January 18th, 2009 / 4 Comments

The main purpose of this post is to serve as a medium for me to reflect on my experience with Jeffrey, a homeless man I met on a cold January evening in Times Square. I’m not sure if my interaction is anything I would necessarily consider positive, though perhaps a reader or two might have a similar experience that would help provide some clarity to these issues…


We passed on the sidewalk near the center of Times Square. I was heading to Penn Station to catch a train. He was shuffling in a somewhat contorted manner and carrying a soft drink cup with some change in it which he was using to solicit strangers. He also happened to be wearing a t-shirt in 25 degree weather. Looking down I also discovered that he was barefoot despite the fact that it had been snowing all day. Nevertheless, because I was nervous about catching my train, or so I reasoned to myself, I kept walking.

After traveling about a block I decided, whether out of guilt or curiosity, to look back hoping that perhaps someone after me had stopped to offer help (both the man’s condition as well as my feelings of responsibility).

But there he was, standing partially contorted in his t-shirt and sweatpants near the edge of the curb holding his cup out. Seeing a police car nearby I thought I might at least inquire about the city’s protocol regarding barefoot mentally handicapped people. Hoping they might take a hint, I asked the officer in the vehicle if there was a nearby shelter I could connect this person to. He responded that there was one around the block, but that the gentleman would have to “want” to be admitted, I could not force him. I pretty much took that to mean “good luck,” so, mustering up what little extroversion I had, I approached the man and asked him if I could help him at least find a shelter.

The following is an overview of our exchange, as best as I can remember it:

me: Aren’t you cold, can I help you find a shelter?
Jeffrey: (with what sounded like an air of hope in his voice): Are you a worker at a shelter?
me: No, I’m just a friend. (At this point I realized that “friend” was actually a feigned attempt to project the opposite of who I really was.)
Jeffrey: thanks, I’m just fine, I’m just trying to get these people to give me some, a little money, ya know, just some money.
me: You sure you’re not cold?
Jeffrey: No, I’m just fine, but I am pretty hungry, you could get me a Quarter Pounder? If that’s not too much? If it’s not too much money, I don’t like eating from the street vendors. They don’t wash their hands.
me: (internally disturbed by the thought of stepping into McDonalds) how about something from somewhere else?
Jeffrey: No I’d really like a Quarter Pounder, that would be fine.
me: Can I help you find some shoes?
Jeffrey: Oh I think a couple said they were going to find me some shoes, I don’t know where they went, but I think they’ll come back.
me: Ok, well, where’s a McDonalds?
Jeffrey: There’s one up the street, I’ll be here when you get back. I’ve got’s to try and get me some more money
(5 minutes later I return from McDonalds with a Quarter Pounder)
me: hey, here you go.
Jeffrey: Oh thanks man, that’s great, thanks.
me: is there anything else I can help you with.
Jeffrey: no man,that’s good.
me: well, what’s your name.
Jeffrey: thank you, my name’s Jeffrey, what’s yours.
me: I’m Scott.
Jeffrey: well thanks man.
me: all right.

With the fear of missing my train still on my mind I left Jeffrey there with his newly acquired McDonalds Quarter Pounder, still shoeless, still in his dirty t-shirt. As I walked away I looked up to see the multitude of glittering billboards hawking the latest fashion, newest cars, mindless entertainment,and must-have electronic accessories, which now seemed to serve is huge distractions from the real world I had just seen. I looked around at all the other people in Times Square, each of whom seemed to be in their own little hurry just like me, and thus unimpressed at the sight of Jeffery standing there in his bare feet. I kept walking hoping not to draw attention to the fact that I had begun crying. Quickening my pace I felt a sense of resistance coming from my back pocket and realized it was the article I had been reading on the train ride into the city, the title: “Revelation’s Visionary Challenge to Ordinary Empire.”


There are two unusual and seemingly disconnected things that, as of this writing, stand out most clearly about Jeffrey.

The first were his feet. They were quite large (I’m guessing a size 13) and, surprisingly, didn’t seem to be all that dirty given that he was walking around in the slush. The one exception being his toe nails, most of which were almost entirely black.

The second was his smile. He had a very warm smile which immediately reminded me of the smile I get from my 9 month old daughter when I come home from work. I can’t really explain that connection other than perhaps their smiles share a similar simplicity.

A part of me wonders why, after growing up as a dedicated member in the life of the church, and having reading volumes of ethical/theological literature, I didn’t know quite what to do, or as Hauerwas might say “who to be,” in my interaction with Jeffrey.

Another part of me thinks I knew exactly what to do but was too afraid/intimidated/selfish/complacent, to follow through with it…

This post is dedicated to my friend Dan Davidson for first introducing me to the idea of “Improvisation.”

Comments (4)

  1. Curtis / January 18, 2009 /

    Hey, Scott. Great post. I have no words of wisdom to offer … but I’m encouraged. Encouraged to see more and more Christians-by-name come out from hiding behind their beliefs and put flesh onto their faith. Fumbling attempts as they may be. Oh that we would all continue fumbling forward as we try and learn together to embrace the full call of Jesus.

  2. Adam / January 19, 2009 /

    Maybe we’re afraid we’ll be asked/compelled to give more than a smile or a quarter pounder, more than what we with which can so easily part. Maybe we’re afraid that it’ll be the start of a relationship with someone with whom we feel we cannot possibly have anything in common. Maybe it’s that we don’t like potentially sticky situations. Maybe we don’t want our own lives and choices examined, especially by someone who could, probably moreso than many others, throw them into such stark relief as to suddenly feel foreign. … And by we I mean I. … Why do I often value comfort above someone else’s life?

  3. Pete Johnson / January 19, 2009

    Isaiah 58
    True Fasting
    1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
    Raise your voice like a trumpet.
    Declare to my people their rebellion
    and to the house of Jacob their sins.
    2 For day after day they seek me out;
    they seem eager to know my ways,
    as if they were a nation that does what is right
    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
    They ask me for just decisions
    and seem eager for God to come near them.

    3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
    Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’
    “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.

    4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
    You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.

    5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for a man to humble himself?
    Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
    Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the LORD ?

    6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
    to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
    to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?

    7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
    when you see the naked, to clothe him,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

    8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
    then your righteousness [a] will go before you,
    and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

    9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
    “If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

    10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
    then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.

    11 The LORD will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
    You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.

    12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
    you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

    13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
    if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
    and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

    14 then you will find your joy in the LORD,
    and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
    The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

  4. Barbra / September 1, 2010

    Hi Scott. This was a good post. I was surfing trying to learn how to blog when I read this. I’m glad I did.

    Far from living in New York, I live in a very small community in rural America. The hustle and bustle of getting around is nothing compared to what it must be in Times Square. Yet even here, we see the poor, just like your friend Jeffrey. And just as most of the people that day in Times Square, we pass them by as if they were a nuisance. That is not Christian!

    I admire the way you yielded to the Holy Spirit and went back to him, fed him, offered to find him shoes and escort him to the shelter. Now that is the Christain thing to do. It’s what Christ commands us to do…”Love one another!”

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Hi, my name is Scott and I design websites. You can see some of them by visiting my portfolio. When I have the time (which is seldom these days) I like to blog about Christianity, especially theology/ethics. If you want to know more you can read my about page or follow me on Twitter.


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