21 June 2008

The Jesus People

Every Saturday morning for some time now--at least a year I think--we've had the pleasure of having the local pentecostal evangelical church or some such conduct a Saturday morning feed-and-proselytize-to-the-homeless in an empty public parking lot a block away from our house.

They've been very annoying at times, I won't lie. When they first started, they clearly either A) didn't know there were people living in downtown who might like to sleep in on Saturdays, or B) they didn't care. I don't like to impute bad motives to people so I'll assume that they, not without reason, just didn't figure anybody actually lived downtown. I say even though the parking lot they use is right across the street from a building called "The Residences at Franklin," and around the corner from another building called "One Laurel Place Condominium." I mean, what did they think, that a building called "Residences" was just empty? Well, again, I can't blame them for thinking that since even now a year later the building is still maybe 50% occupied. But it's right across the freaking street. It casts a shadow over the parking lot they're using for goodness sake. Who in their right mind would think it was appropriate to come into a residential neighborhood at 7:30 on a Saturday morning and blast amplified bad religious music? I mean, really? Is that decent? Is that the Christian thing to do?

Anyway. Several calls to the police over a number of weeks later--and when I say several, I mean, several from this house, several from our neighbors on either side, several from our neighbors down the hall, on different floors, in other buildings... I mean we're talking hundreds of phone calls from dozens of people--they finally got the point and chose a later start time. So now we're already awake, more or less, by the time they crank up the speakers at 9:30.

Since they pushed the start time back I've been neutral about them. I still doubt they actually have a permit for amplified music, and for the most part the music they play is bad. I mean, really bad, almost comically bad, but the thing about comically bad singing is that, if it doesn't stop after that first laugh, it stops being comic and just becomes horrid. But they feed and amuse the homeless and pass out shoes and clothes and as far I'm concerned that is an excellent thing to do. I'm more than willing to put up with bad music on Saturday mornings if it means the homeless get a decent meal and an uplifting message.

But the message has been a problem sometimes. You know how some preachers are just angry? Like Jeremiah Wright? I mean, occasionally over the course of about two or three months recently, there was a woman out there preaching who was just a big angry women. She clearly was upset at... everything, apparently. She didn't talk or even preach to the homeless, she shouted at them. She yelled at them. Not for nothing have the crowds been a bit smaller recently. Even a free meal and a pair of shoes aren't always worth having a large angry woman yell at you for two hours.

But even with that, she's not a permanent presence there, and the last couple weeks I haven't heard her at all. No loss, certainly. So, like I said, I'm happy to have them there doing their good works and proselytizing and not waking me up at 7:30. That's fine.

Then this morning while walking Jackson I dug up a couple of little flowers of a sort that we used to have at Smittywife's old apartment. When wild, they have tiny little succulent leaves and little flowers about 3/4 the diameter of a dime. But if you dig them up and put them in a pot and water them consistently they grow much bigger and flowers will be a good inch and a half across. And there will be lots of flowers. They're really nice little plants, although I'm sure they're just a weed to most people. Anyway...

So I went out on the porch after I brought the dog back in and planted the little plants, and I happened to hear the preacher going on. And here is what he said: he said, you may have heard people tell you that if you can just let go of the bottle, or just get off the drugs, everything will turn around for, everything will get better. And that's just not true. If you don't have Jesus in your life, getting off the bottle won't help you; getting off drugs won't solve your problems. Only Jesus can do that for you.


This is the problem I have with some of these preachers. Guess what, fella: Jesus or no Jesus, getting off the bottle and off drugs will definitely help you, a lot. Tons. More than the advertising suggests. It's not cool to tell people that they are powerless to help themselves. And what is the value of doing so? He basically just told those people not to bother getting clean and sober. He basically told them that all they really had to do was accept Jesus and... I don't know, some kind of mystical power would either make them quit drugs and drink without really working at it, or it wouldn't matter whether they'd quit because God would make everything hunky-dory for them.

I know many good and faithful Christians. I don't know many who would claim that there's not inherent value in getting sober. It's preachers like this who turn me off from organized religion. I don't mind you telling me that without Jesus I'll always have an empty space in my life I'll be trying to fill. I do mind you telling me that I am incapable of doing anything to help myself, that I have no power to improve my situation in life. That is not a positive message.

I'm calling the cops again next Saturday. I was fine with them when I thought they were being decent people. Now I'm not so sure.

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