Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Yesterday (All My Troubles Seemed So Far Away)

This is what happened at our church yesterday. Though it may seem like it, I have not embellished any details. This is what happened as I experienced it, and I thought the story worthy of retelling. The intent of the retelling is not to give us fuel to joke about, talk about and laugh about "another wacko," in order to make us feel better about ourselves, but to stimulate deep thought about all the hurt and pain that is in this world, sometimes right in front of us, and about the provisions that God gives us each day that go completely unnoticed. In the heightened awareness of this situation, I don't think a single gift from God went unnoticed, especially for two Party Time Rental employees.

Yesterday was picture day at Hope. That's right, we had a photo shoot from 3-9:30 at the church, and everybody got all gussied up (everyone looked marvelous, by the way), got posed real pretty-like and went flashbulb blind for a few minutes at a time.


While the first family was getting their pictures taken, our late afternoon took an abrupt turn. There were six individuals from the church sitting out in the narthex of the church, either waiting their turn or just hanging out (I was in the latter group), when a Party Time Rental truck pulled into the parking lot at an unnecessarily quick pace. The truck was getting closer to the church and was showing no sign of slowing. As I saw that the truck was going to attempt to drive into the drop-off area of the church, I thought to myself, "Clearance is pretty low here. I wonder if he'll hit..."

That's when the truck drove right into the church. It missed clearance by at least two or three feet. I thought, "How frustrated the driver must be. Surely he was just trying to turn around, and now he has a mess on his hands." But my thoughts turned suddenly when the man got out of the truck.

"Interesting choice," I thought to myself.

One of the eyewitnesses said to the man, "Your's rolling away!"

"I don't care," said the driver, as he proceeded to walk into the sanctuary.

Yeah, I thought it was a pretty odd response, too. He walked all the way to the front of the sanctuary, and Pastor Tom went in after him to try to make sense of the mess. The driver fumbled with a cigarette in his fingers and kept talking about tornadoes.

Meanwhile, back at the truck, the plot thickened.

The truck continued to roll backwards, and as it picked up speed, two men jumped out of the back, with looks of horror on their faces.

They jumped out just in time to watch the truck run into a telephone pole, where it finally came to a halt.

I stood gazing in confusion at this spectacle, when the two men who had leapt out of the truck came towards me, grasping their hearts, which were beating at an incredible rate. One man asked me to touch his chest, "Feel how fast it's beating," he requested. I did so, and found that his heart was racing even faster than my own.

Then the men, now certain that they were indeed still alive, said to me "He stole our truck!"
No sooner did they say this when the driver came back outside and said "I did it. I'm sorry guys. I'm sorry I stole your truck. I just had to get away from the tornadoes." He offered his hand to shake, but in their utterly dumbfounded state, neither man shook it.

The driver put his cigarette into his mouth and asked if any of us had a light. None of us did. He offered one more apology, and a handshake to each of the men, and this time one of the men shook his hand, while the other still was unable to do so.

The driver sat on the front steps of the church for a few moments. I tried to get his name, but he had other things on his mind. I went back inside to check on Pastor Tom, who was trying to get the police on the phone. Seeing that he was succeeding, I went back out to see what was happening.

It's amazing what can happen in a few seconds.

Apparently, the driver had begun walking out into the parking lot, and in the fear that he would go after his car next, one of the eyewitnesses of this now completely unbelievable event (who was also next in line for pictures) went after him with a piece of wood from the church that had fallen to the ground. He had no intention of hurting the man, but was attempting to protect the rest of the vehicles in the lot. The driver was screaming expletives and was obviously afraid. He continued to walk away from the parking lot, out to the road.

At this point, the men who were in the back of the truck said to me, "He's gonna get away! Don't let him get away!" He wasn't moving very fast, so I was not all that concerned about him getting away.

I re-entered the church, where another of the eyewitnesses suggested that we go out and follow him in a car to keep an eye on him. Now I am glad that we did so, because we had a responsibility to keep the rest of the neighborhood safe from this individual, who was obviously in no state to be out and about.

We got into the car, got onto the road, and saw the man walking up ahead not on the side of the road, but on the median. We drove a bit past him, pulled into a driveway, and kept a close eye on him. He kept making his way slowly down the road, but after a couple minutes, two police cars were right there. They cuffed him and put him in the back, and then drove him back to the scene of the accident, our church (where more and more people were arriving for their pictures).

When we got back to the church, the police were ready to ask questions and figure out what had happened. At some point, the man got out of the squad car. I did not see this firsthand, but those that did said that when he got out, the two officers drew their stun guns and yelled for him to get down. Eventually, they were able to stun him about four times, and there was the man, left lying limp in the parking lot. He continued to lay there in the rain, with the officers keeping a close eye on him. An ambulance arrived a bit later, and the EMT's checked out all the parties involved, making sure nobody was hurt. All thanks to God that everyone was okay, and the ambulance was sent away.

