What with Monday, March 17th being St. Patrick’s Day, Saturday the 15th was the day of our city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. The weather looked a little iffy, with dark clouds covering the sky, but my weather app assured us we were safe from actual rain until 1 PM at least, so John and I took our parade chairs and our chances and went to the parade. We left early, to find parking, which meant we were on the street for over an hour before the floats and bands got to where we were.
And as I have written before, the large crowds of people with little to do draw the people who hand out tracts. The first such gentleman I had seen before at the Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade. He was wearing camouflage cargo pants and a matching shirt, and carrying a bullhorn. Last time I saw him, he was preaching through the bullhorn, too, but whatever he was saying was drowned out by the traffic helicopter buzzing overhead. I’m sure that in keeping with the spirit of the day, it was “eat, drink, and be merry”.
As he passed by, I told my husband I’m surprised that he wasn’t carrying a gun to go with the camo outfit. John pointed out that the man had a backpack and who knows what he had in there. Best we didn’t argue with him. John and I politely turned down all offers of “something to read while you’re waiting” from him and the other proselytizers passing by.
One man that came by alone was a little harder to deflect. He had been chatting with the people next to us, seeming honestly interested in what they had to say. Then he finished up his conversation and turned to us. Predictably enough, he asked if we wanted one of the tracts he held in his hand, to have something to read while we waited for the parade. I told him that I had already read that one, having been given one the year before. He seemed a little taken aback, but asked what I thought of it.
“Here’s the thing,” I said. He wanted a conversation, I would give him a conversation. “The St. Patrick’s Day parade is mostly a Catholic celebration. The theology in those pamphlets is, as near as I can tell, Baptist. So to me, this is just a matter of tribal infighting, and I find it off-putting, to tell you the truth.” His face fell, but I could tell he wasn’t surprised by my response, and actually seemed to be giving it some thought.
“I’m not a Baptist, “ he replied. He belonged to a non-denominational church.
“Well, I’m a Methodist,” I said.
Somehow we got from there into a discussion of Lent. I told him that rather than give up something for Lent, I decided to act in the spirit of Isaiah 58:6,
Is not this the fast that I choose:to loose the bonds of injustice,to undo the thongs of the yoke,to let the oppressed go free,and to break every yoke?
and donate money every Wednesday in Lent to organizations that do just that. My upcoming donation was to go to the Rolling Jubilee, and I explained to him what that was and how it related to the idea of the Jubilee year in the Bible.
It suddenly occurred to me I was doing a pretty passable job of sounding like a street preacher myself. This was not how I had intended to spend the day. I told him that I didn’t want to keep him any longer and said it had been nice talking to him. He went on down the street no doubt believing that I was bound for hell.
It turns out that donations for the Rolling Jubilee are now closed, so I gave the money to Amnesty International instead. I made seven donations in all:
1) Trafficking Hope, a local organization that helps victims of human trafficking
2) The rehab center where I used to work, which helps loose the bonds of children who are limited by physical and mental disabilities
3) Amnesty International
4) World Vision, when they announced they were broadening their spousal benefits to include same sex spouses. They then reverted to their original policy, but I figured the money I gave will still help someone.
5) A fund to help a woman who needs money to fight a defamation lawsuit from a man who sexually harrassed her
6) A fund to help a family who lost three children in a car wreck pay for funerals (that one strictly speaking didn’t fit the theme, but they were friends of a friend and needed the money).
7) Emily’s List (I’m sure that one would have gone over well with my tract bearing friend)
So that’s $700 in all. I wish I could say that I learned some valuable spiritual lesson from this, but I am actually feeling pretty grumpy by now. Giving up sodas or chocolate would have saved me money, I reflect. Still, I have to acknowledge how privileged I am. Giving up that money did not mean going without groceries, or heat, or medicine. I enjoy the power to be able to aid those who are doing work that I think needs doing.
Still, like my chocolate and soda pop deprived friends, I think Easter can’t come soon enough. The end of Lent is taking just a little longer than the end of my career as a street preacher.