by Harry Banks

by Harry Banks, November 11, 2014

His beard was too long.  It was too unkempt.  The clothes were wrinkled.  But there was a simple appeal for help in his face… and for some reason I chose to stop and pick up this hitchhiker.

Times of human vulnerability get me to asking questions like: Where do human beings get the courage to face another day? What sort of desperation causes a person to throw his lot to the chance of a ride to make his way into the future? Such simple needs.

The recent article on atoday.org1 about Natalie Bruzon watching young adults walk out during sermons made me think of some of the young people I have joined in the parking lot. This makes me wonder what gives a young person the confidence to allow an older person to witness his budding incomplete faith and risk insult to his hungry soul.  Such simple needs.

But there he was – a symbol of simple human needs… He needed a ride… 

I remembered my own hitchhiking days, when at age 21 I was attempting to travel from Torino, Italy, back to France over the French-Italian border.  I was ill that day and must have looked ill, because it was the worst day of hitchhiking of my life.  60 miles in 12 hours.  I could have walked nearly that fast.

At the end of the day I was walking up a lone mountain road.  I was approaching the border, and all the local traffic had turned off the road for their nearby destinations.  There I was sick, weak, alone.  No one knew where I was.  No one knew who I was.  And I had no idea where I was, and was considering trying to find a farm and sleep in some hay, and picturing a pitchfork in my buttock for an alarm clock.

I had no status.  I had no value to anyone at that moment.  I felt this was the common denominator for humanity. 
Ok, so if you were wondering, about two miles further up the road I did find a hotel right at the border… But that’s another story…

Back to my hitchhiker… My rider sat silent in the back seat.  Unknown.  No status. No history.  Just a human being.
Is this the humanity the great Creator Redeemer God meant to rescue from personal and spiritual annihilation?
A question or two, and the story tumbled out. 

He had been incarcerated for a rather minor offence.  He had a lady move into the house he had crafted and built with his own hands.  She had turned it into a human and animal barn.  It was destroyed, as far as he was concerned.  He had been living in a tent.  Since he was recently out of jail, he had no job.  No money.  He had had nothing to eat or drink for a couple days.  He had an illness he needed medication for, and was heading into town to meet with a physician whom he considered a friend and who knew his medical needs.

I stopped to get my laundered shirts at the dry cleaners near the grocery store he named as his destination.  I happened to be carrying some bottled water in the car… dug it out from some of my bags and gear.  It was so simple but it was like giving him a link back to life.  He was so very grateful.

He borrowed my cell phone to call his friend and make arrangements to meet.  While he was calling, I estimated the cost of about a week or two’s worth of groceries and handed him enough cash to get him through the end of the month.

He cried.

I’m not sure if the following items are directly related but at the moment they seem to cohabitate in my mind.

Today I was reading about Frederick Buechner and how he was always trying to reach those who don’t want to touch religion with a ten-foot pole.  Someone has called them “cultured despisers of religion.” It got me thinking about what is the basic level at which redemption takes place.  Someone else observed that they won’t remember what you say, but they will remember how you make them feel.  Buechner experienced his driving force to translate the gospel to the cultured despisers because of how a few words from George Buttrick made him feel.

Buechner heard Buttrick describe the inward coronation of Christ as taking place in the hearts of those who believe in Him “among confession, and tears, and great laughter.”2 Those phrases created in him a compelling need to know this Christ; to know the Old Testament because it was His Bible, to know the New Testament because it was all about Him, and “about the history of the church, which had been founded on the faith that through Him God had not only revealed His innermost nature and His purpose for the world, but had released into the world a fierce power to draw people into that nature and adapt them to that purpose….”  He said, “I had been moved to astonished tears which came from so deep inside me that to this day I have never fathomed them.  I wanted to learn more about the source of those tears and the object of that astonishment."

I have since wondered if my Christianity is so tepid, so insensitive, so shallow, such an insult to hungry souls, because I have not fully invited that inward coronation of Christ, among confession, tears, and great laughter.

Another point for pondering…. How does that fierce power draw people into the practice of faith and touch the spiritual hunger of our world?

Maybe here is a clue from Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” 

Will the world feel the tears and laughter of redemption as I brush shoulders?  Looks like I need to get on with that coronation.

1https://www.atodayarchive.org/article/2753/news/october/young-adults-convene-retention-summit
2This quotation and all the following quotations are from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Buechner