This past week my family and I tagged along with the young people from church on a work project in Denver, Colorado. It didn't start out very well... our honda van broke down on I-80 near Ogallaga, NE in the middle of a construction zone. Transmission problems. There we stood on the side of the highway - truck traffic so thick there was no easy way for the vans we were following to stop or turn around. They called ahead for a tow truck and we waited. With my family finally packed into one of the other vans I chose to ride up front with the tow truck driver. Interesting fellow. After a time of silence (I was stewing about what this was all going to cost) he started telling me about his ring and the diamond he wanted to buy. "I went on ebay to look for a diamond for my ring," he started, "and they want 2,000 f---ing dollars for for it. Do you believe that?" I responded as if I couldn't, but seriously, I don't know how much diamonds cost. He went on and on about how he was going to go to Russia (I thought tickets to Russia were expensive?) and buy some fake diamond product that only cost $150 - supposedly you can't tell the difference between it and a real diamond. As I looked around the truck there were religious symbols everywhere. Crosses were plastered on the dashboard, and he had a big cross necklace around his neck. I tried to interpret the symbols - one looked like it was an orthodox cross - but I soon gave up. I let myself get lost in a vulgarity laced conversation about f---ing diamonds. When we got to town he made sure to stop at the ATM, and as he gave me the bill he said, "That might seem like a lot of money for a tow into town, but then again, I won't be buying any $2,000 diamonds anytime soon." I tried to laugh... but I was simmering about the van. Then the toothless tow driver did something I should have expected - he broke into prayer. He laid his hand on the van and on my shoulder and prayed to Jesus that the problem would only be a fluid hose issue and that I would be on my way to Denver soon. He said amen, shook my hand, told me "God bless" and drove away. I'd like to say that it was just a hose problem - it wasn't. But I can say that we did make it to Denver 3 hours down the road. How? Not sure. Was it the tow truck driver's prayer? Does God care about my transmission problems? When we got to Denver we found a mechanic who rebuilt our transmission.
My theology gets messed up by people like the toothless tow driver. I remember being up on the behavioral health floor at Mercy on afternoon talking with patients when a new admit - a guy in his 40's who closely resembled Charles Manson - came up to me, shook my hand, and told me that God told him to tell me to keep up the good work. At the time I dismissed it... but as I thought about it later - who's to say that God doesn't speak through patients on the behavior health floor? Lately, I've grown a bit tired of the spiritual rhetoric thrown around in the Christian communities I inhabit, rhetoric that baptizes a particular way of life - one that is often affluent and privileged - dressing it up in "faith" and "kingdom service." I needed to spend some time with the high school kids, the toothless tow driver, the widowed grandmother and her 4 year old grand daughter, and the Turkish woman. I needed to paint houses - to get sore and dirty. I know I have to check my email eventually (been a whole week) and I know I need to get back to my work. I just need a few hours this morning to catch my breath, drink some coffee, and mow my lawn. Hopefully I can get the mower started.
By the way - if you're ever in Denver and feel like painting some houses, check out Brothers Redevelopment. Here's the link - give them a call and ask for Chad. He'll hook you up. If you break down in Ogallala, NE the mechanic at 4 Tires is very helpful.