I met two Christians today. The first was named Russ. He has worked in construction his entire life. He began by toting his father’s hammer around the job site when he was three. Lately, the economy has hit Russ’ business pretty hard, like most people in construction, but that hasn’t soured his mood, or his willingness to be charitable. Russ let people that were homeless stay in his home and never refused to help a person in need. Last night Russ didn’t get any sleep because he spent the entire night up with his sister who was released from the hospital after suffering a bi-polar episode. That is the kind of guy he is, when he got the call at midnight it didn’t matter, he came running. What was the alternative…not helping? For him that was not even a possibility. That isn’t who he is.

Russ one time was hired to build an entire church gymnasium, a million dollar project. After it was completed, the church refused to pay. That was twenty years ago. Russ could have brought a law suit…but that isn’t the kind of guy he is. He just said, “It isn’t worth me loosing my peace to be angry at you. I expect you to do more and be above repute more than others. But, I do not judge you, I forgive you.”

The next man I met asked me about the pilgrimage. I told him why I was doing it, and where I have been. He asked, “Well, you believe Jesus then?”

I replied, I believe in Love. Jesus preached love, so did Buddha, Lao Tzu, Thomas Merton, William Penn, MLK, Gandhi, etc.” I said, “I believe in you.”

Frustrated by my answer he replied, “But you must be born again, and be baptized, and let the living Christ dwell in you, live in the spirit, and possess the fruits of the spirit.”

I said, “Those are a lot of words that I don’t understand. But, I understand love. I don’t care if you are Mormon, Bahai, Atheist, Buddhist, or Taoist. Even if you live in Papua New Guinea, and have never heard of any religion or science, you still know what love is. You know what it feels like to be loved, and you know what it feels like to live the opposite. Doesn’t your bible say, ‘But I, the Lord, search all the hearts and examine the secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.’?” So then if my motives are love and compassion, and my actions bear out those intentions, regardless of what I believe, will not your God judge me fairly?

I guess I don’t understand the fruits of the spirit. The fruits of the spirit being, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Can a person who isn’t a christian not know joy, love and peace???

“But you’ve got to have the in-dwelling of Christ in order to go to heaven. Do you believe you are going to heaven?” he asked.

“Again, I don’t know what those words mean. I don’t understand them. But I understand love. Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are both to Love. Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. When I feel that I can do those two well, I will start looking for other commandments to follow. But, for most people that I meet, we are all struggling with those two,” I replied and continued, “Allow me to ask you a question. Does your church have locks on the doors? And if so why?”

“Of course we do. If we didn’t, people would steal things.”

“So do you care more about the things or more about the people? Did not Jesus urge his followers to house the homeless? Did not the first christians in the book of Acts sell all that they owned in order to live in community and to care for the widows and orphans? How can christians of today not do similarly? How can we have mega-churches, while people sleep on the streets at night? If anything, why not at least help the women and children?” I asked.

“How are you going to get to heaven? You’ve got to accept Jesus as lord and confess with your mouth that God raised him from the dead. You must be saved,” he offered.

“Huh,” I said. “Jesus said to the thief on the cross that he would be with him in paradise. The thief just asked to be remembered. He didn’t have to be baptized, get slain in the spirit. Receive the fruits of the spirit, or do any great works. I find so many christians are so worried about heaven. What do you think that we will do there? I assume we will love on everyone there. Why aren’t we doing that here? So many christians are buying fire insurance. They become christians just because they don’t want to go to hell. For me if loving is wrong, then I might be going to hell. But, me and Gandhi will be there trying to love on everyone we can. Where else should a loving person be but in hell, loving on all the people that need it?”

At this he stood up and left. He didn’t say goodbye…he just left…visibly upset. I wrestled for the next hour whether I had said something wrong, hurtful, or unloving. With all this talk of love, had I been unloving? I’m not a fan of Paul, but Paul himself said that love bears all things believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. And most of all love never fails.