My partner, Agent Z, and I slept on the ground under a gazebo out back of the church we attend a little more than a week ago. I spent most of the night lying awake. The bed was hard, not firm, HARD. The breeze was a bit windy and chilly early on, and constant with its intermittent buffets all night whether heavy or light. The place we chose was fairly dark, but bright lights shown from the distance on three sides. And then there was the traffic. The traffic of 82nd Street was loud and heavy until about 1 – 2 am. But the church parking lot played host to creeper-traffic as well. At least three cars came creeping through. One stayed for about half an our with the motor running, another moved through quickly, but another one cruised by slowly and circled around to come back by at least a dozen times, yet it never stopped to engage us.
I felt like an animal on display or a rabbit in the grass that might catch one’s eye.
At about 2 am, a cop paid us a visit. I had drifted to sleep briefly when the cruiser pulled on to the lot. I must have heard him, because I became conscious then and saw him pass by. Sure enough he spotted us there and stopped about 30 yards past the gazebo. A couple minutes later, he approached on foot from the other direction and asked what we were doing. He stopped short of harassing us, didn’t even ask for ID, but it was clear to me then that we were not completely out of sight. We had been seen by the creepers.
Then I felt a little like a prairie dog on view for the kids at prairie dog town. We were sleeping under the gazebo in a little groomed park out back of the church house. A great place to go pray and meditate, if you don’t mind the noise of 82nd Street, or to take a girl to smooch and do naughty things late at night, if no one is around. (But we were.) And we were on display for any who happened by, and there appeared to be a few young people roaming the area looking for a secluded place to park and a cop keeping watch over the area.
It felt embarrassing to answer the cop. I am sure that if we had been breaking a law, he would have sanctioned us with either a warning, a ticket, or hauled us in. And there was some concern about that. I really wondered if it would be meaningful to say, “We are serving Jesus here, just now”. But we told him we go to this church and yet we are street ministers who sometimes sleep out with the homeless all over town. For once we thought we would take refuge at the church we go to. He must have been satisfied. When he left, he said, “If you need me, call”.
I have since been home in my bed each night reflecting on the experience – that one and a whole lot of others too. I think about these foster kids and how I am their shepherd. I check on them a couple times in the night. I don’t ask them for ID either, but then they are where they belong too – the HOUSE of God where I am a servant keeping watch at the door.
I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the HOUSE of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates O, Jerusalem! (Psalm 122).
I thought about when I was lost and homeless as a young person. I actually sofa surfed with friends in Denver and slept in my car a night or two back when I was a 20-something. The experience was brief. I rented a couple different rooms with no furniture. One was in Castle Rock, where I took a job at the nursing home which offered cheap apartments on their grounds. The neighbors were pot heads who showed great concern for me, especially when they dropped in one day and took it upon themselves to open my fridge to find it bare – as bare as the rest of my apartment. I had been sleeping in a bed roll on the floor.
These kind hearted pot heads started inviting me to eat with them each night, and the husband, who was a grounds keeper, had access to a storage shed where the nursing home collected furniture from residents who died. He decked out my apartment in dead peoples’ furniture! And I was loved by these people who then tried to set me up with their young friend on a date. We all went down to Colorado Springs and found a drug party. I sat there and watched people I never met before snorting speed and smoking pot. But what can I say? They really TOOK ME IN! It wasn’t the HOUSE of the Lord, exactly, but even this parody of love was far better than the concern I got from my church at that time.
Yeah, I looked up the number at a local church – the same denomination in which my parents raised me. And I don’t think it was the preaching pastor who answered the call, probably a deacon, but he insisted on meeting me at McDonalds – a neutral place. He was nice enough at first. He bought me a burger and coke and asked a lot of questions. I don’t know if my story added up or not. I do know I was sober and had not done any drugs, but as my burger came to an end, so did his kindness.
The man pointed out nicotine stains on my fingers and told me that if I quit smoking, I would have money to eat with. He suggested I get a job, which I already had actually, and get serious about life. Well, that of course is not bad advice, but not terribly helpful either. He certainly wasn’t wearing his WWJD bracelet! And of course his “help” proved to be a very, very pale parody of that other parody of love the pot heads were showing me – AND I AM BEING GENEROUS! as I describe the deacon and his church.
He treated me like an animal. And I felt like one.
I remember when I was in high school, there was this clique I ran around with a time or two who smoked a lot of dope. These kids were so grunge way before Nirvana and Pearl Jam came along, and I wasn’t close with them at all. They were a bit strange, I thought. But friendly and accepting. But I heard rumors about some of them – that they were “Satanists”. And well, I never asked, never saw direct signs of such, but they sure did seem to know all the really cool underground kind of stuff alright. I never heard of Hunter S. Thompson and his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas before I met these kids. I never heard of the Anarchist’s Cook Book before I met those kids. I never saw such a pile of pot in a teenager’s bedroom either. So, I really didn’t know what to think about them. I was always a little uneasy around them, but they always treated me with care and respect.
But to many, they were animals. And a few years after high school, one of them went to prison for murder. And I always thought about those rumors and those times I went hiking down in the canyon or up on the mesa with them. If there was any truth to those rumors, I could easily have been their victim. But I felt loved instead – so I thought. Kind of like that kid in the movie Alpha Dog, I was vulnerable. Or maybe it was just all rumors with nothing to them; maybe they just loved me with their broken love and that’s why I remember them so fondly.
When I got divorced several years ago, I found out just how sheltered I have been all my life. I mean, I know things… lots of things. I know things I should not know. Even as a teenager, I saw lots of porno magazines and a few porn videos. This was before the internet, so there was no way of getting this stuff, this information, FROM my home, but I visited homes where it was accessible, and I saw things. People behaving like animals. Fiendish people doing fiendish things and allowing their animalistic passions to run loose. And when I got divorced, I suddenly felt thrown to the wolves. I actually was attacked by more than one woman. Even was grossly hit on by one cowboy who really hinted a lot with his hands!
I will spare you details!
But I will say, I was in a storm of sexual frenzy. I was repulsed by a lot of it, but it also was the offer of love – or a parody of love. And there were times my moral scruples prevailed, and there were times when I failed. And this circus raged all around me. Even at church! In fact, that was where I let my guard down and found myself in the most trouble! And I finally separated myself from the other animals by secluding, which also was quite dangerous, because by that time I had reached out to a doctor for medical help stabilizing my depression/moods. But being poor and uninsured, I did not go back for follow up, and when the side effects, the ones that cause suicidal thoughts, came calling in the night, I stopped taking the meds. And years later, I learned that stopping those meds suddenly like that increases suicidal tendencies all the more! But at least I was out of the circus.
All these years later, I have a stable home. I live in the HOUSE of the Lord. I have a good Christian wife who loves Jesus and we live in the house God gave us working the mission God gives us to bring PEOPLE into his presence. (We find bringing them into our love is his expression of bringing them into his presence.) Little people, big people… I am not allowed to mix the two. There are good reasons for that. But I sometimes go out on the streets searching, sharing, caring and then come back INSIDE where there are diapers to change and bottles to prepare. And the PEOPLE who find LOVE in here are humanized!
Hey, if you haven’t already popped over to Thompson’s blog, go check out the story he has linked there to a Texas woman who took a homeless man in to her HOME and changed his life. And I remember, those pot heads back in Castle Rock, set a bar a little too high for some of my church friends. But if you want to enter the HOUSE of the Lord, this is how it happens. And you are no animal in there. And if the church is reading here, I hope you will take notes…