudly nod their heads in agreement. We’re so sure of our particular brand of Christianity we don’t even realize there are other people out there who believe in the same God, the same crucified and risen Son, and the same convicting Holy Spirit—but in every other matter believe something contrary to what we believe.

It boggles my mind how Christians rejoice over the election of George W. Bush, claiming that finally a man of God holds the office of President of the United States. They fail to remember that the last man to hold the position also claimed to be a man of God—admittedly a stumbling man of God, but Bill Clinton professed to be a Christian. He may have had different opinions about various issues, but he counted himself among the Christians. Perhaps that’s just a political move. Perhaps the same is true of Al Gore. But perhaps the same is true of Bush. Who are we to judge? I’m amazed at the way Christians interpret the faith of the man in office based on his political party or his decisions on abortion. I’m also amazed at the way Christians interpret the faith of a man based on his sins. We are all sinners, but it seems to disqualify some of us from Christ’s forgiveness.

There are Christians who are continually claiming that America is a Christian nation, and long to return to the days of our forefathers when blah, blah, blah. Spare me your patriotism. Today the United States of America is the sole superpower, and the absolute worst example for the rest of the world in just about every area imaginable. We’re materialistic, greedy, self-centered and rude. And perhaps you’d like to tell me that our nation has fallen and the true remaining Christians are not any of those things that America is hated for around the world. If that were really true then Christians would actually stand out from the rest of society. If Christians actually said ‘no’ to materialism and chose to help out their brothers and sisters around the world, the results would be amazing. Churches would no longer need parking lots as Christians discovered the economics of car pooling and public transportation, did away with their second and third vehicles, and donated the profits to the less fortunate around the world who’ve never owned more than one t-shirt or known a single person who was obese.

We are a country of excess, greed and fat. Do not tell me we are a Christian nation. Jesus fasted—and that doesn’t mean he ate fast food.

It is the sin of pride that Christians in America love so much, and by that one downfall hopes of brotherly love and unity throughout the world are shattered. I seem to remember someone else who had a problem with pride, and he was quite an angel.

Some days I don’t even love myself.

A hunter orange jacket. A rainbow colored yarmulke. A full beard. He bowed his head four times on the bus.

A black leather trench-coat. A black fedora. Bleached blond hair that stuck out below the hat in the back, but not at all on the sides. Black, Frankenstien boots with souls two inches thick. He asked where Shinders Bookstore was, and I didn’t know. I pass it every day on the way to work, but I didn’t know the comic book shop with the poster of Wolverine in the window was called Shinders.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.” Five times. Just like that. The cop whipped a u-turn, parked on the curb, and stepped out to utter those words. I was too busy making sure he wasn’t talking to me to notice who he was talking to. “What do you think you’re doing?” The questions continued for the man who crossed the street when the little red hand said don’t cross, but I was already crossing 8th street.

So many people, and I’m supposed to love them all? Some days I don’t even love myself.

Life without an Automobile

You never truly appreciate something until you’ve had to live without it. And if you simply can’t live without it, it must deserve a lot of appreciation. Two summers ago I went without. I can’t exactly say what I went without, because I went without just about everything. But I still had so much. I talked to a man who had nothing, and he marveled at my extravagance. Me, the street performer who ate peanut butter and jelly for lunch and washed it down with water from the drinking fountain. Me, the boy who took a 45-minute walk because it was cheaper than the bus, and the bus wasn’t that much faster.

And there are others in this world who would marvel at even less. To us meat comes from the grocery store, just the way God intended. We think only hicks and barbarians kill animals. It’s so cruel and mean. We’re so sophisticated with our chain of supply and demand that removes the consumer from the consumed by 700 miles and an air conditioned semi-truck driven by a guy named Pat who stops at a truck stop in Iowa to relieve himself.

I’m too blind to notice a lot of things.

Ten years ago we attacked Iraq. Bombs fell in Baghdad and the power went out and the TV networks were cut off. There were press conferences in Washington and neat little graphics of F-14’s introducing Good Morning America. What a time for our happy little nation. Ten years later we still fly over Iraq, we still drop bombs on them, and we still shake our little fist at them. Does the average American even realize that the average Iraqi is just like them, a person? Few of us ever realize that, no matter our nationality.

It’s like the woman on the bus today. She talked with the loud, white trash man, even sharing her kleenex with him. She was blind. Of course I was too blind to notice that the white trash man gave up his seat for the blind woman, something I didn’t do. And the white trash man asked the blind woman for a kleenex–only so he could hand it to me to ease my bloody nose. And the white trash man struck up a conversation with a freelance writer for Nightline who looked like a passive Black Panther. It seems I’m too blind to notice a lot of things. Wasn’t yesterday Martin Luther King, Jr. day? And I talked about goulashes.

They ask for prayer.

Prayer. That’s what they ask for. They’re being beaten, intimidated, starved, tortured. And they ask for prayer. Not for food. Not for clothing. And not even for an end to the persecution. They’re in countries like Egypt, Sudan, and China. Christians being persecuted for their faith. They value Bibles over bread and are willing to risk their well being just to read one. Mine sits on the shelf by my bed. I glanced through it the other day while I ate my breakfast. I wasn’t in danger of the police busting down my door.

It boggles my mind what different worlds we live in. They would spend every last cent on a Bible. I spend hundreds to ensure I’ll have matching dishes for every occasion. Sometimes I just don’t understand. Christianity makes so little sense in the twenty-first century. I wonder if people felt the same way in the first century.