Is there a more reviled character in our society than the homeless man standing on the corner begging for money? He is the antithesis to the American dream. He is the physical representation of our deepest fears. He is the living nightmare permeating my every waking thought.
Seven years ago I left a job I worked toward obtaining my entire high school and college career. I was a youth minister. I had a salary and benefits. I did something I felt called to. I made a difference in the lives of the students with whom I worked. I sacrificed a lot of time and energy to find myself in that position. I still have no clear idea why I left in the manner I did, but I became a transient human being the last time I walked out of my office. Transients end up on the street corner, begging.
I grew up in a white upper middle class family. I went to a private college. I married my high school sweetheart. We have three beautiful children. The whole world has been laid out for me to subdue.
Or so I like to convince myself. Entropy describes the movement of matter in the universe. The simple becomes complex, order becomes disorder, peace gives way to chaos. There is about $37 in my checking account. I have been on and off of anxiety medicine. My wife and I have been in and out of counseling both together and separately. I have worked numerous part-time and full-time jobs. I have started and stopped seminary (note: I didn’t graduate—I got done with all of the hard stuff and then decided it wasn’t for me). Currently, I work in coffee (for the second time, mind you). I am almost 30 years old with a growing family and my job title is “Barista.” Chaos is the definition of my life.
What if the sum of my life amounts to a cardboard sign and a spot on the corner?
Every belief system (both theistic and atheistic) works largely on a logical framework: if x, then y. If I do everything correctly—if I work out all of the answers, then I will live a happy and healthy life—I will have everything I could ever want. The “answers” change from belief system to belief system, but the desired outcome is always the same. This is not reality. We don’t all start on a level playing field. Some of us grow up on Park Avenue. Some of us grow up in the African bush. We don’t get to choose that. And the stark reality is that it doesn’t actually matter where we grew up or how wealthy or poor our parents are. There is still chaos in every situation. The question then becomes, “what do we do with the chaos?”
The last seven years have been defined by my various answers to this question. I switched jobs. I went back to school. I started a business. In my attempts to bring order to the chaos I brought more chaos. This is all I really know how to do.
I considered and studied the book of Job many times over during this period. It is on my mind often and has come to define and inform my perspective on the way the universe works. At the beginning of his story, Job has everything. He is wealthy. He has a beautiful family. He is described as a God-fearer, which is a way of saying that he is respected in his community for being a wise man. He has influence. He is strong and healthy.
And then just to prove a point God allows Satan to take all of that from him. Job’s life is plunged into chaos.
There are some curious things about this story that give insight into the ways I think we’re to view the chaos in our lives. First, Job and his friends don’t get into trouble until they attempt to make sense of the chaos. The chaos doesn’t fit with what they perceive as the inner workings of the universe. If you’re a good person and you make good choices then you will be healthy and wealthy. Simple math. Yet Job is laid to waste. He must have sinned (or if you’re so inclined, made some foolish mistakes). This is largely our view when we look at the man on the corner. This is probably your view of me.
Second, God never tells Job why he took everything away from him. He only tells him that he did. When God finally comes onto the scene to answer Job and his friends he begins by reminding them that he created everything that can be seen and even the things that can’t be seen. Job didn’t do that. Job’s friends didn’t do that. In the midst of this scolding, God vividly paints a picture of the inner workings of the universe. It is one that can seem incredibly chaotic without reason for being so. It is like the ocean: vast and tossing about without clear direction or reason. Yet God is like the shore; the ocean never completely overtakes the dry land. It is calmed as it laps onto God’s beaches. He is the boundary that holds the true force of the chaos at bay.
Trying to avoid the chaos simply throws us back into believing in the existence of the impossible logical reality. The only thing this line of reasoning gets is a cycle of endless and ever worsening chaos. Instead of trying to avoid the chaos, what if we embraced it as reality? What might we find there?
I have a job. My wife and I are more committed to our relationship than we have ever been in our fifteen years together. The chemicals in my head are more in balance. There is $37 left in my checking account after I have paid my bills and fed my family. Our third child, Ben, entered the world this past week. Like my two daughters, he is the most glorious thing I have ever seen, felt, smelled, touched, and tasted in this vast and chaotic universe. We brought him home Thursday to a house full of groceries and we have friends and family bringing meals to us over the next bunch of days as we get acclimated to this new and wonderful little ball of chaos.
This is not just me changing perspective on how I view the world. It is something much deeper. This is embracing the chaos as reality. As my family has surrendered ourselves over to this chaotic world and the one who governs it we have discovered that peace has been here all along. We fought it and it threatened to undo us. We surrendered and our bonds were strengthened. We are an absolute mess, falling apart at the seams, and yet we are more closely knit than I could ever fathom. These are the shores of the Lord.
What might happen around us if we were just honest with how messy and chaotic our lives really were? How might the world be impacted if we came out from behind the facade? What might community look like then? I ponder these questions knowing that at any moment I may be out on the corner begging for money. I have come to expect it. Please know that there is always room for one more homeless and chaotic beggar.
By Taylor Bruce
Taylor Bruce is a husband and father. He co-founded Danger Schmanger, a screen printing shop based out of St. Louis attempting to fight joblessness among the poor and oppressed. You can follow him on twitter: @themaletaylor and @dangerschmanger