I spent my morning shopping with my folks in Vernon, BC, and while driving between locations, I passed a man on the highway. He was all bundled up (it is our first day of negative temperatures this season) and was holding a plain white sign with big block letters saying, “Do You Know Jesus?” I wouldn’t have noticed the man except he waved enthusiastically to me as I drove by. There was energy in that wave, and he was smiling this huge, contagious smile. It made me happy, impressed me, and when I reached my destination I pulled over and applauded him in a facebook status. I drove home from the shopping trip with this man on my mind.
Not too long ago, I probably would have considered this man foolish and embarrassing instead of welcoming and brave.
I have just finished reading a book called Misfits Welcome. It is written by a man who started a church in LA and rather than seeking out the richest of America’s citizens to populate his services, he went to skid row and bused in people from the streets to be his congregants. The book is amazing, and has challenged me to reconsider my values. I consider myself a fairly nice person, and I believe most who meet me would agree. But I have started to notice cracks in this ‘niceness’ since reading Misfits.
About a month ago at work a man came in shortly before we were closing. He asked about a former co-worker who I know has worked through addiction issues and now is a sponsor in the AA program. Her name was my first clue that this man was probably not right. He ordered a meal and soon it became apparent that he could not pay. It wasn’t in my power to feed him for free that night, but I’d already made the salad he’d ordered, and it would have been tossed out, so I did give him that much, and then we talked. He was clearly having a psychotic break. He spoke of being chased, of having nowhere to sleep, of going out to get high. My associates were afraid of him, and the hotel concierge was watching to make sure the man didn’t get violent. I tried unsuccessfully to find him a bed for the night, but we were too late, and the hostel had already closed its doors. Instead, I asked him if I could pray with him. So, I sat down in a corner booth with this unwell man and we held hands and I said a simple prayer asking for protection and asking that the man would be able to distinguish between what was really happening and what was only happening inside his mind. The man calmed immediately, and he walked out of the restaurant peacefully.
I don’t know what happened next. I didn’t resolve any of the issues in his life, but I did have the privilege of offering him a moment’s validation and compassion instead of fear and rejection. It is the one and only time I have prayed with a customer at work, but definitely not the only time I felt the prompting.
On my last shift this week I had a couple come into the restaurant who clearly were strung out on some serious drugs. I was pretty sure the woman was a prostitute, and not a young one, either. One look at the pair and I said to another waitress, “I don’t want to serve them tonight!” It was obvious that there would be no tip involved, and I just didn’t have it in me to give to this pair. All they were ordering was pie and water. The extremely skinny woman ordered multiple pieces of pie in different flavours. She was twitching in her seat, either on something or badly in need of a fix, and at first this was all I could see. Then I started to see more. When she would speak to me, she would angle her chin and kind of flutter her eyes. It was a look that would have been cute and charming on a sixteen year old but on a grown woman was just a social miscue. And suddenly instead of seeing a burning out human being, I saw the heart beneath. She was trying so hard to be “right”, to be sweet, and she just wasn’t ‘right’. It broke my heart, made me ashamed of my initial reaction to the pair. They ate their pie, paid, didn’t tip, and left with the woman again trying her best to communicate social etiquette. They were polite, they were no trouble, and yet they still were clearly social misfits. And instead of compassion, my initial reaction was judgement. They left me sad, wondering what had happened along the way to this eager to please woman who was getting it wrong despite her clear desire to be liked.
So, Do You Know Jesus? For those of us who do, we know that it is Jesus who makes us ‘right’. In a world that most often leads to emptiness or worse, knowing Jesus and the amazing gift of the perfect flawless love He directs at each one of us is something worth standing on a street corner and talking about.
Too often, we seem to think we are good people just because we have the appropriate social cues down. We look right. We do a lot to protect the appearance that we are right. I think that most of us would never be seen with a certain class of people or with people who behave in certain ways, and deep inside our hearts we believe, even if only subconsciously, that not being associated with these people validates our reputation as ‘good’ or ‘nice.’ But it’s pretty clear in the Bible that Jesus sees life the opposite way. Some days I am very aware of how few and far between are the moments when I actually am nice, how few and far between are the moments when I can be found with those who are social misfits. Most people within church are probably in the same boat. We think we are good people, but mostly that is because we have attained a certain social standing or class distinction and have incorporated those social cues into our persona. If you doubt me on this ask yourself this question: Would you or I be caught dead standing on a street corner holding up a billboard asking Do You Know Jesus? Do we actually believe that much? Do we actually care that much? That we would willingly make ourselves appear a fool for Jesus? Even as I was writing this I thought to myself, tomorrow I should make myself a sign and go stand out on the street with it! Guess what happened next? My heart began to race!
Put yourself into that picture. Does your heart, like mine, begin to accelerate with nervous adrenaline at the thought? In your mind’s eyes, picture yourself right now standing on a street corner holding up that sign. Do your palms kind of sweat?
Then you, like me, still have a way farther to go in your radical and compassionate walk with Christ. You, like me, have a way farther to go in caring more about others than about yourself.
One week today, Tuesday, November 18, I am going to stand out on the street for one hour with a sign saying simply Do You Know Jesus? And then I will post a picture for you all. I challenge you to join me wherever in the world you call home and post your picture and your location as we all make ourselves “wrong” socially for Jesus.