Saturday, May 23, 2009

Windows Down

It’s a small minority, the lot of us. And you’d never notice us until you’re one of us. Until you’re driving around, windows down, in the middle of a hot Florida day. That’s when this inconspicuous group of drivers becomes an unspoken fellowship of human beings.

I joined the ranks of these drivers today. Neal and I switched cars. His car is out of freon, or so we think, and we just haven’t gotten around to dropping the car off at Southern Comfort.

There’s a story behind every car with windows down. Because in this weather, no one does it by choice. Nice cars—are you too busy, like us, to fix your AC? Old cars—was the AC the first to go? Trucks—are you just reminiscent of when you had a Jeep Wrangler? Compact cars—are you fantasizing that this is your convertible?

Along with the stories, there’s the shared experiences. The salty perspiration dripping down your lower back, trapped between your shirt and the car seat. The sweat creeping down your thighs, increasing exponentially due to the heat held captive by your seat. If you’re a woman, your hair is now in a ponytail, no matter how much time you spent styling it before you left the house. If you’re a guy, you’re asking yourself if you remembered deodorant before you left the house. If you’re a guy, it probably doesn’t matter if you remembered deodorant before you left the house.

And then there’s the complicated issue of Windows-Down-Etiquette. If you’re listening to the radio when you stop at an intersection, should you turn it down? Is there a level that’s acceptable for your music to be shared on the open air ways? Do you even want everyone to know what you’re listening to, or do you resort to middle school insecurities, and fear that you’ll be judged? What about eye-contact at a stoplight?

This morning, at Countryway and Linebaugh, I was stopped in the left turn lane. Joe Redneck happened to be on my immediate right, another Windows-Down-Driver. Joe whistled. Maybe to a tune in his head, I reasoned. Then, Joe blasted some country song about red lipstick and heels and some other indiscriminate redneck lyrics. I stared straight ahead, doing my best to look deep in thought, distracted by important things in my head. Or, important things down the road. I didn’t like being so conspicuous to a perfect stranger, only 7 feet away.

It’s really all a game, you know. This idea of inconspicuousness. And busy-ness. And I-don’t-notice-you-ness.

It’s only when you join the ranks of Windows-Down-Drivers that you’re forced to come to terms with the reality that Others Exist.

When the light turned green, I peeled off, grateful for the blast of humid air. Grateful to be returning to the land of anonymity.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

White Jesus

For your enjoyment, a painting of White Jesus by none other than Hitler himself.

A week before Easter, Carter’s grandma gave him one of those chunky you-can’t-rip-the-pages-out children’s books. It’s title, The Story of Easter.

The text is simple and starts with a shout-out to spring so the obligatory Easter Animals can have their 15 minutes. Nothing like supporting the syncretism of pagan and Christian holidays.

Then the text introduces our Hero, White Jesus.

The words are accurate—Jesus loved children, and Moms and Dads, too. (Because who else would be reading this story to you? God forbid it be a foster parent or aunt or a compassionate social worker.)

It’s the illustrations that aren’t so faithful to history. Jesus has light brown hair and a complexion so fair you want to jump through the pages and slather SPF 100 all over him.

White Jesus then appears on the next page in what seems to be Palm Sunday. A group of blonde children surround him and his donkey, while he appears placid and so very peaceful.

The next page moves our plot along.

Some bad men didn’t like Jesus and put him on a cross to die.

There’s no supporting illustration. After all, a crucifixion scene might not be appropriate for a 16 month old. However, our beloved artist managed to squeeze in a few Nicole Kidman look-alikes, huddling together with mouths turned downwards—we might interpret the expression as sad. Let’s not get carried away with emotion here; they’re just sad.

Peacefully sad.

A couple iridescent angels later, and we’re back to modern times. The text explains that what White Jesus did is why we go to church on Easter Sunday and sing songs.

Theologically, sound.

Artistically, not.

The children in this illustration belong to the fairest of the fair—they’re red-headed with freckles and glowing, transparent skin. Oh, and there’s a yellow brick road they’re skipping on as they make their way to a white church with a steeple.

It’s endearing, really.

I’d love to tell you that this book was published during the Renaissance, when European artists rendered their historically inaccurate versions of what Jesus looked like. Or that some uninformed well-intentioned Christian painted the pictures from her little house on the prairie, before the fact that Jesus was Middle Eastern was common knowledge.

Can’t do that.

The publication date was 1997.

I considered writing the artist a letter. However, I felt that if I did, I’d have to be tactful and restrained with my questions. Instead, I’ve chosen do nothing to solve the problem, but will use the cathartic outlet of blogging to address my issues:

Dearest Artist who will never read this post:

Are you so insecure in God’s love for you that you have to make Him look like you? Is it not enough that those who’ve hailed from European ancestry have had social, economic and political advantages for centuries? Does it threaten you that Historical Jesus probably looked more like the Iraqi on the news than your next door neighbor?

