4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
Geedy was just one word in the neighborhood’s descriptive lexicon for crack cocaine addicts. Sometimes called fiends, geezers, crack heads, or traps, crack addicts once dominated American’s blighted urban landscapes, representing a black, brown, and tan urban plague long before opioid addiction became a more respectable white crisis in healthcare.
As for me, I stood solidly situated like Nicodemus in my understanding of how life’s laws interacted with drug addiction. I held the firm and sincere conviction that such character flaws were remedied by exposure to the gospel truth of God’s free gift of salvation, confession of sin, and turning in repentance to a new life of faith. This was my message to the neighborhood crack addicts, a solid approach to redemption-orthodoxy as exact as algebra. Then I encountered a tall, skinny geedy.
I never got his name and unlike the usual stream of addicts and alcoholics that normally hit me up for spare change, I’ve only seen him once, on a balmy summer South Camden afternoon as I was rounding up neighborhood kids for an adventurous outing. There, amid the organizational chaos of lining up wildly energetic preteens, he called out in a voice that spoke much more of what he could have been than what he had become, “Excuse me my brother. I don’t mean to bother you but can you spare a couple of dollars?” The uninitiated may have mistaken him for some wandering aristocrat who had fallen to an incident of bad luck. I was solidly initiated and could see his true condition from miles away, or so I thought. His request, no matter how polite, was something I had heard so often, in so many dialects, attitudes, and in every denomination.
The tall, skinny geedy’s request was especially annoying because this man seemed to ignore the fact that I was working in the sacred space of children, who should never be mingled in among drug infested environments. I was building tabernacles and this tall, skinny geedy was interrupting my righteous labors. Instead of reaching into my pocket and giving enough change for him to proceed on his way, I determined to lay down the law. I offered a graciously firm reply to his request for change, “Brother, more than money, what you really need is to stop using those drugs.” I guess I told him. Then God spoke.
While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” Matthew 17:5
Though we often neglect, miss, or dismiss it, the core of the incarnation is the startling, unpredictable, and serendipitously disruptive voice of God as it constantly emerges among us. Be it through Balaam’s donkey (Numbers 22:21-38), a mysterious finger writing on the wall (Daniel 5), the voice of silence that spoke to Elijah (1 Kings 19:12), or the voice from heaven in this week’s gospel reading, God’s call arises, pointing to a reality that takes us far beyond our human confidence in neatly crafted laws and conventions. The transfigured Jesus stood on the mountain, face shining and clothes gleaming, engaged in God’s eternal conversation. Peter, unnerved by serendipitous disruption, had a similar reaction to mine-to build lawful tabernacles within the realm of what we know and can control-suitable for containing any possible serendipity or divine disruption.
Having spoken truth to the tall, skinny geedy, I figured my task was complete. God didn’t need to speak because I already had. My disposition neglected any possibility of divine utterance; I faithfully turned my back and resumed tabernacle construction, loading kids onto the bus. The tall, skinny geedy anxiously called to me again, “Brother.”
I turned to see him suddenly transfigured, though in dingy grey clothes, with his espresso colored face gleaming with the sweat of a 90-degree day.
I’m not sure if it was a prayer, a rebuke, a sermon, or an injection into the eternal conversation but something in the words he sternly spoke to me opened my eyes to realities far beyond my neatly crafted laws and conventions. “You need to know crack calls me by my name at night,” he said with his burning eyes piercing right through me. And then he left, leaving me with the disorienting realization that my laws, conventions, and precise orthodoxy were no match for an addiction that held alluring conversations late at night.
His words left me imagining a world where we suspend our tabernacle building long enough to hear God graciously broadcasting assurances of his love and favor, long enough to see Christ mystically transformed into the image of the least among us-even in the person of a tall, skinny geedy, and long enough to see the power of God’s eternal conversation centered on showering gifts of abundance on captives begging for change in our streets. As the tall, skinny geedy made his way to the next possible donor, I realized that Christ once again had come to save me-that God had indeed spoken.
Friend of Street Psalms
Founder and Director, Watu Moja