Chicken & Cigarettes - Pt. 4 - Toilets & Rubber Gloves  

Posted by Ben in

Jesus demonstrated how to wield his imperial power by washing feet, telling stories and playing with kids. Jesus' empire is based on the absurd values that the last should be first, losers are winners and the most influential in this empire should clean the toilets." - The New Conspirators p. 120-1 by Tom Sine

Around this time last year my father appeared on a local Washington, D.C. TV program called "STREATS TV" to talk about the work that our church does with the Homeless in the District and to tell people how to get involved either with our church or other programs or institutions that help with the cause of the Homeless and Displaced. This is "an unprecedented tv program by the homeless about homelessness. After my trip to Baltimore he showed me the website and there was a video on there where a homeless man woke up on a park bench. As he got up, he looked around for a place to use the restroom. As he started to use a tree he heard his mother's voice in his head telling him not to and to find somewhere more appropriate. As the video went on it explained that even finding a decent place to relieve one's wastes is an everyday struggle for many people who do not have a home. To not have a home means so much more than not having a bed or a roof over your head, it means all of the above and so much more. It means to not have any of the everyday comfort and luxury that comes with having a place to call home.

This resonated with an experience I had while in Baltimore. Galen and I found it to be extremely profound. As we had only been in the city for a short while and had not yet gone to say hello to our friends yet. We realized we both needed to use the lavatory and were wondering where we might find one, for some reason we never thought about asking the church. We went up to a man on the corner of the street and asked him, he told us we could walk to McDonald's or we could just use the porta-john there in the park. We looked over and saw it was covered in graffiti and writing. As you opened the door it you walked into a restroom which was by no means in good shape. A lot of the writing was addressed to someone by the name of Kim. Many said "thank you Kim for taking care of our bathroom." Some other writing was addressed to other people. Much of it read "If you can't shit in the toilet then go do it outside."

As we spent time talking to the folks who lived in the park, we learned a lot about that bathroom and about Kim. We learned that the church had bought the park from the city for $1 because the city was not taking care of the park. As an act of love and ministry, after purchasing the park they began allowing the homeless of the city to sleep and live and commune in the park. Much of the city was upset at this because it sits on one of the main drags of the city, President St. which heads out of the harbor and turns into I-83. The park is located directly where it turns into and out of I-83, so all of those cars see a group of vagabonds as their first or last site in the city.

One parishioner, named Kim, felt called by God to do ministry for the homeless. What was his ministry? He told the church that if they'd supply the folks in the park with a restroom that he would clean it and keep it maintained. Many of those who live in the park told us of how much they appreciate the work that Kim does. They all recognized that he doesn't have to do it. In fact, many said that if they were Kim, they wouldn't do it. They were very frustrated that some don't show any appreciation for the kindness that Kim gives to them.

I thought this was powerful, it wasn't those who helped give out food and clothes from time to time or even weekly that made the big impression. It was he who humbled himself to cleaning toilets for those who might fail to appreciate the work that he did. It was that work on the side that usually gets no recognition that received the spotlight from those who needed it the most. Kim might not get any recognition from the church, he might not get any recognition from most people in the city, but to those who feel the affect of his work first hand, he's a hero.

If Christ made himself a servant, humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross, maybe we can clean more toilets.

"We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

Chicken & Cigarettes - Pt. 3 - George  

Posted by Ben in

"Ask the poor, they will tell you who the Christians are." - Mahatma Gandhi

So as we walked up and said "Hi," we were greeted rather warmly, yet with obvious curiosity. We were asked who we were and kinda what we were doing in the park. We weren't sure how to give a very good answer, so we simply told them we wanted to hang out and meet some people. They were notably surprised, and asked "you want to hang out here and hang out with us? When you could do so many better things in Baltimore?" We responded by saying "well we couldn't figure there was much better to do than meet some real people and get to know you all a little." One of the younger men said "you all are Christians, right?"

Maybe Gandhi was on to something? That or maybe that's because it's as simple as Jesus says "They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another." - John 13:35.

So we sat down with them in the cement section in the middle of the park which surrounded one of the park benches. We all introduced ourselves, and Galen and I joined them in casual conversation. This was nice and simple. An easy first step! There was an older man sitting on the far end of the park bench closest to me who had not said anything. He turned and peered at me through kind eyes, gave me a beautiful smile which featured half a bottom row of teeth and no top teeth, and asked me "What did you say your name was again?" I introduced myself again and he said, "Good to meet you, my name is George."

