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Came to Cambridge, MA today on the way up to see my Amanda in Portsmouth, NH. I stopped in Harvard Square for a lunch meeting. After parking my car and walking up to the square, I encountered a man readying himself to play guitar and work for some alms. I put his first dollar of the day in his hat. I said, "I know you’re not ready, so I’ll catch you on the way back."
"How long will you be," he asked back.
"About an hour and a half."
"Oh my," he replied. "I won’t be here then, how about a toke of my bong then?"
I said, "No thanks. I’m a pastor heading up to a meeting and that would not be a good thing."
He blessed me and went on tuning his guitar.
After a brief stop at Curious George, a cool toy store, I headed to the Russell House Tavern to meet up with a fellow PCA pastor. Out front on the sidewalk, a man begging for some change reached out his cup to me—I smile, chuckled, actually, and told him I didn’t have any change, but maybe after lunch when I come out. He said fine but "can I have your hat." I smiled. No you can’t have my hat. He said he liked my hat. I said everyone likes my hat.
When I did come out, he was there (waiting?) and said, "Hey, hat man, I still like your hat."
"Everyone still likes my hat," I smiled, reaching into my pocket and gave him a dollar. He was happy.
I told him I was a pastor and so was my friend here. He said I was better looking than my friend. See what compliments a dollar gets you. He said, "You can pray for me and I will pray for you." I asked his name. "Marvin." So, I grabbed his hand. We bowed, right there in Harvard Square, right there on the sidewalk, with his cup in hand, we prayed for Marvin. He joined us. "God, meet Marvin’s needs. Let him know you are close to him." He was so thankful. He was still homeless and poor, though. Yet, a little closer to Jesus—or maybe my friend and I were a little closer to Jesus.
Surrounded by such wealth. Some of the world’s brightest right there teaching and being taught—Harvard, MIT just down the way. At Harvard Square. And still, poverty licks the streets right at the door—well, outside the doors. I told the pastor friend with me, "You see, the Hill follows me everywhere."
My heart breaks.
As my pastor friend and I parted, I soaked in Harvard Square and pondered where Marvin had disappeared to. I glanced back and he had literally vanished. Gone. Marvin and the hustle and bustle and sights of Harvard Square created a blend of thoughts as I walked back to my car:
"Until we forsake all earthly power and submit to God’s grace and mercy as our only possession, we will continue to be beggars at the doors of this world and be a part of the cause of such poverty. I think my brother, Doran Wright, is correct. Until we are their neighbors . . . until I am Marvin's neighbor . . ."
Didn’t expect this at Harvard Square, today. Found Jesus on the sidewalks begging for alms and admiring my hat.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.