Earl has been homeless for a long time. He is often wandering around aimlessly looking through trash and muttering to himself. Our conversations are usually incoherent, following no discernable pattern of thought or logic. The last time I talked with him I walked away wondering how he has been able to stay alive for this long. His addiction is profound, and his mental health is in need of much care and comfort. It always takes me awhile to convince him to take a sandwich.
A few weeks ago, I find Earl on the street. He is wearing LA. Laker basketball pants and slippers. His body is moving in all directions, arms and legs randomly rotating independently from each other. When he sees me, he stops suddenly, and asks about my clerical collar. He is curious about the denomination I am a part of and the requirements for ordination. Earl grew up in the Lutheran church and has fond memories of his youth group, baptism, and confirmation class. He felt like after he was baptized the church was done with him. “It was like their only goal was to get me in and out of the program.” Earl asks about different Bible stories and shares some of his favorites. I ask if there is anything he wants to pray about. He reminds me that Jesus taught us all how to pray and we recite the Lord’s Prayer together. The peace of the Holy Spirit falls upon us and we talk for forty-five minutes. Earl is, for the moment in his right mind.
I spoke with Earl last night. He was in the same spot as last week. I looked up his childhood Lutheran church, and his pastor is still there. Earl tells me about the memorial services the church had for his parents when they passed away. “The pastor and his wife were a team.” We agree that it’s pretty cool that they are still at the church pastoring together. Earl makes some jokes about his new mustache and I buy him a burger. I buy myself two burgers and spill special sauce all over my clergy shirt! The body of Christ is beautiful and awkward. Daily bread, forgiveness, the kingdom of heaven revealed through people. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).”