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Hey…I know that dude (Keith-part 3)

Out of all the people that I’ve met on the street, Keith is the only one that I have talked to more than once. In an earlier post about him, I said that I had prayed for him twice. Really, I’ve prayed for Keith three times. Strange, but it’s almost become a relationship. I have a feeling I’ll see him again.

Anyway, this post is about the second time that I stopped to pray for Keith. Actually, I wasn’t looking for him at all; I was chasing down some other guy so I could pray for him.

That day, as I pulled into the Sunflower Market on Zafarano, I noticed a young man sitting beside the entrance. He was playing a guitar and wearing a black fedora, a gray and white flannel shirt, black slacks and a black leather jacket. I think he may have been Native American. I passed him by and parked.

I’ll get him when I leave, I thought, I’m hungry.

My stomach was rumbling. I was there at the hippie-mart to get some lunch. Hunger won out over compassion. After I bought my Clif bar, banana and some trail mix, I sat in the car and ate. I had a good view of the guy from across the parking lot. While I listened to sports talk radio, I periodically glanced up at him through the dirty windshield making sure he didn’t leave.

To be honest, I felt awkward about this guy and this location. Sometimes it’s hard to know how receptive someone is going to be to a stranger’s prayer. The young ones give me the most anxiety. No one has ever refused prayer, mind you. This is in my head. But, on that day I was in the enemy’s camp. That’s probably not fair to say, but I was in the parking lot of the Sunflower Market and if you mention God or prayer to some of those people, you may as well be handling snakes, foaming at the mouth and speaking in tongues. Quite a few of the so-called “open-minded” liberals I’ve met are violently unreceptive to Christianity in any form and they are not shy about voicing their opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to bash the libs, but it’s true that many of them think that nuts like Pat Robertson are the norm for Christianity. The truth is, I think Pat Robertson is a nut, too.

A lot of other Christians feel the same way.

The flip side of is that “liberals” are often labeled as godless fools and that’s not fair. I’ve said the same thing, myself, on occasion. The truth is, while I lean to the right, my politics often trend back to the left. Many times I am embarrassed by what the Evangelical Right says. Sometimes it feels like someone has hijacked my faith and is speaking for me. I hate that. Back in southeast Texas, my wife and I were considered liberal/hippie Christians. In Santa Fe, when we happen to mention that we vote mostly Republican people think we’re hard-liners. It’s all perspective, I guess.

Sorry, I got slightly off track, but the point is that this irrational fear of liberal/hippie retaliation was in my head. So, truthfully, as I sat watching this young man from the safety of my car, I think I unconsciously ate a little slower.

I was stalling.

Then the guy began to pack up his things.

Before I could even put the car in gear, he was halfway to Cerrillos Road. The dude was fast.

The chase was on.

Guitar bouncing on his back he strode toward the intersection. There was a large median separating us, so I had to go through the light, hoping that I would be able to pull into the parking lot and cut him off.

No such luck.

He crossed the street and continued up Zafarano. The easiest thing for me to do was to make the block and come back up behind him.

Maybe he’ll set up shop at the next intersection, I thought, possibly at the four way stop, not at the traffic light. Okay, I’ll roll through and give him a chance to catch up.

By this time, I had lost visual contact, but I was confident that I would run across him again on my next trip up Zafarano. I turned right onto Rodeo, right onto Cerrillos and picked up where I had left off, at Zafarano and Cerrillos. This whole escapade was beginning to feel a little like Cops or Dog: The Bounty Hunter. Only, I wasn’t trying to arrest this guy, I trying to pray for him.

It was funny, but I didn’t see him again.

What the hell? I wondered, wasn’t this the guy I was supposed to talk to?

Was I a jerk for sitting in my car and eating and not praying for him first? I just assumed that I would catch up to him, so I wasn’t in a big hurry. Now, my day was beginning to go downhill. Like when you don’t exercise, and you’ve convinced yourself that you’ll do it later. The hours pass by and the sun sets, and, suddenly, it’s too late to run and the downward spiral begins.

When I realized that I wasn’t going to catch up to this guy, I began to feel that initial twinge of remorse. Now, I was on a mission. Something felt unfinished. Don’t get me wrong; talking to people on the street is not a daily occurrence. I don’t have any kind of weird quota system. Something just felt off. Incomplete. So I needed to keep looking. Not necessarily for this guy, who seemed to have disappeared, but for someone. Anyone.

