Tuesday, 12 June 2012

There, But For the Grace of God, Go I

Photo Credit: Ashley Sturgis
Flickr Creative Commons
I have a confession to make that I’m not very proud of. It has to do with addictions. No, not mine, but those of another. More specifically, it has to do with the way I responded to the addictions of another. It has to do with the way I responded to the homelessness of another.

I encountered this individual in the foyer of a large commercial building. He was between two sets of doors, one set locked to the inside and the other open to the street, and he was clearly quite drunk or high on something. I remember thinking to myself, “There sits another drunken ****** (racial slur).”

God forgive me.

What did I do about it? Well, what I didn’t do was act very Christ-like. I called the security guard and had the poor soul evicted from his warm refuge between the doors. My Christian “love” put this man back outside on the street.
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15)
Photo Credit: Dan Iggers, Flickr Creative Commons
In retrospect, he really wasn’t hurting anyone. The locked inner doors saw to it that he couldn’t wander around inside the building. He was just minding his own business. So what was my problem? Yes, “my problem!” Ultimately my problem was that I was judging him by judging his addiction.

It’s been said that looking at an addict is like looking in a mirror. The problem we have with the addicted individual is the very problem that deep down we have with ourselves. Granted, we may not have a cocaine addiction like the guy down the street, but we do have our own addictions. We all do. We may not all confess that, but I would argue that it’s true; we all do.

Some of us are addicted to tobacco or alcohol. Some of us are addicted to a banned and illegal narcotic. Some of us are addicted to food. Some of us are addicted to religious institutions. Some of us are addicted to shopping, clothes, TV, cars, book and music collections. And dare I say it, many of us are addicted to Facebook and other social media (ouch).

I was at a seminar a while ago where the guest speaker, an expert in the area of addictions, suggested that society’s war on drugs is actually quite misdirected. Could it be that the church’s war with the ways of the world; that is, on sin, drugs and addictions is just as misdirected? How so, you ask?

Photo Credit: Occupy Posters
Flickr Creative Commons
In the case of society, instead of trying to find out what causes someone to turn to drugs, we bust the pot-smoker and incarcerate the cocaine addict in detox centers. Instead of trying to find out what causes someone to turn to alcohol or tobacco, we raise the taxes to on these products believing that a cost deterrent will solve to problem and curtail people from buying booze and smokes. Do we really believe that curing them of their addiction is as simple as that?

In the case of the church, do we focus too much on the sin of the unchurched and the addicted street bum, instead of seeing in them a brother or sister for whom Christ also died? Instead of seeing someone who we have written off as hopelessly lost, dare we see ourselves sitting among the 99, while Jesus on the other hand, goes looking for that specific one lost sheep? Instead of focusing on the stink of his body odor, urine, reek of alcohol, and who knows what else, do we really need to be reminded that “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6; NIV)? Bottom line, with our noses perched high in the air due to our self-righteousness, do our eyes look down on them in an act of judgmental condemnation? Hmm, I wonder.

Photo Credit: LMAP, Flickr Creative Commons
I am going to go out on a limb here. At the risk of over simplifying the problem of addictions, I believe that all addictions have this in common: there is an unpleasant emptiness inside that the individual feels. What if I started taking a real interest in people, might that not reduce the emptiness? What if the church (not the institution; but the people) really started to care for and love her neighbors, might that not reduce the emptiness? What if we all were to stop judging one another long enough to see the hurting person behind the addiction, might that not reduce the emptiness?

It has often been suggested that most of us are really only one paycheck away from homelessness ourselves. Think about it, if you lost your job today, how long do you think it would be before the bank came knocking and forced you out into the street? What if we really started to believe that, there but for the grace of God go I? What if we started to see our reflection in the face of the next addicted or drunken street bum we meet?

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon, Flickr Creative Commons
What if instead of calling the security guard to evict the drunken bum, I had taken a few minutes to sit with him and maybe even buy him a cup of coffee and a burger? What if I, busy as I think I am, made a phone call or two on his behalf to some shelters to see that he doesn’t have to sleep out on a park bench or under an overpass again tonight? What if I acted a little less self-righteous, looked beyond the addiction of another, and beyond my own religiousness, and instead looked at the man with the compassionate eyes of Jesus?

Hmm, what if? Anyway, that’s the way I see it.

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