September 2015: Common Humanity


Dear Friends,

When our family returned from our vacation last week, we were greeted with a flat tire on my wife’s car. I swapped it with a spare, and then drove the car to a place where I could have the tire patched.  While they were working on patching the tire, I walked down the sidewalk to a nearby store to pass the time.

One of the interesting things about walking the sidewalks of Houston in the middle of August, is that: (1) you realize how hot it really is outside, and (2) you get to meet people whom you likely would otherwise ignore within the safe confines of your car.

At a nearby intersection, I met a family of three people. I forget their names, but they were on the corner asking for whatever contribution people would give out of the generosity of their hearts. The father was doing most of the work, receiving alms from people who cared enough to share. His wife, who was blind, was sitting next to their daughter, who was in a wheelchair. Occasionally the father would squirt the other two with cold water from a water gun – one way to keep cool in the midst of a sweltering concrete landscape.

I asked him about his daughter, and he replied “She’s special. She’s 28 years old and non-verbal. She has a low IQ, she still wears diapers, and I love her.”  He went on to explain to me that he was no longer able to keep his job at a Taco Bell restaurant because he was now responsible for taking care of his wife, now blind, and their handicapped daughter. Money was tight to begin with, and the loss of his job made living in a home untenable.

So, they turned to streets, praying for generous people, or angels, to help provide for their immediate needs. I gave them some money, and while I hope my modest contribution helped them, I realize they blessed me far more with their story. I don’t mean to romanticize poverty, all I mean to say is that they opened a window in my heart that had been closed for some time. And once that window opened, I felt a connection to the holy, to God, that I rarely feel around professionally “religious” people. This was real. This was divine.  

I spent some time talking to their daughter, who responded not in words but in smiles and in her own language of grunts and joyful exclamations. She seemed genuinely happy in the presence of a hellish traffic intersection in the middle of August.  She had headphones in her ears, and when I asked her father what she was listening to, he exclaimed, “She listens to a little bit of everything, Tim McGraw, AC/DC, Aerosmith, but not Metallica!”  

I was struck by their humanity, and this conversation made me aware of the growing shame I felt in my own heart for ignoring and driving by so many people on street corners holding signs, asking for money. Are some of them con artists?  Of course they are. But they are also human beings, created by God, and biblically speaking, they are our neighbors, too, as uncomfortable as that may be.  The responsibility we owe our neighbor, at least according to the Bible, is clear: “”If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted to your neighbor.” (Deuteronomy 15:7).  

I don’t claim to have any easy answers about how to handle our responsibility of being neighbors with each other. But I believe with all my heart that God is always present when we acknowledge our common humanity with one another. I believe if we create spaces for generous conversation with those different from us, we open a window where God enters and makes the ground we step upon holy. It’s not the finished product, but it is a start.

These windows are open around us all the time: on street corners, in our homes, at church and at work. Where is the ground holy in your life? Where has a window opened in your heart, and where are you to go now?