Ben has been a regular at the ministry for five years.
He suffers from several mental illnesses including paranoid schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder.
He’s a delightful guy who often makes us laugh. Like the time he burped during a prayer and said, “Excuse me, Jesus.”
A couple of weeks ago, Ben came into Midtown Commons for our weekly gathering. He sat on the floor like usual and started playing with his phone.
Then, when one of our homeless regulars greeted him, Ben jumped up and started shoving the man, accusing him of sexual harassment.
Ben was imagining things. There was no sexual harassment.
Aware of Ben’s mental illness, the homeless man didn’t retaliate.
But Ben wasn’t done. He threw his hot coffee at the man, tried to punch a visitor, and paced around the building looking for an invisible “man in stripes.”
Then he sat back down on the floor and lit a cigarette.
I called the police.
Eventually, Ben went outside and sat on a bench next to another one of our regulars.
When the police showed up I explained what happened. They’re familiar with Ben and were as surprised as us that he was acting out in violence. It just didn’t make sense. We all know Ben to be a gentle soul.
I told Ben I was sorry, but had to call the police because of his behavior.
He said, “That’s okay, I understand.”
Then he turned to the guy sitting next to him and punched him in the face. And right in front of the police.
Within seconds, Ben was on the ground and in handcuffs. The police searched his belongings. They asked if I wanted to ban him from the property. It was a hard choice, but people need to feel safe in the building.
So I told Ben that I loved him, but he couldn’t come back for a while.
He smiled, told me he loved me too, and said, “Okay.”
Man, it felt like shooting Old Yeller.
This was the first time in my five years in Midtown that someone acted violently at the ministry.
Honestly, it was the first time I was scared.
I’ve always prided myself in not being scared of the neighborhood or the people we serve, so it felt weird to be afraid. I didn’t really know how to react.
The small band of neighbors present jumped into action. They helped clean up Ben’s coffee mess, they picked up the tables he had knocked over. The man Ben punched decided not to press charges, but chose to forgive him instead.
During our gathering, we prayed for Ben.
When I went home that night, I thought about Ben’s accusations of sexual harassment. What he said is too obscene to share here, but it revealed something.
There’s a good chance Ben was having a flashback of sexual abuse.
I’m not a psychiatrist, so I really don’t know for sure.
Even if I’m wrong, the truth remains: Ben had a horrific childhood, and it set his life on a tragic course.
I pictured him as a little boy, neglected and abused, and I just started weeping.
Sometimes in the moment, that’s all that can be done.
But there is more that can be done, and I want to talk about it next week. For now, here is a thought to chew on:
“There are no God forsaken places, only church forsaken places.”