Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Dungeon

My wife calls it the Dungeon. It's the dank place we take our clothes to wash, one load at a time. We need to leave our cozy apartment through the back, down the steps overlooking our unprotected car port (it's not a garage, it's a little concrete lot) and down a couple steep steps into a subtarranean lair with low ceilings. I've hit my head on that ceiling a few times. I'm sure I would've stubbed my forehead a few times with the drop-down boards holding up our floor, but I have my ego to thank for keeping me out of danger. (Don't go down there. You don't want to go down there. It's rather foul and dark. You don't know what rodent or plank could be awaiting you.)

On one of my few and oh-so precious days off, the wife has me running errands (which is why I did not disclose this fact to the rest of my family. "Oh, you've got all the time in the world now! Why don't you..."). Well, one specific errand. Laundry to the Lavanderia. All one hundred and three pounds of it down a eighth-of-a-mile trek. Can't complain really, but that's never stopped me before.

As I'm putting the clothes in a large, strapless, torn gym bag and two large garbage bags that should not survive the journey, I listen on my $300 iPod to a sermon by Mars Hill Bible Church's Rob Bell. He's doing a series called, appropriately enough, "Jesus Wants to Save Christians." And the sixth in this series is on the parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus' point, Bell argues, isn't to be a "Good Samaritan", but to be a good neighbor, recognizing the dignity and worth of - and actively loving - every person, including those we can't name by name because doing so would give them a pause in our lips (for example, "Oh, you mean, my ex? You mean, those people?") and possibly a space in our hearts and gasp, homes!

At a time when some very specific people are getting on my last nerves and I'm trying to decide how I need to open up my eyes to see the world around me and love "the least of these," I'm making headway into the Dungeon to retrieve our cute little detergent bottle (The real reason the Mrs. needs to buy the concentrated ALL). I open the back door (with no environmental sound, mind you, coming in my direction) to see a suddenly startled lady in dirty baggy clothes pull up herself and her pants from the ground. Just beneath her is a large puddle (hint: it's not rain) and this is all happening in front of the one car that's parked in the back.

I automatically, and just as reflexively as the lady, shut the door and try to hide the shame. I'm in agreeance with myself that maybe I should or could offer some assistance. After all, although there are many diners in the immediate area, the only truly public restrooms are in the parks, and the small one nearby may not be open or hospitable to her or "her kind". I try to calm myself. It's not like I've never seen that before nor that it's wholly unnatural or unexpected. There are a lot of homeless in our immediate area and we live at a pretty busy intersection. But I don't know what to do. Honestly, I knew that she'd have left in a major hurry after hearing the door open, but what if she didn't? What is the proper response? Is there a proper response?

"Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your liver"?


  1. I've never had an experience quite like that! But we've all seen people who obviously need help - the people who hold up "will work for food" signs at busy intersections, a whole family complete with little children hitch-hiking - that kind of thing. I used to just avert my gaze and avoid thinking about it.

    But as I've gotten older and more serious about following Christ, I try to do something, anything, when I find myself in close proximity to these kinds of situations.

    Even if it's only to give them a couple of dollars or to tell them that God loves them and that I will pray for them... I think that is the only proper response.

  2. yeah, that is something to wrestle with.

    i think there's probably more effective (though it's hard to tell and i think that i'm probably not doing it best either) ways of dealing with the poor than flat out giving money, though. not that it's flat out wrong. if you believe that what's best, go for it. i've just been burned by it too many times. too much of my money's literally gone to the corner drug dealer or the neighborhood liquor store. (and the people with the saddest stories have always, without fail, proven to be the biggest con-artists)

    i have a lot of respect for those who go out with sandwiches on a regular basis to give something tangible.

    there's also those who work with habitat for humanity, compassion int'l, neighborhood community outreaches, etc.

    for myself, i have spent many years working with the homeless in my church's fooding and clothing ministry and now teaching high-risk teenagers before - hopefully - they get to that point.


Be kind. Rewind.