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The Roadside Prophet (Cash-part 3)

We talked more that day under the darkening sky. Thankfully, we moved on to another topic besides the End. Cash was a very insightful man and he made me feel like I was on the right path. When he asked me how long I had been witnessing to people on the street, it surprised me, but I was grateful, too. It made me consider what I was doing. In a good way. It was difficult to stand in front of this man and listen to all the theories about the end of the world and not argue, but I did. That was humbling.

Before I left, he asked me what church I belonged to.

“Well, I sometimes go down the road here, but not very consistently. I have to be honest; I have a real problem with church, in general. Not that church, necessarily, it’s a good church. There’s more to it, I guess, for years it’s been this way… I’ve been burned before,” I felt like I needed to explain why I didn’t go to church consistently. I wanted to say more, but I had to stop. I don’t even completely understand it, so how could I explain in a few words why I stopped going completely for so many years. A lot of people would say that it was simply because I was running from God.

Of course that’s true, but I was also running from His people. So much of what goes on in church is un-relatable to me. There’s a glossy, pretty haze to it that’s far removed from most people’s day-to-day reality. I get the impression that the church is more concerned with how people act than about their souls. Christ is not the president of some exclusive country club where everyone needs to mind their P’s and Q’s. He did not come to heal those who are well. He came to heal the sick. Who is the church trying to protect anyway? God? Are we trying to convince Him that we don’t have any real problems? Are we trying to protect His sensitive ears?

No.

The church is protecting itself. God has heard it already. He knows us. He’s God, remember? We don’t need to pretend that everything is just okay. Why should we?

Anyway, that’s the tip of the iceberg, and again I got sidetracked. Cash stirred up a lot of stuff and I know I’ve talked more about my deep-seated issues than about Cash. Well, so be it.

Let’s move on.

I know Cash is a good man. I should have let him pray for me. That’s the one regret that I have from our time together. I think that may have really been what God wanted from that encounter, but it didn’t happen. Which doesn’t mean I came away empty-handed. It just means that there could have been more. Like I said in the first post about Cash, we have to be ready for anything.

It was getting cold. I had to be somewhere, and I needed to make my exit. I shook Cash’s hand and told him good luck. Not sure why I said it, because I don’t think there is such a thing as luck. Then I think I covered it and quickly added a God Bless You.

As I was driving back out to Rodeo Road, I had to pass Cash again. A few cars were between us. It was Christmas time at the mall, so I had to wait for a few minutes to pull out. From my car, I watched him reach into his jacket and raise one of those chocolate chip cookies to his mouth. He took a bite and slowly slipped it back into his pocket. The line began to move and I waved as I passed. He watched me go by, and his lips were moving as his head followed me. Cash didn’t return the wave.

He was concentrating, and I believe he might have been praying.

Praying for me.

……

So pray for this roadside prophet. He’s out there somewhere challenging someone else, I’m sure, getting them to think differently about their lives. That’s noble work, and if it doesn’t deserve prayer of support, I don’t know what does.

So pray for this modern day Jeremiah.

His name is Cash.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2011 in Cash

 

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America Goes Down the Drain (Cash-part 2)

“We’re living in the last days,” Cash said.

Uh-oh.

“America is the Whore of Babylon and she’s headed for destruction. This great nation is in the toilet, and has been for a long time,” he continued. “The only way that America can save herself is to repent of her evil ways and get on her knees before God! This was once a great country, blessed by God, Ordained by God! But it has fallen away,” Cash looked like Jeremiah out there on Rodeo road: a prophet of Doom calling the people to repentance.

The clouds began to darken as he declared the coming Day of Destruction.

“I try to share the Gospel with as many people as I can,” he said. Cars passed by, I wondered if anyone heard him talking. Part of me was a little embarrassed. I know that’s kind of a jerky thing to say, but it’s true. I’ve heard this kind of stuff for a long time. Everyone has. Whether it’s someone on the far Left or the far Right, both sides have their end of the world scenarios. The end is ushered in through the carelessness of the other. The Left blames the Right’s greed and rampant pollution, and the Right blames the Left’s moral bankruptcy. What Cash was talking about was biblical prophecy, though, and that’s a whole other matter.

Growing up in church (mostly Baptist, but also Non-denominational, Methodist and a smattering of Assembly of God with a dash of Nazarene) I heard a good deal about the End Times. It always came in waves, and would be a hot topic for a while and then most people would just forget about it.

