The Vagabond Monk

When I was in college, I wanted to live a simple life with few belongings. I wanted to trust God for all my provision.

I wanted to be a monk.

And as a student, living with less was easy. I was on a meal plan, I lived in a dorm room, I didn’t need many clothes or personal items. I felt pretty righteous and implored others to live as remarkably simple as myself.

Then one day I looked around and realized that 99% of the items in my dorm room were gifts. I hadn’t paid for any of it.

So I felt like a monk. But a monk without the sacrifice.

My friend Neil invited me to a local ministry where volunteers set up a hot dog stand in downtown Knoxville and handed out dinner and dessert to homeless people. The food distribution began at sunset and lasted until the early morning.

After distributing and eating several hot dogs, Neil and I took a walk through the neighborhood. Both of us had heard stories about the Greyhound station and the bizarre characters that gathered there after the sun went down. Naturally, we wanted to check it out.

We walked into the station and found a handful of desperate people who were on their way to a far away city, to begin what they hoped would be a new life.

One guy caught our attention. He was younger and cleaner than the rest and wore a red striped sweater like Waldo.  A small leather travel bag lay at his feet. We sat next to him and worked up the nerve to start a conversation.

“What’s your name?” I asked, extending my hand.

He shook my hand and answered, “I’m JoJo.”

Neil had brought a piece of cake from the hot dog stand and offered it to JoJo. He gladly accepted.

I asked him to tell us his story, why he was in Knoxville and where he was going. His answer amazed us.

He didn’t have a bus ticket, only a feeling that someone would help him buy one. He hadn’t eaten for a while but trusted that food would be provided. We glanced down at the piece of cake we had just given him. He mentioned he was a vegetarian, and was thankful we hadn’t offered him a hot dog.

JoJo was a traveling vagabond. He bounced around from place to place, embracing a life of indefinite travel and interactions with strangers. He told us that in all of his travels, he never lacked for provision.

He was also agnostic.

I told him I was impressed by how his life looked so much like Jesus and his disciples. While he was not intentionally depending on God, he was trusting that everything would be provided. Neil and I encouraged him to try to see God’s hand in his provision. Maybe he listened, maybe not.

The interaction opened my eyes to the reality of Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

JoJo was, in many ways, living in God’s kingdom. And despite my accumulation of ascetic self-righteousness, I found myself wishing I lived a little more like an agnostic vagabond.

I wanted to be like JoJo because his life was a partial manifestation of the Sermon on the Mount. In the midst of a diseased and needy crowd, Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not worry.”

In my experience, telling an anxious person to “stop that” doesn’t work.

But Jesus never seems concerned with whether or not people agree with his teaching, so he tells a crowd of poverty-stricken people to stop worrying so much.

He reasons that God is a good Father. He provides for birds and causes flowers to grow in splendor, why wouldn’t he also provide for humans, who are far more valuable than birds?

Jesus concludes, “Don’t worry. Your heavenly Father knows you need these things. Seek first the Kingdom, and righteousness. All these things will be added.”

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