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When Doing the 'Christian Thing' Isn’t the Right Thing
I used to be a Bible study leader.
And per the undergraduate campus fellowship tradition, it kept me busy: Sunday brunch community building, Monday night small groups, Tuesday leadership meetings, and Wednesday training sessions. Discipleship, one-on-ones, social activities, all-campus worship, weekend retreats, week-long retreats, all-day retreats, evangelism workshops, work day, capture the flag, scavenger hunts, and prayer meetings.
But what I remember most vividly are Thursdays.
Every Thursday. The evening walk through campus, past bars and restaurants beginning to fill with my peers, through a door almost hidden to the unaware, flanked by a man sitting on the ground. The man is dirty and unkempt. Sometimes he’s panhandling. Sometimes he’s asleep. On one occasion, he eats, still alone, from a small bag of popcorn one of my fellow Bible study leaders had brought to him.
The man catches my attention, yet I don’t show it. I don’t ask his name, or where he goes when he doesn’t sit by the door, or how he manages to stay warm through Midwestern winters. Thursdays are obligatory for Bible study leaders, so maybe that’s why I try to ignore the man. Maybe that’s why I feel I can’t stop to ask him his name. Or maybe being a Bible study leader is just a convenient excuse to keep walking.
So every Thursday I climb the stairs behind that door, leaving the man below, allowing him to fade into the background until he is just another distant person, indistinguishable from those filling the pub across the street or sleeping on their textbooks in the library across the quad. Suddenly the band is on stage, the rhythm of worship distracts me, channeling an energy that gives way to reflection, to reverence, to calm. Every Thursday.
And then it’s over. And like all good Bible study leaders, I greet friends, practice fellowship, welcome newcomers. We leave in groups to study or socialize. I don’t notice if the man is still there when we leave.
This man has come to represent many things to me in my faith journey, and something I’ve encountered this week brings my thoughts back to him.
A War That Builds Bridges, Not Bombs
Not only has interfaith meal packaging been repeated multiple times in my community, but this weekend I’ve also heard the stories of hundreds of secular and faith-based communities mobilizing together to address issues of world hunger. Representatives of one church-based organization described their collaboration with a local Buddhist community that contributes rice to the packaging efforts. Last month at Kids Against Hunger headquarters, members of a mosque, a church, and a synagogue came together to produce over 8,000 meals — an activity that they hold quarterly with a shared meal and socializing.
These stories of interfaith collaboration are inspiring, but too rare.
When meal-packaging projects become collaborations between communities that have historically clashed, stereotyped, judged, or ignored each other, then bridges are being built instead of bombs. And not only do hungry kids need food, but this is a time when our increasingly religiously diverse country needs to learn to build bridges.
Affordable Care Act Is a Step in the Right Direction
“So what brings you in to the clinic tonight?” I ask, beginning a conversation with a middle-aged woman in typical fashion.
“I need some help with my medication,” she tells me, digging into her purse for the packaging from her last filled prescription.
“It’s for high blood pressure, but… I can’t afford it anymore.”
I take a look at her chart.
“Oh!” I say, pleased with my growing ability to recognize medications without aid from a reference text. “I think that’s on the Wal-Mart list. We should be able to give you a prescription for the generic which will be just four dollars per month at Wal-Mart.”
“I know,” she says. “That’s what I was prescribed. I can’t afford it.”
I don’t talk much about the Affordable Care Act in day-to-day conversation, even with the Supreme Court’s decision last week to uphold its constitutionality. In fact, I try to avoid it. It’s just not a conversation I’m poised to treat as small talk, simply because it’s a conversation that goes way deeper than I think most people realize.
Standing with Nuns, Standing for Compassion
The reprimand that came out of the Vatican last month has familiar echoes.
The statement addressing the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents 80 percent of nuns in the United States, accuses the organization of “serious doctrinal problems” regarding the focus of religious practice, among them, a concern that the Catholic Sisters are too focused on social justice and not enough on voicing the Church’s views on homosexuality or abortion.
For me, the reprimand carries reverberations of similar friction from my undergrad that followed a weeklong retreat on Chicago’s West Side.