Come Out of The Dark

Someone once told me that when I wear my black poncho, I look like Darth Vader. Jokingly, I said that I crossed over to the dark side. Instead of helping the homeless, I lead the authorities to the homeless campsites in the woods, leading a wrecking crew to destroy the camps, as the Galactic Empire did with the AT-AT walkers, the four-legged transport and combat vehicles that resemble dinosaurs to stamp out the Rebel Alliance in two of the Star Wars movies.

Actually, the authorities in Bucks County, PA sent a backhoe to clear out homeless camps in the woods behind the Bucks County Technical School and across from The Bucks County Homeless Shelter back in April. It was a complete blitzkrieg; the county also forced the homeless from their camps at the nearby Veterans Memorial and by the District Court Building.

But I, or a guy who was falsely accused, did not rat them out. The woods were cleared out mainly because of complaints about drug use in the woods. Hypodermic needles were found. At least one druggie who overdosed had to be pulled out of the woods and taken to the ER. As far as the memorial and district court area, there were complaints about the homeless who camped there. Many of the problems were caused by druggies, some who had joined the local population and some who had come from some of the numerous recovery houses in the area. Some people who used the memorial sometimes kept their tents up during the day and on occasion their were drunken brawls and the police were called.

We all have a dark side. Christians are sinners saved by grace.

People destroy their lives by abusing drugs and alcohol and cause social problems. I went to the dark side after I turned from my faith and got messed up without the help of drugs or alcohol. As I told a Christian brother and sister recently, I did other bad things to make up for having problems via drugs and alcohol.

There are people I’d like to stamp out like a bug. People who cause problems in the homeless community, people who are judgemental about the homeless, thieves, liars, people who have slighted me, given me a raw deal, obnoxious drunks. Although it’s right to call out bad behavior and tell someone they are offending or hurting you, it is not up to me to judge. That’s God’s job.

I have to go to God and his Word to clean up my dark side. That’s a life long maintenance project.

In his Word, God teaches us to be more like Jesus. For example, the story of Jonah and the whale:

A long time ago, a man named Jonah found the people of Nineveh too much to take. When God told Jonah to go to this wicked town to minister to them, he blew God off and walked the other way.

As the story goes, Jonah gets aboard a ship and out of nowhere comes a storm. Jonah told the crew that his running away from the Lord caused this. They jettisoned him and Jonah got swallowed by a whale.

Time out!

Inside the whale, Jonah got to think about his attitude and his disobedience to God. He repented and asked God to guide him. Jonah returned to Nineveh and the town repented and turned to God and from their evil ways.

Jonah, however, didn’t like God’s compassion for the wicked city.

Jonah had written off Nineveh as a lost cause and wanted them destroyed. God didn’t.

Like a sibling who couldn’t wait to see his brother or sister punished, Jonah sat waiting to see God open a can of whoopass on Nineveh.

God made a vine grow over Jonah to protect him from the hot sun but then he brought a worm to chew the vine, leaving him exposed to the blazing hot sun. Jonah grew faint and wanted to die. He was angry at God.

God gave Jonah the message similar to the opening of the science fiction series The Outer Limits:  “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image; make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to the outer limits.”

God showed Jonah that He was in control.

He compared this demonstration  to the people of Nineveh and told Jonah: “You have been concerned about the vine, though you did not tend it of make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than 920,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

At a center for drug and alcohol abuse where I visited a friend, a counselor told the visitors that we have to set rules and borders for our loved ones with problems, but we should never condemn them.  I’ve been setting rules and borders for a cancer patient I care for and try not to condemn her. Occasionally, when she does outrageous, destructive things, I slip and start to dismiss her. I’ve prayed to God for more patience with her.

God can take us out of our dark side.

“He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” -Psalm 40:2

Time Out!

It seems sometimes that, in the words of James Taylor, people are too much for me to take. They continue in their destructive behavior which not only hurts themselves, but other people.

A long time ago, a man named Jonah found the people of Nineveh too much to take. When God told Jonah to go to this wicked town to minister to them, he blew God off and walked the other way.

As the story goes, Jonah gets aboard a ship and out of nowhere comes a storm. Jonah told the crew that his running away from the Lord caused this. They jettisoned him and Jonah got swallowed by a whale.

Time out!

Inside the whale, Jonah got to think about his attitude and his disobedience to God. He repented and asked God to guide him. Jonah returned to Nineveh and the town repented and turned to God and from their evil ways.

Jonah, however, didn’t like God’s compassion for the wicked city.

Jonah had written off Nineveh as a lost cause and wanted them destroyed. God didn’t.

Like a sibling who couldn’t wait to see his brother or sister punished, Jonah sat waiting to see God open a can of whoopass on Nineveh.

God made a vine grow over Jonah to protect him from the hot sun but then he brought a worm to chew the vine, leaving him exposed to the blazing hot sun. Jonah grew faint and wanted to die. He was angry at God.

God gave Jonah the message similar to the opening of the science fiction series The Outer Limits:  “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image; make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to the outer limits.”  God showed Jonah that He was in control.

