So I'm having the best Friday ever. The only thing on my agenda was going to hang out with some friends of mine from church at a local Mt. Pleasant eatery, and then we would all be heading down to see The Thorn. (For more, go to theThorn.net. I highly recommend it. Amazing performance!!) This would be my first time seeing it, and I was kinda excited. I arrive at the restaurant, and we're all kinda packed in at the table. I am apparently the only single person in the group, other than a friend whose wife hasn't showed up yet. Nice to be that 'divorced guy/odd man out ', but I'm getting used to it. All these people in the group are professional jokesters, so I fit right in. One of the guys is showing off pictures of some organic soap that he found in his bathroom that either looks like hamburger... or something you'd find in a diaper. So that kicks off some funny conversation.
Enter: The angry, short-fused waiter
Our waiter arrives and he goes around the table, asking how the checks are to be split. Just to be funny, I put my arm around the other guy sitting beside me. (After all, I am the only single person in the bunch, and my humor is kinda out there.) I say, "We're together." And then I say, "No. Just kidding, it's not like that." The waiter storms off. Everybody has a puzzled look on their faces. Do we have a quirky waiter, or...? In a couple minutes he storms back with this miffed look on his face. He looks at me and says very bitterly, "I didn't appreciate that very much. I'm gay." [Insert the sound of crickets chirping.] Dead silence.... Just this glare.... Can you feel the love there? You can't? That's because it ain't there....
A million thoughts enter my mind. I felt like an idiot. In spite of his being WAY over-sensitive and taking it upon himself to include himself (and/or the gay community) as the butt of the joke, I suddenly become the guy who ruined his day. (Though he kinda had an attitude way before that. He looked like the kind of person who is looking to find a problem with the world. Apparently he created one, and I was catching the flack as a result.) Is he going to spit in my food? Should I leave? Oh boy! The entire mood at the table changes. There is just silence. Awkward silence. I have learned that when a person finds himself inadvertently in one of those situations (the kind that anyone could walk into - that awkward kind of situation), expect your friends to throw you to the wolves. Thanks guys! I won't say I felt totally abandoned, but let's just say if a group of angry Roman centurions were to have stormed the place, I didn't feel like this table had my back. No one looks me in the face. I have now become something worse than a murderer. I told a joke that was taken the wrong way. How DARE someone do such a thing! Nice. I am utterly humiliated. Althought it's clear what's really going on here, the waiter suddenly becomes the underdog, and I become the evil oppressor. Nice. I am getting the silent treatment. The waiter 'gains his composure' and he begins going around the table, asking everyone what they would like to order. No one says a word. 5 minutes of dead silence.... awkward dead silence....
The waiter leaves to place the orders. A couple of people who are aware of what was really going on are giving me that 'canned smile' expression, like "Whew! Better you than me." The guy sitting next to me says, "Man, that guy was seriously looking for a fight. He obviously has a chip on his shoulder." (He had my back. I would buy him a car right now if I had the extra income.) The couple I am actually the closest to are still giving me the silent treatment. When you open your heart to someone, it is that person who stands to make the greatest stab into your heart. I felt pushed out and a bit betrayed, in a sense. The outcast. And pretty angry about it. At that point, I am feeling like, "Ya know what? [insert non-spiritual 'sailor word' here], I'm leaving." But I toughed it out. And here we go again. 5 minutes of silence... awkward...
My thoughts were all over the place. Millions of thoughts going through my head, most of them angry ones. Later a few other friends joined the group, and the tension eased. Slightly. Through the course of my meal, which wasn't very appetizing at this point (perhaps from the suspicion of spit being one of the ingredients) or just because of this horrible scenareo I was in, I am just angry. I kept thinking, imagine if the scenareo were reversed. I am the straight waiter, and here is a gay man with his friend, a straight girl. I come to the table. The guy intentionally attempts a joke and puts his arm around the girl and (as if she's his wife) says, "Hey honey, I want to order the spinach pizza." And he very non-threateningly smiles at me to show me that he is just being funny. I am intelligent enough to see the humor in it. Of course, I tend to do that anyway. Life is funny anyway when you don't surround yourself with jerks who have a chip on their shoulder. Sheez! Mr. Angry Waiter guy - Mr. Horrible Service Professional Waiter guy - had taken it upon himself to create a problem where there was none... I came to have a good time, and it isn't happening. Hm. I could be back in Summerville in 30 minutes. But a very sweet couple bought my ticket. I stayed. I started thinking, "Ya know, I should write this guy's boss a letter. I don't want him to get fired, but he needs to be called down for his snappy behavior. He needs to develop a sense of humor. I don't appreciate feeling like I am being held for ransom due to his attitude." My letter would've looked something like this:
350 million seconds later, it was time to head to see The Thorn. Leaving that restaurant, I had the same feeling a falsely accused death row inmate must have when the governer calls to stop his death sentence. So glad to be out of there! So let's put it to rest.
