sidewalk friendship

She looked me in the eye and smiled, then bowed her head low again. Her chin touched the cardboard sign braced against her knees as she sat on the hot concrete sidewalk at the corner of sw Tenth and sw Burnside, directly in front of Powell’s City of Books. Her weather worn skin betrayed hardships far exceeding what might be expected of one so young, surely in her early twenties. 

My heart went out to her immediately, weaving its way through tourists searching for one more trinket, book lovers juggling triple lattes and stacks of their latest finds, and others simply intent on ignoring her. But I couldn’t. How could I? 
She hails from Florida, having been here for about one month. She has hopes, dreams…but we can only learn of them by listening. So listen I did, despite the snide looks of passersby and condescending sighs. 

Just another day of making a new friend. A good day. A satisfying one because it reached beyond the external and touched my heart, and hopefully hers, too.

what if?

I stood at the sw 5th and sw taylor bus stop this morning. A 20something girl spun her hula hoop in intricate patterns while waiting alongside me and listening to her playlist. She’s there every Sunday. 
A woman walked by, then paused to pick up two discarded cigarettes off the ground. She didn’t throw them into the garbage can. Rather, she put them in her purse, ostensibly for future use. 
Nearby, a man used a tape measure to evaluate the varied dimensions of the bus stop shelter. Curiosity overcame any bashfulness, I imagine. 

Meanwhile the rest of us, young and old, of various ethnicities, stood or sat quietly, waiting for the bus.

A typical morning in downtown Portland. Nothing strange about it at all. Just a moment spent with neighbors in the heart of a sleepy city which is nursing wounds of estrangement and misunderstanding. It makes me wonder: what would happen if we stopped ignoring each other and started communicating, listening deeply from the heart and speaking graciously and honestly, free from selfish filters?

What indeed?


I tawt I taw a puddy tat

  The nascar race held my attention only briefly, fifteen minutes tops. Then I turned it off. A screech filled my room. I double-checked the television. It was off. Okay, now I am hearing things. The screech cried out again, louder this time. Oh. I remember that sound. A cat. No, two cats. Fighting. Outside my open window. I peered out. Hey now, there’s my buddy, a pretty calico. Cornered by a burly alley cat. The villain. The two were poised have another go. What to do? I thought about running out there. Instead I called for their attention. The alley cat swiftly turned to look at me, hateful eyes spitting venom. I hissed. He backed down and slowly walked away, staring back at me for several steps. My buddy is safe, for now. 

Question is: how willing am I to step in for the sake of my human neighbors in their time of need? 
Break camp and advance…

making friends

I deboarded my bus at SE 82nd and SE Powell BLVD in SE Portland. My neighborhood. My people. A longtime fellow bus rider precariously perched himself on the bench in the bus shelter. I’ve never before spoken with him, but I’ve seen him many times over the last two years of full-time transit riding. He is houseless and in poor health. I’m not sure of his age, but my best guess is close to 70. I remember him well because one time he fell asleep on the bus and fell hard to the floor when the bus turned. I’ve been praying for him since at time.

Today I found him bandaged up and scarred physically on his left leg. He looked especially forlorn. I engaged him in conversation immediately when I saw him. Our first direct interaction. 

He seemed surprised. I think most people usually ignore him. I could not. I would not. His eyes bereft of hope would have haunted me. It’s as if  Jesus stared me back in the eyes asking, “Will you care?”

So I asked him, “Are you okay? What happened?”

Then he talked. He shared a bit of his story. I listened. I learned. We even shared a laugh. 

I wonder what his hopes and dreams were in his youth and whether he remembers them? I’m going to continue praying for him and looking for him as I walk the neighborhood in the coming days.

For me this business of interacting with the houseless isn’t about leading off with trying to solve their problems. It’s about befriending them, listening to them, and finding ways to help them in their journey, not least, introducing them to Jesus if they do not yet have a relationship with him. 

The moment for reflection is over. It’s time to head back out into the neighborhood. Who knows. Maybe I will see him again. 

Break camp and advance…

Being in the moment with people

Photo courtesy of @kaneshow via Twitter

What do you do if you’re a rock star and a ten year old super fan, who happens to have Down’s syndrome, gets super nervous and subsequently sinks to the ground upon meeting you backstage?

If you’re Adam Levine, you ask the entire Maroon 5 band to join you in laying down on the floor near the boy as his mother cradles him. Then you chat. About life, music, and how cool it is that you and the band get to meet the boy.

We can learn something from this in the church in terms of pastoral care and mission. Be present. Be real. Be humble, willing to listen and situate yourself so as to ease the discomfort of another, especially this precious child. 

Having apparently occurred about two years ago, you can read the whole story and see the original backstage pass submission video by following this link.

Meanwhile, I need to redouble my efforts at learning to be present with people in the moment. 

Break camp and advance…

Missional empathy

Jesus had compassion on the crowds who followed him in his journeys. His attitude wasn’t mere sympathy or feeling sorry for them. It was tangible love made manifest by his interactions with the masses. The blind gained sight, the lame walked, the deaf received hearing, the leperous received respect and healing, the Samaritan woman received forgiveness, as did so many others with whom he came into contact. He became a regular among sinners and the outcasts. 

His empathy was not/is not/will never be symbolic. It is real, just as he is real. And greater works than these will we do if we are willing to lay down our lives, our distractions, our perceived needs, our willfulness, and follow the way of Jesus, the way of missional empathy.

Time to go. I need to practice what I write here in southeast Portland amid the decaying squalor of heartbreak. Pray for me. Sometimes my needs distract me from considering the needs of others.

