“I’ve been shocked by a huge divide I’ve observed between people in the United States living in completely separate realities” I wrote in my last blog post and proceeded to describe those differences in a seventeen stanza poem. I spent the following week in the middle of our country where I saw firsthand this separate reality. Although my experience affirmed the contents of the poem I had penned, I also witnessed deep love and sacrificial giving of my right-wing conservative brothers and sisters:
- My parents who live on next to nothing but share generously everything they do have–their time, talents, home and money
- A church that’s been converted into a home for women recovering from addictions where 13 participants stood up on Sunday and called out gratitude to each other plus those in the community of their congregation who have helped to meet concrete needs. Yes, this tiny center is reaching the poor, white community of the rural South
- A white, middle-class businessman who in the middle of sharing his political views with me on the streets of downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, generously shared his time and resources with those some might label a “bum”
I found the last exchange to be the most memorable. My friend, the businessman whom I’ll call Phil, had just been telling me his reasons for voting for Trump. Phil said it would take him more than 75 words to explain his position, which is what I had requested per my video project. Phil travels regularly to the East Coast and occasionally to Europe for business. I consider him a genius who could hold a intelligent debate on quantum physics, or any topic really. He also bikes nearly everywhere in a state without bike lanes, a stark contrast to the majority of residents in the South who drive 4 x4 pickup trucks.
“I couldn’t vote for Hillary because of her corruption,” he told me, explaining he did not like the character of Trump, but did agree with a few of his positions.
“But I don’t like that now I’m labeled a racist,” he continued. “Obviously we could talk about white privilege and that would be a different conversation.”
About that time is when the bum approached, an older, African American gentleman. My friend greeted him like he would an old friend and the man seemed delighted, greeting him back with an attempted fist bump, which I noticed Phil didn’t complete. His twenty-something son who rents an apartment in LA where he spends half his time was standing with us and greeted the man as well.
“You shouldn’t be out in the cold like this,” Phil said. “You know there’s a shelter up the street.”
“It’s only for women and children,” the man replied.
“Well I don’t have any cash,” Phil said showing the man his empty wallet. “But if we can find an ATM I’ll get you some money.”
“There’s an ATM just down the street,” the man said.
We strolled to the ATM and Phil took out a wad of $20 bills (at least $100 worth) and handed them to the man.
“I’m a follower of Jesus and that’s why I’m sharing with you,” Phil said. “Take care of yourself tonight.”
“God is looking after me. Let’s all pray,” the man said. He put one arm around my friend and the other arm around my friend’s son and there on the sidewalk we prayed together. Then he strolled off.
“About six years ago I read Tim Keller’s book on justice and after that decided I would offer a ride to every bum I met,” Phil said. “I only did that for about a year and then felt like I had learned what I needed to learn, but every single one I picked up began talking about God before I did.”
A police car rolled up with two white police officers inside. The driver rolled down his window.
“Did that man ask you for money?”
“Nope, he did not,” Phil replied.
“OK. He’s been pan handling down here.”
“No, he didn’t ask us for anything.”
Phil wasn’t lying. The man hadn’t made a monetary request from us.
“I realize he’ll probably by booze with that money,” Phil said after the police left. “But if I’m going to give someone a gift, it should show them they are valuable. A small handout is almost worse than nothing at all. I’ve been asking how much it costs in our hometown for someone to enter the Kingdom of God? And I’ve calculated it to be about $150,000. The churches are doing a good job of making people comfortable and entertained.”
“I noticed when I attended my niece’s play on Saturday that the company held their performance in a church,” I commented. “That’s a contrast to Seattle where Christians are a minority and churches often rent a space to meet from the theaters. I’m concerned to see wealth and religion so intertwined.”
“Wealth and religion and politics,” Phil said.
“Yes!” I agreed.
“But the church on the Left is actually just as political if not more so. My concern is that although they don’t care what I do morally-I can have sex with my pet and no one cares-but they want to control the way I think. If I deviate from what’s politically correct, I get labeled as ignorant or, worse, lose everything I own in a lawsuit.”
For over an hour Phil continued his exposition while standing on the streets of downtown Little Rock. We were getting cold and the hour was late when a young man approached us.
“My wallet is empty,” Phil said. “I’ve already given my quota tonight.”
“What about you?” the man looked at me.
“I can buy you some pizza,” I replied.
We began heading to the pizza shop where Phil and his family and I had eaten dinner.
“I’m not sure if the place is still open,” I said.
“There’s a place down that way,” the man told us, pointing the opposite direction. We headed there and found ourselves entering a pub.
“We gotta leave before we go broke,” Phil’s son mused to me as we entered. A bubbly waitress escorted the four of us to a table.
“We just want to order a couple slices of pizza,” Phil said as she handed us all menus.
“We don’t sell pizza slices,” the waitress replied. “But you can order a 12″ pan pizza.”
“OK, I’ll get that and a Sprite,” the young man said. “And what kind of desserts do you have?”
“We have chocolate cake and ice cream.”
“You don’t have pecan pie?”
“Thanksgiving is this week and there should be pecan pie then,” I quipped.
“Oh yes!” his eyes lit up. “I’ll make the rounds then!”
When a waitress passed by, he snagged her hand, kissed it and said, “God’s gonna bless you.”
“Be careful,” Phil said half jokingly. “We don’t want to all get kicked out of here.”
Phil insisted on getting the tab and quietly capped the order off.
“I’ll need to leave as soon as the food comes,” he told me.
Our fourth member at the table spoke openly about how he was getting his life back on track, singing in the choir at his church, playing basketball, recording his freestyle rap and finally having an apartment to live in again. We said goodbye when the waitress brought his pizza.
“I’m sorry to cut out, man,” Phil said. “But my wife’s been at home waiting for me for a couple hours now and I gotta leave.”
“You don’t think you can spare a couple bucks?” the man asked.
“No, I can’t.”
“Well, thanks for the meal.”
“I don’t think he’ll cause any disruption,” Phil said as he and his son and I left the pub. “And the waitress will be OK with him staying to finish–I tipped her well.”
“I’m glad to have this experience tonight,” I said. “You guys have given me stories for my blog.”
“I suppose,” Phil chuckled. “About two ‘racist’ white guys in the South.”
However, I thought to myself how my right-wing friends were demonstrating the original definition of “liberal,” of generously distributing wealth. The words of Proverbs 11:25 came to mind:
The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.
I may not have recorded a 75-word video of Phil’s position on the election or immigration, but our time together had shown another view of someone who opted to vote for Donald Trump, an image vastly different from those of rioting Rednecks circulating my Facebook feed. And that story told more than a 75-word–or 7500-word–speech ever could!