Church this morning was a test of my faith. I attend an established, traditional church, a Disciples of Christ congregation. I like to think our theology is liberal, even if our congregation is fairly gray-haired, older, and conservative. This morning, we sat toward the front, in front of the pulpit. A young, Middle Eastern man slipped into the pew directly in front of us. He was cleanshaven but wildly curling black hair poked out from an unusual knitted wool cap that was a cross between a beret and a sac and totally inappropriate on a June day. Thin and a bit rumpled, he carried a backpack that he set on the floor and immediately rummaged in, pulling out what appeared to be a worn Bible. Was it my imagination or was he breathing hard? Was his cotton shirt sweat-soaked as it looked? My nose thought it answered the last question, but maybe he’d ridden a bike to church. When he turned a bit, I saw huge dark eyes, wide open.
I am not happy to confess that my radar went up. Throughout the service, he read his Bible, ignoring what was going on in worship. He didn’t pray; he didn’t take communion. Why was he amongst us?
A bigger question I asked myself was if I’d have had the same reaction were he blonde with pale skin. I think the answer is that I would still be concerned, but perhaps to a lesser degree. My thoughts raged from faith to instinctive caution. As a liberal progressive, I despise racial profiling and like to think I accept people individually based on who they are. But this young man set off something instinctive in me, a fear I could not deny. In our church, all are welcome at the table, and we believe God teaches us to love all his children, no matter skin color, clothing, whatever. And the other hand, as a woman, I’ve been carefully taught to pay attention to my instincts. If I sense something is wrong, I’m urged to take action to protect myself.
Nothing happened in church, of course. The young man may well have been lost, lonely, and afraid. When the hour of greeting arrived, I shook his hand and welcomed him, and he nodded appreciatively, those wild (honest, they were) eyes looking directly at me.
I’m left wondering what God thought of my dilemma, and, more importantly, what I think about it. Conscience or caution? I still don’t know the answer. I do know that for a moment there I was reminded of the first lines of a novel I just finished writing, “Susan Hogan thought she was going to meet her maker that March day. Her first thought was irreverent. ‘Really, God? In a grocery store in Oak Grove? Haven’t you got this wrong somehow?’” My thought was, “Really, God? In church on Sunday morning?” But I also felt strangely safe, as though I knew it would all be all right.. Perhaps our lives are going to be filled with that dichotomy in these fear-ridden, uncertain times. Fear certainly is a catching disease.
The day didn’t get immediately better. Washing dishes and my favorite cup, the one I drink tea from every morning, slipped out of my soapy hands; the handle broke off, so now it’s relegated to being a small vase. It was given to me by a close friend who has since died, so it has sentimental value, making the loss that much worse.
Dinner with friends tonight soothed my troubled soul. One of my wimpy friends and her gentleman friend ate on a patio, because it’s in the 80s with a nice breeze. Not sure I would have prevailed, but apparently, he gets cold easily too. Eggplant parmigiana that was delicious. And I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere. Thanks to Kathie and Morris for a lovely evening.
I gave myself a holiday from writing today. Piddled at my desk with this, that and the other, even made notes for the novel, but didn’t actively work on it. Pleasant, but I didn’t get as much reading done as I expected. Tomorrow, back to work. And another week begins.