Finally: why I left the house
The Thorn was utterly brilliant!! I have seen quite a few live action performances in my life, but given the story (which is the greatest story ever told) and the over-the-top performances and writing (and just everything about it) made it my favorite so far. It made the top of my list. My favorite scenes involved the martial artists (who were representing angels in spiritual battle. The battle between good and evil. Heaven and Hell), the character who played John (he totally reminded me of Dean Jones' version of John), and there were the scenes of Jesus. Oh yes. The star of the play. Of the greatest story ever told.
There was Jesus (in a later scene) in the garden of Gethsemene on the night before he is to be crucified. He knows this, and he is using his last remaining moments of time to pray for strength, but more-so, he is praying for his followers. His friends and these people he holds so dear. Where are his friends? Asleep, of course. How crushing that must have felt. It must have pierced his heart. If that were me, I'd have gotten pretty mad and probably said, "Hey you jerks, I am doing this for YOU, and this is the best you can do?" Not Jesus, though. Somehow, in the midst of this, there is only sadness, but covered in love and compassion for these jerks. (My words, not his.) And later he is seized and taken to be beaten by the Romans (ironically the Romans would later start a semi-parallel version of Christianity, but replacing the many gods they worshipped with the very saints they killed and tortured for not denouncing the deity of Christ. Interesting. Weird). But as Jesus is being beaten by one of those Roman guards, John (the narrarator in the story) makes a point to add that he had never seen something like that ever before. The look of total hatred in the guard's eyes, as he was about to swing his iron and bone-infused whip, met Jesus' eyes, full of love. In spite of what was about to transpire, Jesus continued to love. That is beyond my comprehension.
There was a rivetting scene where Jesus fell and Satan began to try to tempt him to give up or just cry out to God to stop the pain he was going through. Jesus struggling to his feet and held onto the post once again, and the Romans continued the beating. A love like that is hard to fathom. That stood out to me. Regardless of the exact details of the beatings, history (biblical and non-biblical writers) record that Jesus was beaten and that he was later crucified. (500 witnesses would later profess to the ressurrection.) But to endure all that pain. To look into the eyes of Peter with love, knowing full well he was going to deny him in mere hours from that moment. To look into the eyes of Judas, who was about to betray him for a mere 30 pieces of silver, and choose to love through it... that is the picture of grace. The love that Jesus had for us. And when you catch a glimpse of grace, there is only one way to respond. To embrace it head on. And in light of that picture, there is no offense that has been done to us that is truly worthy of harboring.
Suddenly, I thought about the anger I had been feeling toward that young 20-something waiter. And I looked at the frustration at some of my party at the restaurant, and the fact that I kinda got my feelings hurt a little. And there it was once again, amidst the music and the noises in the play. 5 minutes of dead silence.. And a lyric jumped out at me from a David Crowder song:
'And what was said to the rose to make it unfold
Was said to me here in my chest'... (from 'Here Is Our King')
That describes it perfectly. God - the creator of love and life itself. The power of God, conveyed through Jesus Christ. The more I see of it, the more I lose sight of that junk I was feeling. The more I think about those eyes... the eyes who stared into the eyes of the guards who mocked him and the angry mobs - who once cheered him as the messiah... now many of these were screaming out, "Crucify him." He dared to stand in their faces and love through it. The more I feel that heart, the heart that dared to include me in that love when I used to hate Christians... when I used to mock churches and more-so, the few adamant Christians who he would sprinkle around me, knowing how I would belittle and berate them... when I see these things, what other possible response could I have? So I sit here tonight, melted and permeated by a love unlike that the world has ever known.
In a few hours, the Easter services wil begin. It's late, and I need to turn in. But my only hope and prayer tonight is that a glimpse of that love is shown through me tomorrow. A tiny glimmer of this love could change the entire world - one heart at a time. And that is my prayer. For anyone who may stumble across this, may you be invaded and consumed by the love of Christ as well. God bless!!