charmin ultra

As a 25 year-old in 2005, I was part of a life-changing undertaking.  Only on rare occasions since then have I spoken about it or, honestly, given it much thought.  Yet, there’s not a day that goes by, some six years later, that I don’t feel or notice some effect from what I learned over those few months.  Tonight, I was reminded of it again.

At the time, I was working in a pseudo-ministry role and attended the church for which I worked.  Kristy and I both we part of a small group of young adults that looked, sounded, and acted alike and so, as was the style at the time, began meeting with them for regular Bible studies.  As we studied, we made sure (as in the words fo Cathleen Falsani) that all of the doctrinal t’s were crossed and i’s were dotted.  It was important to have the correct answers.

Also in style at the time was the notion that it was OK to criticize our church, nay, even our movement as a whole for not being the change they wanted to see in the world.  They (excluding ourselves, of course) were not doing enough to help the helpless, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or save the sinner.

At this point in my history, you must understand that I had been fully won over by the truth.  I had the answers, or at the very least knew where to find them.  I could tell you with pinpoint accuracy the eternal destinations of those in a line-up in front of me.  I had it together.  Jesus may as well have slipped me a copy of the Lamb’s Book of Life.

On one particular night, however, when the fault-finding was particularly succesful, something cracked – like the first kernel of corn that explodes in the microwave.  The details are sketchy; I certainly don’t remember what part of the Bible we were studying.  All I remember is thinking that I’d had enough of the criticism and  someone saying, “Why don’t we do something?”

Astounding in its brilliance and its simplicity, I knew that “doing something” was the answer.

What developed over the course of the next several weeks and months was an utterly simple and utterly perspective altering exploit.  To the spirit of “being thirsty and you gave me something to drink,” we added the notions of warming the cold, and befriending the friendless.  On a weekly basis, a group of four regulars and several others, would load up a mini-van with hot chocolate, cups, and eventually water, blankets, and various beneficial sundries and park at the Charlotte Transportation Center.  In the center of the facility, we would set up our stations and would plainly and simply hand out hot chocolate to cold people.

In the beginning was the notion that what we were doing would eventually lead to the conversion of souls to Christianity – a priority that had been drilled into each of us from the earliest days of our faith. We knew that people needed Jesus and so the agenda was set and the bargaining chip was steaming cocoa.

When reality began to settle in – when we realized that there are answers other than “Jesus” to many of the questions that people are asking – life as we knew it began to change.

Because of “Hot Chocolate,” I learned that there are many more people out there who aren’t like me than are like me and that relying on tangible similarities to serve as the foundation and sustenance for my relationships  was a losing cause.  Instead, I learned that I can have as much in common with the crass homeless man as the people that were in much church pews.

During this time I learned that I don’t have all the answers.  I began to realize that some questions can’t have neatly packaged answers; that it’s often better than they don’t.  These are questions about life, faith, and practical realities.

What I can articulate now that I couldn’t then was the importance of relationships in our lives.  More than resources, position, status, or notoriety, relationships are the foundation for happy lives.  When these aren’t in place – when relationships begin to fracture – everything from your soul to your mind to your home is at risk.

I am tempted to say, here, that actions speak louder than words.  My hesitation though is that they can still speak a very obnoxious, holier-than-thou, Christians-are-superior message.  Instead, I think I want to say that your genuine interest and acceptance are what people sense and respond to.  When the agendas are put aside, and your mind and heart can be fully-engaged with another human being, real change, real conversation, real understanding can start to enter the equation.

While I suppose it’s completely normal, when I consider my past I often question how “I could think like that.”  It’s not an exaggeration to say that I believed that the answers I had were true and solid, that there was no room for questioning.  And at the same time, my past has prepared me with both a heart for compassion and a willingness to act that seem to be rare to find together.  I’m grateful for this.

These cold nights at the Charlotte Transportation Center sometimes seem silly when I look back and read the accounts from what seems like a completely different lifetime.  The lexicon that we used almost seems like a foreign language to me now.

Our group, which later came to be known as “Delta Force” (even our hipster name for it had the underpinnings of agenda), that started as much out of stubbornness and frustration, cemented lifetime friendships and poked holes in my water tight view of who Jesus is and how he loves.

And despite the campiness and awkwardness of our efforts, some amazing things were born.  Maybe reborn.  It’s odd now to hear names and remember people’s stories, to know which construction sites people slept at, what measures they had to take to keep their families together.

It’s comforting, though, to know that we’re all in the same boat.

If you’re interested, you can read all about our wackiness at the bus station at http://charminultra.blogspot.com.