Friday, September 18, 2009

It Just Got Personal

Yesterday, my friends T.C. Porter and "Bub" posted on their blogs about an experience they had with an older homeless gentlemen whose name is Ron. He actually goes by the name "Crutches". I won't go into why...I really want you to read T.C.'s & Bub's posts. They explain it.

Anyways, if you read their blogs you'll see that I posted a few remarks. You see, T.C. & Bub (as well as other friends of mine) are a part of a "missional" church effort in the Normal Heights area called Adams Avenue Crossing. They emphasize the actions, kindness, grace & love of Jesus towards the marginalized and oppressed among us. We're talking about the poor, the homeless, the teens who've been kicked out of their homes and have no where else to go (Bub has a REALLY good post about this on his blog).

For a few months now, I've been engaging in some conversation with my friends from Adams Ave. about some differences between the missional church vs. the evangelical church...differences I won't go into in this post. But if you sum it up it's about showing the love of Jesus vs. sharing Jesus with our words, and whether or not that has to be an either/or philosophy. Frankly, while much of our conversations have been light-hearted and recreational, some of it has been just downright frustrating.

Last night though, it got personal. I was rushing around. I took my son, T3 to football practice, and got home late. Thursday nights are busy at JCC, the church I'm a Pastor at. I'm responsible for all the church's spiritual growth classes, and I have several through out the week and weekends. Thursday though, I had one class in its 2nd week, and another brand new one kicking off, plus I'm a small group leader for New Format, our College-Aged ministry at Journey.

Busy night.

So, I'm already late, racing down Jackson Dr. when out of the corner of my eye I see an older man (I assumed he was homeless) walking around on his crutches next to the local 7-11. I knew it was Ron! And my immediate thought was, "You ought to make sure he has dinner". No kidding, my very NEXT thought was, "There's no way you can stop, you're late, and have a very busy schedule tonight. Ron will be here tomorrow."

But of course I couldn't be sure that Ron WOULD be here tomorrow. The story of the Good Samaritan flashed through my mind. Was I really going to be one of "those" religious professionals that was too busy to help someone else? I'm convinced it was the LORD who was asking me that question. So I turned into the 7-11 parking lot (right in front of Ron) and turned off the car.

I got out, and the first thing Ron said was, "Could you spare some change? I'm trying to get something to eat". I responded, "Aren't you Ron?" Of course this startled him a bit, and he looked a bit concerned. So I quickly said, "You got to meet my friends T.C. & Bub today over at LeStat's!" He immediately loosened up, flashed a toothless smile and said "Yeah, they bought me some chili!"

I bought him a burrito and a bottle of water (sorry Bub :p ), and apologized for having to leave so quickly (but I really DID have to go!) He then said that I could find him outside of 7-11 everyday if I ever wanted to have dinner with him sometime.

This whole experience is really fresh in my mind, and T.C. encouraged me to post my experience and some thoughts...because I would LOVE to hear your thoughts and get some feedback on my experience from you all. There is a much needed dialogue that needs to happen with in the "C"hurch about meeting the needs of the "least of these".

Here are some raw thoughts:
1. Even though I help several hurting, hungry, desperate people as a part of my job every week, the experience I had meeting Ron (on the very same day that T.C. & Bub did) feels so much more "in my face". I don't know why that is.
- Is it because I wasn't being a Pastor, but just Todd?
- Is it because it was "my" $5.00 that bought his burrito?
2. Ron was very quick to let me know that he is a "good person". I wonder why he felt the need to qualify that to me?
3. While Ron looked concerned at first that I already knew his name, he also talked to me as if I had been his friend for a long time. I know the burrito was important, but have I been underestimating how important fellowship is for folks like Ron?

So that's it for now. What do you think?


Bob Surber said...

Todd - this is an awesome post, and I am interested in what other people have to say.

I had the honor (and I genuinely mean honor) of doing a Friday night "Hope for the Homeless" through Journey church. This was part of our OneFlesh group - our goal was to server a different ministry each month for one night, and that night happened to be to make PB&J sandwiches, pack up bags of sandwiches, water bottles, bananas and deserts (honeybuns, twinkies, etc) and go downtown to feed the homeless.

