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."