Friday, July 22, 2005

The time is short

prepare ye the way

When I saw this man carrying his sign through downtown streets, I had to get his story.

The top of the sign isn't too legible in the photograph, but it says, "July 24". He told me that Jesus will return on that date. (That's approaching quickly, folks:  Sunday.)

But he wasn't dogmatic about it; he made a motion with his hands and said something to the effect of (as the lawyers would put it), "on or about that date".

I thought "TOTAL 33" must refer to how many converts he had made, but that wasn't the explanation he gave me. Actually, I never got an explanation of "TOTAL". But 33, he said, was Jesus' age when he died.

"e" means that Jesus still exists.

I asked him if he preaches to people on the streets, but he said No. He just carries his sign, and explains its message to people who ask. People like me.

He was very gentle, not strident. He seems to have implicit trust in God; he's not taking the burden on himself.

In short, I liked this man. This post is not intended to mock him — not at all! I am a Christian. I think religion is a positive force in the world, as long as it isn't aggressive or judgmental.

I'd rather trust a man
who doesn't shout what he's found.
There's no need to sell
if you're homeward bound.
If I choose a side
He won't take me for a ride.

This man was very gentle and he radiated peace.

I asked if I could take his photo. He said I could take a picture of the sign, but not him. He laid the sign on a bench where I could photograph it.

I negotiated a bit. "Would you at least hold it, so I can get a picture of your arm holding the sign — but I'll leave your face out of the photo? It would be more interesting that way."

"You can take a picture of me as I walk away," he answered. He took up the sign and walked off while I hurriedly snapped the photo.

He never looked back. But he's still out there, preparing people for Jesus' return. I saw him, across the road, earlier today.

The lyric is from Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, The Chamber of 32 Doors.


At 10:05 AM, July 23, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

I think I have seen this man? While I may have disregarded him as one of the many confused street folk, a very unfair assessment I know, I'm glad someone took time to listen to him.

I think that with all the effort he has put into outward display, it would be a shame if no one listened.

At 11:13 AM, July 23, 2005, Blogger Carolyn said...

Nice post. I think often people with a message to give are seen as crazies or street people (can't say I'm not guilty of that). It reminded me of 2 different things.

1. There used to be an older African American gentleman who used to dress up in costumes (tutus, tiaras, lots of spandex) and walk around the Central West End (a liberal area that's very "gay friendly" in St. Louis City) twirling a baton and dancing. He'd never talk to anyone...just go around and dance, often in front of crowded outdoor restaurants. I thought he was insane. Turns out, after 9/11, he lost his job as a flight attendant and decided to do something outrageous. His partner had a really good job, so he didn't need to seek employment. He made the news, was invited to host parades (his persona was Baton Bob) and he was ultimately driven out by law enforcement. He had become a fixture of that area and people loved him...even looked for him. He was offered $$$ to do the same thing for entertainment in a larger city that apparently could deal with a man in a pink tiara and tights.

2. Last night, as we were leaving a city movie theater, this Baptist van was cruising around the homeless park (where the homeless that don't get into the shelters hang out) yelling, "Jesus loves you!" They were teenaged girls. Honestly, if you want to provide a service, get out, have a conversation, and give them some cold water (still dealing with a heat advisory here). It seemed more of a nuisance than a cheery reminder.

Anyway, I was feeling chatty, my migraine is there ya go.

At 12:10 PM, July 23, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

There is another eccentric type that I like to see in the Market area in Ottawa. He has the most amazing costume. The costume is entirely made of rainbow coloured zippers he has sewn together. (no cloth just thousands of sippers sewn one on the other. I keep thinking the work that must have gone in to creating that outfit. Wow.And to top it off he wears a huge sombrero.

Unlike the gent in Q’s picture I’m not sure he has a message. I don’t know if we can lump all these characters together as some are confused some have messages and some are having fun.

I feel guilty that I have never stoped to talk the zipper guy now.

That said, my wife once tried to talked to this one guy that walks around with three huge live parrots on his shoulders, basically she complimented him on his birds and he growled evilly at her. So I approach eccentrics with caution.

At 12:11 PM, July 23, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

Q have you ever seen or talked to the zipper guy?

At 12:39 PM, July 23, 2005, Blogger Carolyn said...

I'm strangely intrigued by the zipper guy...although I have no chance of ever seeing him.

Eccentrics seem to not want to be bothered in many cases...the evil growl sounds about right.

I saw Baton Bob "practicing" in my gym's aerobic room at 6:30 am...and he seemed to do that on a regular basis. He's definitely not a crazy.

At 6:56 PM, July 23, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

Bill, your concern about approaching the zipper man is perfectly reasonable. I've never seen the guy, no. It's reasonable to assume that he might have a psychiatric disorder. Whether he's taking his meds or non-compliant with treatment, you won't know until you've committed yourself.

When I approached the sign-bearer, I was afraid I might be letting myself in for a hell-fire-and-brimstone sermon. As I said in the post, I assumed "TOTAL 33" was the number of his converts. So I expected him to question my salvation; but I know the scriptures well enough that I figured I would be able to say the right things.

