Today, I got bamboozled. For those of you thinking it’s not a real word, here’s the link to Merriam-Webster definition. In short, to bamboozle someone is to acquire something through dishonest or suspect means. That said, I got bamboozled today.
It was this afternoon at Starbucks on Beale Street right by the FedEx Forum. I managed to parallel park the church van (no small task, it was a tight spot), and this lady came up to the van. She had been walking around kinda strangely, but this is where it got shady. She claimed she was homeless, and that she needed a ride to the Union Mission to stay there (for the record, the Mission only houses men… I know, I should have moved on) and the money necessary to sleep there (she said $7, it’s actually $6, but who’s keeping score?). I was with my wife and two of our students, and I didn’t want to look like a cold-hearted jerk. So I did what everyone not wanting to look like a cold-hearted jerk does – lie. I told her I didn’t have any cash (I did). She asked for a bite to eat and something to drink.
Here’s where it gets REALLY weird. She was the best dressed homeless person I’d ever seen, complete with what appeared to be pedicured nails. After agreeing to buy her something I decided to pull out trick #2 to deal with this situation – preach the Gospel. I proceeded to tell her the reason I was buying her something to eat was to tell her about Jesus, that she would get hungry/thirsty again but only Jesus can fully satisfy. Now, I’ve never had to beg for someone to buy me something to eat, but when I’ve been needing to borrow money from someone, I don’t get steak. That didn’t happen here, and of course I can’t look like a cold-hearted jerk in the middle of a public place (plus, I wasn’t in the mood for the race card to get played, not that something like that would EVER happen in Memphis). So I, after praying and cursing her under my breath, paid for her handout.
And then comes the getaway. She got what she wanted, and was out the door. Sadly for her, the person she bamboozled with her sad story (complete with nice clean white pants, trust me, never seen them that clean on someone who lives on the streets) also happens to be a runner and incredibly stubborn. After following her around the cafe and then out the door and over a block away, she managed to finally get away. But I was able to lay out the Gospel, lay out her accountability to God for the life she lived and her response to Jesus Christ.
I can’t help but think that in those moments she realized that I knew that she was a fraud. It’s a gift I guess, from living in two large urban areas. I can smell a fraud a mile away, and I can smell when it’s legit. Legit needs don’t ask for special requests, they’re grateful for whatever. This lady asked about what was on the sandwich and complained about it having certain things. I can’t help but think there was a twinge of guilt to take advantage of a person showing compassion in Jesus’ name. But, I also won’t pretend to be super spiritual. I found myself praying for her to be miserable. That sounds horrible I know, but here’s why. I wanted her to feel miserable in her sin. I wanted her to feel miserable in her state of existence living outside Christ. I wanted her to feel guilty for ripping off a youth pastor (not that that means anything, that was personal). I wanted her to, in those moments walking alone, to see her need for a Savior that is greater than whatever she had been chasing after. I don’t know if I’ll ever see this lady again, but I told her I would once this life is over, and I hoped that before her day comes that she would turn to Christ.
Why am I writing this? I really don’t know. But it had to be one of the more interesting, more aggravating, and most humbling moments of my life. To look into someone’s eyes and know they played me for a fool, and to know that I know she played me for a fool… But then to see the pain and hurt and loss and drugged-out life in her eyes… I pitied her. It wasn’t compassion, it was pity. Compassion would have stopped me from chasing her down the block. Pity is why I chased after her.
I won’t put the lyrics up, but in that moment and the hours since then… I get the song Wedding Dress by Derek Webb. We, in our sinful state, use God and take advantage of His grace in order to get what we want. It’s really nothing more than what Kerry did to me today. We take advantage of who God is knowing that we can get something from Him. We run in our wedding dress but really are chasing after other lovers, other things to truly satisfy us. But really, there’s nothing but sadness in that. To think that we reduce our relationship with God to “what can I get from Him today?” rather than an attitude of “since I have been forgiven much, how can I give much in return?”
Maybe this was a teaching moment? Maybe not? But still, what a day.