|fall in L.A.|
From the story, by Laylan Connelly, in The Orange County Register.
He had rules when he set out. He'd only accept help from complete strangers, and he never took help from the thousands of followers who would eventually end up tracking his journey on Twitter. The only solicit he had was a cardboard sign that read "food," which he would use if he was really hungry. But he never verbally asked anybody for anything.
In Mississippi – the poorest state in America – he was overwhelmed with kindness.
"I had so much food, I couldn't carry it. I had so much money, I was worried carrying that much money around. They're just nice people," he said.
"It just hit me that I needed to give back."
So he'd give away what he didn't use or need to other people on the streets. He started handing out granola bars tied with rubber bands to a $5 McDonald's gift card and a $5 bill.
Soon, he started hearing from people wanting to send him stuff. He'd tell them to give to homeless in their area instead...
I don't know Nick Kleckner's religious affiliation, if any, but he made me think of a woman, a staunch Catholic, who approached me after one of my talks recently and demanded, "Would you vote for Obama?"
I replied, "Let's not talk politics; it's divisive."
"Would you vote for Obama?" she pressed. "Yes or no?"
I thought, Well let's see, if there were a runoff between Hitler and Goebbels and Hitler were promoting some rudimentary kind of national health care, I suppose, if I had to vote, I could consider voting for Hitler. So I said, "Well, I guess I might."
She jabbed her finger in my face and hissed, "You have had abortions and you would vote for Obama? You call yourself a woman of faith? You call yourself a Catholic..."
Oh folks, I was pissed. I had come halfway across the country; I had given this woman, and everyone else there, everything I had. My voice was shaking. I said, in no particular order, "Please do not jab your finger in my face, please do not tell me how I live out my faith, that is not the way to convert hearts, that is not how Christ converted hearts, and I'm against the violence of war, too, so that doesn't leave me anyone to vote for, does it?"
"The poor you will always have with you," she crowed [in a rather startling scriptural non sequitur]. "If you vote for Obama, you have no right to call yourself a Catholic..."
Somehow this points up what makes me uneasy about a certain sector of the "new evangelization": namely, the effort to evangelize people not to Christ, but to a bipartisan political party. To me, the elephant, or one huge elephant, in the room of U.S. Catholics is that our power-hungry leaders, our greed-based economy, and our entire violence-based culture are so utterly, egregiously devoid of Christ that to even speak of them in the same breath is ludicrous. We torture, we assassinate, we execute, by the most conservative estimates we spend a third of our national budget on defense, which is to say on figuring out how to murder people and destroy property. And we're worried about which party we vote for? We are looking to our executive, legislative, or judicial system in any way to help us live out our lives in Christ?
If people aren't flocking to the doors of the Church, maybe we should consider that to conduct business as usual and tack the word "God" onto it is not terribly inspiring, nor terribly honest, nor remotely true to Jesus--who, as The Misfit in Flannery O'Connor's “A Good Man is Hard to Find” observed, "thrown everything off balance." That would be a good way to start the "new evangelization." I mean let's have THAT conversation.
Christ, too, lived under a corrupt government. He seems to have paid approximately zero attention to it. The point is not to be anti-government, the point is to be for Christ and to realize that those are often, if not always, very different things. "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's," the implication being there's generally not a whole lot of overlap.
Christ didn't call the power-mongers and the pollsters; he called sick people and sinners. The follower of Christ doesn't "win"; the follower of Christ suffers, for love. The mark of a follower of Christ is not that he's willing to kill for "freedom"; it's that he already lives in total freedom because he's given everything away.
Which brings me back to the walker. If anyone is going to be authentically evangelized, it will be by people like this: a stray voice crying in the wilderness; a pilgrim who, like Christ, serves a very different Master than the world.
I second-guessed myself to kingdom come, as I always do with conflict, after my exchange with the Obama woman. I hoped I wasn't harsh. I hoped I wasn't proud. And I kept thinking of a book I read recently by another priest who walked the Camino. He said the difference between a spiritual tourist and a spiritual pilgrim is this: Tourists demand; pilgrims thank.