Friday, October 29, 2010

Lions' Den

I took my two-year-old daughter with me to Walmart on a simple errand. We bought what we needed, and made our way back through the parking lot toward our car. As I reached for my keys to unlock the doors of our green Subaru, a man stopped us.

“Can you give me a jump?”

Jumping a car battery is an easy thing, an innocuous thing when taken by itself. You don’t have to know engines. You don’t have to pay money. All you have to give up is two or three minutes of your time, assuming that a jump is all the ailing car really needs.

So why the foreboding?

No, we didn’t know the man. And no, we’re not in a small town. And no, he wasn’t wearing nice clothes, and he didn’t have a fish symbol on his car. And yes, people get mugged by strangers faking car trouble. As a protective father, all of these things flashed through my awareness, but so did the fact that it was broad daylight, that there were lots of other people walking to and from their cars, and that I was bigger than he was. But these thoughts weren’t really thoughts at all. They were workings of instinct and subconscious, ideas that had no time to truly effect my decision-making processes in the fraction of a second between him asking for help and me saying “Yeah, of course. Let me put my daughter in the car, and I’ll be right there.”

I pulled up to his car and got out, and as the man untangled his cables, he said to me something astonishing, but sadly not surprising at all: “I’ve asked, like, six other people, and you’re the first one who said yes.”

Six. Surely not all of them were late for work or on their way to the emergency room. We were at a suburban Walmart, not a corner of downtown Portland. Most of them, probably all of them, said “no” as a reflex, a sort of armor built up by subconscious fear. It may also have been indifference, or contempt, or any number of grosser sins, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. Either way, and regardless of creed, they were all priests and levities of the modern age, turning a blind eye to the wounded man on the road.

Would I have denied Christ if I had said no to the man? Whether the man knew Christ or not, he asked for me to be his neighbor as Christ commands, even at my own peril, and at the peril of my child sitting oblivious in her car seat.

There are places in the world today where Christians are still rounded up and slaughtered for their faith. America is not one of those places. Persecution is a relative thing, and here, so far, large-scale persecution is a battle for the mind, not the body. There is no magisterial lions’ den. But there are people stranded on the side of the road, some with good intentions, some without.

Perhaps helping strangers is the new American lions’ den. Praise God it’s something so relatively easy to face. And at the same time, God help us, because we, more than any other culture in the world, are followers of Jean-Paul Sartre, who put the modern Western psyche into a nutshell: “Hell is other people.”


Thursday, October 14, 2010


I was driving the family through a suburb of Portland. As we approached an intersection I noticed a man standing on the corner, waiting for the light to change so he could cross. He wore baggy clothes, dreadlocks, and a Rasta hat.

The man’s lips weren’t moving, but his gestures made it clear he was talking to himself, or to God, or to what he thought was God, which was probably more-or-less himself. He was white and probably had no idea of the true roots of the Rastafarian religion – born out of hatred for the white race – or perhaps he would have said the religion had left those roots behind. Either way, this man wore all the trappings, and knew the hands signs, and he stood on the corner waiting for the light in more ways than one.

The man’s gaze was somewhere in the trees lining the street, but as we passed through the intersection the man beat his chest three or four times and flicked two fingers toward our car.

A peace sign.

Whether or not it was really a peace sign, or whether or not it was really pointed at us, I’ll never know. Maybe it was a gang sign. But it looked and felt like peace, regardless of the man’s intentions.

Was it the same with Balaam?

Balaam was a hired gun, a seer steeped in the darkness and bloodshed of the most ancient pagan traditions, like the oracles of ancient Greece and the witch doctors of the old American Plains. But God used Balaam as a tool to confound those whom He hated and bless those whom He loved (Numbers 22-24).

The confused, muttering Rastafarian on the street corner was no more a prophet than was Marcus Garvey or Emperor Haile Selassie, the two central figures of the Rastafarian religion. At best he was a poser seeking attention, and at worst he was a heretical pothead wrestling with God and sorely losing. Either way, and regardless of his intentions, he blessed members of the new Israel with a flick of his wrist.


Monday, October 11, 2010


Rebirth is a good time to start a blog. A rebirth is a beginning, which is the best place to start a story.  And anything that’s been reborn is bound to be interesting.

Perhaps shaving off my beard doesn’t seem like much of a rebirth. But being clean-shaven after twelve years of face-fuzz is not only traumatic in itself, but it comes at one of those points in life that resets the calendar, like graduation, or marriage, or the birth of your first child. Or a career change.

I had an English degree. I still do – they don’t usually take them back. But there’s no money in English, so I got into title work. When the housing market peaked and dived in 2008, my livelihood peaked and dived with it. I had a family to feed, so I went back to school and got a master’s degree in accounting, finishing this last August. As it turns out, the accounting profession (and those who make use of it) frown upon facial hair.

I now look fifteen years younger than my age, I have no chin, and I have traded a right-brain activity for a left-brain activity.

There are parts of the old me still here – the part of me yearning to express himself with the written word, for instance – but I imagine other parts of me are being left behind, mostly for the better. They’re the parts that allowed me to choose an English degree when what I really wanted was to provide for a family, and the parts that struggled most with loving my neighbors and showing mercy rather than demanding sacrifice.

That last part – mercy over sacrifice – will probably be the main thrust of this blog, because this rebirth is not only helping me to know the difference, but it’s forcing my family to live in subjection to it. Some friends and family have demanded sacrifice for the choices I’ve made, and others have performed acts of mercy that are allowing my family to survive while I search for work. The battle-lines between the two camps are drawn in interesting places, most notably by age, but more on that in another post.

I’m not a preacher or a Bible scholar. But I do have a love for everything paradoxical in God’s creation, most notably Christ Himself and the life He demands of us. The left-brain right-brain hash in my head – that tug-of-war created by two callings that have little to do with each other – prompts me to connect things not normally connected to see if they stick. Sometimes they won’t. Sometimes I might be like a child with a glue stick, trying to paste together things that bond only until I stop pressing them together with my hands. When they stick, we can marvel together, and when they don’t, you can stop me before I go blue in the face with effort.

The name of this blog is taken from a line by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. The phrase takes what I hope will remain the outlook of this blog and fits it into a nutshell, or better yet, a mustard seed. At the very least, I hope to chronicle the “evolution” (striped of everything Darwinian) of a renewed mind, a new man baptized by a set of hair clippers and a razor.

God works in mysterious ways.