Same Kind of Different As Me

Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall & Denver Moore with Lynn VincentFull Title: Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together
Ron Hall & Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2006)
Number of Pages: 245
How long it took me to read: 3 days
Where I got this book: My sister Catherine loaned it to me.
ISBN: 978-0-8499-1910-7

Like a Moth to a Flame

My sister Catherine, while packing up her bookcase, handed this to me and said I’d like it. I was a little skeptical; while she does recommend good books, you never really know what you’re getting with her. She has a tendency to read a lot of unconventional books—memoirs of troubled childhoods, unsettling confessions, the lives of sex workers, that kind of thing. So I took it, wondering how long I’d have to keep it before I gave it back. When I got home, though, I flipped open the front flap and read what people were saying about it—and who was saying it! The Poet Laureate of Texas, the producer of The Pursuit of Happyness, one of the singers from Casting Crowns, Gov. Rick Perry, Barbara Bush—big names, all saying it was an incredible, inspirational memoir, a story of amazing faith, and that it moved them to action. So I pushed aside the other books on my desk and started this one.

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “With the museums, the restaurants, and the malls, I was showing Denver a different way to live, a side of life in which people took time to appreciate fine things, where they talked about ideas, where raw yellowtail cost more than cooked catfish. But he remained absolutely convinced that his way of life was no worse than mine, only different, pointing out in the process certain inconsistencies: Why, he wondered, did rich people call it sushi while poor people called it bait?” (p.112)

4. “After a couple of Tuesdays, we noticed that the only time these folks got in a hurry was when they jockeyed for position near the head of their designated section of the serving line. We found out the reason for this: They feared we might ladle out all the good stuff—meat, for example—leaving only soup or stale 7-Eleven sandwiches for those unlucky enough to have been seated at the front of the chapel, farthest from the door. When the stragglers wound up with such low-end fare, the looks on their faces told a sad story: As society’s throwaways, they just accepted the fact that they survived on leftovers and discards.” (p.88)

3. “I guess we were pretty good at the whole Christian thing—or maybe we were bad at it—because we managed to alienate many of our old college friends. With our new spiritual eyes, we could see they didn’t have fish stickers either, and we set about saving them from eternal damnation with all the subtlety of rookie linebackers. Looking back now, I mourn the mutual wounds inflicted in verbal battles with the ‘unsaved.’ In fact, I have chosen to delete that particular term from my vocabulary as I have learned that even with my $500 European-designer bifocals, I cannot see into a person’s heart to know his spiritual condition. All I can do is tell the jagged tale of my own spiritual journey and declare that my life has been the better for having followed Christ.” (pp.60-1)

2. “And yet for all the courage I knew she had, she had shown this glimmer of fear. Oh, how I loved her then. Fiercely. The passion you feel down in your guts where no one else can see and only you know its frightening force. I could remember that there were times in our nearly three decades of marriage that I had loved her less than at that moment, and guilt pierced my heart like a spike. Though she had always given unconditionally, I had often not been willing to do so in return. She has deserved better than she’s gotten from me, I thought, and nearly drowned in a wave of regret thirty years deep. Then I resolved to love her as she had never been loved before.” (p.134)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “You know, if you ain’t poor, you might think it’s the folks in them big ole fine brick churches that’s doin all the givin and the carin and the prayin. I wish you coulda seen all them little circles a’ homeless folks with their heads bowed and their eyes closed, whisperin what was on their hearts. Seemed like they didn’t have nothing to give, but they was givin what they had, takin the time to knock on God’s front door and ask Him to heal this woman that had loved them.” (p.132)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“This book goes back and forth between two narrators, Denver and Ron. Denver’s narration is written in his own voice, so I was excited to get to the second sentence of the book and see ‘wadn’t,’ and further down, ‘purty.’ I love when voice is used, I love when stories are in dialect. You get such a good idea of who people are and where they’ve come from. It also makes it easy to tell who is narrating each chapter. The first two chapters are marked by their names; after that, you’re on your own, but it’s easy to tell who’s whom.”

“It can be hard for me to read memoirs. In fiction, even if what you read is disturbing, you have the safety of knowing it’s all imagined. Nonfiction doesn’t allow for that comfort. I become heavily emotionally invested in what I read and Ron and Denver’s childhoods make me uneasy; they grew up in a time when race relations were tense, and they were subject to horrible things—Denver especially, who grew up as a sharecropper. Fortunately, not all the memories are bad—in fact, many of them are fond, some even funny. Still, the backdrop for Denver’s childhood is sadness.”

“I think it’s Ron’s honesty in the story of how he and Deborah became Christians that finally makes me sort of like him. He comes across as such a materialistic jerk that it’s been difficult to connect to him. But as he talks about Christianity, he owns up to the stereotypes and clichés he embodies—that many Christians embody—and then pokes fun at them. Admitting he was wrong in his actions and no longer showing off newfound piety warms me to him.”

