Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Several years ago I was invited to be the United Methodist Youth Ministry representative at a meeting in Washington D.C. sponsored by Tobacco Free Kids to write curriculum for Youth groups.  I was honored to be asked to participate in this group that had representatives from almost every denomination and group I could think of.  About 40 people in all.

After a very long day of meeting, we disbanded for the evening.  It was late at night, winter-time, cold, and I was hungry.  I was also about 6 blocks from the White House.  So, I thought, I can't stay in my hotel room.  I bundled up and headed out (Please don't ever share this story with my Mom!).

I walked down to the White House walked around a little, I noticed many people sleeping on some steps to a local church.  It was pretty cold.  Too cold to sleep outside.  Too cold for a guy from Texas to be walking around so late at night!  And I was even more hungry.

I noticed that if I went down into the subway, there were some fast food places.  So I went down, found some warmth and was glad to find several places open.  I decide on some tacos, got my food and drink and sat down to eat.

As I took my first bite I heard "MMMMMM, that looks pretty good."  I carefully glanced around and noticed several men wearing a few too many mis-matched clothes.  They looked tired, dirty, and I caught on pretty quickly they were hungry.  Soon I heard "I wish I had a taco" and "I am as hungry as I am cold" so I knew this was an opportunity to be Good News.  But I'll be honest, even though I know the Scripture passage that talks about "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat" I really didn't see Jesus in any of these men.

Out of a sense of comfort more than guilt I turned and asked "Would you all like some tacos too?"  My new friends seemed shocked.  I had responded to their words.  I guessed it didn't happen too often.  So I asked again "Would you all like some tacos?  Tell me what you want and I'll buy it."  The response was sort of a muffled "Whatever man, thanks."

So I got up, bought several tacos for each person and drinks, brought them over, set the tray down and then moved my tray to sit with them. (OK, in my head was my Mom's voice saying do not talk to strangers, and I could just imagine she would mean ESPECIALLY homeless strangers, especially in Washington D.C., especially in the subway, especially close to mid-night!)

As we all ate, I asked their names and told them mine.  We talked about the cold.  They could tell I wasn't from there and when I told them I was from Texas they called me "cowboy" and laughed.  They wanted to know why I was in town, I told them about writing anti-tobacco curriculum.  They said how important it was to tell kids not to smoke, even as they puffed on their cigarettes.  They told me it was bad for health and very expensive and very hard to quit.

As we started to finish up, finally one man said very loudly "Dammit!"  Then he looked at me with his one good eye and said: "Don't you know not to talk to strangers?!?!" (In this moment I had a brief panic attack that my Mom had set this whole thing up just to prove a point.) I responded that I believed that it was important to show hospitality to strangers because often we are entertaining angels unaware of their identity.  They all laughed and said "I hope you can see there are no angels here."  Again I was asked "Don't you know you are not supposed to talk with us?"  I simply responded that I didn't know the rules and even when I know the rules, I don't follow them very well.

They went on to explain: People ignore them because they are homeless.  Occasionally someone gives them a dollar or two.  Nobody goes and buys the food and hands it to them.  And nobody ever sits down and talks with them.  And nobody ever ever ever looks them in the eyes when they are talking.

I had done everything all wrong.  Then they said "Hey cowboy preacher, could you be praying for us?"  And I felt that maybe by breaking the rules, I had done some small thing right.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had 3 rules for his people.  The second rule was to "Do Good."  In every way and every time do all the good you can.  As much good as you can do, do good.

I didn't cure cancer, pull a baby out of a burning building, or invite anybody into a personal relationship with Jesus.  I was even somewhat reluctant to do anything.  Certainly the Spirit moved me to do what little I did do.  Buy tacos and talk.  Not much.

What does it really mean to share good news?

Copyright 2008, Charles W. harrison, The Center for Wesleyan Renewal

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Why do you want to be an Evangelist?

OK, the question about Red Shoes was a lot easier to answer.  It was a God-thing (really) that it even happened.

But, you know, I am kind of thinking the Evangelist calling is a God-thing as well.  

I certainly didn't ever plan to be an Evangelist.  I don't have a TV show, big-hair, slick hair even, my Bible is not very big and I have never personally thumped it at anyone.  I am not a Fundamentalist by any stretch of the imagination (just ask my ministry friends). So, why me?