One of the VERY important things we were told during our brief orientation was - do not go out and preach to these people... many of them know scripture better than we do because that's all most people that help them do is pray over them or preach to them while feeding or sheltering them.

What we were told to do was offer them food, and then see if they want to talk. Sit down on the ground with them, bring yourself to their level in life (or them to yours...perspective) and just give them the dignity of conversation.

What a night that was. I sat for over 30 minutes with another guy from church and talked with one guy. He had lost his job at the beginning of the economic collapse and things spiraled down from there. This was a smart dude - he was reading philosophical books by doctors from the library, while he sat on a torn up blanket on the sidewalk. His wife was in a shelter, he got to see her once a week or so...but it was important to him that he got her into a shelter even if there was no room for him.

I also go to meet some other people and one of them was trying to find stuff in her collection of misc things to give as gifts for the time spent and the food. Another couple, realtors who had moved out from Florida to make some money in San Diego - at an unfortunate time (right before the collapse) asked us to just sit and pray with them.

This changed my life. This fellowship with people who you, your whole life, try to avoid because it is awkward or uncomfortable. Just listening to their stories, telling jokes with them, being "humans" with them instead of them being "homeless".

We don't really have a homeless community where we live (one person...I think two now)... but even my kids now want to offer a meal, or some fruit and water to them when we do see them.

I need to make it a priority to do Hope for the Homeless again. I think I was rewarded, with a new perspective, a new appreciation for people in unfortunate situations and who they people...without a title or branding - than they were by the food and conversation we provided.

My advice, go have dinner with Ron in front of 7-11. If you want company I'd be happy to go with you.

Brandon said...

One thing that strikes me when I look at people that have had a large impact on the direction my life has taken is how many metaphorical "$5 Burritos" were purchased (for me, or for someone else) in front of me. Loving someone has wide reaching effects. Thanks for sharing.

Angelica Bays, said...

It may seem like I'm taking the long way 'round. but stay with me. When my nephew had his accident we were all just gutted. Could barely function. It was uncomfortable for my sister to accept help from friends and neighbors. Until her pastor finally told her in no uncertain terms, that it wasn't about her. ::cut to scene from 'The Incredibles', "This is not about YOU, BOB!":: She was shown that it wasn't so much about her pride or her needing help, but it was about the friends and neighbors' need to act. Their need to act upon their professed values. I call myself your friend, your neighbor, a follower of God and yet I'm gonna just sit by and let you suffer and do nothing to comfort you? nah. And for Beckie to refuse them would have been her standing in God's way. (home stretch here, hang on)
So maybe it's not about them. Maybe it's not about whether we can change them or cure homelessness. Maybe it's just about us practicing Jesus-ness. Whenever we can as often as we can, so it becomes a habit.
Or maybe it was just so T3 could see you wrestle w/your schedule and watch God win.

Lise said...

Todd - this is a beautiful addition to Bub and TC's post and I find your questions at the end compelling. I said a bunch already on this topic on the other blogs but two thoughts. One, we must always try to open our hearts and see ourselves in the other. But in order to be loving and generous, we also have to fill the well. It's hard to give 24/7, particularly on an empty tank of gas. Jesus told his disciples to eat and rest; He himself went often to be alone. I heard you say you were pining for that desert time. I hope it comes soon for you. And that your experience the other night gave energy vs. depleted it.

I often tell parents, "Put your own oxygen mask on first; then assist your child." Giving and receiving are deeply interconnected but we must be grounded to be compassionate. And we can love but not rescue. He is the one that facilitates the true transformation. -- I'm preaching to the choir. Bless you.

TC said...

Way to go, way to get out of your comfort zone and do something that was very inconvenient. Thanks for allowing me to be part of this journey. TC

TC said...

I'm thinking about why this one visit with a homeless guy was so rewarding, when you interact with people in need every week at church.

