May 19, 2007

The Fishing Pole

Sam asked me a few weeks back if I'd post something about "my story." Now, my first reaction as "what? I thought that I HAD been posting my story." But I think I know what she means ... she wants to know when it was that God first decided to pop in and ay "hi, coffee?" I think that's what it's like for me and God; we do coffee. It used to be milkshakes, and recently we've decided to study together, but mostly I like the idea of doing coffee with God, to sit down over a caramel latte or a chai and talk things through.

It wasn't always like that (though it's definitely not like that all the time now either ... in fact, probably not most of the time ... but sometimes it is and those are the times I look forward to). I used to be a staunch atheist, despite the fact that I was raised in a "christian" home. I put quotes around that because I'm not sure what it means anymore ... the idea of "christian" being applied as an adjective ("christian radio" or "christian music") rather than a noun ("a christian") or a verb ("to be a Christian") has started to bother me, but no matter. God works with us in that stuff too.

I grew up attending a small Presbyterian church, the average age around fifty or so. There were families with kids my age, but for the most part, it was an older congregation. That's the way it seems to work in smaller churches these days. Though it was small, we did all sorts of stuff together - pot luck dinners, summer gatherings at the park (with pot luck dinners), youth nights (with pot luck dinners), and of course, the random fellowship nights with, of course, put luck dinners. Call me crazy, but I'm guessing that this might have something to do with my inability to separate food and my faith - to eat with others is integral in being a Christian.

At the time, "church" meant - to me - sunday mornings when Mom and Dad (who were both elders at one point or another) would drag me out of bed to go to an early (read: 9am or 10:30am) service with boring music (traditional hymns played on an organ at half tempo), boring speaking (our pastor didn't understand what it meant to speak to the "lay-person" ... or the child) and boring sunday school (but I always knew the right answer - Jesus!). The church was more or less content to stay in its own rhythm, year after year, doing what it did best - maintaining the status quo. Families came and went, but the church on main street didn't really change. A constant in a quaint little town in upstate NY.

I can't say that I remember a lot of mission in our church. There was the usual stuff, the Angel Tree at Christmas, the food cubbard, the occasional high-school "rock-a-thon" where they would stay up all night in rocking chairs to raise money for the odd charity. In my teen years we went to a soup kitchen once. But mostly the church kept to itself. If there were other missional events, either I wasn't privy to them, or I was too busy complaining about the stupid services to bother noticing.

* * *

When I was twelve, stuff started to change. I'd always been a bit of a nerd, a brain-on-legs, but for the most part I'd always been a complacent, obey-my-parents-because-I'm-passive-agressive-and-don't-want-to-be-in-conflict sort of kid. But something had nagged at me, and whether it was that I hated going to church services or I really believed it, I told my mother that I didn't buy into her "God-thing" anymore, thank you very much. It was definitely a turning point in my walk with God, because Mom said the strangest thing to me. I'd spent the whole day working up the courage to tell her (mom and I have always been quite honest with one another, but this was a doozie), and I'd expected her to blow up or blow me off, of course God is real, stop questioning what we've told you. But my parents have a funny way of surprising me. She said "oh, well, ok, I suppose God will show Himself to you in His own time ... but you're still coming to church with the family."


It took the wind out of my sails, so to speak. I vaguely remember mumbling something like, oh, ok, just so you know, and then I walked away and did something else for a while, thought nothing of it again for about two years. And that's when I decided I wanted a fishing pole.

* * *

I think I like the story of Jesus calling his disciples better now. Jesus is walking along a beach next to one of the lakes in Israel and comes upon some fishermen in their boat just offshore. They're having some trouble - their nets have been barren all day. He tells them to let down their nets on the other side of the boat. It's a strange thing to say, since any fisherman knows that changing sides isn't really going to help the matter - if the fish aren't on my left, they're probably not on my right either. But a funny thing happens when they do what Jesus says (I'm thinking out of sheer boredom) - they have a hard time getting their boat to shore because their nets are so full. Was Jesus asking them to just try something new, different, outside of their so-called "common sense"? I suppose so. But he tells them that, just like they can catch fish by doing it his way, so to can they be fishers of men.

It's ironic to me that Jesus shows them how to get more fish before he calls them to follow him. In my missiology class, asking for more stuff is called "consumerism." America, we decided, is full of it. I was no different, but I was only fourteen when I decided that I wanted to have a fishing pole. I'd never wanted to go fishing before, so I'm sure the request to my parents was to them an absolute mystery. Which is also probably why they said no, thinking I'd forget about it in a few days. But I persisted, and my mom, sticking with her initial decision, told me to save my allowance for one. I've always been a good saver (if I wanted something badly enough), but at that time I wanted it now - it was summer, I'd already spent my allowance (on who-knows-what) and valuable fishing time was speeding away. So my mother told me to pray about it. I reminded her that I didn't believe in God, but she just smirked and said that God was the only way a fishing pole was going to happen in my near future.

Naturally this bothered me. That's what parents are for, right? Buying you things, moving heavy objects that you can't, and driving you to school activities. It's the least they can do for making you clean the bathtub every week. Anyway, I finally got around to it and decided that my mother hadn't been wrong too often before (except for the bathtub thing), so why not? I prayed, some quick little thing (of the "god if you're there" variety), and, my short-term memory being what it is (like that of a fish), forgot the whole thing. I resigned myself to being bored the rest of the summer.

A week later, I got a call from a lady down the road, a mormon friend of my mom's who was going on vacation with her family and needed their brand-new expanse of garden watered while they were gone, could we help? Mom asked me, and I said sure, I certainly wasn't going fishing. Then she offered to pay me, I that made me happy. The week goes by, I've been wet a bunch (but so had the plants), and she came home. She payed me, and I discovered that it was just enough to buy not only the fishing pole I'd been eyeing, but also a tackle box and some lures.

"Chris, mind if we go fishing together?"
"Oh, you really are there. Um, hey, thanks for the pole and the tackle box."
"You're welcome. What do you think?"
"About what?"
"About fishing together."
"Oh, uh, sure. I guess. Do I still have to go to church?"
"Listen to your parents."
"Oh yeah, cool, ok."

Can God redeem our consumerism? Absolutely. I'm not there yet, it's definitely something I've been working through, but I think God reaches us whereever we are. But then He asks us to grow. And that's hard. But I also know it's possible. And that He'll be by our sides the whole way home.

* * *

So that's my "story," or part of it anyway. It's funny, I haven't been asked about it in a while. I used to get asked all the time, in college. One friend, a cultural-Jew (but practicing atheist) told me that it wasn't as bad as she was expecting ... I think that was supposed to be a compliment, but you never know. I miss college; so many ideas to talk about with people who will look back at you like, despite the fact that you really are nuts, you're still interesting conversation material. And they have ideas that, while they're completely nuts, also make good conversation material. And you move towards a better understanding of each other.


Sal said...

I like this... alot. I even read the whole thing. ;-)

Michael said...

I do too, except for the part about where you sometimes sit down and have a chai with God, because I don't think God drinks chai. Or bubble tea. *shudder*

Milkshakes are definitely a go, though.

(Oh, and right on with eating-with-others being vital to Christianity. I totally agree. Seriously.)

Chris said...

Thanks guys :)

I dunno Mike, maybe God was the one drinking the caramel latte, did you ever think of that? But I think he does drink Chai and you're a sinner or something. But you're right about the bubble tea.