He pushed open the door and entered the Tower Room just as the deacon gave us our marching orders, ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lordt.” He was tall, black and very handsome. Neat is the word that summed him up. From the top of his head adorned with a braided Mohawk to the well maintained shoes, he was impeccable. Where had I seen this look before?
I stood in the narrow space between the tower and the sound walls when one of my colleagues brought him to me. “I need the bread and wine,” was all he said. Anyone who knows me knows I fiercely protect the integrity of the liturgy from any hint of trivialization, but my “I can’t be bothered but am still entitled” detector was silent. Come, I said and located the blessed bread and wine and finding a quiet eddy in the swirl of the faithful tending the Holy Place, gave him communion. “Now,” I said, “tell me about you?” He dropped his head and then said, “I’m trying to be a better man.” What’s not to love when a man speaks the truth?
Then I realized I knew what I knew or at least I thought I knew what I knew, so I asked, “Tell me about the last couple of years. He dropped his head again and finally came through with, “I’ve been in jail.” “A lot of folks have been in jail” I said as I wrote my cell phone number on the back of my card and handed it to him. It was important that I gave my number after I knew he had a record. He was dressed in a Blue cotton poplin shirt washed, starched and pressed almost into cardboard. Only the elite (Gang) folks dress like this in prison. We agreed to talk that afternoon. He left.
I never saw him again. We spoke several times and he told me that the Devil was close at hand when he tried to do right. I know that is true. Repeatedly I tried to get him to meet me. I text-ed him one Saturday recently and said, “You may wonder what an old white man has in common with you. All that we have in common that matters is Jesus. I will do everything given me to do on your behalf if you will let me. Hope to see you tomorrow morning.” I didn’t see him of course and then a couple of days passed and his phone number died the death of the unpaid. I cannot find him.
My heart hurts. I keep hearing his voice say, “I’m trying to be a better man.” Even though the story is not over and I could have him walk into my life again, I grieve for him and all those like him who want to be better and find the way too difficult. I do loiter around the gates of the kingdom leaning against the light-pole scheming to grab hold of any who come by looking and hoping for a better way they can’t seem to find. I am an equal opportunity schemer praying for the consolation of Israel and Memphis, Tennessee.
What I know of the ordained life of three decades plus two years is: ministry isn’t all that hard to do IF you are willing to have your heart broken over, over, over and over again. That’s all. But then, since Jesus is in the business of healing the broken-hearted what are a few more fractures among friends? J+