Around Christmas, the Chaplain of my church presented a message that challenged me. It challenged me intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. But, not all these challenges were congruent with one another. Actually, they opposed one another, leaving me lost and confused and wondering, what the heck?
On an intellectual level, I wanted to fight back, and debate the Chaplain’s argument for as a futile one. I was pretty sure there were parts of the Bible that didn’t express his view. Spiritually, there was a calling; to follow his lead, absorb the message, and take action. My spirit and my brain couldn’t agree on the best way to process this information, this novel message. Novel because I grew up in church, and have attended services from the age of seven days. I’ve been schooled in the Gospel, read the Bible in it’s entirety several times, and was taught the ‘proper’ ways of Christianity through mentors and leaders of the Church. Through the years, I’ve listened to some really good sermons, and some really uninspiring ones. There have been services I’ve left feeling worse than when I arrived. I’ve attended church in a Chinese restaurant, in the former home of a communist dictator, on my living room couch, and in centuries old buildings. And, yet, none of those sermons ever mentioned this one thing. At least, not to my recollection.
But, this sermon? In the place of worship for Princess Diana when she visited Hamburg, it jarred me. And, I stopped listening from that point. I don’t remember the title of the sermon, or what the rest of the sermon was about, because there is only one thing that stuck with me the last six months. A single verse. “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” (Luke 6:30, NIV)
My emotions over those words were confusion, frustration, and despondence. I felt inadequate. And, I didn’t want this new truth to be real. I told myself to remember that verse and study it once I got home. But, I didn’t. What I actually did was push it to the back of my mind, where it didn’t really exist. I didn’t want to confront the battle inside me. I wanted to ignore it, and continue my life unaltered. My spirit had other plans. And, those plans involved me physically handing out cash to other’s I wasn’t sure deserved what I offered.
Last weekend I was in Brussels. It was late Saturday evening, and me and my sister-in-law strolled through St. Catherine’s Square on our way to dinner, down a side street by Amadeus, the all-you-can-eat ribs joint. (That’s not where we were headed, but I did get to enjoy that restaurant on a different visit and highly recommend it.) As we walked, I tried staying close to her side, doing my best to ignore a beggar on the street. I was on vacation. I tried to keep eye contact with my sister-in-law, laughing, and commenting on the quietness of the street.
This beggar wasn’t having any of it. He worked his way to my side, held out his hand, and spoke in French, “…j’ai faim…je veux manger…”
I tried pretending I didn’t understand, stating, “Sorry, I speak English.”
He responded, “I’m hungry. I want to eat.”
His persistence, coupled with my guilt, only reminded me I can’t escape this verse, even when I’m on a weekend retreat. I stopped walking, reached into my purse, pulled out my loose coins (about three euros), and gently placed them in his cupped hand.
“Thank you,” he said, with a nod.
I half-smiled and rejoined my sister-in-law.
The story isn’t finished…check back later for more.