Story Time for Father’s Day
June 20, 2005 Length: 54:04
I stand before thee in fear, casting my soul’s despair into the sea of thy mercy. Govern my life, O thou who governest all creation by word, and by the power of thine ineffable wisdom, O tranquil haven of them that are tempest-tossed, and make known unto me the way wherein I should walk. Grant unto my thoughts the spirit of thy wisdom, bestowing upon my folly the spirit of understanding. Overshadow my deeds with the spirit of thy fear, and renew a right spirit within me, and with thy governing spirit, establish mine unstable mind.
Good afternoon and welcome to this edition of Our Life in Christ. I’m your host today, Steve Robinson, in the studio with ... nobody! I do have Jason and Ryan here, our engineer and trained observer Jason who was here with us last week; welcome again, Jason. Bill as usual is not with us today. He is spending a week being a dad with his kids. They are over somewhere in San Diego, probably lolling on the beach or walking around SeaWorld or something like that. And today is Father’s Day, and I appreciate all of our listeners who are taking time out from Dad’s Day celebrations if you’re out there listening.
Today we’re going to do something really unusual, because this is the first time in almost six years that I have ever done a solo show. I always listen to talk radio, and I just wonder: How in the world do these guys sit there for three hours or four hours with a microphone, staring into space and just talk incessantly? Well, I’m going to find out how they do it, because that’s what I’m going to attempt today.
I thought about doing a rerun today, and I had a guest lined up, but at the last minute they had to cancel out. So I put together something that is going to be very different from what you’re used to hearing on our program. I thought about, well, what is it I could talk about or what is it that I could say for almost 45 minutes’ worth of airtime that would be beneficial, helpful, maybe encouraging, gives people some kind of insight without being a diatribe or just an extended monologue on some theological topic. So I thought I’d be kind of like Dad today, and I would tell you stories.
This is what we’re called to do as fathers. This is what we’re called to do as people who are called to minister to one another. One of the things that, when I read the Gospels and I read the ministry and the life of Christ, I look at how he taught. I always look at how he managed to connect with the people who were around him. Here is God; here’s the person who knows it all, who understands it all, and he has to communicate what God knows to us dunces. As our prayer said, our small minds that in this human flesh that can’t seem to grasp what’s right in front of us, much less what’s expansive beyond the heavens.
So Jesus told stories. When I think about passing on faith, and I think about passing on the heritage of our spiritual lives to our children, when I think about what it takes for us to communicate our understanding and what it is that we have learned about God, what we have learned about the spiritual life to other people, a lot of times we go to the Scriptures, of course, and we go to the great teachings of the Church Fathers and we go to the people who have written books that have impacted us, and we can quote those people. But I was preaching today on the Gospel that was our Gospel reading for the day of Pentecost, which, today in the Orthodox Church, is the birthday of the Church, but the Gospel reading was interesting because it was the story of the woman taken in adultery in the Gospel of John.
At the end of that story, it segues into John 8:1, and Jesus says, “I am the light of the world, and he who has me has life, and in him there is no darkness.” And I’m thinking, “This is a story about a woman who encountered the light of God. This is a story about a woman who was taken in adultery, who deserved death, who deserved darkness, who deserved to be cut off from God and from her people, and yet she was saved by the mercy and compassion of God incarnate.” And this is light. This is the light that was intended to be shed to us, and that light is communicated to us through a story, through something that really happened to a real person in real time with real people and with a real God.
So when we think about our life, and we think about what it means to be a witness for Jesus Christ—and that’s what we’re all called to do: to be witnesses; a lot of times we like to be more like lawyers than witnesses when it comes to talking about the Faith—but really, what we are called to is what everybody in the Gospel of John did. Reading the Gospel of John—and most of our readings liturgically for the past few weeks have been out of the Gospel of John—over and over again, we see this: witness. The man who was born blind, when the Pharisees questioned him, the Pharisees came and said, “How is it that you see? How is it that you see?” He said, “I don’t know. This one thing I know: I was blind and now I see.” That was his consistent witness. Very simple, very plain, but it was the exact summary of what it meant for him to encounter God.
