Opening the Door
by Adam White
Adam is a former resident of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer House. He currently serves as a writer for Missional Wisdom Foundation and a minister at Grace UMC in East Dallas.
Finally I was alone with the whole house to myself.
It was the spring of 2011. I had just finished my first year of graduate studies at Perkins School of Theology, and my three roommates had left town for a couple of days. I was sapped—completely drained from all of the theological content and heady vocabulary they never warn you about before entering seminary. If you had told me a year previously that I would be responsible for defining “pneumatology,” I would have laughed at you for making up words.
I had moved into the Dietrich Bonhoeffer House six months before. The four of us were getting to know one another and trying to adjust to this new way of living as an “intentional Christian community.” We prayed together every morning and hosted a weekly community meal that was only sparsely attended by visitors. Maybe it was our cooking. It certainly was not for lack of invitation. We canvased our neighborhood and invited every breathing soul we met to come and join our weekly meals. My other roommates, Brandon, Jonathan, and George, were very outgoing and eager to invite others around our community. They invited friends, neighbors, and homeless persons to our meals with excessive hospitality.
I knew our goal was to be a missional outpost, to be welcoming to the strangers around our community, and to get to know others who were different than us, but I found it draining to put myself out there. That summer night in the empty house, I had only one desire: to play my favorite video game, FIFA: Soccer, alone, in my room, away from others, “shut off.”
But, then came the knocking.
“KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!!!”
This was not a neighborly kind of knocking; the apologetic kind you expect at 11:00 p.m. on a Thursday night. No, this was a fury of thudding fists. Someone with a personal vendetta against my wooden doorframe. I thought it must have been a, wrong-person-wrong-door, type of situation. I didn’t even pause my game.
But then it happened again…even louder.
“KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!!!”
This time I did pause my game, but only to check my phone to see if one of my housemates was locked out or if someone had an emergency. No missed calls or unread texts. Determined not to let anyone take me away from my electronic hermitage, I pressed play and watched the pixels illuminate.
Then the knocking came for a third time, and this time it seemed even louder. I will save you the all-caps torture and just tell you that this was the most incessant and disruptive knocking I had ever experienced in my life.
At this point, I’d like to tell you I roused myself in response to the knocking, that I realized the desperation of the person standing behind the door, that I found compassion within my intentionally Christian heart. But if I did, I would be lying. Honestly, I was completely pissed off. I paused my game, pounding the button angrily as though it might mute the knocking. I quickly steamed down the hallway toward the front door yelling, “What? What!?” Opening the door I belted out one more, “What!?” into a man’s face who, despite all the thunderous knocking, seemed delicate and full of benevolence.
Chris was in his early thirties. He was wearing a once-white t-shirt, camo-style shorts, and taped-together prescription glasses with one lens missing. He timidly asked, “Is George here? He said I could come by and grab a blanket.”
I called George three times, but got no response. I told Chris I would check the house for the blanket. I scoured our house, first going into George’s room, then into our shared closet, but there were no blankets in sight. As nuisance became incarnate as need, I frantically searched my own room. Seeing the grey plush throw blanket my parents got me before coming to Perkins, I grabbed it and ran down the hallway towards Chris, this time with compassion in my heart. I handed Chris the blanket. He replied warmly, “Thanks, man. Do you have any Coke or Pepsi to drink?” I grabbed a two-liter Diet Coke from the kitchen, and sat on the stoop with Chris as he spent the next half hour sharing his story with me.
After we finished talking, Chris thanked me for the blanket and soda and told me about how he was looking forward to attending our weekly community meals. We shook hands, said goodbye, and Chris walked off into the cool, spring night. I walked back to my room, where I humbly stood, gazing at the pointless screen with its reality that only served to divorce me from my own. I turned the screen off, shut down the gaming console, and lay down on my bed where I let shame and gratitude break my heart.
It was a cleansing of tears. God’s grace found a new means that night. Persistent knocking broke me out of living as an individual, focused on serving myself, into living for another. I was invited to live into God’s grace-filled community, where shame and thankfulness collide, where I was allowed to see God’s sacred image in another I had previously chosen to ignore. This all started with persistent knocking. All I had to do was listen and be willing to open the door.
Our focus at Missional Wisdom Foundation is to listen to God’s knocking in our neighborhoods and respond by opening doors. This weekly devotional, “Wisdom for the Way,” will offer stories and reflections about how God’s transforming grace invites us to come together as one in striving to “love creation, love people, and love God.”