After awhile, Pastor Tom went out and covered the man with a blanket. The man thanked Tom and then began looking off into the distance. He said "It's beautiful, isn't it?" Tom said, "I don't think I'm seeing exactly what you're seeing right now, but yes, it is beautiful."
Eventually an armored car came, and they took the man away. By this time, there were close to twenty people watching the spectacle. I had to turn away. I had seen enough. He had been through a lot, and had put others through a lot, but I didn't think he needed another set of eyes watching him as he faced the shame of being taken away in an armored car.

It was an unbelievable situation, but at least everyone who witnessed it is still around to talk about it. The truck came a couple miles to get to our church, and through quite a few stoplights, and it sounds like the truck never reached a complete stop on the ride, and yet nobody was hurt on the way. The truck ran into the church, but not into any people. The men in the back were able to bail out before the truck hit the telephone pole, and the truck stopped at the telephone pole when it was right on target to hit the living room of the parsonage. When the driver approached the men from the back, they remained calm and did not act violently towards the man who had stolen their truck and put their lives in severe danger.

God did not allow this crazy event to become a tragedy. People could have died, and none were even hurt. God watched over this situation, over this man who had no idea what he was doing. Seeing him lay on the pavement in the rain, wearing handcuffs and foot restraints caused my heart to be grieved. I tend to laugh when I talk about what happened, because of the absurdity of some of the details, but in my heart I rejoice that it turned out how it did. The church can be fixed. The truck can be fixed. The telephone pole can be fixed.
I pray that this man can be helped as well. I pray that God would touch his life. In fact, he already has encountered God, whether he knows it or not. He encountered God in the form of a warm blanket, as he lay cold and wet in the parking lot of Hope Covenant Church.

So what did you do yesterday?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"Dr. Strangelove" and "Spanglish"

I watched Dr. Strangelove Sunday night and Spanglish last night. I was very impressed by both. Very impressed. Spanglish was unexpectedly good...I mean really good. Sure, the extreme selflessness/selfishness contrast between Sandler and Leoni's characters was a bit unbelievable, but it served the film quite well, in setting up the weight of a really tough moral decision. Some critics may disagree with my assessment, but what a wonderful picture of sacrifice.

If I were alive in 1964 and saw Dr. Strangelove right after it came out, I would have probably gone to the bathroom in my pants. If you read my post last week on apocalyptic art, this is it. It's the same over the top satire that is so well channeled by the Simpsons. Not as laugh out loud funny as the Simpsons, but a similar cultural critique.

Thank God for the Marion County Public Library: Nora Branch.

Holy Saturday and Cardiovascular Fitness

Okay, so one of my Lent commitments was to run four times a week. I think I ran four times through all of Lent. I found that the weather wasn't cooperating for a few days, and then I just gave up. I still didn't drink any sweet tea or pop, but I missed the ball on that one.

Well, since coming back from the cruise, I have run five times. I am getting on track. The weather is wonderful, and I feel much better. But let me tell you about pain.

On Holy Saturday, I decided to go running. I knew I wouldn't be running on Easter Sunday, so I needed to git-r-dun on Holy Saturday. Let's just say it hurt. I was in pain, my lungs and legs were dead weight. But I persevered, not of my own strength, but of the strength of Christ. I thought of Christ on Holy Saturday, having just been tossed about the earth like a rag doll, lying in a grave, taking on the forces of death. How could the pain of my little run compare with his suffering? Yeah right.

So I kept running. On any other day, I probably would have cut it short...a mile is good enough, right? No, I ran and I felt Christ's presence (gee, I'm starting to sound like Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire), and I took the pain as fellowship with my savior. I think I've been avoiding pain...who hasn't? Nobody wants to seek pain...not even Christ. He didn't even want to face it. So why do so many people on this planet run through the pain all the time?

Some are running away from something: kids, jobs, marital problems, self-image problems. Some run for acceptance, thinking that losing weight is the only way to be pretty or attractive. But many run for more admirable reasons: for health and extended life, time with family and friends, more years to do God's kingdom work right here. I think on Holy Saturday, I found what it meant to run in order to fellowship with Christ's sufferings. In fact, the only way I can run sometimes is because of the fellowship of suffering that I have with the resurrected Christ.

It's funny that I'm training for a 5k. I ran cross country in high school, and every race was a 5k. It's amazing how out of shape I am. But, as the old adage goes, "you gotta start somewhere."
As I continue to run and train, that Holy Saturday run will stick in my mind. Thanks for the boost.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Underwater in the Bahamas

These were all taken with a little disposable underwater camera. Pretty impressive, if you ask me.

Here's Marcie underwater at Nassau.

And a stingray from Nassau as well...ooh...scary.

Even scarier?? Me feeding the stingray at Nassau. I am the king of the world!

This is Coco Kay. Still in the Bahamas, but it's a small island that is owned by Royal Caribbean, and it has beautiful fishies...

