A Real Urban Cowboy

I have these days, where my wife tells me not to forget my cape as I leave the house. She can tell when it’s happening … for some reason I wake up thinking I’m a morph between Ferris Bueller, Frodo Baggins and Secret Santa—able to conquer my corner of the world, capable of breaking out of my otherwise predictable life for a few hours. It’s not an escape, or a reaching for an adventure. I guess sometimes we feel pushed toward something, and sometimes we feel a tug toward one thing. I crave the tug, because in clarity there is no fog, and trying to find what you’re looking for, what you’re being pushed toward, while groping around in fog, is not easy.

I had one of these days a few weeks ago … feeling pushed, but not sure to what, or where. I was looking for a way to fill my boyscout quota for the day, and I lucked out early on. There was a homeless man on the expressway exit-ramp. This was my guy. He had a sign … clearly communicating he was hungry. Lucky for me, I had a ton of food, and gave him my extra lunch. Good Samaritan, that was me. It doesn’t get a whole lot more sacrificial than giving someone with absolutely nothing half of your lunch as you drive your warm car from your house to your job. It felt good taking 6 seconds out of my day to help the city’s needy. A true lunch martyr.

But God has a way of teaching me He doesn’t play by my rules, and He gets a kick out of interrupting my otherwise predictable life … a push, if you will.

Two minutes later, I came up on an SUV with its hood up. As I was pulling around the car, I asked the driver if he was OK. He said he just needed a jump, that he just had to call someone. I told him that was crazy, I had a few minutes and would help him out. When the jump didn’t work, my new friend Habeeb had a minor breakdown, telling me his car was in the shop … this was his mom’s boyfriend’s car, he was on his way to pick up his girlfriend who had just worked an overnight shift, and had their four month old son in the backseat. "I just can’t catch a break, man".

For the next two and a half hours, I sat in my car with Habeeb and his son, Habeeb Jr., waiting for his ride that never came, talking about our lives and our families and what we wanted for our futures and our favorite baseball teams. At one point he was out trying to fix the car, and I was feeding his son. Finally, we put Habeeb Jr.’s baby gear in my car, went to go get Habeeb’s girlfriend, and I took them home. I was a little late for my meeting.

He asked me if I wanted gas money.

Today, I was walking in the city, when an SUV came clanking down the road, clearly dragging the muffler beneath it. When they stopped close to where I was walking, I could see it hanging there. So, I grabbed one of the bungee cords I keep in my car, and got down to help the woman secure the muffler, my Banana Republic pants on the pavement. Meet the urban cowboy. We fixed the muffler with my yellow bungee, they were on their way.

She said thanks, and asked me what she owed me.

Habeeb and I talk about once a week now. I told the second lady she showed me a smile. She had a great, full smile that relaxed me for some reason.

The thing is, I’m just like her. I’m just like Habeeb. See, as soon as you pay someone back, then you’re not undeserving anymore. If she paid me a quarter for my bungee, then I didn’t help her. This is why we’re so busy, rushing around to have our IOU’s erased.

I say we’re picky. I am, for sure. I’m picky about which parts of the gospel I believe through my actions. Don Miller writes in his latest book, A Million Miles in a Thosuand Years, that we are what we do … that characters and people aren’t viewed and judged on their thoughts or intentions or beliefs, but rather in the way their stories play out. It’s a scary thought isn’t it? The way I live is what would be filmed if my life were a movie, not what was racing through my mind.

I can talk all night about how the gospel should look in real life while I’m smoking a pipe on my deck in the suburbs … how Jesus talked about feeding the poor and taking care of orphans, how the church is supposed to be doing more for teen moms and broken marriages and the addicted.

And for me, it’s easy to think I’m somehow exempt from this charge. I call it logic or protection, but it’s truly just fear. And really, it’s not even fear of suffering … it’s more fear of discomfort, right? If we took a close look at this, we might be forced to play softball in a bar league, or invite the gay neighbor over for dinner some night. The Jesus I believe in wasn’t safe. If he was, we already have that here. It’s called the YMCA.

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Maybe we view the hard parts of the gospel as fiction, the parts we use to teach our children’s church classes that God is big, that He loves all people, that you should be nice to someone who doesn’t look like you. Because if we looked at all the lessons that we preach, at the core is that Jesus somehow makes a difference, right? John 1:1 in the Message Bible says Jesus moved into the neighborhood. Maybe we assume he moved into the house next to the church and never crossed the road.

My wife and I are pursuing adoption of a domestic minority infant for our 3rd child. For us, it’s very much an act of obedience. We can, and have, had our own children. It’s free, too. But we’re feeling a push … and for me, I’m pushing back hard. Kicking and screaming. But the push is towards loving the babies that we as the church fight to save from abortion. The push is toward the truth that Jesus didn’t move into a white neighborhood. It’s about writing a better story for our family .. .not for the sake of the story, but because we can’t read the gospel of Jesus and choose not to.

Sometimes I feel deserving of everything I have, like how I feel when I hear of a millionaire buying a sick kid Yankees tickets, and it’s the monetary equivalent of me buying a hungry guy a hotdog. Sure it’s nice, but there isn’t a whole lot of giving when it doesn’t hurt. Anyone with that much money who doesn’t buy sick kids Yankees tickets is pretty rotten.

It’s a fight for me everyday to have enough faith to trust the God I’m pretty sure exists to take care of me. I’m a doubter, a cynic, a fighter. And I’m proud. The pride kind of proud, not the proud of my country kind of proud. So it’s a stretch for me to receive help, much less ask for or seek it.

I have kids now, and they’re the sweetest little people in the world. From their huge pirate smiles with one and two teeth, they think I’m a pretty cool dad most of the time, and find comfort in my arms. But when they’re hungry or want to be held, they give me this look, that, if given a full vocabulary alongside their little brains, would probably question my love for them.

That’s me. Just like my kids … questioning if their father is good, and loving, and able. I am deeply, pridefully, rooted in a dark place. I don’t stand a chance protecting or preserving what is good and pure.

I need Jesus desperately, and trusting Him to guide me will be hard, plagued with doubt and fear until I’m in heaven with Him. I picture us having a Guinness together up there, and He’s telling me how much He’s always loved me, how He chased me down and died for me because of how big His love was. I’ll just start apologizing for being lazy and not buying more hotdogs for hungry guys.

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