A dog and a man

It was a quiet Sunday morning. Very little traffic. Very few people out except the dedicated who had rolled out of bed for 10 o’clock mass.

The evangelical service didn’t start until 11. And a crisp morning stroll was a good remedy for lethargy during church. Obviously, I was fairly alone in my opinion, or at least alone in the motivation for its practice.

I jammed my fists into my coat pockets to keep them warm. I was headed nowhere in particular and anyone looking at me could tell. Who cared? The hushed activity was restful and I talked with God as I walked.

Along the boulevard, there was a big piece of cardboard spread out on a bench. Had a homeless person slept there? Where was he now? Had the police chased him away? Why was he homeless?

As I continued strolling, I prayed for the needy of our quiet little town. Up a block or two along the boulevard, I noticed a dog shying away from a man on a bench. The skinny beast had belonged to somebody at some point in time—I knew because of the collar—but now his ribs were jutting through his thin white coat.

Again, the dog approached the man with great skepticism and was rewarded with a chunk of bread. He shied away again, but watched for the next morsel.

And the man. As I got closer, I noticed him. He had that look. Like someone who had spent more than one night on a park bench. Next to him was a childless stroller piled high with things, earthly treasures that may have come from a nightly raid of the neighborhood trash bins.

I passed the scene, wondering why the man was throwing away his bread to a dog. Wasn’t that proof of his bad stewardship that had probably put him out on the street in the first place?

Or could it be that he knew need—true, desperate need—and he had compassion on another needy creature?

On my return loop, my view was from the back of the scene. The dog was still there, darting in and shying away, but not quite so shyly anymore. He and the man understood each other.

I was the outsider, passing by the scene without really understanding.

I was thirsty and you gave me coffee

When I saw this mural of a homeless man and his hot coffee, I thought of the countless cups of coffee that we serve to immigrant women each week. Some mornings, we scramble to warm milk, fill sugar containers, and pour coffee, remembering that this lady likes her coffee heated especially hot and this one doesn’t take milk so fill it to the brim and that one wants her special cup and saucer.

“I was thirsty and you gave me drink.”

Some of the women are easy to serve. They smile. They are grateful. They ask you to sit with them and don’t mind your faltering Arabic. But others gossip or demand things from you while appraising you with hardened eyes. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that serving these women, “the least of these,” is serving the Lord.

But aren’t we all from the lineage of “the least of these”? At one time, weren’t we all watching the world with hardened eyes, cup out-stretched, thirsty? But did we know for what we were thirsting?

“The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Today we serve, we pray, we speak, we love. But we never want those we serve to find fulfillment in a cup of coffee. We want them to walk away thirstier until they find that spring of water that wells up to eternal life.


(Matt. 25:35 and Jn. 4:14)

What if you were Soukaina?

Have you ever stepped into someone else’s shoes and tried walking around in them?

Soukaina is sixteen years old. She lives with her parents and two year old brother in a poor neighborhood of a bustling North African city. In that tiny, sixth floor apartment, personal property and space are out of the question. She doesn’t have her own bedroom. In fact, there is only one bedroom for the entire family.

She usually attends school but spends her free time on the streets. She gets in trouble for bullying neighborhood kids. Her parents send her out of their way, but paradoxically rebuke her for spending too much time on the streets.

Her father is diabetic and doesn’t have a job. Her mother works herself to the bone six days a week. Her little brother follows her around and gets into everything.

To get anyone to listen to her, she has to yell. Sometimes, it’s just easier to hide. Once, she said, “I don’t like to live here. There are many bad people.”

Yet, she is loved. Despite the abstract and irregular displays of affection, her parents love her.

So what if you were Soukaina? Well, what if you were? What would your life look like? What choices would you make?

I’m not asking these questions so you can recognize your privileges or count your blessings. I’m asking you because looking at the world from someone else’s perspective makes you better capable of loving them.

WhatamIdoinghere

WhatamIdoinghere
And whatwasIthinking
To expose myself to rejection
And the stinging unknown.
WhatamIdoinghere
And whatwasIthinking
To make myself vulnerable
To a broken world,
Tasting its pain and distress
Hearing the cry of the oppressed.
WhatamIdoinghere
And whatwasIthinking
To let my soul experience
The piercing emotion that comes
From living a full life,
Allowing my will to battle strife,
Petitioning for souls at heaven’s door,
And understanding love more than before
WhatamIdoinghere?

Judging the radical

There is someone I regularly pass judgment upon. I try not to. But he has a way of deflating my perceived piety because whenever I am around him, I feel myself judging him. He just doesn’t fit into my spiritual box.

Nearly every time I see him, God teaches me the same lesson: “Stop judging, my child.” And I am convicted once again.

Spirituality isn’t confined to what I think it should look like. And when I’m not so busy being full of myself and how I am doing spirituality perfectly, then I see how God displays His attributes differently in different people. So how can I put His personality in a box?

And I think of the people in the Bible who more focused on God than on themselves. They had to do some pretty radical things: leading an entire people group out of slavery, taking messages of judgment to God’s people, marrying a prostitute, living a wild desert life, and giving up normality to have a child out of wedlock…a child conceived by the Holy Spirit.

So how can I say that I know what a relationship with God looks like for every person? He doesn’t give us all of the same callings or the same gifts. And I am thankful that not everyone is as closed-minded as I am about following God radically.

Listen

Sometimes, I imagine I’m a well-known writer. The truth is, however, that I have a hard time expressing myself. Emotions often don’t translate well into prose.

But tonight I’m thinking that maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Expressing myself doesn’t have to be my notable character attribute. What if I were a good listener instead?

My time of training in New York brought out reflective questions: Do I listen with my heart? Do I hear the longings behind the words people are saying? Or am I too preoccupied with finding an avenue of expressing myself?

God used New York for my “ah-ha!” moment. The real training has started since I’ve been home. So many people need listening to. What have I been missing out on all these years?

Today I had lunch with a lady from church who shared some of the struggles of being a mom. In class tonight, a student told me about the discrimination she sometimes faces as an immigrant. Just when I thought I’d used up my daily quota of compassion, another acquaintance expressed concern over potentially losing her job over a moral issue.

So, I listened. Now what? What exactly does “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) look like from day to day?

I guess I’m still learning.