Monday, May 23, 2016

Confessing Failure to Help

It's 10pm in the parking lot of a hotel, and we are just arriving, tired and looking for a good night's sleep. A minivan pulls up, window down, and a young Black woman says, "Sir, I'm not asking for any money or anything but we just need a place to sleep tonight. We can check into a shelter in the morning, but they don't have room for us tonight."

Well, I'm not going to ask her to share a room with my wife and me, and I'm not going to check her in on my credit card and ID, taking responsibility for anything that might happen in the room, regardless of how long she might stay. I doubt the Holiday Inn would even allow that under the circumstances.

I admit that I am suspicious, thinking that it is really just money she wants and that she may be going home somewhere at bedtime. I'm concerned about who else might be in the car and whether it is an organized scam, maybe even a setup for armed robbery if I get too close to the car, wallet in hand. My wife has walked on to the hotel entrance and is waiting there for me.

So, I ask the woman, from some distance, if she has a credit card, and she says she doesn't. I suggest that the shelter that has agreed to take her in the morning should have a referral system for some place she can get temporary shelter. Surely suburban Atlanta has such a system in place for single women with children, if that is, in fact her situation. I don't see the children but there seems to be a child seat in the car. I would have known where to send her in Columbia SC.

I tell her that I can't help her, and she drives away.

After getting to the room, I still have her on my mind and wonder if she is circling through the parking lot and soliciting other arrivals, so I go back outside and look around. My plan is that, if I see her, I will ask her to park her car at the door of the hotel and come inside by herself, in view of security cameras, so I can see her ID and discuss her dilemma with her. I have a couple of hundred dollars in cash and will be glad to give her enough to pay for a room somewhere that does not require a credit card, a small gift of no consequence to me and possibly very helpful to her.

I don't see her anywhere. So, I go back to the room feeling guilty for passing up an opportunity to help somebody, obviously in much worse shape than I, even if she is lying and scamming.

If I ever face that same situation again, I now have a plan. I will say to the driver, "Drive to the front door of the hotel, step out of the car by yourself and go just inside the door by yourself, where there will be security cameras and I can see your ID and we can discuss your situation in a public place. Maybe I can help."

If she takes me up on that, I will be glad to give her enough money for a night in a hotel. And I won't have to feel guilty, and she can do whatever she wants to with the money. If she doesn't take me up on that, I will know it is a scam.

As for the young woman I encountered Friday night, at least, if she was telling the truth, she is in a shelter now.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost 2016 - Five Years Catholic

At Pentecost, 2011, I was received into full communion with the Catholic Church at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Columbia, SC. From a purely logical standpoint, I had concluded, hopefully under the influence of The Holy Spirit, that Jesus established The Church, His “Body,” and left Apostles in charge, promising the guidance of The Holy Spirit, and that that Church, with its apostolic succession, was The Church I wanted to be a part of. And, yes, I know there has been much misbehavior of Catholics and Catholic leadership down through the centuries even with that guidance of the Holy Spirit. However, Jesus promised not that the Church would be perfect but only that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.

Aside from that logic, a number of things about Catholic faith appealed to me spiritually and theologically. It is not just about me and whether I am “saved” but is primarily about growing in worship of and service in the name of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, obedience of the Greatest Commandments and The Great Commission. Catholicism recognizes that there is divine mystery and theology beyond human understanding but eloquently, if imperfectly, expressed in the centuries old Nicene Creed, a clear statement of The Gospel of Jesus Christ which we are commanded to proclaim. That divine mystery is acknowledged in the reverence and ritual of Mass, the focus on the timeless sacrifice of Jesus, and the mystical sharing in His Body and Blood clearly prescribed in the Gospel of John and practiced in the early church and down through the centuries.

Before making the change from Lutheran to Catholic, I read through the several hundred pages of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and concluded that the Catholic Church could reasonably be described as “full gospel,” a term relatively recently and narrowly applied to some charismatic evangelical churches, but that, in the case of Catholicism, it would mean paying attention to all of Sacred Scripture, and to the ways it was written, compiled, understood, preserved, revered, and practiced by the early Church.

The key statement in the Catechism about the Bible is this: “All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and this one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.” (P134). With that understanding of the Bible, Catholicism generally resists the temptation to boil down the complexity of our relationship with the Triune God to simple formulas and selected Bible verses without context. We reverently hear readings of Sacred Scripture from the Old Testament, Psalms, Epistles, and Gospels in most celebrations of The Mass, but it is clear that Catholics do not worship the Bible (or Mary either). It is the Triune God alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit whom Catholics worship.

I have joked that one reason I became Catholic was that I wanted to be persecuted. Not true of course but I do hear and read disturbing condemnations of Catholicism from time to time from serious and faithful non-Catholic Christians. There are still divisive issues that keep us from being one, but I have concluded that the answer to those divisive issues is usually not either-or, but both-and. We have been saved, and we are being saved, and we will be saved. We are predestined and we are called to make decisions for Christ. We are adopted, our names written down, justified by grace through faith, and we are commanded to persevere, obey, work, give, serve, love, learn, and finish the course. Jesus came to save souls and to save the world. God created the heavens and the earth (in unknown ways) and that act of creation continues and includes all the processes still operating, including any “evolutionary” processes. Eternal life begins when we are baptized and there will be a resurrection, details of which I have no knowledge and about which I have no concern, at some future time. These are just examples. If one carefully considers Sacred Scripture in its entirety, I believe that the both-and approach is validated and that we waste our time insisting on either-or decisions rather than serving together. We, the Body of Christ, have a job to do.

During progression through three prior Christian denominations, I sometimes had the conviction that the current theology I was hearing was correct and would argue in defense of it. Now, in the Catholic Church, I believe that the theology is sound, but the primary feeling is one, not of being right, or of needing to prove or argue in favor of anything, but of being at home, in The Church, even if I sometimes see and hear things (usually expressions of personal piety or theological slants) that cause a little discomfort. And I take comfort joining weekly with Catholics around the globe, hearing the same selections from Sacred Scripture, reciting the Nicene Creed, and “passing the peace” in hundreds of languages, and then standing in line with fellow worshipers, awaiting my turn, to share in the Body and Blood of Christ.

Thanks be to God!