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Friday, March 24, 2006

Smoking as an Act of Hope

I know some people won't get this, but I started smoking for Jesus (sorry, Mom). I don't do it often and when I do, I don't really like it. I've only bought three packs since last fall. (Step 1: Admit You Have a Problem...) Perhaps tonight will help you understand why I started.

Cigarettes are like a currency in the streets, especially in my beloved park. If I light up a cigarette within 50 feet of someone, it takes about a minute before they're asking me for a light or a cigarette. This, by the way, is also a way for guys on the down low to initiate their "relationship" so I have to make some things clear every once in a while.

I just got in from a late night stroll to the main meet-up site in the park where guys (can I be real for a second?) go to approach each other for oral sex. I had a great conversation with a 20 year old man named "B." He's bright, funny, street smart, and cocky. I love it. He was just there to smoke weed, supposedly, and he might have been telling the truth. Either way, our conversation started as so many of them do...

"Ole head. Ole head. Ole head. Ole head. Hey you, white dude. Are you a cop?"

I hate this question. Everyone in the park believes that a cop is legally obligated to identify himself/herself if asked. I always get asked. After clearing that up, B. opened up about a lot of things. We talked about race, religion, and the streets. He wondered why I was out there instead of safe at home and he was telling me that it's dangerous out there. I told him that I try to be friendly with people and don't bother anybody. I just come out there to hang out, observe, and get away from life. I told him that I've never had any problems but if anyone ever messes with me they've got "a little surprise" waiting for them. That line always works. People assume I have a gun or I'm some triple black belt or something. I have pepper spray and quickish feet. That's about it. But that line always gets a good response, so I like to use it.

After reading Alan Groves' post about flossing as an act of hope for someone who may soon die of cancer, I thought about these late night strolls in the same way. If I allow fear to take over, I'm giving up. This neighborhood should be a place where anyone can walk safely at all hours and I will keep walking out there until it kills me or things get better. B. liked this idea a lot.

The smoking piece is similar. Tonight I not only talked to B., but to three other men as well. There are very few reasons why anyone is in that park at night. I assume that everyone I meet out there is dangerous. But those people are not beyond the reach of God's grace. I don't normally mention that to them, but I try to engage on whatever level seems natural.

Notice how many times B. had to say "Ole head." I knew he was talking to me (even though I'm only 28!) but I let him come to me. Being over eager doesn't work. It makes you suspect. There is no way for me to approach anyone in this park where people keep to themselves unless they want something. I don't want sex (not from them anyway...) and I don't want drugs. If there is a plausible way to engage them, they have to come to me. When that happens, I can share the gospel with them. I may not share it explicitly, but I don't think you always have to. Besides, getting to know people in the streets is like foreplay. You gotta take it slow (er, so I've heard...). You can't blow your wad all at once or you'll lose the moment. You've got to earn it.

So I hope to see B. out there again. And I'll keep smoking cigarettes and waiting for others to come. I might be wasting my time, but I believe that it's important to try. Jesus goes after the lost sheep. In this context, I let them come to me. It's an act of hope, and a pack of Newports always helps.

p.s. - you think I'm nuts? Let me hear about it.


Pshoe said...

Yo ole head, I read your message and it felt convicting. As a fellow believer I'm in agreement that you have to go where others wont to share the gospel even if you have to smoke a couple cigarettes. I was inspired by things I read on your site(blog), whats up with your africa size me project at this moment.

Ryan Kellermeyer said...

Africa-Size Me is still on the table. I'm hoping to find someone who will take over the artistic direction of it and just tell me what to do. I think to do it well, I need to recognize my limitations in that area.

When you coming out to the park with me again, P. Diddy? I feel like I haven't seen you in forever. I should have my bike up and running next week, so maybe I'll cruise over to your place and show off.

p.s. - I don't think it's about going where others won't so much as it is about going where you feel called.

wilsonian said...

I keep thinking about this post... and you're saying something really important here. This afternoon it keeps rattling around my head that when Jesus ate at the houses of "sinners"... he wouldn't have been eating food that kept the food laws (wasn't kosher). It's really the same thing, isn't... bbq pork for a Jew... cigarettes for a Jesus-follower in Philly...

curious servant said...


You surprised me. I'm glad I happened by.

God bless.

Logan News Group said...

Ovid said "Some come to see, some come to be seen." [Ars Amatoria,I,99]

I say "Vini, Vidi, Vici" Or in the words of Syrus in "Maxims"; Don't wish ill for your enemy; plan it!"