My daughter is teary-eyed as she gets in the car. This is beyond a really bad day, I can tell, and I’m suddenly glad again that I’m picking her up and she doesn’t have to get on a thirty minute bus ride right now because that would really suck.
“Remember that religion studies project?” she asks me. “Well, I had to switch groups and I broke down crying in front of the whole class.”
Social studies. Comparing religions. The only religion off the table for the kids to choose from was Satanism. Witchcraft, okayed. Voodoo, okayed. The teacher did not limit the kids to the big five. The fall out? Instead of researching religions that have plenty of sources, the kids formed groups and then debated over what most appealed to them. One boy in her group would not consider anything other than witchcraft or voodoo. The Christian girl in her group couldn’t understand why this would bother my daughter.
My daughter gets a lot of that. That, “I’m a Christian too, but we’re allowed to do this, watch that, read this… What’s up with your parents?”
So my kid ends up wrestling with “Does Christianity have standards, or is it just my parents?”
I’ve tried to answer this with, “The devil won’t attack everyone the same way. If he did, we’d unify. We’d get together and resist.” And then I explain that since we’ve stepped out of the West as a family, we’ve experienced stuff that other people haven’t. Stuff makes us say, “Um… that’s a bad idea. No thank you. That’s not for us.”
Christians in the West may call some of my decisions superstition. I don’t care. For me to ignore things I’ve experienced would be foolish.
Now, my daughter made a decision all by herself. She knew our history and she followed her own convictions. She couldn’t be part of researching and presenting a religious set of beliefs that taught people to spear dolls in order to bring harm to others, and she wouldn’t dare touch witchcraft. Not that we made her switch groups. She made that decision all by herself, in class, spur of the moment, facing rejection, humiliation, name-calling and looks of confusion. Thankfully, the teacher helped her find another group.
When the story gets re-hashed at night with her mom, we support her. “You followed your heart, kiddo. It may not have made sense to anyone but you, but that’s okay. It made sense to Jesus. And because you didn’t compromise your heart, that’s like standing for Him.”
My wife and I attend a small group Bible study thing. Not part of our church. Part of a home church. They’re starting a series entitled “DON’T Invite Them To Church.” It’s all about going out, knowing your neighbors, and living Christ-like lives in the community. Sounds good.
Not to follow the group’s instruction, but just because we’re already friends, I invite over my youngest daughter’s best friend and her parents for dinner. We eat homemade naan and buttered chicken. They totally engage when the conversation shifts to the homeless population in our town. They lean forward over the table, ready to hear more, wanting to do something. (They’re not Christian.)
I meet up at the mall with my buddy Wes, the Gideon. He’s got a trunk load of scripture to hand out. He’s great at conversations. He prays for people. Sometimes they get healed. I like to watch and learn. Sometimes I talk. Most of the time I pray. Today, this skinny, bearded guy is joining us.
“Hey, I know you,” he says as he approaches the car. “You’re my neighbor. You live right across the street from me.”
I study his face, but don’t believe him until I realize the last time I saw him he didn’t have a beard. Guess I need that Wednesday night Bible group.
When we get to the food court, my New York Yankee hat pulls me into a conversation with some elderly folk. People who just happen to attend the same church as Wes.
“Do you go around with Wes often?”
“When I can. I started today by hanging out with this homeless guy near Gaetz Street.”
“You mean Lars?” asks a man with a white beard.
“You know him?”
A woman answers, “He’s been there for nearly ten years.”
“When I asked him this morning, he said six.”
“It’s been a long time,” she continues. “I think I saw him working at the fish cannery before it got shut down.”
“Now he just leans against that wall,” white beard says. “Ever see it after he moves? Just a big, slimy grease spot. He used to stand out in front of the 7/11. The wall got so dirty. They put a cash machine there. Now he stands around back. When he sits on the sidewalk, he leaves the same greasy spot.”
“Why can’t Mental Health do something for him?” a woman complains.
The reason I’m not good at conversation, like Wes, is playing out in my mind. I can’t answer with: Hang on! You know his name, but you haven’t said spit about anything you’ve done for him. You’ve known he was there for how many years? Six? Ten? And he’s still there? All I’m hearing is how dirty he is! I’ve only hung out with him a dozen times in the last year but I know his birthday’s in October, he doesn’t have a favorite color, he used to ride a motorcycle…!
I answer with, “I bring him granola bars and Tim Horton’s gift cards so he can have a place to get warm.”
“I tried to give him a snow suit once,” says white beard. “Wouldn’t take it.”
I offer, “I’ve found he won’t take things handed to him, but if you leave it on the ground, he’ll pick it up.”
“I wish Mental Health would get him a bath,” says a woman. “Get him a place to clean up and dry off. Is there really no housing available?”
No one mentions the idea of actually inviting him inside their own home, letting him take a shower in their own bathroom, clip his nails with their nail clippers, wash his hair with their shampoo.
I’ve thought about it myself.
I know all the reasons why I haven’t.
Do I really know the Reason why I should?
Day after day, Lars leans against a building that lets costumers choose between hundreds of types of carpet and wood flooring. Across the street is an apartment building we’ve watched go up together. Next to the apartments, a storage unit for people to house all their extra possessions. And next to the flooring building, a storefront church.
It’s not ironic that this is where Lars leans to stay out of the wind, rain, and snow. It’s prophetic. A block away from Gaetz Street, sits a homeless man who says, “I don’t want to be outside anymore.”
What are we gonna do about it?
My daughter’s doing the right thing. She’s standing by her beliefs.
My youngest daughter’s friends want to help. And they have no beliefs.
Shame on this town, me included, that Lars is still there.