6/6/16 Ryan, Tim about 50, 60
I wanted to reach out with the Gospel early morning at a lakefront park, but it seemed that everyone was too busy biking or jogging, so I walked up to a police officer in his patrol car because I knew he would have some time to talk. I explained what I was doing and asked about his beliefs. Officer Ryan told me he is Catholic and believes he will go to heaven. "How can you be sure?" I asked. "Well, after all I've been through with this job, I'm pretty sure I've got a ticket in", he answered, laughing. This was kind of a humorous way to put it, but like so many people he was serious about his belief that he has earned salvation by being religious or doing good deeds.
Where did he get this belief? The next person I talked to, an older man named Tim who was out for a walk, gave me a clue. Tim was vague in explaining his beliefs about heaven and hell, but I didn't disagree with him. He said he sees heaven as being in a state of "union with God" and hell is being in a state of disunion. "So you definitely believe in God" I asked and he replied "Well I better, because I'm a Catholic priest!"
We went on to an interesting conversation about the Gospel, which he always related to participation in the various sacraments of the Catholic Church such as baptism, communion and marriage. I could tell he had a solid appreciation for what the sacraments symbolized - such as our need for forgiveness, repentance and trust in Jesus – rather than faith in the sacrament itself. Rev. Tim was concerned that too many people have shallow and simplistic interpretations of words like faith and belief and salvation, and a very westernized and individualistic view of the Gospel. He made some good points, but I could also see how simple Gospel explanations could easily get lost in all his theology and symbolism.
I think it was a good conversation for both of us because Rev. Tim heard from me some clear and straightforward ways to share aspects of the Gospel so a man on the street, a parishioner at his church – or someone like Officer Ryan in his squad car - might understand it, and I was challenged not to be overly simplistic in my explanations or dismissive of faith traditions like the importance of the sacraments.