1) Usually they come to you. You're sitting in the office, getting work done, and a needy guy knocks on the door. ... Here, you sought the guy. You accepted the call to be sent out: That's the "missional" impulse. I'm beginning to refer to it more as "apostolic" (apostle = sent one). And it's very God-like. He's been reaching out to us all along. He sent Jesus. As image bearers we have an impulse to be sent out, even (and especially) to people who don't love us in return.

2) It's happening in community. Look at this web on the internet - all the people thinking about deep servanthood and making an impact in the name of Jesus. Look at all the forethought that went into the occasion, the chats you mentioned that we've had, me pouring out my heart to you, our theological reflections and prayers; and the three bloggers sharing the common experience. It pains me how individualistic we are at times and the joy of this occasion is largely a joy of communion, breaking bread together, doing life together. Our journey together becomes bigger than the building and the music. It takes on the world. We became battle partners this week, waging a common war. Coming together in the building the songs sound that much sweeter. Because we had come from a week of worship. The mission feeds the gathering. ...

The Elder Todd said...

Son, Been a very long day but I wanted to read your post. I haven't read the other two but will.

This reminded me of an incident in Anaheim around 1986. Another father and another 10 year old boy met a homeless man on the street who wanted some spare change because he hadn't eaten for several days. Remember taking him to Denny's for breakfast?

It really is personal. I think that's what I was trying to say in a recent post when I said, "You are your brothers keeper on a personal and an individual level - dig deep." You can't just pass it off to someone else and there's no overhead on that $5.00 burrito. This is a fine example for T3.

Love you Son & good night.

notpeacebutasword said...

I think that you asked some really profound and awesome questions that all of us need to ask ourselves. So stoked that you got to experience that Todd. TC went into the reasons why you felt good which I have to echo. I agree sometimes that our conversations can be frustrating but I always love to hear and respect your thoughts. One more addendum to this story is that when Letty saw Ron's picture, she told me that a month earlier, she had bought him a sandwich as well. When he asked why, she told him that Jesus loves him, that's why. Dude, does Ron got Jesus looking out for him or what?


Kevin Brangwynne said...

Todd...I recall a couple months back you blogged about being rested up and ready to "take over the world!" To me, this post, all the comments and the related blog posts have a "world changing" feel to them and I'm feeling called to jump in...even though I'll be taking a trip waaay outside my "comfort zone." Anyway, just wanted to encourage you to continue your efforts to "take over the world"...this story has certainly taken over a piece of mine (and many others, it would appear!) Now it's time for me to get out and get busy! Thanks to all for sharing!

P.S. Your Dad's comment got me right where I live, with regard to the kind of legacy we pass on to our kids...again, world changing kind of stuff!

A Blended Family said...

It seems that God has been working to show you a couple of things that all of us can learn from. As a church we all need to find a personal outlet to serve that is separate from our job. Ron was surprised because most of us just walk by, drive by, or ignore the Ron’s in the world. We are so busy doing our own thing. Maybe we should get together in our home fellowships and make sure that once a month, or even once a quarter, we should find a way to reach out to our local east county community. Pool our time and money together and reach out. Maybe we could have a blog site set up where we could put up our stories anonymously.

Lise said...

This is all such a wonderful dialogue.

Responding to T.C.'s comments, I want to say that I don't think it matters whether a "needy" guy knocks on my office door or whether I bump into one while walking on a street corner. I think it's all relative. Being an "apostle" is more a state of mind/presence. I also think the "needy" person can come in many guises - a business suit or rags. We have to be careful about our presumptions. (And acknowledge our own woundedness/limitations).

But I agree - community is vital and again, it needs to be nurtured whether it is in a church building, a rec center, on the internet or wherever. Encounters are wonderful and sometimes even life transforming, but "love is in the washing and the milking and the cooking." It's the day to day continuity of relationship that all souls need - kids, adults, animals. We all crave it. And want to know that we are wanted beyond just a brief moment in time. How wonderful that the Kingdom invites us all to be a part of such a family. If people are open to receiving and are being loved unconditionally.

The more the lines break down between "us and them" - whether that be race, economic status, gender, sexual orientation or political party - while celebrating difference - the more we are a true community in the best sense of the word.