Thursday, July 22, 2004

The Choice

The Governor asked, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they cried out, “Barabbas!”  Matt. 27:21

I don’t know about you, but give me the choice and I will usually choose:

The largest cookie in the batch (but without the burnt bottom),

Two slices of bread from the middle of the loaf instead of the first and slightly stale ones,

To give advice rather than ask for it,

The easy job,

The seat by the window,

To teach, rather than to be taught,

The glass of Coke from the new bottle rather than the one sitting open all night,

The slice of pizza with the most pepperoni on it,

The larger piece of cheesecake, and if there are only two left I might even slice a little off the other one,

To be thanked for giving rather than be given to,

The nicest cherry tomatoes for my salad,

The second slice of baloney rather than the slightly slimy one on top,

The white meat,

An evening with someone I enjoy being with rather than with someone who needs to enjoy an evening with somebody,

To be recognized and praised rather than have my good deeds go unnoticed.

The movie I want to see,

To speak rather than listen,

The banana with the fewest brown spots.

Given my track record for choices and what they say about me, I think I can safely predict who I would have shouted for when Barabbas and Jesus were put up for grabs.  Which has all to do with why I need a Savior. 

Given Jesus’ track record He would have chosen Barabbas too.  Or me.  Which has everything to do with why He is the Savior.

Monday, July 19, 2004

The Betrayal of Jackie

"I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna, are scourged by the scourge of love.  Nay, what is so bitter and vehement as the torment of love?...It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in  Gehenna are deprived of the love of God...The power of love works in two ways: it torments sinners...Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret."  (St. Isaac of Syria, Ascetical Homilies 28, Page 141)
“Do not hide Thy face from me, Do not turn Thy servant away in anger… Do not abandon me or forsake me, O God of my salvation.”  Ps. 27:8
There was only one movie theater in town. It cost a dime to see the matinee on Saturday afternoon.  That dime would get you a couple hour’s entertainment; more importantly, it would give you a wealth of vital information that could save your life in sixth grade.  Every Saturday the kids from school were there. This was the place where you found out who was going with whom that week if you weren’t in with the crowd that was privy to that kind of information.  The cool people sat with their boyfriends and girlfriends. The rest of us sat in groups of the same sex and observed each other’s groups trying to pretend they were not observing the other.
This particular Saturday was a light turnout.  “Old Yeller” was showing for two weeks.  Most everyone had seen it already, but I missed it.  Kit and Donna showed up anyway, just to make out in the back row in the dark; rumor had it that they had “gone all the way”.  Looking back, I think our concept of distance was slightly off, nevertheless they had done something that had put them beyond the boundaries of movie house hand holding and kissing on the lips.  Bob and Barbara showed up, and Paul was now with Janie, Kit’s old girl.
I hung around the candy counter trying to look like I was making up my mind what I wanted while I kept an eye on the door to see if another “single person” might show up.  There were few things worse than seeing a good, sad movie by yourself unless you wanted to be by yourself.  I didn’t, not particularly. 