And this is what we’re called to. We’re called to give a witness. We’re called to give what it is to other people what God has done for us. And we miss the power of the story of our lives in passing that heritage of faith and passing that journey that we have walked on to those who are around us, and especially as fathers to our children. What I want to do today is just tell some stories, and all of these stories are real. They’re all true. They all really happened, and in some ways after years and years and sometimes decades, I came to realize the spiritual significance of what it is that happened to me, sometimes in grade school, sometimes in junior high, high school. What this means is that God is at work in our lives, from the womb.
One of the prayers that we prayed today during what is called “Kneeling Vespers,” there was just one little verse and it floored me. It said, “We are cast upon thee from our mother’s womb.” And that’s an amazing thought, to think that from our mother’s womb we were cast upon the care and mercy of God. From our very beginning, the providence of God, the hand of God, and the Spirit of God is guiding us, directing us, and seeking to bring us back to him and bring us into a full relationship with him. So there is nothing in our lives that is lost. There is not a thing in our lives that goes undone when it comes to the hand of God working in it and trying to teach us and trying to discipline us and chastise us and nurture us and love us into a relationship with him. There is nothing that escapes the providence of God. We always look at providence, and all of the time, the only way we realize that the providence of God has been at work in our lives is in the rear-view mirror. We never see providence at work right here, right now. Any time that we project what God might be doing right here, right now, we’re always wrong.
I’ve been serving God for 53 years now, consciously for probably 47 of those years. I mean, seriously consciously. I always look at my life and I always look back and I think, “What is God doing? What is God working? Where is God taking me? What is this about?” And every time I’ve projected the will of God and projected the hand of God and projected what God might be doing, I was wrong. I never could see, foresee, what it is that God was trying to do.
But then in the rear-view mirror, sometimes, as I said, 40 years later, I look back and I see that this was the big picture. Or maybe I don’t really even have the big picture quite yet. Maybe I’m only seeing it kind of starting to unfold, but I can always look back and say, “Ah, yes, this is what that meant. This is how that has shaped me. This is how this has prepared me for what it is I am doing today, for who I am today, and who I can minister to today,” because all of these things have given me a way to connect with other human beings and a way to connect with God. Because God always connects with people through their weaknesses. God always connects with people through their humility. As James says, “God gives super-abundant grace to the humble, but he resists the proud.”
It’s when we come to God, not sometimes but all the time, when we come to him in humility, when we find ourselves in desperation, that is the time when God can step in. That’s the time when God can actually begin to work in our lives. We always think about faith as being this great confidence before God. We always think about faith as having this great, solid-rock foundational kind of thing that we can stand on and we can look forward and we can stick our chest out and do Tarzan yells or something, but when we look at the Gospels, faith is always the last-ditch, last-chance hope that this just might be the Son of God and he just might be able to do what he has been talking about doing. This is what faith is all about in the Gospels. It’s the desperation of somebody who has no hope left and reaches out in the last-ditch effort, the last-ditch hope that just maybe this is God.
So when we come back from our break, we’re going to tell some stories. We’re going to talk about life. We’re going to talk about being shaped by God. We’re going to talk about lessons in life. Maybe this will give you some ideas about ways that you can share your faith with your children.
I thought I would be like Dad today and tell stories, because I remember sitting with my youngest son—well, my oldest son now; he was my youngest son back 26 years ago. Yikes!—and just telling stories to him. It’s amazing to me that kids can hear the same stories over and over and over again and not get tired of them. This is the way that we communicate faith. This is the way that we can communicate who we are to our children.
It’s one thing to say to a child, “Well, yeah, it was tough for me growing up and being a Christian. It was kind of hard for me to learn how to be humble. It was hard to learn how to forgive and all that.” But it’s another thing to tell a story in which you were placed in a situation where you had to forgive, where you learned a hard spiritual lesson. These are the things that impact people’s lives. This is how Jesus taught. This is a way for us, if we can do that, if we can be self-disclosing enough, if we can be honest enough with ourselves, to tell the true stories of our lives, to really open ourselves up, to talk to our children about who we are and what we experienced and how it has shaped us and how it has made us who we are in Christ today.
So these are some stories. These are some things that I want to share with you and maybe you can share with your kids or you can think about it and you can find some ways in your life that you’ve been through similar things that you can talk to your children about.
There was only one movie theater in town. It cost a dime to see a matinee on Saturday afternoon. That dime would get you a couple of hours of entertainment. More importantly, it would give you a wealth of vital information that you could save your sixth-grade life with. Every Saturday, the kids from school were there. This was the place where you found out who was going with whom, if you weren’t in the in-crowd who was privy to that kind of information. The cool people sat with their boyfriends and girlfriends. The rest of us sat in groups of the same sex and observed each other’s groups, trying to pretend that they were not observing the other group.
