It’s not that often that you have really life changing experiences. In the past ten years or so, I seem to always have one or two when I attend the national convention of Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA). Ten years ago to the week I was a high schooler at St. Louis 99 and received probably the most clear and amazing call to ministry that I’ve ever really had. In more recently years it’s been amazing to take youth back to convention and to watch God work in their lives. The wide eyed first timers are always the best.
This year was no exception. I was really the only person from our group who had been to a convention, or at least multiple conventions. After the first day it was apparent that most of the kids didn’t really know what they were getting into. By 11:00 at night they just wanted to crash. It was probably more emotional overload than anything, but that’s kinda what we’re going for here. A number of the kids were really challenged in their own understandings of the faith and what it means for their lives. It was really fantastic to watch unfold.
What I didn’t really expect was how convicted I became on a couple of issues. One of which is economic justice. Among others, Shane Claiborne really has continued to push me to question my role in our economic system. I am at a pivotal point in my life where I have the opportunity to make some interesting and drastic decisions regarding how I want to live the rest of my life economically and I’ve been thinking a lot about the decisions that I will shortly be making. More importantly, I’ve continued to question the entire economic system as a whole and the vast disparities that it creates. While this has been a growing thought for me, coming back from Columbus has continued to push me to say that addressing the inequalities of our system is really not about giving more to the food bank. It’s about rethinking the entire system, and our place in it. Even more importantly, I’ve come more to the conviction that these inequalities arise because we are so separated from people who are different than us. Even in Harper, it’s possible to live you life not really knowing anyone who is different than you are.
And then George stopped by.
The week before I left for Columbus one of the other pastors in town came by with a guy who was backpacking (hitchhiking) across the country. His name was George and he wanted to know if he could pick up trash around the church yard in return for a couch to sleep on. I was a little taken aback at first and mumbled, “um…um…ok” I then called one of the elders and double checked that it would be alright, sent the guy downstairs and then finished up the second meeting that I needed to go to that night.
After I got out of the meeting a strange thing happened; I kept hearing this voice in the back of my head saying very clearly and loudly, “i was a stranger and you welcomed me”. He had asked if we had any food so I ran to the quick shop and picked up some basic supplies and made George supper and took it down to him at the church.
By the end of the night I wound up having a 3 hour conversation with George and didn’t get home until midnight. That conversation was an amazing one. I heard more of the Gospel preached from an agnostic homeless man than I’ve heard preached in many of our churches in a long time.
In our conversation said to me, “Alan, I’ve been all over this country and the grip that materialism has on our country is killing us.” He said, “Alan, you wouldn’t believe the domestic abuse and dysfunction that exists all over this land but especially in the churches that I’ve stayed at.” He said, “Jesus was really amazing, if only the people in the churches would actually follow what Jesus taught.”
I know without a shadow of a doubt that one night in June of 2009, I had a conversation with Jesus.
That’s what I mean when I say that we’re being called to something more. That’s what I mean when I say we need to rethink the entire system that our country operates on. If we come to invest our lives with the “other”, the people who are different than us then maybe, just maybe, will we be able to see the world in a different way.