Tuesday, June 03, 2008

F of H Part Four (there are no more) -- The Stranger in the City

Disclaimer: I do not mean to point any fingers in this post—not at my fellow ministers and certainly not at Central Lutheran. Any finger I point, as they say, would have three pointing back at me. I am sharing the story for two reasons. I think we preachers need to hear what the Minneapolis man said, and I want to give glory to the Holy Spirit, who I suspect arranged the encounter. The names are eliminated, but the conversation is completely real. The picture is not of the dad I met, but it made me smile and think of him. It is for sale here.
Once again, I was walking in downtown Minneapolis between Westminster Presbyterian and Central Lutheran among a crowd of Festival of Homiletics attendees. Conversation surrounded me as I considered whether to attend another session or take a break. My feet hurt badly. I had unwisely chosen this particular day to wear my cute shoes instead of my braces. I wondered if I would arrive at Central Lutheran early enough to snag one of the rockers in the church hallway for a while. Glancing up to my right at the blossoming apple trees that decorate the entrance to the Minneapolis Convention Center, I sniffed their marvelous aroma. I glanced down.
An African American man who looked about thirty years old was under a tree, leaning against a large corner flowerpot full of pansies. I figured he was just enjoying the long-overdue spring sunshine. “Hello” I said, smiling, continuing to walk. “How are you on this lovely day?” “I am just fine, ma’am” he replied with a wide smile. Then his expression abruptly changed, and he added, “Lady, can I ask you something?”

Oh, no. Why did I have to speak to him anyway? Now I will be late for the next session and it will be so crowded I might as well not bother. That is what I thought. What I said aloud was, “Sure.”

I made my way around a group of chatting ministers. The sun was warm on my back, but the rough stone of the cement flowerpot was cool. I repressed a sigh and leaned back, easing my aching feet a tiny bit.

The man inquired, “What is going on down at that big old church? I see lots of folk wearing name tags. Who are all you people?” I explained that we were attending a conference for clergy. “You mean all you people with the name tags are preachers? Like you are from all around Minnesota or something?”

“Well, we are from all around the nation, actually and some are from Canada” I replied, feeling rather proud. “Lots of different denominations and kinds of churches, and we are all here to learn how to be better preachers.” He was silent for a long moment. “Preachers?” His tone was odd.
“Um, yes, mostly, and church leaders.” I waited.

“What do churches do for people anymore anyway?” he asked, with an angry edge to his voice. I was regretting that I’d spoken to him at all and wondering if I might slip off my shoes. I answered that we share the good news, the gospel, of Jesus with those around us, and that the specifics of what we do for people often varied by denomination, church size, location, and so on.

After several minutes of questions, answers and conversation, he looked unconvinced and said, “Well, I went down to the office at that big church, because I could see it was open. I needed help.” He said this simply, clearly frustrated. He went on to relate that he was a brand-new father.  He was with a woman he loved. “I know I should marry my lady,” he said, glancing sideways at me, “And lately we have been talking about getting back into a church somewhere. I mean, we have a child to think about.  So today I am in trouble and I saw this big church open, and all these people, and so I went in. But church doesn’t help.”

Here it comes. I thought. Well, I’d stopped. Might as well carry it through. I said a quick, silent prayer and asked him, “Why did you want to go into a church?”

“I thought churches want to help.”

“They usually do want to help,” I replied, “But sometimes we are unable to do what we’d like. There are lots of reasons for that.”
“Well all I need is seven dollars! I went to the church office and told them why I needed help, and they said they do not do that. So I came out here, not knowing what to do and feeling ashamed. I had already been standing here for more than half an hour when you walked by. My lady is in the Hennepin County Hospital with a brand new baby girl, and I need to get them home. And I am out of gas, and I only need seven damn dollars! Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to swear. I am so ashamed I got angry at the office lady up at that church. But now I see all you people, and I’m trying to work up the courage to ask for help. But I am not a beggar. And all these people,” he waved his hand, “all walking by and smiling at each other but not at me. And not one even looked at me. Some looked away, or at the ground, or at their friends, or up at the sky. I got to thinking, 'Am I scary looking? Do I look like a druggy or a wino or something? Do I look like I’m gonna rob them? Is it because I am a black man and the preachers are mostly white people?' Do you think that's it lady?”

By this time the sidewalk was mostly empty. I assured my companion that he did not look like a drug addict, a wino or a homeless person, and he did not look particularly frightening. “But you are a stranger, sir,” I sad.” And these are scary times, you know?” “Lady, he sad sadly, you are the first person who even looked at me. And then you spoke to me. But you were the only one. It wasn't gonna hurt anybody to smile.”

“I’m so sorry.” I did not know what else to say.

“There were these two ladies going by. I guess they were preachers too, right?” They saw me, and they were talking, and both of them looked down quickly. They seemed like what they were talking about was really important. One said to the other ‘You have to let your text get down inside of you. You have to feel it and care about it deep inside before you can preach it right!’ You know what I thought to myself? ‘Lady, you don’t even care about people! You need a love for people deep down inside, and maybe then you can love your text.’”

“Ah, that could just as well have been me. It has been me, at other times. I think they probably were just in a hurry. Did you get seven dollars from somewhere else, or do you still need it?”

