Where is your Faith? ~Guest Contributor, Katherine Mulhern
We all have faith. In SOMETHING. In our bank accounts or our college degrees or our carefully crafted daily routines, or our spouses. We treat faith as if it were something we own – GOT FAITH? could be a billboard no different than GOT MILK? The truth is that faith is a gift. We are gifted with faith at our birth – an innate ability to trust which is nurtured by parents and grandparents and teachers and even strangers. Its deepest questions are things like WHO OR WHAT DO YOU TRUST? WHO OR WHAT WILL YOU FOLLOW EVEN WHEN THAT IS HARD TO DO? HOW WILL YOUR LIFE BE A WITNESS TO THE FAITH THAT LIVES IN YOU?
A drunk, homeless stranger exposed my faith to me one day on a bus in downtown Seattle, many years ago. I had been wrestling with whether to go to seminary, trying to find the courage and the faith to break out of the safe life that I had constructed. It happened this way.
I was late to work, and the bus was half filled with anxious, late downtown workers. A homeless man, still drunk from the night before, stumbled onto the bus – causing everyone to bury their noses in their newspapers and avoid his gaze. He was onto those tricks, and (in a very loud voice) informed the man across from him that since he wasn’t reading the sports section, maybe he could share it. That caused everyone (including the man next to him) to bury their heads further in newsprint. No one said a word.
At which point the homeless man stood up and began yelling “It’s a bunch G..d…mn YUPPIES! Look at them all!” And then he stumbled off the bus. By that time, I was laughing. He was so right. We had our newspapers and our Starbucks coffee and we were headed to jobs that paid enough and even offered benefits. And none of us had time for this homeless, nameless, drunk guy. Buried in newspapers, we were all afraid.
I got off the bus and headed up the hill (downtown Seattle is all about hills) as fast as I could. As I came around a corner, I caught a glimpse of myself reflected in a glitzy window. And I almost didn’t recognize myself. There was a yuppie – heading for work. And suddenly I realized that if that homeless man was ever going to know that I was on his side….I had to change my life. I had to find the courage to claim the faith that lived in me, the faith that asserted his value in God’s sight.
A year later I had moved half-way across the country and began seminary. Twenty-five years later, I retired from parish ministry. I have always been grateful to that nameless, drunk, homeless man who showed me who I really am, and helped me to uncover the courage and the faith to change my life. Angels come in strange packages sometimes.
Katherine Mulhern served churches in the United Church of Christ for 25 years - in Oskaloosa Iowa, in Davenport Iowa, and then on the staff of the Iowa Conference. In retirement Katherine quilts, plays with her grandkids, travels, hikes, volunteers in her church’s food pantry, marches for progressive causes, occasionally preaches, and is currently training to be a certified spiritual director. She's having the time of her life!