The silver haired minister that I was to interview for a thesis at seminary, sat behind a massive walnut desk in a wood paneled office. He was a big man with large hands, and thick heavy jowls. His eyes were kind, but frank, and rimmed with wire glasses. A watch bob in his vest pocket, accented his three-piece pinstriped suit.
I shook his hand, and then sat across the desk from him in a comfortable wing backed chair.
“Pastor Barnes, When did you first realize that God really exists?”
Clearing his throat, he rocked back and forth in his high backed leather desk chair. “Oh, it wasn't until I was in my thirties when I was so low, the only way to look was up. One day, squinting at the bright light above my head, a shadow appeared over me. It was a little woman, wearing a gray habit, with the face of an angel. I told her I wasn't Catholic, but she smiled and said she didn't mind.”
“What did she do or say, that gave you such an epiphany?”
“Nothing really,” he said, in a low southern drawl. “She just gave my hand a squeeze, handed me a sack lunch, and walked away. She found me in one of those disease ridden homeless shelters, passed out on a cot. It was amazing really. I went out of there in sort of a cloud. I felt a strange presence with me. I called my Dad, God rest his soul, and told him I'd seen the light, and then asked him if I could come home for a while. He said, ‘you mean like the prodigal son?’ Well I am not killing the fatted calf. You are thirty years old now; so get yourself out of what ever you are in. I won't have you adding any more grief to your Mother. Then he hung up. That was the best thing that ever happened to me. I have told it over and over to young folks who think the way to solve everything is to run home for a band-aide. They don’t take the initiative to fix the problem themselves. They wear their poor Moms out. Most Moms can't turn their kid away… That's why there are Dads I guess,” he said quietly, looking out the window.
“Why was that the best thing that ever happened to you?”
“Because I had to fend for myself, get a job, straighten up, starve, or die as an old drunk. That's where my sorry behind was headed. I had been in jail, bedded down women. Man, I was a regular gigolo. I hurt an awful lot of people and I just about sent my Mom to an early grave with worry.”
“The nun gave you a little hand squeeze and some food, so you turned over a new leaf?”
“No, the Holy Ghost used her to do it. I was changed. I felt different about things. I saw my selfishness. It's one thing to call your Mom for money, tell her you love her, and then cause her pain over the path you chose to take. It's quite another when you say, Mom, thank you; I love you, without an agenda. I hadn't said that in years to her, unless I needed her to bail me out of a mess. She didn't tell Dad most of the time, but I think he knew. If I had tried to come home for anything, he would have knocked me out. He would have been justified too, I might add; so I stayed away and contacted my poor old Mom by phone, and that was usually collect. When Dad would get the bill, she would cover for me. I didn't even think about what I was putting her through at the time. It was as if I was blind to everyone's feelings but mine.”
“It sounds like you had good parents. What sent you down the wrong path?”
“I wasn't athletic and the girls didn't like my acne, so I took up with whoever would accept me. I got in with a bunch of bad boys at school. They were rebel rousers. We drank hard, drove too fast, and skipped school--the whole thing. I'd go home with a swagger and a curl in my lip, and Dad would slap me upside the head and tell me to clean out the barn. Mom used to get out and ride horses with me, and we'd laugh and play in the creek. You know, fun stuff. Then suddenly, she just went silent and hardly ever smiled. One day, I walked in and looked down the hall toward my dirty bedroom. The door was open and I could see her in there, down on her knees, crying and praying for my soul. I left and didn't come back. I can still hear that old wooden screen door, as it slapped shut. It was like a slap in my pimpled face. Still is.”
“You were just a kid, where did you go?”
“To the streets and into hell, until that little saint in the gray habit looked into my face. It took me a year to sit down and face my folks again. Then it was another year before they believed me. I really had to prove myself. I was in seminary, where you are right now, determined to present them with decent grades. When I did, they started to turn around. Now I pastor this church and youth center. We go to the kids instead of sitting back, hoping they will come to us. Our ministry is to talk straight to them, and to testify about our own experiences. I asked the board to bring me associates who are converted. I want men and women who don’t guess at how life is, but are those who have been there before. If they were born and raised in a little Christian “Country Club,” then how could they minister to the people, or make a difference in a person’s life.”
“Thank you Pastor, I see your point. It was great to meet you.” I arose and reached across the desk to shake his hand. “I need to get to class. I hope we can talk again.” I started for the door, and then looked back. He was rocking in his big chair and then he said, “anytime Son.”
I walked away in awe, and with a strange feeling of urgency to get to my computer. I wanted to tell everyone I saw to try practicing some benevolence. If I hadn’t contained myself, I would have run to the office to sign up for a missionary tour to just about anywhere. My emotions told me to shout it to the world, but my common sense told me to pray first, and then write. I was confident that God would take it from there, and God willing, He would use me to do it.