There are a few things about me that are pretty consistent. I drink a lot of Pepsi, I frequently forget not to cuss in front of other peoples’ children (sorry other people and your children!), I hate reality TV (unless there are ghosts in it, then I think it’s hilarious), stuff like that. One of the things that are pretty consistent is a question I frequently ask, which is “Why Jesus?”
Let me start by saying that I believe in Jesus. I believe he did all the stuff people say he did, up to and including the dying thing. The difference is that I don’t believe in him the way most people do. In my head it’s really easy for me to accept that Jesus is also God and God is also Jesus (and the holy spirit fits in somewhere as well) so there’s no huge need in my mind to differentiate between one and the other. When I say “Hey God, would you >insert request here<?” I know I’m talking to all three of them. Jesus/God knows I’m thankful, and Holy Spirit/God knows they’re invited to come hang out with me. I don’t feel the need to make the distinction, or place him on a pedestal, or worship him exclusively with pictures and love songs and whatever else. Once I heard someone say “Jesus prayed to God, we pray to Jesus.” I thought it was all the same, so I was a little boggled.
Anyway, stuff like that makes me ask “Why Jesus” and it wasn’t until recently that I think maybe I might have found an answer for that.
Let me explain. No. . .there is too much. Let me sum up.
A couple of weeks ago, my phone was stolen by someone I thought was my friend. This was a person that, while I wouldn’t say I was “tight” with, I had gone out of my way to be cool towards. I had really thought that there was some sort of mutual feeling of friendship and community. Imagine my surprise when five minutes after this particular person left my house I reached for my phone and found it gone.
Little bit of background story here, I live in a very poor and very ethnic section of my city and have felt very strongly called to love these people and to fight to shine light on the good things about the community in which I live since I moved into it. Then again, maybe “called” is the wrong word. To say I was “called” implies that the feeling somehow came from outside of me. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I have oddly, but strongly, felt love for these people and, that I’ve oddly but strongly had a compulsion to fight to shine light on the good things they bring. So some time ago I began building bridges with my neighbors, who are as different from me as . .two really different things.
Some of them are barely older than teenagers, others have children older than me. It didn’t matter. We were all piled up on my tiny porch, hanging out, drinking, eating, laughing or whatever. Color, age, sexuality, creed, ceased to matter in the little world we created, so perhaps it isn’t surprising when it started to grow from my neighbors to my neighbors’ family and friends, and sometimes just a random person walking by. I guess they saw something happening on my porch that they wanted to be a part of. I don’t know.
I’ll be honest, I loved it. I’m not very good at loving, or maybe I’m not very good at letting myself be loved, but when you’re in “the hood”, and all the hood homies tell you that you’ve been adopted, and you’re fam now even though you’re one of two white families in the whole neighborhood and the ONLY one on the block. . .
. . .not everyone gets that.
I felt special. I felt loved. I loved them back. That’s not why I started building the bridges, but it was a pretty cool by-product of it.
So when all other possibilities as to my phone’s location had been exhausted and I had no choice but to accuse this person who I had let come into my house, who I had fed, and bought bottles for, and given rides to. . . I was pissed. I didn’t want to think he would do it, but when I couldn’t deny it any longer, I was furious. I was so enraged that I saw black. I was ready to end his life and throw mine away over a cell phone. Granted, it was a new cell phone, less than 3 weeks old, and worth $500, but unless I missed the point of everything here, $500 does not equal the value of a life. I feel like maybe that reaction was disproportionate.
Anyway, that’s not the story. The story is that I felt amazingly betrayed. Here I am, learning to love and be loved by strangers, which if you’ve followed this blog at all you know I’m terrible at, and the thanks I get for trying to learn these things is getting robbed!
So perhaps understandably, I sat on my porch fuming dangerously, fantasizing about all the ways I was going to hurt, injure, maim, murder or otherwise teach this shiesty little bastard a lesson in respecting other people’s property. I was about to go full on hood on his little ass.
I’m not proud of this, but for a while I was lost in it, drowning in a sea of black.
Those of you who know me know I’m prone to outbursts which are loud and angry but which quickly dissipate. If you know me well enough you know that those outbursts are relatively harmless. This was different. This was a cold, calculated anger, and it was scary. Scarier was how easy it was for me to be there.
