When I first visited the inner city church in which I would later work I was offered the choice of attending two different Sunday School classes. One was with fellow seminary students and my same age peers and the other was a relative new class for the homeless and whoever else wanted to go. I spent my weeks dealing with the seminary student species so I thought it would be nice for a change of pace to attend the class for homeless and whoever class.
I was surprised to find I was the only whoever else attending the class. Teaching the class was the soon to be Dr. Larkin Rossiter. He later caused a stir when he declared that he would never use the masculine pronoun for God because of the years the Church had spent oppressing women and identifying God with a masculine pronoun. He felt it would begin to rectify the situation the Church now found itself in. Needless to say I knew the class would be interesting.
When I entered the room there were five homeless men obviously fresh from the street. One with crutches and his cast foot propped on the table. The others observing the whoever else that had entered the room. They were a friendly lot and to my surprise exhibited various intelligences. Emmitt whose broken foot was on the table had a wealth of folk wisdom. Others had biblical knowledge out the wazoo. It was a fun class and my first real contact with the homeless. My stereotypes were thrown out the stained glass windows. They knew more about sharing and caring than most of my other Christian friends. They had a sense of the essence of Jesus’ teaching; I did not.
I had been taking a class In Peacemaking at the seminary I was attending. We had spent a lot of time discussing the art of turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile. Our professor Glen Stassen had emphasized that what Jesus was trying to teach through these words was to create peace you sometimes needed to take a ‘surprising initiative’. By turning the other cheek you have caught your enemy by surprise that can lead to a chance to dialogue and create a peaceful resolution. To strike back in kind would do nothing but continue the fight or make the other person submit to you. Neither of these should be our desired effect. It was a unique way to address conflict. Do the unexpected and create the opportunity for change.
Now if you have never been to seminary you will know every point and its counterpoint must be ‘discussed’ endlessly. And it was also so with this passage. The thing is seminarians are sometimes way too young to be acting like they have it figured out but they always feel a need to act as though they do. This is the occupational hazard of young wannabe ministers. On this particular Friday the acting as though they know everything crowd had been arduously thorough in their discussion and I was glad to hear the bell to end the class. They had come to no conclusion. Although I think they would all agree that turning the cheek was not in their futures.
At my new church I had noticed a certain who does he think he is Jesus because I had not chosen to attend the seminary class. But I was truly enjoying the homeless and whoever class. It was good to be a whoever for a while and not the seminarian. But the true believers were concerned and I was allowed to know this through the grapevine. Because I was not sure if the homeless enjoyed my presence I gave into pressure and I skipped the homeless class to attend the seminarian class. It was as I had feared. They had deep discussions leading to nowhere and asking nothing from them in return. So despite ruffled feathers I went back to the homeless class.
The homeless greeted me as if I were the prodigal son returned home. I felt not compelled to be there but welcomed to be there. The subject today was peacemaking and the class began. We talked about different ways to tear down fences and create peace. Emmitt as he was want began to expound on something. He had read in the paper how the then premier of Russian was for about the third time in the hospital. This surprised my prejudicial self because I truly thought he could not read. He continued talking about the hospitalized Russian premier and how the American comedians, cartoonists, and politicians were making jokes about the feeble state of Russia because of their sick leader. This was in the midst of the Cold War and Russia was our sworn enemy. So ridicule of the Russians and Communism were commonplace. But he said this was wrong, if we were serious about making peace we would send the premier a card and flowers not make fun of his health. Furthermore since we boasted the greatest medical system in the world we should send our best doctor to assist in his treatment. He said this would be the best way to move us to peace not all this caterwauling.
He continued as I listened to the non-political savant speak the truth. When a man is down the little things are what touches him and opens the door to change. This was human nature. You do not think of dropping bombs are other bad things harming someone who has shown you care. That is why we greeted you with cheers this morning Mike. You hurt our feelings by going to the other class to see if they had a better deal but we knew if we showed you love and acceptance we would have a better chance of getting over it and making peace with you.
I looked up at Emmitt amazed he had just ended the Cold War and reconciled the group to me in one short breath. I thought forget seminary I can learn more here as a whoever than I ever could as a seminarian.