“No, I was trying to work up the courage to approach someone.”

I fished out my wallet, wishing the sidewalk were not so empty now. I mean, this could all be a ruse and he could grab my purse and run, after all. “Here is ten dollars. I’m running short, or I’d give you a twenty.”

After some more conversation in which I learned about his Jesus-loving mother who had passed on five years before, his lady, his baby and his job loss, I asked his name, and the names of his family. Then I asked if it would be all right if I prayed with him. He eagerly said yes, so I put a hand on his shoulder and prayed quietly (with my eyes open). A few remaining walkers glanced at us. I asked God to help him be the father he should be for his new daughter. I asked for a job for him. I asked for a church home, and that his little family would have divine direction in where that should be. I prayed for the new mother and baby to be healthy. I prayed for God to reveal love and grace that my new friend would know was from God. The muscular shoulder under my hand shook a bit. I thanked God that I had noticed him, that I had smiled and spoken, and that I had ten dollars to share with him.

He looked into my eyes at the end of this prayer.”What is your name?” When I told him, he shook my hand and said, “I thank you. Not just for the money. I thank you for seeing me, for smiling at me, for speaking to me. I think Jesus healed my heart a little bit. I left the church office feeling embarrassed and angry and thinking that I had been mistaken to even think about going back to church. But now I think God sent you by here to show me that some church people do care.”

“I think so too. Jesus loves you, and is waiting for you. God’s plans for you are good, and I know there are people of God somewhere who will welcome you.”

I turned to walk toward the church. He walked with me for a block, heading for the nearby county hospital. “Someday,” he said earnestly, waiting for the traffic light to turn green, “I bet I see you preaching someplace. You could be a great preacher someday at a big place here in Minneapolis maybe, a wonderful lady like you!” I smiled, thinking that if that was going to happen it had better be quick. “I won’t forget your name. It is kind of unusual. And someday,” he said quite seriously, “someday I might say, ‘Hey, that is the smiling preacher lady who gave me ten dollars after the baby came.” He waved, as he stepped into the crosswalk. “Thank you again, Ms. Preacher Lady.”

“You are welcome. Kiss your sweet new baby for me, and tell her mommy I will be praying for all of you.”

Will you take a moment to pray for this young father, his newborn daughter and the baby’s mother?

I did not make it to any more sessions that evening. I was very tired, and it took me a while to absorb the wonder of this experience. Do you suppose an angel was standing on the sidewalk with the frustrated man from the city and the sore-footed small-town pastor as we bowed our heads together?
between Central Lutheran and Westminster Presbyterian


Anonymous said...

What an amazing story. Thanks for sharing it, and thanks to God for letting you be in the right place at the right time.

Jules said...

((((Singing Owl))))

Bless you.

CaptainQuick said...

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho...

A priest happened to be going down the same road...

So too, a Levite...

But a Samaritan...

Thank you for sharing that story, Dorcas. Hope you don't mind if it becomes our "encounter with God" session with the teenage group at Girls' Brigade next week! (Heck, I love a no-preparation session!)

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Share it however you like.

I do regret that I did not get a phone number. Only later did it occur to me that Kris and Daryl live in a racially mixed neighborhood and he might live right nearby. Just because he was downtown didn't mean he lived downtown...duh.

Oh well.

Iris Godfrey said...

Bless you, bless you for sharing this encounter with us. You preached the real gospel that day. Bless you.

Thank you for commenting on my blog. I think we would enjoy sharing time -- maybe someday at a F&H Conference -- who knows what this magnificent Lord will do .

Cody said...

Wow, Singing Owl, what a beautiful story. I was instantly reminded of Mattthew's Gospel "What you do unto the least of my bretheren, you do unto me."

God bless you and I hope that your path will one day cross with this angel of a man.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Wouldn't that be something?

Iris said...

Wow, Singing Owl. Chills.

God bless you for not missing the point of why we do what we do.

Anonymous said...

This is a great story. I'm so glad that the Holy Spirit led you to this person...or perhaps the Spirit led this person to you?

Terra said...

That is a powerful story that brought tears to my eyes.
We could all benefit by slowing down and finding God moments, instead of hurrying past.
Bless your heart for creating a God moment for you and that young man and his lady and child.

Mary Beth said...

I am just now catching up and reading this. Amazing, amazing story...thanks to God for putting you in the listening place.

Angels unawares, indeed. You or him? not sure. Probably both.

thank you.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it. I was moved by the story to examine my own life and the ways in which I fail to see people.

Psalmist said...

Oh, WOW! Yes, YES there was an angel there as you prayed. You were both angels, I think, to each other--in some sense, anyway. And the host of heaven witnessed, and God smiled.

Thanks so much for posting this story.

(Bloglines had a glitch, so I only just read this entry tonight. I ought to visit directly.)

Anonymous said...

I wept reading this...for many reasons...[I don't fully understand all, and am trying to process it]

even though I was raised in a mixed-race evangelical church in the 60's I know we have so much more to learn...it is something God is really speaking to me about..

but also how the Institutional 'church' can be so programmed to meetings and schedules that we're not spread out in the world and involved with lives of other human beings.

You encourage me Singing Owl that you stopped, in more ways than one.

Anonymous said...

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