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Month: May 2014

Killing THOSE people


I killed a guy this week.

Oh, believe me, I was completely justified. He really had it coming. He was one of THOSE people.

I was already miffed because I had been delayed by two separate car wrecks and was running late for work. (Sidenote: Why do I always count my problem of being stuck behind a car crash as bigger than the problem of those being pulled from the wreckage?)

Anyway, even though I was behind schedule already, I still needed to make a stop at Plaid Pantry.

So of course I ended up behind a guy who had to slow down the line and make his problem, my problem. He started picking an argument, ranting at the clerk about having to show ID to buy cigarettes and raging against the idiotic law requiring her to ask him for it. He even tried to rope me into joining his crusade. Worst of all, he looked old enough to have been buying cigarettes for years and he finally did show his ID, so he must’ve known the routine and been through it before. Yet he had to start freaking out now?

On the outside, I hid my feelings. I tried to look as disinterested as possible, silently willing him to finish his stupid purchase so I could get out of there.

But inside I was deeply, deeply irritated.

So I killed him.

I didn’t kill him physically. (What am I, some kind of psycho?!) No, I killed him in the context of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. (Matthew 5:21-22, The Message)

Why does God always bring THOSE people into my life? I don’t mean the warm-fuzzy kind—the romantic soulmate, the trusted mentor, the BFF. No, I mean those infuriating drama queens and kings who worm their way into every nook and cranny of my business, who push my buttons and get under my skin, who bring chaos to the calm. People who, even if I am totally right, make me feel 100% wrong—and if I am wrong, they just tuck away that little demerit to use against me in the future.

God loves to let THOSE people cross my path.

Sadly, I find myself killing them all at some point.

I can say that about my attitude toward the guy at Plaid Pantry. And plenty of other people too.

It’s amazing how Jesus can take murder—which seems like such a huge, whopping sin that I’m pretty sure I’d never commit it—and bring it so close to me that I can feel my guilt oozing from every pore. Though I haven’t committed murder according to the laws of the state, I have committed it according to the law of God. I have harbored deep ire, even rage, toward others: that convenience-store crusader, that frustrating neighbor, that critical coworker, that former boss who refused to see any good in me. According to Jesus’ definition of the law, in all of these cases I stand guilty of murder. I am no different than Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer.

So now that I stand convicted of breaking the commandment against murder, is there anything I can do about it? Frankly, in practical terms, no. That is what the cross is for. Jesus’ interpretation of God’s law rips us from our pharisaical ruts and brands us with guilt. But that’s why Jesus came. We are holy not because we keep the Ten Commandments—according to Jesus’ words, we manage to break them daily—but because of his work on the cross.

I think God puts THOSE people in my life to force me to leave my comfort zone and show God’s grace to the world, as he has shown it to me. In truth, I’d rather stay dumb, fat and happy in my own little club of warm-fuzzy people who love me. But THOSE people keep chafing away at the callouses on my heart. Through trial and error—multiple errors—God softens and smoothes me more and more. Hopefully, in time, I will begin to see THOSE people through Jesus’ eyes—as treasured individuals for whom he died.

Just like me.


Falling from towers to trenches

Mad_Men+FallingThe activity of writing, especially writing something longish like a book, requires extended periods of time alone, so it’s a good fit for an introvert. And that’s what I am: an extreme introvert, one who feels happiest and safest when I am alone at my computer. In order of magnitude, think: introvert…hermit…recluse…me.

But recently, this introvert was stopped short by a brief comment in a minor scene in a movie about something else.

The movie was “God’s Not Dead” (yes, I finally got to see it) – which, as I said, is about something else. But in a subplot, a pastor bemoans doing mundane ministry in the U.S. while his visiting friend does real ministry “in the trenches” of Africa. When the two encounter a weeping girl in need of help, cast out by her Muslim family for converting to Christianity, the African tells the American: “Well, you said you wanted to be in the trenches…”

That’s all he said.

Yet those words, like an X-ray, exposed an inner fault: my reluctance to leave my haven of solitude. What does it mean to be “in the trenches”? Do I really want to be there?

It’s easy for me to pray, “God, use use me for whatever you want” – and then tell myself he is doing so, even while I keep doing whatever I want. It’s harder for this introvert to be willing to be with people. In fact, it’s a challenge for me to be around people who “have it together.” Will I be able to be around people who don’t?

But God is redefining my trenches. In fact, as shown by my past, he has violently redirected my whole future away from achievements in postgraduate education (where I thought I was headed) and toward a new focus on failure. Instead of bright ivory towers where academic people reach for dreams, my new future seems to be geared toward dark bloody trenches where broken people reach for any shred of hope. Those trenches aren’t as safe and sanitary as the faculty lounge, but at least I won’t have to learn as many big words.

My wife, also a writer and an introvert, asks me, “Is this what you really want?” She understands that if I bare my brokenness to others, they may respond in kind. In fact, they may even want to connect with me on various levels. Am I ready to associate with other losers like me? Am I willing to stand with them in their heartaches? I am ashamed that this piercing X-ray, this fragment of dialog in a fictional movie, has uncovered my inner hesitation. But I don’t want to hide or pretend the hesitation isn’t there.

In truth, I wonder if that may be one reason my academic career went south. Maybe I just needed to fall into a big ol’ steaming pile of humility. To reach broken people, I can’t perch above them, spouting a five-step plan for picking up the pieces. Instead, I must join them where they are—down in the muck.

I don’t know exactly what that will look like, but I suspect it will continue to involve sharing my own loser story and supporting others in their stories too.

So, can God use introverts to help others? Can he use them in the trenches? And is that where I really want to be? I’m starting to suspect (though I have no idea how all of this might play out) that the answers are yes, yes, and yes.

I want to join others down in the trenches of brokenness and look up, not for easy answers but for God’s hand of grace.

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