While we were setting up for the meal we served to the less fortunate on Thanksgiving, something odd and interesting happened. One of the men, apparently homeless, slipped into our midst. Without any of us knowing, he sat down at the piano and began to play some really amazing jazz piano. I mean it…he was really good. I took his picture when he wasn't paying attention (see left).
We listened to him play for 30 minutes or so, and then he found a hymnal somewhere and began playing some OUTSTANDING versions of hymns. I thought to myself, "Why can't this guy land a job playing piano somewhere? A restaurant, bar, hotel lobby, something? Hey…the way he can play hymns…why not a church?" Over the course of the day, we learned a little bit more about him. He was homeless because his drinking problem (which he still has) had landed him there.
In his poem, A Bum's Life, Hal Sirowitz wrote:
You're going to be a bum, Mother said,
if you're not one already, but you'll
soon find out that even a bum
has to work hard convincing people
that he's really poor. When it rains
you can't stand out there holding
an umbrella, & ask for money, but
you have to get wet, because the more
you drip, the more sympathy you'll get…
Sometimes, when we think of the homeless, we think of the lady talking to herself on the bus bench or the person who chooses that lifestyle (like the Dharma Bums of Kerouacian fame). Undoubtedly, there are many who are either unmotivated or mentally disturbed. But, when we dare to get close enough to the homeless we realize several things:
1. It could happen to most, if not all of us.
2. Many of the homeless are in fact quite talented…and even fun.
3. Our stereotypes of the homeless are often just that.
4. God loves all people, home or not, mentally ill or not. Slacker or not.
5. The church is in a unique position to help the homeless turn their lives around.
Thank you, Piano Man (also known as James) for the valuable lessons. Keep playin'.