He compared this demonstration  to the people of Nineveh and told Jonah: “You have been concerned about the vine, though you did not tend it of make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than 920,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

The homeless community in lower Bucks County, PA is my Nineveh. Members of this community engage in destructive behavior – stealing, conniving, lying, manipulating, being drunk and disorderly in public. Some knuckleheads caused more responsible people to have to vacate their makeshift dwellings. A druggie stole two coats and a cell phone charger from a cancer patient I’m taking care of, after she was shown great hospitality as if she were a daughter.

It’s a human character flaw to wish, as Jonah did on Nineveh, bad things to happen to people when they wrong you. I told the victim of the druggie’s theft that I wished she would die out in the street from withdrawal.

The victim admonished me, reminding me that this is not a Christian view. She’s right, and I prayed to God to deal with the SAM (lower Bucks County PA druggie) the way Jesus would.

“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” –Romans 12:19

God gives people 2nd chances. He gave me another chance. Like the people in Nineveh, I persisted in my sinful ways. After falling into a pit as a result of my behavior, I called out to God, who forgave me and rescued me and directed my paths.

Despite people, including myself, reaching out to people in the homeless community, they continue their destructive ways. I felt bad to see people I’ve tried to help turn to the dark side.

I’ve had to come to grips with the idea that my task is to obey God and show love towards others. After doing all I could do for someone, I’ve had to walk away. A friend told me that it was their choice and it wasn’t on me that she didn’t change. God, not I, am responsible for outcomes.

A counselor at a treatment center I visited told the visitors to make rules and set boundaries for their loved ones with addictions but to never condemn them. Good advice!

Don’t give up. Some time ago, a drug addict said that he wished he didn’t do what got him into the sorry state he was in. Although, as I told him, life is not a videogame where you can delete what you did, you can get back on the right track.

Drug users use more and more to try to get satisfied. They never reached their nirvana and end up flatlining. We strive for nirvana but never get completely satisfied. Drug addiction, like other sins, leads to destruction. As Neil Young sang:

“I’ve seen the needle and the damage done

A little part of it in everyone

But every junkie’s like a settin’ sun”

Like Nineveh, which God threatened to destroy if the people there didn’t come back to him, addicts and other people who regularly engage in other ungodly behavior still have a chance before they become toast.  At the 12 Steps Journey program I attend, which is not just for addictions but for other problems, I’ve seen people with big problems get their act together. It’s not quick as a wink you’re in the pink, but a long journey that requires devotion and constant turning to God. http://12stepjourney.com/

“He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” –Psalm 40:2

Out of The Ashes

During an orientation for a homeless friend who is getting treatment for his addiction, the host admonished the visitors to set borders and make rules for loved ones with an addiction problem, but never to put them down.

The homeless have fled the woods near the public library in Levittown, PA. The aftermath of the wholesale evictions at Queen Anne Park has left a fresh start for some of the former residents. Can the Phoenix arise from the ashes?

During my year and 1/2 relationship with the homeless in lower Bucks County, PA, to borrow a phrase from the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…” Several months ago, I witnessed a very smart, well educated woman who had an alcohol problem ruin her life.

At one point she had started to come around, recommending books to me and discussing them and engaging in elevated discussions about things such as literature and art, but, like Darth Vader, she returned to the dark side.

She has left the homeless community in my area, and there are rumors that she has a job and has a place to stay. In any case, she is out of my hands.

There were others who went off the deep end, off to the wild dark yonder.

Saddened that I couldn’t help people who went to the dark side, I shared this with a Christian sister. She said that when she first started working with the homeless, she thought she could change the world. She said that God, not us, is ultimately responsible for results and that the best we can do is show people God’s love.

I came to grips with the idea that I am not responsible for results. People have to want to change. You can take people by the hand, but you can’t drag them. I also realize that I, and no other human, is the center of the universe.

We all have a role to play in the world. For more than a year, people have been ministering to my friend, and now he may be on the road to recovery. He has been troublesome, even obnoxious. Sometimes he’d lament that his friends no longer like him. I told him that we don’t like what he’s doing but we still love him and would like to see him straighten out.

I too went through a period where, with all the people God sent into my life, I continued my wayward ways. I didn’t listen to many people close to me, even the pastor of a church I used to attend. After I left the church, while driving for a rug company as I passed the church, I literally thumbed my nose at it.

It was only after I fell into a pit, like the Psalm writer David, that I came around.

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”

— Psalm 40:2

“Oh Lord, I called to you for help, and you healed me.”

— Psalm 30:2

It is not for us to judge — we don’t control the horizontal; we don’t control the vertical. God does. We can hold the people causing problems in the homeless community accountable for their actions, but we should not put them down as human beings, who are made in the image of God.

Jonah thought he controlled the horizontal and the vertical and walked the other way when God told him to go to the decadent town of Nineveh. He had given up hope for them and wanted to see them destroyed. It took being swallowed by a whale to get him to obey God and minister to the people in Nineveh.

In a sense, we are all refugees, having lost direction in life. As Bob Dylan sang:

“How does it feel?

How does it feel?

To be on your own

No direction home…”

People can find direction. As David wrote: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

— Psalm 119:105

Like the character Evangelist in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, we can just point people to God. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bunyan/pilgrim.html

You don’t have to live like a refugee. There is a bridge that leads home.