“Christians are hard to tolerate, I don’t know how Jesus does it,” said Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2, to which he added, “I’m one of them.” There’s a lot of frustration in that quote, but there’s also a confession of faith. My roommates in college introduced me to U2, about a decade after the rest of the world discovered the band. It’s been an obsession since, and I’ve really been intrigued by their spirituality. A new book explores this, and you should definitely check it out (as well as a passageway.org article featuring the book).
Age old secrets and repeated mistakes. The rise and fall of a small town. If you can call it a fall. More like a slow fading into the prairie. It started out of convenience. The end of the line. And it continued out of convenience, an oil boom in the 1930s. And it died out of convenience, bigger towns, closer to freeways with more to offer. A single country highway twisting in an out of town, speed limit falling and rising with the dust. A building here and a building there, used to be more, used to be less.
Couples made out down by the river, and the whole town knew. Fields for miles, and the children grow bored. Fire crackers and boredom make a dangerous combination. Hunting rifles meet sign posts, and kids grow tough. In later years the Nintendo would be vital.
The train rolls through town once a day. It used to be the end of the line, then it was just a stop on the way, and then it was just scenery. Now the rails grow cold and the weeds grow high. Life moves on, and old towns die.
The snow is falling lightly, and you are sleeping tightly. Resolutely unaware of what’s happening within you. Racing, squirming, growing, breathing. New life unleashed so recklessly, do you even know? Responsibility forsaken, turned aside and left alone. All for the sake of your passing moments of panting paradise. Was it really that good, was it really that nice, or was it perhaps, a little disconnecting, a little disconcerting, a little too much when you just wanted to be loved. Care and concern and love and romance and commitment and hope and all of those things are squandered away when you let loose and let it go and left your consequences in the trash along with your virginity. Do you even know just what you’ve done as you give a sigh and he rolls over and drifts away, leaving you alone to sort it all out, as the snow is falling lightly, covering you in quietness and pain.
Oh it doesn’t have to be that way.
Grace makes beauty out of ugly things.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.
Grace. It’s a concept few really get. It basically means forgiveness. It means that despite your shortcomings, your failures, your wrongs, you are still loved and accepted. That’s a fundamental part of Christianity. At least it’s supposed to be.
There are those who question grace. If you really had faith, you wouldn’t have screwed up in the first place. And they turn their head. Or it may just be a negative word said to someone else in private. Or a smug look, or a grudge that never fades. Some think that your failures continually crucify Christ, and somehow that behavior requires their condemnation.
Grace is something the church needs to rediscover. We have become self-righteous. We are more concerned with the filth flowing from a sinner’s mouth than we are with the eternal state of their soul. We are more concerned with how something looks to others than we are for the actual people involved. We are more concerned with the visible consequences that come with some sins than we are with the hidden sins that resulted in those consequences.
The Pharisees had no grace. They wanted to cast stones upon the woman caught in adultery. My great-grandmother was also caught in adultery. A public apology was demanded, which my shy great-grandmother couldn’t bring herself to do. A quiet and fair settlement was reached, but in the proceedings a woman consented, with the caveat that in the future all sexual sin in the church would be publicly confessed. It sounds more like a soap opera than the minutes from a church business meeting. Where is the grace? We have become Pharisees.
Times do change, but often they do not. One generation’s dirty laundry repeats itself. And while the dirty laundry may always be there, our reaction does not have to be the same. Mistakes are forgiven. And forgotten.
The church should be the most grace-filled place in any community. Everyone in that community, from the lowest outcast to the wealthiest gentleman should feel acceptance from Christians. Isn’t that why we bear the name?
That’s the way it goes, he says, and he pops him. Just like that. Straight out of a movie or something. My jaw dropped. My knees shook. My eyes were already open as wide as they could be. I sat curled up in that little alcove for three hours, waiting until I thought it was safe enough to move.
I crept out slowly, afraid for my life. Of course they’d left three hours ago. They never knew I witnessed the job. And there he was. Spread out in the middle of the alley. He was probably all stiff and stuff, but I wasn’t about to stick around and find out. I took off running, like the scared little kid I was.
That’s how it all ended. It started when I was walking home and a bullet ripped through my backpack. It almost tore the thing off my shoulders. I spun around and hit the ground as fast as I could. I crawled to a car and looked both ways. There was a guy running for his life up the cross street one way, and I couldn’t see anyone the other way. They must have ducked in somewhere, hoping to cut the other guy off by going through the alley. Of course they fired a shot first to keep up the chase.
Sitting up, I shifted my backpack to the ground to examine the damage. The bullet went clean through, slicing its way in on one side, and ripping a whole out the other. One of my books had a gash through the spine and half the pages torn and ripped. A few inches the other direction and that would have been my spine.
And then I started running. I don’t know why I did, I just took off. Part of me didn’t want to stay leaning against that parked car waiting for whoever fired the bullet to come out of the alley and see me hiding here. They may be chasing someone else, but they wouldn’t want any witnesses. Rather than run up the street towards home, I went the other way, going up a block and then over, roughly following the fleeing man. They almost killed me, and I wanted to find out what it was all about.
