Friday, April 30, 2010

Carl, David and The Bible Study

‘Thom,’ he asked boldly, ‘are you staying here tonight?’ ‘Yes, I’ll be here through the night,’ I responded. ‘Can we have Bible study before we go to sleep,’ he asked. ‘Of course we can, Carl. Do you think anyone else would like to join us,’ I continued. ‘Probably not, but I’ll ask,’ Carl said as he headed down to the bunk area.
I found a modest Bible in one of the cabinets and began to consider a passage or two that might be relevant to a young man who’d been sleeping on the streets, taking meals in churches and spending these very cold winter days in the public library reading magazines. After much fidgeting, fumbling and second-guessing I chose an uplifting passage from the 4th chapter of Philippians: no berating, no scolding no ‘least of these’ references – just Paul in one of his rare happy moments advising us to focus on the good stuff.
Thirty minutes later, showered, fed and dressed for bed Carl joined brother David and me in a warm room on the main floor of one of our church buildings. He was ready for Bible study with his red Good Book clutched firmly in his large hands. Before we opened the scriptures we talked. Within three minutes I learned that Carl had been in prison, has and continues to struggle with cocaine addiction, been diagnosed with schizophrenia, takes heavy medication, is trying to get back into college and was saved during an altar call in a local church several years ago. It was 20 degrees that night and he and some other gentlemen had come to spend the night at our church.
Well, holy smokes, I thought to myself. How does one begin to respond to a complete and needy stranger carrying this kind of baggage? I thanked Carl for his honesty and suggested that we pray together before we continued. I prayed and then asked Carl if he wished to do so as well, which he did. I began asking simple questions about Carl’s childhood and family life and he responded with consistent frankness. I became more curious about each of the struggles he was facing and our conversation deepened with David joining in from time-to-time with kind-hearted comments and questions. ‘What do you need at the moment in order to make some progress in some of these areas,’ I finally asked. ‘A job and some people to trust me,’ he responded. ‘My own family doesn’t even trust me. My father will not let me back in the house; he won’t even talk to me,’ Carl continued. ‘So, something went wrong between you and your dad,’ I asked. ‘Yes, it’s the cocaine thing. He can’t handle that.’
I looked down at the Bible I was still holding in my hand. I quickly scanned the passage I had planned to share and discuss about ‘whatsoever things are good and pure and worthy and of good report…think on these things’ and it seemed terribly hollow for the moment. But then I thought – far be it from me to declare any portion of the scripture hollow for any moment – and I went ahead and read it out loud for Carl and David – and me. I went on to say why I liked the words so much and found in them a source of encouragement, comfort and wisdom. To my relief Carl agreed. But I couldn’t help but wonder ‘whatsoever things’ Carl could think about in his condition that were good and pure and worthy. But when I stared back at him I could see there was such decency and dignity inside him that had become stranded or betrayed. How dare I determine the goodness that does or does not exist within the soul of another?
Carl wished to read a passage, too and he did. It was an odd passage from a Psalm that held great meaning for him. He talked about it a while and then he said he was tired and was heading down to go to sleep. We said another prayer and David and I bid him goodnight. David and I looked at each other, shook our heads in some kind of awe and wonder and sat in silence for a good, long time. I believe we had just entertained an angel unawares.


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