Car 6

Car 6

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Spiritual Conversations Part 2-The Next Generation

One Sunday afternoon I had a page to pick up someone on the East side and take him to the West side. I pulled up to see a young man in jeans and a leather jacket come to my cab. He had short cropped hair, a scar on his face and one eye.

He got in the cab and we confirmed his address. The usual small talk ensued. He had mentioned he has only been in the area for a year and a half. He was from a town in Texas where I know someone. I mentioned that I knew someone near where he lived and that someone was a pastor of a church there. That got his attention.

"You believe in Jesus?" He asked enthusiastically.

I told him yes as we pulled to a stop at a draw bridge that was starting to rise to let a barge pass. We now had a few minutes.

"Man, it is so great to meet someone who believes in Jesus. Can I tell you my story? You might not believe me."

I smiled and told him to go ahead. He told me how he used to be an aggressive man who rolled with gangs. On good friday, 2012, he had a life changing experience. He used to like to verbally emasculate other men in front of their girlfriends. Sometimes that led to a fist fight and he was happy to engage. One day he ended up on the losing end of a fight and found himself not only on the ground, defeated, but he had a cocked gun to his head. At that moment, a peace came over him. A calm he could not explain and he calmly told the gunman the following:

"No matter what happens next, I forgive you. I made this moment." The gunman asked him if he thought he was Jesus or something. He responded that he was just a guy who should have lived like Jesus more. The gunman walked away. My fare was grateful to be alive.

On Holy Saturday, he went fishing the entire day. He felt calm and peace and could not completely understand why he was still alive. He decided to just accept it and fished. From sunrise to sunset he fished.

Resurrection Sunday he went to a mass for the first time in ages. The lessons he learned as a child in CCD and from his grandfather flowed through his mind and in his heart. He realized that he DID die on Friday. The man of war. The man of violence. The man of hurting others for entertainment. He may not have been shot, but that man died and something else resurrected. He knew that he could not stay where he was anymore. This was the land of the man who died and everyone would only see that man. For his own safety and to begin his new life, he moved to the city of his childhood. A place where he was a boy in church with a grandpa who taught him to fish. He ended with this.

"So I feel like I need to be a minister or something. I'm looking for a place to go to school and learn."

"So you want to be a priest?"

"I like women too much and maybe I'll get married. Being a dad is the only father I want to be. I read a book called Pastrix about this woman with tattoos and a past who went Lutheran. The way she talks about it and how they do communion and the lectionary is real and Lutheran's let her do different things. Maybe they will let me do different things. They sound like a good place."

"What do you want to do different?"

"You are never going to change the streets with a church. All a church can be is an oasis in the streets. Maybe a lighthouse, but it can't change the streets. I think they used to do that, but they forgot how. If I were in a church I wouldn't be in the streets and I would have to make people in church happy and worry about buildings and money and programs that make people happy. They should just go to mass and then go do stuff in the streets together. I can't change that and be where we should be. I just need to go there and let someone else worry about that stuff. Besides, that lady who wrote the book showed me that you can do that stuff anywhere. You got bread, you got wine, you got eucharist. Don't need a building."

As we were pulling up to his apartment in the alley I asked,"So what do you want to do that is different?"

"I just want to be in the streets. I want to know them and show people a better way without death. You have to be clever to be a criminal. You can use that clever to build things instead of destroy things. No one is going to hire from the streets except fast food joints and warehouses and stuff. No one ever does. We can't fix that. But we can have our own work and hire other people. Homeless people. Old people. Maybe we won't use money. Maybe we trade stuff and work. I need to learn that stuff. We can have what we are supposed to have."

"What are we supposed to have?"

"Lions and lambs in the ghetto. Peace. We can live here like we will THERE someday (he pointed up). But we can do that now. Did you know there are people that kinda do that now?"


"Yeah. It's like new monastics or something. There's this guy who wrote a book about it. Shane something. I like that Lutheran lady better. She's more real and is an alcoholic. She knows pain first hand. He knows pain by hanging with people who hurt. But he's real. Man I hope we see each other again."

"Me too."

