I had the opportunity to meet a ton of new people in the last couple of weeks. Beyond the meeting of one another, we had the opportunity to get to know each other. Part of the ritual is the question: “So, what do you do?” After telling whoever I was speaking with that I went to Harvard Divinity, the next question they would ask was, “Are you going to be a minister?”
I love that question, because it gives me an opportunity to put people at ease. With the face of Christianity being some fat, white guy from the religious right, it can be hard to converse with people when they find out you like that guy Jesus. People have a fear of ministers. Isn’t that ironic? Or maybe it’s just sad.
Through dialogue, I realized that I knew a lot of facts and figures. I could espouse theorems and theologies. But lately, I had not been doing a whole lot of living Jesus. I had been so wrapped up inside my head that the expression of my faith had recently become mere words. At this point there will be a group of you that will say, “Ah hah! All you smart people and your books just need to act like Christians.” True, true, Christianity needs to be lived out, but having a reason for what we believe is as biblical as, well, the Bible. Education and practice are not opposed, but in conjunction with each other. We need to understand our faith so we can go live it.
The people I have come to share my life with lately must be angels. Their stories and spirits showed me that I had become stagnant in my spiritual life. Often in Christian circles one can hear the phrase “Christian walk,” meaning how we live life as Christians. If that phrase has any merit, then my walk had become a standstill. This is not to take away from this blog. I often get contacted about how these words help people (or confound them), but I needed some more personal contact.
Last night I bought two loaves of bread (very Jesus-esque) and some peanut butter and jelly (thinking about it now, I should have asked if anyone had a peanut allergy). I made twenty sandwiches (cool fact: one loaf of bread equals ten sandwiches) and headed out to Harvard Square. On any given night there are tons of homeless people, drunk people, and strung out people (or a combination of the three) hanging out in and around the square talking, sleeping, or zoned out, but for some reason I had to go looking for people to feed.
In the past, whenever I have done some sort of do-gooder task, it made me feel good. Last night was more about a “need to.” It was great. I talked with Mike, who had four teeth and smelled like pot (I love that smell). He said he suffered from PTSD with all the things he had seen, but that he had it “under control.” There was Cough Drop, who was from North Carolina, and he passed on the PB&J because of stomach issues. He was too concerned to find out something bad was going on, and he refused go to the doctor. When I told him I was from Florida, he had stories to tell of Dade County (Miami) and how the cops were nice to him down there (just don’t speed). He also said bars would sometimes hook him up with free beer, while up here he can get free smokes. I met a girl who’s name escapes me, but she was a friend of Cough Drop, and was the one to make sure I knew about him to give him the opportunity to eat. Her boyfriend’s name was Taco, who was wary and wanted to know who I was. When I told him I had been homeless before and wanted to help out, he sarcastically replied, “You survived too, huh?” Taco seems to have seen little love to be as jaded as what I saw, but it was obvious his girlfriend loved him dearly. There was another gentleman there who wanted to go drink, but the girl was trying to be the voice of reason and Cough Drop said he didn’t drink anymore (not all homeless people are drunks and drug addicts).
There was another couple who were far gone into heroine, but took the sandwiches. When I came by later, the man and women were holding the half-eaten sandwiches as they nodded in and out of consciousness. I hope the food helped.
Some people were asleep, so I laid the food next to their head or hands and walked away (I hate being woken up. Don’t you?).
I met Tyrone, a.k.a. Gorgeous (but he made sure to tell me he wasn’t gay), and Biggie (who sounded like the deceased Biggie Smalls), and several more men. One guy wanted a turkey sandwich, but he settled for the PB&J.
One of the things I remembered from Jesus was that he didn’t just spend time with social outcasts, he touched them and allowed himself to be touched. With this in mind, I extended my ungloved hand to whoever wanted it or offered one to me. That does not make me a saint or special (I am kind of a germaphobe, which might make me “special), it was just me trying to be Jesus.
This story isn’t meant to elevate me, but it is a reminder that we need to operate on many different levels. We need to feed the hungry while working to change the system that creates the hungry. That reminds me of a great quote from the deceased Catholic bishop Dom Helder Camara: “When I fed the hungry, they called me a saint. When I asked why people are hungry, they called me a communist.” For my far-right leaning brothers and sisters that are still concerned with the “Commie threat” more than fifty years after McCarthyism, that is something to think about. We need to think spiritually, as well as sociologically. We must learn, as well as practice. I say these things, because I cognitively knew, but I fell out of practice. It happens. We can’t be everything all the time. I have spent years studying in academia and it is nearing the time to go out with my shirt, shoes, and a walking stick.
Belief is all fine and well, but without action is it an empty thing. I would rather have a world of dedicated, active atheists than a world full of do-nothing believers. Remember, “faith without works is dead.”