My friend Alex finally has it taped. Full, as usual of his exuberant excitement, he announced, "These people don't receive bacause they don't give. There's this church in San Franscisco that has people following the 2,4,7,10 routine. Church twice a week, ( forget), (forget), and give10%! They get £144. (I'm pretty sure he forgot this is £144 every two weeks. Surely?) That's enough to live on, they just waste it ... " Mike stopped him, and brought the reflection time back on track. I had just spent a harrowing thirty minutes with a homeless alcoholic who'd arrived at this place after being forced to watch her son be tortured and raped. Sometimes, this work is just too hard. I had no words for her, I just held her, and let her sob. I wasn't paying much attention to Alex.
That was yesterday. Today I am warm and comfortable, and having done all I can to let Michelle's nughtmare pass, I am returning to Alex's formula for getting street people into church.
I see several rather obvious flaws in his argument. If it had been a matter of arithmetic, wouldn't Jesus have thought about it first?
"You are Peter, and upon this abacus I will build my church!" No. The whole point of the gospel is to wake people up to the wholeness and fullness of life that is the discovery of the Kingdom of God (heightened awareness, full consciousness) that is within us all. You don't get there by acquiring a set of religious brownie points. You open yourself up to your suffering and to the suffering of others and let it teach you what is true. This is the foolishness of the cross. This is the heart of Christian teaching.
I do try playing the numbers game, and I always lose. Pray every day, go to confession once a month, and, and - all the other musts and shoulds that afflict religious people. Such nonsense just brings failure with attendant guilt and feelings of unworthiness and hopelessnes. Which might be preferable, come to think of it, to the pride and superiority that would ensue from succeeding ... Jesus was tender towards we failures, but awful towards the proud. I have to think of some way of letting Alex know I think he's talking out of his arse. I will, perhaps, tell him a story:
"About a year ago I met a funny looking young man who bore an uncanny likeness to Matt Smith. 'He's gone to park the Tardis' I remember saying when someone commented on his disappearance one day. He was burning with this vision for street people. He carried a notebook with him everywhere, he was determined to discover what our people needed. He wrote down what they said. He was listening.
Then he discovered a church in San Fransico who found a magic formula. He wrote it in his notebook, and now he he is telling people what they need. He has stopped listening."