My son drove me to the VA yesterday and accompanied me to the various appointments scheduled that day.
As you might expect, a hospital like the OKC VA Medical Center is loaded with atypical people. These are not your average folks, but highly educated and very aware that different people have different ways of looking at things. Most of them would qualify as some brand of socially liberal or progressive, but that comes with the territory, working in a federally funded medical system that caters to folks who served in a very powerfully socialist institution — the US Military. (Stop and think about how the military actually gets things done.)
So his VA atmosphere is loaded with people who are more likely to take an interest in my oddball religious stuff. There was one fellow wandering around whose job was obviously related to mental health, in the sense of getting people to talk — very smart man with a mind like a steel trap. He sat down across from us in the waiting room and engaged us in conversation. One thing led to another and I responded to one question with mention of a “fringe ministry” that attracted a lot of people who would never be caught dead in a church. His radar perked up visibly. I mentioned Christian Mysticism and he probed hard, not with antipathy, but with genuine interest. At that point, I suppose I was quite ready for a summary lecture.
But I only got as far as describing our tilt toward grasping at the ANE mindset as wholly different from the Western. He recognized that and I was about to outline it when I was called back to one of the exam rooms. He said to my son, “Man, I was really looking forward to hearing about that.” I’m going to trust that God gave him as much as he needed to hear for that moment, because I was back there a long time getting the stitches removed from my wound. He was gone when I returned to the waiting room.
The doctor who took the stitches had been a member of the Bahá’í Faith. If you aren’t already familiar with it, Bahá’í Faith is not the simplest thing you’ll ever encounter. I knew enough about it to engage her and she spoke of the disappointments. So I spoke to those things and how you didn’t need to belong to a religion to find peace, but were morally obliged to build your own religion. Our parish is wide open because it’s actually meta-religion, not so much religion itself. I’m supposed to see her again in a week or so, and I’ll follow up. Meanwhile, she showed me a picture she took at Stonehenge where a large crow was flying between two of the stones at sunset, and I commented on the symbolism.
While I knew what kind of social mix I would encounter there at the VA, I’m still just a bit surprised how hungry those people are to hear about something like our faith. It’s not that we can’t reach out to the folks lower down the social scale. I suspect the middle class would often be the toughest segment for us, but thoughtful folks at all levels have found it useful. Plenty of poor folks have agreed with me on some issues. Still, we would naturally be led to respond with a greater investment of ourselves into places where folks really want us.
And the folks who want what we have are out there.