A reality check on Christmas Eve

“Are you closing?” This middle-aged woman was asking me.  She had frizzy hair.

I looked back over my shoulder.  The lights were shut off.  The sign was shut off.  It was six PM on Christmas Eve.  It was one of those questions that you don’t want to answer because it seems to obvious for words.

“I thought maybe you’d be opened on Christmas Eve.” She said all in one breath, in the panicked way people talk whose whole worlds are on the edge of collapse.   “It’s Christmas Eve and I have no where to go.” And then she let out this sound; a moan, a sob, a laugh.  Something somewhere in between.

If this was a fiction story I would have had all the right things to say.  I stood there and looked behind her.  She stood in front of one of those newer SUV’s that kind-of looks like a minivan on steroids… It was a soccer mom car.  She looked like a soccer mom.  How did she come to be alone on Christmas Eve?

If this was a Hallmark special, if this was a story in a sermon, if this was the kind of tale that people forewarded in emails, it would have a resolution… most likely a happy ending.

But in reality I stood there paralyzed.  I tried to smile at her.  I tried to suggest the movie theater on the other side of the shopping center. 

She took a few minutes, presumably to gather herself together.  I prayed for as I watched her pull away.  I am sure that Jesus was proud of me for spending three minutes of my precious time thinking about her.  (Note sarcasm.)

I don’t know where she went, or who she was, or what her story was.  Probably I never will.

In some way I’m offering up this as blog as a confession.  I posted about how Jesus wants us to reach out.  And then I didn’t.

The event was a wake-up call.  I’d been feeling quite sorry for myself.  I have a second job and was away from my family on much of Christmas Eve.  I was annoyed with people who wandered in, 10 minutes before we closed and who mulled around the racks after closing as the 20-odd staff were wanting to get out and go home.  Truthfully, I was even resentful at the fact that we’re a one car family and that I had to be picked up like a high school kid. 

And then…. Wham!  I’m confronted with somebody who is not only alone but who is also terrified with the realization that because Barnes & Noble is closed, they have nothing to do.

I tell myself it would have been easier if she hadn’t been a woman or if I hadn’t been a man.  There are very few acts of kindness between strangers of the opposite sex that don’t look inappropriate.

And so I’ve been thinking about that, today.  Things that look inappropriate.

I’ve been counseled– probably wisely– to be careful about things that look bad.  The idea is partially that we should be on our guard from bad stuff that could happen, but also that we should be on the guard for things that are in truth innocent but look inappropriate.

I get that, I think.  But I also wonder if it’s biblical.

If a prostitute today rubbed a pastor’s feet, if a woman gave a minister a scalp masage, it would look bad.  End of story.

But Jesus allowed these things.  And he lived in a less touchy-feely, much more sexually segregated society.

And so I guess it’s a fair question, to ask “How does it look when a man and a women are in public and…”

But there’s a follow up question, a bigger one, I think.

That follow up question is this:

How does it look when a man who claims to follow Christ does nothing more than point the lonely to a movie theater?

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

5 thoughts on “A reality check on Christmas Eve”

  1. i understand this… i’ve found myself in similar predicaments… driving away from opportunities to share the Gospel, to show concern, love… I try to pray everyday for courage to share the Gospel and for opportunities to share it… and I thank God His mercy is new every morning (it’s always morning some where) 🙂

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  2. On the way back from Albany on Christmas eve night, Carie and I were driving on the Mass PIke in the berkshires toward Worcester. Carie suddenly pointed and said “slow down”, very calmly I must say. She had seen a deer jump into a car. I didn’t see it and only slowed down a little bit, until I hit what Carie thinks was a piece of the antler. The car that was hit veered off to the side of the road, and I kept going, believing I should have stopped, but I was “already too far up the road.” – A confession from Marty

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  3. This posting leads me to not just pray that “I can be a blessing to someone today” [not original 🙂 ] but to wonder what to be prepared to do–kinda’ the next step.

    A few years ago I was rushing–and late– to church to teach Sunday School on a very, very hot NC morning. I drove by a young disabled man who was walking, likely toward a local store–or so I hoped. He was struggling, had no obvious bottle of water, was sweating profusely and was alone.

    I stopped. I knew that my Sunday School class would be annoyed that I was late. I did not know what to do. I asked if he was okay and he said “yes”. But that was a contrast to my observation. Just coming up to us on the side of the road was an older, probably “together” man and woman riding bikes. I stopped them and asked them if they would just observe the man as he proceeded. I was disappointed that I did not do more: the obvious would have been to offer a word and water…and a presence, I passed the torch on to someone else. And, still I feel a little unsure if I did the best That Christ would have us all do.

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