David Bruce: Religion Anecdotes



In 2007, a homeless person named Earl Nagle, who was then 66 years old and had been homeless for at least 25 years, lived in Lehigh Parkway, a park in Allentown, PA. For many of the years he has lived there, many people have helped look after him and make sure he has enough to eat and can survive during the cold winters. People give him new cigars, new boots, and free meals. Earl can behave oddly, but his odd behavior stems from a history of neglect, abuse, and mental illness. In 1998, while jogging, the Rev. Jim Brashear, pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church in Wescosville, saw police at an abandoned stone limekiln, taking away the belongings of a homeless man—Earl—who sometimes slept there. Rev. Brashear assumed that the homeless person had died, but then he saw him, obviously angry, watching the police take away his belongings. The Rev. Jim Brashear said, “There he is, watching from a distance and they are taking his stuff. Lots of women jog, too, and maybe they are afraid, but police took everything he owned. I thought if that were me, I’d be upset, too.” The Rev. Jim Brashear went home, got an old comforter and some food, and then returned to the park and gave the items to Earl. He asked Earl if he wanted to go to a homeless shelter, but Earl declined the offer—emphatically. Like many homeless people, Earl prefers being on his own to living in a shelter. The Rev. Jim Brashear asked Earl if members of the Bethany United Methodist Church could help him, and Earl had no objections. Earl did ask that when members of the church dropped off meals for him, they leave them in a garbage can. The Rev. Jim Brashear said, “He asked me to put his food in the garbage can, I think because he knew nobody would take it.” (Members of the church double-bag the food before leaving it in a garbage can.) The church ended up creating the “Ministry of Earl,” which makes sure that Earl receives meals. The church spends $1,000 annually on this ministry. The Rev. Jim Brashear said, “This is what God wants us to do. We’ve been blessed more for it than Earl has. I don’t think Earl knows the name of our church, but Christ wants us to do this.”

Reverend Merrifield was the grandfather of Philip Pullman, who wrote the His Dark Materials trilogy. He told young Philip about a friend of his, named Fred Austin, with whom he had served in World War I. Mr. Austin went to war leaving an infant daughter behind. When he returned home, his daughter was a few years older, and she did not recognize this stranger who had entered her life, and so she ran from him. Eventually, of course, she learned that this man, her father, loved her and so she no longer ran from him. Mr. Pullman wrote much later, “When Grandpa told that story, he said that God would appear to us like that; at first we’d be alarmed and frightened by him, but eventually we’d come to trust his love.” Mr. Pullman loves the classics, and he found a similar story to that of Mr. Austin in an ancient Greek epic poem: Homer’s Iliad. In Book 6, Hector returns home to Troy, where he sees his wife and son. His son is frightened by Hector’s helmet, but when Hector removes his helmet, his son is no longer frightened. Mr. Pullman grew up to become an atheist, and he says, “Between my childhood and now, I’ve lost sight of God, but Hector the Trojan prince and Fred Austin the Devonshire soldier are still brightly alive to me, and so is Grandpa.”

Moby, who is most famous for the theme to Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne movies, is an original guy. In a 1997 interview, he spoke about a family of cockroaches living in his apartment and often standing on a clock. Because of his born-again Christian beliefs, he would not kill them. Moby takes his Christianity seriously, but it may not be the Christianity that the reader is familiar with. At first, in the 1980s, he was celibate and did not indulge in alcohol and drugs; however, he realized that Jesus was not an ascetic person; after all, “he swore, and he drank, and he ran around, and he screamed at people. He loved his friends and was a very human, passionate figure. So I rejected that weird asceticism after thinking about who Christ really was and realizing that I was forcing myself to be something that didn’t feel natural.” As you may expect, people regard Christianity in different ways. Moby was signing autographs at a Detroit rock festival when a woman said to him, “I think it’s really cool that you’re a Christian.” But the man standing beside her said, “You’re a Christian? That’s f**ked up.” Moby said in the interview, “I wanted to say to them, ‘Look, I like both of you, but neither one of you probably understands what word means.’”

One of the Five Pillars of Islam is making the hajj—that is, making a pilgrimage to Mecca. This applies only to those Muslims who are able and can afford to do it, and it need be done only once in a lifetime. Actually, so many Muslims are in the world today that it is physically impossible for them all to make the pilgrimage. Only 2 million Muslims can make the pilgrimage each year due to lack of space in Mecca, and the government of Saudi Arabia uses a quota system for countries, allowing only a certain number of Muslims from each country to make the pilgrimage each year. This actually shows the success of Islam in the modern age. With 1 billion Muslims in the world, and with only 2 million Muslims able to make the pilgrimage each year, for all Muslims alive today to make the pilgrimage would take 500 years.

“CHRISTIAN, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.”—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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