A friend of mine re-posted a story on Facebook earlier this week about a pastor who was invited to speak at one of those 10,000 member mega-churches (you know the type, they tend to have their own bookstores, coffee shops, restaurants, daycares, and so on, in multi-million dollar building usually plunked in the middle of what was once a farmer’s field). The pastor dressed up as a ragged homeless man and begged for money outside the church and was turned away again and again. He went inside and tried to sit in the pews toward the front and was asked to move to the back.
Lo and behold, when the time came to introduce the guest speaker to the masses, the homeless man stood up and revealed himself to be the pastor everyone had been waiting for.
Whether this story is true or not, the lesson within cannot be denied. My friend’s caption when she reposted was something along the lines of “being a Christian has a lot to do with how we treat others”. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, it is my belief that show don’t tell works wonders in both writing and the Christian faith. The strongest Christians I know aren’t the necessarily the ones who are spouting scripture left and right and constantly adding “thank the Lord” or “praise Jesus” after every sentence. They are the ones who show a certain humbleness, gratitude, compassion. They give of themselves to everyone, those who deserve it and those who do not. These are the people whom the little light in them certainly shines.
I work in downtown Saint Paul, and I hate it. Hate it. Unless you’re at the Ordway or the Science Museum, or perhaps the Landmark Center for a wedding, there is nothing redeemable about this city.
The biggest reason I hate working there, and the 3ish block walk from my parking garage to my office building, is also one of the biggest reasons I struggled with the parable of the disguised pastor.
The homeless, panhandling, drug-dealing population in Saint Paul frightens the hell out of me.
It also frightens me how quickly I went from seeing men and women sleeping on benches under newspaper and feeling something to looking straight ahead and praying to God no one approaches me today.
I get to work very early to avoid the traffic I would face leaving home at a decent hour. The streets are usually pretty quiet as I walk to the office. I’m very aware that I am alone when a man starts to follow me. “Hey sister, can you give me any money? I’m hungry today.” I take a risk in either ignoring this man or responding to him. If I ignore him, I risk being followed for two blocks, his words becoming louder, his taunts of “stuck up bitch” getting closer. If I say, “I’m sorry sir, I don’t carry cash”, I run the risk of him begging harder, stepping in front of me, blocking my way.
Either option makes me uncomfortable. Just like it makes me uncomfortable to have to climb through ten vagrants lounging on the steps at my parking garage, blocking my way inside. When they refuse to move and I have to climb over them, the cat calls and the “bitch” calls get louder. While I wait for the elevator in the urine soaked lobby, one of the men begins to pound on the glass window. Harder and harder, his glare making my keys shake in my hands.
I am legitimately concerned for the day when I am waddling at a snails pace in the ice and snow, 8 months pregnant, a slow and vulnerable target. I think back to the time I was walking from the office in the early evening, just barely getting dark out, and a woman leaning against the wall said to me, “White girl, you gonna get fucked up tonight!” and laughed and laughed. Yeah, I really can’t wait for this winter.
So I read the story of the disguised pastor, and I think that the example they use is powerful while also unrealistic. If I were at a church – or any venue where I was surrounded by thousands of people, my safety relatively assured – I would hand over my spare change in a heartbeat to the man brave enough to ask. I think the majority of people would as well. They may not make eye contact or engage in any other way, but they would give.
I think of the story of the disguised pastor, and how it is spreading around the internet like wildfire, and how condemning it is of Christians or religion in general, of the wealthy ignoring the poor. I want to argue that it isn’t true, but then I make the decision to ignore every day. Does valuing your safety over helping others get you a free pass with the Big Guy? Does denying spare change but saying a quick prayer for someone who has called you a “fucking cunt” carry the same weight in currency?
Am I the only one who faces this confliction in their day?