“It’s jarring to switch back and forth between Denver and Ron’s chapters. Chapter thirteen ends with Denver, twenty-eight years old, leaving the sharecropping plantation and heading out with nothing but a pair of overalls that he figures he must still owe someone money for…and Chapter fourteen begins with Ron buying a $275,000 house. That jolt from poverty to extravagance is enough to make your stomach hurt.

“This isn’t nearly as drastic, but I do remember feeling that in my life a few years ago. After I graduated college, I decided not to move home, but to stick around the city—not because I liked it and certainly not because I had any job opportunities. I did it because I was madly in love with my boyfriend, Justin. Often, love can be a dumb reason to do something, but it worked out for me; a year later, I married him. But for that transitional year, I had next to nothing, moved four times, and was struggling to pay rent, much less feed myself or cover bills. It didn’t help matters much that I’m a proud person and have a hard time relying on others. Justin would support me if he knew I was having trouble, but I didn’t always let him in on how bad it was. I worked two or three jobs at a time, blew through my savings, and still found myself one day standing in line at a food bank. I didn’t know how to feel.

“One of my small jobs was as a personal assistant for a very rich man. I went to his condo one day to help him organize his binders for medical school. I froze in the lavishness—he had a grand piano, made me wear slippers to walk around, gave me sparkling water instead of tap, had tribal masks hung above the sofa. He had expensive Chinese art, a custom pool table, a large shimmering fountain, a glass wall that his movies projected onto. His living room was raised and the floor was bulletproof glass so that you could look down and see his honest-to-God meteorite. It was bigger than some of his furniture…and nerdily, he had perched a very tiny model of The Millennium Falcon in one of its crannies. He bought me steak and offered me beer. He drove me home in a luxury vehicle that still smelled new. I tried to sit in it without touching it.

“He could have no idea about my time in line at the food bank, where I had stood, near to tears, waiting for the doors to open, clutching an empty bag to my chest, wondering what would fill it. While waiting, a man who worked for the charity began calling out, ‘Who wants English muffins? I’ve got a loaf of whole wheat bread here! Anyone need hamburger buns?’ He pulled the packages off of overflowing palates and tossed them to people as they raised their hands. I watched as people smiled and recognized each other; I prayed no one would recognize me. I don’t know why I was afraid of being noticed. I wondered what everyone had done to end up there. I began to pity the people around me, and then to feel foolish for it because we were all there for the simple reason that none of us could feed ourselves.”

“Deborah’s dream, where she had a vision of the mission for the homeless, stirs me. A lot of people have a clear idea of what they’re meant to do, whether you think of it as a call from God or your Destiny or what have you. I don’t. I’m fearful of becoming one of those people who doesn’t get a call until her life is halfway gone. Seems like a long time to wait to figure out what you were made for…

“There are things I know I’m good at—my husband praises me as the perfect wife and mother. I know that is a high calling, but there are days that make me feel like it isn’t enough. I’m ashamed of this, and it never comes from a feeling inside of me, but from other women who look down on the joy I feel making my husband and son happy. They look at it as a type of slavery rather than the freedom of getting to discover and practice the art of loving others.

“At one point, Ron says he didn’t feel called to help the homeless, but he did feel called to be a good husband to Deborah. I wish it were that simple for me, to be called to help my husband with whatever he felt called to, but that’s not it…because the other thing I feel I’m good at, the thing God keeps poking at me to work on, is my writing. And what next with that? God gave me a talent but didn’t tell me what to do with it. Every day that I wonder what its purpose is is another day wasted. Who do I write for or to? What do I write about? Fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, poetry? It couldn’t be self-help because I don’t have the proper background for that, nor do I have the background for theology. One time, my poetry teacher told the class that in a collection of poetry, every work has to be perfect. You can’t slip in something mediocre and hope no one notices. My writing teachers criticized my fiction, though they enjoyed my personal essays, but who would I be to write a book about my life? Why would anyone read it? Maybe I do need to live half my life just so that I have half a lifetime of experiences to glean from. But what do I do in the meantime?”

“Ron admits to his initial idea of the homeless being ‘probably uneducated or at least not very smart for having gotten themselves in such a fix in the first place.’ (p.84) It takes guts to publicly confess such an uncharitable thought. But if he hadn’t been honest about where he started from, I doubt I’d be interested in listening to him. While I never thought of the homeless as stupid, I’m not so sure my thoughts are much better than Ron’s. My ideas of the homeless are shaped by the idea that the money that I may give to a pan-handler will just go to drugs or alcohol, not to mention what I’ve heard about the people who make a pretty decent living pretending to be homeless. While I have no problem donating to women’s shelters, these concerns of mine have mostly halted me in my attempts to deal with people carrying cardboard signs.