She smiled. It’d be going a bit far to claim she smiled at me, but it’s a nice thought. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts. It’s always worth a shot. I looked back to my shoes and then up again, trying to pretend I was watching the TV behind her. She doesn’t need to be smiling out of pity, some screw ball kid who wants to lay eyes and you don’t want to know what else on her.
But who am I kidding anyway? You don’t just go up to random people in the airport and say hello. So I just sit here by myself, reading a magazine, waiting for my flight to leave. My flight, that just might happen to be her flight. Who knows, we might even sit next to each other. Here we go again, happy thoughts, happy thoughts.
She’s just sitting there, trying not to be bored. But she is. She gave up on her book a while ago. Now she’s people watching. I’d like to think I’m one of those people, but that’s too happy of a thought. Now I’m people watching as well. More like person watching.
She smiled again. This time I know what it’s from. Everyone’s smiling at her. What do you expect when you’re wearing pajamas? Did I mention that? She’s wearing pajamas in the airport. And it’s the middle of the afternoon. So she’s a little weird, I had other things on my mind. She’s just sitting there watching the people go by, watching the people watching her. Them smiling at her and her smiling back at them like she knows she’s just the cutest.
Sometimes I wonder what it’d be like if I went up and introduced myself. Hi. My name’s Jones. I couldn’t help but notice those fuzzy bunny slippers. Nice. She’d smile, and that’s about as far as I can imagine. I hate to think what she’d say. If I let my imagination go that far it just might get loose and let out a bunch of not-so-happy thoughts, a.k.a. the realistic ones. That’s not cool. So it ends there. A thousand different introductions, and a thousand different smiles. If only life were that non-committal.
She’s probably in college. I’m usually horrible at guessing ages, but she doesn’t look like the girls in class at school. None of them would manage to wear pajamas unless every one of their follow-the-pack friends did as well. They’re always willing to live on the edge, as long as everyone else does too. But this girl’s all alone in the airport, on the edge by herself. I’m guessing college.
That’s what they tell me. But I don’t believe it. I look down at the cards I’m dealt, and I’m reminded of old photo albums of family vacations. Vacations to states I’ve never been to before, and I’ll never visit again. Old faded photos, where the color is disappearing and the clothes are so out of style they’re cool again. That’s what I always think of. Then I trade in an ace and hope for the best. Should have kept the ace. Those family vacations were always a trip. I did my best to get lost, to be the poor child to have his parents paged over the loud speaker. I just didn’t like doing the family thing, everything boiling down to the lowest common denominator, the kid sister. It made me sick. I wanted something interesting, something more worth my time. So I lagged behind, I went left instead of right. I got away from the tea cups and balloons, and went for the water and the sun. I’d wander around by myself, eyeing the girls and trying to guess how old they were. I was usually wrong. I’d watch a group of them giggling together, and follow them along the streets. Then a boyfriend would show up, and he’d be twice my size. I dropped my gaze, and wandered on. In the photo albums I’m always standing off to the side, by myself, trying to get away. That’s probably why I always end up folding. I never get dealt the hand I want, and I end up chasing it, searching for it, and then cashing in my chips and heading home, looking for my parents and brother and kid sister in the play land, with the colored balls and candy coated goods. That’s what they always tell me.
Just when you think things are under control, they blow up all over the place. That’s usually the way things work. If you make plans, they change. If you get comfortable, something makes you uncomfortable. The crazy thing is excepting that as part of life and as part of a greater plan. As confusing and frustrating as change can be, it’s so comforting to know that I’m not in control. Because I’m a pretty crappy planner.
Christians are so embarrassing. The Bible told us we’d be persecuted, but we always thought it was because the world hates God and as an extension they hate us. In reality the world’s probably more ambivalent towards God. They hate us because we’re just so incredibly stupid.
I’d like to make a couple predictions. You can take them or leave them, but if you take them and make a profit, I’d like to claim a cut some day. If you take them and come to ruin, I’d like to deny responsibility.
Prediction #1: In the next 5-10 years it’s going to be very popular for males who are succumbing to baldness to embrace the inevitable and shave their heads. There will be a number of thirty-something guys who will forever leave behind the comb over, the bald spot, the large forehead, and just shave it to stubble. They may also try to compensate for the lack of hair on the top of their heads by growing hair on the bottom of their heads. Facial hair will often accompany the embracing of baldness.
Analysis: While it seems like a great way to avoid the embarrassment of going bald, the problem comes when you have a room full of thirty-something guys and you can’t tell anyone apart.
Prediction #2: In the next 5-10 years merchandise related to toys from the 1980s will become extremely popular. We’re talking Transformers, G.I. Joe, He-Man, My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake, Rainbow Brite, Thundercats, Voltron, Cabbage Patch Kids, Garbage Pail Kids — you get the idea. By now the children of the 1980s are graduating from college and moving into the real world. They’re getting expendable incomes and they remember their childhood and seek to revel in some of the joys of that time. Watch for a return of some of the actual toys, but more likely watch for T-shirts, posters, and the like.
Analysis: Rock on. I love playing with some of my old toys again. Of course there is the downside of living in the past and buying a bunch of crap you don’t need, but who can argue with nostalgia?