Religion is often messy and disheveled!
by Charlie Leck
In Dogon Na Hauwa, in central Nigeria, on this past Sunday, a slaughter occurred. It was well planned and accomplished by nomadic herdsman of a tribe called Hausa Fulani. In addition to their barrage on this village, they also carried out raids on two others. Apparently coordinated, all the attacks began at about 3 o’clock in the morning. Hausa Fulani tribal members are of the Muslim faith. Don’t jump to conclusions, however, because this gruesome killing of more than 500 people was instigated by previous violations of Muslim villages by tribesman of the Christian faith. Among the killers on both sides there is no respect or mercy shown to women and children. The remaining homes, normally ordinary huts, are burned to the ground.
A childhood friend wrote a week or so ago and wondered about the directions my life had taken. He reads my blog regularly and was curious about why he had not yet found any of my religious thoughts, “…because my last recollection of you in NJ was that you were heading in the same direction as George Fischer [that is, seminary and the ministry].”
In general, I find less curiosity about questions of morality and ethics among people of religion and faith than I do among those I’ve known who have little or no interests in matters of sacred doctrine.
I find that those who come to my blog are well-read people. They don’t need me to recite dozens or hundreds of examples like that described in the first paragraph here. Stories like this are commonplace.
I am rarely at ease around folks who claim to know Jesus, or God, or who claim to be saved in some special way. Don’t you wonder how extraordinarily unusual would be the man/woman who had truly encountered God? Most people, even those who claim to have encountered Him, don’t really believe that this is at all possible. They all make God too rare and too awesome – too remote!
On a Saint Paul street, a few weeks ago, I, hugging the edges of the buildings passing by, turned a street corner too rapidly, late for an appointment, and crashed head-on into a vile smelling, old man of the streets and knocked him head over tea kettle on to his backside. Embarrassed, I bent, as best I can with these old, achy legs, to help him and his several layers of clothing up from the sidewalk. Somehow, together, with other pedestrians moving as far away from us as possible, we built him back up on to his feet.
I apologized profusely and asked him, in a pleading sort of way, if he was okay. He smiled widely enough for me to see that most of his teeth were gone, and those that were not were rotting quickly away. His skin looked tough as raw hide. His lips were cracked and the areas around his penetrating, blue eyes were deeply creased.
“Thank you, kindly,” he said to me with that smile widening even more. “You are forgiven!”
“You’re very gracious,” I said in reply.
“Yes, yes,” he murmured, “grace be unto you.”
I stammered around for another second or two, certain he was going to ask me for some money. My delay was in vain. He had no intention to do so. Embarrassed, I asked him instead to take a few bucks from me.
“Could I give you a ten to buy yourself some lunch?” I was fishing in my pockets and smoothly pulled out my fold of cash.
“That would be very kind of you,” he said very softly. He didn’t look down at the wad of cash that I unfolded. He eyes remained fixed on mine.
“Here you are,” I said, sticking a ten dollar bill into his fist. “I need to hurry on now. You have a nice lunch.” I moved quickly on down the street.
“Kindly, sir,” I could hear him saying behind me. “Kindly, sir!”
Over lunch, I told the story to the friend I had come to St. Paul to meet. His listened sympathetically, but did not seem inspired by what I said.
“These experiences, when they happen to me, always seem to have some spiritual connotation. It’s as if I’ve been confronted by something bigger than just the event itself; and it seems something too big to be bought off with a ten dollar bill.”
“You gonna have the cobb salad again?” My friend was deep into the menu. “I want something more substantial than that.”
Something was nagging at my insides, but, reluctantly, I picked up the menu. I could see immediately that there was nothing substantial to be ordered at the ten dollar level.