Sunday, November 2, 2008

I want to know what love is

A funny thing happened on the way to the Mulberry House. I met Jesus on a street corner and took Him out to lunch (take a look at Matthew 25:31-46 if you’re confused).

Today, Jesus was holding a sign that said “Veteran- Broken down and Hungry. Please help.”

I saw him yesterday too, standing there at the intersection with two battered suitcases and a camouflaged coat. He had a hospital band around his wrist and his breath smelled of alcohol. I was, at the time, hurrying to the house to do some repairs. I passed by in my car, looking at the man with half-interest. I drove several blocks toward Mulberry Street, but as I hit the intersection of Limestone and John Streets, I got this strong sensation that I was supposed to go back and meet with the man.

For the first time in my life, I turned the car around and went back for someone I saw standing on the street corner.

When I got back to the spot, he was gone. I kicked myself for missing an important opportunity to meet a stranger and make him into a friend.

Today, I saw him again. I was heading to the house to do some more repairs.

I stopped at the red light, rolled down my window, and without hesitation said, “Hey man! How’s it going? I don’t have a lot of time because I am supposed to meet someone. But if you hop in, I will buy you some lunch.”

“That would be great,” he said. He then pointed at his two suitcases and said he’d have to take them as well. The traffic light turned green, and cars were lined up behind me, but I put on my blinker and opened the doors so he could climb in with his stuff. When his bags and cardboard sign where in place, he sat in the front passenger seat.

His name was Kenny. I offered to take him to any of the restaurants there, but he insisted that I choose. We pulled into Wendy’s because it looked less busy than the other places. He also insisted that I order for him, refusing to choose from the menu himself. I ordered a couple of extra junior bacon cheeseburgers, just in case he was still hungry.

We were there for about an hour and fifteen minutes. We ordered some food, sat in the lobby and ate together. Kenny has a knack for telling funny stories, and he had me laughing for much of the meal.

It turns out, Kenny was a sergeant in the army, and he even saw combat. (Homeless veterans are not uncommon: http://www.nchv.org/background.cfm). Kenny became homeless, or “broken down” as he kept saying, in the Buffalo, NY area and had hitch-hiked all the way to Ohio, trying to make it to Illinois where his mother lives.

“Where are you staying?” I asked him, when he said he’d been in Springfield for 4 days.

“In the weeds,” he said with a laugh.

There are some overgrown weeds alongside the highway. If you’re ever driving into Springfield from Route 70, take a look at the weeds behind the Shell station. Kenny had discovered that he could avoid detection from the police by climbing deep into these weeds and laying down to sleep.

His experience in Springfield so far had been interesting. He’d been stopped by the police, who agreed not to bother him if he stayed close to the freeway. Kenny said that was fine by him anyway; the man at the liquor store and two other people had warned him not to go too close to downtown or the “crack-heads would rob him.” It is really bad out here, they told him.

He pointed toward Mulberry House and warned me how dangerous it is to go into that neighborhood. I smiled.

He also told me how he spent Halloween. A man handed him a pumpkin as a joke. So, Kenny carved the pumpkin with his pocket knife. He climbed into the dumpster behind Big Lots, found a candle, and placed it inside the pumpkin. We laughed for a long time.

The restaurant was playing some music over the loud speaker. Suddenly, Kenny declared, “I love this song. It is Foreigner, they’re great.”

He was right. It was Foreigner singing, “I want to know what love is.”

Kenny started singing. I don’t mean he quietly mouthed the words… I mean he belted out the tune loud and clear so everyone in the place could hear him.

“I gotta take a little time/ A little time to think things over/ I better read between the lines/ In case I need it when I’m older.”

Word for word, he was nailing it. As he kept singing, the other patrons and the workers behind the counter were staring, pointing, and whispering.

“I wanna know what love is!!!!”

At this point, I was laughing even harder than before. Having been escorted out of restaurants with rowdy teens before, I am not easily embarrassed. I sat back and enjoyed the show.

When he found out that I am a minister, Kenny asked me, “Has anyone seen God?”

I told him that Jesus had seen Him (because He’s God), but other than that, no human has seen God.

“I’ve seen God,” he said, “Once when I was doing LSD.”

He burst out laughing, but I soon discovered that he sincerely believed that God had appeared to him in a bright light, inviting him with open arms: “Come to me, come to me.”

Theology is a funny thing in the city. Here was a man telling me that God had personally invited him to be a part of the family. Vision or no vision, I affirmed that God invites anyone who will to come to Him. Kenny then reminded me that “Jesus went through hell,” describing the crucifixion in detail.

I wanna know what love is.

We talked about all sorts of things: airplanes and UFOs, the times he got drunk with his father out by the old air force base near St. Louis, skydiving, the Iranian liquor store man who feeds stray cats in the alley, the “Laundromat chick” who does the same thing, and the door in Wendy’s that was locked (“Why is it locked?” Kenny asked, “I have no idea.”). He also flirted with more than his fair share of women before asking me to return him to the street corner.

He had no ID and said that he had no place to stay. I offered to help him get to the shelter in town, but he insisted that he was safer sleeping in the weeds by the freeway.

He said God will take care of Him (He will, by the way). Kenny shook my hand, thanked me profusely, and told me he’d make it to Illinois.

“It will take a minute, but I’ll get there.”

He dragged his suitcases out of the car and walked back into the weeds.

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