This particular Saturday, there was a light turn-out. Old Yeller had been showing for two weeks. Most everyone had seen it already, but I had missed it. Kit and Donna showed up anyway, just to make out in the back row in the dark. Rumor had it that they had gone “all the way.” Looking back, I think our concept of distance was a little off. Nevertheless, they had done something that put them beyond the boundaries of movie-house hand-holding and kissing on the lips. Bob and Barbara showed up, and Paul was now with Jamie, Kit’s old girlfriend.
I hung around the candy counter, trying to look like I was making up my mind what I wanted to eat, while I kept an eye on the door to see if another single person might show up. There were few things worse than seeing a good, sad movie by yourself—unless you wanted to be by yourself. And I didn’t, not particularly.
And then I saw her. Jackie Burger. She was paying her dime and tip-toeing, looking through the smudged-glass ticket-booth window to see who was hanging out in the lobby. She waved, and I waved back. Jackie Burger. Jackie was plain as wholesome white bread. Not ugly by grade-school standards, just ordinary, like most of us were. “Jackie Booger,” we called her, “Boogers” for short. I think the name originated one day at lunch when she was seen picking her nose. She suffered greatly at recess that day for her public offense, and the name stuck ever since. She bore it with [a] blue steel gaze, never lashing out, never crying to the teacher, never running to the recess monitor. I’d seen many others crumble, and I’d crumbled under far less playground persecution.
Jackie was by herself, and I was by myself, so we sat together, more by default than agreement, since neither of us had the nerve to come to such an agreement. We sat toward the front, because we were there to see the movie. The others sat in the back, because they were there for other, more brave activity. Old Yeller did to Jackie what it does to almost everyone who sees it. Steely and tough as she was, Boogers started to cry. I wasn’t exactly dry-eyed myself. Somehow our arms ended up on the same armrest, and neither of us flinched or made an effort to move.
So we sat, both afraid of looking at each other, and knowing what each other was feeling. Two worlds, parallel and touching, but both afraid of entering the other. Left the theater having shared something about one another that would not allow us to see each other as “Robinson” and “Boogers” again.
Monday morning at school, we did not acknowledge one another publicly, of course. We had a wordless agreement that there would be no visible signs of our moment to the casual observer. I did catch her eye often, and there was a softer, less steely look in it for me that I liked. At lunch I sat closer to her, but not with her. Unfortunately, I sat close enough for Patrick Grady to notice I’d closed some distance between me and Jackie Boogers.
“Hey, Robinson! Who was that you were sitting with at Old Yeller Saturday, huh?” Patrick shouted across the lunchroom. “Wasn’t that you with Boogers?”
I was nailed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I half-shouted, with a quiver of fear in my voice at my impending social doom.
“Yeah, you do, Robinson. Robinson and Boogers were holding hands at the movies! I saw you, Robinson!” Patrick announced to a whole lunchroom with a sing-song lilt of ridicule in his voice. “Robinson li-ikes Boogers! Robinson li-ikes Boogers!” he sang, and laughter filled the room.
I exploded from my seat, livid. I screamed, “I do not! I do not! I hate her! She sat by me!” I choked and gasped, stumbling for something more convincing. I looked around at the mocking faces, and their gaping mouths were filled with obscene laughter. Then I saw Jackie. She sat, still. Just staring at me. Her steel-blue eyes were full of tears. I bolted from the lunchroom. Tears flowed down my cheeks. Tears of helpless anger. But mostly tears of something that I didn’t understand.
Tears that had more to do with the way Jackie looked at me than with my anger at Patrick’s orchestration of mockery. In my attempt to save myself, I knew I had destroyed something precious somehow. I had violated some law within me. I had desecrated a holy place that I didn’t know existed until that moment.
I’ve desecrated several holy places in my life over the years. I’ve desecrated precious relationships with people who loved me. The holiness of relationship is rocked by entrusting our most private and secret places to another person. The unspoken law of relationships says, “I will keep [your] holy things as [my] own, and you will guard them with your life. Lay it down for them if need be.” But we do not. We will deny our lovers, betray our friends to save our own skins. We will throw what is holy to the dogs in a heartbeat if it will preserve ourselves.
