Saturday, November 18, 2006

Taco Bell Beggar

The koo is a start-up band I manage on the side. Good kids, strong hearts- they want to change the world through music and the arts, and they are working hard to hone their performance and songwriting. Last night they played a show at a small club in East Nashville called The Five Spot. My wife and I went, grabbed a beer, and had a few minutes to chat before they went on. They sounded great.

After the show I decided to hit Taco Bell for a bite to eat- I didn’t have a chance to grab dinner, though my wife did. Drove up to the drive through, placed my order, moved to the first window.

As we pulled up towards the window, in line with one car ahead of us, we noticed a beggar sitting on the ground, with his back to the building and on a small strip of sidewalk between the Taco Bell and the drive-through lane. He must have been under 20 years old, but already haggard looking, dirty, broken. His eyes were half-open, glancing around every so often, and was clutching the standard-issue bent-in-the-middle cardboard sign with black sharpie scribbled words “will work for food” or something like that.

[Insert sound-effect: flashback cue from ABC’s Lost]

A few weeks ago when my wife was not feeling well we skipped church. I thought it would be a great opportunity to crack open the “Jesus” DVD someone gave us. The Jesus Film Project is an outreach that has shown the film to over 6 billion people (how is that even possible? Amazing). Our family had not been in that number. None of us had ever seen it.

The film was ok- definitely dated looking, and since it was based on the book of Luke and only used dialogue from that ancient account, it was a little hard for our kids to follow. Everything was going well until a scene from the film really shook me. Jesus was walking with some folks and talking about real life issues and how to deal with them. Among those things he said was something that somehow I never really heard before. It’s from Luke 6:30- if someone begs of you- give to them. Not just a generic “thout shalt do this,” but a good old-fashioned red-letter statement from the Man himself. 40 years and never caught that. Interesting.

So back to last night. Decided to give this kid some money, so I rolled the window down and called to him holding out a few dollars. As he got up he started to pitch forward like he was going to pass out. He regained his strength, and as he approached the car he lost his balance again and had to thrust his hand onto the car door to keep his balance. He was drunk and could barely focus on the money. He gently took the money, mumbled a thank you, and plopped right back down on the ground.

After a few minutes (the car in front of us was obviously ordering tacos for a Vanderbilt frat house that had the munchies- it was taking way to long for their order) he struggled to get up again, holding the money in his left hand, and started to walk away. I assumed he was off to find something to “drink” with his newfound riches ($3 to be exact), and so was instantly frustrated and disappointed with the kid. Instead, he changed direction, and started moving to the Taco Bell doorway. He tried to enter, but it was locked- closed. Only the drive-through was open, and they don’t take walk-up orders. He disappeared around the corner of the building and we didn’t see him again.

It was the first time in many years I had given money to a beggar. Now and then I have done it- especially when I was caught off-guard or if my kids were with me (ouch. A hypocritical moment for sure). I always justified not giving money to beggars by assuring myself that if given, the money will quickly find itself at liquor store (or worse) buying a high for the next hour or so. I told myself that what I should do is go buy some food and give it to them- but of course I hardly ever did that. Just didn't have the time since I saw them mostly downtown when I was trying to get somewhere on time.

What Luke reminded me was that there are two transactions that occur when someone begs and we give. One is between God and giver, and a separate accountable transaction between God and receiver. I am being called to only concern myself with the first.

If anyone happens to read this, and has wisdom, suggestions or thoughts on how best to respond to beggars I would enjoy reading it. Leave a comment. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

As a resident of Chicago, I have had dozens or even a hundred encounters with beggars in the last five years. One of the things that helps me give is keeping a stock of "McDonald's Bucks" gift certificates in my glove box. That way, I'm sure my $5.00 is going towards a hot (if not the most nutritious) meal - and not for the next high. Isn't it tempting to assume that we know what they will do next with "our money?" Wow, I'm judgemental!

I also find that asking the recipient for their name and engaging in some amount of conversation helps to build my compassion for them. My husband is great at this, and constantly challenges me to get out of my comfort zone and love those who are "unlovable" by the world's standards.

It's a constant struggle, but an important one. I'm glad that you heard God's whisper to roll down your window and reach out last night...

Anonymous said...

You could have given him the meal you ordered for yourself.

Not that I would have done that probably (it's too hard to think of something that simple in the heat of the moment), but it's a good idea, isn't it? ;-)

DigitalRich said...

SCW- good idea. I will do this. Thanks for the tip.

DigitalRich said...


Also a good idea, and it did cross my mind...but by the time I got my food he had disappeared around the corner and somewhere down West End. No where to be found. I have been thinking about him often these last couple of days