What good can come during the lockdown and pandemic? Seeking to find out, Fred follows the sound of a sermon broadcast across the highway to discover a man who is free.
After seeing Father Carrón's presentation on hope at the Meeting in Rimini, I began to think that it would be possible to do something in person with masks and social distancing. Because the Meeting happened, I also realized that Father Carrón would be speaking at Beginning Day, and I wanted to do Beginning Day in person. I emailed our responsible in August, offering our parish as a place to do Beginning Day. The response was “probably not,” because we have a central location where we always do it.
Four days before Beginning Day, I got an email that everything would be different this year with nothing central. I asked my parish priest if we could do it and he said yes. From those near us, only one came to Beginning Day. So it was me, Karen my wife, our adult child Mel, and our friend Brooke. I thought the interview with Mikel Azurmendi was an interesting story, but didn’t know what to think about it.
The next morning, on Sunday, I was walking and praying my rosary. I could hear someone preaching, and was surprised it wasn’t coming from the Baptist church across from my house. As I walked, it became clear to me that the sound was coming from across the highway, from a steeple set into the side of the hill: United Believers Community Church. When I got back, I went on Googlemaps to find the steeple. I also saw that there was a livestream, so I started listening to it. The preacher, who is African American, was preaching in his parking lot to his congregation in their cars. About the first thing I heard was a frustration with the Zoom classroom, "but God will show his glory.” The preacher said we don’t want to give power to the White House. He also said we don’t care who’s in the White House as long as God is on His throne. He urged everyone to vote.
I was surprised by his freedom in front of the Coronavirus and Zoom. Free to condemn it, but also free to work with the school district to enable students to come to the church to use the wifi in order to have school. He was also free in front of the election. Free to emphasize the importance of voting, but without subordinating the Christian people to the government, and trusting in God’s providence. I expected to hear a purely spiritual message or perhaps the Gospel of Wealth, but instead I heard a free man, and a Christian.
Once I recognized this, I realized that I had to tell him. I typed up a message and sent it to the church's email, with a comment that “I would be interested in meeting you sometime.” Pastor Edwards responded a little later, and we set up a meeting during the week.
Later in the afternoon, I watched the Azurmendi interview again. I was struck by how the encounter had happened through the radio and had a thought that the interview was a kind of response to complaints about Zoom School of Community. Over the next day or so, the impact of the interview began to penetrate my mind, and I realized that hearing a voice on the radio is not unlike hearing a sermon over the highway.
On Tuesday afternoon, I met with Pastor Edwards. To begin with, he asked what questions I had for him. I wanted to know why he is a Christian. He said that he was raised with the faith, but was wounded by the division he saw growing up in Texas. He admired his football coach and wanted to be like him. His coach said, "If you want to be like me, you have to follow who I follow, Jesus." We spoke about the dividing streets that were built to separate Black and white people. The street in Waxahachie, Texas where he grew up, Division Street in Atchison (recently renamed to Unity Street), Troost in Kansas City, and the highway which I crossed to come to his church.
I told him I was struck by his freedom in politics and in front of the Coronavirus, freedom without disengagement. I paraphrased what Dostoevsky had said: “Can a cultured man, a European of our day, believe, really believe, in the divinity of the Son of God, Jesus Christ?” Pastor Edwards wanted to know why I was Christian. I said that I, too, had been raised in the faith, but I had wanted to learn all I could. I mentioned the feeling of knowing that everything is true but not experiencing it, and how a friend told me that I, like he had at one point, was holding something back, that I would lose nothing and gain everything, and how I had surrendered by singing "Riders in the Sky" around a campfire.
I talked about the Spiritual Exercises as an annual time of decision, and the 2007 Exercises in particular: Christ in His Beauty Draws Me to Him. I learned that the human person is not fulfilled unless he gives himself to the whole, but that it is only human to surrender to a person, Jesus Christ. I talked about Father Giussani being concerned that students did not connect faith to their lives, and the charism of Communion and Liberation.
A friendship has begun. I facilitated a meeting between Pastor Edwards and my parish priest, Father Thomas. I've volunteered to help out with the Harvesters food distribution at United Believers in order to deepen my friendship with my neighbors. Most of all, I have learned that nothing can stop the encounter of Christ in the world, not not the virus, not historical divisions, not even my demoralization. My openness to Beginning Day was the tiniest point that Christ used to show His glory to me, to Pastor Edwards, and to Father Thomas.
Fred, Kansas City, Missouri