I first denied Jackie to save my sixth-grade respectability and my status and my pride. I’ve betrayed others for far less. Put the screws to me, and I know I would have and I have betrayed even Christ. I have, like Judas and Peter, denied the Son of God, my friend, the lover above all loves. Though it’s not told, I imagine Jesus looking at Judas in the garden to betray him. As Judas drew back from his kiss, he opened his eyes to look one last time into the face of Christ. I see Judas and Jesus, suspended in a timeless moment. The sounds of rattling armor and the shouting all fading into silence. There was, for that solitary moment, that look. And Judas was swallowed up by a darkness as deep as death.
When Peter had denied Jesus for the third time, St. Luke says, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” Jesus was taken away. Peter went out and wept bitterly. Judas went out and died of remorse by his own hand. Yes, Peter. Yes, Judas. I understand. I have seen the look of Jesus, and I, too, went out and wept bitterly, because in my weakness, I denied everything that was precious to me. I have felt hopelessly lost because I desecrated a holy trust. I have died within because I betrayed my innocent beloved to save myself.
I know the look. It was not “I told you so.” It was not “You really blew it this time.” It was not “You jerk! Look how bad you’ve hurt me!” And it was not “I hate you!” Those are devastating looks, and I’ve seen them all. They hurt because they’re true, and we know that we deserve them fully. The look Peter saw and Judas probably saw, too, was the same look I saw in the lunchroom of St. Williams Elementary that day.
It was the hardest look of all to take, the most devastating because we know we don’t deserve it. It leaves us with no way to redeem ourselves and no illusions about ourselves and where we stand with the one that we betrayed. It will kill us, and if we humble ourselves and accept its truth, it will raise us from the dead. It is a fire that will consume us, or it is a flame that will warm us if we open our hearts to its truth.
It was the Gospel in Jackie’s tears and in the eyes of Christ. It was a look of grace, a wounded lover, eyes filled with tears, still in love with the one who knows now beyond a doubt how undeserving of that love he really is. This is the Gospel. This is what the Church Fathers talk about. St. Isaac the Syrian has a quote, and this is really what is contained in the look that Jesus Christ gave to Judas and to Peter, and he says:
I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. What is so bitter and so vehement as the torment of love? It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God. The power of love works in two ways. It torments sinners, and thus I say, this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret.
I’m being Dad today, and I’m telling you stories. Hopefully, we’ll gather something of what the Gospel is, because Jesus Christ and God [encounter] us in our life. God encounters us in our existence. He took on flesh and he experienced all of the things that we experience in this life and in this flesh. God comes to us in our daily existence and nothing of our lives and nothing that we have experienced and nothing that we have ever done or said or encountered is untouched by the hand of God, and nothing is so devastating or so joyous or so evil or so wonderful that God cannot use his Holy Spirit to teach us something of what it means to be in a relationship with him, and how the Gospel reaches out to us and tries to lift us up out of this fallen humanity in which we exist and bring us into the image and likeness of God.
I want to tell you about my mitt that I got when I was in fourth grade in Millington, TN. It was 28 years ago when I wrote this. It was probably 37 years ago now. Yikes! These are the things that I remember about fourth grade. There was a red dirt playground of St. Williams, my first baseball mitt, Little League, and my father’s transfer to Taiwan all that year. Each has finally wrought its conviction and each is now just finishing its work of grace.
Though it’s been nearly 40 years, I still remember some of my friends’ names: Thomas who had seven brothers and sisters; Vincent, a light brown boy whose origin was an enigma to us all; Sammy who was held back in first grade; Jack who sneezed into his hands one day and snot ran between his fingers and nobody had a kleenex to give him, not even Sr. Mary-Ellen Jude; and Raymond. Raymond was retarded, as we were allowed to say back in the ‘50s.
Recess and PE were death for me in elementary school. I was the smallest kid in my classes, if not the smallest, I was certainly the least feared. I had to participate in grade-school sports during the dark ages before the discovery of the fragile self-image, before the light of child psychology was shed on playground dynamics. In those days, the biggest and most popular and most powerful kids were usually appointed as team captains, and the rest of us were alternately chosen by these gods of the playground to make up their teams.
