Mo & Steve
This week, I encountered two men — let’s call them Mo and Steve — who have me thinking about repentance and anger.
I met Mo yesterday. He’s an elderly man who uses a wheelchair and walker to help him move about. He doesn’t have a car, nor a job, nor any close relations in the area. He spends most of his time on the couch in his tiny apartment, watching round-the-clock news stations with the volume turned up loud enough to hear it outside. Mo’s condition makes it difficult for him to practice basic hygiene. And his isolation has created, if it didn’t exist already, a sort-of gruff awkwardness around other people.
I’ve known Steve for several months. He has been involved in a few ministries at my church. He’s a young man whom life has already dealt a hurtful series of blows. He presents a well-kept appearance, has a white collar job, shows up faithfully to church activities, and knows how to engage in polite, Sunday banter.
Until this moment when the Holy Spirit called them both to mind, I hadn’t considered the two together. And didn’t realize that they are opposites of one another; nor that, of the two, Mo is the one I’d rather spend an hour with.
Mo called our church last week to ask for a pastor to come pray with him and serve communion. When I arrived at his apartment yesterday, he shouted for me to come in (the door was unlocked) and waved at some clothes for me to move off a chair. Without introduction, he started bellowing over the noise of cable news talking heads about how “they’re all liars” and “they want to destroy America.” Eventually, he muted the TV (apparently, the power button was a bridge too far) and told me stories. He had stories about UFOs and aliens; stories about snake people he once saw in the mountains of Montana; stories about his extended family who, by his reckoning, are all thieves and derelicts; and stories about angels and demons who have visited his apartment. I listened to his stories for an hour. Then I told him I needed to leave, but that I had brought the elements for communion and would be happy to pray with him. He responded with, “Yes, please.” So I read the account of the last supper from Matthew’s gospel, announced the elements to him, and watched him take them with tears. Then I prayed with him and left.
This Sunday, I ran into Steve after the morning service at church. He shook my hand and told me he wanted to say goodbye. He said the treatment he had received from our church was “unchristian” and he wouldn’t be coming back. Then he grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye, and said, “You keep that, Ryan. You think about that.”
My purpose here is not to defend my ministry to Steve, nor to get into the weeds of our church’s care for him. It’s enough here to say that I’m very familiar with the steps taken by our pastors, elders and volunteers to minister to Steve. He is a deeply troubled young man who seems intent on staying deeply troubled. Have we handled his case perfectly? No. Have we taken steps of tough love once or twice? Yes. But his summation of our care as “unchristian” was inaccurate and, as you might have guessed, really only intended for one purpose: to injure — to pass along the hurt that he feels, and that he can’t seem to release through repentance and reconciliation.
Today, it occurred to me that Mo and Steve are photo negatives of one another. Mo presents a crotchety, small-minded aspect — the manner you would expect, in fact, from someone who spends his days watching round-the-clock cable news. But when the eucharist was presented to him — when he faced the body and blood of his Savior in a form more tangible than any specter that has visited his apartment — he wept and prayed. Steve, on the other hand, presents a clean-cut church-going air, but has spurned repeated calls to repent. One is crusty on the outside, the other is unyielding at his core.
This week, I’m praying for both men. But next week, if I have some time to spare, there’s only one of them I might sit with for an hour to hear more stories.