“How have you been not going to church?” Clint asked, sipping a margarita on the back patio.
Matt leaned against the wall, taking quick, careless puffs on his cigar. The sunlight reflecting off his glasses, the cloud of smoking rising around him, he seemed more like an apparition than my friend. “I’ve hit a plateau. My relationship with Jesus isn’t any different, but it’s not any worse.”
“It’s been what, a year now?”
Matt nodded. “I don’t even think about church on Sunday. This is my community now. You guys right here. And I’m fine with that. Church is wherever I go. Wherever Jesus was standing, church was under his feet. I don’t see what the big deal is about being a Christian who doesn’t attend a church regularly.”
Clint sat back in his chair, setting the drink on the table. I watched the glass sweat beneath the sun as he spoke. “I wake up at five every morning. I spend an hour reading the Bible and praying. I eat breakfast, go to work, exercise, relax, pray, and do it all over again the next day. I don’t have any desire to go back to church right now. I’m sick of the vocabulary and the business.”
Still puffing that cigar, Matt said, “Any church is a business. It has to grow.”
“That’s why I want nothing to do with it.” Clint tugged at the hem of his shorts. They were pink and out of place at a backyard barbecue. His shorts made me want to be at the beach playing volleyball or swimming in the ocean instead of eating burgers.
“I used to go to a church that was not shy about asking for that. For money. For your time.” Eddy was standing in the corner, talking to his wife, one knee up on a chair, sunglasses on, and a beer bottle in his hand. He leaned forward on that knee with his elbows — leaning into her, his wife, like they’d just met and he was hoping to take her home. He turned to us and finished, “Look. I don’t want that. I think I want to go to a church with a lot of homeless people. There are a lot of homeless people in my neighborhood. I want to gather them together and read the Bible to them. Is that church?”
He said, “A homeless guy asked if I had any money the other day. I told him I didn’t, I never carry cash, but I would buy him lunch. I assumed, because it’s lunchtime, you’ve got to be hungry. Homeless people get up early, you know… They don’t have blinds… He hesitated like he had better things to spend my money on. This guy was high. He agreed to lunch, and he knew exactly what he wanted. He got the food. I said, ‘God Bless you, man, let me know if you need anything else.’ And it’s noon. I’ve been yelled at for four hours now by some asshole on the thirtieth floor. And this guy here, this homeless guy, this adult male, is high. He is doing the Harlem Shake, laughing and smiling, getting his lunch paid for. And right then, I hate this guy. He’s high as hell on a Monday afternoon living well, and I hate him. And then he sends back his burrito because it wasn’t made exactly how he wanted it.
So I called my dad that night. My dad’s a pastor. I said, ‘Dad, what am I doing?’ And he proceeds to give me a two hour sermon. He finishes by saying somewhere in Philippians it talks about derelicts in life. They need tough love. They need to get better. You need to enable people. Most importantly, you need to love them. That shit’s involved. It’s pretty easy to buy some dude lunch and hate him afterwards. ‘Here’s five dollars. I’m going to forget about you.’ The tough part is really helping people out with no strings attached. Expecting nothing in return. Not even a thank you. So my dad talked me down. ‘You’re never gonna end poverty, homelessness, or hunger,’ he said. ‘But when you see someone in need on the streets, it’s like being a doctor who is helping a patient that is bleeding. You solve the current problem.”
I wondered later that night if that’s what the church was meant to be all along? Our streets have been hemorrhaging since the fall of man. Perhaps we got so caught up with our rules and tithes and sin when Jesus didn’t come back as soon as we thought he would, that we unknowingly sacrificed an entirely different concept: a group of people gathering together in the name of Christ to stop the bleeding.
Copyright © May 2012 || Max Andrew Dubinsky