A Charging Rhinoceros, Natural Ice and a Kingdom that Loves!

Dan was sitting on the alleyway stoop and was obviously inebriated. He was staring in my direction. He had that determined psychotic glare, where he rarely blinked; I’d seen this look many times before and it simply told me, “monster” Dan was present! He is diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder, and therefore, takes a host of medications. These legal drugs do not mix well with the alcohol he daily drinks or the crack cocaine he occasionally smokes; this combination makes Dan become like a possessed beast! I have known him a few years and have hardly ever seen him sober. I often visited him in treatment facilities and have sadly observed the pattern of seeing him fall and fall and fall again. I have frequently picked Dan up, for him to only display outbursts of anger, manipulation and failure. The cans of beer and bottles of gin have gripped him tightly and he cannot seem to escape.

This particular Friday, Dan sees me and charges toward me like an irate rhinoceros, demanding services and warning me that I “better treat him right”. I respond sternly, “Dan, you need to wait! We’ll talk when the time is right. I have other people waiting”. Benny, who I was walking with and assisting, smiles and laughs at “crazy Dan”. We head indoors. The tension mounts quickly as Dan started aggravating Benny with sublime threats and comments. They have known each other for years and are somewhat hostile toward each other, so inwardly, I’m begging God for mercy and strength. Benny has medical conditions that cause him to walk with an extremely solid carved walking stick. Benny yells at Dan to back off and asks me to intervene before he uses his beastly stick on Dan’s skull. I jump in the middle, quickly dissolve the problem and escort Dan out the door. He stumbles down the street with his threatening demeanor, mumbling another vulgar display of words. In that short time on one city block, he had insulted, threatened and angered five individuals. Knowing his mood and seeing his blink-less stare, I knew his weekend fate would result in him being hurt or hurting someone, or spending a night in jail. The scars on Dan’s rugged face reveal an extremely tragic and bitter life!

This hour of tension had left me utterly exhausted. Often the mere sight of Dan makes me cringe and I have tried to perfect the art of dodging him. I constantly find myself battling the desire to discredit his name through laughter, gossip and back-stabbing. A small ugly voice within me, frequently tells me to forget Dan and to label him as a worthless and pathetic alcoholic. I know I need to repeatedly battle these ungodly thoughts, and instead, be renewed in my mind. As I walk home, I lift up Dan in prayer.

Dan was arrested and slept overnight in a jail cell. That Friday night, he also messed with the wrong person at the wrong time, and as a result, a clique of older ex-gang members decided he needed to be punished. He hid out downtown for a week and then returned to Uptown. Ahmed executed the discipline by jumping on him and hitting him in the mouth; giving him a fat bloody lip.

It was Friday evening. It was time to wander home. Monster Dan, with his charging rhino demeanor, stormed up on me suddenly and was right in my face. Full of aggressive anger and foolish drunken logic, he blames me for his fat lip, bloody shirt and denying him food from the cafeteria. I hadn’t seen him in a week, but no logic could slow down his illogical incoherence. I was carefully watching his eyes and hands, yet inwardly, I was praying for wisdom, strength and mercy!

Staff and clients see Dan’s aggression and come over to offer assistance. Once again I find myself having to be a peacemaker, as a couple of the guys wanting to be my protector, would jump at the opportunity to swing at this man. One of his buddies, Charlie, compassionately brings him a plate of food; Dan punches it out of his hands and swears at him. Charlie smirks, mutters something about “you’re on your own” and wanders off; people continue to approach us and he bombards them with another display of verbal diarrhea. With a little coaxing and perseverance, I put my hand on Dan’s shoulder and escort him down the street. I feared for his safety. We were heading in the same direction, so we walked home together and I listened to his angry relentless rant about his woes of homelessness, why I can’t house him, feed him and save him from being punched in the mouth.

My dealings with Dan had left me exhausted and emotionally drained; I was and continue to be flooded with an avalanche of questions as to what is my purpose in this man’s life. As I battle my urge to forget and ignore Dan, I find myself engaged in a one way relationship; I give and he takes! He causes chaos and I clean up the mess! He threatens and I become a peacemaker! We sit in my office and pray, establish goals and plan to conquer his addictions, but as soon as he’s out on the street, he cracks open another can of beer and smokes the pipe! He apologizes and I forgive!

