Still Practicing

It’s not very often that you want an instant faith do-over. If I think back through my life carefully, there might be only two or three times I could have used a re-do, but this is the only time I recognized I needed one right away. I recognize I need to refer to myself as a “practicing” Christian because the teachings of Jesus haven’t fully taken root in my life. This was a faith pop quiz and I think I might have to give myself a failing grade.

You see, I was caught off-guard. We all were. We had just finished visiting the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s cathedral in Barcelona, Spain. This location just adds to the spiritual irony. I had just finished purchasing metro tickets for my mother, five-year-old son, and family friend when I turned around to see a group of men asking my mom and friend for directions.

In retrospect, it was Pick-Pocketing 101. They distracted us. We told the man asking for help that we couldn’t assist him because we didn’t know our way around. He told us he was from London so didn’t know his way around either. We looked at a map and tried to direct him to the best of our ability, and off he went.

Within thirty seconds one of the men in the group tapped my mom on the shoulder and pointed down to her feet. There lay her wallet. In relief she thanked the man and picked it up quickly, instantly checking the contents inside. Sure enough, all of her cash was gone. But not her license or her credit cards. After doublechecking to make sure the cash was indeed gone and her credit cards present, I moved into action. I was angry and I wanted to get her money back. So I ran after them.

Your mind flashes into action in situations like this. I was simultaneously angry, looking for help from police or metro workers (finding none of course), and thinking to myself that chasing them was absolutely crazy and the last thing I should be doing in a foreign country. But I found them quickly–they were still standing together on the steps leading out of the metro stop. And I started yelling–in English. That was my reaction. I yelled–asking for my mother’s money back, shaming them for taking money from a grandmother with her grandson right there, shaking my finger in judgment, asking for the money again, and then shaming them once more before my better judgment kicked in. I was angry, shaking from adrenaline.

Later in the day I began reflecting on the encounter through the lens of my Christian faith. Christ tells us to offer our cloak when someone asks for our coat (should we have offered them more money?). Christ tells us to turn our other cheek if someone strikes us (should I have blessed them instead of shaming them?). God takes care of the poor in the world and implores us to do the same (were there other things we could have done to care for them?). There were elements of grace as well–my mom’s wallet was returned, no one was harmed, and we were able to have significant conversations of faith around the situation. Hopefully next time our faith will lead the way in our reaction.

Gretchen Schoon Tanis teaches youth ministry and theology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and in general, loves to travel with her husband and children.