Monday, March 13, 2006

Liquor Store Jesus

There are a lot of drunks on the street. Their addiction isn’t hidden. It takes a house and a family secret to hide a drunk from his neighbours.

There are a lot of Christians on the street. Their faith isn’t hidden. It takes a church and a family secret to hide a Christian from his neighbours.

He started drinking when he was eleven years old. Frank’s* drinking wasn’t that of a curious almost-teenager. It was the chemically-fueled escapism of someone dealt a painful hand in life.

The bottle followed him right up to the day he met the love-of-his-life. Month’s passed and Shirley* moved in with Frank. They both knew this was real. This was love. But two lives that have never known peace rarely make a happy home. After a few years of fights and reconciliations and more fights, she left him for good. His heart broke. He would never trust romantic love again. And the bottle stayed with him through it all.

The bottle followed him daily to a downtown Ottawa park: A quiet place to sit and try not to think. One day a couple of strapping young men followed him as well. They beat him into a coma just to get a nearly empty wallet. The coma lasted for 13 days. His first 13 days of sobriety in 30 years.

Now Frank can’t remember a lot of things. He remembers his first sip of the bottle. He remembers Shirley. He remembers the beating. He remembers some of the worst of the seizures that now plague him. But he frequently forgets who I am, though he’s opened his life’s story to me a number of times.

Frank has a very-developed personal code. He won’t accept a meal from me. He just wants to talk. It’s not pride that keeps him from accepting my offer. He just wants real friendship, and in his mind my attempts at charity hinder that. He has no home. He has few possessions; But he won’t steal from individuals. Stealing from big businesses is as much shame as he has allowed his personal code to absorb. He took his shopping cart from a big business. He once took a handful of food from the same business. He also ended up taking a few months in prison with it. He knows he deserved it. He justifies none of what he’s done. But he also doesn’t know where else he could have gotten food that day.

No one needs to tell Frank that booze has destroyed his life; he knows that. So we talk about Jesus, and broken hearts, and life and we tell stories. Frank illustrates some of his stories with self-carved tattoos running up his arm. Shirley’s name is as prominent on his arm as she is in his heart.

At the end of one of our conversations, Frank left me with the following words: “No matter what crap happens to you, trust Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.” The presence of Christ is tangible in my conversations with Frank. It’s as if God has sat down beside us. The presence of Christ in Frank’s company is more distinct than in many church services I’ve attended.

Jesus was frequently accused of hanging out with drunkards. It was an accusation that he openly admitted was true. Jesus had real relationships, real conversations, and perhaps even real laughs with drunks. He still has real relationships, conversations and laughs with drunks.

I’ve puzzled over Frank’s connection to Christ. Surely the average Friday night bar room would be a much more spiritually potent place if enslavement to alcohol opened some doorway to friendship with the Almighty. But I’ve been to the average Friday night bar room and the absence of spiritual light is at times palpable. Why is Frank different? For a time I simply couldn’t answer this conundrum. And then it dawned on me: It’s not Frank’s vice that connects him to Christ. It’s his humility.

I’ve met drug addicts who rail against “straights.” I’ve met drunks who blame their situation on everyone else. But Frank knows he’s culpable. He’s humble enough to accept his homelessness as the result of the bottle that’s never left him. He’s humble enough to realize that it’s always been his own hands grasping that bottle, his own throat channeling the alcohol down, his own will accepting another drink.

I’ve met “straights” who rail against drunks. I’ve met sober, successful people who blame every struggle they face on everyone else. And they’ve never been humble enough to accept their own culpability. And I’ve never sensed the presence of Christ in them.

I, myself, have been a “straight” who rails against drunks. I’ve stayed sober, achieved some modest success in life and yet still found reason to blame my struggles on others. And I’ve run from my own culpability. Pride sustains my flight. The humility that Frank demonstrates to me calls me to stop running, fess-up, and reach out for Christ.

Jesus doesn’t hang out with Frank in front of the liquor store because He’s following the bottle. He hangs out with Frank because Frank knows he needs divine help. Frank knows his hope lies outside of his own achievements. He’s asking for love. He’s begging for grace. And I’ve never known Jesus to be anything other than lavish with grace and love.

Frank’s hand is scarred from clutching a broken bottle. A day lies ahead where those scars will be taken into the clasp of another scarred hand. A scarred hand that will lead him to the one place where the bottle can no longer follow: A place where the only thing that can follow Frank is his humility.

Frank remains in contact with me and with a community of other Christians. The last time I saw him he was plastered and in trouble. But for two full weeks before that he had remained sober. During his sober-stint, with the help of some of the people in his Christian community, he attempted to get into a long-term, residential recovery program. There was no room left in the program, but I’m holding out hope that a moment of sobriety and an opening in the program will soon coincide.

* Not their real names.


badmotherfff said...

the patience to talk to such a person is astounding-i figure it is a supernatural gift, or perhaps a learned treasure from moments spent in the Presence.

Rob Scott said...

Thanks, but in this case I think I've received more from "Frank" than he has from me.