He proceeded to tell me what was on his heart, his story. He was hard to understand, as a great lack of teeth can make it hard to speak clearly, and repeated himself over and over again. His breath reeked of alcohol and he had tough leathery skin which had seen it's fair share of hot days in the sun and hard nights on park benches. I would put him at about 60 years of age and the story he told me spanned about the last 20. This is George's story:

23 years ago George was laid off from his job in the city. He had trouble finding work and lived off of unemployment for a little while. He never finished high school, so finding work became very difficult. He began to use drugs and alcohol to cope with his troubles. He was addicted to alcohol and drugs (my guess is cocaine from all outward signs) for 18 years. As he talked, you could begin to hear and notice the toll drugs had taken on his mental abilities. My heart went out to him.

He bounced from mission to mission for a while seeking help. Finally, 5 years later, with the help of a Christian program he got off of drugs. He has been drug free ever since, not one relapse. 18 years of Hell and misery, and he's been free for 5 years! He told me how he still struggles with alcohol as he looked down at his Budweiser can which was 90% empty. He said he hurts so much and wishes he could quit drinking. He looked at me and smiled again saying, "It's so nice to have a nice, clean-cut person willing to listen to my story."

While in the latest program George met a girl. Her name was Karen. They made it a habit to see each other every day for the past year. Karen is currently in a program, I do not know what kind of program, according to George she does not do any drugs and does not drink. The program she is in currently is a typical, non-coed program. George hasn't seen Karen for the last month and a half because of this. He told me how he missed her so much. While they had seen each other last, George was attending another program, trying to break free of alcohol addiction. He and Karen had decided that they would get married when they were both out of their current programs, but Karen had an ultimatum; George had to quit drinking. George had quit the program he'd been in and was again on the streets drinking. As he looked down at his Budweiser can another time, i could feel his heart breaking over his inability to beat this demon in his life. He longs to quit so that he could marry this woman he loves and wants to get back into a program so that he can get off the streets and get a job and hopefully be able to afford a place for the two of them.

To an outsider, George's mental disabilities seem like they would make a complete success in this goal nearly impossible. My heart went out to him, though somewhere deep inside of myself I know that all things are possible through Christ. After George had told me the same information about fifteen times and came to a stopping point, he began looking down at his Budweiser one more time, twirling it in his hand so as to make the beer inside make a "swish-swash" sound back and forth. I reached out and took a hold of his tough, leathery, calloused hand and asked him if I could say a quick prayer for him. I simply prayed that God would help free him from his addiction and make it to where he and Karen could get married and have their own place. It was a very simple, quick prayer, no more than about 20 seconds. He smiled at me one last time and told me he'd be on his way and thanked me so much for what I had done, saying one more time how nice it was to have someone listen. As he left I promised him I would continue to pray for him, and that he had to get himself into a program. He smiled and nodded his head.

I only saw George one more time. He came back later in the evening, and asked us if we were planning on sleeping outside. We said "yes." A couple others said "why would you sleep outside if you don't have to? If you can afford not to, I wouldn't do it."

We replied by saying "well, if you all are doing it, and we're spending time with you, why should we go sleep in a warm hotel room for the night? If you all are out here tonight, then so will we be."

George let us know he'd be going to the local mission to spend the night, and maybe join their program. Praise God. He told us they take people in every night, and we could go there if we didn't want to sleep outside. We told him it was ok and we would still stay outside, but thanked him for his generous help.

We wished him luck, and I told him one last time that I would continue to pray for him.

"Thank you! I will need it."

The Bible Is Already Written  

Posted by Ben in

God is good at correcting me. I'm sure he's good at correcting everyone, but I'll admit to how good He is with me. It often is not a subtle, or even kind correction. It tends to be more like a slap in the head. He's good at that, there's another term for it, i think it's called humbling us.

So, he's been up to it in my heart recently. I notice that far too often it is us as Christians who are the least humble people. Ugh, i hate it. I also hate how much i must own that statement in my own life. If you don't, awesome, but if the shoe fits then wear it.

In Matthew 11:25 Jesus says "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children"

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are," - 1Corinthians 1:27-28

These two verses are so true in my life. Jesus also said that those of us who do not accept the Kingdom of God like a little child would not see it. Well, he certainly uses Children to make me see how full of it I am and how little i know. Todd has a 7 year old son, Eli. When my younger brother died, 2 years ago, we had a very small viewing for close family friends because of the severity of the accident and the structural damage to my brother's face. Todd was holding Eli as he stood over and looked at my brother, weeping. I watched as Eli grabbed Todd's face and looked him in the eyes asking "Why are you crying dad? Joey's not there, He's in heaven. Joey's not there dad." Later that week, my girlfriend at the time's little sister, Madison (who is the most adorable girl in the world) said to Sam, "I don't understand why everyone is so sad, I mean, Joey isn't dead, he's in heaven, and we're all going to see him again when we go to heaven."

Wisdom, from the mouth of 6-year olds in the midst of my greatest tragedy. I believe these two experiences helped me get through the tragedy.

