So, this past Sunday at Common Table, the liturgical team led a service based around a simple liturgy from Iona. As part of this liturgy, we meditated on scripture and also on our past week, and were encouraged to share a short anecdote from the week, incorporating our response to the scriptures in that. We were particularly encouraged to make our anecdote visual... to try and capture a particular moment visually.
The texts we were meditating on, taken from the Lectionary, were difficult (Exodus 32:1-14 and Matthew 22:1-14). These texts emphasized the wrath of God, and in particular, I found the questions posed by the opening verses of Matthew 22 disturbing.
So I wrote about my cab ride from the night before.
The cab driver's skin is the color of a Hershey's Special Dark bar. His collar is up, against the mild cold of the evening. "You are smart," he says. "You go home early, beat the traffic." I laugh. "You bet, man. I love my sleep." Pause. He looks at me in the rearview mirror. His eyes are the same Hershey Dark, with arched, thick eyebrows, giving a vaguely Sean Connery effect. His face is creased with lines, particularly around the eyes and forehead. Worry lines. This man is a thinker.
I decide to say it. "Plus, I gotta be at church in the morning." Arched eyebrows fly skyward. "Church!!", he says. "What kind church?" Ahh. What kind church. "It's hard to say. Let's just say Protestant. We're a mix of denominations." I hold up my hands, with interlaced fingers. "Somehow we make it work."
He nods. I dive in again. "You're Ethiopian?" Slight crease between the eyebrows. "Yes, I am Ethiopian." "Ethiopian Orthodox, then?" The crease smooths. "Yes... I mean I was. But now I am little bit confused." He switches lanes. He's a competent driver, knows these roads, knows where he's going.
I say, "Well, a new culture, another country... it's easy to be confused."
And the dam bursts.
20 minutes of questions, challenges, one arm waving, one hand on the wheel... eyebrows raising, furrowing, dancing on his forehead. "If God is love, why did He kill His Son??" "If Jesus was God, why was He afraid to die??" "All the churches, they teach different things, who to believe??" "Why so many versions of the Bible??"
We're hurtling down 14th Street: lit shop windows, darkened office buildings, shadowed doorways, pedestrians, crosswalks... a stream of vari-colored images: the secular world, material, embodied, and a thoroughly unhelpful visual landscape for contemplating answers to these questions. Not that I really intend to answer them, though. He's not giving me space for answers... occasional pepperings of "Yes?", "You see??", and "You know???" appear to be there for verbal ornamentation alone.
So I nod. I say, "I see your point," and a couple of times, when he stops for breath, I offer a short response to the couple of things for which I feel I have a response. Some of his questions I just don't have answers for... they're things that bother me, too, but not enough to chuck my faith. Plus, it's late, I'm tired, I just want to get home. I end up having to talk over him in order to give directions... otherwise, it appears he would just speed on on on into the dark night, driving as long as his questions last, hurtling us both forward into the bottomless pit of his doubt.
In front of my apartment, he turns to me, intent on continuing. I mutter something about how he has more fares to collect, hand over my money (with a healthy tip), and pat him on the shoulder. "Keep asking the questions, buddy." Pathetic. But a bright smile flashes across his face, worry lines around his eyes smooth. "Have good night!!", he says brightly.
Is that what he needed? It was a pointless thing to say, but maybe better than anything else I could have said. He wasn't looking for an answer... he just wanted a confessor for his doubts. I walk up the front steps of my building, tired and heavy with my own silence, but unable to think of anything more Christ-like than bearing witness to his struggle and answering gently and briefly where I could.
LORD, have mercy.