Got a phone call from M late last week. I’d had a visit from J who is M’s BFF. J was looking for some food. It wasn’t an odd request because we keep a pantry here where I live out a chunk of my life and the pantry exists so that we can store non-perishables and share non-perishables. The problem was that we’ve put a little plan in place so that we don’t clear out the shelves the first day after we have “Can Sunday” here in our community. The plan goes like this: people who are part of our community are able to come and access the pantry at any time (without maxing out on what they take). People who live in our area but don’t share in the life of our community are welcome to come and take any time after the 15th of the month. That plan is in place so that we have some stuff left on the shelves as the month gets longer than the government cheque some of us live on can last.
M & J have come by and taken a little something from the pantry every once in a while over the last few years. This time it was before the 15th and I simply told J that he’d have to come back in a few days and we could help out.
Later that day M calls my house and leaves a message. “You are a bad Christian. You don’t follow Jesus. You shouldn’t have told J he couldn’t get food.” And so on and so on and so on. Pretty much could’ve just cut to the chase with “Dude, you suck!”
Three days ago she called back. New message. “I just want you to know that I forgive you for being such a bad pastor and a bad christian and for being so mean. I know you think you’re better than me because you’re a pastor and I shouldn’t have expected you to call me back.” And so on and so on and so on. Sigh.
So two days ago I called her back. And God forgive me I tried to have a rational conversation with an irrational person. I know better.
It was a tense conversation. I was bad, she was good. “Jesus said to feed my poor.” she admonished me. “No he didn’t.” I replied. “He did so.” she said. “Where did Jesus say that in the Bible?” I asked. “Well Brian,” she said, “only God knows where everything is in the Bible.” And so on and so on and so on.
Anyone who knows me knows that I rank feeding the poor (or hungry) as one of the most holy, sacred and important things that I can do to be like Jesus. But here I was arguing with M over whether Jesus actually said those words.
“You know,” I said, “you’re being very judgmental.” “No I’m not.” she said. “Yes you are. You judged me as a bad christian, a bad pastor, you didn’t even ask me why I didn’t give J any food. You haven’t even asked if we had any food. As far you know we’re out! That’s what the rest of the world calls judgmental.” “Well, I’m not of the world.” she said. And so on and so on and so on.
Why didn’t I withdraw from the field? I don’t know. Too far down the rabbit hole by that time I think.
Finally I came to my senses. I asked M, “Do you have any food?”
“Why? You don’t care.”
“M, I’m asking because I do care and I don’t want you to go hungry.”
“We’ve got some food but I’ll never ask you for any again.”
Sigh. “O.K. M, good-bye.”
Another difficult part of the conversation was when I mentioned the soup kitchen that offers a warm meal every day and the 2 other churches within a block of us that also give food away. Those were a block too far. I asked about social assistance and she insisted they refused to go on social assistance. “But you’re complaining that I won’t give you food, that’s social assistance!” “No,” she said, “you’re not society, you’re the church.”
The most difficult was when she asked me to forgive her. “For what?” I asked.
“I don’t know, what ever you’re upset about.”
“But you don’t think you’ve done anything you need to be forgiven for!”
“Why are you asking me to forgive you then?”
“Because you think I did something wrong!”
And so on and so on and so on.
So I’m thinking about that conversation and how that all fits in and whether Jesus would’ve rushed over to her house and made some fish and loaves appear or if he’d have said, “Good? Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” Or in this case, “Bad? Why do you call me bad? Even God does not live up to your expectations.”