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How can we love our neighbours if we don't know their name?
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By Gil Clelland

Jesus commanded us to love our neighbours as ourselves. So the question I ask is "how can we love our neighbours if we don't know their name?"

He sat there alone. People walked by. Perhaps they did not notice him. Perhaps they did not want to notice him. Grey weathered clothing blended into the grey weathered sidewalk. An empty hat opened expectantly to offerings from passer bys. A cardboard sign - "Any help will do."

I knelt down to speak to him. Hauntingly empty eyes met mine. "New to the city?"

"Just passin' through...off to Toronto...soon, I hope"

"My name is Gil. Good to meet you." And I offered my hand.

"Yeah..." No hand returned.

I withdrew my hand and sat down. We talked for a bit. Small talk was tough. I tried. But sometimes, trust is hard to build for someone who has seen so much. I got up to leave. Excused myself and turned away.

"I'm Ken"...I turned back. His hand was out. I shook his hand, caught his eyes, and a sacred moment of connection occurred. Ken felt safe enough with me to share his name.

I've been to the homeless memorial in Toronto. Hundreds perhaps even thousands of people are listed there. People who have died on the streets of Toronto. But, by far, the most common name among those dead is John Doe. Some of the John Doe's are so named as a way of protecting their privacy after death. But for a good number, too many perhaps, John Doe is the name the city gave to people who died and they don't know their name. In other words, many of those people named and listed as John Doe died alone. They didn't even have their name. Nobody knew them. They just died alone. And that is the biggest problem with homelessness. People are home-less. They do not have all the things we think of when we think of home. Sometimes, not even their name.

And we perpetuate this problem all the time. Take this morning's local newspaper for example. In the comment section online under an article about library reform, there are many people who wrote that the real issue in the library are the "bums" who need to be kicked out for sleeping there. You and I both know that those "bums" to which they are referring are my friends who live on the street. Perhaps it would help if we understood a bit more that my friends have a really tough time sleeping at night and the library is a safe place for them. Perhaps it would help if we understood a bit more about mental health. But I think the best starting point is to stop seeing this people group as "bums" or "street people" and start to know them as individuals with a name

Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. So the question I ask is "how can we love our neighbours if we don't know their name?" Any people group that can be dismissed by a title or a slur is a group of people that we cannot truly love. It is only when we get to know people by their name, by their story, seeing them as truly human, that we can begin to love them. I am not asking you to join me downtown. There are some among you perhaps that might end up working among the impoverished. But, I am asking you to get to know people by their name. Right in your own neighbourhoods. Hear their story. Share yours. Sit for a while. It may be tough. Small talk may seem wooden and uninspired for a while. Keep trying. Love begins with "hello".

Gil Clelland
Sanctuary London
519-902-9774
gil@sanctuarylondon.ca






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