November 11, 2015

"The Best Teachers Money Can't Buy"

I've been in school a lot. This is not self-promotion. I'm not trying to say what a great, studious priest I am, as is plainly evident to anyone who reads what I write. I just mean in my thirty-six years on the planet, I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t in school. I hold three advanced degrees and am close to two more. Again, don't be impressed. I spent seven-and-a-half years in undergraduate education. I also like to have a lot of fun. Despite all my schooling, I'm not a scholar.

But no place are the deficiencies in my vast education more evident than at Southside Abbey. Those experiencing homelessness and hunger on the Southside of Chattanooga don't care that I've got letters after my name. Their needs are far more immediate than that.

And so, as it turns out, are mine.

I have written before about how my faith has been changed by the faith of those I serve. I remember vividly the interaction of a man experiencing homelessness for twelve years who handed me a money order for $250 – the exact amount we budgeted for weekly food at the time. I was so worldly I tried to talk him out of it. He said, “Don't take this gift away from me! I want to buy dinner for my friends this week!” Hmm. Clearly I still had a lot to learn about faith.

And it turns out, I still do.

A few weeks ago, we saw one of our regulars at worship on Friday night. He had been away for several weeks and I was starting to worry about him. Also, he lived in an abandoned building that was recently torn down. So, I was more than relieved to see him. As I was talking to him, I noticed he was a little scuffed up and had more than the typical bruises. Like any good seminary-educated-pastor, I asked him, “Where've you been? We've been missing you.”

He told me that he had been in the hospital, because he had been thrown off the bridge where he was staying. He also told me the two guys who did it added insult to injury by stealing all his stuff as he lay there injured. Then he dropped quite a bombshell... The two guys who perpetrated this dastardly act were in worship with us that evening at Southside Abbey. They were within twenty or thirty feet of this conversation as it was happening! I went into papa-bear mode and wanted to know who did this to our friend. He wouldn't tell me no matter how I pressed. Then he laid it all out:

“I can't tell you who they are, because I know you and you'd ask them to leave. I don't want them to leave, because they need Jesus just as much as I do.”

They need Jesus just as much as I do. That's faith. I don't lament my formal education by any stretch of the imagination – clearly I've loved every expensive minute of it. But now, I've got some new teachers, and they're the best teachers money can't buy.

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