Sunday, September 23, 2012

CP 190 The Ragman, the Ragman...

CP 190  The Ragman, the Ragman…

Hello fellow travellers. This week I want to share with you a short story from a US church magazine sometime in the 80s. It’s by a Lutheran Pastor called Walter Wangerin. Those of you who are clergy might be tempted to read it in place of your sermon one Sunday. Whatever happens, enjoy.                                        

The Ragman, the Ragman,
the Christ!

I saw a strange sight. I stumbled upon a story most strange, like nothing my life, my street sense, my sly tongue had ever prepared me for. Hush, child. Hush, now, and I will tell it to you.

            Even before the dawn one Friday morning I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking the alleys of the City. He was pulling an old cart filled with clothes both bright and new, and he was calling in a clear, tenor voice: “Rags!” Ah, the air was foul and the first light filthy to be crossed by such sweet music!
            “Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags! Rags!”
            “Now, this is a wonder,” I thought to myself, for the man stood six-feet-four, and his arms were like tree limbs, hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed intelligence. Could he find no better job than this, to be a ragman in the inner city?
I followed him. My curiosity drove me. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Soon the Ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into her handkerchief, sighing, and shedding a thousand tears. Her knees and elbows made a sad cross. Her shoulders shook. Her heart was breaking.
The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly he walked to the woman, stepping round tin cans, dead toys, and fouled nappies.
“Give me your rag,” he said so gently, “and I’ll give you another.”
He slipped the handkerchief from her eyes. She looked up, and he laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. She blinked from the gift to the giver.
Then, as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing: he put her stained, snotty handkerchief to his own face, and then he began to weep, to sob as grievously as she had done, his shoulders shaking. Yet she was left behind without a tear.
“This is a wonder,” I breathed to myself, and I followed the sobbing Ragman like a child who cannot turn away from mystery.
“Rags! Rags! New rags for old!”
In a little while, when the sky showed grey behind the rooftops and I could see the shredded curtains hanging out black windows, the Ragman came upon a girl whose head was wrapped in a bandage, whose eyes were empty. Blood soaked her bandage. A single line of blood ran down her cheek.
Now the tall Ragman looked upon this child with pity, and he drew a lovely yellow bonnet from his cart.
“Give me your rag,” he said, tracing his own line on her cheek, “and I’ll give you mine”.
The child could only gaze at him while he loosened the bandage, removed it, and tied it to his own head. The bonnet he set on hers. And I gasped at what I saw: for with the bandage went the wound! Against his brow it ran a darker, more substantial blood – his own!
“Rags! Rags! I take old rags!” cried the sobbing, bleeding, strong, intelligent Ragman.
The sun hurt the sky now, and my eyes; the Ragman seemed more and more in a hurry.
“Are you going to work?” he asked a man who leaned against a telephone pole. The man shook his head.
The Ragman pressed him further. “Do you have a job?”
            “Are you crazy?” sneered the other. He pulled away from the pole, revealing the right sleeve of his jacket. It was flat, the cuff stuffed into the pocket. He had no arm.
“So,” said the Ragman, “Give me your jacket, and I’ll give you mine”.
Such quite authority in his voice! 
The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman – and I trembled at what I saw: for the Ragman’s arm stayed in his jacket, and when the other put it on, then he had two good arms, thick as tree limbs; but the Ragman had only one.
“Go to work,” he said.
After that he saw a drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket, an old man, hunched, wizened, and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left a new suit of clothes.

And now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding freely at his forehead, pulling his cart with one arm, stumbling for drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, old and sick, yet he went very fast. On spider’s legs he skittered through the alleys of the City, this mile and the next, until he’d come to its limits, and then he rushed beyond.
I wept to see the change in this man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And yet I needed to see where he was going in such a haste, perhaps to know what drove him so.
The little old Ragman – he came to a garbage dump. And then I wanted to help him in what he did, but I hung back, hiding. He climbed a hill. With tormented labor he cleared a little space on that hill. Then he sighed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on a handkerchief and a jacket. He covered his bones with an army jacket. And he died.
Oh, how I cried to witness that death! I slumped in a junked car and wailed and mourned as one who has no hope – because I had come to love the Ragman. Every other face had faded in wonder of this man, and I cherished him; but he died.  I cried myself to sleep.
I did not know – how could I know? – that I slept through Friday night and Saturday and its night, too.
But then, on Sunday morning, I was wakened by a violence. Light – pure, hard, demanding light – slammed against my sour face, and I blinked, and I looked, and I saw the last and the first wonder of all. There was the Ragman, folding the blanket most carefully, a scar on his forehead, but alive! And, besides that, healthy! There was no sign of sorrow nor of age, and all the rags that he had gathered shined for cleanliness.
Well, then I lowered my head and, trembling for all that I had seen, I myself walked up to the Ragman. I told him my name with shame, for I was a sorry figure next to him. Then I took off all my clothes in that place, and I said to him with dear yearning in my voice: “Dress me”.
He dressed me. My Lord, he put new rags on me, and I am a wonder beside him. The Ragman, the Ragman, the Christ!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

CP 189 The devil and the deep blue sea...

CP 189 The devil and the deep blue sea…

Rosemarie and I have just returned from a family visit in the United States. Our time there coincided with the nominating conventions of both the Republicans (Mitt Romney) and the Democrats (Barack Obama). It got me thinking.

As a follower of Jesus the Christ I heard and observed the goings-on through the filter of my faith and my knowledge of the will and way of our Lord God as we know it from scripture. My understandings are certainly not infallible, and I can only express things as I saw them. I came away wondering how on earth Christians were supposed to decide for whom they could and would vote.

Consider first Mr Romney. He is a Mormon. He may use words similar to mine about God and about Jesus Christ but what he believes about God the Father and Jesus the Christ is fundamentally different from what Christians believe. Many Christians I know would find it exceedingly difficult to vote for him on that basis alone. Looking further, the Republicans appear to harbour resentment and reluctance about a social welfare safety-net. It comes across to me as a begrudgement of help to those who cannot help themselves. That grates against the notion that Christians have a particular call to look out for the ‘little people’ in our communities.

Now consider Mr Obama. He is liked by many around the world. He professes to be a Christian, and appears to be compassionate. But Mr Obama strongly supports compulsory funding by insurance companies for abortions. (I’m not 100% sure of the right wording but you get the idea.) He is also a supporter of same-sex marriage.

What does one do? Choose the lesser of two evils? Is opting out a godly response? The only thing I can come up with is to suggest that all of us pray for Americans, and especially American Christians at this time.

Some extra comments. First, we Australians are faced with similar challenges when we vote.

Secondly, it has sometimes been asserted that Mr Obama is a secret Muslim. His support for gay marriage and his pro-abortion stance would say it can’t be true.

Thirdly what to make of Luther’s remark that it would be better to be governed by a wise Turk than a Christian fool? Make that Mormon in place of Turk. Was he right? And what do you make of old Doc Hamann’s comment at Seminary that if he needed a heart operation and his choices were a Mormon surgeon or a Christian one, his choice would be determined only by whoever was the better surgeon!

I’ve rambled on a bit. Sorry if it comes across that way. Rejoice that the Father deals with us graciously through his eternal Son who is the Christ.