Then I saw her.  Jackie Burger.  She was paying her dime and tip toeing, looking through the smudged glass ticket booth to see who was hanging out in the lobby.  She waved. I waved back.
Jackie Burger.  Jackie was plain as Holsum white bread.  Not ugly by grade school standards, just ordinary. Like most of us were.  “Jackie Booger” we called her.  Boogers for short.  I think the name originated one day at lunch when she was seen picking her nose.  She suffered greatly at recess that day for her public offense and the name stuck ever since.  She bore it with a blue steel gaze, never lashing out, never crying to the teacher, never running to the recess monitor.  I’d seen many others crumble- I’d crumbled – under far less persecution.
Jackie was by herself.  I was by myself. So we sat together, more by default than agreement since neither of us had the nerve to come to such an agreement.  We sat toward the front because we were there to see the movie.  The others sat in the back because they were there for other, more brave activities.
“Old Yeller” did to Jackie what it does to most everyone who sees it. Steely and tough as she was, Boogers started to cry. I wasn’t exactly dry eyed myself. Somehow our arms ended up on the same armrest and neither of us flinched nor madean effort to move.  And so we sat, both afraid of looking at each other and both knowing what the other was feeling.  Two worlds, parallel, touching, but both afraid of entering the other.  We left the theater having shared something about one another that would not allow us to see each other as “Robinson” and “Boogers” again.
Monday morning at school we did not acknowledge one another publicly.  We had a wordless agreement that there would be no visible signs of our moment to the casual observer.  I did catch her eye, often, and there was a softer, less steely look in it for me that I liked.
At lunch I sat closer to her, but not WITH her.  Unfortunately, I sat close enough for Patrick Grady to notice I’d closed some distance between me and Jackie.
“HEY ROBINSON!!! Who was that you were sitting with at “Old Yeller” Saturday, huh?” Patrick shouted across the lunch room.  “Wasn’t  that you with Boogers?”
I was nailed.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” I half shouted, with a quiver of fear in my voice at my impending social doom.
“Yeah you do!  Robinson and Boogers were holding hands at the movies… I SAW you Robinson!” Patrick announced to the whole lunchroom with a sing song lilt of ridicule in his voice.  “Robinson li-ikes Boo-gers… Robinson li-ikes Booo—gers!” he sang.  Laughter filled the room.
I exploded from my seat, livid.  I screamed, “I DO NOT! I DO NOT! I HATE HER! SHE sat by ME…” I choked and gasped, stumbling for something more convincing. I looked around at the mocking faces, the  gaping mouths filled with obscene laughter. 
Then I saw Jackie.  She sat, still… staring at me. Her steel blue eyes were full of tears.
I bolted from the lunchroom.  Tears flowed down my cheeks, tears of helpless anger, but mostly tears of something I did not understand… tears that had more to do with the way Jackie looked at me than with my anger at Patrick’s orchestration of mockery.  In my attempt to save myself I knew I had destroyed something precious somehow.  I had violated some law within.  I had desecrated a holy place I did not know existed until that moment.
I have desecrated several holy places in my life over the years.  I have desecrated precious relationships with people who loved me.  The holiness of relationships is wrought by entrusting our most private and secret places to another.  The unspoken law of relationships says “You will keep my holy things as your own, and you will guard them with your life, lay it down for them if need be.”  But we do not.  We will deny our lovers, betray our friends to save our own skins. We will throw what is holy to the dogs in an unthinking heartbeat if it will preserve our selves.
I first denied Jackie to save my sixth grade respectability, my status, my pride.  I’ve betrayed others for far less.  Put the screws to me and I know I would have, I have, betrayed even Christ.  I have like Judas and Peter denied the Son of God, my friend, my Lover above all loves.
Though it is not told, I imagine Jesus looking at Judas as he approached Him in the garden to betray Him.  As Judas drew back from his kiss, he opened his eyes to look one last time into the face of Christ.  I see Judas and Jesus suspended in a timeless moment, the sounds of rattling armor and the shouting all fading to silence.  There was, for that solitary moment, that look.  And Judas was swallowed by a darkness deep as death.
When Peter had denied Jesus for the third time, St. Luke says, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter”.  Jesus was taken away.  Peter went out and wept bitterly.  Judas went out and died of remorse by his own hand.
Yes Peter, yes Judas, I understand.  I have seen the look of Jesus.  And I too went out and wept bitterly because in my weakness I denied everything that was precious to me.  I have felt hopelessly lost because I desecrated a holy trust. I have died within because I betrayed my innocent beloved to save myself.
I know the look. It was not “I told you so”…
It was not “You REALLY blew it this time…”
It was not “You jerk… look how bad you hurt me….”
It was not “I hate you….”
Those are devastating looks.  I’ve seen them all.  And they hurt because they are true, and we know we deserve them fully.
The look Peter saw, and Judas probably saw too, was the same look I saw in the lunchroom of St. Williams Elementary that day.  It was the hardest look of all looks to take, the most devastating because we know we don’t deserve it.  It leaves us with no way to redeem ourselves and no illusions about ourselves and where we stand with the one we betrayed.  It will kill us, and if we humble ourselves and accept its truth, it will raise us from the dead.  It is a fire that will consume us, or it is a flame that will warm us if we open our hearts to its truth.
It was the Gospel in Jackie’s tears and in the eyes of Christ. 
It was a look of grace, a wounded Lover, eyes filled with tears, still in love with the one who knows now beyond a doubt how undeserving of that love he really is.  

