Monday, March 25, 2013

A few unasked questions.

Jonathan and I didn't get to address all of our questions about Mark 5:1-20 Sunday. Here's a few more questions I didn't have time to get to:

  • Why did Jesus decide to boat across the lake, rather than walk around it, going from people to people without skipping anyone?
  • Why is the man referred to as having, in the singular, an "unclean spirit", when we later find out it's a plurality of demons?
  • Did the villagers refer to him as having an unclean spirit? Isn't a lack of cleanness a Jewish concern, relating to purity?
  • What did the demon-possessed man eat and drink to sustain himself (or his host body), since his own destruction seemed the goal?
  • Where did the people get the shackles and chains to bind him with? Why were those laying around?
  • When the person who brought the shackles and chains said, "Here, try these," did the others give him a funny look?
  • "No one had the strength to subdue him." (v4). Was this a contest? Were there bets?
  • Why did the demon-possessed man cut himself with stones, and what else might this behavior signify? Why not use the weapons (or even the busted chains) readily available from people not strong enough to resist him if he wanted them?
  • Why would a spirit that cuts himself with stones be concerned about being tormented?
  • Why does the demon(s) answer Jesus's questions, but not Jesus's command to come out of the man, and in what ways do I talk to Christ but refuse to listen to Christ?
  • Who counted the pigs? Did they ask the herdsman (v14) or did Matthew, the tax-collector/human-calculator, do a speed count?
  • Why didn't the pigs swim?
  • When in the water, did the herd of pigs become a school?
  • When the pigs died, did the demons?
  • Did the demons go into fish?
  • Does demon enhance or spoil the flavor of Tilapia?
  • When the man was healed, where did he get his clothes? What  beautiful human being failed to get credit for sharing their wardrobe with a former demoniac?
  • What significance is there to the former demoniac being sent out of the area by Jesus, and then Jesus himself being sent out as well?
  • Are asking Jesus into your heart and begging Jesus out of your village opposites?
  • What reasons are there for telling people throughout the gospels to not speak of the miracle they have experienced, but in this case the contrary is commanded? (This question was asked me after service by a gentleman who's name escapes me…Great question.)
  • How often does Jesus tell people they can't follow him (v18-19), and that the better ministry is in the sufficiency of them sharing their own limited experience with their friends?
  • Did the demoniac have former notoriety? Why did those he told marvel at his story unless they knew he'd been a little cuckoo lately, but before that healthy?
  • Was there ever any other evangelist/ambassador to this area- or was this man's "was blind, now I see" experience enough for all time?
  • What currently unrecognized traditions came from this man's testimony in the Decapolis? Has Christianity in the East, or in the West for that matter, inadvertently dismissed as "not us" or even "heresy" a tradition birthed out of this man obeying Christ to the letter?
  • The next section starts with Jesus and the disciples boating again…did they have to navigate through 2,000 pig corpses?
  • A chapter later Jesus walks on water; was this simply a balancing act on dead pigs?
  • How many times did Jesus's helping of one person (like the demoniac) hurt others (like the pig farmers)? Is there any such thing as helping everybody at once? Is "Good News" always, necessarily some sort of "bad news"?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

All Parked Cars are the Same.

