Sunday, January 3, 2010

Is it really unconditional?

I look forward to Saturday nights. 9pm - midnight I have the great privilege of volunteering at the Street Truck. Upon arrival, I and my partner for the evening, which last night was my friend Jillian, unlock the truck, turn on the lights and heaters and get the kettle boiling in anticipation of some great company. The Street Truck is run exclusively by volunteers, providing a place out of the cold, for the homeless.  Offering hot beverages, soup, a little something to eat, warm blankets, clothes, good company and conversation.

I appreciate the company of each of the people who come on the truck but there is an older gentlemen, who I always look forward to seeing.  He has lived on the street for quite some time and at first glance of his disheveled and slightly intimidating facade, some might write him off.  The smell of alcohol on his breath at times, might cause people to dismiss him. In fact many of those who frequent the truck, have expressed feelings of being dismissed & written off with a mere glance.

Their experiences remind me of a passage I recently read in "Blue Like Jazz".  Donald Miller wrote "The problem with Christian community was that we had ethics, we had rules and laws and principals to judge each other against.  There was love in Christian community but it was conditional love.  Sure we called it unconditional, but it wasn't.  There were bad people in the world and good people in the world.  We were raised to believe this. If people were bad, we treated them as though they were either evil or charity: If they were bad and rich, they were evil.  If they were bad and poor, they were charity.  Christianity was always right; we were always looking down on everybody else.  And I hated it with a passion. Everything in my soul told me it was wrong.  It felt, to me as wrong as sin."  While not expressed quite so eloquently I have felt that same way. My experience has been, that while those who frequent the truck may have their struggles and weaknesses, there is much depth, wisdom and  compassion evident as soon as you take the time to talk to them.  They are diamonds in the rough,  beauty with some rough & ragged edges.

Last night, the kind, wise gentlemen I mentioned, arrived later in the evening. He entered the truck in typical fashion, smiling, offering greetings, full of compliments, a hint of liquor on his breath, and as always with someone right along side of him.  That was one of the first things I noticed about him, he always had someone tagging along.  As I watched his interaction with the others, I could see that he seemed to be watching out for everyone, providing advice, ensuring others had what they needed., taking them under his proverbial wing.

During our conversation he said something very poignant "I care for others,  God gave us a heart to care. If we do not care for others what's the purpose?"  Good question worth the emphasis of repeating "If we do not care for others what is our purpose?" 

I love the authenticity of what he said next, with a smile, "I do not like half the people I meet, but I still care."   It is very easy to care for those who are our friends, people we like, but what about those who are different from us, who irritate, annoy and offend us. I love the way "The Message" paraphrases what the bible says in Luke 6:31-36

Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that's charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. "I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You'll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we're at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.

Every Saturday night, amongst the beauty of the tattered jackets and scruffy beards, I am confronted by the shortcomings of my own faith, left humbled, grateful and wiser. I am challenged to learn how to love my neighbour unconditionally, without endorsing what, I truly believe, is unhealthy spirituality.

I end this post offering two things, an encouragement to read & reflect on The Message paraphrase of Luke 6:24-42 and a riddle one of the gentlemen on the truck, presented to me last night: If Noah took bees on the Ark where would they have stayed...The Ark hives

How can I not love what I get to do on Saturday nights :D

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