Wednesday, August 18, 2004

On a lighter note, I've been watching the Olympics in the evenings, and I'm thinking of getting some abs installed.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004


For a week or so, I’ve been looking for the seventh trade paperback collection of 100 Bullets, a comic series I enjoy. I’ve called here and there, and no one has it. I found myself at home this evening with nothing terribly pressing to do, so I decided to walk the few blocks down to Country Club Plaza to see if anyone had gotten it in yet.

Walking past the back door of Country Club Lanes, I hear a man shout “Jesus loves you!” at a young man and woman who are walking into the parking lot. I smile to myself, and hope it’s being said by someone who really means it. “Jesus loves all!” shouts the young man back, emphasizing all. A good response, but I wonder to myself why he chose those particular words. And even as I wonder, the man - who I see is yelling into a small, orange plastic bullhorn – says, “Yeah, but he loves some people more.”

All at once, I’m out of patience.

My legs march me over to the sidewalk, and I stand next to the guy. He’s wearing a hat that says “I [heart] Jesus / Jesus [heart] you” in large print. His shirt, black, bears the image of on open Bible and a pair of clasped hands in a shaft of light. In his left hand he holds the orange bullhorn, and in his right he holds a water bottle with a screw-on lid.

“What are you doing?” I demand. Not the best start.

He looks up at me, lowering the orange cone from his mouth. “Hey, man,” he says, pointing his thumb over his shoulder, “did I see you at the party-”

”No. What are you doing?” He says he’s telling people about Jesus. “Jesus loves everyone equally,” I say. He disagrees. I wave my hand to one side in exasperation, asking who exactly He loves more.

“His anointed ones. I’m an end-times prophet...” he proceeds.

“Oh, please,” I say in utter disgust. “Do you read the Bible?”

“Where’s your church?”

I take a breath and answer as I always do: “Arcade Wesleyan. The one behind the 7-11.” Usually, I say this lightheartedly. The church is, in fact, located on a large lot behind a 7-11. This time, it carries none of the usual joviality.

“See, they only give you a first or second rate education there.” He says, leaning into the guy sitting next to him. The guy does not so much as nod, and keeps quiet throughout the entire exchange.

The prophet and I go back and forth for a few moments. I repeat that he very much needs to actually read the Bible. He continues to make comments to his friend about the inadequacy of my Christian education, no longer speaking directly to me. I’m completely fed up.

“You should spend more time reading the Bible,” I growl, “and less time talking crap out the side of your mouth.” He makes no response, continuing his monologue to the man next to him. Once again, I ask if he reads the Bible.

In half a second, he’s thrown his water in my face and he’s on his feet, shouting at me to get away from him. There isn’t enough time to throw up my hands. I take two steps back and stop, shaking the water from my eyes. I wonder detachedly if he’s going to punch me, envisioning the impact from my own perspective. My hands are still at my sides, and he’s in my face. “Get out of here!” he screams, shoving me off the sidewalk. I merely look at him for a moment, and he shoves me again, turning me around. Somehow, I’m still calm, if a little shaky. My hands fold behind my back as I turn back around, intending to calm the situation and talk to this guy.

A young black man in a shirt and tie is walking over. “Hey, man, that was totally unnecessary,” he says plainly. It’s the young man the prophet had been preaching to when I arrived.

“You saw him come over here, threaten me...” the prophet says, pointing over at me, threatening to call security. I lower my head and chuckle. It’s the only response that seems right. Another, slightly burlier black man arrives, trying to talk the prophet down.

“I want you to call the police,” says the prophet to the young man, “and have this man arrested.” I chuckle again, the same laugh as a moment ago. The young man replies that I merely asked him a question. I wonder to myself how threatening I might have seemed. My hair drips.

“Wait ‘till I get security out here,” the prophet says.

“Well, I am security here...” begins the newcomer, going on to explain that the prophet had done something illegal, whether or not Jesus wanted him to do it.

Pacing back and forth, in his best pulpit voice, the prophet launches into a tirade about our excessive pride. In the midst of it, he points to the sidewalk and proclaims, “This is holy ground... because I’m here.” I look down to see splash marks. Eventually, the prophet makes his way into and through the bowling alley, “to hit the air conditioning.”

I had tried to ask the prophet his name several times, to no avail. As he left, I looked to the other man, who was still sitting down on the edge of the planter bed, still quite silent. I asked him, and he told me that his name was Frank. I introduced myself, shook his hand, and sat down. We had a short conversation about his beliefs, and as I left, I asked if I could pray for him. He said that would be okay, at which I smiled.

I turned the corner, walking around to the front of the bowling alley right as the prophet emerges, with the security guard close behind. For some reason, the guard is now holding a box for a camera lens, which I had noticed the prophet holding as he left. I nod to the prophet again and ask his name, apologizing for confronting him so harshly. Meanwhile, the guard hands the box back to the prophet, expecting him to take it back.