The yellow race car, all muscly and thick, sat at the red light. He’d sat there like this for years. Sun danced off his shiny yellow paint. His tires were glossy and new, his windows so clean they seemed absent. But it was the sound of his engine that made the others cars giddy with excitement.
If only this red light would turn green.
The big bus idled at the light next to the yellow car, smiling and shaking his head. He knew from the sound of the glug-glug-glug of the yellow car’s engine that when the light changed, the other cars would be humbled. Shamed even. But being shamed by the best was an honor. And this yellow car, all muscly and thick, certainly sounded like the type to shame them all. The bus couldn’t wait to see it.
If only this red light would turn green.
The hatchback and the wagon had both speculated about the yellow car’s strength to the point of legend. They disagreed on the technical details, but one thing they agreed on with enthusiastic giggling; when that light changed, minds would be blown.
If only this red light would turn green.
The yellow car, all muscly and thick, revved its engine as it had done a thousand times, sounding off his impatience as he waited for the light to turn. The rumble of the engine was deep and aggressive. It sent chills down the other cars’ frames. What a racer he would prove to be! He lurched forward a few inches in a display of eagerness, allowing the slight grade in the road to return him to his mark. The other cars couldn't wait to see it. The pick-up truck and the sedan and even the mo-ped exchanged their ideas about just how amazing the yellow car would prove to be.
If only this red light would turn green.
But, after all these years, not all the cars joined in anymore. A few of them were tired of the revving. Tired of the calculating and legends. They were tired of the speculating and childish giggling over the yellow car's potential. In their eyes, the yellow car, all muscly and thick, was no different than the other cars, no matter how loud its engine promised to the contrary. Parked cars are all the same, as they saw it. But those like the sedan and the bus and even the mo-ped, though an unvalidated fan-base, were a loyal fan-base nonetheless. The yellow car would show them. They’d see.
If only this red light would turn green.
The yellow car, all muscly and thick, had a tremendous secret. A secret no one could have guessed. Underneath his paint and his roaring and his ever thwarted potential, the yellow car loved the red light. He, a race car, dreaded green and prized red. Unknown to the other cars and in some ways even to himself, the yellow car cherished the red light for allowing him to be adored for what he might do. Yes he revved his engine, yes he roared like a racer, yes even the gloss on his perfectly inflated tires implied he’d want nothing but green.
But the thing about green lights is they reveal to everybody once and for all whether you have what they respect you for. Red lights are good for promises and possibilities. But green lights just tell the truth.
If only this red light would never turn green...
How the bus and the sedan and the pick-up and the wagon and even the mo-ped loved the yellow car, really loved him. How they insisted when that light changed, frames would tremble with chills, traffic would be humbled and minds would be blown. But in his interior the yellow car, all muscly and thick, revving impatiently and lurching forward and back, pleaded silently for the light to stay red forever.

"Love" assumes disagreement.

For the last month or so, the recognition of Love as a command has taken on a whole new dimension for me. And it's simply this; if we're going to agree, then we're going to find an easy peace. Love won't be a challenge. You and I naturally feel positively about others when their view of important things aligns with our own. Thus, love assumes we won't agree.

The reason we're commanded to love each other, among other reasons, is due to the fact that we will disagree in almost every category of our existence. (I wonder how many of you just thought Well, not every category.) Disagreement is simply an effect of us all having our own, even opposing, takes on the universe and its contents. 

When God says "Love each other," God is not demanding 100% agreement. God's alerting us to the very opposite scenario. Otherwise, the command to love makes as much sense as a command to blink. It's already happening. "They will know you are my disciples by your love," Jesus insisted. This, I take to mean, "They will see you as diverse, awake human beings- not clones, and be blown away that no matter where any two of you find each other, or what you think, you're in perfect harmonious love. That's what will set you apart as mine."

I've been asked a lot lately about Absolute Truth, and whether there is any and whether we can apprehend it. It's an important question, and my answer is always the same: Truth is a person, not a proposition. Christ is our absolute. Everything else is relative. That's putting a whole lot very simply, and I confess that I can make it sound like there's no more discuss to be had about this sometimes. But as I understand the summation of our faith to be Love, and that Christ is all there really is, then it feels critically important for me to keep things uncomplicated (which is different than not taking things seriously, mind you.)

Christ is the only absolute.
Love is our standard for conduct.
This is, in the only way I can understand it, who we are if we call ourselves Christ-followers.

The implications of this are quite stunning, especially for a person (such as me too often, frankly) who still believes somewhere deep down that people need to not be wrong to be right. On the contrary, our faith is built on Loving each other, not mere correctness. Almost as if God is more (primarily? only?) concerned with how we navigate our disagreements than whether or not we ever figure out the truth we're disagreeing about. Is it possible that we're all working on a project together, and the Architect is more interested in how we unite than our proper interpretation of the blueprints? Is our behavior on the work site the project, and not the building?

I grieve for the devout theologian that reads something like this and thinks that it's weak. That it's taking an easy, unthinking way out. This was the view I used to hold. When people said things like "it's all about love," I knew they were technically right, but also took their words as an admission that, at their core, they just didn't like tension or being potentially disliked. Like the guy teaching a Creationism vs Evolution seminar I went to early in my faith. His class turned out to be about being humble and loving toward those who come to different conclusions. "It's about love!" But I had signed up for the class to gain ammunition for my "side". I was furious. I even tried, in front of everyone in attendance, to point out that his thesis was dead wrong. He humbly said it might have been, which made it hard to keep arguing. Today, I couldn't be more linked to that young sage's heart. He was the deepest well in the room because he could love and remain humble in the presence of anyone and any idea. He got it. I missed it completely.

