Meeting Jesus

I had an interesting encounter after church on Sunday.

We were in the middle of a visioning session with the congregation following the service when a church member came into the meeting to speak to me. There is a man, she said, ringing the office doorbell non-stop and demanding to speak to the priest. I told him that there was a meeting going on and no one was available. He said he was going to sit and wait and wanted to come inside.

This church member, understandably, felt uncomfortable having an unknown man sit outside the offices to wait while she was alone down the hall in the kitchen. So I and another member of our staff went to speak with him.

He seemed to recognize my collar right away and was happy to speak with me.

The second coming of Jesus has happened! he said without any hesitation after I said hello.
Oh? That’s exciting! I replied.
He looked me straight in the eye and said, I am he.
Oh! I said again. I wasn’t expecting the conversation to go there…
Very seriously he told me, I was told to deliver this special message to all of the churches.
Good for you! That is a lot of work.
He looked at me kind of accusatorily: I received this message in September. But you have very good bouncers and I have not been able to tell you until now. All of the true churches need to believe in Jesus and be saved.
Thank you for making sure that we heard.
Now, I have told you. And with that he turned around got his bicycle and cycled away.

It was an interesting interaction. My first response was that I wanted to share about it in one of my Facebook clergy groups, but then I stopped to think about that.

Why did I feel the need to share something seemingly so personal to this man? Was it because I wanted to mock him? Or because I wanted to demonstrate how good I am at interacting with people with mental illness? Or should I even be assuming it was a mental illness that was compelling him to share this message with us?

I am preparing to preach on Matthew 25:31-46 this coming weekend and in this passage the question is repeatedly asked, Lord when did we see you? A man walked up to me and told me he is Jesus. Why couldn’t he be?

So I haven’t posted anything other than this. And posting it here allows me to ponder different contexts for what might be going on. It means that I have to place it in the wider story rather than just sharing the dialogue for a laugh. Because even if it was mental illness that compelled his message, he is a beautiful human being made in God’s image who should not be mocked but should be loved and cared for.

Maybe I did meet Jesus after all.

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The Violence of Preconceptions

I had an interesting and thought-provoking conversation at work yesterday. Because of complex mental health and addictions needs as well as sometimes physical barriers, many of the individuals I work with as a Mental Health Worker have outside workers from different agencies who come to spend time with them. One such outside worker was in our office last night, doing paperwork after finishing up with one of the residents. He casually mentioned that he hadn’t seen me before and I replied that it was likely because, as relief staff, I spend time at three different facilities, not just the one where I was presently working.

Three sites, he asked?

So I explained that we have the long-stay residential site, an eating disorders program, and a shorter stay transitional program that workes with folks on addictions as well as mental health issues.

Addictions! He exclaimed. Are they violent?

The question was innocent enough, but it took me aback. Are they violent? That has never been something I have thought to ask, or really needed to ask myself in the last three years of working in the mental health and addictions field.

Are they violent?

What it does tell, I think, is something about the perceptions and misconceptions within our society as a whole towards those who struggle with addictions, towards those who have mental illness, towards those who live on our streets or in our shelters and transitional housing.

Even in grouping these things together I do a disservice. There are many people who have a mental illness who live and work alongside you and I and are afraid to say something lest they be targeted. There are many functional people in our society who are struggling with or in recovery from addictions. There are many in our shelter systems who have never had an addiction or a mental illness – though they may if we do not do more to house people at affordable rates – they’ve maybe just had a run of bad luck.

So why is it that the first questions asked when we see or hear about a violent crime in the news are, “Are they mentally ill? Do they have an addiction making them do this?” It is a stigma we need to break if we are to become an inclusive and compassionate society.

Screen shot 2014-07-06 at 11.33.34 PMEarlier this week, I retweeted this picture. To it, I added the comment that the beggar at our door also includes sex workers. Over the years I worked in shelters I had the privilege of getting to know a number of current and former sex workers. I am certain that I learned as much or more from our relationship as they learned from me. Which is why I signed my name to this letter; which is why I disagree with the legislation proposed in Bill C-36. Because a mark of our health as a society is our ability to include and care for our most vulnerable: Not how we further marginalize. Not how we legislate or otherwise control. Not how we isolate ourselves, look the other direction, or bury heads in the sand. But how we love and show compassion to all.

 

UPDATE: A press release, blogged from St John the Divine, Victoria. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t actually credit the original author of the previously linked letter regarding Bill C-36: Bruce Bryant-Scott.