Saturday, December 16, 2017

Large Defeats Small Victories

Large Defeats Little Victories

            I do some volunteer work at a day shelter for homeless folks. When the overnight temperature drops below forty, as it did last night, the day shelter turns into a cold weather overnight shelter. If that particular night is a Friday, I am on duty and spend the night with my homeless brothers and sisters. Drug and alcohol abuse is common among the homeless population. We know it and do what we can to keep the shelter drug and alcohol free but alcoholics can be devious and quite adept at hiding their stash. Sometimes, like last night, something slips through. Actually, we’ve seen a bit of an uptick in empty bottles and cans in and around the property. We’re pretty sure we know who is responsible. Showing up drunk is one thing-most just go to bed early and sleep it off, and from time to time the local police deposit a drunk at our door-what can you do? Drinking on the premises is another matter altogether. Particularly with a loud, confrontational drunk, which is what happened last night.
            Chronic homelessness combined with chronic alcoholism usually results in some serious physical problems which, if left untreated long enough, can quickly become life-threatening. Again, we know this-one of our primary functions is to help with basic medical and prescription expenses. This is also why we tend to put up with loud, confrontational drunks-better that than to have someone get pneumonia or die or both sleeping on the street. However, being human and all, patience, while always be a virtue, sometimes (at least in my case) just goes away, taking  proper Christ-like behavior with it and the temptation is great to just ban people forever. Or at least impose some condition or restriction which has more to do with revenge than anything else. Love may be tough but punishment can be relatively easy. One such confrontational individual showed up last night. Angry words were exchanged, I went outside to cool off (literally and figuratively); when I went back in the individual in question had gone to bed. Morning came; my guy woke up sober, and considerably more subdued. I took the opportunity to threaten him with Jesus; everything was cool. Then I went outside and found an empty bottle and can in the smoking area. Obviously something needed to be done, but what?
            After we closed up for the morning I agreed to ride a couple guys to wherever they were staying. Turns out one of them was-you guessed it-my confrontational drunk/prime suspect. Still pretty much in Christian revenge mode, I took the opportunity to point out that I was not going to try to talk to him about quitting drinking because I knew he would not (true) but because his drinking would most likely kill him sooner rather than later (also true) he should start thinking about his relationship with Jesus. No response. I told him the thing about Jesus is that He meets us right where we are, so we don’t need to clean up our act first; that drew a response.
            My guy said something to the effect that he is a child of Abraham and therefore blessed; every day he wakes up and asks God to give him a blessing and before the day is over he gets one. Not to be outdone (after all, no homeless guy with a drinking problem is going to argue the Bible with me and come out on top) I pointed out it’s not about what we can get from God but how we live our lives that matters;  the way he was living his certainly wasn’t very pleasing. God may be blessing him but He wasn’t very happy about it. Finally, subdued agreement. I dropped them off and went home but the incident was not over. Still in revenge/punishment mode I sent out a group text informing the other staff that I found empty bottles again and something needs to be done. That only made things worse. Something needs to be done indeed, but what?
            Which brings me (finally, thank heaven) to the point of this post. In the spring of this year a co-worker and I attended a two-day seminar given by a guy who has had good success working with homeless men and women and now spends a good part of his time traveling the country sharing what he’s learned over the years. One thing in particular stands out in my memory which is particularly relevant here-for the homeless with drug and alcohol addictions victory is relevant. That is to say, they most likely will never be completely clean and sober; one day or one night or a couple hours for them is a victory. Take your wins where you can get them and adjust your standards. Even though the presenter claims not to believe in God-at least, the same God I believe in-there is much Godly wisdom in that statement.
            My alcoholic friend was right in one very important sense-he is blessed every day. Where he is mistaken, however, is in this-the blessing is life itself. Same blessing each and every one of us receives. Every day. God does not allow him (or us) to live so he can continue his drinking unabated. He allows him (and us) to live because God’s steadfast love means every day is a new opportunity to come out of hiding and return to Him. My friend’s problem is he allows his drinking to get between himself and God. We all do it-we all have something that gets between us and God and prevents us from seeing Him clearly, from being in His presence, from receiving His best blessings so we can be His best blessing in the lives of others. I know this probably better than most, but I’m working on it. Or rather, God is working on me.
            Back to our homelessness expert-the wisdom lies precisely in the day to day, hour to hour nature of life. We can’t cure anybody. Putting conditions and restrictions and imposing punishments won’t do it either. What we can do is love those whom God sends our way while we have them-rejoice with their victories and morn their failures and try to keep them from harming themselves as best we can, realizing our anger does not accomplish anything. This last is becoming a difficult lesson for me to learn. In other words, small victories. One day or one night or a couple hours or minutes. I had a couple good hours with my guy this morning; for now that will have to do.

            P.S. As I’m writing this I receive word the other guy I transported this morning-my guy’s partner, also alcoholic-is now drunk, again. The struggle continues. I can only pray he doesn’t end up beaten or robbed or passed out in someone’s bushes. Baby steps. Small victories.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

 10 Oct 2017

As a veteran I choose to stand for our national anthem. If you, for whatever reason, choose to sit or kneel that is your choice and it is fine with me. Whether we stand or sit or kneel has no eternal significance; how we disagree with one other does. This is classic divide and conquer strategy and the constant bickering-retreating into our tribal trenches and lobbing artillery shells at one another-has led to a disconnectedness that is the antithesis of everything Jesus said and taught. It is the great moral crisis of our time, a collective dark night of the soul.

We are lights-the light of the world. Connected we will shine with a brilliance that will dispel this present darkness. We are light. You are light. Be the light. Be the Kingdom.