Let me tell you a story about Lorraine.  

I travel a lot preaching/speaking at conferences and retreats, teaching/lecturing at seminars and workshops, mentoring/coaching folks in local churches.  So I tend to eat out a little too much.  My favorite meal by far is breakfast!  So, you can find me anytime of day inside IHOP or Waffle House or some other type of place that serves breakfast 24/7.

Well, one afternoon, I went about 3 p.m. to eat.  I knew it would not be too busy about that time and by eating late, I would not get very hungry while I was doing my evening preaching gig.

I sat down with a couple of books and my Bible to keep me company in the quiet while I waited for my food, drinking coffee and making some final preparations for the evening.  Just in case the Bible didn't completely give me away, I was also wearing a t-shirt from last Youth Group Mission trip.  (And yes, I was wearing Red Shoes!)

The wait-staff person quickly came to my table to begin serving me.  I ordered my usual breakfast and some coffee.  As I did I also noticed a BIG smile and very kind eyes.  I looked at the name badge and I told Lorraine "Thanks" as she rushed off to put my order in.

I'll be the first to admit I am not the most observant person in the world.  In fact I am pretty ADD when it comes to paying attention to details or to people I've just met.  But when Lorraine brought my food I picked up on a couple of things beyond her name and smile and kindness.

Lorraine had a brace on her arm that she used to carry the dishes out with.  I can only imagine how a large tray with several people's meals must really hurt her.  I also noticed she wore some shoes I recognized.  My 85 year old mother wears the same orthopedic shoes for people with really bad feet.  I continued to receive smiles, fresh coffee, and more kindness.

She left me in peace to read and write some notes and eat.  But she did show up to refill my water and coffee.  She asked questions for a few moments during one of those acts of service. Where was I from?  Why was I in town?  What is the deal with the Red Shoes?

Not meaning to impose myself or my theology on her, I simply said I was speaking at a conference (I didn't tell what kind) and I would be heading home the next day.

It came time to leave and I looked at the ticket and took my money out.  I had no $1 bills but several $5's so I left a couple of $5 bills on the table and headed to the cashier.

My Dad taught me a lot of things.  I wished I had actually learned all the things he tried to teach me!  One thing he always told me was to over-tip breakfast wait-staff.  Why? Because it is the most inexpensive meal, and they work just as hard as somebody who serves and expensive dinner.  So be extra kind, leave more than normal.

I'll admit, the 2 $5's were a little over the top.  But, I thought, you know, Lorraine was so nice, and she was so eager to serve me, and you know she just made my day, so I didn't think much more about it as I went to the cashier.  As I paid the manager behind the counter, I heard Lorraine's voice say "Sir, you've accidentally left these on the table."

She was holding the 2 $5 bills.  I quickly responded saying: "No, no. Lorraine, those are for you! thank you SO MUCH for serving me today!  You really made my day!"

She looked at the bills and then looked back up at me.  Again, she looked at the bills and then looked back up at me.  And again, she looked at the bills and then looked back up at me.  And even again, she looked at the bills and then looked back up at me.  As she started to shake her head back and forth in a no motion, she said in a soft voice: "That never happens."

My heart began to sink.  Then she looked me in the eye and asked: "Are you a Christian?"  My heart sank even more.

I stumbled over my words: "Well I am trying very hard to follow Jesus, sometimes I am better at it, sometimes I am not so good at doing what Jesus did."

She came and sat down on a bench with me as we talked.  And the manager came out from behind the cashier booth and sat down next to her.  She said: "Do you know what day of the week is the worst day to work here?"

I was puzzled.  "Monday?" I guessed.  "No!" she said.  "The worst day of the week to work here is ALWAYS on Sunday!"  To this she got several "uh-huh" affirmations from the manager.  Lorraine continued: "YOU PEOPLE come in here on Sundays in your fancy dresses and nice suits, come in straight from Church I imagine.  And then you call me names, and are rude, and never have a kind thing to say.  And then you leave me maybe 2 quarters on the table if I am lucky.  Sometimes a whole dollar."

I could only respond with a weak "I am so sorry" but she continued.

