Saturday, October 6, 2007

Tribute to Roger

Hello, Portland!

Time out from the kingdom of God. We'll get back to it directly. But first, a tribute to Roger is overdue. Maybe I'll call him St. Roger. No, I'm not talking about myself. I'm talking about Roger who sells the Street Roots newspaper at the NW 11th & Couch entrance to Powell's Books in downtown Portland.

My wife Jean and I try to spend an afternoon in downtown Portland (PDX to us locals, same as the airport identifier) every week. Powell's Books is a regular stop. And there is Roger, often standing in the cold for hours quietly making his papers available. I first started buying the Street Roots newspaper published by the PDX homeless community because I thought it was a charitable thing to do. Vendors buy the papers for 30 cents each and sell them for a dollar, making 70 cents a paper. That's how they support themselves. It's their job. In the first few issues I found poetry I liked. Then I found well written articles that told me things about our city, about housing and poverty and homelessness that I wasn't hearing elsewhere. Now I buy the papers to stay informed. Roger is our most frequent vendor.

After seeing him regularly for a few weeks I thought we should at least know a name, so we introduced ourselves. Found out his name is Roger, just like mine. Asked about his little dog companion who is frequently there in a stroller. A few weeks ago we noticed Roger wasn't wearing a shoe on his right foot. People on the street spend a lot of time on their feet. Bad feet and you can't get to where you need to go to stay alive. His foot is still mending--slowly. Roger now uses a platform walker that he can sit on.

Last week when I bought a paper, you should have seen Roger's face brighten when he saw two familiar friendly faces. Not many people greet him by name. Not many people ask him about his foot and how he's doing now that the weather has turned cold again. It doesn't take very much to make a person smile.

An hour later as we prepared to leave the store, I watched people ahead of us exit. Faces turned either right or left. Footsteps accelerated. Conversation quickened and voices raised. These are avoidance mechanisms. It's not that people couldn't see Roger. It's that they did and immediately made a decision to avoid him, to avoid eye contact at all costs, to act as if he weren't there so that, for all practical purposes, he wasn't. In seeing, they judged and chose not to "see".

Roger is always fully and neatly dressed. He doesn't smell and doesn't have alcohol on his breath. He's anything but pushy. Nearly inert would be a better description. He's learned to read people and conserve his energy. He won't make a push to sell a paper to someone who's already going into the sprint avoidance mode to get away from him.

Besides his energy, Roger is also conserving his heart. What's it like to sit there hour after hour, day after day and have people not only not see you but refuse to see you? Roger is no dummy. He sees what people wear and what they drive. He knows they probably have running credit card balances, car payments and mortgage payments that rival his total income in the past 3-10 years. They may spend more on lattes in a day than he spends on food in a week. No wonder Roger has a dog. Few people love like that little four-legged ball of fur.

The most unfortunate part? The folks who whiz by will never get to know his smile or hear his friendly "You folks have a good day now!" as they leave the store. And they will never know the vital information and honest-to-God stories of life in their own city found in that little Street Roots newspaper. The paper is only a dollar. The humanity of St. Roger is free, total gift like the grace of God. All ya gotta do is reach out and let it touch you.

Bless you, Roger!

Blessings, all!

Pastor Roger

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