My prayer is that I can continue to help people understand, as I am continuing to, that disagreement is written into the mandate to Love. We shouldn't think our responsibility is to get people to agree with us. It's to love (which in practice will be found in our listening and understanding and considering and refusing to dismiss or mischaracterize, etc.) someone we think may or may not be totally wrong. To love others enough to show them Christ, verses trying to get others to submit to our understanding of Christ. (A Christ, by the way, who washed more toes than he stomped in the name of Truth).

May we find ourselves anchored by the absolute of humbly bringing all our diverse perspectives to the table to commune. There is, in my opinion, nothing truer to the person and mission of Christ than this. Hope you agree.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Unworthy of the Stall

Robert mindlessly chewed the last of his lunch as he stared into the stall, shaking his head. He was feeling disgusted again, as was the case more and more in recent days. The horse that took up this stall, the barn's only stall at that, was an utter disappointment to him. If a stall could be wasted, this stall had been.

The horse was bone thin, except for the places it was fat. Its mane was dull and sheenless, a patchwork of scratchy wire and scars. Its body was a misshapen tank with a spine that could no longer suffer a saddle. The horse quivered at its cloud of flies and belched through its mouthfuls of feed. A disgusting, disappointing waste of the only stall in the barn.

Robert shook his head again as his thoughts descended fully into disdain. Of all horses, this horse. Just one dedicated spot for a horse and it's this horse stuck in it.

Even this horse's name, "Breezy", kindled his contempt. It had sounded light and happy when she'd first been moved into the barn. The sign emblazoned with her name and hung over the stall even seemed to cheer an otherwise dismal barn up at first. Now it hung like a profanity. It meant dread and loathing and something that just wouldn't end or go away.


Robert sighed an angry defeated sigh, swallowing a final time and wiping his mouth. He acknowledged to himself he'd before attempted a kinder, gentler assessment of this horse. He'd even made an attempt at not doing any assessing at all. But it didn't last. Ol' Breezy soon proved she'd as soon step on you as look at you. On mere approach of the stall door, for no fault of his own, he could sense a wicked tension rise in the air. A malicious humidity, snorting from her filthy, damp nostrils. Had Robert not gotten clear of her quickly in these moments, he'd have been maimed or killed.

Killed by an infernally disappointing horse named Breezy.

Robert hated this horse. He hated the fact that she took up a spot that he felt belonged to something better. Something he could love. Something he could be proud of. Something that merited kindness and gentleness at all. One barn. One stall. And this was the horse standing in it.

Robert turned slowly toward the door to head back to the house. The evening temperature was dropping and it would be warmer there, if he could get inside. Breezy watched him leave with her wary sideways glance. She felt instant relief come over her as he left the barn. It wasn't so much his stealing her feed, although she hoped he'd stop. It was that she just couldn't relax or think or be herself when Robert came in, because she'd always been unnerved and repulsed by rats.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lots happened 15 years ago.

"Hey Steve, you got an 'up'," came the announcement from one of the other salespeople. I looked to the main door, seeing only the top of a person's head move toward the pre-owned automobile kiosk. An 'up' was office slang for a potential customer arriving on the lot. I had just interacted with one who promised to get back with me on a sedan with really high miles. I wasn't holding my breath.

"Just had one," I answered.

There was a system after all, a sacred decorum, whereby each of us salespeople took ups in turn. Having just had one, the next one was Eric's. But Eric was with four or five others of the sales team in a riveting conversation about their preferred level of spice in chicken wings. "Go ahead, Daugherty. Try, try again," he said. The others laughed as I nodded and made my way to the pre-owned kiosk where the up was typing away, looking through the total selection of cars on the network of lots.

I had only been selling cars for about a month. My whole car salesman career spanned only 3 months total. An in-between job is what I had been calling it, although it wasn't clear at that point what this job was sandwiched between. I wasn't getting the hang of it and didn't care to. I just wondered what the next thing was going to be. It was March 6th, 1998. I was single. I had bad hair, worse pants and, among some other debts, a great car. It was a ridiculous monthly payment, but it was a sweet ride nonetheless. Kalapana black Mitsubishi Eclipse. Turbo. When I drove it I became objectively better than other people, despite my hair and pants. This is true. People with better hair and lesser cars confessed as much to me. I had little direction in life, but I had this overpriced, overfast car as compensator.

