I ate lunch today in inner SE Portland with both windows open. Big mistake if you do not want to be disturbed by a pedestrian. A guy asked me how far to 165th. I told him 135 blocks. He said he was not from around here, yet I recognized both him and his question from roughly one year ago.
I did some shopping at a local Safeway in NE Portland. Having just gotten in my car, a lady started yelling at me, trying to tell me what was “written” in the grime of my unwashed car door. Something did not seem right, so I played it safe and drove off. In the passenger side mirror, it appeared she continued talking to herself. I wonder what her story was, and why she chose to approach me. I will never know, and that is probably for the best.
City life is full of opportunities, and risks. Sometimes I will engage a stranger in conversation, even the big, bad looking biker dudes. Turns out I can be just as scary looking after a hard day of work, with the grime of the day clinging to me, and the tools of my trade displayed as my regalia. At other times, I will use caution, even if they are frail, but disturbed behaving women. It happens in any environment, but more often the closer I get to the urban core.
It reminds me that life and ministry are not set in ideal circumstances. There really is nothing ideal, given the pervasive imprint of sin in the human heart. This is true for those who don’t know Christ, and for those who do, especially me. Scripture says it best. “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse– who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NRSV). People will not always be nice, nor will women and children always be sweet.
Yes, I watch what I do carefully in the urban context. Yet my desire is to do so with the mind of a practical theologian, and the heart of a disciple-making missionary. Opportunities abound in the midst of all the people, but they must be chosen with discernment.
I wonder. What opportunities await you in the morning, and moving forward into the coming weeks? When should you engage others in conversation? When should you play it safe and move on? Important questions, requiring a mixture of street savvy, godly courage, and humility to recognize that it is God who does the saving, and not me or you.