Harvard on the Hill

I didn’t date much in the 1990’s. Not because I didn’t want to, but mainly because I would become paralyzed by fear almost every time I tried to talk to a female—not as bad as Stan throwing up in South Park, but almost. I wouldn’t puke, but I’d do this nervous, talk-too-much thing, which may have been even worse.

Still, I had some friends that were really encouraging, and eventually, we made a deal that the next girl I met I was even halfway interested in, I would ask for her number. It wasn’t much, but it was a start, and at that point I didn’t really expect anything to come of it.

This was back when I was at Grossmont College (aka Harvard on the Hill), and most of the girls I met were probably 5 or 6 years younger than me, and either had hair under their arms, or chain smoked and sat outside the library wondering when the next Lilith Fair was coming to San Diego. Whatever 19 or 20 year old girls did in the mid 1990’s.

Then the unthinkable happened. I met a girl named Shannon in a theater arts class, and I was immediately attracted to her. If you happened to see the M. Night Shyamalan movie “The Village,” she looked exactly like the blind girl (I can’t have been the only one who watched it). Anyway, we started hanging out during breaks and talking on the phone. And by the way, she asked me for my number. This was before cell phones, so I actually had to sit there on the couch with a really big handset. With really big numbers on the pad.

My friends were happy (and probably surprised) I’d gotten that far, and eventually, started to put the screws to me about asking her for a date. After about a month of this, I decided I was going to just go for it and ask her out.

So I did.

I have to admit I was utterly shocked when she accepted (I’ve always been one to expect the worst-case scenario). I intended to do the usual “dinner and a movie” cliche, but Shannon suggested that since one of the class requirements was to attend a play (three plays, actually), we’d catch one on campus (she had a Friday late-afternoon class), and then get dinner afterward. We decided I’d meet her at the theater, and then we’d go to dinner together.

I showed up at the theater a little early, and I was standing there examining the cast photos when I realized how un-romantic the evening was beginning to look. The play was the story of John Merrick–the Elephant Man.

Great, I thought. The freaking Elephant Man.

If that doesn’t get a girl in the mood for romance, I don’t know what will. Shannon showed up a few minutes later and I was nearly struck dumb by how incredible she looked. I believe the expression is “dressed to the nines.” I, of course, figured that since the play was on campus, I’d go casual–Jeans and a long sleeve shirt. My only concession to dressing up was tucking it in. I think all I could manage in the way of greeting was, “uh, hi.”

We made our way to the box office I reached for my wallet, realizing to my profound horror that it wasn’t there. I’d left it on the seat of my car after driving through an ATM. “Aw, crap,” I muttered.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I left my stupid wallet in the car!”

“Don’t worry about it,” she smiled. “You can get the next one.”

Cool, I thought. There’s going to be a next one. Still, I was uber-embarrassed. I looked like one of the Dukes of Hazzard, and I didn’t have my wallet. But, I figured, I could make up for it at dinner. I’d take her someplace relatively nice, and we could talk, and get to know each other better, and start planning the engagement party.

Wrong.

The play lasted until 1045, and by the time we got out after chatting with a couple of classmates, we realized two things: we were both utterly starving, and the only place open late that was anywhere close was Denny’s.

So we went to Denny’s, and over our burgers, we start having this totally in-depth conversation. Life, the universe, everything. Cool, I think—I’m really starting to like her. Then, we started talking about our favorite times of the year.

I told her mine was Christmas and she frowned. Then we started talking a little about religion, and I realized why (I know, I know. Never talk religion or politics on a first date). I told her about my brother, who’d been a fiery Southern Baptist, and an even more passionate hypocrite.

Her entire family had been Jehova’s witnesses for generations. She’d recently been questioning her “faith” and had fallen away from it some. I had no faith at all, so I could get that. But she still felt strongly enough about it to start expounding on its virtues. To start proselytizing.

I began to drift away on a sea of rhetoric, trying mightily to focus on the fact that this amazingly attractive girl seemed to be interested in me. She really was the most attractive person I’d ever been out with, until I met my wife in 2008. I paid attention for a while, but even though I wasn’t a Christian at that point, I knew enough of the gospel to know there was something awry.

So I fell back on my old high school defense mechanism. I started thinking about baseball. I nodded my head when it seemed appropriate, but I was really replaying the 1996 playoffs that the Padres had with Houston.

Just try to remember she’s beautiful, I kept telling myself. It’s enough.

I was at the end of the playoff series when I realized Shannon had stopped talking.

“What do you think?” she asked.

I think your religion is nuts, I thought. That little magazine you guys always try to get people to read? The Watchtower? Also nuts. But I think you’re pretty freaking hot, so I’m going to try and ignore that stuff…

What I said was, “I don’t know, really. It’s a lot to think about. Still dealing with my Baptist issues from high school.”

So I paid the check and we left. I dropped her off at her car with a hug and a promise to see her again, soon. I wasn’t sure about that, but I figured I could probably resist the brain washing a while longer.

There were actually two more dates. The next was lunch at Souplantation. After that, one more play, this time even more romantic–Oedipus Rex.

That was it. I didn’t think I could afford deprogramming…

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Bad Disciple, Part II

I think I knew I needed glasses for a while before I actually got them. It was hard to admit, though, even to myself.

I would sit on the couch and have to squint at the Tivo menu to read what programs were recorded, and eventually, I would give up and simply walk over to the television and look at it from a foot or two away.

Another time, I had picked some friends off at the airport and after I dropped them off, I realized I could not read the small green street signs to navigate my way out of their neighborhood. I think it took me about 90 minutes to get home, and it probably should have been 15 to 20. I finally found my way to I-5, and ended up getting back on down by the airport–after I drove through Barrio Logan with the doors locked.