Break camp and advance…

homelessness: connecting where others fear to tread

She trudged slowly ahead of me and to my left in the margin of the busy road, token cardboard sign in hand. Her body language indicated discouragement, even a hint of despair. Before the signal light could turn green I opened my truck window and reached out with a fresh banana in hand. She turned around. She lit up with a radiant smile which outshone her colorful traditional clothing. 

“Would you like a banana?” I asked. 

“Thank you. God bless you!” 

I smiled, as well. “God bless you, too!”

As I drove ahead, I noticed her continuing smile in the rear view mirror. It was real. Sincere. Grateful. I don’t know her name or her story. I may never see her again. But I pray for her, asking God to help her both practically with food, shelter and provisions, and spiritually. I hope I do see her again. I want to continue the conversation.

I don’t share this brief encounter to ask for congratulations or to impress you. I share it to illustrate that folks without shelter are not state enemies, even though they are often treated that way in the Portland metropolitan area. Yes, there is a criminal element among the unhoused population.Yes, there is a high rate of drug addiction and mental illness. It’s a complex set of issues. 

But can’t we advocate for them and help them practically? Find out who is doing this important work in your neighborhood. Support them. Volunteer. Befriend folks who live outside and listen to their stories, their dreams. And even if they don’t choose to get help with an addiction or mental health ailment, are we brave enough to love them anyway? Are we courageous enough to recognize our own brokenness and need for help as easily as we notice the perceived shattered circumstances of another who may or may not be less fortunate than us? 

Maybe connecting in this way seems hard, even impossible. If we don’t try, then we prove it. On the other hand, when we do try we may find ourselves navigating a brand new friendship where others fear to tread.

Break camp and advance…

What if there really is a purpose to your life?

Imagine that. Purpose. You. Your life. Is it possible? Will you dare to believe it? Explore it? Live it?

Anyone can wander through his daily existence pursuing desires. That’s not what I’m talking about. I mean God’s purpose for you wherein your desires conform to God’s will for his glory. John the Baptizer lived this out first-hand. Before he was born his ministry had been prophesied through the prophets, specifically Isaiah and Malachi. And having fulfilled his purpose, which always was to prepare the way for Jesus, the Christ, John emphasized that he must then decrease while Jesus increased. 

John understood his role, even if he understandably struggled with a measure of self-doubt while imprisoned in the days before his capricious beheading by a spineless dictator, subject to the whims of Herod’s wicked, unlawful wife and her daughter. John always had first in mind to glorify God, to glorify Messiah, to prepare the way for The Lord, to fulfill God’s purpose for his life, especially in the face of personal danger. 

What about you? What’s God’s purpose for your life? What will it cost you? In what ways and to what degree must you decrease so that God may glorify himself through your life, even if in the natural your impact is little known or appreciated?

Imagine that. Purpose. You. Your life. Is it possible? Will you dare to believe it? Explore it? Live it?

Break camp and advance…

Mission happens on purpose

It’s no accident when a smile blossoms into conversation, later segueing into deepening layers of friendship. It happens on purpose, the way a flower responds to the sun’s attention. We are drawn in by kindness. By sincerity. By an attentive listener.

I often don’t know what to say initially to someone who is confiding in me, but I am learning to listen more deeply. It’s easy to talk; it’s hard to listen. Talking is often a Pavlovian response to our need to control situations. Listening deeply on purpose is the act of giving oneself to the privilege of growing in understanding another person in her context, not our assumptions. It’s intentional. It’s the basis of mission. It lays the groundwork for sharing the gospel on fertile soil.

Make no mistake, talking is important in its appropriate context, but not nearly as often, and definitely not with the typical strident tones displayed in the public religious/political square. 

This is not to say its necessary to become confidants with people before you can share with them the good news of Jesus Christ. I am suggesting taking a long term perspective of relationship building, rather than strictly relying on driveby soundbites which more often come off as cowardly and arrogant, rather than loving. 

It’s not easy. It takes time. It happens purpose. It’s far easier than you may think. Ask yourself, who do you come into contact with on a regular basis, whether it’s daily, weekly, monthly…?

For me, I think about the trains and buses I ride, my walking routes, the grocery stores, gas stations, local businesses I frequent,  parks, hiking trails, my apartment complex, and yes, even my church. You read that correctly, some lost people attend church and need to hear and understand the gospel, too.

So what about you? What’s your list of opportunities to be salt and light in your world? 

Now go, be witnesses for Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit with go before and with you opening up opportunities and giving you wisdom to listen deeply, and when the time is right, to share clearly and persuasively the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I’m praying for you. 

Break camp and advance…

mission is where you are

Yesterday I rode the Max blue line through the Hollywood transit station. Two heroic men died defending two young girls, one of them apparently Muslim, yesterday. A third man is in the hospital with a slashed throat. I’m horrified and inspired at the same time. Horrified that a person would inflict such unprovoked hate and carnage on others; inspired that strangers would set aside their own safety to come to the aid of their neighbors.

They put their lives on the line, two of them paying the ultimate price. They responded to the need looking them in the face and did not ignore its desperate plea. 

How can I, as a follower of Jesus, ignore the needs surrounding me right where I live? Hunger. Loneliness. Grief. Poverty. Isolation. Addiction. And so on.

When I arrived home, I conversed for about a half hour with one of my neighbors about what happened, as well as her sick child and life in general. 

Mission is where you are, where you live, those spaces you in inhabit as you go about your day. It’s also where God sends you, whether to distant ports of call or to others parts of your city. 

I must go now. Mission awaits.

Don’t just sit there. Mission awaits you, too. Be bold.

Break camp and advance…