This morning I was driving home from the YMCA and was stopped at a light. The light seemed to take forever. I turned on the radio and “Killing Me Softly” by the Fugees was playing. I got in to the song. I was reminded of my youth when this song first came out. I think it was 1996. My world was a different place back then. I was a newly minted 21 year old college student living with my parents working at Home Depot and studying to be a Biologist of some sort. I drove around in a 1986 Toyota Celica with punk stickers plastered all over the rear window.
I did not attend church. I had given up on faith. I no longer wanted any part of God. I studied Biology in order to discover some kind of evidence to prove that God was just a myth and that those that believed in God were idiots.
I would argue with folks as soon as I found out they were Christian. I did not really have a problem with Hindus, Muslims or anyone else. I wanted nothing to do with Christians. I attribute this to my deep-seated relationship with Christians and the sense of let down when this “God of love and provision” seemed to forget me and my family at the appropriate times of year.
I was baptized as an infant and raised in a Christian home. I went to Catholic school and then Lutheran School as a youth. Then I discovered the freedom of public school and the all Holy Hero Jesus that shows up on the field to claim victory over your enemy.
I just never really had any need to truly involve myself with anything more than a superficial Jesus. The few times I attempted to pray I felt like I was talking to a brick wall. When I would reach out to my faith leaders I was told that I did not believe hard enough and that the difficulties I endured were due to my lack of true faith. So as soon as I could take off I did. I ran to the hills and a truth I hoped to find in Biology.
All of this remembering was going on at that stop light. I was awakened by a polite honk of a horn. I looked up and drove through a green light only to be met by the next intersection with a red light. With my mind swirling in thought the song ended and just as it did I looked at the corner and noticed a fella that seemed out of place. He was dressed in a loose fitting sort of cover-all/shirt or jacket. A scarf covering his head. He had a large hoop earring in one ear and sported American striped pants.
This fella was looking right at me. It would be more accurate to say he was looking right through me. I tried to avoid his stare. I looked right and then left. This light was longer than the last one. I got nervous really quickly and turned up the radio louder to try and drown out this fella from entering my world. With thoughts of my past still swirling in my head I tried to forget this fella's gaze. I held on to the idea, “I am in a much better place today than I was back in the day. Thank you, Jesus.” This fella just kept staring through me and broke his gaze in sync with the light. I went forward a quickly as I could. He turned and walked toward a side street. A new song is on the radio. It is “Don’t You (Forget About me)” from The Breakfast Club movie. I start to remember the ways that movie makes me feel. I look in my rear view mirror for that fella and notice he is digging in the trash. I am not certain but I do believe he was foraging for food.
I try to forget this as quickly as I see it. I rely on the uncertainty of what I perceived. With Simple Minds' words haunting me. “…Slow change may pull us apart…” There was a time in my life I would have driven around the block back toward that fella. Just to make sure he didn't go without. I did this all the time, even when I was a Biologist seeking truth. That hunger within me to discover a space to be loved. A space to be in community with others that wanted similar communal love and structure. There is a safety available in relationship with others on that truth-seeking journey. There I was driving away filling my head with excuses and rationalizing the event. “…Will you stand above me? Look my way, never love me? Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling…Down, down, down.”
I even begin crafting words for this post. I begin to rationalized how I might spin it in some sort of growing-edge lesson to illustrate the ineffective nature of the church today in reaching out to the margins and being with those that are marginalized. Here it is. A post. Where is the moral lesson?
If there is a grand lesson that I can take away from this it is that even those that call on others to change and live in dangerous ways are not immune to fear and intimidation. I sense that another transition is coming about for me, one where the focus is upon consensus and relationship building. I fear the idea of not being in control of that vision. I try to imagine what it’ll look like. What does this mean for my work in the church? I have now is a feeling and Mark 2:1-5 & Matthew 13:45-46 Luke 15:3-7 this equals a call to community, desire for truth & compassion for others.
I remember back to my Biologist days and relive the anger I had at Christians. I felt left out, left behind. When I reengaged the Christian world I swore I would not leave anyone out or behind. Yet, here I am driving away from a fella that may or may not have needed, let alone welcomed, my compassion. I have the greatest intentions of loving people where they are. Yet, my judgmental and ignorant prideful ways infiltrate all that good intention. The moral of this story is that just when I imagine I got a step on grace I am reminded of my need for it. In my hunger to be the future of the church today have I in fact left others behind? Have I left others out?
By Ryan Kemp-Pappan
Ryan is a minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at Douglass Blvd. Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He has a B.A. in Religious Studies from California State University, Northridge and a M.Div. from Austin Seminary (TX). He delivers mad Esoteric Piracy. He likes to think of himself as a Royal Pain in the south end of a north bound donkey, Master of 3 of the 5 logical oceans, Beloved creation, 1985 Beer Chug Champion, Amateur Sock Puppeteer, Buckaroo, Reclaimer of lost treasures, Seeker of truth, Tamer of lions, Pugilist of toothless circus bears, Servant, & Tinker of convoluted ideas…
He blogs at The Fettered Heart. He is a host with HCX. He does is not going to unretire to play this season for the Los Angeles Rams, after a prolonged salary negotiation. He will enjoy his leisure time playing "Paper, Rock, Scissors" with the young ninjas he saved from a fire one day way back when.