Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The Untold Story of The Bulletin Man

I mentioned the Bulletin Man on this blog about a year ago, but in brief he's unusual, as betrayed in part by his appearance.

We call him the Bulletin Man, but his name is Allen. He rides an old beat up bicycle and has been a fixture at Lakeside for decades. He is 53 years old, but that's if you calculate age in the standard way. Personally I don't think standards really apply in Allen's case. There are a lot of stories about him, I suspect many are more myth than fact, but it's my understanding he suffered a head injury as a child and never really recovered.

I know this much...he loves people and he loves God.

A few years ago he told me that the folks who run Lakeside had put certain restrictions on his activities and it saddened me a great deal. He showed me the letter they had sent him which seemed harsh and business like. I thought it was missing a large measure of grace. I still do.

He is still having some difficulties with the Lakeside Association, and this year I noticed his demeanor had changed slightly. There was an air of cynicism and defiance. He told me he was "refusing" to hand out songbooks at the daily vespers as a sort of protest. When I heard that, part of me was encouraged to see him upset at what he perceives as injustice....part of me was disillusioned that he sees injustice at all.

This year, during our first full day at Lake Erie I saw Allen standing outside the cottage we had rented. He hesitated when I began taking his picture and quickly ducked his head, retreating into a position of taking copious notes, about what I can only imagine.

As soon as I saw I was making him uncomfortable I tried to set his mind at ease and once I established myself as a friend, he was quite cordial and open. He has a remarkable savant-like memory, although he almost always confuses me with my brother-in-law who has been coming to Lakeside for decades. He remembers which houses we have stayed in, what churches we belong to, and is always curious about the state of Christianity in our home towns.

He is a wonderful character. This year he had probably 30 feet of yellow nylon rope wrapped around the frame of his already cluttered bicycle. When I asked what it was for, he smiled and replied, "It's a great conversation starter don't you think?"

Usually Allen is in charge of the conversations we've had...I suppose it's that way with most of the folks he speaks with, many of whom (and I've been guilty of this too) are looking for a way to end the conversation more than anything else. This year though I turned the tables a bit and started asking him questions. I learned he has suffered two heart attacks recently, and was hit by a car in 2001. He spent some time in a state hospital and in the process he lost the home outside the Lakeside grounds which he shared with his sister.

He also lost his collection of church bulletins and hymnals. Allen smiles almost constantly, although his dentist, if he has one, would certain discourage that. When he mentioned his loss I saw real pain in his face for the first time ever. The house wasn't what he cherished, but he had collected bulletins and hymnals for many years. To the best of my knowledge, those things had been the center points of his life. I could see that he didn't understand how other people couldn't understand.

I think Allen may be a "hoarder", someone who suffers from a compulsive disorder to save things. Amy said she once peeked inside his home and it appeared to be stacked to the rafters with papers, so I could easily imagine that people with good intentions couldn't see the cherished beyond the clutter and simply decided everything had to go. I pray that he wasn't preyed upon in the process.

I have Allen's new address and he is anxious for people to send him church bulletins and hymnals, but I don't know if that would be a good thing. I gave him my business card and several copies of our church's order of worship, but I resisted the temptation to agree to send him more. I'm also resisting the idea of sharing his address. I suspect he would receive a lot of church bulletins if I did that, and I know that would bring him much joy.

I don't know if it would also bring him new problems.

When I think of the Bulletin Man many things come to mind: I realize that my struggles almost always pale in comparison to others and that grace should be extended universally, but judgment should not.

Most of all though, I'm reminded that I don't know the whole story...which is probably something I should be reminded of more often.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight...
- Proverbs 3:5-6