We sat in the bar, smoke circling our heads as we quietly sipped our drinks. It is a tradition of ours, at least once a week, to walk about our battered neighborhood as improbable ambassadors, greeting all we meet with smiles. We seek out the seediest, shadiest, sleaziest bars in town and, in the simple act of pulling up a stool, we plant a flag for Jesus.
That night, a woman sidled up next to me at the bar. It was a very warm night, but she wore a thick winter coat. Stringy hair dangled from beneath a heavy wool cap and I noticed dirt caked on her fingernails. Her sunken eyes and ashen complexion screamed of many sleepless nights. Dark, festering sores surrounded her lips. She rested her full weight on me as she attempted to lift her arms onto the bar.
In a random act of insurrection, we chose not to ignore her. I looked her in the eye and introduced myself. A moment later, my companion did the same.
And the powers of darkness covered their nakedness in shame.
The folks behind us laughed and mocked her periodically. Those who weren’t laughing paid little attention. Even the bartender spoke to her sparingly. Her past was no secret to the people of the neighborhood. She was a user, an addict, a junkie.
“My name is Catherine,” she replied. She extended her hand to me and I grasped it lightly.
We shook hands. She squeezed tightly and did not let go. I later found out that my companion had the same experience. Long after I was finished with the handshake, she made no effort to move away, keeping her palm pressed into mine and her fingers clasped clumsily around my thumb and wrist. She was smiling at me still and it was clear that she was deeply moved by human contact. So we held hands for a moment.
And the disarmed principalities searched in vain for their weapons.
Catherine offered me a cigarette, but I politely declined. She mumbled something unintelligible and I asked her to repeat herself. The din of the music and softness of her voice caused me to miss half of her statement. She smiled and wandered away before I could ask her again.
As my friend and I continued to talk, I noticed Catherine wandering around the pool table. She was trying to chat with people, but it was clear that she was getting in the way of their game. The other patrons were visibly annoyed at her presence and soon the bartender crossed the room. Guiding her by the arm, the bartender brought Catherine back to her spot beside me at the bar.
“I told you,” said the bartender in a harsh tone, “they are playing a tournament. If you go over there again, I will throw you out of here.”
It was quiet for a moment. Catherine glanced quickly over her shoulders to see who had witnessed her reprimand. She looked at me in embarrassment. Eventually, she smiled again and asked me if I liked the music.
“I do like it,” I said, “Do you?”
And the spiritual tyrants of the universe dropped their phony badges in resignation.
After a while, my friend and I decided to leave. Catherine was still standing next to me but her focus was elsewhere. I leaned closer to her and said slowly and clearly, “We have to leave now, Catherine, but it was nice to meet you. Maybe we will see you again sometime.”
At the sound of her name, she turned to face me. A grin crept across her face. I moved to stand up from the stool, but I was stopped in my tracks as Catherine lurched forward and threw her arms around me in a full contact hug. It caught me completely off guard, and with her total weight against me, I almost lost my balance. She pressed her forehead into the center of my chest and placed her right hand in the small of my back. I felt the cigarette in her left hand burning half an inch from my ear as she rested her wrist on my shoulder. Detecting the scent of urine, I looked down at her in surprise.
The other customers in the bar watched the scene, some clearly smirking at what they probably assumed was my naivete about “that woman’s” intentions, others simply curious to see my reaction. My friend paused at the door and I looked at him, wondering myself what I should do next. There, in that darkened bar, in front of those people, I did the only thing I could think of: I put my arms around her and hugged her.
“You be careful out there. Stay safe,” I told her.
And the rulers and authorities were embarrassed at the public spectacle they’d become.
This is an unlikely insurgence we lead. We are a dubious army in mismatched uniforms performing mundane tasks in the name of our king. We rely not on tactics of shock and awe, but devices of hope and expectation. We are not skilled mercenaries with complex weaponry. We are more like shepherd boys with five small stones, or prostitutes with a hayloft and some scarlet cord. Or men hugging a drug addict in a bar.
So much of this revolution depends on our simple willingness to cast off the “normal” patterns of the world and embrace peculiarity. Downward mobility over the ladder to success. Peace over aggressive expansion. Meekness over efficiency.
We stand in quiet determination, devoting ourselves to miniscule acts of faithfulness, and Satan trembles – not because we are mighty, but because we are weak. He does not cower at mighty acts of valor, but at subversive acts of everyday living. He is reminded of his imminent demise not because we have parted the seas, but because we have stood expectantly on the shore.
We are revolutionaries not because of great deeds or wild dreams, but because of our small and simple commitment to pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of God over any worldly kingdom. We are bold enough to cast off the former way and embrace the new way. We are daring enough to be in this world but not of it. We are audacious enough to seek God’s will on earth as it is in heaven – which we know includes liberation for Catherine from both her inner brokenness and the grips of social brokenness that holds her and so many others . We are silly enough to believe that the simplest acts of love are the seeds of God’s shalom, for Catherine, for me, for all of us..
As we left the bar that evening, we did not feel much like revolutionaries. But we did know Whose we were, and that was enough.