Often it is hard to know how to live our Christian values. Here is how one man answered the challenge of his minister.
For 23 years, I have been a practicing lawyer in Cincinnati. When I first started my career, I remember discussing with my minister how I might “fit” my Christian values into my newly chosen profession. He challenged me, instead, to “fit” the profession into my Christian life. That was a scary proposition to a young attorney who was worried about how to make money and about how to please the partners at his new firm. Yet a few years later, I found a way to answer my minister’s challenge.
After I had been practicing for about four years, I signed up to participate in a program through the Volunteer Lawyers for the Poor Foundation. One of my first clients was a man I will call “Hank.” Hank had been locked out of his apartment by his landlord and had, consequently, lost all of his few possessions. The apartment was in a run-down building, and, instead of offering respite to underprivileged tenants and would be tenants, the landlord made a habit of preying on them. The landlord knew that Hank would not be able to pay his rent. Instead of working with Hank or following the proper eviction procedures, he simply locked Hank out.
During our first meeting, in a courtyard by St. John’s Social Service, where Hank had found refuge, Hank explains to me how he had wound up in the dingy apartment in the first place. It seems that Hank was a successful photographer in the Greenhills neighborhood of Cincinnati. Hank was married and had teenage children. All was well with him until he discovered heroin. (Although this story takes place in the early 1990s, it might as well be occurring today.) As a result of his addiction, Hank lost his job and his family. He found salvation through St. John’s and had become a counselor and mentor to other men who had traveled a similar path. Hank’s apartment was his first step to re-claiming a healthy life.
Obviously, the landlord’s actions caused a setback for Hank. At that time, as it still does today, the Volunteer Lawyers project matches attorneys, who are willing to take time out of their normal duties, with clients who lack financial recourses to secure the legal help that they need. I took on Hank’s case and was able to secure a settlement for him from the landlord. I also knew that money would be a temptation for Hank, so when the check came in, Hank and I marched to the bank and opened a savings account for him. I urged Hank to let the folks at St. John’s know that he had the money and to ask for their help in monitoring its use.
A few months later, Hank called my office. He sounded upset. He had gone back to using drugs and was now in a recovery program at Good Samaritan Hospital. As part of his treatment, he was encouraged to call someone to whom he had caused harm by his relapse. Hank chose me. He confessed his embarrassment that our good work together had gone down the drain. Although he had relapsed, I forgave Hank, thinking that perhaps our short journey together had taught him something about the consequences of his actions, that perhaps even we both had learned a certain type of love for one another. My experience with Hank also made me realize what my minister asked of me a few years earlier. I had learned to make my chosen field an integral part of my Christian life.