So, much like at Christmas, when I had all those cookies to give out and no one to give them to, I went trolling. I was looking for someone to pray for.

Of course, I didn’t see anyone. I drove up and down Cerrillos road, and through intersections where I’ve talked to people before. Nothing. Passing through the traffic light in front of Wal-Mart, I finally saw a guy with a sign. This time I knew him, but I couldn’t remember his name. I had prayed for him before, right near my studio. As I was making tracks back to Wal-Mart, I was rapidly thumbing through my internal Rolodex, trying to figure out this man’s name. The only thing that I came up with was K. His name starts with a K.

Red and blue jacket, a hat, red hair, pale skin, a scraggly beard, and large white teeth, tall: he could have passed for a Viking. That’s him. When I crossed the parking lot and was within earshot, I asked, “Do you remember me?”

“Yeah, I’m bad with names, though.”

“I’m Chuck.”

“Keith.”

“Right, right…I knew your name started with a K. How are things coming with the surgery?” Keith has a slipped disc in his back, causing his gait to be painfully exaggerated. The long sweeping arcs of his legs make his hips look to be knocked out of joint every time he takes a step.

“Still trying to make enough money to have it done,” he said.

Keith had told me in our last conversation that it would cost $50,000 dollars to have the procedure.

That’ll never happen, I thought. It was the first thing that popped into my head. Why is doubt my initial response to most things? To quote Darth Vader: I find your lack of faith…disturbing.

“Where are you originally from, Keith?” I asked, trying to find out a little more about him.

“Hawaii. I lived there for a long time. I even had a pretty successful stone business…masonry. I built all kinds of stuff. Really technical things, like fountains, and water features. I’m really into detail, I mean, I could build you the best fountain, and it would be incredible,” he said.

“That’s cool, I do construction work, myself…handyman work, I used to work for a custom home builder, but I do my own thing, now.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yep, it’s not too bad…so what happened to the business?” I asked. Normally, I try to let people talk and not ask questions, I don’t want to be intrusive. But, I felt like I needed to probe a little with Keith.

He looked over at the traffic slowly pulling out of the parking lot and said, “Well, I got hurt, you know…my back. Then I couldn’t work anymore and the business tanked. It was just me, anyway. There weren’t any other employees. Then my wife left. I couldn’t do anything,” he said, still looking at the cars pulling out.

“Man…” I uttered quietly. What can you say?

“So I left Hawaii, it’s expensive there, and I got to the West and…” Then he trailed off and shrugged.

Keith had relayed all this to me with very little emotion. These are the facts, he seemed to be saying; now, you can decide what you want to do with them.

Keith didn’t say a whole lot after that, so I prayed for him. One thing was different this time, though. I asked him if there was anything that he wanted me to pray for. I was taking prayer requests. That was new. Normally, I pray my standard prayer, shake hands and get going. When I asked him, he said that he wanted me to pray for his surgery: that somehow God could make it a reality.

Okay…I didn’t even believe that this was going to happen. How could I pray for it? I did, but I don’t know how effective the prayer is of a man who only believes a little of what he’s saying. I always think of the passage in Mark about the man who begs Christ to help his son. The boy was possessed by a demon, the father told the Jesus, he’s been like this since childhood; if you can do anything for him…

“If?” Jesus asked the father. Then he added, “All things are possible to him that believes.”

Poignantly, the man replied, “Lord, I believe…help my unbelief.”

Help my unbelief.

I feel like that on a daily basis. My faith is so full of holes and flaccid sometimes. On occasion even nonexistent. God knows this about me. The amazing thing is that He’s willing to help me with something as fundamental as belief. Not even that has to be perfect.

Christ healed the young man that day. Not because his father’s faith was complete, but because that man had the guts to be real with God. Faith isn’t about perfection. We are human beings, after all. When we can’t stand and wholeheartedly give in to belief, then sometimes we need to trust God to fill in that gap. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: sometimes you just need to show up. God will take care of the rest.

So I left Keith that day. Weeks later I would meet him again. He would still be walking with the same limp and wearing the same red and blue striped jacket.

Still on the street.

Pray for Keith.

He needs surgery.

He’s out there trying to be somewhere else.

Aren’t we all?

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Posted by on March 15, 2011 in Keith

 

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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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