It shouldn’t. And if it does, at least feign compliance for the sake of political correctness.

After all, there was another artist who insisted on changing Jesus’ ethnicity. History has since judged him.

Let’s not get caught in his company.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Little Reflection on Confrontation

“Remember, there’s valet parking.”

This was the last exhortation from my husband before I left this morning for our church’s women’s brunch. Neal was part of the planning process and wanted to make sure I took advantage of all the country club promised in our package.

So, I pulled up in our Honda, stocked to the brim with boxes of copy paper, old mailers and Monster drinks, and asked the guy in the white polo if there was valet parking.

He said no.

But he’d pick me up in his golf cart after I parked, if I wanted.

I should be so thankful.

After the brunch, the ladies left in droves. As some friends and I made our way out to the parking lot, I beheld this scene:

Four young, polo-wearing, tennis-shoe clad guys, chilling on their golf carts, under the shaded entrance. While my girlfriends, in their heels and dry-clean-only blouses, braved the 90 degree heat on the merciless trek out to their cars. I think Ashley had some contractions.

If I were to say my consequent actions were perfect, I’d be lying.

Here’s my first mistake.

I forgot the principle of Audience. I knew we paid for valet parking. I knew the country club was inefficient, to say the least. I didn’t need 5 of my girlfriends to confirm that fact. And, when asked by Mark, the head golf-cart dude, what my problem was, I knew better than to tell him that he and his buddies were being lazy.

I know the principle of Audience is to bring your beef to the one in charge. You’re supposed to be solution-oriented.

The second mistake I made was to disregard, momentarily, the Principle of Leave Them with Their Dignity. Regardless of who’s wrong and who’s right, it’s my responsibility, as a representative of Christ, to preserve everyone’s dignity.

I haven’t always been faithful to the principle of Audience or to the principle of Leave Them with Dignity.

Like a month ago, when I yelled at the man at the check-in desk at University Hospital. If I had been faithful to the principles of Audience and Dignity, I would have quietly approached his throne and humbly inquired why he insisted on over-exerting his authority on all who entered his domain. I didn't.

After the “scene” with the golf cart dudes and my friend going into labor (not really) I can say that I got back on track with my Principles. I maturely discussed the problem with the manager in his office. I used words like “expectations,” “clarify,” “understand” and “going forward.” It was all very solution-oriented and business-like. I even spoke with Mark on the way out. I wish you could have seen me.

But, you didn’t. You probably saw me earlier, struggling for some balance between achieving what’s due and acting like a Christian.

I think the two can co-exist. I still have some work to do.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Power of Pain

Last week, I wrote about pain’s potential to awaken us to our true condition—fallen and in need of Something Else.

For some of us, like the Laodiceans in the early church, this is a much needed revelation. For most of us, we’re already well acquainted with the chaos of the world in which we live. If we remain only with the knowledge of our fallen state, we’re in a sorry place. So, here’s where pain can make its second contribution:

Pain has the power to introduce us to Jesus.

With the onset of pain, there are many places one can run for comfort, relief and temporary distraction. I know, as a Christ-follower, that I should run towards Jesus with my pain. Sometimes I have to force myself to stop distracting my mind with superficial fixes and to get on my knees. Other times, the overwhelming pain partners with gravity and literally pulls me to the floor on my face in prayer.

Pain is where Jesus has become most real to me. His presence, almost tangible and his comfort, palpable. His spirit and his word have promised me that as deep as my pain reaches, so his touch will extend. And he’s been good on his promise.

My most recent meditation has been the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.

The miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection is remarkable, but it hasn’t been the focus of my study. My thoughts have stayed on the interactions Jesus has with Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, while their brother is still dead.

Mary runs to Jesus with her pain and exclaims, in essence, “Where were you? You could have stopped this and you did nothing!” Jesus isn’t threatened by her brokenness or insinuated accusations. In fact, he doesn’t even respond to her question with words.

He just weeps.

With this reaction, we have the Beginning and the End, the God-Who-Made-Time, who knew the miracle that would imminently transpire, stopping. He’s not offended by her expectations of him. He doesn’t patronize her with exhortations to more faith and less humanness. He steps outside of his all-knowing-ness and enters her pain.

He just weeps.

I know, because of my own experience, that Mary was transformed in that moment. I believe that for the rest of her life she cherished the opportunity given to her by pain to truly meet Jesus.

Many of us find ourselves, like Mary, running to Jesus. If we’ll stop long enough, if we’ll pause after we’ve emptied our hearts of our petitions, we just might meet Him. In the quietness of our pain, we may catch a glimpse of God Almighty weeping.