Definite Different Drumbeat – 2

Dubious

(Just a note first…I have been using my new ReMarkable tablet to write posts the past few days. Today,the tablet and I had, well, issues. Fortunately, I printed a draft and can type it in. Sorry…no handwriting to dig through today.)

Paul could feel the dubious looks and incredulous stares on the back of his neck as he hung up his placard and shovel in the same spot he’d been placing it for years. He placed his overcoat directly beside it, a coat he wore for protection from the elements of his small town who preferred to meet prophecy with thrown rotten eggs rather than repentance.

As he turned to meet the eyes of the Christian judge behind, he found that he had to lower his gaze a couple of feet. “Ah, one of Jackson’s boys.” he thought. Jackson had long got past the judgmental stage with Paul and even managed to overcome the usual awkwardness that remained. Jackson treated Paul as a fellow man. He liked Jackson because of that. Would his three boys turn out as well? Would this one that was staring at him now turn out to be cut from his father’s cloth? Who knew?

Paul raised his head a little bit to give a greeting to the young boy and was himself startled when an involuntary grunt escaped from his throat. The boy darted through the narthex door and into the sanctuary before Paul could even think of how to apologize.

Paul took his seat in the back pew of the Methodist Church, arranged his long hair and longer beard with a few strokes from his hand and prepared himself for the rituals and songs to come. He didn’t care for worship all that much in the Methodist tradition. But it was God’s house and the people in this sanctuary were polite. They might stare, but they didn’t ask him to leave his shovel at home. Most just ignored him and that was fine. They may well be damned for not heeding his shouldered message but they let him go on carrying it.

And yet the older man could not keep from stealing glances at the middle son of Jackson through the whole worship service. At first he thought it was the burning desire to apologize to the young man for he had indeed scared him. Soon, that desire faded and Paul recognized the boy for who he was, one of the silent ones. During his many walks through town Paul would be taunted by the cries of groups of kids – “Crazy Paul! Crazy Paul! Crazy Paul!” – but the silent ones may have been in the group, but never took up the cry. He doubted that this young boy would ever be brave enough to stand up to his friends but he was silent. Sometimes, silence was golden for Paul.

That didn’t settle his mind either and Paul still found himself looking at the boy from time to time.

Then it hit him.

Was it really a grunt that escaped from his throat? Or was it perhaps God speaking to the young man through Paul in a way only the boy would understand? Is that why he was frightened? Despite the many times Paul heard himself referred to as crazy, he knew he was completely lucid. He also knew that he didn’t understand half of what God did in this world and understood even less of what God didn’t do.

The boy would just not leave Paul’s mind so when the final hymn started, Paul decided to make an early exit. Reaching the narthex he donned his overcoat and shouldered his sign, the placard of prophecy plastered on a snow shovel – “THE END IS NEAR! REPENT!”. He walked out the door and allowed his ever present snow boots to smack the hot July pavement as he journeyed home for the day. With each step, instead of the listening for the cries of “Cra-zy Paul!” he allowed himself to whisper a prayer. “Jackson’s son…Jackson’s son…Jackson’s son.”

Peace!

Suspenders

suspendersSometime in my early teen years, I just had to have a pair of rainbow colored suspenders. I begged my parents for this article of clothing until someone finally broke down and got them.

Did I need them because I didn’t like to wear belts? No. Did I need them to keep my pants up? Not really…I usually wore a belt anyway. Why did I need them, then?

Because Mork from Ork wore them.

For those who are not old enough to remember or for the select few who didn’t watch television in the late seventies, Mork and Mindy was a television show about an alien from the planet Ork who somehow ended up living in the suburbs of Denver. And unless Mork had on clothing from his native planet, he almost always wore rainbow colored suspenders. And just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, Mork was played by Robin Williams, an actor who recently lost a battle with depression and ended his life. (As a side note, I try to avoid using the word suicide. I don’t like it for many reasons but you can read more about that on my blog if you really want to do so.)

Robin Williams was one of my earliest role models and heroes. He made people laugh and I found that making people laugh was not only fun to do, it gave an otherwise short and awkward teenager a way to be noticed amongst his peers and even by some adults. For several years I had the very unrealistic dream of becoming a stand-up comic.

That dream led me to do both community and school theater. That dream gave me the drive to actually be employed professionally as an actor – ONCE. That dream of standing in front of people, telling stories and jokes and hearing them respond with laughter is one that kept me going through much of my high school years. Even after I retired the suspenders (but didn’t throw them away, mind you) and had quit idolizing Robin Williams for some other comic I can’t even remember now, I still held on to the dream of making a livelihood out of comedy.

But a lot of life happened between that early dream and where I am today. I consider myself fortunate, very fortunate indeed that at some point in time I realized that there was a different plan for my life. Although I cannot paint a picture of the long road I took to get there in this article, I can at least say with a great deal of certainty that I ended up where I was supposed to be headed all along – in pastoral ministry.

In some ways, I still get to live part of that early dream – I stand up in front up people on a regular basis and I get to tell stories. However, they often are not funny ones and even when they are funny I hope that they point to something else. I hope they point to the God who loves us all enough to send his Son to die for us.

I get a little sad each and every time I hear of someone losing a battle with depression that ends in death. As far as I am concerned, the disease rids people of their ability to make good and rational choices. Instead, they just want the hopelessness to end and can really only see one way out of that hopelessness – to be present with God.

We worship an incredible and awesome Savior. Jesus was, is and always will be part of the Trinity known as God. When Jesus walked among us, he was fully human and fully divine. His death would not have been a sacrifice on his part if he did not have the power to prevent it. Yet even with the power to prevent his own life from being taken, Jesus chose to give it up. Why? So that we could have life that is ever-lasting – both now and after our own deaths.

Sometimes, I am afraid, we concentrate so much on the gift of “life after death” that is a promise of the sacrifice of Jesus that we forget about ever-lasting life that is available to us now. Please don’t jump to conclusions here…I am not talking about people with mental illness forgetting that promise, I am talking about perfectly normal and mentally healthy people forgetting it.

That, to me, is why it is so tragic when someone loses their life to a battle with mental illness. There are so many of us around who have life to spare, who drink from wells that never run dry, who walk on paths made smooth by the grace of God, who have hope beyond measure that we should be able to at least talk about mental illness in such a way that it would offer life and hope to others around us.

I am not offering any grand solution here. Now am I asking you to find some way to be in ministry with those who are mentally ill.

I am asking that we all take a moment and thank God for the life and hope that we have because of Jesus. And maybe in that thankfulness, we will be just a bit more cognizant of those around us who are struggling and we can show them a new way to hope…a different way to be close to God. One sacrificed his own life so that we could all have life abundant! In being thankful, we are in the position to help those who can’t be thankful because of mental illness.

I can’t say that this will work every time, but I won’t stop hoping that it does.

Nanu…Nanu.