july 17, 2000

Here's the last story from my journals that I think I'll use at the Catholic Worker. It's supposed to be about the challenge pilgrimage offers, focusing on the image of the tax audit:

That church was definitely the right place to go. The Sunday school was stimulating--good discussion, for the first time in three weeks. Then, before the service starts, a guy comes up and says he passed me walking twice in the last two days, and he invites me to dinner...

I talked over an hour each with the pastor, his wife, and their son, whose home I visited. Many of the challenges of pilgrimage came out in conversation, more than with anyone else I've met, which pleased me. ...I had dinner and supper, stayed the night, and everyone was friendly and inquisitive. At the evening prayer meeting, the pastor's daughter gave me a lunch to take today and another man (her husband?) slipped me an envelope with $25 in it. I slept great and had a good breakfast before I left (also got a shower and my laundry done). A very open and giving family who definitely knows the love of God.

An interesting scene as I left: They were being audited by the IRS. I suddenly saw all the challenges about business and politics drawn together in one image. The IRS auditor coming to their house as they scrambled to put receipts and numbers in order. They had a beautiful house, too (which he built himself, with bargain materials--though the auditor might be skeptical). Taxes, the price to pay for a ruler (as God warned when Israel begged for a king: 1 Sam 8). And here is not just taxes but the threat of punishment if they're not done right. Lots of anxiety, of course. Also the full weight of possessions, all in a pile of receipts and bills ("Walmart has a lot of our money," he says)--he's self-employed, so it's all under scrutiny. Both husband and wife were scurrying around the papers at 8am; the auditor comes tomorrow. As I walked away, with a very light pack, I said I'd pray for them. I pray they (and everyone) be released from the economic and political yoke. But it's really a yoke we each take on ourselves. A very different yoke than the one Jesus called "easy"--his yoke, a relief for the laborer, the overburdened. Just watch an audit and see how different it is.

On the way out of town, I walked by an ice cream/dairy delivery truck and the driver jumped out and ran over to me with an ice cream cone. No explanation, just a smile.


april 18, 2001

Next, I wanted to tell a couple stories about the challenge that my walks offered to the people I met. This is a classic from the second year. It illustrates several of the kinds of responses I got from people:

Last night, I found a little Lutheran church right where I needed it, but there was a meeting going on, so I waited. When I asked the first ones out about sleeping outside the church, they sounded doubtful. One went back to ask the pastor. When he came back out, he shook his head. "I know this doesn't sound very Christian... I know this sounds like we're sending you away...," he said.

But I called him on it. "It doesn't just sound unchristian; it doesn't just sound like you're sending me away. You are sending me away." He talked about insurance and the sheriff, and something vague about vagrancy laws. I said I would leave, but reminded him of Matthew 25. Then he got defensive and said that Paul told us to obey the authorities, which are instituted by God. His knowledge of scripture was weak and his position was indefensible, but I didn't argue with him. These words just popped out: "It seems God has put you in quite a quandary, hasn't he?" "Yes, he has," the man said quietly, as he walked away with his head down.

But there's more. As I was gathering my stuff to leave, the pastor came out, with several other people. "You understand the situation..." the pastor began. He also mentioned insurance, and what the sheriff would do if he found me there. "What the sheriff does is up to the sheriff. I'm more interested in what you will do," I replied. A bold man stepped up, claiming to be in charge of church security, and was eager to take full responsibility for sending me packing. He mentioned laws and vagrancy, saying, "I don't mean to insult you..." And again a reply jumped out of my mouth: "Jesus was not ashamed to be homeless--and neither am I."

Then a little old lady, the pastor's wife, stepped in. She had finally sized up the situation. "Do you need a place to stay? We can take you down to the place down the road..." She looked at her husband, "You know, the motel down there..." And the pastor immediately assented. The church "security guard" was struck silent and seemed to fade from the scene. Peace. Then we were at the motel, with the room paid for, and I was thanking the pastor's wife. "He's really a good man," she said. "Sometimes our advisors lead us astray," I replied, "I'm just glad for him and for the church that he has you for an advisor."


april 9, 2001

I didn't often find myself in very scary situations, but here's another story of God's protection when I was feeling a bit worried:

I came to this church just as the evening service was starting last night. A communion service. So I communed with the Baptists yesterday evening, after communing with the Catholics yesterday morning. An older couple offered me some canned food and crackers from a donation box. And the pastor said I could sleep outside the church, though he warned me that this was a rough area (drug trade). Several, including the pastor, gave me the usual "Good Luck!" as they smiled and went about their business.