I was not endowed with athletic ability like most of my classmates. I remember standing in the red dust with the group between the team captains, listening to the cheers as one side or the other got a coveted, talented, aggressive player, watching the teams fill and the center group dwindle down to the small, the fat, the gooney, the buck-toothed, and the misfits with glasses, until only Raymond and I were left.
I usually stared at the ground, too embarrassed to look up, that they might see my fear of being the very the very last in the center; or sometimes I tried to look as if I wasn’t particularly concerned about the matter by grinning stupidly while the team captains actually argued over who had to take one or both of us this time. If either of us was actually chosen, I at least realized it was purely out of some nine-year-old’s version of pity, even though I didn’t know that word then. And Raymond, I still hope and pray, was oblivious to it all and just went where he was told to go.
It was that same year that my father bought me my first baseball glove and signed me up for Little League. We went to the Ben Franklin five-and-dime to shop for a mitt. I knew very little about baseball. I knew I wasn’t good at it. I had never seen a real game. One thing I did know was that to have an autographed mitt meant a great increase in my likelihood of getting picked sooner by the gods of the game at PE, if for no other reason one of the cool guys who was already chosen would always want to borrow it from me and would use his influence to get me picked. Thus I never really used my mitt at recess. It would always end up on someone else’s hand in the infield. I would be assigned to the far outfield where few fourth-graders could even hit a ball. It was not critical nor prestigious, but it beat getting picked last.
I’m right-handed, and it made sense to me, therefore, that I should have a right-handed glove, meaning one that fits on my right hand. My father tried to explain to me that a right-hander catches with his left hand so he can throw the ball with his right, but I would have none of it. I knew the purpose of having the mitt is to catch a baseball, and I knew that if I could not catch a baseball with it, I would be laughed at. And I just knew I could not catch with my left hand. I would rather have been eternally, mittlessly but safely, consigned to the outfield than to be humiliated by my ineptness with a new mitt. I never revealed my reasoning to my father, but I was so adamant he went ahead and bought me the right-handed mitt that I wanted. I soon found out he was right, and after school in the seclusion of our backyard, my father chased wild throws all over the yard as I struggled to throw left-handed.
God only knows why I signed up for Little League that year. I went to tryouts with my right-handed mitt and a sense of impending doom. One of the coaches noticed immediately that I alternated between my right and left hands and asked me if I could pitch with both hands. To avoid the embarrassment of explaining my stupidity in picking out my glove, I said, “Yes,” knowing full well that I couldn’t throw well enough with my right hand to hit the dugout, much less get a ball over the plate with my left. I remember his face lighting up. “A switch-pitcher!” he exclaimed to his assistant. I didn’t even know what a switch-anything was.
All I remember is the fleeting elation of having someone impressed by me, of being considered for the prize position on the team, and then came the terrible sinking feeling of knowing that I would ultimately be found out. That week my father got orders and we were transferred to Taiwan. Though it meant leaving my friends, it also meant that I got to quit Little League, mercifully before my dark secret was discovered and I was completely humiliated before the team and my friends at school when the word got around.
So here, 30-something years later, reading the parables of Jesus Christ and realizing that, just as my pain about the playground and my mitt speaks to all of us in our most secret pain, so the Gospel holds out hope for us all. I read in the parables how God goes out into the streets and the alleys and calls out the last and the least and the lost and the helpless and the hopeless and the worthless to play on his team ... which wins! because of him, and isn’t hindered by the lack of talent in those that he chooses.
I read how God chooses the last ones left and makes them the first string of the All-Star team. I read how he takes the rejects, the skinny ones with thick glasses, the oblivious, and the ones standing idly on the sidelines with their shirttails out and lunch on their front, and he inducts them into the hall of fame for just standing in the outfield for the last inning. Of course, these are all paraphrases.
I read the Gospels and I saw Jesus with sinners as much as it hurt to finally admit it, I understood that I really was, and I really am, the worthless and the least. And I realized to deny that painful reality is to deny his grace. I finally understood that my only hope is the truth of the Gospel: that the only ones chosen are those who know they are not worthy of being chosen. I stood off in the distance and I fell on my face before God, saying, “Please choose me. Be merciful to me, the sinner.”
30-something years later, I understand the Gospel and realize, too, that the Little League and my mitt speak of the killing flaw in all of our humanity. It is to try to seek acceptance through the lies and illusions of confidence and trumped-up abilities. This is woven into the very fabric of our beings. How often have we put on pretenses; overstated qualifications, experience, and credentials; inflated a resume; covered up a failure; or tried to make an impression on someone, only to lie awake with a knot of dread in the pit of your stomach at being found out?
