I met “D” yesterday, boozed up and freshly baptized.
As a stranger I saw him stranded in the front of my house months back. I offered my phone for a quick call in hopes that he could find himself a ride. He took me up on my offer, and apparently has remembered me since.
Yesterday afternoon he intently walked up to our porch like a man on mission. Scarcely remembering his face, “D” didn’t mind, quickly throwing his arms around me, giving me a hug that was just a bit too long to confidently claim comfort.
“D” had been drinking; you could smell it and you could see it. Yet with clarity and conviction he began to tell my wife and I how he had been baptized hours earlier. “D” had decided to celebrate the holy sacrament with two 240z of beer, which then lead to a serious argument with his girl, which then lead to a long walk past our porch. It was an epic morning to say the least. “D” was boozed up and freshly baptized!
I decided to accompany him on a walk towards Woodward Ave. where he would catch a bus to the east side. I listened to his life story, days marked by the deaths of his family members which lead to his promise to never cry again (A promise consecrated with a tattoo of a tear dripping down his left cheek). I listened to stories of serious dealing, seasons where he took the lives of many on the street. I then listened to his present circumstances: a transitional home planted in the middle of a Detroit ghetto where he and 6 other addicts are trying to figure out how to re-frame their lives.
As I walked with this guy I did my best to listen and love, hoping to take cues from the Spirit as we spoke about the gospel and God’s love. Yet what continued to come back to my mind was my own doubt.
Do I really believe in the gospel?
Do I believe that God came to save THE world? No, (scratch that). Do I really believed that God CAN save the whole world? I know he can save those seeking, who are somewhat competent, who can find healthy relationships within a church community, but what about the inhumane, the mentally ill, the severely addicted.
What about those whose family narratives, past vices, and current circumstances hopelessly scream out to the streets…”There is no way!”
Does God’s good news really contain the power to renew, refresh, and redeem those people? I can confidently say yes from the pulpit, yet my answer is never quite as clear when I place myself in close proximity.
As “D” stopped to take a pee on an abandoned home, I realized I had subtly, yet religiously separated myself from him. In a mile walk my sin had become better than his. I had concluded that I could recover from mine.
God could actually pull me away from the shallow depths of my despair. It wasn’t as deep as “D’s”. Yet again I was convicted. These thoughts weren’t the gospel either. The gospel says that I am as far from the Father as “D”, and that the cross is the epic equalizer that levels the ground regardless of our past, present, or future.
This walk forced me to fiercely as the question again: Do I believe in the barbaric, primal, message of God’s redemption?
I ask the question knowing my answer will always be fleshed out by the people I walk with and the hope and assurance I attempt to instill in them.
As the sun started to set yesterday I looked at this man full of guilt and shame unable and unwilling to talk about religion. This man was more spiritual than me, attending every city church in a 20 mile radius since he was born. So I did the only thing I knew to do. I told him what I tell my 5 kids every day and every night.
“Jesus Loves you D, with a love that cannot and will not be stopped. He can and will do immeasurably more than you could ever imagine.”
He looked at me, and said I know…and like any good redemptive story, he began to cry. Real drops dripping over tattoos of tears.
As I walked home I prayed the following, “Lord may those tattoos be marks that remind Him of the old convenant. And may he cry new tears, because of the new covenant you are writing on His heart.”
May we believe in the barbaric and raw power of the gospel, and may that belief lead us to long walks and unexpected friendships.
To many more walks, talks, and tears.