I am walking in Atlanta, once again asking the Lord to teach me something through what I notice. For blocks, I am surrounded by the usual downtown elements: sleek buildings, corporate workers intent on getting home, and panhandlers trying to get my attention.
Nothing remarkable stands out.
Then, the setting sun dramatically highlights a series of overhead walkways. I hadn’t seen them before. And as I continue my ramble, I’m spotting them all over. What’s the deal? I have observed the same structures in northern Midwest cities, but frigid winters justify the enclosed passages. Perhaps these have the opposite role: keeping walkers cool in the Georgia heat. I don’t know.
But they are a striking visual. And a meaningful metaphor.
Modern life can be so isolating. Busyness distracts us. And technology provides each of us a high, shiny tower of seclusion -- a modern castle turret of entertainment and carefully managed social interaction.
Making real connections has never been harder.
A man approaches me on the sidewalk. I assume he’s another beggar. But I hesitate, withholding my brush-off because of his eyes. He looks desperate, sincere. Haggard from the heat. He asks if I can help him find an American Legion. This I can do. I pull out my phone, open up Google maps.
And he tells me his story.
As I get more embroiled in this unfolding connection, I voice to him -- let’s call him Darius -- that he is either telling the truth or has the most elaborate fabrication I’ve ever heard. He swears he’s sincere, even as the tale eventually winds around to his need for money.
In the end, I give Darius a little cash. And some bottled water. And I share with him that Jesus’s love is my motivating force. He tells me that he is a “Jonah” and has wandered from his faith. We pray together, there on the sidewalk.
Scripture is, as we know, filled with commands to be open-handed and open-hearted. Since I’ve been reading in Exodus, this passage comes to mind:
“If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. If ever you take your neighbor's cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” (Exodus 22:25–27)
I ask myself now: was Darius conning me? Probably. But then, does it really matter?
There is always a cost associated with connecting to others. If not actual money, then time, energy, and attention. It always requires us to leave our shiny towers of self-absorption. Even if, on occasion, we get duped.
It’s a price we pay to remain compassionate. To be like our tender-hearted God in heaven.
For he spanned the greatest gap of all in loving us.
Great compassionate heavenly Father, in your intent to connect to us, you gave your most precious gift: your Son. Empower us to make walkways to those around us in your name.
Have thoughts about this? I’d love to hear them.