Thursday, December 18, 2008

My Drinking Buddies

The other night, Stephanie and I did our usually Monday routine of going to Moore Square Park, handing out sandwiches and talking to people who hang out there. Most of these people are homeless. We do this every week and the people down there know us. They greet us as we walk up to them, we hang out and talk for about an hour, and at some point we hand out about a dozen sandwiches. Stephanie and I used to each eat a sandwich ourselves, but somewhere along the line the demand for the sandwiches eventually greatly outnumbered how many we would bring (We make really good sandwiches).

This past Monday night was interesting. As soon as we got there, Stephanie separated from the group to play in the leaves with a young girl. I was left standing in a circle with about 10 guys. One guy had a case of Ice House and started passing them out to everyone. Within a few seconds I was the only one in the circle without a beer. The man with the case noticed this and said, "Wait. Chris, I forgot about you. Did you want one?"

In just a fraction of a second lots of thoughts raced through my head:

Is it even legal to drink out here?
It has been a rough day at work. I could use a drink.
If I was with any of my other friends, what would I be doing right now?
I've had beer and wine with homeless guys before.
Am I pretending to be somebody I'm not when I'm down here?
I've tasted fresh moonshine in Uganda.
Why not?

And that's exactly what I said. "Why not?" The guys got a good chuckle out of this, and I felt this strange sense of community with the group as I drank my beer. There were all kinds of comments thrown out in the circle:

"I wasn't going to smoke in front of these two out of respect for them. I thought they were from a church or something."
"No, this guy is always drinking down at the Raleigh Times."
"Yeah, I've seen him there with my brother."
"Chris, man, now you know you're going to have to chip in next time we collect."

I began to realize that apparently there are eyes on the street, as well as embellishments. After that, things got a little weird. Someone pulled out a joint and some of them started passing that around. I also noticed money exchanging hands for something small that I suspect were drugs. These things never happened before, but somehow my status had instantly changed. They weren't ashamed to do anything around me. But oddly enough, they would still apologize to us after cussing, even while accidentally blowing smoke in my face while doing so. By the time we left, Stephanie and I smelled like we had just come from a Willie Nelson concert.

It's been a few days since this experience and I still can't decide how I feel about it. I have my own thoughts ranging from, "I'm an idiot," all the way to, "I should bring a case of beer to pass out next week," but I'm curious what others think. So if you've read this far, please make a stance on this issue and post a comment.


StephyJune said...

Yeah, I have no idea. I'm still chewing on it myself.

Lance Bledsoe said...

I'm the worship leader at my church (Connections Church in Cary) which means, among other things, that every Sunday morning I get up in front of 80 or so people and, accompanied by our band, sing "contemporary Christian" songs about God and Jesus. I'm also the bass player for an 80's rock band called Aftershock which means, among other things, that a couple of times a month, I go to local bars and sing songs about drugs and extramarital sex while people get drunk and dance. I'm constantly aware of the tension that these two roles produce in me. Do I have less integrity as a Christian leader because of my participation in a rock band? Or am I trying to follow Jesus' example by intentionally putting myself in places where I might actually come into contact with people who are not as "holy" as those who attend my church?

I confess I don't have any really good answers to these questions. Up to now, I've apparently decided that there's nothing inherently wrong with me being a part of both bands, and apparently my church has decided that as well, since they haven't fired me or asked me to stop playing rock and roll.

I think you absolutely did the right thing in drinking a beer with your buddies in the park, even if they do consider you to be a "spiritual leader" of some sort. I think it falls under the same category as Jesus associating with prostitutes and tax collectors. But be aware that you'll be experiencing more situations like your friends smoking pot and dealing drugs in front of you. Those things have been going on before, of course, but your friends have probably been hiding them from you out of respect for your "spiritual" status, or out of fear of your disapproval. Now you're going to have to decide how you're going to respond to those things.

I think that living in that tension is a good thing to do, but it won't be easy, and it won't always be clear what you should do.

j3pflynn said...

It can be a touchy situation for sure. If it helps any, I had a similar situation years back working alongside the Navigators on Ft. Bragg. A brother in Christ, Jim, who was a warrant officer was going through the barracks with me(we were both still in the military at the time) just talking to and getting to know folks, hoping for an opportunity to share Christ.
At one point, we could quite clearly detect the aroma of pot in the room we'd entered. Jim wasn't sure how to deal with that - he was in a position of authority, and had some responsibility to deal with the issue. He asked me what I thought, and in what was perhaps a rare moment of clarity, I told him something to the effect of, "Jim, I guess you have to consider who you're really here to serve and represent when we're doing this. Yes, what they're doing is wrong, but the issue we're here to deal with is much more important."
I guess I'd be careful to not give the impression you approve of the illegal things going on, but to make it clear you care about them enough to overlook that to get to the more important issue. Once a relationship with the Lord is there, the other issues can be dealt with, or may even go away.
Like Lance already said, Jesus was hanging out with those who needed Him, not those who thought they were "good-to-go".
Paul Flynn

Carl said...

If these are your friends and you're being yourself, I think you do it. I think it's a shame when people over think.

Your gut rarely leads you astray. If it feels right, do it.

I'm glad I found the blog. Am enjoying it.

Sam Ed. said...

I have some thoughts. Thoughts I think we should discuss over a beer as soon as we return from the holidays. Deal? I'd love to talk to you about this.

Emily said...

This was an interesting scenario to consider. At the beginning of your post, I totally agreed with what you did and thought that it would help you form a sense of camaraderie among the group. As I read on to the part about drugs, it made me reassess the entire reminds me of when I teach and I'm lenient about some things, but then my students try to go nuts and think ANYthing will be cool with me. Then you get into the complicated situation of deciding where to draw the line, which I still deal with on a daily basis. Yikes. Also, I like how you listed "ice house" as a category for this post. I eagerly clicked on it, hoping to find many more posts about ice house, but alas...

Michael Friberg said...

i think if they feel comfortable enough to deal drugs around you, that should be a good sign right? I mean they are doing it anyways, it is just a sign that they feel acceptance. The only thing going on here is that your comfort zone is being challenged. I am not saying that you should condone it but I hand cigs out to homeless people all the time and they are genuinely stunned that somebody is willing to give them something that desire instead of deciding what they "need" (a job, food etc etc). I personally see no moral dilemma here at all.

Chris Waluk said...

I thought I'd add that one of the homeless guys I know got a ticket for drinking a beer at that same spot in the park last week.

I'll also add that the story on the street is that I brought the guys back a six pack. When I went back to the park and the guys asked me to chip in, I told them I already brought them a six pack. When I got a big collective, "What?" I said, "At least that's the story I was told."

I'll even also add that there were no drugs this week, and despite everyone drinking Aristocrat from plastic cup, I wasn't offered any.

Lisa Creech Bledsoe said...

You know, nobody ever said this would be easy or clear-cut. Everybody stands on a slippery slope -- does having a beer with friends mean you condone having a toke or shooting heroin with friends? Not necessarily; those are all different situations and you deal with each one accordingly. If the drugs come out, you might find yourself with the opportunity to say something that impacts the situation. Or you may totally freeze up and have no idea what to do. This whole Jesus thing is incredibly messy. The trick is to figure out how to live in the middle of it. Sounds to me like you are making the effort, and not doing too terribly, either.

Shannon Smith said...

Crazy story. I'm glad I found your blog. I love your bio. It's awesome.