Bob: The Sequel
I told you a couple of months ago about my friend Bob (you can read that here). The story continued after my post in August in much the way it always has. Bob and I struggled to find a way to get help for him that he couldn’t single-handedly blow up due to his mental illness. In mid-September it became clear that there was no place in Hope he could secure housing, so despite a few choice words he took my advice and headed to Langley where he has a sympathetic Mental Health worker and there are many more potential resources. She called a few days later to let me know that he had shown up at their drop in centre and had been connected with an outreach worker who was helping him find housing.
That was great news, and more than three weeks passed with no word from Bob. But he has a wandering spirit, so it didn’t surprise me too much that he showed up at our church last week-end. The police (and by that he means the voices he hears due to his schizophrenia) had told him he had to come back to Hope and talk to me. He wasn’t sure why, maybe it was because he owed the local deli some money, he guessed.
He sat through our worship service and as I spoke on Exodus 14 (hear the message here), I couldn’t help but notice that there was something different about him. On past Sundays he would either sleep though the sermon or cross his arms and scowl at anyone unlucky enough to catch his gaze. This week was different, he sat upright, almost leaning forward in his chair. He was tracking with the sermon, nodding in agreement at the appropriate places, laughing at the jokes. His face was engaged and alive in a way I have never seen it. It was such a radical departure from the norm that I noticed it repeatedly as I spoke.
The sermon was on the Children of Israel crossing the Red Sea. At the close the message I tried to drive home the point that no matter what we feel is pursuing us from our past or what about the future looks impossible, the love and grace of God is enough.
I led the congregation through a guided prayer where they took both the evils of the past and the fears for the future and held them up to God, “standing still” and allowing his love and grace to “fight for them”. As I did this I saw Bob wipe a tear from his cheek.
After church my Associate Pastor Jake told me about the conversation he had with Bob right after the service.
Jake: “How’s it going Bob?’
Bob: “I want to change the world.”
Jake: (obviously surprised by Bob’s comment) “What was that, Bob?”
Bob: “I want to change the world. To give it hope. To give it…commitments.”
Here’s what strikes me about this. I am sure that within the next 30 minutes Bob was swearing at someone for not giving him money or buying his lunch. Yet in that moment there was something lovely in Bob that floated to the surface. Despite his painful past and the brokenness that comes from his years of suffering with mental illness, the truth of the love and grace of God penetrated the fog and lifted up a beautiful aspect of Bob so that we could have a glimpse. It’s evidence of the very present, yet distorted, image of God that resides in each and every human being. We often think that the way to change people is to demand better, or to educate them toward change. Those things do matter, but I am more and more convinced that the only thing that penetrates deeply to the core of who we are is a strong experience of the love and grace of God. It’s what allowed Bob, if only for a moment, to express his beautiful desire to change the world by giving it hope.
That evening Bob got on a bus and headed back to Langley. But before he did, he once again helped me to understand a desire that resonates deep within me. I long for the church to be a place that doesn’t just tell people about the grace of God, but makes the experience of it tangible and real for all those it touches.