Sunday, July 27, 2014

Go to the Bikers, You Sluggard

Awhile back, on the way home from work, I heard a story on NPR about Bikers Against Child Abuse.

An adolescent girl who must testify against her stepfather can stand on the courthouse steps and listen to the gathering thunder until a dozen Harleys swarm into view and search for parallel parking. Men and women dismount wearing combat boots, blue jeans, black leather vests, silver chains, braided beards, and sun-bleached ponytails. They are thick in chest and thigh, with gray-green tattoos creeping from their shirtsleeves. They rally around the girl and escort her into the courthouse. They answer her phone calls and come when she feels threatened. They have all passed criminal background checks.

As I waited to merge onto the I-184 interchange, why did I suddenly feel like a disciple on the road to Emmaus? Why did my heart burn within me? What was I longing for?

The members of Bikers Against Child Abuse operate on a simple principle: predators prey upon the weak, and bikers bring strength. When a victim is in need, the only thing members have to do is show up. And yet, they're more fat than muscle, and they come without guns or knives. Their strength is only in numbers and reputation. They shower in the morning and put on their strength in so many layers: hair, clothes, chains, bike, noise.

I knew why I burned inside:  I was jealous of the palpability of their strength. And I was jealous of how easily that strength was directed to those who needed it.

Someday, when the fatherless are in need, we won't need to call a session of elders, or start a fund, or write a book. We, the members of the Church, will just show up. Someday the hum of our Hondas and Subarus will portend the overthrowing love of Christ. Someday the slap of our sneakers and loafers and flip-flops will cause predators to back into corners and cross themselves. Someday the faith in our eyes will seize whole cities with holy fear as at the demise of Ananias and Sapphira.

But for now, I suppose motorcycles are easier.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

We Are Frauds, Part 2

There he is, sitting on the sidewalk, legs outstretched, back against the wall. And I can see, even from my car as I approach the garage, that there is no coffee in the man's hand.

And this time, I feel joy.

I enter the mini-mart, get my coffee as before, then head straight for the breakfast kiosk where paper-wrapped egg and cheese "croissants" melt under heat-lamps. I take two, and as I cross to the checkout line I don't make the same mistake I did two days prior. This time I don't wait for the Holy Spirit to descend. This time I trust he is already with me.

I pay, exit through the glass doors, and turn the corner.

The man is African-American, with a white beard in sharp contrast. He wears a ball cap with a sticker across the crown that reads "Bad Religion." Hanging from one of the pockets of his long coat is a red and white pack of Marlboros, crinkled and half empty. He's not smoking, and he doesn't smell of smoke, so I assume he's either rationing his cigarettes or saving them as currency.

"Hey," I say. "You had breakfast yet?"

He looks up and says, "I usually just drink coffee."

Of course.

I go back inside,  buy a second cup, then return and sit on the sidewalk in solidarity. He pockets the sandwich I offer, saving it for later. He sips his coffee with gratitude as I eat the other sandwich. And I learn his name, and that he's from southern California, and that he's been in Boise for about 30 days, and that there's nothing for him here so he'll be returning to California soon. We chat about the difficulties of finding work. About the fact that the street we're on feeds directly from the interstate only a few blocks away. About old TV shows from the early '80s.

And then, realizing I'm a couple minutes late for work, I stand and tell him the honest truth:

"Nice meeting you, man."

We'll share breakfast again the next day. And after that, I'll never see him again.

And what was accomplished? From a pragmatic viewpoint, nothing. From an evangelistic viewpoint, nothing.

From Jesus' viewpoint?

In the Gospels, the poor, the downcast, and those otherwise in bondage always recognized Jesus as full of the Holy Spirit, if not as the Son of God, and they ran to him, or called out his name until he came. It was the same with the Apostles, who had so much power flowing out of them that even their shadows and kerchiefs could heal. If the old man on the sidewalk, with his "Bad Religion" hat and his rationed pack of Marlboros, saw Jesus on the street -- recognized him as the Messiah as did the destitute in the Gospels -- I think it likely the old man would run to him and sit at his feet. If the old man recognized an apostle of Christ filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, I think he would cry out and be saved.

Perhaps my problem -- our problem -- is that despite our outward appearances, despite our offerings of breakfast and conversation and cash, those in bondage don't recognize us as having Christ in us.

They know, deep down, that we are frauds.