Where to Start

Note: This is something I’m tossing around for a potential book intro. Please let me know what you think:

If you’ve ever headed south on Hull Street as it slips away from Richmond, Virginia, you’ve seen the decaying buildings that press right up against the road—old banks turned into boutiques, boarded up hardware stores, and mural-covered walls that likely hide graffiti. You’ve seen the colorful faces that fill bus stops and crowd sidewalks.

This area once claimed independence from the capital city to the north, an independence still evident in the Manchester signage and old courthouse. But few wandering these streets think of themselves as anything but citizens of the capital. They may claim neighborhoods, but the city itself gives them identity.

Most people lock their doors while driving through this part of town, especially outsiders. The numerous red lights and groups of men lounging on stoops make them nervous. After all, crime rates soar south of the James River.

The red lights do give you plenty of time to take in the rough, hand-painted signs posted above businesses and churches or the sloppy script crudely adorning wooden signs. Here one can find “Parking n back,” “Fresh CRABS,” and the “Apostolic Kingdom of Jesus Worshipers.”

But the squalor isn’t all encompassing. Once you bump over Cowardin Avenue and pass the First-Church-of-Yesterday-Turned-Mosque, you’ll find an island perhaps like no other in the area—a church untouched by the culture around it, a church refusing to accept the world beyond the gates.

For this church, the infidels scream beyond the bars and disrupt the unvisited-yet-tradition-mandated church yard sale. They’re a threat to this island of what used to be.

But those aging parishioners birthed something in me. They ignored the marching steps of time so much that the ridiculousness sparked shame in me. They spurned the new for the old so thoroughly that my own nostalgic hangover became clear because of its dull ache.

And for that I thank them.


Love Makes Us Uncomfortable

The guy had no teeth on top. Sadly, I noticed that first. His cigarette dangled between gum and lip.

While my wife jogged into Walgreens, this guy eschewed dozens of other open spaces to squeeze his red coupe beside our Prius. His window stuttered down, and a mud-and-oil stained mitt poked out of the window to wave at my daughters in the backseat.

And then he began speaking. I couldn’t hear a word, but that didn’t stop him from mumbling around his cigarette, which was probably 80% ash. Smiling, I zipped the passenger-side window down and wondered what would compel him to speak to a complete stranger in a parking lot.

Gas mileage—he wanted to compare gas mileage. At least, that’s what opened the door for conversation. From there, I learned what he did (shoeing horses), found out how his work had hurt his back (bulging disk), saw a picture of his prized new jackdaw (had no clue either), and realized how much you can love a guy with no upper teeth. He was real.

Love is uncomfortable. God may put people there for you to love that don’t fit your ideal image of people you want to love. They could reek of smoke, have few teeth, or even have political views you don’t like.

But He loves them. Don’t let being uncomfortable prevent you from sharing that love.

Good Friday 2000 Years Later

David’s poetry in the Psalms pokes at sin and guilt with all the gentleness of sledgehammer.

Take this one, for example:

3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

The next time you hear a news report concerning the “genetic basis” for why people struggle, remember these lines. Sin goes much deeper than just physical causes. Sin is a predisposition.

But there’s more. People who live a life opposed to what God had in mind really do have an ingrained struggle that runs much deeper than choice. It’s the orientation of a sinful heart.

We can’t single out certain people as if they alone are somehow choosing sin. We all choose sin. From birth. (I have kids—I know.)

The power of Christ’s resurrection and the Holy Spirit’s re-heart-ment are, then, that much more amazing. We run to sin; God completely changes the landscape. Suddenly, we’re running to Him. He completely transforms the bent of a wayward soul.

As Easter approaches, remember that Good Friday did this—reoriented the entire universe. Where once the faithful only looked forward to Hope, we look back at a finished masterpiece.

Being Gutted

You don’t realize how much you idolize someone until they fall. Before that point, it’s couched in terms such as admiration and respect. After the fall, it’s shock and awe.

We often look back and wonder why we didn’t see the person’s shortcomings, why we didn’t realize they would betray our trust. By then, of course, it’s far too late.

I don’t say this as a what-if scenario. Someone I considered a role model recently confessed serious shortcomings. The news gutted me. I didn’t personally know the guy, had no real connection with him (other than by reputation), but the revelation hit close.

And maybe that’s what really makes the impact. This guy had done something I have a vision to do—and then fell. He had it together—but not really, not behind the veneer.

In other words, I’m not that different. If this guy could have a Bathsheba moment, so could we all.

Watching idols fall serves as a warning to each of us. If you could somehow erase the section of your brain concerning King David’s life and read it fresh, imagine the shock you’d have finding out this goodie-two-sandals, Goliath-head-chopping, shepherd-king became a petty, wife-stealing wimp.

If he messed up—God’s chosen king, a man after God’s own heart—so could you. Don’t think you’re immune. Instead, realize how much you need the Holy Spirit every time you pull yourself out of bed in the morning.

Running from the Fish

My stint manning the meat counter at the Fresh Market lasted half a day. I needed a job; they needed someone to wrap up fish. Seemed like a good match.

It wasn’t.

In way of an interview, the manager glanced at my résumé and then scowled at me. I could weigh meat and smile. That got me in the apron and behind the salmon.

My training consisted of a fellow worker—a kid a few years younger than me at the time—pointing out the scales and the paper and telling me when breaks were. Needless to say, I floundered with the flounder, and my meat wrapping looked horrible.

By lunch, I’d completely lost my appetite thanks to the ground chuck, snarling manager, and disgusted looks from customers. I didn’t let the door hit me on the way out.

Sometimes, I live my faith like that as well—minus the fish smell, of course. I get pumped on Sunday and even during the week by diving into the action-movie known as Mark’s gospel.

But when the meat hits the scales, I cower down and run. Not literally. I just don’t speak when someone talks about a general faith in something; I don’t help everyone who really needs help; I don’t show love because I’m too caught up in my own not-enough-sleep-Monday blah.

I just don’t live what I believe all the time. It’s hard, so I let it go.

Building up to that Paul faith—that preaching-while-rocks-are-flying faith—takes time and a whole lot of God’s help. I haven’t quite gotten there yet, but every so often, I shock myself with a love for people that goes so deep I can’t help but speak.

Someday, I’ll be there all the time. I pray you will be too.