Well God continues to use Eli as a tool for shaming Todd and I. Not long after, Todd met me for dinner at school. He told me a recent experience he'd had with Eli. Eli was beginning to understand what it meant to be a disciple of God at his wise age of 6, and realized it meant that we help others regardless of the circumstance and their need, as we have fit to fill the need. Todd was filling up someone's gas tank who was in need of Gas, and Eli realized that this was to help their need. So he said "and if someone needs a car dad we'll give them a car! And... if they need a leg, we'll give them a leg!"

A leg!? Really!? What powerful imagery. I'll never forget a six year old's flawless understanding of our obligation to serve others.

Well, recently was the greatest. Todd was working on a sermon and Eli, being a typical 7 year old, bugged him over and over to wrestle, about 100 times in a matter of 10 minutes. Todd got frustrated and told him that the answer was still the same, and he needed to finish his sermon. Finally Eli left for his room, very frustrated. As he returned minutes later he asked if he could wrestle again, and when confronted with the problem of his father needing to finish writing a sermon, Eli responded with...

"but Dad, isn't the Bible already written?"

Todd put away his notes and wrestled with his son.

The Best Day of My Life  

Posted by Ben in

Yes, that's a serious title. Though I might not recall all days and there might be some days which in fact surpass this day, but for all intents and purposes for my life today and tomorrow, this morning was the best day of my life.

Why you ask?

I am interning with a Church of the Nazarene in Casey, Illinois. Casey is a a very small town of about 3,000 people. It is a rural midwest community where everyone either farms or works in a factory. It is a different pace of life than i am accostumed to. There is beauty to the fact that i see someone i know at every turn and every corner. I love the frequency of a casual friendly wave here.

So, back to my story. Todd Holman, the youth pastor i'm interning with, started taking his teenagers to the local nursing home for sunday school. They sing some songs and teach a little Bible lesson. Well, Todd has the majority of his teenagers taking a membership class during sunday school right now and he is helping teach it. He was afraid they'd have to forego the nursing home ministry for the next month until the membership class was over. He asked me if i wanted to do it for the month of June and keep it going. I said I'd love too. In fact i told my three best friends about it almost immediately because i was so excited.

I thought i would have some help. Well, no help showed up today. The lady who was going to come help and play some piano had to take care of her husband; and Robby, another college student studying Youth Ministry, set his alarm for 8pm and was nowhere to be found. So there I was on my own, and Todd says "I mean, you can do it, right? You'll be alright. Why not?"

I have never felt more uncomfortable and unprepared. I had prepared to talk to them from 2 Corinthians. But that's all i had. I had no music and everyone tells me "They LOVE music." Oh boy. However, there I was. I could have said "I can't do it, I am just not comfortable." However, is a sigh of relief an emotion that comes from loving people? As I have said before in my blog, when i feel completely uncomfortable in every way doing something, that's when i know i'm in the right place, doing the right thing.

So I got in the car and got down the road and eventually pulled up at front door. I was shaking and nervous. I said a quick prayer, asking that God would take care of it and that everything would go well. I started by setting off the alarm at the front door, excellent. So I introduced myself and asked where my group was. They had them all congregated into the main living room. So the resident was nice enough to turn the television off for me and a nice lady sitting in the front asked me "are you gonna preach now?"

I wouldn't necessarily call it preaching, more of a discussion of hope, talking to a group of people who understand more than any other when Paul says that the troubles of this life will soon be overshadowed by the glory of eternal blessing and eternal life. The same lady in the front row kept interrupting me to ask "How did the Pastor know i'd be in the front row?" Her name was Patsy. She had a birthday recently, she turned 58 or 59, she can't remember. Sadly, truth be told her birthday was three weeks ago and she's far older than 59. It was hard to get through what i wanted to say and on top of that, there was no response from 90% of the patients. Most of them were mostly unable to respond so it seemed.

At the end, I asked them if they'd like to sing Amazing Grace. Patsy's face lit up, as did another quiet lady's in the back. Patsy said "Oh yes! Very much!" So we sang Amazing Grace, a capella. Suddenly, those who couldn't hear me speaking (even though i was yelling) and couldn't physically respond to what was going on, began to hum. Some sang. All were off timing and off pitch. It was such a beautiful sound. Some who couldn't sing simply moved their heads, or their hands, you could see the music entering each's heart, drawing them into the Lord's presence. Certainly it was not my great singing, in fact the few who sang and did so far off pitch and timing, were ushering my heart to the throne. Once again I saw lines of demographics destroyed, old and young, healthy and sick, all brought together as one at the foot of the King. A gospel which crosses all lines and includes all people.

After the service, Patsy asked me if i would wheel her to her room so she could get a soda. I took her to her room. I was honored, and kindly obliged. As I took her to her room I could not wipe the smile off of my face. I was beginning to understand "Small things with great love."