I walked around the corner of the kiosk to introduce myself to the up, hoping this interaction went better than the last. I had just made my March car payment after all, so the ol' well was dry. And promises to come back, later, maybe, and buy busted sedans couldn't scare away a repo man.

"Hi, I'm-"

The woman standing at the computer stopped me in my tracks. She was the kind of beautiful that immediately makes you review your first impression chart: Breath? Posture? Bats-in-cave? But I couldn't think clearly about those things. I couldn't think of really anything. Least of all, me. No thought beyond the fact that before me were two of the most beautiful brown eyes I had ever seen. And perfectly big as well. Surely her blinking affected local weather. I was a bit stunned.

"...I'm Steve, uh. Can I... help you with anything?"

I would find out her name was Christie Christy Kristi, and that she was looking for a "sporty" car. Black or silver. Something good on gas and great on the eyes. I scanned the computer with her, trying to concentrate on the task at hand while also not looking her up and down like some sort of creepy.....used-car salesman.

After a couple minutes it was clear that nothing in the system fit what she was hoping to find, so she agreed to walk the lot with me to see what we had. I don't remember much about the conversation's content. I just remember it was an easy one to have. And I remember at one point there was an eager interruption on her part:

"There!" She said, pointing suddenly. "I'm looking for one like that!" I followed the path of her finger over into the last row of cars in the lot. I was looking for silver, until I remembered she was also open to black. Then I realized she was pointing into the last isle, the staff parking isle. She was pointing at my Eclipse.

"The one with the fin?" I asked, smiling.

"Yeah, what is that?"

"That's mine."

Boom. The monthly payment could have been double -quadruple- and it was still worth this moment.

"That's my Mitsubishi," I continued, trying not to sound as cocky as I was feeling about the whole event. "Wanna take a look?"

She sat in it, smiling and exploring and admiring. I quietly thanked God for allowing me to make such a asinine purchase a year prior. 450 cars on the lot and my car was the one she wanted. God was good.

But, this was only a bonus. There was already something great happening. That was the thing; I wouldn't have been into a girl just for being into my car. Her interest was somehow gravy, or sprinkles, or icing. Choose your food metaphor. There was a deeper something that her interest in my car seemed to validate rather than cause.

We went back to the kiosk for a final perusal. This time she found one with strong potential. A silver Honda Prelude. The problem was that this particular car was up at one of our sister lots, 45 minutes away. And protocol functioned such that, she would leave my lot, drive up to the other and get a salesperson who worked that lot. We weren't allowed to sell cars on other lots, although we did get an almost insultingly small kickback for our initial involvement.

None of this was I about to tell her.

"Well, I guess I'll drive up there and take a look." There was finality in her voice, but also a slight hint of sorrow. Could it be that she had felt like I had- that perhaps we'd just hit it off a bit?

"Ok. But I'd be glad to take you," I said, with little emotion in it so that it didn't sound as desperate as it felt inside my head. "No big deal."

"Oh, I couldn't ask you to do that. It's fine." She was opening the door, stepping through it backward.

I wondered how fine. Was she saying it was her preference I stay behind, or was she saying she didn't want to come off desperate but was open to my insisting? I opted for the latter.

(Kids, hide your eyes for a few lines, because I can't recommend the following deceptive behavior...)

"No, really. We do that. It's sort of a policy to walk a customer all the way through the process. It's kind of expected."

"Oh, really?"


"Ok, well, if it's no problem."

In my memory three seconds passed before I pulled around in the Eclipse, the car of our dreams, to take her to Troy, a 45 minute jaunt north of Dayton. 45 minutes for lesser beings. I was prepared to do it in about 31. I also had to be stealthful, since I was not in any way supposed to put customers in my personal car to extend time with them for reasons not pertaining to our revenue stream. Selling her a car couldn't have mattered to me any less than it did. I just didn't want that door to close with her on the other side. I earlier let that up go with a promise of buying the sedan in some ethereal future because I ultimately didn't care. But this was no up. Kristi, with these eyes, great taste in cars and this easy connection with the likes of me, was something to put in the very least my month-and-a-half auto sales career on the line for. She got in, and we were off. 