The point being, I could not see well at night, or at any real distance, and I knew it. Yet I resisted getting glasses because I’d had perfect vision my entire life, and it was not possible I no longer did.

Glasses were for old people.

Then I realized, I am old people.

So I went to see an eye doctor my friend recommended, and after I got my glasses, I could not believe how much easier things got. I could read the titles on the Tivo menu from across the street–never mind across the living room. I won’t even mention how awesome it was to see street signs without stopping and squinting. Not that it helped me much with getting lost–anyone who knows me can attest to that.

The short version is that once I finally broke down and sought help, I could see again.

I think that’s what it’s like when we finally let down our guards, and let go of our inhibitions and preconceived notions about God and just ask Him to help us see.

I can remember when I finally did that. It had just gotten so frustrating (not to mention nearly impossible) to always see things in black and white, when a part of me always knew there was way more to life than that. But I was looking at life based on a set of sometimes flawed values that I had accrued over a life jam packed with all kinds of nonsense. Most of which was created by the lies I allowed myself to believe about God, about myself, and about the people I was continually made to interact with.

Black and white.

You’d think it would be easier to see things that way–in convenient terms I understood the definitions for. And in some respects, regarding some things, it is easier. Evil is still evil, and always will be. God is still good, all the time, and always will be. Beyond that, many things in life are not so clearly defined. Jesus allows us the freedom to choose the path we will walk. And ultimately, how clearly we see the world around us.

To me, looking at the world after allowing Jesus into my life was kind of like the scene in the Matrix where Morpheus sits Neo down and talks about the reality of mankind’s existence.

MORPHEUS: We are trained in this world to accept only what is rational and logical. Have you ever wondered why?
Neo shakes his head.
MORPHEUS: As children, we do not separate the possible from the impossible which is why the younger a mind is the easier it is to free while a mind like yours can be very difficult.
NEO: Free from what?
MORPHEUS: From the Matrix.
Neo locks at his eyes but only sees a reflection of himself.
MORPHEUS: Do you want to know what it is, Neo?
Neo swallows and nods his head.
MORPHEUS: It’s that feeling you have had all your life. That feeling that something was wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad, driving you to me. But what is it? The LEATHER CREAKS as he leans back.
MORPHEUS: The Matrix is everywhere, it’s all around us, here even in this room. You can see it out your window, or on your television. You feel it when you go to work, or go to church or pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
NEO: What truth?
MORPHEUS: That you are a slave, Neo. That you, like everyone else, was born into bondage… …kept inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for your mind.
Outside, the WIND BATTERS a loose PANE of glass.
MORPHEUS: Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.
NEO: How?
MORPHEUS: Hold out your hands.
In Neo’s right hand, Morpheus drops a red pill.
MORPHEUS: This is your last chance. After this, there is no going back.
In his left, a blue pill.
MORPHEUS: You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe.
The pills in his open hands are reflected in the glasses.
MORPHEUS: You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
Neo feels the smooth skin of the capsules, with the moisture growing in his palms.
MORPHEUS: Remember that all I am offering is the truth. Nothing more.
Neo opens his mouth and swallows the red pill. The Cheshire smile returns.

Science fiction, of course, and it is just a movie. But we do allow ourselves to be both blinded and deluded by the world. It’s easy because there’s nothing about it you have to challenge—you can just accept “how things are.” You don’t have to challenge yourself, or change, or grow. You don’t stretch your boundaries—you cherish them. And in the end, you get out of life with a PhD in complacency, and not much else.

But that isn’t the truth. Life doesn’t have to be “that way.”

There is more.

The truth is, once you have Jesus in your life, and heart, and mind, you see everything by a different sort of light than you’re used to. Everything looks different: people, life, politics, even the “world.” Not through rose-colored glasses, but through lenses tinted with the blood of a Jewish carpenter.

I think if we look at things—at life—through Jesus, then we see them in the way they’re meant to be seen.
We see the truth.

Consequently, it seems to be in the act of looking around at everything else that we become blind, or at the least distracted. Once distracted, it’s easy to believe what you hear—about yourself, about God…about everything. We become too concerned with labels, and less with the people we’re attempting to fit into our little one-or-two-word definitions. And if they do not fit into the little boxes we’ve created,

Christian
Atheist
Democrat
Republican
Green
Liberal
Conservative
Good
Evil

then we close our minds to them, and they are simply wrong.

To me, one of the worst things about it is that we deem ourselves worthy enough to judge the worthiness of others in regard to anything, and then we become so smug in our rightness, we can’t see God at all anymore, and aren’t even aware of it.

God judges: and no one is worthy.

All have fallen short of the only judge that matters (Romans 3:10 and 3:23).

Who am I to judge anyone else’s commitment to Jesus? Who am I to hold it up to mine, and find it lacking? Am I perfect, or do I walk perfectly with Jesus?

Not even close. Not a day goes by that I don’t need His forgiveness for something, though sometimes I have to remind myself to ask for it.

What makes me think I can judge anyone else’s patriotism, or commitment to their family, or that my methods for disciplining my children are better than theirs? I heard someone say on the radio not long ago that where we see people as obstacles, Jesus saw them as opportunities for ministry. Man, do I wish I could do that.

The plain truth is that the world and the things in it are so bright they fall over our eyes and cloud our perspectives until we ask and ask and ask God to take them away, so we can have eyes to see—to see each other the way He intended us to, through his eyes. So we can look at His people–even if they don’t believe—and realize he died for them just as much as for we who now believe.

Maybe even more.

Because He came not for the well, but the sick.

He came to give His life as a ransom for many.

He came to give us eyes to see.