I was talking recently to someone who the Church would call a
“non-believer” at a local, rather hip, coffee shop. I might have been the only
person there who did not have a tattoo or some sort of piercing. But, black shirts were popular so at least I had that going for me. Priests do not always fit in very well, as you can imagine.
We met to discuss spirituality and God because of a parishioner who
had referred him to me. She had prepared me with, “He’s a great guy at work and he’s been asking me questions and I just don’t know how to answer them. He seems so angry… Anyway, I thought you could help him.” I wondered if I could help him, too.
Eric is in his late twenties or early thirties and in a long-term
relationship with a live-in girlfriend. He wore motorcycle boots, a long chain
that ran from his belt to a concealed wallet, a tattoo that started on the top
of his right hand and ran up his arm underneath his jacket, and his forehead was
covered with a dark and wide bandana that made me wonder if he had really long hair or if he was covering up a receding hair line. He had dark eyes that seldom held any object for any length of time. With coffee in hand, we found a table with three chairs and sat down.
Normally when I meet with new folks we talk about work, family, and
sports for a while until we’re ready to talk God. Not with Eric; we sat down and
he immediately jumped in asking in-depth theological questions. My parishioner
was right that he was angry. Joplin, Missouri, had been leveled by a tornado. He
asked why a loving God would allow this to happen. The next question was about
AIDS, then earthquakes, and then, tears welled up in his eyes as he asked why
his dad had died of a heart attack when he was only 12 – three years after
walking out on him, his mom, and his sister. The sounds of the coffee shop faded
away as we both leaned in and talked about a merciful and loving God who is
working in a broken world filled with sin and death. I told him about Jesus who
is loving and forgiving and who would not take away a father-- even if his angry son had prayed that he would die.
After our intense conversation his complexion changed. He looked
brighter and a lot less angry. Eric sat back, put his arm over the back of the
unoccupied chair, crossed his legs and said, “Tell me about you. Why do you do
this church thing?” I told him about my calling and what I do by serving the
Church. He uncrossed his legs, put both arms on the table, looked me in the eyes
and said, “Yeah, but with church, I mean, I guess I just don’t understand, I
mean, what’s the point of it all?” I asked what he meant by the point of it all. He replied, “Once you are forgiven, and know that God loves you and all, why go and sing a bunch of old songs?” I said to him that the Church does three things. We are a place for the spiritually wounded to receiving healing. We are a house of praise and worship of God that is set apart from all other buildings in the world. And, we equip one another to be Christ for others in the world.
He sat in silence for a while, staring at his hands. After a while he looked up and said, “You mean ‘being Christ’ to people who are angry at God and meet in coffee shops.” I smiled and said, “Yep, you’ve got it. Once you’ve been forgiven and see the glory of God, even in natural disasters and in disease, you get to be Christ’s representative to others. And even you too, Eric, get to be Christ to others.”
May you be equipped to serve Christ and be his representative to others,
- Fr. Marshall
P. S. Many months
after I had met with Eric, my parishioner told me that he joined a small church
that meets in a rundown downtown building. He spends time talking to people who
have, as he calls it, “issues with God."