I brought her back out, told her i'd see her next week, and her and the other lady in the back told me that they had enjoyed having me and would look forward to next week.

"As will I," I replied......... As will I.

Chicken & Cigarettes - Pt. 2  

Posted by Ben in

"What do you want to accomplish? Like, what's your goal?"

"Show some of Christ's love to those who maybe don't see it often. I dunno, maybe just listen to their stories. Maybe just treat them like they're human, and like they matter."

I've noticed too much today this belief in a common myth that those who are homeless just choose it, or they didn't work hard enough, or that "there's opportunity, we're in America." The biggest problem i have with this thought process is that now instead of being humans, they are a statistic which is a drain on the economy, makes my job pay less, and takes government hand outs that come from my taxes on my hard earned money. "I earned that, why don't they get a job?"

Are people really statistics? Is it that cut and dry? If i wanted to be a statistic, i'd go work for a mega corporation, or just consume some of the latest trend products. Wait, that IS what we do isn't it? We're so accostumed to being a statistic in our society that we have no problem relegating someone else to the status of yet another statistic. Maybe if we were all treated like humans more often, by more than family and friends, then we'd learn to BE human again, maybe even feel. Maybe we would treat others as human.

Obviously i'm blowing it out of proportion and exaggerating things to make a point, but i don't know that i've done so by any gross fashion, I am far too close to the truth. When did Christ become a part of our daily life? When did love become part of our daily life? Christ wants to interupt your daily life, even ruin it, all the while forcing love to become more than a section carved out of your daily life; love is to be who we are and what we are, it is to be the thing that shapes, patterns, and defines our daily lives.

...So we said "Hi."

This simple act, this "small thing," a meaningless gesture. A "hi" and a handshake. Certainly this couldn't be an act of "great love," could it? Surely vulnerable love requires more, doesn't it?

What i have learned is that even a "hi" and handshake have been trivialized. Is it so superficial? There is a thing of beauty and art to fellowship. Real fellowship requires something of us we're not always comfortable with. Real love and fellowship requires a handshake to be a meeting of people, of souls, of brothers, of humans, on a level that says "I am human, and i'm willing to be that with you. I'm willing to be real, I'm willing to let you know me in an attempt to honestly get to know you." As i've stated before in another post, everyone has a story. It is a story that God longs to play a role, and in the long run, yearns to be the author. It is a story marked with real life, real joy, and real pain. It is a story that if we come at with an open heart, we can begin to feel. We can begin to hear the sounds, smell the smells, and feel the joys and pains.

We met beautiful people in Baltimore. Children of God whom he is madly in love with. These are their stories...

Chicken & Cigarettes - Pt. 1  

Posted by Ben in

Love has a funny way of making you uncomfortable. I have heard it said that Love pushes you straight out of your comfort zones. It leaves you vulnerable, it calls you to give up yourself for the better of someone else. Often you get hurt as a result of your vulnerability. However, at the end of the day love is the greatest power on this earth, it heals wounds and calms fears. So, this is what I am called to do; what i am called to be.

Mother Tereasa had a saying which she was well known for. She'd say "We can do no great things, only small things with great amounts of love." She would also say "It is not the size of the task you do, but the size of the love with which you do it." In fact, as you walked out of the front office area of her mission in Calcutta, into the first men's ward in her house for the destitute and dying, there stood a plank over the door which read "Small things today, or don't even leave."

So, my friend, Galen McGrane and I headed off to Baltimore, Maryland a couple weeks ago to spend some time with the homeless. As we were preparing for our trip and leading up to it, people would ask me what we wished to "acheive" or what we were going to "do." I always replied "love people." Sometimes we set very lofty goals in life, we like measurable goals. Such a goal as to "love" makes others uncomfortable because it cannot neccesarily be measured.

We got our backpack all ready to go. We had layers, some more layers, and a couple Bibles. We stopped by the local general store and bought a couple loaves of bread and some peanut butter and jelly. We also bought a bunch of chocolate bars, we figured "who doesn't like chocolate?" And so, we were off...

As we drove past the inner harbor of Baltimore, we realized we didn't have much planned. We found this old Catholic Church which was next to a park where all the Homeless people stayed. We parked, kindly asked the head pastor if we could leave our car there overnight, and we got to walking. We walked past the park and saw so many people. Suddenly, there it was. No more comfort zones. What do we do? What do we say? How do we introduce ourselves? Love was knocking on our hearts, calling us into vulnerability. We walked around the harbor for about an hour, just trying to figure out what our first move would be, what was our plan of attack going to be? We made it all the way around downtown Baltimore and before we knew it we were back at the park with no ideas. Here we were. We looked at each other, sighed, and said...

"... i guess we just say hi?"