Proximity to Sidewalk Art


A Guest Post By: Brenda Petersen 

It was a cacophony of the big city with cars, trucks, buses, trains, sirens, and people moving loudly and silently; talking to invisible people on their phones, to one another, and to no one at all.  Heat was in the air as well as steaming up from the sidewalks and streets. I was focused on one thing, and that was getting to the Art Institute to take in all the goodness the walls contained. Suddenly one block from my destination, the art of life right there on the streets interrupted me.

On a corner sat a body propped against a black lamp post holding a worn cardboard sign stating she was homeless and asking for any help… her face was worn, weather beaten from hard living and from what else, I was not privy to.  With her sign tucked under her chin, she silently watched sidewalk prophets on the exact corner, albeit on the opposite side of the walk, one manhole cover away.

Those sidewalk prophets carried professionally created yellow and black signs and across the bottom it stated the verses were taken from THE HOLY BIBLE. Those signs proclaimed such things as: The Wages of Sin is Death; No Man is Righteous;  Repent and Be Saved… and to top it all off, there were fancy two foot long, double sided, foldout color tracts to be handed out explaining how you too can be saved from hell.  They were printed in English and Spanish.

From what I witnessed the young girl never took her eyes off from them.  Not when I walked by the first time, not when I walked back a second time, and not when I walked by the third and fourth time.  Her eyes were just fixed upon them.  I was magnetized by this scene on the corner.

I did not know her story, but I did know everyone had one.  She was someone’s daughter that much I knew.  Maybe she was a victim of abuse, an alcoholic, a drug addict, a victim of trafficking, a runaway or perhaps just plain a scammer looking for a handout.   I did recognize her as a fellow child of God.  While I rarely offer monetary offerings directly to those on the streets, something compelled me to stop.  As I kneeled down in front of her and placed a paltry few bucks in her cup, I looked her in the eyes and quietly said; “God bless you …” Her gaze went to my eyes and a slight smile formed revealing her decayed teeth and she quietly thanked me.

Lest you think I am putting down the well-intentioned sidewalk prophets… I am not.  As a part of a youth group in the 1970’s, I handed out Four Spiritual Law tracts at a busy resort area one summer.  I talked to folks about God, with a good response, although a one-time encounter.  However, as the years have worn on, I realize that those tracts needed to morph into a body with feet, hands, ears, and eyes.

On that day, I saw wonders of Chagall and Monet however; the real life art on that street corner has not left me.  The words from the late Keith Green’s Asleep in the Light song have haunted my mind for days now.

“He brings people to your door and you turn them away, as you smile and say God bless you, be at peace… and all heaven just weeps. ‘ Cause Jesus came to your door… you’ve left Him out on the street. “

Green portends the church is asleep in the light.  I don’t want to be asleep in the light.

BPBrenda Petersen worked as a Family Advocate with Shelby Public Schools for 22 years. She now resides in Holland, MI with her husband Philip. Four kids call her Grandma B. She shares her faith and experiences in person and with her writing. 

20 thoughts on “Proximity to Sidewalk Art

  1. Thanks for waking us up. On the drive to work, the police stopped traffic to allow a well-equipped herd of VBS volunteers to cross from the parking lot to the massive church. Why, I wonderered, don’t I ever see this throng at the struggling soup kitchen a block over? Now I know. Sleep walkers.

    • Be careful not to judge the VBS volunteers. People in the massive churches need God too. Some of the just don’t know it.

    • We all need God and we all need unconditional, nonjudgmental love…that is a fact.

  2. Ah, what a good, good reminder. Whenever we’re in the city, I always just walk by… Because I immediately see it as a scam. But your post is a good reminder… Maybe it is a scam and maybe not. Either way we’re all called to love others like Christ loved us….

    • Leslie you are so correct. I don’t think putting our spare change in one’s cup is a long term answer whatsoever. Being the body and accepting the call to love others as Christ loves us is what can change the world.

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