Sunday, September 30, 2007

Kindness of Strangers...

My first vehicle was a 1986 Chevy S-10. A small white truck with manual transmission, it was good enough. Good enough to get me to high school and good enough to hold an old mattress in the back for months, because I was too lazy to take it to the dump when I got a new bed. This latter fact was the cause for much humor among my friends, suggesting a mystique about my love life that was out of sync with what was reality. The truck wasn't, however, good enough to make it to Oklahoma City via Wichita Falls, which landed me on the receiving end of a generous act of kindness by a stranger.

My sister had a friend in Wichita Falls, I had a friend in Oklahoma City, and my parents had a fear of us driving anywhere in that old pickup truck. But after high school, the tug to assert our independence and create geographical distance was stronger than any arguments on behalf of common sense. So we set out to visit friends.

The plan was to drive through the Metroplex and dump my sister off in Wichita Falls as quick as possible. I would then drive north toward Oklahoma City and experience my first real vacation as an adult. Somewhere around Forney, on the east side of Dallas, the little white truck began to overheat. I pulled over and waited for a mechanic to open, at which point I was advised that the truck wouldn't make it very far. This wasn't good enough for me. What this pagan didn't know was that I had the secret power of prayer on my side, and this would get me to Oklahoma and back with no problems. I would just stop every twenty or so miles to rest the engine.

And this did work, for a while. We rolled into Wichita Falls several hours later, engine puttering but still moving us forward. Yet after dropping my sister off at her friend's apartment, the truck wouldn't start. I called a garage, who sent a tow truck over to pick it up. Sitting in the lobby of the garage was like waiting for news in the hospital waiting room.

I wasn't consciously thinking this, but I was sitting there awaiting bad news because I was trying to escape. We've all been there. Adult enough at 20 to be mobile, child enough to wander, I wanted to be anywhere other than with my parents. The diagnosis would determine whether or not my escape would be complete.

I knew (and know) nothing about car language, but I knew the words "cracked block" couldn't be good. I definitely knew enough about money to understand that $1600 wasn't good either, since that's not a lot less than the actual cost of the truck.

A nervous call to my dad revealed a truth about good parents-- A concern for their children's safety is always greater than anger over poor decisions. Oh, there was anger, but it wasn't all consuming. My parents showed me more grace than I deserved (which, I suppose, is the very definition of grace) and offered to pay to have the truck fixed. And if my friend would pick me up, then they would drive to Wichita Falls to take care of the truck.

My friend, also showing more grace than my friendship probably merited, agreed to drive the two and a half hours to pick me up.

I sat in the lobby of the garage, late in the afternoon, happy that things were working out, a little embarrassed at the situation I found myself in. It was closing time and I was about to be run off. I supposed I would have to wait outside for my friend. But as he was leaving, the guy who drove the tow truck for the garage offered to take me to his house to have dinner with his family.

And so I found myself in a lower-middle class neighborhood on the outskirts of a relatively insignificant middle-sized city, eating dinner with a family who had an oversized sense of kindness and hospitality. Looking back on how I carried myself back then, I suppose I was maybe a little too interested in whether or not my hosts "knew the Lord," and probably even tried to wedge a mention of Jesus into the conversation. I presumed they had Catholic leanings, because they were hispanic, but I couldn't be sure.

But I guess how I viewed them, in retrospect, is kind of irrelevant. Looking back all I can remember is that a small blip of my life was spent with a family who took a chance on giving kindness to a stranger. The funny thing about people like this is, when you talk to them, they don't see it as "taking a chance." They are agents of grace. They don't concern themselves with accolades or praise, but they "do unto others" in ways that most of us struggle muster enough courage to even consider.

I don't remember the family's name, or even the name of the mechanic. That was so many years ago. I doubt they even think about me. But I like to think that meal, discussing life and awaiting redemption, has lingered in my being, making me a little bit more the person I'm supposed to be.
(WBG, thought you may enjoy that memory.)


Aaron said...

Great story, Craig. I don't tell you enough, but I enjoy your writing. Usually, when I read a post, no comment is a good thing.

...which brings me to my point. Why do you speak condescendingly about a desire to know whether your hosts knew the Lord? Why is evangelism in your writings so often relegated to a past that was mishaped by youthful, church-culture immaturity? Why do you consider it a mark of maturity to disregard a question about the relationship of a stranger to Jesus Christ? Certainly, such an act of kindness on this family's part spoke volumes about the meaning of grace to you, but does that mean the family was necessarily rightly related to God?

I'm not saying that it was unquestionably your obligation to share the gospel with them. I'm just saying that the fact that it crossed your mind should not be something you regret. There is a poor way to do evangelism, namely, the way that depersonalizes others and makes them into targets. But it looks to me like the pendulum has swung too far here.

Craig said...

"But it looks to me like the pendulum has swung too far here."

This is a very real possibility. I've actually wanted to write about my changing views of evangelism for some time now. My hesitancy, though, is that any anecdotes, or even vague stories, I use to describe how I approach the subject now, would not be appropriate because of certain relationships I'm in.

So suffict it to say, I agree that I may speak too negatively about a past that is probably not that negative. I just don't feel right adressing it totally here.

Aaron said...

"because of certain relationships I'm in."

Oh, kind of like the situation with Ted Haggard?


One thing I really appreciate about you and your writing is that you approach your fundamentalist background differently than most emerging folks (I don't mean to subsume you under a label, but I take it that your involvement at UBC identifies you at least somewhat with the emerging church). Most of the emerging stuff that I have read is a reaction of protest to a fundamentalist background. But you look back to your fundamentalist background with affection, humility, and a desire to learn from it. I commend you for that, and I wish more people would learn from your example.