Real Mission: On The Other Side of The Fence
One of the things getting me through this quarantine is a little drive I take a couple times a week down Ridge Road toward Paxton, a quick stop at the church to load up donations and then down Erie Avenue toward Madisonville. I know it's not the fastest way to get to John P. Parker Elementary School but, what can I say, the main way lacks adventure, and I like to take the back roads.
On my way past, I always wave to the DeVauls, well, to their house. And even though they cannot see me, it makes me feel like we are a little more together than we are. Once I hit Madisonville Education and Assistance Center (MEAC), it’s time to turn left, over the railroad tracks and past the Home for Cats. Yes, this really is a thing. You don’t see such interesting things on the main drag.
Just before I reach Madison Villa on the right, on the left is another Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS) Senior Living Community with a big cedar fence, and every time I drive past, the same man is standing there with a cigarette in his hand. The years have worn on him, his skin is leathery and tough. His clothes baggy and tattered. One day he wore a bright red baseball cap and I did a double take on the insignia. The first couple of times I saw him, I thought, what a coincidence, there he is again. Then on the third time, I thought, ah, we’re on the same schedule. I drive past at the same time on the same days every week. By the fifth time, I thought, I’ve got this guy all figured out. I’d made up a story in my head about who he was, what he valued, and why he was standing just on the other side of the fence. He’s not allowed to smoke on ERS property. I bet he’s sneaking a cigarette. Hiding so that no one can see him.
Building a persona around him was easy. The image of him told me a story of hardship, of destitution, of less than. My brain made it simple for me to paint a picture of his world without ever having to speak to him or ask him to tell his story.
The one-sided story is not just something that we do. People did this to Jesus too. People who didn’t know him made up their minds about him without even hearing his Word. They painted a picture in their minds of a radical zealot who was hungry for political power. They mistook his ministry for blasphemy and his kindness for sacrilege. They looked at him with an err of judgement and thought themselves justified in their assumptions about his actions and their motives.
Week six rolled around, and I expected to see him there. Just outside the gate, cigarette in hand, and as I rounded the corner, sure enough, there he was again. But this time, he wasn’t alone. I was running late that day, rushed out the door, hit every red light on the way; and thank God for inconvenience, because being late allowed me to see what this man was all about. The person with him was an old lady. The years looked to have been hard on her too. Her hair disheveled, and slippers for shoes. But her eyes lit up and laugh lines filled her face as the man reached behind the other side of the fence and emerged with several bags of groceries that he had brought to share with her that day.
My assumptions were shaken to the core as blasphemy gave way to ministry, sacrilege gave way to kindness, and judgment yielded to wisdom. My blasphemy, my sacrilege, my judgment. What grace! God kept bringing me back down that same road day after day week after week so that I could see the beauty of God’s people. People caring for one another. People looking out for one another. People challenging the way of presumption and thwarting unjust assumptions.
Thanks be to God that I am not immune to assuming the worst; because now I am reminded that people really can be the absolute best.
Tags: Real Mission Blog