Saturday in a Shopping Mall Restroom

It was designed to easily handle a mid-December crowd. Of course there’s only a mid-December crowd in mid-December, so the rest of the year the bathroom sits quiet and echoy. There were five stalls and eight urinals, six sinks and two hand dryers–more than would ever be used at once, except perhaps for those crowded December shopping days when everyone has to pee at once.

But in mid-September the mall bathroom is usually the most lonely and secluded place you can find. The few patrons who travel down the back end hallways and actually find the bathroom are usually efficient and quiet, doing their business and doing it quickly, eager to return to their consumer bliss. Occasionally a father will take his time, and you can tell he’s probably here with a teenage daughter, or a shopaholic wife and is savoring the moment of serenity.

It here that I find my refuge. That probably sounds crazy, but you’d think a lot of things about me are crazy. Most people do. But that’s okay. I’m not interested in most people. The bathroom is quiet and cavernous, a good place to do some thinking. Your thoughts and any stray noises are magnified on the tile, and everything seems to come back to you more refined.

I’ll often spend an entire Saturday in the men’s room of the Willow Creek Mall. Sometimes I’ll divide my time between the three public restrooms, but I usually stick with the one by the north entrance, tucked away in a hallway to nowhere, across from Victoria’s Secret. There’s a men’s room on one side and women’s room on the other, and a sink and telephone in between. There’s a door a few feet down that leads to the emergency shelter, which once upon a time was a fallout shelter.

Curled Up in a Shopping Mall Restroom

So there I sat, watching the people come and go through the slats in the door. I was in the corner changing room, and I’d been there for the past three hours. It’s amazing the kind of people that come through a department store changing room on a Tuesday morning.

First it was the professional shopping moms. They came in with changing room limit, an armload of clearance items, and tried everything on with huffs and puffs and grunts and the occasional ooh. But for the most part they left empty handed. I think they were taking advantage of children at school and looking for something for themselves, hoping to find a reduced item they could afford to splurge on. This is why the rest of us only find size zero left on the clearance rack.

Later on the college girls came in, trying on the latest fashions and fueling their disorders. They would groan about this or that, ooh and ah over the other thing, rationalize the price, and tell each other how “so you” something was.

Another group of college girls came in later, apparently of another variety. They tried on a slew of fashionable clothes, only to cry in disgust that they looked like a tramp or that their boobs didn’t stay in the shirt. They left empty handed.

Al l the while I sat in the corner changing room, sitting on the short bench, with my knees curled up to my chin so no one would see my feet and they’d assume the room was empty.

The Question of Suffering

Why does God allow bad stuff to happen? It’s a fair question. A lot of people have been asking it lately, with good reason. Why would a loving God let two airplanes full of people slam into the World Trade Center? And then let the buildings, full of emergency personnel and trapped survivors tumble to the ground, becoming a giant tomb of rubble?

It’s a question even the great Protestant evangelist Billy Graham has asked, and Graham himself admits to not having a good answer to the question. In some sense, there is no good answer. It’s one of those difficult facets of Christianity we often have to accept with a good dose of faith.

The Bible addresses the question in the book of Job, and in the end the answer seems to be that God is God, and who are you to question what he does? This is a point few people realize today. They forget who they’re talking about, and assume they can challenge God and expect a perfectly good answer that suits them. And if the answer doesn’t suit them, they become atheists with renewed fervor.

I do think that it’s good to remember that God is God, and he’s not bound to give us an answer. But I also think that God understands our questioning and doubtful nature and does want us to struggle with questions like this.

I think part of the answer involves the concept of choice. God didn’t make us a people required to worship him. He gave us the choice. And in that choice lies risk. If we don’t choose God, we make bad choices and pain and evil enters the world. We see this when Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the garden. But if we do choose God, there is the potential for all the love our Father has lavished upon us.

Some may wish God would just lavish that love upon us anyway. But God wants our love in return. And programmed love isn’t love. It’s a joke. So God gave us the choice to love him, and thus took the risk to ensure that our love would be genuine. The result is we didn’t choose God, and the world became a painful place. Thankfully God gave us a second chance, through Jesus, and we can still choose God.

That’s how I answer the question. It doesn’t always seem like the best answer, and I’m sure it’s not the final answer. But it does seem to give some semblance of sense when bad stuff happens.

BGEA Sept. 11 Commercial

Last week the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association aired a commercial on network TV (you can watch it here). I don’t remember another time when a religious organization has advertised on network TV. I’ve seen a few commercials for local churches on local TV, and we’ve all see the Mormon commercials–but none of those have been on network TV. This was a first. It was also extremely timely. Three years ago the BGEA tried to run these commercials, and all the networks rejected them. This time around, the networks were eager to run the commercials.

That’s the basic story. Now I have a lot of questions. There’s been an extremely mixed response to the commercial. Some people think it’s great. Some people think it’s horrible. So what is an appropriate commercial for Christians to put on network TV? Should it lay out the gospel message in 30 seconds? Should it just point people toward more resources? Should it simply plant an idea in people’s heads?

So many concepts. And no one will ever agree.

Smiling at the Punk Rock Girl

“That’s what I said.” And she walked away. Just like that. Sometimes I don’t understand. Sometimes I don’t think I ever will understand. You just kind of hang on for the ride and expect the unexpected.

