I step out of my office to greet the person I’m told has stopped by to see me.  One of my eyes on the clock because I have a standing Communion call to leave for in just a few minutes, the other eye quickly sizing up the young man standing to meet me, all pimples and youth.  Nothing notable about him in any way, as he asks if I have a few minutes to talk with him about an issue he’s having with his family.  I don’t consciously think I have enough time for a counseling session, but I invite him into my office as the music starts.

We tap our respective toes as we get a feel for the tune being played, and then he steps out boldly onto the dance floor.  He spins and turns, his feet moving steadily and not without experience.  A car breakdown in Fresno a week or more ago.  A week’s delay getting it diagnosed to no avail.  Bussing his family down to San Diego to buy a car (flourish the keys, still with what looks to be a dealer label on them).  A pause, and then a new set of turns.  Traveling back now to Berkeley (which he had said was home when I first met him).  Now passing through Santa Barbara and out of funds.  The bridge of the tune arrives and he lists out all the various local organizations he’s already contacted in search of gas for the car and food for the family (who hasn’t eaten since yesterday), moving into the finale in that he could only hope that churches might be places where someone could get some help  in a situation like this.

A bit winded, he steps back as the musicians queue up the next song.  Not quite as spry and quick as the last one.  I assume the proper  stance and begin moving my feet in time with the music.  We don’t keep cash on hand for situations like this.  Lots of other places in town we normally refer people to.  But I have $20  on me I’ll give you.  I know it’s not very much but hopefully it will help.  Godspeed and safe travels.  Ending with a flourish as I give him directions to the nearest gas station.

We bow and he leaves and I prepare my Communion kit.

I don’t believe any of what he just told me.  None of it added up to anything approaching a coherent story.  I wonder at times why people aren’t just more honest.  Look, I screwed up my budgeting for the month and I don’t have enough to make ends meet until my next payday.  I blew my last paycheck on women and booze and rent’s due Friday.  Of course these are not the sorts of things that elicit sympathy.  But if he’s presuming on the church to be a place of sympathy by default, how much is that really needed?

Because he’s assuming I’ll allow him to be dishonest.   To not ask questions.  To not point out the logical inconsistencies in the elaborate tale of woe he’s just spun.  To not point out how his footwork was off and he couldn’t keep rhythm if his life depended on it.  He’s assuming that I’ll simply go through the moves of my dance, which are more than likely going to result in at least some small amount of money for him, since of course I need to preserve the dignity and reputation of the Church by not sending him away empty-handed.  After all, I’d hate to think I might have become a hurdle to the Gospel, whether he’s received it yet or it’s  on the way.

We know our parts and the steps that keep the dance moving along amicably, that avoids any unpleasant missteps or gaffes.  He goes on his way with a little money.  I’m happy to be done and on to my Communion call.  Later I prayed for him and his family and their situation, whichever or all or none of those elements might be real or imagined or exaggerated or invented.  For whatever he really needed and I couldn’t provide in the moment because we were both so focused on our feet and the music and the cues.




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