Focus scripture – Psalm 138, Luke 5:1-11
Today’s scriptures, from psalm to gospel, are about call and knowing our place in the One that calls us. They’re about the abundance of Love’s outpoured blessing. The psalmist sings of the Creator’s power to bring change and blessing to all who enter fully into the presence of the divine. Luke’s gospel uses tangible imagery to tell the same story. Do as Jesus teaches and the harvest will be so full as to almost swamp your boat.
“Come with me and be fishers of people.”
It could not have been an easy call to respond to. Leaving everything and following the hope of abundance. Yet we know they did. We are testimony to their steadfast assurance and dedication to Love’s call.
Many people come to our church seeking Love’s call. Bearing the deep wounds of a world that commodifies love. Making of love, even, or perhaps especially, God’s love, a quantity obtainable only by those who pass the test.
“Are you strong enough? Have you worked hard enough? Do you dress well enough? Are you shaped appropriately? Do you speak with clarity? Can you function normally? Are you trust-worthy? Do you pray? Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour?”
We like to think there’s room for all within our walls. A place to get in from the cold, a moment of peace from the struggle, a chance to be visited by a warm smile, a friendly voice, a caring aspect. To participate in recovery, to share a meal with friends, to be supported in the journey. To worship our God with gladness, to know ourselves as beloved. To just ‘be’, and to know that is blessing. A place without tests.
We may or may not have tests. That’s hard to discern from within the culture. We do, however, have standards. Along with ensuring personal safety, we do not abide the appropriation of items belonging to others. The disappearance of property is not a new thing here. Over the years we’ve learned not to hang coats at the front entrance, not to leave purses unattended, not to leave the office unguarded, not to leave the library unlocked. Not to leave saleable items in view for anyone to help themselves to. We’ve recognized that some folk will take what is left unattended and appropriate it to their own use.
Lately the problem’s become more acute. We’ve installed cameras. We lock exits so that random visitors cannot stroll the building looking for available items, and we have conversations with those who are appropriating stuff to let them know they cannot. We’ve barred 6 people from unsupervised access to the church as they seem unable to stop themselves from picking up what they can.
In the face of this tightening approach, I’ve found myself wondering how people coming here are experiencing the call to love. Is setting boundaries for a few sending a message of distrust, suspicion and fear to all?
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to do more than muse about the situation. I experienced it directly and have been considering my actions and the message they sent ever since.
A fellow came into the office and helped himself to Linda’s cell phone. Becoming aware of that, I and another who does not wish to be named, gave chase. Pursuing him down Ingram, I crossed Canada Ave, then Duncan St., past the fire hall, and to the Food Bank.
Yelling, “Stop, thief!” at the top of my lungs, I made use of my ‘pulp mill’ voice, which can be fairly noticeable. A few people noticed. Some stopped their vehicles so I could continue unimpeded, although I was, frankly, glad enough of the rest pausing for traffic gave me. Some offered to head up the alley and cut him off. One fellow caught up with him at the fire hall and, taking his backpack, presented it to me.
“Is this what he took?” he asked. I had to shrug my ignorance, the phone could have been in it, I didn’t have time to check. On handing me the pack he said, “He told me he gave it to the other guy…”
I thanked him and continued in pursuit, still yelling “You come back here! You can’t steal from a church!”
I heard the far-off reply, “I gave it to the other guy. I don’t have it any more.”
“I don’t care!” I yelled, “You come back here! You talk to me! You can’t steal from a church!”
He, of course, continued fleeing.
When I arrived, puffing, huffing and almost blown down, at the food bank, Colleen told me he’d disappeared up the street, after failing in a desperate attempt to steal a bicycle. Down the road like the devil was after him. After learning his name and a bit of his reputation I puffed off to my next meeting at Coffee on the Moon. There I met our Mayor, whose coat and purse had, ironically, been rescued from someone’s eager grasp at the Boxing Day dinner at our church. She’d left them unattended while serving others. We talked about the desperation being experienced by so many in our small corner of the world. What to do?
Linda called me from our office soon after I arrived at the coffee shop, letting me know the other pursuer had chased down the phone and retrieved it. She knew who the culprit was, his girlfriend had been using the hall phone while the event unfolded. I told her I had his pack. She went on to have a conversation with his friend.
“What was he thinking?” Linda asked.
“I don’t know,” his friend replied, “I was complaining about not having a cel phone yesterday…maybe he thought he’d get me one? I hope he’s ok.”
Assuring her that he was alright even in the unlikely event that the Minister had caught him, Linda told her he would have to come to the office to talk to us if he wanted to reclaim his pack. He has yet to respond to the offer.
I’ve been thinking about the incident. Bothered by it. There’s something about chasing another human being through the streets, naming him as ‘thief’, as ‘outcast’, as ‘pariah’, as something other than human, that bothers me. It does not seem right or proper, or Christian for me to be so designating another.
There is power in naming. Names can shape us, cast us into a mold that’s hard to shake, harder to break.
This is Black History Month and listening to a story on CBC this morning I was reminded of that history, and all the names that were used to describe people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The story was about Stanley Grizzle one of Canada’s pioneer African Canadian activists. A man who’s spent years as a porter on the railway, one of the few jobs open to men of African descent in the early part of the 20th century. We were told those men were called ‘George’ because George Pullman had designed the railcars they served on. They weren’t even allowed their own names to mark their service.
As to the fellow I was chasing and naming, I’m sure he’s been called by other names. ‘Addict’, or ‘user’, or ‘untrustworthy’, or ‘dirty’, or ‘crooked’, or ‘hopeless’, or ‘waste of skin’, or… well, you get the drift.
In the context of today’s scripture, I wonder what Jesus would have done to help him fill his boat with abundance. How would he have invited him into the community of the already holy but not knowing it yet. What would he have called him? ‘Beloved’? ‘Lost’? ‘Bereft’? ‘Wounded’? ‘Brother’? ‘Child of God’? Who knows, maybe he’d have called him by his name and invited him over for bread, wine, olive oil and humus.
What Jesus might have done, I did not do.
I do not offer this as something you may need to consider in your lives. I offer it because I need it in mine. I have no solutions, I know we need firm and clear boundaries to keep everyone safe. But I wonder about the line those boundaries draw and how I have overstepped my own.
Let us think of that, as we pray.