Monday, May 1, 2017
Downtown Nashville gets really busy this time of the year. I guess it is because the nature of the weather and because the city is becoming more conducive to foot traffic. I sometimes forget that the town that I am from is such a tourist attraction. Country music fans from near and far come to visit Nashville everyday. Is it bad that I loathe country music?
On Monday nights I ride my bike downtown to deliver food to my friends and neighbors on the streets. When I do this I usually start by riding up Broadway. It’s not only the big attraction for tourists but a huge attraction for my neighbors affected by homelessness. The honkytonks that line the main avenue are lit and loud. That is where most of the tourists hang out, therefore it makes a great place for my friends to catch some leftovers, maybe even a dollar here and there. Some of my friends are street musicians and this allows them to make a few bucks doing what they love.
It is actually an easy street to ride because there is a large taxi lane to ride in. I might have to dodge some Uber cars but that’s not bad. Last Monday while cruising up Broadway I noticed a guy leaned up against one of the venues holding a sign that read “HOMELESS NEED HELP”. I had met the guy before but I couldn’t remember his name. I pulled my bicycle against one of the street barriers to retrieve some burritos, bottled water, and a pair of socks from my bags. While I was doing this a portly lady walked up and stared at me while I made the man a care package. I glanced over at her and said, “Hey there.” She was swaying back and forth a bit while looking at me with confusion. She said, “Hey! …..you from here?” Even though I actually don’t live in Nashville, I went ahead and confirmed that I was from Nashville so that I wouldn’t have to give an elaborate explanation to a drunken lady of why I was there on a bike. She continued obnoxiously, “Where is the Charlie Daniels museum? How far is it from here?” In all honestly, I don’t know. I’ve never had the interest. I paused for a moment and said, “Ma’am, I really don’t know. I am sorry.” She said, “Why the hell not? You ain’t good for nothin!” She then staggered away as if she were trying to stay upright on an off-cambered conveyer belt.
The man leaned against the building was smiling by the time I made my way over to him. It was either because he was happy that I had a bag of supplies for him or he was entertained by my most recent interaction. Maybe both. I said, “Hey man, you had dinner tonight? I have some burritos and water for you.” He said, “I’ll sure take it! You got a minute to talk?” I leaned my bike up and sat down on the sidewalk beside him and let him unload. While sitting there I noticed a few people stop and stare as if wondering what the guy on the bike was doing sitting beside the homeless dude. This typically would not have been an unusual scene but for anyone that knows anything about bicycles they might recognize that my delivery bike is very spec’d out and not the typical street creation that you might see. (Other than that, I fit right in.) Aside from the ones casting a random gaze at us, the two of us were just another sidewalk obstacle to avoid or step over.
“I’m Allen.” He said to me. “Tommy.” I replied. He said, “The burrito guy, yeah?” “Yes sir!” I replied. He was very glassy-eyed and talking slowly. He had a strong smell of alcohol on his breath. But, I probably would too if I were him. With a slight smirk on his face he said, “Tommy, what I want to tell you is…I am a drunk. I have a real problem. I am killing myself and I think it is too late to do anything. I have not lived like I'm supposed to. I used to be a teacher.” He opened his hand and looked down at a small bottle of 100 proof banana schnapps and shook his head. He chuckled a little and said, “There’s nothing I can do…. I went to the doctor last week and he told me that my liver is failing and I am dying. I am hurting; my stomach hurts. But, when I get drunk, I feel better.” He reached over and held my hand. He looked at me with a grin and said, “But I am going to be alright. Do you want me to tell you why?” I said, “Tell me Allen”. He reached over to his backpack and pulled out an old tattered KJV Bible. He started to flip towards the back. I heard him mumble under his breath, “First John, First John.” He said, “Here it is.” He was at 1 John, chapter 1. I noticed the clear underlined verses that he wanted to share with me. It was 1 John 1:7-10. He told me to listen while he slowly but surely read,
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one with another, and the blood of Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.”
With large tears rolling down his eyes he said, “Tommy, I know I am not a good person. But God still loves me and I still love God. I know you got stuff to do and you need to go, but would you pray for me first?” He grabbed my hand again, closed his eyes and bowed his head. I said a prayer with him. I wanted to say something that he needed, that would comfort him, but I really don’t think it mattered what I said in that prayer. God knew everything I wanted and needed to say. I could have sat there and sang a Bruce Springsteen song and God would have understood what needed to be said.
I have sat in numerous classrooms, taking notes and studying theology, but I have gained more knowledge and spiritual growth on the street than I have anywhere else. Through the Christ lens there is no such person as Allen, the drunken homeless man. God sees Allen, the teacher and lover of God. Christ sees the perfect creation in all people, even those obnoxious, drunken, people that beg for your change. You know, the ones many folks avoid. Some people have a hard time understanding why they don’t get help. Getting help, in many cases, is not an option. When a person has spent a large part of their life being kicked while they are down, staying down is the only way they know.
Is there hope for our friends in this position? I don’t know. But, I know this; when I am with them I feel the Spirit much greater than I do in many other places. I am continually reminded of the gospel of Matthew 25:37-40:
“Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’”
With that in my mind, I will continue to visit my brothers and sisters to give them food when they are hungry, water when they are thirsty, clothes when they are in need, friendship and conversation when they want it, and prayer always. Heck, I’ll even give directions to the Charlie Daniels Museum if you’re lucky! ;-)