The other night, on the way home from my orientation day at SFTS in Pasadena (which went great, by the way), we stopped in Lake Elsinore, at a place called Flour Fusion, to hang out with Amanda's family and go to a birthday party/coffeehouse concert. Amanda's brother Chris played in a couple different sets and he was awesome. It was really a great night not only because we got to see family but because some of our old friends were there. My friend Johanna played that night (and gave me my copy of her new CD), my friend Ryan George (the man with two first names) was there, and we met a few other friends as well. I can definitely say it felt good!
As the night wound down, an older looking man walked by the crowd of us hanging out in front of the coffee shop. He appeared to be homeless (and I later discovered that he was) and he was asking for spare change. I handed him a dollar, despite the common warnings not to give cash to "people like that," and to be honest, I was feeling kinda good about myself. As the man walked down the line, my friend Ryan (who probably didn't have any cash anyway) started walking with him, making conversation along the way, instead of handing him a bill. I laughed and thought, "of course. That makes sense. Only Ryan..." I wondered what they could have been talking about but instead of venturing to find out, I simply went on with my evening.
Several minutes later, maybe half an hour, Amanda and I got curious. We walked over to where Ryan and his new friend had sat down and were conversing. I tried to look busy on my phone (how ironic) so that I could get away with only listening in, eavesdropping even, but that didn't last. They were simply hanging out, laughing together, telling stories. Soon enough, we were all laughing together and sharing stories. He was a funny man with a warm and quirky personality. Most of the stories he shared were about Jesus. He kept saying, "I really enjoy talking with you kids" The three of us (Ryan, Amanda, and I) sat as he told familiar stories about Jesus feeding five thousand hungry people, how he didn't have anywhere to lay his head, how he taught his disciples to care about people, and how he trusted God. He told familiar stories but somehow, coming from him, I was hearing them again for the first time.
This man, a homeless man with limited education from Lake Elsinore, transformed the environment we were in into something which words cannot express, a sacred space. At one point, the man knelt down and simply held my foot in his hands as I sat on the bench. He was telling us the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Here was a poor man with dirty hands, sitting on the concrete sidewalk beneath us, holding my foot in his hand saying "Jesus was not afraid. Jesus was not afraid of his disciples." In that moment I understood, for the first time, something I've known for a while. Jesus was not afraid. And that fearlessness, that love which casts our fear like a demon from a possessed man, was being displayed for me in a poor homeless man from Lake Elsinore. I understood, in that moment, what the incarnation was all about. I understood, in that moment, how God can come alive in a particular person, even as particular as Jesus Christ--a poor homeless man from Nazareth. I understood the true counter-productivity of the church's constant quest for relevance and spectacle. Although this man appeared to be held captive by financial strain, his fearlessness in love revealed a freedom which transcends all understanding. The gospel of Christ was being embodied in front of me.
Indeed the gospel was embodied in my friend Ryan as well. In his freedom, Ryan went beyond simply handing the man a dollar to get him off of his chest. He started a conversation and became a friend. That night Ryan showed genuine interest in a man in whom none were interested. He displayed a freedom in love that can never be earned or won, a freedom that free if only we can learn to love.
The man's name was Peanuts. "I was born with a big round head and my parents didn't wanna call me Charlie Brown or Chuck so they called me Peanuts." And he ministered to us --three graduates of a theological institution of higher learning--and he taught us the meaning of Jesus. "Help the person on the street," he said. "Be a friend."
Mother Teresa once said, "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."