The past two days I have been in deep thought while attending a Global Citizenship Conference put on by the University of Calgary. The key speaker being Paul Loeb, an analyst and social activist from the United States. I could probably go on about the uprooted deep reflections which I have had regarding Imperialism, social construction and reconstruction, and the differences I have noticed when it comes to Kingdom language and ethical formation with regards to Paul's "core values" (narratives and metanarratives) however in truth, it is not what is on my heart right now. This morning amongst the hustle and bustle of settling into a prepared state for theological and political debate I had a random encounter with a missional calling. Wheeling into the hallway of the church which the conference was being held in, I began looking for the gentleman's restroom. Upon entering the door I was confronted by a scruffy bearded elderly gentleman maybe in his late fifties who for some reason began telling me of his over night stay at the church while I washed my hands.
He apparently had traveled to Calgary from a small town in British Columbia in order to receive radiation treatments for health issues. Once arriving however, he was unable to afford to return home. For that reason he had spent the night sleeping outside of the church building. Now I could immediately begin to feel the shock of that as it has been dropping to below -15 degrees Celsius her in Calgary for the last week! I quizzed him, "Why didn't you go to the drop in center downtown?" In a forth right answer he explained a dramatic incident of mistaken identity resulting in his being banned for entering the facility.
Now I have spent enough time serving and working with the homeless to know many of the questionable stories however, the tragedy in this gentleman's state left me with a deeper calling in heart. That is why I felt a great disappointment in myself when I rushed him off in order that I might get to use the restroom before the mornings activities began.
As I entered the conference room hall and took my seat, I glanced over at all the food which was set out for us and thought, "Erik, you idiot! Why didn't you offer the man some breakfast? Wouldn't Jesus of brought him to the table?" The guilt just kept on piling as I listened to the Parhed administrator detail the latest building endeavor and I replayed in my mind over and over Brian McLaren's call to bridging the equity gap by dismantling the social bubbles which alienate rich from poor and the upper classes from poor classes (I just finished his latest book 'Everything Must Change'!). I bowed my head and began praying silently. I prayed for the older gentleman; for his health, safety, and ability to return home. I prayed Jesus would forgive me for my slowness in wisdom and ignorance to opportunity. I prayed he would make me wiser for the future in the chance that I might have another encounter like this.
As I lifted my head up again, sitting in the back row I glanced over at the open doors. I saw him! Walking slowly by with his walker; all bundled up in a warm jacket, gloves, scarf, and a hat. They must have thought I lost it or something. In the middle of the administrators speech I through my lap top (which was square on my lap) over the back of the chair in front of me and raced for the door with the small hope of catching him before he got outside! I glanced at Paul Loeb as I rushed by him sitting by the door and thought "What are you doing? Are you crazy?"
I quickly grabbed the gentleman's attention and asked if he wanted to come in and grab some breakfast. He reluctantly agreed and followed me back to the doors. As I entered I looked back. He seemed to hesitate at the doors, unsure if he should enter. I waved him in and as he approached the table I asked what he would like while pointing at the muffins and fruit. Sadly, he quickly withdrew and said thanks for the offer but he should really go.
Perhaps it was nerves and the fear of standing out or perhaps it was the radiation treatment affecting his appetite. I wasn't sure. I was a little disheartened however and wondering to myself; would it have made a difference if I had brought the food to him at the door? When it comes to us seeking equity and the reconstruction of a Kingdom society, how can we find a balance so that not just those who are "prosperous" can respond more readily but also that those in need will find greater courage, acceptance, and familiarity with an equality and right to presence? I keep hope, faith, and I pray that in future I and others might be able to find an answer to this question soon.
"For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’"