Friday, January 21, 2005


Payment In Kind

A man walks out of the laundromat with his last load of clean clothes. He
slides the basket onto the back seat and then opens the driver's door and
gets in. The onerous task is complete in this brightening morning.

He starts to put the key in the ignition switch. Then there's a pause, a
last review of the steps he took. Is anything left behind? No, all the
machines were checked and clear. Still, something prompts him to

A little boy stands in the wilderness. He yells, screams as loudly as he
can. "I don't need anything! I'll do it my own damned self! I'll walk alone
rather than on your terms." He has learned well in reiterated years: acts
of kindness always have a cost.

The man gets out of the car and walks back through the shadow of the
building and into the laundromat. What's he looking for? He doesn't know.
Just following a prompting, until he comes around a line of washers and
sees the library book on the sorting table. Right where he'd left it when
it was time to take clothes from the dryer.

"Thank you for that," he whispers as he picks up the book. In other times
he would have ignored the little prompting, remembering all of his steps
and thinking only of clothes. Two hours later, on his way home from grocery
shopping, latent rage breaks the surface as the driver in front signals for
a left turn after sitting there at the red light.

Irritation. Always a problem, much more so after God is kind to me. I'm
reminded of helplessness, childishness and bills coming due. It's better
not to let anyone do nice things. Somehow there's always a debt incurred.

It's a high-pressure world. Actions of others impinge on me. People just
become obstacles to getting things done. I set my face to the direction I
want to go and proceed. If I stop for distractions it's all over. Keep
moving. Go on. Oblivion is right behind and I either outrun it or get

Could the world be different from this? Is there a way to make it
different? Is there a way that I can be different? Is kindness something
other than a bribe?

I wonder about feelings. We're supposed to feel good when we do the right
thing. Isn't this just another bribe? Isn't this how cults get started?
Give all your money to the preacher so that God will reward you? Give
another Rolls-Royce to the guru in appreciation of the way he makes you
feel? The only protection against this kind of thing is intellect. What
feelings are proper and justifiable? Is it reasonable that I feel good
doing a particular act that's supposed to be good? Is that all life is,
chasing feelings through doing things that other people will reward?

So I rail against God and his all-sensing generosity. Kindness means
obligation I can never repay. One is supposed to be grateful to parents,
but I never asked to be brought into this mess. Work and then you die. If
there's some pleasure along the way it's an accident, and there will be a
cost. It's worse than love.

God and his Spirit have, however, passed through me and left something of
himself behind. Once awakened there is no going back to sleep, back to the
unaware fog that I trust in. I have one foot in Eden and the other in
today's world. I have some idea of what God wants, and a very strong idea
of what life is like in the real world. The two are opposed. Sensitivity
versus fog, kindness versus bureaucracy, grace against rules, debt against
Jesus' sacrifice.

Since September of 2003 God has led me on a particular path, step by step.
Each one made the next possible and each one remains as part of the
foundation. A year ago I was very worried about eating the Lord's Supper
for the first time in 30 years or so. I looked back at those years and knew
that I was not in any way worthy. How could I partake of this sacrament?
God said to me "Of course you're worthy. My son Jesus makes you worthy."

New steps loom ahead, taller than I can climb. From one point of view this
is intolerable. I shout into the wilderness that I don't need help. From
another point of view, however, it's what I'm designed for. I was never
made to live alone, apart from God. I was made for a constant relationship
with him. This is hard to believe. I ask myself all sorts of questions that
really have nothing to do with the reality.

One of those early lessons was to look to Jesus only as the source of
truth. Reliable truth that doesn't change with presidents or fashions.
Jesus has said the same thing from the moment he sang our world into being.
God and man living together. I'm just so fallen that to me kindness looks
like a problem.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for being patient.
Thank you for repeating your lessons in truth until they finally wet my
hydrophobic desert and sink in, to become part of me.
Thank you for responding to my craggy churlishness with constant kindness.
Thank you for being unlike anyone else I've ever met.
Please help me, and anyone else who reads this, to let your kindness flow
through us and wash away the choking dust of modern deadly life. The world
is in desperate need of your kind of kindness.

2005 January 21

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