The Spiritual Conversations Part 1-The Pastor

There are a lot of religious people that ride in your cab. They speak of their faith or beliefs openly. Sometimes they try to invite you to their way of thinking and worshipping. Most of the time, they just express gratitude to their version of the divine for the things in their life or speak of the beauty of their church or faith tradition. I have a regular who goes to her Catholic mass once a week and she loves to speak of mass. By the time she is done, I am half ready to attend CCD and convert. She is one for another day.

Old cities have some unique arrangements in zoning. There was a time when cities were not as regulated as they are today. In the older parts, you will see commercial and residential sharing spaces. One Sunday afternoon I received a page to pick up someone in a residential section of one of the cities older neighborhoods. When I pulled up to the address, it was a church in the middle of a block. It looks like it used to be a house.

I pulled up and an elderly african american came from the building. I instantly knew he was a pastor. It is hard to explain why. There is something about the old school black minister. Maybe it is the well cut suit of a cut that can span decades, the short brimmed hat, the very large black bible, the impossibly perfect posture with chin held high. There is just a vibe. If you have had the exposure to old school charismatics and baptist like I have, you know it when you see it.

He got in the back and he said,"Good afternoon young man,"

"How are you, Pastor?" I risked.

He chucked and said, "I'm retired, but I did preach the word today. How did you know?"

"Lucky guess. So I have never seen a church quite like this. Was it a church plant?"

If he could light up anymore, he lit up more. "Boy. That met in the garage years before anyone used the words church plant or house church. We grew. But we stayed there. Just took over the house. Used to be my house. Someone else runs it now. He's a fine young man. Holy Spirit knows what he's doing. But I preach the word sometimes. He has to deal with all the headaches."He chuckled some more.

"I've heard of the denomination on the sign, but I'll be honest, pastor, I don't know much about it. What's the elevator pitch?"

He told me in a few sentences their basic tenant of faith and the hook that they focus on. I reflected it back to him in different words to make sure I understood what he was saying.

"Seems I ain't the only preacher in this cab, boy. You a pastor."

"How did you know?" I asked.

"I could lie like you did and say lucky guess, but I know."

I gave him the readers digest version of my life. He was silent for a moment and made his thoughts known.

"So you're a quitter." He said firmly.

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me, boy. You walked away."

Now my ire was up.

"No. Just because I am not doing parish ministry anymore does not mean I walked away. There are missionaries, teachers, chaplains and strange mixed up cab drivers that run a youth outreach. Yeah, I don't like parish ministry anymore but that doesn't mean I am not useful."

"I called you a pastor. Not a minister, not a missionary, not a reverend, not a chaplain. I called you what you are. So what's your problem, boy? What's your problem with the church? Why ain't you preaching anymore?"

"Because I see the night. I see the vacuum without us. We are so busy inviting folks to our temples and competing for market share while fighting a culture war we created and we are not doing jack to go among them. Jesus did not go out among people and help them find a synagogue home. He invited them to life together in the trenches. You would think that 500 years after the reformation, we would have a church that does that. No, the legacy of sola scriptura is forty thousand denominations with no end of the division in sight. I don't wanna play anymore. I don't want to pretend that is what Jesus had in mind and that I am right and they are wrong."

"Maybe if you were part of a Bible believing denomination you would think differently."

"Pastor, don't give me that line. I don't know any denomination that says they don't believe the Bible. They see it differently than the other denomination does, but I have yet to see a tag line that says NOT a Bible believing church. Have you?"

"No, but it is obvious that some don't."

"Obvious to whom? You? Some bishop somewhere? Who decides who has the Bible right and who has it wrong? Can you tell me, after a lifetime of service, that you have it all figured out and can you tell me with 100 percent honesty that your group has the market cornered on perfect understanding on the Bible?"


"Bull. What about unicorns?"


"Unicorns. They are in the King James Bible, but in some translations they are oxen and others they are beasts. We don't have unicorns anymore and we did not have them prior to the King James."

"We know more about the Bible now than we did."

"Will we learn more, Pastor?"

"Well....I suppose we will."

"Okay, pastor. Do you believe the apostles creed?"

"Of course I do?"

"So if we are one holy catholic church, how can you call some churches not bible believing? Doesn't that fly into the face of what Paul said in Corinthians about the body? Isn't that the hand saying to the foot I don't need you?"

"Keep going, boy."

"Okay, let's take the gay issue.." he stopped me.

"Let's not, use a different example." He was firm.

