When I read something that resonates, I want everyone I know– no, everyone in the world– to read it too. It’s not possible nor likely that even my recommendations would, or should, reach very far. But this excerpt I typed out to share as an attempt, just in case it resonates with you also. It comes from The Pastor, a memoir by Eugene Peterson.
About the third day after entering first grade, Garrison discovered me and took me on as his project for the next year. He gave me working knowledge of what twenty-five years later Richard Niebuhr would give me a more sophisticated understanding of—the tension between Christ and Culture. I have been taught in Sunday school not to fight and so had never learned to use my fists. I had been prepared for the wider world of neighborhood and school by memorizing “Bless those who persecute you” and “turn the other cheek.” I don’t know how Garrison Johns knew that about me—some sixth sense that bullies have, I suppose—but he picked me for his sport. Most afternoons after school he would catch me and beat me up. He also found out that I was a Christian and taunted me with “Jesus Sissy.”
I tried finding alternate ways home by making detours through alleys, but he stalked me and always found me. I arrived home most afternoons bruised and humiliated. My mother told me that this had always been the way of Christians in the world and that I have better get used to it. I was also supposed to pray for him. The Bible verse I had memorized (“Bless…” and “Turn…”) began to get tiresome.
I loved going to school—I was learning a lot, finding new friends, adoring my teacher. The classroom was a wonderful place. But after the dismissal bell each day I had to face Garrison Johns and get my daily beating that I was supposed to assimilate as a blessing.
March came. I remember that is was March by the weather. The winter snow was melting but there were paths of it here and there. The days were getting longer—I was no longer walking home in the late afternoon dark. Then something unexpected happened. I was with my neighborhood friends on this day, seven or eight of them, when Garrison caught up with us and started in on me, jabbing and taunting, working himself up to the main event. He had an audience, and that helped. He always did better with an audience.
That when it happened. Totally un-calculated. Totally out of character. Something snapped within me. For just a moment the bible verses disappeared from my consciousness and I grabbed Garrison. To my surprise, and his, I realized that I was stronger then he was. I wrestled him to the ground, sat on his chest, and pinned his arms to the ground with my knees. I couldn’t believe it—he was helpless under me. At my mercy. It was too good to be true. I hit him in the face with my fists. It felt good, and I hit him again—blood spurted form his nose, a lovely crimson in the snow. By this time all the other children were cheering, egging me on, “Black his eyes!” “Bust his teeth!” A torrent of biblical invective poured from them, although nothing compared with that I would, later in life, read in the Psalms.
I said to Garrison, “Say ‘Uncle.'” He wouldn’t say it. I him him again. More blood. More cheering. Now my audience was bringing the best out of me. And then my christian training reasserted itself. I said, “Say ‘I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.'” And he said it. John Garrison was my one and only christian convert.
Garrison John was my introduction into the world, the “world that is not my home.” He was also my first introduction to how effortlessly that same “world” could get into me, making itself perfectly at home under the cover of my Christian language and “righteous” emotions.
How easy it is to forget, as Derek Webb once sung:
“This world has nothing for me, but this world has everything. All that I could want and nothing that I need.”
During this political and cultural season of strong opinions, taboo topics, and lines being drawn in the sand but then misinterpreted and spread like fire over the internet, it’s easy for me to get overwhelmed, or cloudy. It’s a lot easier to spend my mental time on all those cloudy thoughts and expect something other then this to be true: “this had always been the way of Christians in the world and that I have better get used to it.” (not fight fire with fire or defend my rightness). There is supposed to be tension because this is not all there is. And we have a very important responsibility to talk to the holy spirit on a regular basis and let him evaluate our hearts and make us aware of the places untruth “make itself perfectly at home under the cover of christian language and “righteous” emotions.”
There are many ways to draw from this chapter clip. Did anything resonate with you?