The prophet looks down at the box, then up at the guard. “I gave that to you.” The guard continues to hold out the box. “Man, when a holy man gives you something...” the prophet begins, and I decide to keep walking. I don’t look up for the first few steps as the prophet marches past me into the parking lot, shouting back and forth with the guard. I stop and watch as the prophet huffs away, the guard calling after him, “It’s called pride!”

I looked at the guard for a moment, and asked his name. Dwight, he said as he shook my hand. As it turned out, he was in an ensemble that sang at Arcade around the holidays. I asked him what he thought of Jesus, and his response answered my prayers. He trusted that Jesus was the son of God, and died to take away our sins. We were standing one door down from World’s Best Comics, which was closed. I shook hands once more with Dwight, in parting, and walked down to Tower Books.

I examined the racks of comics to no avail. In the back of my mind, and the front, I was already replaying the incidents of the past ten minutes. All I could do was shake my head, and I made for the door. I take three steps before I notice the prophet approaching me.

“Will you hug me, man?” he asks, opening his arms. I hug him, unwilling to hold a grudge. He steps back, smiles, and offers me the box marked Vivitar, the holy relic Dwight had returned to him.

“I don’t need that,” I say firmly, and begin walking for the door. After a few paces, I look back to see him talking to an attractive woman. I am nearly overcome by the urge to jerk my head at the prophet and say, “Don’t believe a word this man says,” but I hold back. Instead, I turn to leave. He’s walking next to me a second later. I ask him his name.

“Raphael Emmanuel,” he says.

“Ah,” I sigh. He asks me if I know what it means. I hold open the door for him, thinking about my answer for a moment. The specific word meaning escapes me. I reply that Emmanuel was the name the angel (Raphael, I realize now) told the virgin Mary to name her son. He begins to ask me again if I know what it means, but he is distracted by a mother and her two children coming down the sidewalk. As he says something to the kids, I keep walking. There’s nothing I can say, I realize. This offends the prophet, who begins to walk out into the parking lot.

“What if I am?” he repeats over, and over, and over.

“What if you’re not?” I fire back.

He throws up his hands. “Then it doesn’t matter, does it?”

“Yeah! Think on that!”

“But if I am, if I am an end-times prophet, then you just came real close to a storm... or a heart attack.”

My jaw drops a little at that one. And then, he unlocks the door to a blue Honda and steps in. The prophet Raphael Emmanuel, who preaches through a plastic bullhorn at the back door of Crestview Lanes, drives. My jaw can’t take it, and falls down all the way.

I began to walk home, my mind struggling to stand up. Already, I had come to regret launching into the man so brazenly, so aggressively. All the lessons I’d learned about humility and gentleness leaned on my heart, and I wondered how else it could have gone. In my Bible, Matthew 10:16 reads, in part, “be wary as snakes and harmless as doves.” I remembered it, and had heard it said, “be wise as serpents, and gentle as doves.” The word gentle superimposed itself on my thoughts.

Sometimes I’m afraid to openly, enthusiastically proclaim my faith, for fear that I’ll look like a psychopath and not win anyone over. Today, I was enraged that someone was telling damnable lies about my God. Perhaps my anger was justified. Righteous. More likely, I think, I was too hasty.

But I’m confident that both through me and despite me, Jesus will accomplish something through this. He’s that good.

...I can hardly imagine what response this post will get. Appropriately, I've added the comment function to my blog.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

"You should never leave church feeling defeated," said Pastor Steve. He made an effort to end this morning's service on an up note, since we'd just begun a sermon series on the seven deadly sins. It was a good move. I had to laugh at how guilty I am of the sin we covered this morning, the source of all the others: pride. Oi.

We approched the subject realistically, fairly... Which meant acknowledging that all of us were prideful in some way. Most of us, in a big way.

It's a complex problem. Self-esteem isn't sinful, but thinking too highly of yourself is. Taking care of your needs is necessary, but focusing too much on what you want is. Pride is subtle, and takes forms I hadn't thought of. When Pastor Steve listed them, though, they all sounded familiar to me.

- Self-preoccupation: the obvious manifestation. Vanity, delusions of grandeur, what have you. The Muhammad Ali complex.

- Stubbornness: the belief that you are always right. Taking offense at being justly corrected.

- Control issues: perfectionism. Wanting things done your way, or not at all. Taking over when it's inappropriate.

- Judging people: as Pastor Steve describes it, a statement that sets you against someone, saying, "I am not for you." Often masked in supposedly concerned statements. I think of scorn and condescension, which never fail to wound.

So yeah. Guilty. I remember Amanda telling me "you like being in charge." I was suprised at the time. Didn't think of myself that way, but it's true. Sometimes I catch myself making nitpicking suggestions to people, butting in where it's certainly not my place, and so on. I've always hated being wrong. And sometimes it makes me sick how judgmental I can get.

I'm gonna be working hard on this one. Really glad we had communion today. I'm really glad it's one of the very few rituals in the Christian church. It's easy to understand the symbolism, which makes it no less powerful. Especially with the way the Wesleyan denomination approaches communion, it's a wonderful, potent reminder of Jesus' love and sacrifice.

That's the perfect way to top off a sermon about sin. A reminder that God loves us anyway.