"Okay. Slavery. During abolition we had some churches that fought for freedom and others that defended the ownership of other human beings.  Both used the same Bible. Now, if we are one holy catholic church and one body, what would you see if you were a slave and the church were a person?"

"I would see a man with a whip in one hand and a map to the underground rail road in the other."

"Would you trust that man?"

There was silence.

"Im sorry, pastor."

We pulled up to his apartment building in silence. He paid me with a very generous tip. He got out of the cab and walked to my window. I rolled it down. He said his peace. It went something like this.

"I used to think like you. During the King years me and a white priest tried to be one. No one else wanted it. I had to make a choice. Tow the line or quit. I towed the line. I spent decades hoping to see one and all we have is more division. More fighting. More hate. I used to have black muslim friends. I was told I had to stop it. So I did. What you say is dangerous. What you speak is prophesy. Prophets hear the Spirit and they die for it. Don't be an old man who kept his mouth shut. If you live to be an old man, you won't see any change either, but at least you spoke up. But I'm going to tell you this. I know a pastor when I see one. God bless you, pastor."

Friday, February 21, 2014

Asleep On The Train

Union station is the last stop at the end of the night. It is not unheard of for a weary commuter to fall asleep on the train and miss their stop. When that happens, metra employees wake the person and help them find a cab so they can go home to whatever town they were supposed to stop in.

One night I was hailed as I was driving by the train station and asked to take a young man home who lived about 20 miles away. I was happy to, of course.

He was VERY grateful for the ride. As we left he told me he fell asleep because he was out with friends and had too much to drink. He was a college freshman. I suspect he was not old enough to drink legally.

We got to talking about school and how he liked college. He was studying communications with a minor in marketing. I asked him what he wanted to do professionally with such a degree as that. He said he wanted to be a sportscaster.

It turns out he has a passion for sports and is a walking almanac of knowledge for all things sports. I asked him if he played any sports in high school or college. There was a sad look on his face as he said no. Due to a medical condition that he has had since he was a child he has to wear a spinal brace.

He compared sportscasters to poets like Emily DIckenson. Though she had never been to some of the places she wrote about, she made them come alive and you could close your eyes and be in those places.

"A good sportscaster can make you feel like you are there on the field. You can feel the cold wind on your face on the gridiron. You can see the wide receiver's eyes widen as he is about to catch the ball and you know it is your moment to get your hands up and block the reception of the pass forcing a punt in the next play. You can feel the tension of the mental chess game between pitcher and batter in the seventh inning as the pitcher with a raw and tired shoulder in agony is trying to stay in and is only seven or eight batters away from his first perfect game."

He went on and on about his favorite games that he could state play by play because he was THERE. He may have only seen it on television or heard it on the radio, but he was there. Every play, every moment. Present in his imagination. The gift he wants to give to other sports fans in to transplant them onto fields and courts and stadiums. He wants to inspire and invite imagination and bring to life that which only well chosen words can do.

We pulled up to his house to see two parents in bathrobes and crossed arms standing at the doorway.

He looked at me and said,"Any advice?"

"Keep your head low, don't talk back, let them be angry and concerned and go to bed when they are done."

"Then what?"

"They will eventually stop being mad and you can graduate, get a job in sports broadcasting and this will be forgotten and they will be proud of you."

"How do you know that?"

"Tonight, you took me to several exciting places in moments that I will never forget. In the wake of that, moments like this are easily forgotten in time."

"Can you promise that?"

"No. Good luck."

"Thanks for listening to my dreams."

Friday, February 14, 2014

Needless Death

For those that do not know. I write a column once a month for a local paper called the Lockport Legend. The following is what I wrote in this week's paper.

Over the last 4 months I have spent more time among the poor in our area than I have in the entirety of my 12 years as a minister. I've not been running a food bank or a mission or any other such thing. I have been driving a cab. Some of these people are passengers and others are people you just meet along the road.

Along Chicago Street in Joliet was a homeless woman. Her name was Willie Mae. She loved to sing and would often try to get some cash and a few cigarettes from people near the train station and then go to her favorite chicken place. Willie Mae and I got to be friends in the night. During some of my slow periods we would talk. The conversations were often scattered, but she had a laugh that was infectious and a smile that knew no lies. When she smiled, her whole face beamed. I got to see that smile often. She appreciated that I took the time to talk with her if I had a few minutes.

