JOHN RAILEY: When Christ is on the line
EDITOR’S NOTE: John Railey is the former editorial page editor of the Winston-Salem Journal, where he covered religion before becoming an editorial writer.
Maybe it really was The Second Coming. Richard Lee Quintero called 911 in North Carolina the other day to say: “This is Jesus Christ and I just broke into the Pizza Hut. I broke the window. Jesus is here, he’s back on earth.”
Who’s to say he’s not really The Man? Quintero’s March 21 timing, in the middle of the Lenten season run-up to Easter Sunday, couldn’t have been better. By late last week, a story about him that The High Point Enterprise broke had generated more than 1.6 million hits on the Internet.
There was, indeed, the sheer novelty of the story at this time of year. Many readers probably just shook their heads and laughed, figured the guy was a nut and moved on to the next clickbait on the internet. But for folks like me, there was something deeper to this story, starting with the Gospel’s words that two thieves were crucified to the left and right of Christ.
I’m a wanna-be-Quaker and buy into my faith’s belief that there is the light of Christ in all of us. No, I don’t really believe that Quintero, a mere 46-year-old soul from Greensboro, is the Second Coming. But I do believe we humans are constantly getting signs from Christ or The Great Spirit or whatever you want to call the lifeforce. My beloved friend Donna Lewis calls them “Rolodex moments:” Just when you think the Creator isn’t listening, he or she rolls the cards and lightning strikes you with a sign that defies coincidence. (Note to young readers: Rolodexes were small wheels of hard-copy business cards before most recordkeeping went to cyberspace.)
Maybe Quintero offered us a Rolodex moment when police say he broke into that Pizza Hut in High Point. When the dispatcher asked him why he did it, the Enterprise reported, he said, “Because I’m Jesus. I can do whatever I want.”
Can our brother get an Amen on that? Quintero told the dispatcher that he ate a pizza and drank a Mountain Dew. Sun Drop, the closest thing I know to Holy Water, usually isn’t offered in restaurants in High Point, unfortunately. Quintero told the dispatcher that he was “starving to death” and “everybody’s been treating me mean,” the Enterprise reported.
The world is a hungry, mean place indeed.
Life hurts. Love helps. And so can spirituality.
The best spiritual leaders – ranging from ones in Islam to Judaism to Buddhism to Christianity – inspire us to try for something better. My choice is the Quaker faith, sprinkled with a dose of Native American spirituality. I believe in the mystical and the magical and in signs, in walking this earth with the departed, what the Indians call those from “The Spirit World,” or, at least, never forgetting them and their lessons.
I love Sundays at my Quaker meeting (what we call churches) but I am never closer to the Creator than when I am out on the water – my lake in High Point, my boyhood Nottoway River in Virginia, and, especially, my ocean. All manner of wildlife play and the sun strikes shimmers on the water that look, to my eyes at least, like the Creator winking at me.
I have felt the Creator there and I have felt him, or her, in jails and prisons and even on Death Row, where there are chaplains and defense lawyers – not all of them, but the best of them – who find the humanity in those who have committed heinous and atrocious murders that deserve life in prison but not the death penalty that concentrates on the poor, taking lives that only God can create, leaving no room for error in a criminal justice system rife with error. And outside Death Row, good people of faith minister to the survivors of the murdered. Their work is just as crucial.
In the criminal justice system in general, there are, of course, many lesser criminals whose lives cry out to be turned around.
Richard Lee Quintero, the alleged burglar who claimed to be Christ, was arrested and jailed on breaking and entering charges during Lenten season. Maybe he, or someone far above him, was sending a signal to the rest of us.