The other day I walked over to the supermarket to return a Redbox movie. Down the street I saw my friend Jimmy approaching, whom I had not seen for several months — not since we told him he shouldn’t come back to church.
That was a very disappointing affair. Jimmy’s a mess: an emaciated, scrawny white guy, desiccated by a lifetime of alcohol and drug abuse. He’s probably about my age, but he looks decades older. Through all of his travails, though, he has been a faithful Christian guy, and he attended our church fairly regularly. Though a wreck, his simple faith in the possibility of redemption and forgiveness gave him hope, dignity, and a shred of self-respect.
But then last year the Worldwide Church of God got their hooks into him. That’s Herbert Armstrong’s gig. Armstrong had his own take on the Bible, some of it harmless, but the dangerous part, in my view, was his teaching that he personally was right about everything — and if you disagreed with him, you were just wrong.
Well, poor Jimmy went all in. Suddenly in Jimmy’s view we were all in peril of our mortal souls because we decorated Christmas trees, did not celebrate the Sabbath properly, observed Easter on the wrong day, and so on. We told Jimmy it was fine with us that he had adopted new beliefs; that we all considered him a friend and a part of our Church family — as long as he could leave his bone-picking outside. This proved to be impossible for Jimmy, and when he proselytized a mentally disabled member of our congregation, we told him he should find a Church of God fellowship to attend. He told us he already had, but that they had told him to go away too. This made us all very sad.
Now here was Jimmy headed my way, sallow and scrawny.
“Jimmy! Good to see you! How’ve you been?”
He leaned in close: yellow eyes wide and glassy, pupils tiny, mouth toothless.
“Herbert Armstrong is the truth Glen! He has the words of life!”
“Oh Jim, we’ve been over this. I’m sticking with Jesus, okay?”
“But it’s all about Jesus! Mr Armstrong — ”
“Jim, I really don’t want to go here again. Can you tell me about –”
“But there’s nothing more important! It’s all false, all false religion you follow! You’ll see!”
“Jim, I’m sorry, I can’t do this.” I turned to go.
Jimmy used to wander the streets of our neighborhood bellowing “JEE-zus LOVE!” Now he shouted after me, “You’ll see! You’re religion is all false!”
I was sad. I dropped off the movie and went home by a different way.
Near home, as I passed the halfway house for mentally ill adults, a thin, shaky male voice called out behind me. “Hey! Hey! It’s me! Hey you! Wait up.”
For a moment I considered quickening my pace, but I turned. Here was another little scrawny white guy, also about my age and looking older. “Hey there!” I replied. He came right up and took my hands in his.
“It’s so good to see you!” he said. “I have such wonderful news! I’m getting my own place, my sister’s coming, this week, Seattle…”
“Your own place, that’s great. You’re moving to Seattle?”
“No, no, my sister’s coming from Seattle to help me move. I got a place here in Chicago.”
“Wow, your own place! That’s a rare find, man, you’re really lucky, I’m so happy for you! When is your sister arriving?”
“Thursday; she’s helping me move, she’s staying a few days to visit…”
“Boy, that’s just terrific, I’m so pleased.”
“Yeah, me too. And it’s good to see you again, it’s been a while. I’m glad I caught you before I left.”
“Yeah, me too. Well, God bless you brother, you take care.” I turned to head home, certain that I had never seen this fellow before.
What a contrast! Two encounters with two skinny white guys on one ten minute walk. But wait — I’m a skinny white guy too. Count ’em: three skinny white guys, all in need of friends, patience, kindness, prayer, and grace.