My Story, Installment 3
*At our elder meetings the last year, they’ve been taking 15 minutes per person to talk about their journey of walking with Christ. They’ve done it in, more or less, a time-line fashion. It’s been highly enjoyable, especially since I’ve known most of these folks for a decade or more and spent a great deal of time with them…but, yet, in this forum, we’re discovering so much that’s encouraging in our own walk. While I’ve given snippets of this in various ways here at The Diner, I thought I’d give it a shot the way the elders have been doing it and get it all in one spot.
My high school years were a positive blur. When I think back on them, there were a lot of laughs and good times. Yes. I realize some are not so lucky…but I didn’t have the pressure of the “A-listers” or the alienation of those that didn’t care to be on any type of list. I was right there in the middle with a good group of friends. I wasn’t the most popular kid in the class. I wasn’t the least. I was just in the class having a good time.
Which is what would influence my life greatly.
See, after I’d made my deal with God to stay on His side of the universe and I’d stay on mine and just letting seething anger flare up from time-to-time only to choke it down with a steady diet of heavy-metal/punk rock (depending on the year I happen to be talking about) and hitting baseballs, well, God was in quiet pursuit.
My freshman year I met a guy named Duffy. He worked for this group that met on Monday nights called Campus Life. I’d later learn that there’s tons of these types of organizations out there where they basically send a missionary to public high school campuses. Relational evangelism is the professional term for it. Yes. There are jobs for that.
Anyway, Duffy was always nice to me. Sure, he’d have the “A-listers” mob him when he came to lunch or showed up at a sporting event, but every now and again he’d say “hi.” He always remembered my name even though I’d only gone to Campus Life once or twice…and even then sat in the back and cut up. My reason for attending: Girls invited me. There would be a skit or funny game (I was even in one once). They’d talk about some topic that seemed important to high schoolers and there’d be discussion and then the guy would talk about how the Bible applied to that topic. It all went down in about an hour, but I was certainly more interested in skirt-chasing than Jesus. I had a deal, remember? But there were worse ways to spend an evening and it kept my mom off my back about church.
So, for a couple of years Duffy was just around saying “hi” and all that.
But then he showed up at my hospital room when I broke my leg. Lots was going on in the spring of 1983. We’d just had prom and I’d had a good time, but there was a new girl I really liked and the prom date thing was going south. The ACT was coming up. College choices were starting to become a serious topic of conversation. Baseball season was in session, which required a great deal of my time. Term papers were starting. Student elections were in the mix because your friends thought you should at least run against the guy who’d run unopposed for class president for the last three years. Jobs were needing more hours. It was normal high school age-appropriate pressure at its finest.
And, I break my leg doing something stupid: Chasing a foul ball and running into some bleachers. The story of my silliness has been detailed at The Diner many times so there’s no need to re-hash it. Back then, they had this thing called “traction” where you stayed in bed pretty much immobile with your full-leg-cast hanging from monkey bars. You stayed there for a long time until the nurse came in and made you sit in a chair.
And in walks Duffy.
We chat about my life to that point. My future. My prom date who I’d spilt a little too much information to while under the influence of pre-surgery drugs and what to do about that whole thing. The ACT. Baseball sesason. Would I lose my job? Student elections. My job. He even asked if he could get my homework assignments for me. I told him that wouldn’t be necessary.
And he kept coming around even after that.
And it hit me: All these “A-listers” he usually runs with and he’s got time to hang around with me? For hours at a time? To be sure, he talked to me about Christ. About transformation. About…
…dare I say it?…
And about how I could continue to listen to music and hit baseballs for therapy for it if I wanted but he asked a question I never forgot during a post-hospital chat at a McDonald’s: Don’t you want to get rid of your anger instead of just managing it? I mean, why have anger-management sessions? They don’t have adultery management classes, or lying management classes or gossip managing sessions, right? It took about a year of chewing on that before I came to a point where I’d want to get rid of that anger. There’s a certain comfort in hanging on to sin. I don’t know why. It just is.
Thus began my discipleship.
Duffy humored the former Episcopal kid who’d never gone much beyond the book of common prayer that sat at my bedside when I came to a Bible study he’d arranged for me to be a part of. They were all pretty much Bible church kids who knew a bunch of stuff…and when he’d say things like “You all remember how seriously God takes sin from when we talked about David bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem, right?” I’d be the kid asking, “What?” Or when he’d say to turn to Colossians I was kid who had to check the index to find out where that was.
But he talked about grace. He talked about new creatures. He talked about grace. He talked about transformation by renewing your mind. He talked about grace. He talked about the importance of the Word. He talked about grace. He talked about an abundant life. He talked about grace. He talked about the idea of Christ living through you. He talked about grace. He talked about being salt and light. He talked about grace.
He didn’t theologize it all up with big words and make it a nice concept to nod politely at, but rather he talked about Christ and grace so much that often I trouble telling the difference.
And this was good news to me. The Bible study guys who went to church couldn’t figure out why I was so enthralled by all this. But it was exciting to me, even if them hearing it for their entire lives dulled them to the wonder of it all. I liken it to being an exchange student going to Disney World. To many Americans, it’s pretty normal and maybe even expected that you’ll get there as a kid and it’s fun and nice and enjoyable. But to somebody from the third-world, it’s truly magic and wonder and laughter and celebrating with parades and fireworks.
Those years taught me a great deal that would affect my future ministry: Find the ordinary kid and see extraordinary possibilities; preach Christ; make disciples; focus on grace as the motivation; love people where they are; let the Holy Spirit work in the kid and stay the heck out of the way whenever possible regarding that.
And what’s funny is that I can’t remember five specific lessons that Duffy taught me. I learned that other stuff life-on-life. And it was a nice foundation to get my discipleship built upon, but I’d have to make my faith my very own starting in the Fall of 1984. I’ll talk more about that the next time I do this.
In fact, that transformation process from anger to, well, life, is symbolized by the tattoo on my left arm (that actually got completed yesterday–so I think I’m done with tattoos!):
The green bars comprise the logo of one of my favorite punk rock bands, Black Flag. Their logo was black, obviously…and this one is green–for life. And the bloody footprints are from a Stavesacre album art for the song, “The Trouble With Being Born,” which talks about the reality that humanity has a problem from birth in that they are sinners–and this problem can only be solved by the shedding of blood…bloody footprints, get it? So, that life transformation from (black) death to (green) life has resulted in me being peaceful, loving and joyful…the little logos within the bars. Finally, the Micah 6:8 reminds me that my walking humbly with God is supposed to have outward manifestations of doing justice and loving mercy.
So, that’s what the ink’s all about.