I think I'm going to do more of this sort of thing. I have worked with clients with psychiatric disorders (as you know, Bill, having met "Bruce" in the flesh). And I have a kind of inner compulsion about working with street people — I really hope to do it some day.

The fact is, most of these folks are quite harmless. I've had several conversations on public transit with people who were a little loopy, but the interactions were very positive.

What I learned from my group home experience is that such folks don't know exactly where the conventional social boundaries are. So they might stand a little too close, or talk too loudly, or talk about subjects (e.g. religion) that we usually avoid in "polite" company. If you're prepared for that, and you can deal with being the centre of attention on a crowded bus, that's probably the worst thing that's going to happen to you.

Carolyn, I loved your story about tutu-and-tiara man. A great case in point; we tend to assume the worst, and our fears are almost always unwarranted.

As for the people hollering from the bus — we have those types around here, too, of course. Your apt critique reminds me of James 2:15-16: If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

I'm glad to hear that your migraine is ending. It must be such a relief!

At 2:33 PM, July 24, 2005, Anonymous journeywoman said...

One of the things I appreciate about Q, and there are many, is that he has a solid self-confidence and a lovely lack of Ego, which enables him to approach these people without worrying that the ensuing conversation will make him look silly. He is kind and genuinely interested, and if that makes other, "normal" people uncomfortable or embarrassed, or causes them to judge him negatively, that's no concern of his - doesn't even come on his radar screen.

At 4:53 PM, July 24, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

I don't understand why talking to eccentric street people would make one look silly? (no insult to Journeywoman I know you are talking about the reactions of others and not yourself) That said I know a lot of people might think that way, given that they can't think beyond themselves. I think the endeavor at times might be Possibly a bit futile but never silly. I also think it might enrich their lives to some degree.

(I think Q said as much when talking about Bruce)

It's sad that people don't take time to step out of their own social milieu to talk and interact with others, even those they find uncomprehensible.

At 10:52 AM, July 25, 2005, Blogger snaars said...

It's sad that people don't take time to step out of their own social milieu to talk and interact with others, even those they find uncomprehensible.

I agree emphatically.

A friend of my wife likes to throw HUGE birthday parties for her children, and she invites all her adult friends whether they have kids or not. Saturday her little boy turned four. There was a lot of food, beer, socializing ... suddenly I knew something was not-quite-right. I looked around and realized what it was.

About two-thirds of the guests were of Spanish-speaking South American descent and/or black, and the rest were white, like me and my family. All of us white folks were on one side of the patio, and (I hate even to say "us and "them" but here goes ...) "they" were on the other side.

No one was unfriendly or anything. There were plenty of smiles and hand-shakes all the way around. I don't think anyone purposely excluded anyone else. Everyone just sort of gravitated toward the people we were most cofortable with.

After I noticed this, I made a conscious effort to go over and meet some people.

Like you, Bill, I think it's sad that people don't take the time to step out of their social milieu. If we won't talk to people of different skin color, imagine how isolated people feel when they don't fit into any identifiable social group, like the man with the sign.

I have a pet theory that prophets, like some in the old testament, are just such people. Being "outside" the social framework, they often see troubles and calamity that we, being so close to the problem, cannot.

At 1:38 PM, July 25, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

I have a pet theory that prophets, like some in the old testament, are just such people … "outside" the social framework.

You may be right. Some biblical characters may have had an abnormal psychology. The prophet Ezekiel has certainly been scrutinized from that perspective.

We're on firmer ground when we say that the prophets stood outside the institutions of organized religion. People who are prone to "ecstatic" experiences don't fit easily into formal structures. (I use "ecstatic" in its technical sense, referring to altered states of consciousness.) They "march to the beat of a different drum". In consequence, the Hebrew prophets always had an uneasy relationship with both the kings and the priests of Israel.

Personally, I relate to this. I have never fit easily into the Church as an institution, even when I was a pastor! And it was probably inevitable that I would end up where I am today, outside the pale of the Church proper.

I believe the prophets had genuine ecstatic experiences, however we might interpret them. But I also accept naturalistic explanations to some extent. I don't regard the ecstatic experiences and the naturalistic explanations as mutually exclusive.

For example, some scholars suggest that Ezekiel suffered from Post Traumatic Stress disorder, arising from "the very real traumatic experiences of the exile and the realization that the primary religious symbol, the Temple in Jerusalem, has been destroyed." (See the link above.)

I don't know about the specific label, Post Traumatic Stress disorder. But obviously Ezekiel did have a series of traumatic experiences. And it is reasonable that this might have predisposed him or opened him up to the ecstatic experiences which followed.

You are proposing another kind of naturalistic explanation for prophetic insight. Those who stand outside the established social structures have less invested in maintaining them, and may not hesitate to condemn systemic flaws and examples of hypocrisy in high places.

This, too, seems reasonable to me. And your corollary also follows, that outsiders may possess genuine insight: i.e., we may have something to learn from them, if we possess the requisite humility.

At 2:18 PM, July 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another case in point;


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