Then I met "The Doorkeeper." He wore a full beard and shaggy long hair, and was making the rounds to lock up all the church buildings. He approached me and we talked. "I don't really work here," he said "but somehow I got the keys to the kingdom." He'd been homeless himself, at one time. Maybe that helped him to be more sensitive to my needs. He saw that the mosquitoes were attacking me, and knew that this was a dangerous area, so he opened up one of the buildings and let me sleep inside (despite the fact that he had gotten into trouble doing this before). There was a bathroom, and cushions to sleep on. And time to give my socks and shirt a good washing.

I commented on how I often found generosity in the strangest places, like from an alcoholic at a bar rather than a pastor at a church. He said he had stayed out of churches because of the hypocrisy. "I'd rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than dwell inside with the wicked," he said, then admitted "that's my own version" of the psalm (84.10). He gave me $5 and took off. Now, I don't agree that the people inside the church are "the wicked," but they sure made a poor showing compared to The Doorkeeper.


july 30, 2000

Here's another early story that I thought I'd use to talk about God's protection:

A little brown butterfly, with orange and white splotches on its wings, is enthralled with my socks. It keeps licking them. I just left the church, where God overwhelmed me again. Good rest last night, kept dry, then I discover there's a potluck after the service today. I still had $3, but I didn't know of any store nearby. I talked to a number of people before and during the service, then at the dinner the pastor made me introduce myself and say a little about my trip. I stammered out something. But during the meal, the pastor secretly took up an offering for me. He presented it as we finished eating: $75! I was so surprised, I blushed in front of everyone and didn't know what to say. [When I tried to give some of that collection back, the minister said, "God gave you that much, you're probably going to need it."]

That evening, as I was walking through yet another cornfield just before dark, looking for a town to appear, a trucker picked me up. Within an hour, I was sixty miles closer to Chicago, almost in the southern suburbs. But it was dark. And as I wandered down the expressway off-ramp, I saw only city. Not an easy place to find a safe spot to curl up. But I did see some motels, and I did have an unusually large amount of money in my pocket at that moment. The motels were near the expressway, and almost full, so they were pretty expensive. But I got a room on my second try, with $9 left over. I called Tim so we could arrange to meet in the morning. Suddenly, I was here!

...I had been wanting a ride in a semi, but assumed it was against company policy since no trucker ever offered. Well, I got my ride. But it wasn't so pleasant. The young driver soon made it clear that he was looking for "companionship," and I suddenly felt very vulnerable. [The trucker had changed careers after losing his young wife and daughter in a car accident, and was still very distraught over it.]

Nothing came of it, and the guy even diverted his route to get me closer to Chicago, so overall I could only be grateful. But trucking wasn't what I expected. It felt very cold; a hard world. I also met an older driver outside the motel who had a scar across his throat where a robber had cut him, attempted to murder him, really. A hard world. The voices on the CB radio provided the fitting imagery: anonymous, disembodied, often foul--words without thickness floating through space. Symbolizing loneliness and isolation, strangers sliding by each other, hardened lives. Fear, too; I can see why they don't pick people up. They roam the same roads I do, but the journey is not the same; the difference is immeasurable.


may 22, 2001

I think I'll also use this story to talk about God's provision while I was on the road. It happened on my second trip (from Florida to Denver and back). I had made it into Colorado by this time, but it was still about 250 miles to Denver and I wasn't sure when my friend Michael was leaving for Greece. I was also a little worried because towns are spread much further apart in that part of the country, I'd run out of food and money, and it looked like it might rain much of the day:

Saturday morning I was waiting for the rain to stop, not at the Mormon church but at another one that offered better shelter. Some cars pulled up at 6am [very strange]. One rolled over and asked me what I was waiting for. And within 15 minutes, two of the drivers came over and said, "Going to Denver, huh? Well, we're going to Denver." A youth trip to the amusement park a half-mile from my destination. I had gone to sleep the night before with only enough food for breakfast, and 14 cents in my pocket. As it turned out, that was plenty. Because I was here in Denver by lunch time.