On Sunday, January 20th, I got to see that smile for the last time. She walked up to my cab and asked me if I had a cigarette I could give her. I had an almost full pack someone left in the cab earlier. I gave her the pack. She smiled broadly and wandered off into the cold night singing. Two nights later, due to the extreme arctic chill we had, my friend Willie Mae died of exposure.

She died near government centers, churches, homeless shelters and others places. She did not have to die. But she did. We all knew she was there, some of us even loved her, but not enough to care for her save a few smokes and loose change. There are arguments about whether or not Jesus approves of food stamps, poker machines or gay people. We are building nice church buildings with really cool sound systems and state of the art video equipment and ergonomically designed chairs. While we pontificate and build and market, a song in the night has ended. I miss her and it hurts.

I once heard a minister say that if someone dies of exposure or starvation in your town in the wealthiest nation in the world, then the church is guilty of murder. I am not sure if I agree, but I know something is wrong and really broken. I see the homeless, kids who do not get three meals a day ,single moms barely hanging on and worse. Much worse.

God said some pretty harsh things in Isaiah. I will share them in a moment. I wanted you to know about a woman with a lovely smile and it is my hope that the residents, government and churches of Lockport look after its most vulnerable residents in the night. Now for the passage from Isaiah where God says what matters and what doesn't.

Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
 the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
 As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath 
and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
 I want no more of your pious meetings. I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
 They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them! When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
 Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.
 Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good.
 Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows....Once so faithful,
you have become a prostitute. Once the home of justice and righteousness,
 you are now filled with murderers.
 Once like pure silver, you have become like worthless slag.
 Once so pure, you are now like watered-down wine. Your leaders are rebels, the companions of thieves. 
All of them love bribes and demand payoffs, but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans or fight for the rights of widows.”

God forgive us.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Cowboy

Many senior citizens are not able to drive anymore, but they still have things to do and places to go. Often, they use a cab to get to those places. They tend to know paths that the GPS would never imagine as possible, but their shortcuts do seem to lower the fare amount and you learn a shortcut or two.

One day I picked up a elderly gentleman from a small general goods store to take him home. He was old, but he looked younger than he really was. You could tell he was once lean and muscular and his wraparound sunglasses in the early evening showed that his eyes were very sensitive.

Lately the first thing people speak of is the harsh winter. He was no different.

"Ya know. You can complain about the weather, or can just accept it and worry about more important things," He said all this as he methodically bucked his seat belt.

"What would be a more important thing?"

"Can you get me home before the hour? I don't want to miss Gunsmoke. After Gunsmoke I have to watch Bonanza."

This led to a fascinating conversation. It turns out he is in his 90's and was a WWII veteran. In WWII he experienced extreme weather conditions that make our winter feel tame. As a man who has lived in the Chicago area all his life, he has experienced many record breaking summers and winters. He has outlived a wife, children and many friends. He does not make many friends anymore. He is tired of losing them while he lives on.

He pays good money for the cable package he has to watch one channel. He does not watch the news, sports, or movie channels. He watches one channel. The Western Channel. As a younger man he said he was always busy working and spending time with kids and grandkids that he never had time for his favorite westerns. "Now, all I have is time. Not sure how much, so I will watch all that I can while I can. For others, these are reruns, for me, it is the first run. Some of the movies they play are movies I saw in theaters. It was so long ago, that I don't remember them so it's like watching them for the first time."

We talked about our favorite westerns and actors. He was pleased to know I knew so many of his favorites. He turned the conversation and asked me what my favorite western is. I told him, The Shootist.

"You ain't no action junkie, boy. You are a connoisseur. The Duke, little Ronnie Howard, Becall, Stewart. That movie was an end of an era and a goodbye. It was a good death of a lot of things. I hope I have a good death. I led a good life."

I did not know how to respond to that. We were silent until we got to his driveway. A driveway that was well shoveled with his two arms. he made sure I knew that.

"Boy," he said as he paid,"You want to come in and watch Gunsmoke with me? Oh who am I kidding, you have a job to do. When are you off?"

I told him.

"Well, you come on over and I'll make hogies and you can bring a DVD. I got one of them players."

I asked him if he knew there was a new version of True Grit made.

"Now why did they go and do that? You bring that True Grit with ya. I can't waste no more time. Gunsmoke is about to start."