Dan has alienated himself. Dan is a hurting, suffering and addicted lost sheep, struggling without a Shepherd. Even his best friends steer clear of him on his rough days. He has no direction and life offers no meaning. The pain of this poor man is incredible. Deep down, he does not want to cause others to suffer. He is fighting his own demons and is just trying to survive. Without hope, little money, fleeting friends and a myriad of enemies, he begs for God’s mercy and deliverance. He is the one that always reminds me to pray for him and me for a word from scripture, because "Jesus is the only answer". This is the fragile and bitter life of Dan.

The question I must frequently ask myself is how I can embrace God’s vision of Kingdom Love! Jesus lived, spoke and embraced the Kingdom of God. Through his actions, parables and miracles, Jesus displayed the power and beauty of God’s kingdom love – the love which took him to the cross; the love which offers salvation to all; the love which endures and suffers! The love which touched a leprous man, which spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well and didn’t ignore the demon possessed. This is the kind of love which says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” I know I need to embrace and live this kingdom love in today’s society, so that I can display the kingdom of God to the people who enter my world!

As members of God’s Kingdom, we frequently need to ask ourselves intense questions: How does society perceive a man like Dan?
A failure! A determent to society! How about a welfare leach or a benefit junkie? Someone to be feared! Maybe we should lock him up and throw away the key! A drunken fool! A crack-head! A psychopath!
Looking at Jesus, we see that Kingdom love completely turns all our perspectives and judgments upside down. We see a theology of weakness, submission and love. We see a man who is fearfully and wonderfully created in the image of God and someone who is deeply loved by God. It’s a Kingdom which tells us that the "first will be last, and the last, first!" Dan is someone Jesus shed His blood for!

Dan’s challenge to me is to think of how I perceive the many “Dan’s” that invade my peaceful existence. Do I run and hide or do I embrace? Do I embrace them with the kingdom love Jesus spoke of? Kingdom Love is simply; “a love of neighbor, as myself” and, biblically, my neighbor is the person I may encounter, bump into or come in contact with. The person that enters my space could be ethnically or religiously different; they could be addicted to drugs or alcohol; they could be struggling with mental illness or a physical difference; or they could have an annoying personality or be my worst enemy; Jesus tells us that within the Kingdom of God, all these individuals are my neighbor, and he simply commands us to love each and every one uniquely!

A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. Thugs attacked him and left him for dead. People similar to him, decided to ignore him, and sadly left him bleeding on the side of the road. Then Jesus introduces a Samaritan man, who to Jews would be considered an ancient Dan or unclean person. This enemy strolls down this lonely road and sacrifices time, money and reputation to rescue this man! Samaritans were nothing to the Jews; they were people to despise, oppress and reject. It is the Palestine Israel battle which lingers to this day; one race rendered superior and another inferior, and the sight of the other causes a bitter and sometimes fatal hatred.

The Samaritan enters into this world of hatred and showed the Jewish man forgiving love; the love he demonstrated went beyond all logic and meaning, his love denied any bondage to time and money. He went beyond any limits and did not know whether he would receive anything in return. The Samaritan’s free agape, Christ like love, tells us, “you may continue to hate me and you may not recover from the severe beating, but I will persevere and love will take me beyond all sensibility to make vital sacrifices to care for this sick wounded individual.”

Kingdom love is a love that offers no choice, but to embrace Dan. We may not have any answers and Dan may continue to wallow in his grief and suffering. His quality of life may not improve or he may not overcome his addictions, but it our responsibility to simply love him as our neighbor. Kingdom love is creative. Kingdom love will jump over all boundaries. Kingdom love is the only true love that will embrace the poor, the hated and the rejected. Kingdom love will not be hindered by politics, the kingdom of this world and fear. Kingdom love is powerful. Kingdom love is persevering. Kingdom love exercises true freedom and kingdom love took Jesus to the cross out of his love for people like Dan.

*This was originally written in November 2009
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