The life of Carroll Patrick Oliver seems to scream "Matthew 25."
In that famous chapter of the New Testament, Jesus describes what it means to be a disciple of Christ:
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"
Oliver's treatment of "the least of these" figures prominently in a front-page Houston Chronicle story today — even though holy ghosts (the kind GetReligion was created to expose) haunt the piece.
Let's start with the Chronicle's riveting lede:
The most perplexing part of Carroll Patrick Oliver’s death is not that alleged robbers gunned him down in broad daylight Monday morning in the parking lot of his Fifth Ward McDonald’s.
A fixture in Houston’s Fifth Ward for more than four decades, Oliver, 68, fed the homeless and hungry neighborhood children with french fries and burgers, opened his checkbook to help out employees in a jam, and gave first jobs to teenagers at a nearby high school and second chances to ex-convicts who could not find work anywhere else.
No, the most distressing thing, for those who mourned Oliver, was that someone would try to steal from, and kill, a man known to have given anyone anything they needed.
“No matter what you had been through, who you were or what you had done, he would help you,” said Theresa Green, who knew Oliver for more than 30 years. “He looked at everyone the way God does, like a person.”
Why in the world would he look at everyone "the way God does?" Could it be his faith?
I kept reading, hoping to find out.
The next section of the story focused on the crime itself. That's certainly appropriate. Those details are important.
But still, my question concerning Oliver's religious background lingered.
A little later in the report, the Chronicle hints strongly at the answer:
Oliver not only helped his employees and friends, Waters said he was told, but worked with several programs in the community, including those that helped former convicts get jobs. One woman who lived nearby said no one would offer her friend, who spent 29 years in prison, a job except for Oliver. Friends said he attended church at the nearby Our Mother of Mercy. He frequently took food to homeless men and women who hung around outside the Family Dollar store next door. Never had anyone heard him raise his voice or show a hint of any anger, they said.
He also extended his kindness beyond Houston, volunteering as chaplain with the Fort Bend County Precinct 2 Constable’s Office. Oliver was good friends with Constable Ruben Davis and came to many community events at schools and nursing homes, where he would lead everyone in prayer, said Rodney Pentecost, Precinct 2’s chief deputy.
“It is so unfortunate that someone would take his life,” Pentecost said. “We will miss him.”
A relative of Oliver’s who answered the door at his home said the family did not want to comment “at this time.
Those details help, even though I'd love to see a more direct exploration of Oliver's faith. At the same time, a newspaper can report only what it knows. If the family was not interested in talking (which is certainly understandable), that makes the newspaper's challenge more difficult.
Still, I wonder if there was another way to connect the dots about how Oliver's way of life reflected his Christian beliefs. Perhaps talking with a spiritual leader at his church would have helped?
No doubt, the Chronicle paints a moving portrait of Oliver.
I'm just not certain it's a full picture.