It also turned out to be perfect timing to visit Michael here: he arrived the day before I did, and he's leaving tomorrow--for five weeks.


june 5, 2000

Yesterday I gathered some stories to share at the Catholic Worker. Maybe I'll post them here, too. This one is from my first walk, only a couple days after I started out without any money. It shows some of my early questions. And it's also just interesting, I think:

I had a good breakfast yesterday--the last food I bought with the pastor's money. Then I walked all day and ate nothing. I had planned to ask for food, but when it came time for lunch... which house should I stop at? I didn't just want to get fed. I hoped to go where the sharing could be a blessing for everyone involved. And I wanted my 'begging' to be set apart from other beggars (hobos, etc.) in that it was more clearly guided by God and an act of faith--not just scouring the neighborhood for food. "Is not life more than food?"

...And after the pastor gave without my asking, I wondered. It would certainly be something of a miracle to survive without money and without even asking. Not that I rejected begging; I think we should ask each other for help, when we really need it. But it seemed to give greater glory to God to let him initiate my sharing with people--let him choose, while I wait. So I waited. Two o'clock, 3, 5, nothing. I didn't feel overly hungry, but what was taking God so long? Six... 7:30... I felt a little weak, not starving, though. But I complained: "Is it too much to ask that you bless my pilgrimage in this way?" I don't have the miracle of healing; what about the miracle of bread? Couldn't that be a sign of God's favor, his providence, in a seemingly impossible situation? I began to doubt, however, as 8pm rolled around: Would I even be able to find a place to sleep tonight?

O ye of little faith! I stopped to get water at the WV-MD state line. Just then, a man walked up with his dog and started asking questions. I told him a little, but asked for nothing. Then he points out his house across the street and off-handedly says he has plenty of room, if I need a place to stay. I shouldn't have been surprised. I think I surprised him a little when I accepted. He showed me around, then asked if I had eaten (I hadn't mentioned food at all). The next thing I knew, I'm eating stew, a huge salad, chicken, macaroni and cheese, even an ice cream bar! A shower! A bed! And we talked until almost midnight. He is a lonely man, I think. He's suffered great losses and is trying to get his life back together. I don't know if my words helped, but he seemed thrilled to have the company. He thought I might have a corporate sponsor, like Nike. I told him God is my sponsor...

I didn't leave the man's house till after lunch. Made eggs for breakfast and did dishes before he got up, then talked until lunch. Incredible. He had lost his wife and almost all his friends to cancer, and two daughters to SIDS. He feels extremely alone and is often on the brink of despair. The spice rack in his kitchen was filled with prescription drugs--no room for spices. But our talk was beautiful. He felt it was a message from God, saying don't give up. We also talked about suffering, faith, single-mindedness, and Christ. After lunch, he invited me to stay but I felt I should continue; he gave me a sandwich, $15, and a ride eight miles up the road, on his way to an errand. He looked rejuvenated, and I certainly felt that way, too. I am fed, rested, clean, and blessed by an overwhelming affirmation from God. He put me where I was needed. I've been walking about two inches above the road all afternoon.


on the road again?

Heather and I spent Sunday afternoon together, talking about the possibility of walking together. I'm getting more and more excited about it. Or scared. Sometimes it's hard to tell.

Reading "On Pilgrimage" reminded me of some good things. Aspects of the walking I really liked, and have missed since then. For example, the simplicity and universality of the symbolism involved. The obvious vulnerability and dependence on God for "daily bread" and protection in what seems like a hostile environment (especially to a poor stranger). And how that communicates what faith is. When I wrote that essay in January 2001, my focus was primarily on faith as "dying to self." Which I still think is true, but lately I've been focusing more on faith as radical dependence on God, which may be the deeper truth. A very important thing to preach.