Let’s think about what illusions we might be holding up before God. Do we stand before God and declare, “I am not like the sinners, God. I pray, I fast, and I tithe”? Do we come to the Father and say, “I’m not like your prodigal son. I work hard in your house. I don’t waste your blessings on worldly pleasures”? What value, what worth, what talent, what confidence, what knowledge do we hold up before him, as if to make ourselves acceptable to God? We often come to God as if we’re trying to qualify somehow for his love and his choice of us, but at the moments we are able to be honest with ourselves, we tremble at being found out for what we really are: a gooney, lonely, fearful kid, fearful of rejection, with no talent, and a wrong-handed mitt.
But we have been found out, you see. God knows. And Jesus calls out our names anyway, because, you see, he stood one day, too, with just two people left, and the crowd chose the other—Barrabas—and not him. There was no one to stick up for him. He was tossed back and forth between Pilate and Herod, the Roman team captains, who argued over who had to take him, and he was finally left, dead last, hanging between heaven and earth, and he died in the outfield with two other slobbering, rejected misfits.
But by the authority of his resurrection, he’s the team captain now. He looks into the downcast, awkwardly grinning faces of the skinny, hopeless, worthless misfits who have no autographed mitts, were hoping against hope to be picked and not left standing, rejected, and finally and completely alone. And he knows how they feel. And I tell you the truth: as long as he is the one choosing up sides, he will never let Raymond or me or you ever be picked last again.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the only way that we can come to God, is in true humility. The only way that we can come to God is in knowing what St. Paul says in I Timothy, that we are the chief of sinners. We can’t come to God with any illusions. We can’t come to God with any pretenses. We can’t hold ourselves up to him and say, “Look what I’m worth here,” because God looks at us and he sees us for what we really are and who we really are: misfits, sinners, those who deserve condemnation, those who deserve eternal separation from him. And yet, he becomes flesh. And yet, he comes to us in all compassion, in all mercy, in all love. And he chooses us for himself, and he does all that he possibly can as God to bring us back to himself and unite us to himself so that we can be what it was that he has always intended us to be.
I’m telling you stories today. We’re being Dad and talking about how we can pass on our faith through the power of telling the stories of our lives to our children and to those around us, how God has touched our lives and taught us the truth of the Gospel through him entering our lives and entering the deepest and sometimes the most secret places of our existence. That’s where God resides. God comes to us in the very small corner of our heart, and that’s where we need to sometimes look to find him.
I’m going to fast-forward a little bit to my life today. Those of you who listen regularly I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it, but I have my father-in-law, my wife’s dad, who lives with us now, and he has what is called “progressive [supranuclear] palsy,” and it’s a degenerative neurological disease. He is on the last leg of his life, and so we take care of him in our home. So this is also Dad, and this is what we are called to. This is what it means for us to live in a community. This is what it means for us to serve those who are around us. So this is a story about my father-in-law.
Fuddruckers’ bathroom contained the world. The workings of the universe was manifested in the confines of the 12-square-foot, tooth-white ceramic tile and graffiti-etched metal partition with a white porcelain toilet at the center. The disease brought the world to Fuddruckers. [Supranuclear] palsy, they call it. It has eaten away at my father-in-law’s brainstem for a couple of years now. He does things because he cannot think fast enough to do something else. I know this because he lives with us.
We take Gil with us when we go out because we can’t leave him home alone. When we do that, we come home to him either bruised or bleeding. Once he fell into the fish pond in our backyard. We found him wet and exhausted, sitting on the ground when we got home. It took him two hours to climb out of a 12-inch-deep pool of water. He shuffles. It’s part of his disease. He also tips forward and backward. He has to be reminded to take a step if he loses his concentration. He walks like a teenager learning to drive a stick-shift.
He had to go to the bathroom, so I helped him out of his chair at Fuddruckers and we started toward the restrooms, him tottering and me holding his arm and balancing his steps. I put him in the stall and pulled the door closed for his privacy. Then I stood by the sink and waited. And waited. And ... waited. Sometimes it takes him 20 minutes to use the restroom. It’s not his plumbing. It’s just that it takes him that long to unzip and rezip. If he loses his train of thought, he can stand there and stare at the wall for minutes on end if no one reminds him what it was that he was doing.