Of course, every church has someone who reads extensively about the Last Days. Book after book outlining the rapture, the identity of the Whore of Babylon, the final battle of Armageddon, and Christ’s triumphant return as the conquering king. After college, I worked in a refinery in southeast Texas. For several months, I worked with a guy who was at least fifteen years older than me. We were part of a small paint crew. At one point there were five of us in total, and our job was to paint the pipes and valves that were above and below the spheres. If you’ve driven past enough refineries, you’ll recognize these tanks. They sit on large concrete spheres and hover above the ground. As the paint crew, we fanaticized about one day painting the spheres like pool balls. Stripes and solids. But, what we did was strictly utilitarian. Our job had nothing to do with cosmetics. We were trying to prevent rust. It was a never-ending battle, but necessary. You certainly didn’t want any of those pipes to rust through, and the more layers of protection, the better.

Anyway, I worked with this guy, Ernie. Half the time, we were at each other’s throats. The smallest thing that the other did was usually the beginning of an argument. We worked together, just me and him, while the other guys would tackle different projects. It was like a bad relationship that neither party could get out of. One of the main things we argued about was religion. Not just religion, or God, though. Prophecy. We fought bitterly about prophecy.

It seemed like every other day Ernie would come in and present some new piece of evidence to me, proving that the world would end in the next few years. I’m sure he had just read somewhere and he could see the pattern that only a privileged few could see. One of the most consistent topics was Ernie’s paranoid vision of a corrupt police state. He was always talking about the Government and the surveillance of its citizens.

“They’re watching you. They know what your doing every minute of the day. They know what everyone’s doing. You can’t hide,” Ernie would say as he leaned over to me confidentially as we ate lunch in the shack.

“Seriously? Are there that many people working for the government?” I replied.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that it would take as many employees as there are citizens to watch you. Who’s gonna process all that information?” My voice rose a little.

“They can do it, Chuck, I’m telling you. You better be careful. They can track your movements. Just like they do with your credit card. My wife and I use cash as much as possible,” he said. Ernie was now talking to me like I was a petulant child who refused to believe that the sky was blue.

“My point is, who cares? Why would they bug you, why assign someone to watch you. Or anyone?! I mean, most people have boring lives! They go to their jobs and do whatever, and nobody cares! Why would the government spend all that time and money following regular people? The government is just a big, unwieldy bureaucracy. I know they watch people, but they watch people whose lives matter or are some kind of perceived threat. Most of our lives don’t matter, so why bother watching us?!” Now I was pissed off.

“He who doesn’t stand for anything, will fall for everything,” he responded. This little chestnut was his big closer. It’s not biblical; it’s the title of a country song. By this point, Ernie was talking at me and not to me anymore. I was a petulant, unbelieving child who needed discipline, and he was the disappointed parent. Years later in Santa Fe, I would have the same type of conversations with my friends on the far left. The Government was a police state. America was watching you, and recorded your every move, Bush is the Anti-Christ, etc., etc., etc.

You just refuse to see, man. You refuse to see the truth, they would tell me.

Now, I was having another conversation like this on Rodeo road with a guy I just met, and it was bothering me. Every generation has thought this, by the way, and none of them have been right. I just finished reading a book about Martin Luther, and he was convinced that he was living in the last days, absolutely certain. No one is immune I suppose. Not even Cash.

Cash seemed sincere. I mean, he spoke like he had actually considered these things and wasn’t merely echoing someone else’s thoughts. I don’t know, hearing this stuff still made me uncomfortable and I wished we could move on to another topic, but I needed to listen. I couldn’t judge this man. That was a tough one, especially since what he was saying annoyed the hell out of me.

But, I was supposed to be there listening to Cash and all of his crazy talk about the coming Apocalypse. I know that. I was supposed to have my boundaries tested. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last.

The people I meet are flesh and blood. They have stories to tell. No one said I had to like, or even sympathize, with what they’re saying.

I just have to listen.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2011 in Cash

 

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Ya Know, Like Johnny Cash…(Cash-part 1)

Not long after I met Keith, I came across a man named Cash at the entrance to the Santa Fe Place Mall off of Rodeo road. It was still Christmas, which meant that I still had plenty of cookies left. My plan had been to wrap them up in small packages and hand them out along with the money. This was the same batch that I had made about a week before I met Keith. I thought they’d be gone by now, but like I said with Keith, things don’t always work out like we plan. That day the temperature had dropped in Santa Fe, the wind had picked up and the sky had clouded over. I remember thinking that it might snow but I don’t think it did. Maybe it did in the mountains, but not in town.