"So, when you came in here, I saw your Bible, and I can see you wearing that Christian shirt, so I guessed you must be one of those Christians.  But then you were polite to me.  But then you said you were in town to speak, and I knew then you must be talking at some Bible meeting.  So, when you left two nice $5 dollar bills on the table, I just knew it must be a mistake, because NO Christian would ever do something like that!"

I wanted to crawl under a rock somewhere.  The whole time the manager just kept agreeing with her and adding in his experiences of insults.

So, there I was, a choice before me, do I answer the call to be an evangelist in this moment?  Do I run?  Do I say somethings funny and try and make everybody laugh?

I said: "You know, you are an important person.  You deserve to be treated fairly by everybody. You just gave me the best service I have had recently.  Thank you so much.  If I lived here, I would ask for you to be my wait-staff person every time.  I don't know why Christians act that way.  I think it is wrong.  I think Jesus would think it is wrong too.  I think it makes God sad."

Then I told her about my Dad.  She wished more Dads taught their sons about breakfast!  Then I ask if she and the manager would both be praying for me.  They seemed astonished.  "Pray for you?" they both said.  "Yeah, I am speaking tonight to a group I don't know very well and I am a little nervous."  The manager said "Son, with those shoes (the Red ones) they will be so distracted they will never know if you make a mistake.  Don't worry too much."  We all laughed.

Then they asked me to pray for them.  I felt honored.

I think the first job of people who follow Jesus is to simply "Do No Harm" as they live out their lives in the world.  Now I wasn't smart enough to think that up on my own.  It was John Wesley's first rule for his Methodists.

I hear stories all the time about people who consider themselves Christians who have done much harm.  So, here I am, trying to follow Jesus, and maybe the first thing that does harm is simply wearing the Christian Youth Group T-Shirt because somebody is thinking "Oh, another one of THOSE people!"

And somewhere in all of his, God is telling me to be Good News, to share Good News, to Love.  To especially love people like Lorraine.  And I think, maybe my calling as an Evangelist is to un-do the damage by being a different kind of Evangelist from the ones who are out there now.

And I don't just mean the Big Hair Bible Thumpers on TV!

Copyright 2008, Charles W. Harrison, The Center for Wesleyan Renewal

Saturday, June 21, 2008

"Why Do You Wear Red Shoes?"

OK, so here is the story:

Awhile back in the 20th Century, I was leading some workshops in another city. You know, the kind of thing where you stand there all day, say a few wise things, manage a crowd, and try to help people grow a bit in their thinking and practice.

So the hard part was standing there all day because right before I left town I had played softball and ended up covering both shortstop and second base, each just long enough to get cleated hard on the top of each foot. OUCH!

So, after day #1 of workshops I totally hated the dress shoes I was wearing. UGH! I made a quick trip to the nearest mall and the MOST comfortable shoes I could find were some high top sneakers. They just happened to be red.

Fortunately, red actually goes with everything, so it worked out well for me on day #2 of leading those workshops. And my feet felt so much better! In a prophetic tone at the end of the day, one participant said "Hey, Red Shoe Guy, why do blah, blah, blah......?" Of course everybody laughed. ha ha ha

The next day a friend of mine came up and said I had come up with a really good idea in my workshop that people had been talking about. Right before my ego got too big, he said "Ya know, they couldn't remember your name but they did know you were the only guy here wearing red shoes!"

So, it stuck. Now, about 15 pairs of red shoes later, they still don't always remember my name. I have actually had people get angry when I don't wear red shoes. Can you believe it? When somebody books me for a retreat or something, they always ask "You are going to wear your red shoes, right?" or something of the sort.

I've found that red shoes inspire people to strike up a conversation with me in airports, coffee shops, hardware stores, camp, and even in Church. I've even had a few de-churched folks say "Hey, if I found a church that would let me wear those shoes to worship, I'd get back in the habit!"

So, I have begun to think of my accidental brilliance as a Spirit thing, post Pentecost of course (hence the red). Imagine people casually talking just because of some shoes? And imagine that conversation moving towards faith talk. Mine. Yours. Ours. Theirs.

So, go ahead, forget my name.....but.....you'll know it's me when you see me!

Copyright 2008, Charles W. Harrison, The Center for Wesleyan Renewal