Also the image of the pilgrim is really great. I loved this picture from Iraq, for example:

The pilgrim image is a classic in the history of Christianity. There's a challenge in it, a rejection of the security and comforts society offers (always with strings attached). Living outside the bounds of society's accepted roles and institutions. And there's purpose and meaning in it. Direction. Not just struggling for survival, but going somewhere. Not "settling down" here on earth, because we're headed for home.

And I love how it catches people's attention and imagination. And raises questions. Brings out the best and worst in people.

Years ago, I'd dreamed of having a partner. But recently I'd thought my pilgrim travels were behind me. Now I find myself thrilled to think that maybe Heather and I can go out together. I think it would be very different with her (and more challenging in a good way). Her friendliness and ease with people would draw us into a lot more and better encounters, I imagine. And her desire to be with and care for the poor might help us be of better service to the most needy, something I've felt was a shortcoming in my past walks. This may all be an answer to some deep groanings of my heart. At least it feels that way so far.


back to the beginning

It feels like I'm running out of gas with this series of posts (started Sept 29th). Maybe because I'm not really adding much new to my first draft any more, so it feels like I'm just rehashing what I already wrote. And when I reread the original, it even seemed better (more focused at least) then what I've been doing here recently. So I think I'll just re-post a link to download the original short draft: "My power is made perfect in weakness" (it's a RTF file, so any word processor should be able to handle it, 12 pages).

A recent surprise: Heather said she might like to go out on the road with me. That was big because I'd thought my walking days were behind me, but hadn't been able to find anything that might replace the experience (and witness) of it. When she suggested it, I found myself suddenly excited about the idea.

I'm also supposed to go to a Catholic Worker house early next month and lead the Friday night discussion. They wanted to hear some stories from the road. And I thought I could tie in recent thoughts as well, so I suggested the topic, "On Pilgrimage: practicing radical dependence on God." Maybe I'll start gathering some thoughts for that and post them here.

I think I'll get into it by looking back at some of my road journals, maybe starting with the essay I wrote about the fundamentals: "On Pilgrimage." And see how well it fits with recent thoughts...


respecting freedom

We like to imagine that evil is some external enemy that we can attack and destroy, whether it be demonizing a person or a disease or doctrine or social system. But Jesus knew evil was internal, in the intentions of people’s hearts. In the people he did not want to destroy but save.

This makes the problem much more difficult. Evil cannot simply be attacked and destroyed; people must freely choose to turn away from it and turn towards God. We cannot force others to do this. We can restrain actions, or even end lives, but this does not help people give up their own willfulness and depend completely on God’s will in faith. Using force and violence on others does not help them open their hearts.

And we see that Jesus also responded to the evil in others without using force or violence on them. He named the evil and called them to change, but did not try to make them change. He addressed the evil in their hearts without trying to forcibly restrain their actions. An example of this is found in the scene where a woman who had been caught in adultery is brought to Jesus. Evil has been done by the woman (and her partner) and now others are prepared to punish her by stoning, right in front of Jesus. What is his response?

And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” (Jn 8.1-11)
Jesus does not jump up to stop the killing, but calmly writes on the ground. He does not try to forcibly restrain the crowd at all. Instead, he points out their own sin (and the implied need for forgiveness) and so recommends forgiveness. In this case, the killing is avoided. But Jesus did not prevent it from happening; if they had not freely chosen to walk away, the woman could have died. Here Jesus shows that his struggle with evil (in others) is not a struggle to prevent external actions, but an attempt to free people from the evil in their own hearts. And we see that in the end Jesus also points to the evil in the woman’s heart, hoping that the mercy she has experienced will help her change too.

Our response to evil is almost always a resort to force and violence. Even those who avoid physical violence themselves often use legal force (which is backed up by the government’s physical force) or economic force, trying to pressure others into certain behaviors by hurting their business or source of income. This may be effective in controlling actions. But it does not soften hearts. It does not help people see and turn away from their evil willingly.

Jesus’ way of respecting the freedom of even his enemies and those who do evil showed the best way to love people in those circumstances. He did not try to restrain or destroy those who did evil, not even for the sake of protecting their potential victims, but tried to save every person. From the evil in their own hearts.


against evil

Jesus taught his followers to “turn the other cheek” and “do not resist one who is evil.” Yet he did not teach them to ignore evil, and he did not ignore it himself.