When I saw this man across the street, I was heading in a different direction and I had to double back and pull into the mall parking lot. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anywhere nearby to park, so I pulled into a spot on the side of the Harley dealership at the edge of the parking lot. I grabbed the clear, plastic bag decorated with the flat, green trees and headed up the slight hill back to the intersection. There wasn’t any sidewalk here, so I followed the dirt path cutting through the side of the hill, which meant that I would have to climb a little rock wall once I reached this guy. As I was trying to maintain my footing on the rocks while I climbed, he asked if I was a Harley man.

“What’s that?” I responded, a little confused.

“What kind of bike you got?” He asked as he leaned forward slightly.

“Oh, I don’t have one…I’ve never even ridden one,” I said, as I thought, how could I have never been on a motorcycle?

“Well you came out of the dealership, I just thought maybe you had a bike…” He looked disappointed.

“Oh yeah…no, I just parked down there. I’m here to talk to you,” I said as I stuck out my hand, “I’m Chuck.”

“My name’s Cash.”

“What’s that?” He wasn’t mumbling, but I couldn’t hear him for some reason.

“Cash…ya know, like Johnny Cash,” he said as he grinned slyly.

Cash was as tall as me. Taller, maybe, but memory’s a funny thing; because as I think about it, now, I’m looking at Cash’s chest as we’re talking. His cardboard sign said something about being a vet, and his ragged, olive green flak jacket was dotted with military pins and buttons. He wore a navy blue cap with gold lettering giving the name of some aircraft carrier. His medium length, salt and pepper beard was straggly but not unkempt. The rest of his face was pitted and scarred, but gleaming. Despite the obvious abuses of the road and life, Cash still had a sparkle to him. Something was glittering beneath all that grime.

I had shifted the cookies and the five-dollar bill to my left hand. Handing them over, I said, “Merry Christmas.” Then I pointed at the bag that I had just handed him, “Those are chocolate chip cookies and they’re homemade; they’ve got pecans in ‘em.”

“Thanks,” he said as he slipped the five and the cookies into his jacket pocket.

Cars were creeping by, heading out of the mall and waiting to turn onto Rodeo road. I didn’t turn my head to look, but I knew they were there. I tried to stay focused on the man in front of me.

“Cash, do you mind if I pray for you?” I hadn’t really been nervous until now.

He jerked his head back and smiled, “Can I pray for you, brother? Is there anything that I can pray for…for you?”

What?

I was taken aback, and I fumbled for some way to decline, so I blurted, “No, thanks, I appreciate it. But, I think I’m good…thanks, though.”

Cash seemed a little disappointed.

I’m just here to give you five bucks, a couple of cookies, and pray. That’s all, I thought. I’m supposed to do something for you, man. I’m the one that’s supposed to be giving. Right?

I should have let Cash pray for me. Being prayed for is humbling, and it’s sometimes uncomfortable. It’s easy to get caught up in this act of giving and praying. It’s easy to get single minded and forget that God wants you to experience all of life, not just be obedient. God wants that, but He wants you to keep your eyes open. Be sensitive to the moment. My tendency is to follow a script and that’s exactly when God begins to stretch you. He’s not interested in a merely scripted interchange or a prescribed amount of caring. He wants us to be malleable, adaptable, and ready for the moment.

Ready for anything.

After I prayed for Cash, he asked me how long I had been witnessing to people on the streets.

Witnessing? I thought. I’m not witnessing, I’m just out here praying.

I was completely caught off guard for the second time by this man.

I’ve never thought of what I’m doing as witnessing. Frankly, the idea of someone coming up to me and trying to force something down my throat is offensive. I watch Kirk Cameron and that Australian guy proselytizing and I think, if I wasn’t saved, that would not reach me. Nobody’s gonna reach me like that. It might completely sour me on the whole concept of Christ.

Maybe it wouldn’t, I don’t know. I mean no offense to Kirk Cameron and all the multitudes spreading the Gospel this way. They’re probably called to do that, and I don’t want to get between anyone and God’s call. But, I also know that, sometimes, shoving a person into salvation is the wrong approach. Maybe there’s a better way to show God’s love. By no means do I have all the answers; I’m just saying how I feel about pushiness. That’s all.

Then again, if Cash feels like I’m a witness to him, then that’s very humbling and I am not going to run from it. I have never asked anyone if they are saved or if they have found the Lord. I just pray. For the most part, people have been forthcoming about their faith even though I don’t expect them to be. Maybe they’re just telling me what they think I want to hear.

I hope not.

I stood there on the side of Rodeo road talking to this man for at least twenty minutes. Cash had a lot to say about America, the state of the world, humanity and God’s place in our lives, and it was a surprising, challenging conversation, and, by far, the longest that I’d had to date with anyone that I met on the street.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2011 in Cash

 

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