“I did one time give a couple quarters to a pair of cute homeless guys because they were carrying a sign that said, “Friend for Life: 25₵.” I thought that was clever, plus they were honest about only wanting to raise enough money for a pack of beer to drink by the lake. They helped me justify my perception of the homeless being a little nutty, or outright crazy.

“I blame my friend Alyssa for planting that seed in me. She lives in Durham, North Carolina (home of most of the homeless I’ve come across). Growing up, she knew the names of a lot of the homeless men in her area, and could tell me who had stories about being sent there by the devil, and who would lure you in with claims of having fought in Vietnam and then sideswipe you with inappropriate outbursts, typically of a sexual nature. One day, she and I had been wandering around some shops downtown, and she stepped away to take a phone call. Twenty minutes later, she called me saying strangely, ‘I need to wash my toes.’ After I found her, and while we looked for a sink, she explained to me that while she was sitting on a sidewalk bench, a homeless man sidled up and sat beside her. He talked to her for a while, even though she was on the phone, and when he finished, he stood up, thanked her for the chat, then leaned over, grabbed her foot, and licked between her toes.”

“I can hardly believe the outpouring of love from the homeless in Deborah’s time of need. These are people who have been through the wringer, who I had always assumed would feel abandoned by God. But Deborah—‘Miss Debbie’—loved them so fully, in an overflowing, personal, insistent way that some people never get loved in. She didn’t want to just to throw money at them; she felt a calling to love, which is so much greater than a calling to give monetarily.

“I keep recalling images of lice—Ron saying he saw it rustling the hair of the homeless and Deborah, on Beauty Shop Night, combing the bugs out of ladies’ hair. Would I be strong enough to do that? Deborah scrubbed years of dirt off of these women’s feet, went over them with a pumice stone and painted their nails. I like to think of myself as compassionate, but could I do that? I know I could work with children—that’s an easy way to volunteer. And it’s easy to read this book and say, ‘Oh, sure, I could hang out at the homeless shelter. Ron and Debbie aren’t doing anything that big.’ But they were—they spent all their free time there until they became friends with these people instead of just their benefactors.

“The love they show her in return is beautiful and amazing, but not surprising. They come together to pray for her through the day and night—for this rich white woman they were initially suspicious of, when they had never banded together before to pray for a single thing for themselves.”

“Denver cautions Ron not to blame God for Deborah’s illness. He explains by referencing the creation story in Genesis: each time God finishes something, the Bible reads, ‘And God saw that it was good.’ In other words, God’s creations are good, never evil. Deborah’s illness is not ‘good;’ therefore, it can’t be from God. I love this. People are happy to take credit for the good in their lives, but eager to blame a higher power when something is amiss. While it breaks my heart for people to fall apart over evil in their lives, it is sadder to me when people accept it, believing God must have wanted it that way for a reason. It takes the fight out of them. I’m glad Deborah and Ron heeded Denver’s words and kept up the fight.”

“Denver’s relationship with Mr. Ballantine, the nasty, dirty, mean old man who cusses him out for his help, reminds me uncomfortably of someone in my life—another ill-stricken, rotten old man who name-calls the people who help him. I met him after people warned me for months about him. My plan of action had been to go at him with all my love, much like Denver did with Mr. Ballantine. It worked for a little while…and then it didn’t. Unlike Denver, I didn’t have the wherewithal to keep it up. It’s hard to be insulted and cussed out by someone who should love you. I’m humbled by Denver’s persistence, and embarrassed at relating to Ron, whose first impulse at meeting Mr. Ballantine is to tuck and run.”

“As a Christian, these gritty narratives challenge me, but I think that even if I wasn’t a Christian, I would be moved by the absolute trust given under the strangest of circumstances, by the lack of motive behind the giving, and by the levels of faith played out over the course of the book. This book is raw, honest, and painful, and while it’s a book outlining the spiritual journey of Denver, Ron, and Deborah, it’s not your standard Come-to-Jesus Christian literature. It’s compelling and upsetting, beautiful and ugly, and a far higher caliber than the fluffy inspirational candy-drop stories often peddled as a ‘Magnificent Read That Will Change Your Life.’ Whether or not other readers believe the spiritual accounts in this story, it’s hard to deny the fruits of Deborah’s efforts and the homeless mission’s work, and how they managed to change the face of a city.”

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  1. Megen Boyett says:

    This is the kind of review that makes me love this website. I could never get this on the back of a book or an Amazon summary. This is a review of your experience, and another story in and of itself. Thanks for your humility and openness. You write so honestly and clearly, without any pretense.

    I can’t wait to read more!

  2. Lou Mulford says:

    This is a beautiful review and one of my favorite books. You more than did the authors justice. You are a lovely writer with a true talent to draw the reader into your truth. I hope others are touched by your reviews, and that they will read this book. Both are inspirational.

  3. GKelly says:

    What a lovely review Alice! Your honesty is refreshing and your writing beautiful. Keep at it.

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