If you have read a fair share of my blog entries you know that I am a pastor. As a pastor I have the opportunity in multiple ways every day to interact with a wide variety of people. It's one of things I most enjoy about my vocational life, because no two days are ever the same. Over the years I have learned that God provides me with unique opportunities to intersect with others' lives, if I am willing to be open to these unplanned moments. And invariably, it seems that when I am meeting with someone who lives at the margins of society I am at that moment preoccupied with my concerns.
One of those moments occurred ten minutes ago. I had opened and was reading my most recent financial statement from our denominational pension plan, feeling pleased with the way my retirement plan investments have been performing over the past three months and feeling good to know that in twenty-five years or so when I retire there will be some security awaiting us.
In my momentary revelry I was interrupted by the intercom button to hear our administrative assistant announce, "Bart, there's someone to see you." I opened my door and Mike introduced himself. I asked him the customary, "How are you doing today?" and heard, "Well, not so bad seeing that I spent the night in my truck." It's always difficult to know how to respond appropriately and compassionately to such a response, so I simply said, "Come on in."
He explained to me that he had been at Salvation Army for the past several days (perhaps weeks) and that they had done all they could to assist him. Specifically he has a leaking tire that continues to go flat, which inhibits his ability to do any job search. (Our community does have some public transportation, but it operates nothing like the regularity of large metropolitan areas). Knowing that we have little in our benevolence fund, I offered Mike a couple of other options. He called one organization who couldn't provide any help, and I called another with little success.
And in the process, at the back of my mind, I heard once again God's inquiring voice. It went something like this ... "So, Bart, you're sitting here in your comfortable church office where it is warm and you have all the technology (and more) you need to do your work. You're scanning the financial results of your pension plan, which has built by the sacrifical giving of Christian people over the years of your ministry service. You're feeling good about your future because you see financial security in retirement. And you're not willing to do anything to help Mike fix his tire?"
It might have been the name that particularly attracted my attention this time, for Mike, as you may know, is the name of our seventeen-year-old son who has been diagnosed with an array of challenging issues and whose future looks a bit uncertain at this point in life. And so, in those brief moments of reflection and recognition, I had to say to myself, "What about when it's your Mike who is in a church office somewhere asking some pastor for assistance? What do you want that person to do for your Mike?"
The answer, of course, is obvious. I want my son Mike to be treated with dignity and compassion if and when the circumstances of his life force him to ask some hopefully friendly stranger for assistance.
And so I did what I should have done in the beginning. I said, "Mike, let's get your truck to a place where they can fix your tire, and I'll find a way to take care of it for you." So I called one of the tire stores, made arrangements for Mike's arrival and agreed to pay for the repair.
On his way out of my office door, his smile and three words were more than adequate, "Thanks. Bless you." No, Mike, bless you. You are not my Mike, but one day you could be.