Late December of 1993 I willingly put myself in a very cold place. And I hate being cold. It was a huge Christian conference: thousands of students, important speakers, relevant music, and a stack of books. I read one of the books. It was by this guy named Henri Nouwen. It was called Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life. Nouwen said that compassion was more than feeling sorry for someone, rather it meant suffering with someone.
I wish I could find this book to look through right now – for brilliant quotes. It might be in one of my many boxes packed up, once again, ready to be moved (tomorrow!). I thought about this book, and suffering and compassion as our designated group from Christ Church was going to hang out with those making Church Under the Bridge today (3/15). I was relieved from the get-go that our assignment was simply to participate, to be there with folks. (Isn’t that what we really want?)
So, this morning I willingly put myself in a very cold place- under the I35 bridge. This little story is not one of contrasts, irony, or revelation. I think it’s more about sameness. After arriving and checking in with our people I got some coffee in a little styrofoam cup, stood on the periphery, and surveyed the scene a bit. A guy nearby seemed to be doing the same, so I greeted him. His name is Charles. Right away Charles started sharing with me some family problems he had – a legal battle he was in with his brother. We talked about how nasty things come out after family member pass away. Charles graduated from high school in 1979 (He’s 9 years older than I am). He went on a trip to the Bahamas as a graduation celebration. He loved it; loves the beach. He wants to go back some day. Charles had real, but common teenager/parent problems growing up. As we talked I became aware that he and I had had similar beginnings, except that part about the Bahamas. Now, fast forward in the story. Come to find out, due to the consequences of his sin Charles was in prison when his mother passed away, and can no longer drive the truck he enjoyed for a living because of the felonies. He was quite honest about himself and his life, owned his choices and situation. I liked that. I wonder if the difference between our lives, choices, and outcomes is mostly that his sins also break laws in court, whereas mine “just” break natural laws and I can work hard to hide them.
Charles has a place where he “camps”. He will return there tonight. I returned this afternoon to an empty house full of boxes.
Thanks be to the God that is with us, that suffers with us.