Two weeks ago I came out of the closet. You can read about that here.
Having worn a clergy collar for a burial, I stopped at Starbucks to do some work before going home. The collar elicited not a few stares and prompted a couple of groups of friends to look for another table other than the one next to the ‘Father’ to have their coffee and chat.
But the collar also provoked several sincere questions about life and faith, an oddball question from an even odder person about the Book of Revelation and one pseudo-confession.
And to top it off, I even made sure I tipped the Barista because grace might be free but you don’t people thinking Christians are cheap.
The few hours I spent there made me think there was something to this visible-faith business and, in a previous post, I committed to wearing the collar in a public space once or twice a week during Lent.
This past Friday I went to Barnes and Noble and set up a workstation in the cafe.
To my left and right and all around me were other folks of all ages doing exactly as I was doing. Reading. Studying.
But right there in the front me, only four feet away, was an oldish Hispanic man sitting at a two top curled up against the green column.
The collection of dirty grocery bags spread out around his feet- not to mention his odor- told me he was homeless.
So, there I am:
The gleam of my MacBook shining beneath the overheads, my iPhone at my left like a prized rifle ready to shoot, snacking on my piping hot sun-dried tomato sandwich…wearing my collar.
All we needed were a couple of dogs and you could’ve called me Lazarus.
The homeless man was asleep. Snoring actually though he was still quieter than the realtor behind me yammering into his phone about ‘points.’
The homeless man hadn’t seen me there. But everyone else had seen me. To be honest, I’ve no idea if anyone in the cafe had put 1 Homeless Man + 1 Priest together to make any assumptions; they might not have even been looking at me.
But it sure felt like every pair of eyes there in the cafe (plus the nimrod hawking the Nooks) were bearing down on me. Everyone else probably only heard the Norah Jones playing- is Norah Jones ever not playing at BN- but all I could hear was every single freaking person thinking out loud:
‘Look, that priest is stuffing his face with a homeless person right in front of him, disgusting.’
‘See that, it’s easy to talk the talk isn’t it? But when it matters those people don’t actually walk the walk.’
‘This is exactly what’s wrong with organized religion.’
And then above the imaginary din rose another voice, Jesus’ voice. In case you’re wondering, I imagine Jesus’ voice to sound a lot like the Dude from The Big Lebowski.
‘Whenever you do it for the least of these, you do it for me.’
‘Okay, alright’ I said, louder than I realized and to no one but the voices in my head.
He was still sleeping.
I got up and bought a bowl of broccoli cheddar and half a roast beef sandwich. He woke up as I slid the tray onto his table.
‘Gracias’ he said.
I sat back down.
‘¿Cómo se llama usted?’ I asked him. (What is your name?)
‘Jesus’ he replied in a hoarse Spanish accent, ‘Jesus.’
‘No… Bleeping… Way…’ I thought to myself.
God has a sense of humor, I guess. I halfway expected to see goats and sheep stroll past the rack of SI Swimsuit Editions.
Here’s my Lenten confession:
If I hadn’t had that collar on, it would’ve been 50/50 whether or not I ignored Jesus at the table in front of me. If I had looked like a regular Joe, I could’ve gotten away with acting like one.
But with that collar strapped uncomfortably around my neck like a plastic yoke I felt an obligation to Jesus- the one sitting in front of me smelling of the street.
If nothing else, I felt obligated to that Jesus because of the expectations I perceived among the crowd in the cafe.
Before you point it out, I will: I’m well aware that the fact that I was responding to their expectations reveals how fleeting is my sense of obligation to that other homeless Jesus.
Maybe that’s why nuns call their old school outfits ‘habits.’
Maybe we need some outward, visible sign of a faith that’s still trying to get all the way inside us. Maybe we need something like a yoke that pulls us to act on our faith- at least until it becomes a habit of love.