Jesus responded to evil first by rejecting it himself, and living in a very different way than those around him. But he also directly addressed the evil he saw in those around him. His challenging words to the religious leaders of his time, “Woe to you, hypocrites!,” are very familiar and he had similar words for many others who rejected God’s way:

“Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. …Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Lk 6.24,26)

Then he began to upbraid the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.” (Mt 11.20-22)
Jesus even told his brothers that it was his habit of speaking out against evil that turned many against him: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” (Jn 7.7)

Jesus resisted the evil that was in people, yet did not resist “one who is evil,” did not try to forcibly stop those who had chosen to act on their evil intentions. He knew all that happened was under God’s control, and he trusted God to restrain the actions of people. And he knew that evil is not an event or action but an intent in the heart of people. When Jesus challenged the evil of people’s hearts, what he wanted was for those hearts to be free of their evil intent and no longer separated from God.

Jesus wasn’t trying to prevent himself from being hurt by the evil of others, or trying to eliminate evil from society by locking up people or killing them. He was trying to free the people he loved from the evil in their own hearts.



Jesus' response, again

Jesus was very aware of our human vulnerability to attack. He experienced it himself and he warned his disciples about it. Jesus sent them out with the words, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…” (Mt 10.16) And later there were even more dire warnings such as, “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name's sake.” (Lk 21.16-17) Yet this vulnerability did not drive Jesus into self-defense or fighting against those who did evil against him.

Instead, he responded to our need for protection just like he did to our need for provision—with faith. Not by building up his own strength or security, but by depending on God for protection. And teaching his disciples to do so as well. After his warnings, Jesus assured them, “But not a hair of your head will perish.” (Lk 21.18)

How could this be? Because all things are in God’s hands, therefore we can trust him to protect (or preserve) us in any situation:

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul… Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Mt 10.28-31)
And Jesus demonstrated this trust in his own life. We see it especially at the moment of his arrest, when he does not resist but says, “Should I not drink the cup that my Father has given me?” Jesus was not driven by fear of injury or loss, did not spend his effort trying to protect himself (or his money paying others to do so). Instead, he embraced his vulnerability as an opportunity for faith, an opportunity to depend more completely on God.

Such faith is much more important than even the protection of our bodies and possessions. When we open ourselves to God in our need and vulnerability God comes to us, with provision and protection but more importantly with his presence. Which is love. This is the answer to the problem of separation from God, and our vulnerability provides the opportunity to address this deeper problem.

To those who depended on God for justice, for protection, instead of fighting for themselves or insisting on their own rights, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mt 5.5) Like children calmly trusting in the care of their father, these meek ones inherit all that is God’s.


our response to vulnerability, again

So far, I’ve focused on our need for provision, for food and shelter and other physical needs. Our other main vulnerability is our need for protection. We can be attacked. Others can use force and violence against us to take away what we have gathered for ourselves. Or use threats to pressure us to work for them. This is another serious human vulnerability, and much of our time and effort is spent dealing with it.

Like with our need for provision, our usual response to our need for protection is to try to reduce our vulnerability. To provide greater security for ourselves. By building walls and fences and installing locks, and by turning to violence ourselves. Usually we do not try to fight our attackers personally, but hire others to do the fighting for us. Soldiers and police officers and jailers. These provide the physical threat against any who would threaten us. And with this physical force backing us up, we can then use various other forms of force (legal demands, economic pressure) to fight against those who attack or injure us.

This effort to secure ourselves takes up a great amount of time and resources, however. And there is the nasty side effect of violence provoking more violence, and the use of force inspiring greater force in return. When people are punished or forced to submit, the natural reaction is anger and the desire for retaliation. Hearts are hardened. And in all this, force and violence are glorified, their use is encouraged, and our world becomes more dangerous.

Yet despite this, we continue to see fighting and force as the solution to our vulnerability. Jesus, however, challenged this response, both in his life and teachings. For example:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Mt 5.38-41)
Teachings such as this indicate that Jesus had a very different understanding about our vulnerability to attack, our need for protection. And about how we should respond to those who do evil.