That’s how my last relationship ended. It’s a little hard to start up again after a kick in the gut like that. But somehow you always do, like a moth drawn to the flame, I guess.

I’m the kind of guy who notices girls go by all the time. I end up categorizing them in my head, filing them away, based on other girls I’ve known or seen or think about. It’s totally subjective, totally superficial, and usually totally wrong. But I do it anyway. I find I can at least surprise myself.

The other day I had this girl pegged as a punk rock rebel. Not the stylish punker girls who do it because it’s on the cover of some fashion rag, but the ones who had lip rings in sixth grade. She had all the markings. Hair cut short, dyed black, noticeably not styled. Thick chain around the neck. Lip ring. Several earrings. Clompy boots with thick heals. Checkered pajama pants and an oversized hooded sweatshirt. She was hanging out with a couple black guys, one quiet and over bearing, the other loud and puppet-like. He seemed to want everyone around to think he was all that, but he wasn’t quite.

I thought I had the girl pegged, but then she smiled. It was a sweet, innocent smile. Not the kind of smile you expect from a girl with steel-toed boots, and an attitude to match. Usually the punk rock girls would give me a glare that would send even the remotest notions packing.

But she smiled like I’d discovered her secret and she didn’t want anyone else to know. It made me feel warm inside, and when I looked away I was smiling and trying not to glow too much.

Like a Levi’s Commercial

It was a long car ride. That’s all she could think. But of all the things to say, she didn’t want to complain. What would he think? She wanted to come off happy and positive. Guys don’t like depressed girls. They just do drugs and get drunk and she was done with that.

“There wasn’t much to see,” she started, searching for the positive spin, “But then we crossed the state line and the scenery was beautiful.” He smiled, a little. She mentally kicked herself. Now she sounded like a dizzy blond. She was walking the line between being so in touch with life she was manic-depressive, to being so out of touch with life she wouldn’t need a brain. Isn’t there supposed to be middle ground?

“Well, welcome to town. I’ll guess I’ll see you around.” She only nodded, still trying to find the reaction that could undo everything she just did. He turned and walked away, and she watched him go, feeling like a Levi’s commercial.

We Bought Our First Car


We’ve just taken quite a leap in following the American Dream. We’ve bought our first new car, and gone deeper in debt. If you didn’t figure it out already, it’s a VW Jetta. I find it only slightly ironic that we’re following the American Dream and we bought a German car. Sorry, Dad.

There’s just something nice about a car you love to drive. A car where you can tell the engineers thought of everything. Don’t I sound like a VW salesperson? I think that’s their goal, and it’s probably a good goal. You know you’re doing something right if you can turn every customer into a non-salaried, non-commissioned salesperson. To quote our sales guy, “There’s a reason we’re ‘Drivers wanted.'”

Tonight as I drove the car for the first time (my wife drove it home from the dealer) I felt like I did when I was 16 and first pulled out on the road on my own. The excitement. The thrill. The butterflies. Mmmm.

It’s only a car, man!

We’re the G.I. Joe Generation

We are a generation that hasn’t known hardship. We don’t know what war really is. War is something you see in the movies, Oliver Stone or Francis Ford Copula. “The horror, the horror.”

We’re the G.I. Joe generation. And not the Barbie-size “action figures” with kung-fu grip. I’m talking about the 3 3/4 inch army men and the cartoon show of the 1980s. I’m talking about Cobra and shouts of “Go Joe!” and battle scenes where no one ever gets injured and the bad guys jump out of their vehicles before they blow up. When planes go down pilots eject and everyone’s safe at the end of the day. A G.I. Joe battle is the only one with zero casualties.

We’re the generation that watched the Gulf War on TV and realized that it was just like our video games. It was the first war we ever saw, and it was virtually painless, virtually bloodless. It was over before it started.

Vietnam was well before our time. That was another era, another generation’s nightmare and rallying call. The pain and frustration of that war looms over us only as a reminder to not get involved in other people’s disputes.

We are the generation that sees the armed forces as a source of free socks, the military as a way to pay for college. We are the generation that would follow the example set before us and burn draft cards before being forced to fight.

All of that changed last Tuesday. I’ve never heard so many people express interest in enlisting in the military. And it’s interesting to consider who will be fighting this war. The kids brandishing the M-16s and driving the Bradleys grew up playing with G.I. Joes. It’s interesting to note that G.I. Joe was a special force formed to fight the terrorist group, Cobra, a countryless group whose only goal was terror.

Unfortunately, in the G.I. Joe world the Cobras were always distinguishable by a big Cobra symbol on their chest. In the G.I. Joe world no one died in the battles and the good guys always won. In the G.I. Joe world there was no World Trade Center or Pentagon attack.

Pat & Jerry Respond to Sept. 11

With this recent tragedy it’s discouraging to see members of the religious right making fools of themselves. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell recently blamed the terrorist attack on all the sinners in America; the homosexuals, the abortionists, the ACLU, among others. Apparently their actions have caused God to remove his protective hand from us.

Maybe I have an older version of the Bible, but nowhere to do I see a verse that says God will protect America. Many of us (and this includes more than Robertson and Falwell) have this misguided notion that America is God’s chosen nation. Israel enjoys that distinction; we do not. Granted, we have been blessed by God. This nation has seen tremendous blessing. But have we been chosen by God in any special way? I doubt it.