Monday, April 09, 2007

"Wake up, dead man."

"Jesus, Jesus help me / I'm alone in this world / And a [messed]-up world it is, too..."

The irony of quoting that lyric [single, obvious harsh profanity warning] on Easter Monday is not lost on me, but I feel like I want to shift the focus of it a little bit and discuss it for a minute, if you'll bear with me.

The original conceit of the song was that the singer was pleading with Jesus to "wake up" and fix the world, because it has become so broken and twisted that it isn't even recognizable. The plea is both reproachful and desperate, as if the singer is aware that he's bordering on a kind of blasphemy, but doesn't think any other method will gain the divine attention he craves. He keeps asking the "dead man" to wake up.

The truth that we Christians proclaim is that the "dead man" did in fact wake up. That's the message of this weekend. Jesus the Christ is alive and triumphant. Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed!)

But the inevitable question (with echoes of the Psalmist) is: so why hasn't it seemed to make that much of a difference?

The singer writes about the disorder of the world, and his desire to rewind it back to the perfection (or at least the hope of goodness) that it once contained. In the second verse, he sings this: "Jesus, I'm waiting here, boss / I know you're looking out for us / But maybe your hands aren't free."

This strikes me a little bit. Who are the hands of Christ in the world right now?

The Church.

Over and over, Paul refers to the Church as Christ's "body." In Colossians, he calls Christ the head of this body.

I would submit, on this Easter Monday, that the Head is very much alive and always has been, but the Body in large part (at least, as it is evidenced in the West) has been playing dead for years, and it's giving people outside of the faith (or those who find themselves on its fringes, peering in) the wrong impression that the Man they sing about is in fact dead.

I've been wrestling with this deadness myself. I've been struggling to allow myself to be renewed, revived. I'm not sure that this weekend produced the miraculous revelation that one would hope on Resurrection Sunday, but I can tell you there are signs of life. Life in the midst of weariness and pain.

I still have some distance to gain before I'll claim to be fully alive. But I'm starting to regain some feeling in the places inside that felt dead. And all it took was breakfast with a man named Scotty.


Scotty is in his later years. Hard to guess for sure, since living out in the elements tends to age you prematurely. Probably in his late fifties to sixties.

Scotty is "temporarily" homeless. He's quick to emphasize that. He knows it's all about your mental perspective.

Scotty greets people with "Happy Resurrection Sunday." The clerk behind the counter stares at him blankly. Scotty tells me that he wants to make sure they don't get it twisted. That's why he also refers to "that other day" as "Jesus' birthday."

The knees of Scotty's jeans are shredded, splayed open like a disected frog in a freshman biology class. The skin of his knees is dry and cracked, spotted white in contrast to his dark skin.

Scotty matter-of-factly describes sleeping under an overpass, without complaint or blame. He assures me that forty-seven degrees is really not that bad, as long as the winds aren't too cold and the ground isn't too wet. He talks about his shoes getting soaked the day before (which was unfortunately cold, wet, and windy), and how socks that are air-dryed after getting puddle-wet usually dry hard and scratchy. But still, he smiles as he talks about sleeping in the Salvation Army the night before. They take good care of him.

Scotty says breakfast is the most important time to have a hot meal. He appreciates some of the churches who provide a hot lunch, but the Salvation Army only had cold cereal that morning. He needed something a little more.

Scotty limps to the booth where he dropped his garbage bag, takes off his coat and lays it atop. Then he reaches in and pulls out his Bible. It's a hardbound NIV, navy blue, and worn soft at the corners. It was the type of Bible you'd receive as an award for Scripture memorization or learning all the books in order. Its pages are wrinkled and used. Quite a few are underlined or highlighted.

Scotty tells how he normally goes to the fast-food restaurant further in-town, but they charge 15 cents more for a senior coffee. The difference between 27 cents and 42 cents is enough to make the bus trip.

Scotty prays over his breakfast, aloud and unashamed. Maybe he feels emboldened when my head bows also. He prays well, with phrases long familiar to one who grew up inside church walls.

Scotty butters his biscuit carefully. His hands tremble slightly as he pulls the cellophane off the molded pat of butter in its plastic container. He places the eggs and biscuit and sausage patty (better than the link he has gotten elsewhere, he remarks) on the overturned top cover of the styrofoam breakfast platter. He smiles at getting three pancakes instead of two. He pours a generous amount of syrup over the pancakes. "That's cuz they soak it up, see."

Scotty eats slowly, savoring. He talks about his life. He went to Prarie View A&M, "back in the day." He shrugs and says that now he's made to wander, that he's suffering the consequences of willful disobedience. He tosses out Scripture references for me to look up. We talk about Saul and Samuel, and the livestock Saul withheld and lied about. I retell the story, and comment a bit. He nods and chews, giving an occassional "yep." We talk about favorite passages and verses.

We discuss the breakdown of civility in society. How babies "are havin' babies." How the rudeness and impatience of one generation is instilled and magnified in the next. How there is no respect. I talk about my sisters, how I love them, how proud I am of them. I tell him about how my adopted sister has a half-brother who is destined for destruction, because he was raised by her immoral and thoughtless biological mother. He talks about seeing the same kinds of things. We both stew on the fate of the world.

It's nearly time to go. Scotty asks if he can get a ride to his church. He gathers up his things. He packs up the half of his breakfast he didn't eat and places it gently in his bag.

In the car, he receives a pair of clean, used socks with rejoicing. My heart is breaking.

We find the church. We pray together, and I hear a liquid glug-glug-glug that I hope is not Scotty. I see his coffee cup overturned in the floorboard and scold myself. Scotty grabs a handful of napkins and cleans it up immediately.

Scotty's hands are large, strong, calloused. He shakes firmly, not as one beaten down, but as one striving.

Scotty gives blessings, because that's all he can give. That's all he has left. The Word he's written in his heart, and the blessings he can speak with his lips.

Scotty went into the church. I went away rejoicing and repentant. I have so much. I'm such an ungrateful child. I have no perspective.

And a small part of me feels alive again.


[Unrelated medical update: the diagnosis from the doctor was occipital neuralgia, a fancy term for nerve pain in the back of my head. I'm on some anti-inflammatory medication to calm the nerve down, and it seems to be working. Your continued prayers are appreciated.]

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