We small-talked while I only a little bit wondered how it was going to go to have me, a salesman from another lot, showing up and showing off their lot's inventory to a customer. I assumed when the sales team saw her they would still be mad at me but would at least understand. (I caught plenty of flack the next next day for all this incidentally. A couple of "never agains" and "out of lines" were leveled at me from management. But I was fine with it, for I had learned the day before that sometimes if you pay big, ridiculous amounts- even monthly- it sooner or later pays off nicely.)

She drove the Honda, then I drove it too and gave my opinion when she asked me for it. 30 minutes later we started back to Dayton in my car and the conversation continued. Easily. We talked about family, childhood, and the fact that we had each only recently moved back to the state from elsewhere. Me from St. Louis and her from Japan. We were laughing. We were mutually interested in our backstories. We were, in a very short period of time, friends.

As the drive came down to its final minutes, I thought I would attempt to manage a balancing act between being creepy, unprofessional and tuned-in to the reality I sensed was in front of me.

"So, I uh....I would just shoot myself if I didn't, uh...ask you if you wanted to...uh, go hang out sumthin."

This felt like bowling. I had been studying the pins, strategizing and imagining a best case scenario for well over an hour. Now, the ball was out of my hands, spinning or perhaps careening toward either the pins or the gutter. 

"Oh, I was wondering if that was ok or not. I was hoping you'd ask. I'd love to."

Outwardly: "Great."

We agreed to meet at a place called Sneakers that was almost literally between her apartment and the lot at which I worked. We would see a well-known local band and continue what had been a great conversation. I rushed home, changed clothes and met her there a couple hours later. And there the conversation continued. Just as easy, though a bit louder as it was now yelled over top covers of 90's music. At one point I bought a rose from one of those I-sell-roses-at-bars-at-a-premium-because-of-the-power-of-impulse-in-douchey-guys guys. Kristi smiled, knowing that somehow, I didn't see it as romantic but as a silly parody of it. Stepping fully into the cheese, I put the rose into my teeth while some alt-rock song blared, offering my hands to her like a seasoned salsa dancer. She took my hands, stepping toward me with the sternness of a worthy dance partner. I turned my head to initiate the routine, though the rose and the clinched jaw were the only moves I knew. As I turned my head to the side, the stem of the rose went into her beautiful brown eye.

"AH!" she said, holding her hand to her scratched cornea, while smiling forgivingly. 

I apologized profusely while she laughed. This wouldn't be the last time I inadvertently hurt her. 

I don't remember the drive home that night. It may be because I floated on a cloud. Kristi had dropped out of nowhere, expected no pretense, and somehow had become a lifelong friend in one evening. It was all very strange. Perfectly, undeservedly strange.

We went out the next night. We agreed on authentic simplicity, so it was Bob Evans as the setting for our second date. Biscuits and gravy. No ophthalmological damage. Plenty of laughter. 

And we went out the next night. 
And then the next. 

And then she bought a car from someone else on another lot. I wasn't insulted. Surprised, but not insulted. In fact, when it turned out she'd been ripped off, I was glad to be involved as a sympathetic friend rather than mixed up in the weirdness.

She took a one week business trip a few weeks later. But other than that five or six days, we were always together. Always laughing. Always listening. Always trying to understand, if even through arguments, ourselves through each other. To this day, though I many times prefer to be alone- I enjoy being with her. Laughing. Talking. Sharing reality with her. Sitting and thinking about how, if not for an inane conversation about spicy chicken wings, I might have missed out on everything I hold most dear.

Despite thinking for a couple minutes, I can't figure how to successfully wrap up this story. Probably because it never did. 

My dear, brown-eyed Kristi, whom I met 15 years ago today. Thanks for daring to be seen with me that night. And for every night after. Thanks for being beautiful to look at, and then even more so to know. Thanks for having low standards and high intelligence. Thanks for being one of the few people that can make me ugly-laugh. Thanks for our three children who represent the best in us while probably keeping the future psychotherapy industry afloat as well. Thanks for being the best thing that ever happened to me. Sorry I can't dance and have a regular low-life person's car. At least I fixed my hair.

I love you.