This morning I was at 30-30 Coffee, one of the best coffee shops/roasteries in America. 30-30 also happens to be my office, since I don’t have office space at home and my work is mostly done on the computer if I’m not traveling somewhere. I was outside on the sidewalk sitting at a table, reading, when a young black man wearing all black came outside. He sounded as if he was rapping, which was a fair assumption seeing as he was also wearing headphones. He wasn’t rapping, however. He was on the phone. This guy proceeded to intrude on my reading with his pacing, loud voice, and Christian language as he was “evangelizing” the person he was talking to on his phone. He was talking about how he used to be and what happened to him and so on. The more I tried to continue reading, the louder it seemed his voice became and I was drawn into his conversation.
When he finished this conversation, he sat down at a table in front of me. I was thankful that I was now able to read my slightly boring book in peace and quiet. A scraggly man walked past the tables outside the shop and the young man said, “How you doin’?’ The scraggly man responded, “Good. How are you?” He replied, “Blessed”.
Is it okay to say that I cringe when someone states that they are “blessed” in response to how they are? Well, I cringed.
Then, the man in black called a pastor friend and kept saying “Blessed” over and over and over. It was like he was deliberately trying to call attention to how blessed he is. Actually, its quite like that. Why else would anyone pace back and forth in a public area having a loud conversation about how “blessed” they are and “who” they’re “working on”? I can’t think of any reason. I opened my Bible App on my phone and scrolled to Matthew 6:1 and sighed as I condemned this guy for drawing attention to his righteousness.
I went back inside to get another drink and noticed that he was now inside, sitting on a couch, with his headphones in. I went to talk with my friend Trey, who works at the shop and was bagging some beans for sale. I talked with him about the young man on the couch, and how I had condemned him with Matthew 6:1 as I listened to his phone conversations. Trey said he comes in to the shop all the time and doesn’t buy anything but uses the WiFi (first world problems), and that he won’t listen when Trey tries to tell him that’s not okay. I told Trey that I want to ask him his story, but kept making excuses for why it would be awkward to do so. We joked back and forth a bit, and I had almost talked myself out of this crazy idea. After all, I knew his kind. I knew his story. I didn’t really want to hear it.
But, Trey made me feel bad enough about avoiding talking to the young man that I went and interrupted him (his head was down and he was listening to music or something). I told him I was sitting outside when he was outside and asked him he wouldn’t mind sharing his story with me. At this point, I knew that in some small way, my request reinforced some things in him that I did not wish to reinforce; namely his loud, pacing, attention grabbing manner of speaking righteously on the phone. He likely was excited to evangelize me with his story, after all, I do look quite sinful.
After exchanging names (his name is Michael), we sat down outside and he asked me if I had the time to listen, because he had lots to say. With a healthy level of skepticism, I obliged and Michael started into his story, which began, “My dad raped me when I was 2 years old…” I did my best not to flinch at the opening line of his story, but that’s just horrible. He went on to tell me about the abuse that he suffered at the hands of his mother, growing up in an “orphanage”, going into foster care, getting adopted, joining the Gangster Disciples at age 13, selling drugs, and going to jail multiple times before he was 18. He said he was totally lost. He told me about his experience with God in jail, getting baptized, his mentor who told him about needing to receive the Holy Spirit, and how that experience of “being filled” has impacted his life. And he’s only 21.
I fully expected for him to ask me if I wanted to receive Jesus as my Savior, or what I thought of his story. I expected to be walked down the Romans Road and hear that “all have sinned” and “the wages of sin is death” and “the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus”. After all, I knew his kind. I knew his story. I didn’t really want to hear it. Not because I don’t believe it, but because I don’t like being evangelized any more than anyone else does. And I’m a Christian.
But Michael didn’t lay gospel truths on me and ask me to repent. Instead, much to my surprise, he asked me to tell him my story. That was quite refreshing.
So, I started into my story, which began, “I was born and raised in Pekin…” That was my shocking beginning. I shared with him how I was raised in a Christian home, how God was put into a small theological box by my church, and how that box was reinforced by my education in Bible College. I told him how I began to start seeing that God is not contained in my box, that there is truth everywhere, and that we need to claim and celebrate truth wherever we find it. I told Michael about my desire to build bridges with people that don’t believe the way that I do so that we can find mutual understanding that hopefully leads all people into all truth.
We are brothers. We share little in common outside of Jesus, but Michael and I sharpened each other. I left Michael with this statement, which was more for me than for him: “May we go from here and remember never to judge a book by its cover.” I was the Pharisee, after all.