I didn’t think of any of this while this was happening. While it was happening I was sitting on my porch fantasizing about hurting a teenager for the theft of a phone. It never occurred to me that any of this might be wrong, and I might have been lost there forever, but as I was sitting there, full of hate and murderous intent, a thought occurred to me that changed everything and broke through the tempest of my thoughts and mood like light cutting through the clouds after a storm.
The thought was, “What if I were Jesus?”
If you re-read the beginning of this post, you’ll understand why the “W.W.J.D.” was so alien to me that it couldn’t possibly have come from me. It was so strange that it startled me out of my black and violent thoughts and cut through the hateful ink I was floating in like a scalpel. Immediately, my brain tried to answer that question, deflating all my rage with one fell swoop and taking away all the wind from my sails. I wasn’t ready to not be enraged, and in a blink, instead of enraged I found myself sad. I’d seen this kid a handful of times, and I don’t think I’d ever seen him wearing a different outfit. What kind of place must he be in, what kind of deep seated hurts must there be in him that would make him steal, not from some random person, but from someone who’d been nothing but loving and friendly to him, someone who had fed him for nothing, who’d given him things asking nothing in return? My heart broke for him and I knew in the deepest part of me that if I were Jesus, that I would track him down and say, “Hey, you left so fast with that phone I gave you, that you forgot the charger and headphones I was going to give you with it.” I cried for him a little bit. Admittedly, I cried for me a little bit too.
Pete called it “The Les Mis Moment” and it broke me.
I thought about this uneducated high school drop-out, who at 17 is already so hopeless that he thinks the only way he can ever come up in this world is to go banging around with his clique and stealing from people who only wanted to love him. He didn’t even sell the phone for drug money, like some (I) might have thought. He was using it, making calls and texts and leaving a paper trail a mile wide if I wanted to press charges on him. He even offered to sell it on Facebook. . . where I have him friended. Clearly these are the actions of a master thief, right? Somehow, these stupid decisions broke my heart even more. This isn’t a strung out druggie, or a rabid kleptomaniac, this is a desperate kid who wanted to be able to have the status of having a new S3 and thought the only way he could ever get one was to take it.
My friends and neighbors don’t understand my reaction to this. They don’t understand my decision to not go after him despite the fact that he’s sort of handed himself to me on a silver platter. They don’t understand why I should care about what happens to the life of the kid who wouldn’t spare a second thought for what happened to mine. They don’t understand it, and it’s led to questions that have led to conversations that always lead back to God. These conversations have led to more questions, which have led to these boys coming over with their Bibles, opening them, and asking me questions about stuff they’ve read inside of them. These conversations never could have happened if I had reacted the way I wanted to, the way any of them would’ve, the way their life and background demands that they do. They wouldn’t have been angry at me for tagging their friend with a felony for stealing my phone. In their mind that was a reasonable response to his action and he brought it upon himself. They would have continued coming over and hanging out with me, but we couldn’t be growing together as friends, and searching together for what the Truth looks like.
I’ve already replaced that phone, It cost me my deductible and a few days. I still haven’t pressed the person who stole from me. If I saw him today, I would invite him over to my porch and ask him if he wanted to share a cigarette with me. I might talk some shit about him walking off with my phone, but maybe I wouldn’t. I’m not sure. I know that I wouldn’t shut him out, for sure. While I might not let him back in my house, I feel like it’s important that I keep loving him despite the thing he did to me, and that I show him that, not so that he thinks its ok to steal but so that he knows I see the person he is beyond what he did, and that he is loved.
And, I think, this is “why Jesus”. Whatever else there might be, without Jesus we would have a book that illustrated an all-powerful God constantly smiting us for getting it consistently wrong. The Bible without Jesus would be a book about how God acts. Jesus shows us how we should act, even when it’s hard, even when it sucks, and even when we’d rather be furiously fantasizing about maiming and murder.
Jesus fills the gap between “I believe in God” and “I’m a person that other people see God in”.
This experience was an emotional roller coaster, and I’m exhausted from dealing with it. But I’d do it again for the realization that I really can emulate Jesus, and even if I never see that kid again, the bridges that have been built between me and my neighbors and his friends because of it have been worth every moment.