Thursday, November 8, 2007

The car crash cuss or when youth ministers run over people with cars.

The car crash cuss or when youth ministers run over people with cars.

When I was in high school, our youth minister used to take us skiing in New Hampshire every winter. One year as we pulled into the mile long driveway of the house we rented, the sky opened up with thick sheets of snow. There were already a few feet on the ground, so in a matter of minutes everything was engulfed in white.

Two friends of mine, Anthony and Sean, got out of our van and ran up to the youth leader’s pickup truck which was loaded down with all of our luggage. They convinced him it would be fun to do a little car skiing by hanging from the side mirrors. They were able to slide along, using their shoes as skis, because the snow on the road was so thick.

It was a hilarious site, the kind of thing that when you’re in high school feels important and fun. (It was like a moment out of Dawson’s less attractive Creek.) But after a minute, my youth leader swerved to one side of the road and brushed Anthony off against a small tree. He was only going a few miles an hour but it was still funny to see a small evergreen seemingly grab Anthony from his spot hanging on the mirror.

Sean was next but it didn’t go exactly as planned. When he hit the tree my youth leader side swiped on purpose, he fell at an odd angle. Instead of landing in the woods like Anthony, he slipped back toward the car. With a sickening bounce, the rear axel rolled over him.

We skidded our van to a stop and ran to where Sean lay screaming in the snow. He was grasping his knee, which had taken the brunt of the damage. It wasn’t bloody. There wasn’t a bone sticking out but he was definitely in some horrible pain. As he yelled, he started to curse, which given the situation was fairly understandable. Out of circle of people around Sean I heard one of our youth leaders say, “Sean, language.”

Yes, a few tons of Ford truck and luggage had fallen on Sean. Yes, he was laying in the snow horrified that his high school wrestling season was over. But at the end of the day, he really shouldn’t be swearing.

I’d love to poke more fun at that youth leader, telling a hurting person not to drop the f-bomb is ridiculous, but sometimes I do the same thing. That is, I focus on the sin and not the pain, the symptom and not the cause. The mistaken and not the motive. For instance, a friend recently told me about some interaction he had with a prostitute. He was hurting about the whole thing, clearly the interaction he created was not born of happiness. (I think sin is rarely an act of celebration and is more often a medicine.) But as he talked, I had a hard time getting passed the word, “prostitute.”

You might hear that word a lot, but for me that was unusual. It paused me, stopped me in my tracks and made it hard to hear everything that followed. It’s nice to think that all sins are equal, that my rude behavior to coworkers swings the scales of sin in the same way that going to a massage parlor does. But I have a hard time living that principle out.

I still have a class system of wrong and right deep down. I wish I didn’t, but it’s there and I don’t think I’m alone. I once heard a minister say that before he spoke at a church he was visiting, one of the senior staff came up to him and said, “Hey, there are two guys in the front row holding hands. Maybe you could say something about that.” His response was, “You’re right. Maybe then I could say something about anyone who is divorced or has ever lied. I’d like to get them out too.”

That’s where I am, but it’s not where I want to stay. That friend with the prostitute is just like me. He’s a prodigal son that is coming home. He might have spent his inheritance differently but ultimately he needs exactly what I need, which is forgiveness. And there is such a perfect picture of this when the father greets the son. Does he ask for specifics? Does he search out for words like prostitute or cocaine, things that secretly I put more weight to than my garden variety sins like lying? No. Here is what he said:

“This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

That’s so simple it’s gorgeous. There is only dead and alive, lost and found.

No degrees of separation, no sliding scale of sin.

Just before and after, then and now, gone and here.

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