Friday, July 16, 2004

Fuddrucker's Bathroom

contained the world.  The workings of the universe was manifested in the confines of
twelve square feet of tooth-white ceramic tile and graffitti etched metal partitions with a white porcelain toilet at the center. 
The disease brought the world to Fuddruckers.   Supra neural palsy they call it.  It has eaten away at my father-in-law's brain stem for a couple years now.  He does things because he cannot think fast enough to do something else.  I know this because he lives with us. 
We take Gil  with us when we go out because we cannot leave him home alone.  When we do that we come home to him bruised or bleeding.  Once he fell into the fishpond in the back yard.
We found him wet and exhausted sitting on the ground.  It took him two hours to climb out of
a twelve inch deep pool of water. 
He shuffles.  Its part of the disease.  He also tips forward and backward.  He has to be reminded to take a step if he loses his concentration.  He walks like a teenager learning to drive a stick shift.  He had to go to the bathroom, so I helped him out of his chair and we started toward the restrooms, him tottering, me holding his arm and balancing his steps. 
I put him in the stall and pulled the door closed for his privacy.  Then I stood by the sink and waited.  Sometimes it takes him twenty minutes to use the restroom.  Its not his plumbing, its that it takes him that long to unzip and re-zip.  If he loses his train of thought he can stand and stare at the wall for minutes on end if no one reminds him what he was doing.
I hear a splatter.  I look under the metal partition and his feet are pointed toward the toilet.
His pants are down around his ankles.  I hear him groaning.  I see......
I run to the stall and open the door.  He is standing in front of the toilet, catching diarrhea in his hands and trying to throw it into the toilet.  It is running through his fingers, down his legs, into his pants at his ankles and onto the floor.  He throwing it but missing the toilet. 
His disease is debilitating, but it does not remove his awareness of his actions or limitations.
He knows what he has done and what is happening.  He is a proper man, a gentleman, dignified in his younger days.  Now he stands covered in excrement, helpless to do anything for himself.  He cannot bend over to tear off the toilet paper to clean himself, or even reach down to clean himself or pull up his pants, because he will lose his balance. He cannot take a step because the floor is now slippery and he will fall.  The only person in the room with him is the man who married his daughter.  The man he didn't like.  The man he told to grow up, cut his hair, get a real job, be more responsible, be more Christian...  He is helpless. 
I pulled hands full of paper towels from the dispenser.  I thanked God they didn't have hand dryers on the walls.  I started mopping his legs and his backside.  I cleaned out the large lumps out of his pants and pulled them up.  I got him to the sink and helped him wash his hands.
I told him, "Don't move"  and went and gave my wife the "we HAVE to go" look.  She knew something was wrong.  I went to the restroom and took his arm, and we started shuffling toward the door.  Gil's clothing was covered with large brown splotches and he tracked into the dining room.  He stopped at the condiment bar and leaned on the counter.  "Nitro" he gasped.  He was having an angina attack.  A couple customers nearby smelled the odor and grimaced, turning away.
We got the nitroglycerine tablets out of his pocket and gave them to him.  In a minute we started again for the door.  We drove home in silence.  I knew Gil was mortified. 
We got home and I got him out of the car and into the house.  He looked at me and said,
"Thank you."
From the heart of a helpless, diseased old man,  covered with feces... thank you.
We are all Gil.  Before one another and God, we stand like Gil in Fuddrucker's bathroom.
We are all looking on at the Gils before us.  Do we grimace and turn away or do we enter
the disease, bear the stench, dirty our hands.... but in doing so, heal something in both of us.
And say "Thank you."


s-p and satan at vacation bible school 1989

What if

everyone read everyone else's blogs in the world.  Would we fill the universe with intimacy? 
I suspect in The Resurrection everyone will know everyone else like everyone wanted to be known by writing blogs.  But we couldn't wait for that to happen.  Since we can't delay our gratification until this afternoon, much less until death, we go for the anonymous screen dump of our "self" and hope someone out there really cares what we think about artichoke dip, the Middle East, J-Lo, our "personal journey", or even more mundanely, how our day went.  
So, I join the blog.  I guess it goes like this: I'll post a thought then check anxiously to see if anyone acknowledges  my digital presence.   How many times a day I check is inversely proportional to either my narcissism or loneliness, yes?
Fishing for existence.  Facelessly shedding anonymity.  Baring what little soul I have, hoping that with the addition of another bit of someone else's fragile soul I, we, might become slightly more of a human being.  Even if its only zeros and ones and pixels in a darkened room, it has meaning because it came from flesh, dirty fingernails, (or maybe manicured), tapping out the sum of an existence.   Who is capable of grasping, much less embracing, even a paragraph of another human being? 
I'll think about that while I'm fixing dinner.