Sunday, March 13, 2016

To Church or Not to Church

My sister and I are walking along the Santa Monica boardwalk on a beautiful, sunny morning. We are deep in conversation, but still we notice the few homeless people scattered along the beach.

The next morning, when we wake, my sister suggests we take money to the homeless people.

"What if we take food instead?"

She's puzzled.

"If they're alcoholics or drug abusers, they might use the money for their habit."

"What if I don't care what they use the money for?"

"If they're not taking care of themselves, food would be the best offering."

"Okay."

So we grab three cups of free coffee from the lobby and my sister takes a handful of ten dollar bills. We start searching for homeless people.

But we don't find homeless people who will take money, or who are capable of conversing. It confirms what I have read and heard for years-- that homelessness is in part from mental illness.

We almost give up. We offer coffee to people who are just out on the beach, and two women take it with gratitude. We look deeper.

We find two different men who upon first glance don't look like typical homeless men. But as we talk, we learn of their circumstances and the changes that put them out on the beach. They are reticent at first, but grateful in the end to take a bit of help.

That night, we contemplate the next day. It will be Sunday and my sister asks,

"Should we go to church, or take care of the homeless?"

She tells me of the time she was in Panama visiting a beautiful cathedral. When she sees a homeless beggar outside of the church, she is moved to give him money. A caretaker of the church notices and rushes outside. There is an exchange in Spanish and my sister's tour guide explains what just happened. The caretaker demanded that the beggar move on because my sister would have given the money to the church had he not been there.

We both see the dilemma. What is the greater good? Go to church on Sunday or care for the poor?

We contemplate ideas.

"The Lord asks us to give him just one day," I say.

"Okay, I guess we can go to church then," my sister answers.

At the end of church we quickly learn that serving and attending church are not mutually exclusive. Mom, my sister and I are all drawn to different people.  For mom, it's the missionaries who may have needs; for Loraine it's a handicapped older man wearing a frayed shirt. For me, it is the woman who proudly announces "I take care of all the broken people in my city."

The even greater find is that I too am broken-- attending church and caring for others has the power to heal.