Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A St. Barnabas Day Story

As I post this it is still St. Barnabas Day in L.A. where the story took place. The names may possibly have been changed.
                There are times when I would like to think that Barnabas, when he was in Antioch, would end a summer's day by going to the roof to enjoy the last rays of sun as it set, feeling the accompanying cooler breezes.  As he sat there relaxing, maybe for the first time all day I can imagine him starting to smile, shaking his head and maybe even laughing as he thought about the impossible variety of people who were already a part of the community of Christ-followers that had come together in that place.  Not just Jews from all over the Roman world, but gentiles as well, people from all economic backgrounds – business people, farmers, government officials, people who owned big homes and people who worked in them.  Slave and free, male and female, educated and “street-smart”—all sorts of people were a part of this group that was beginning to be identified as “Christians.” 
                Every once in a while we see this variety in our churches:  people you just wouldn’t imagine even talking with one another, committed to be a family of sorts in Christ.  It makes me think of Les and 
Carlos, both a part of the motley crew (Carlos was possibly more “motley” than Les) that was Temple Baptist Church at the time I was Co-pastor. 
The Les and Vina Tamblyn Window
Les was a pillar.  He was the church Finance Officer.  He was a typical member of the Builder generation.  He came from modest roots, fought in WWII, came back and got married, worked his way up in a bank, had kids, went to church and retired to a nice home in the suburbs of Los Angeles.  He saw Temple from the days of downtown society church through the shift of white people not wanting to come to the inner city for church, to ministering to new immigrants and people from the Union Rescue Mission.  He went from being a church trustee that managed the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium (owned and operated by Temple Baptist Church) to times when it was difficult to maintain such property and finally selling out and rebuilding near downtown in the area around USC.  He was one who stayed, which meant that he caught the vision of the church in transition and didn’t go out to find a church in the suburbs (where he lived) filled with people like him.
Carlos was a teenager, he may have been born in Mexico and brought to LA as a young child, or he may have been born in the US.  His parents were definitely immigrants.  I don’t know if they were here legally.  I never knew unless I needed to.  His parents were hard-working and church-going.  They were members of the Spanish-speaking congregation of our church.  Some of the kids in that congregation ended up in our youth group.  Carlos was one.  I don’t know why, but Carlos was in a gang.  He was not in one of the really hardcore gangs, but a gang, nevertheless.  He told me about how easy it was to get a gun.  I don’t think he ever used one, but I don’t know for sure.  He definitely got into trouble.  But he came to church, because of his parents, yes, but I think also because he actually liked being a part of church.  It was like he was trying to decide which way to go, so he had a foot in each life.
One day we were in groups of three.  It was one of those meetings…or workshops…I don’t remember.  I even have a vague recollection that I may have been leading that meeting, or, at least, that exercise.  Anyway we were in groups of three and I was with Les and Carlos.  Les was in his typical dark suit, white shirt and tie.  Carlos was in his baggy dark jeans and striped polo (he dressed up for church).  The assignment was to share about a time that you felt like you heard God speaking to you. 
Les began.  He told of being on guard duty while in the army on Christmas Eve.  He was far away from family and he was lonely and homesick.  He told of looking up at the sky and seeing the stars and hearing God say that he was not alone.  God was with him and God loved him.  As Les told the story his eyes filled and a tear came down his cheek.  He seemed to have been transported back 50 years to that night.
Then it was Carlos' turn.  I can still hear his voice, with his LA –Chicano “accent.”  With every ounce of sincerity and seriousness he said, “Well, one night when I was sitting in jail and I was alone, I heard God say to me, ‘Well, Carlos, that was pretty stupid.” 
I don’t remember at all what I shared.  I do remember a connection that was made between a traditional, white, hard-working, up-standing banker and a teen-age, Hispanic, pseudo-gang-banger, who had both heard God speak to them.  To this day, I still shake my head and laugh.

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