Tim O’Brien, “He had a long chain on”
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It’s the William Tell Show. I call myself William Tell; you can call me Bill. Podcasting just now from our state-of-the-art studio in Dunkin’ Donuts at the Court Square Building.
Thank you for including me in your world. It feels really nice to be included.
Big John stayed at the shelter pretty regular for a couple years. He’d come day after day for several months, disappear for a few days, and then come back. I don’t know what finally became of him. This was all some years ago.
Almost every time I saw him, he was high. He used methadone, but methadone itself won’t get you high. I’ve known methadone users who were able to hold down normal jobs and live basically normal lives. If a methadone user’s high, he or she is using other things on top of the methadone. For all his strength, Big John just could not keep himself from finding, buying and using these other chemicals every day.
He was basically a good guy, or the shelter would not have let him stay.
Pentecost Sunday came. This is a church holiday, celebrating an event reported in the Bible, in the second chapter of the book of Acts. And at suppertime, the guys who sat at the same table as me began discussing this, trying to figure out what really happened.
The Bible says that fifty days after Easter, the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles, and they began to speak in tongues. The commotion drew a crowd of more than 3,000 people, who wanted to know what it was all about. Peter stood up and gave a long speech to explain it to them. At one point, he quotes from verses 28 and 29 of the second chapter of the book of Joel, to the effect:
In the last days, says the Lord,
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your young men will have visions,
and your old men dream dreams.
But what did this mean in its original context, in the book of Joel, which is mainly about a plague of locusts?
At this point, Big John — that man, that man — began reciting the second chapter of the book of Joel, word for word, from memory. This is not a well-known chapter. What does this say about his commitment to the Bible, his commitment to Jesus? We’ll look at this more in a minute. First, let’s take a break. Word count: 401
Who or what defines you?
Who or what defines you?
There’s a mandatory chapel service every night at the shelter where I say. It’s half an hour now; in Big John’s day, it was an hour. A different preacher comes every night, in a monthly rotation. There’s been almost a complete turnover of the preachers since Big John’s time, but at the time, many of them —
Some of these teachings are so preposterous I don’t even want to report them, even though I believed the same way myself, from seventh grade through college.
They’d tell us we’re homeless because we’re sinners who don’t believe in Jesus. In fact, almost all of us believe in Jesus already. Look at the conversation I told about, at the dinner table.
They’d tell us we’re homeless because we’re drinkin’, druggin’ and whorin’. Well, I got saved in 1968. I became homeless in 2011, and drinkin’, druggin’ and whorin’ had nothing to do with it. Or for many homeless men I know.
They’d tell us that if you believe in Jesus, all you have to do is pray — once — and God will deliver you from bad habits. In fact, their God, the God they conceive of, the God of their understanding, is notorious for turning a deaf ear the first, second, third, fourth or fifth time an addict cries out in despair. That fact is exactly why the 12 Steps movement came to be.
They basically promised us that once you’re born again, you’ll never face difficulty ever again in life. Some hymns promise the same thing:
Floods of joy o’er my soul
Like the sea billows roll
Since Jesus came into my life.
But that’s not real life.
In effect, in their view, our circumstances defined us. Our circumstances were proof positive of our state of grace. Our circumstances proved what sort of men we are, what sort of lives we lead.
I’m here to say, your circumstances don’t define you. The love of God defines you. What you’re composed, what you consist, what you’re made of is the love of God, and God means, through you, to bring blessings to the world.
In the end, your circumstances, your limitations, your diseases, your past, your criminal background, your defects of character do not matter. The love of God is all that matters.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control — God means to bring these things into the world through you.
Just as with Big John.
Today’s music is Tim O’Brien singing, “He had a long chain on.” I’ll provide links.
Be well. Word count: 420