And this sweet planewreck. It totally reminded me of LOST.

I'll post more pics from the digital camera soon.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

"Back for the Attack" or "How Apocalypse Happens Without Rapture"

I worked on that title for a good hour. Or ten seconds. Which do you prefer to believe?

We had a great vacation. It will be much easier to recap the details with pictures, so I'll let you know all about that a bit later. For now, I'll reflect on the reading I did throughout the trip.

As we vacationed, I relaxed a lot, yet I mulled over many thoughts through my mind. I read Everyday Apocalypse by David Dark. I don't buy everything, because I think he sometimes overstimates the profundity of some things to the neglect of some others that might bear just as much apocalypse, but I take into consideration that he is by no means trying to be exhaustive.

The significance of the word apocalypse in his book is great; he notes that our culture treats the word as some sort of hocus pocus magic eight ball disembodied thing, when apocalyptic is truly an incarnational revelation. It embodies and reveals truth in our culture, for better or worse. It refuses sentimentalizing and forces us to deal with reality, no matter how difficult that may be.

The conversation in the book is good. Many Christians only write about media and pop culture in order to expose its corruptedness, but this book seeks to see how good media exposes our own corruptedness. Our main responsibility is to identify with the plight of the characters. As I read, I became motivated to read more Flannery O'Connor, listen to more Radiohead and Beck, and watch the rest of the Coen brothers movies and more episodes of The Simpsons. He convinces me to see how these challenge me. I question how Flannery O'Connor fits under the banner of "pop culture" like the subtitle of the book would suggest, but that's the problem of labeling, I guess.

But my interaction with this book did not end with only the media which Dark suggests as apocalyptic. I recall my first apocalyptic encounters with literature in my senior year of high school, reading Lord of the Flies, A Brave New World, and 1984. I remember that there were some people in my youth group that wanted to refuse to read 1984 because it was anti-Christian or something. I'm glad I didn't follow in their footsteps, because the book truly challenged me and helped me look at the world in a whole new light. Big Brother is watching you. 2 + 2 = 5. It's bleak, but it's warning. It's what art should do.

Another literary apocalypse came in reading The Catcher in the Rye my sophomore year of college. I was scared at how much I identified with Holden Caufield. I had prided myself on how far I had come in my Christian life, and how sinless my existence had become, but reading Salinger's brilliant book showed me that I am as depraved as ever. Does this suggestion of my depravity minimize the work of Christ in my life over the years? Far from it! It just reminded me of how much I need Christ. Those tendencies are still there, and only Christ can bring me out of it, just how Christ is the only one who can preserve truth and be truth amidst the cultures depicted in 1984 and A Brave New World. I remember that after reading Rye, I felt like I had to do something drastic. I had faced a crisis, and I needed to express how I felt. What did I do? I shaved my beard. When people asked why I shaved it, I told them "I just got done reading The Catcher in the Rye, and needed to do something drastic." Most sane people thought I was crazy, but those who are crazy like me understood perfectly.

I guess one other thing I glean from Dark's work is that apocalyptic does not equal negativity. Many of these works and artists have been accused of being negative, especially by Christians, but he points out that their outlook is far from it. I remember reading a Flannery O'Connor quote that said something along the lines that the biggest favor we can do to evil is to do it the service of ignoring it because we are afraid of it. Us ignoring it will do nothing towards making it go away.

So does that mean that if we only read 'Christian' books, listen to 'Christian' music and watch G and PG rated movies, we're bad Christians because we're ignoring evil? I would say not inherently so, but it will probably happen eventually. When we live in a sort of label imposed 'safety zone' of 'Christian' media, we are isolating ourselves from a 'world' which we are no longer part of, and our attitude goes from "I am a sinner like them," to "thank God I'm not like them." It's a slippery slope towards turning more Pharisaical than we already are, as illustrated in Luke 18:

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

13 "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

14 "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

Many of us live by the principle "garbage in, garbage out." Yet we must be careful about what we label garbage. If we equate 'secular' with garbage, then we're missing out on some great art, some great revelations of insight, and a solidarity with much of humanity. If we equate all media which bears the title 'Christian' with good, then we'll end up taking in a lot of garbage. There is great Christian art out there, and the labeling system provided for us does more to hinder our discernment than to help it. The label 'secular' tries to make me feel dirty for listening to, watching or reading something (sometimes rightly so, sometimes wrongly so).

I am not saying "go out and violate your conscience by taking in sinful media." I'm challenging us to ask ourselves exactly what it is that offends us and why. I'm challenging us to ask ourselves what we are doing with that feeling of offendedness. Are we dismissing them and thanking God that we're not 'like them'? Are we not able to enter a story because we're 'better than them'? In other words, are our efforts to 'remain pure' just thinly disguised attempts to exalt ourselves?

Lord, have mercy.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Peace out

We're leaving this afternoon for a cruise. Be back late Monday night.

The Lord be with you.