The Walking Wounded
Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay
Kevin took a pen every morning, and scratched off a day on the calendar that hung on the kitchen wall. There had been a time – much of his life, in fact – when neither the date nor the day of week interested him. Things had changed recently. When getting to church was important, knowing the day of the week was important – and with the day of the week came the date. What had once been a blur of days, differentiated only by how much of what he drank or used, and which chick if any he took back to the bedroom, had become a series of definite and different days, leading from Sunday to Sunday.
The calendar was from Harley-Davidson, and the scant attire of the models made him vaguely uneasy, but he'd been looking at such pictures, and worse, all his life and they were normal for him. He stared at the calendar for a moment, but didn't put much thought into why he wasn't entirely comfortable with the photos, and nothing popped up out of the blue. To him they were normal, they were everyday, and he really was only half aware of their effect on him these days.
When he scratched off yesterday – Saturday, it was – Kevin remembered that one of the announcements the previous week at MJT Christian Fellowship had been about a "newcomer's lunch" after the second service. He'd already visited the first service, and liked it as well as he'd liked any service he'd attended since becoming a Christian. He decided to go to the second service, the next day, and then the lunch – food is always good, and free is good, and it would give him a chance to meet some people.
The sermon that Sunday was on the first part of Psalm 23:5 – "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." That was a new concept to Kevin. The preacher was another of the elders, José Mendoza, whose accent was pretty thick but not too hard for a California boy to understand. Kevin had been around Hispanics most of his life, for the Skulls had dealings with Chicano gangs, and there were Chicanos and Mexicans working as wait staff and gas station clerks and whatnot. Though he didn't speak more than a few words of Spanish he'd heard the accent enough.
"The image we have here," said Mendoza, "isn't one of God driving our enemies far away so that we can eat in safety, but one of God feeding us right in the presence of those enemies. This tells us that even when Satan himself is right beside us, God Himself is our protection, and we can eat and drink – and pray, and love each other, and all the other good things – without fear. God is our protection."
Yes, that was new to Kevin. I'm more used to a knife or a pistol, he thought as he listened. But I guess I have been avoiding fights now, haven't I? He had at that. His comment to the self-appointed tough guy in the break room hadn't been empty. Kevin had shot at people, and had gotten shot, more than once. But now God was his protection, not Smith & Wesson – or Beretta, or Glock, or whoever was making the popular guns these days. That was something to think about...
After the service Tyrone invited all those who were new to the church to go downstairs for lunch. The aroma came up the steps at him, and he realized how hungry he was. My own cookin' just don't do the trick – if what he did qualified as cooking. The last thing a biker ever learned how to do was cook – that was woman's work. Of course he'd never run across a biker chick who could really cook. They turned out food, but some of it, he remembered, was pretty much worse than dog food.
Kevin got into the line, and before the serving began Tyrone invited another of the elders – Kevin didn't catch the name – to pray. It was a short prayer, but impressive for its sincerity. I've heard some prayers that were just words, but this one's for real. He was almost disappointed when the prayer ended, for he wanted to hear more of someone who prayed like he really was talking to God.
Lunch was simple – fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, and bread – both store bought and what looked like home made. To Kevin bread was bread – he'd never had much chance to learn the difference. He loaded his plate, grabbed a can of Coke from the cooler at the end of the serving table, and looked around for a place to sit.
"Over here!" he heard, and looked in that direction. One of the tables was just starting to fill, and he saw that at the head of it was a couple he'd noticed the week before, a willowy black woman and an Asian man. Kevin nodded at the woman, who'd evidently invited him over, and found a seat about halfway down the table. He saw that there would, in fact, be plenty of room – the milling of the small crowd had made it look larger than it was.
He turned his attention to his food. Between bites he noticed that the couple was eating as industriously as he was – forking it in steadily. They oughta eat with both hands, he thought, just like I would if I wasn't in company. He observed them covertly, out of the corner of his eye. While in California it was impossible to avoid people who came from other ethnic backgrounds, bikers were mostly white, and he'd had no experience with couples who mixed colors. Especially since becoming a Christian he'd not cared about color, but it was a sight that was unusual enough in his experience that he found it interesting.
There was little conversation in the room while people ate. Kevin was sitting where he could see the serving table, and after everyone had gotten a first helping he saw a couple of ladies – one looked like a teenager, actually – bringing out desserts: Two or three pies, a cake that he estimated would be about a half sheet – Workin' in the bakery's got its advantages – a bowl of fruit salad. He didn't know when he'd eaten so well. This church has some advantages too, he said to himself, and smiled a bit.
The elders must have been watching things, because when people had slacked off, and everyone had gotten seconds or dessert as they chose, Tyrone rose and tapped on the table with his fork for attention. "I and the rest of the elders welcome everyone to our December newcomer's lunch. Most of us have come to MJT Christian Fellowship since the lunch at the beginning of November. I see a couple of faces who've been here longer.
"Each table has at least one person who's part of our family. I'm going to now ask our people to introduce themselves to all of you."
Kevin paid attention. There were two or three Hispanics. There were whites in about equal proportion. One lady had a Japanese surname but looked like her mother probably had been white. When his table's turn came, the Asian man stood and introduced himself and his wife. Being from California was useful – Kevin recognized the man's surname as Vietnamese, though he gave an American first name.
After all the introductions Tyrone rose again. "We don't want to embarrass anyone, so we don't ask our newcomers to stand and introduce themselves. If you wish to do so, you may, but it's not necessary." There was a few seconds' pause, and that day no one wanted to. "All right, then, we'll proceed. We don't want to keep you here all day, but we do want you to know something about our church.
"We've asked different ones of our people – those who are hosting the various tables – to tell you a bit about our church. Each will address a different facet of what we're about here at MJT – our doctrine, our services, ways you can serve the Lord with us, basically all the things that make us a church of Christ rather than simply a club that meets on Sunday. Some of these things are unique to MJT – just as other churches do things that are unique to their fellowships. Not everything we do will be right for you, but we hope that you'll find someplace where you can fit in and glorify the Lord God among us."
Kevin paid close attention. Whether other churches did anything like this he didn't know, but it sure seemed to him like a good idea. He'd intended to sit down and talk with Tyrone – or at least someone from the body of elders – and ask about this stuff, but it looked like a lot of questions would get answers right here. As he listened, and played with a second helping of dessert, he learned something of the church's history, its organization, what it believed, and what it did in the real world to demonstrate its faith to that world. Having grown up completely outside the church, and having only recently converted, Kevin didn't have a lot of preconceptions about how to do things, and so it struck him simply as making sense that Christianity ought to seek to influence the world around it.