I heard a splatter. I looked under the metal partition, and his feet were pointed toward the toilet. His pants are down around his ankles. I hear him groaning ... and I see ... Well, I run to the stall and I open the door. He is standing in front of the toilet, catching diarrhea in his hands and trying to throw it into the toilet. It’s running through his fingers, down his legs, into his pants at his ankles, and onto the floor. He is throwing it, but it’s hitting the wall and missing the toilet.
His disease is debilitating, but it doesn’t remove his awareness of his actions or his limitations. He knows what he has done and what is happening. He is a proper man, a gentleman, dignified in his younger days. Now he stands, covered in excrement, helpless to do anything for himself. He cannot bend over to tear off toilet paper to clean himself. He can’t even reach down to clean himself or to pull up his pants because he will lose his balance. He cannot take a step because the floor is now slippery and he’ll fall. He can’t even really think to take a step. The only person in the room with him is the man who married his daughter, the man that he didn’t like. The man he told to grow up, cut his hair, get a real job, be more responsible, be more Christian. And he’s helpless.
I pull up toilet paper and paper towels from the dispenser. I thank God they didn’t have hand dryers on the walls. I started mopping his legs and his backside. I cleaned out the large lumps out of his pants and then pulled them up. I got him to the sink and helped him wash his hands, and I told him, “Stand here. Don’t move,” and went and gave my wife the “we have to go” look. She knew something was wrong. I went to the restroom and took his arm and we started shuffling toward the door.
Gil’s clothing [was] covered with large brown splotches and he was tracking into the dining room. He stopped at the condiment bar and leaned on the counter. “Nitro,” he gasped. He was having an angina attack. A couple of customers nearby smelled the odor and grimaced and turned away. We got the nitroglycerine tablets out of his pocket and gave them to him, and in a couple of minutes we started again toward the door. We drove home in silence. I knew Gil was mortified. We got home and I got him out of the car and into the house, and he looked at me and said, “Thank you.”
From the heart of a helpless, diseased old man, covered with feces: “Thank you.” You know, we’re all Gil. Before one another and God, we stand like Gil in Fuddruckers’ bathroom. We are all looking on at the Gils before us. Do we grimace and turn away, or do we enter the disease, bear the stench, dirty our hands, but in doing so, heal something in both of us and say, “Thank you”? This is what it means to live in community. This is what it means when we talk on this program that no one is saved alone, because it’s in serving one another, it’s in humbling ourselves before each other, and it’s in giving our lives to one another as God and Christ gave his life to us, that we learn what it means to be saved. We learn what it means to live as Christ lived.
This is how we come to one another within the Church. Today marks the birthday of the Church, the body of Christ on earth. In the great chapter on the Church in I Corinthians 12, St. Paul talks about the fact that we are members of one another. If one member suffers, all members suffer. If one member is glorified, all members rejoice. No member of the Church, no member of the human race, suffers without it somehow, cosmically and mystically, affecting everyone else. This is the pervasiveness of the fallen world. This is why, when something happens in my house, it affects the houses throughout eternity.
We have lost sight of the fact that one man’s sins spread corruption to all mankind. When we continue to sin in the likeness of Adam, our sin affects all mankind. On the day of Pentecost, when the holy apostles were brought together in the Holy Spirit and the entire human race heard their language being spoken by the power of the Holy Spirit, the human race was brought back together. The wall of partition was broken down, and God provided us the body of Christ in which we can come back together. We can be conformed to the image of Christ.
We can learn how to live as Christ did in Philippians 2: He condescended to take on the form of a servant, and thus gave us, not just an example, but a way in which we must and have to exist as Christians, as members of the body of Christ, as followers of Jesus Christ, in serving each other, in loving each other, and giving our lives in very real sense being martyrs, sacrificing our lives, laying our lives on the altar of the needs and the illness and the sin of those around us.
As we consider our life in Christ, as we think about what it means to be a Christian, let’s pass on to our future generations an attitude of servanthood, an attitude of giving, an attitude of laying down our lives, of being martyrs, witnesses for the love of God which has been given to us, and pass that on in story, but not just in story, but in reality by being servants to our families and to our friends and to everyone that we meet.
Thanks for sharing stories with us today.
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