Monday, November 14, 2005

Becoming all things

My wife and I were sitting in a restaurant patio for a quiet dinner. We are not wealthy or even secure by any means, but an occasional night out at a reasonable eatery is one of the few luxuries we consider to be worthy of an extra dollar or two.

What we did not bargain for was the show about to lift curtain next to us.

Eight people, the majority of them well-dressed, middle-aged upper classers, seemed to enjoy each other's company. Hearty laughter seemed as deep as the steins of beer and glasses of wine being generously served at the table.

My ability to listen is one of life's great ironies. I have difficulty paying attention to the person directly in front of me, but I can discern and compile a conversation of eight people discreetly discussing their business 15 feet away.

Thankfully, my wife was too hungry to demand my attention Friday night, because my attention was keenly aware of a shift in the conversation's demeanor across the patio. Someone, the lone young voice of the group, made a passing crack at a liberal politician.

I glanced over and realized a man -- a wild-eyed 20-something full of purpose and confidence -- had begun to hold court. He defended President Bush. He defended the GOP. He defended conservative politics and the "American Way."

I looked for his Captain America shield, but could only find his collegiate ball cap -- and it wasn't red, white or blue.

The others weren't groaning as much as they seemed to bite their lips attempting to find the patience to deal with this annoyance. One graceful man at the end of the table, with an appearance and Kermit-like voice of Frank Oz, appeared to be humored by this young bull's cockiness. The man attempted to reason with him a need for political centeredness, but he could have possibly been enjoying goading the young man into a frothy political rant.

The volume grew louder as the young man realized he was alone in his enthusiasm for conservative malcontents like Pat Buchanon. To him, he announced in a booming voice the entire restaurant and half the neighborhood, not supporting such moral giants was akin to abandoning one's children in a ditch.

It was at this point that one couple gathered together their well-tailored selves and left without saying a word.

Captain America did not take pride in this, although he seemed to think it was an acceptable result of such conversation: "This is how it always goes with my friends. We start talking and someone leaves in a huff."

The young man continued his tirade as if those who stayed were now in an agreement with him. An older woman who had not spoken as of yet began to shake with frustration as she attempted to calmly deliver her words of political caution to the young man.

Probably startled and just now realizing how emotional those around him had become, the young man began to lower his voice, but could not help but boom his major points across the table, wildly swinging his hands. He was not angry as much as he was a zealot for his cause. He did not mean to offend, he just could not understand how those around him could not see the infallible truth of his logic.

The party disbanded about 10 minutes later, with the young man seeking solace to his car. I caught a glimpse of his hat. It bore the name of a church in the area.

The man who looked like Frank Oz was jovial upon exiting, turning to me and pointing out to the crowd how "at least" I had been entertained. He held out his fist for what is a the culture-current form of a "high-five."

"That was great," I said, embarrassed to be called out on my eaves-dropping. "It was like dinner theatre."

My new friend laughed while his friends groaned and made their way to the parking lot.

What struck me -- and I made a point to mention it to my wife -- was how much the young man reminded me of my younger self: Sold out to the wrong cause for the right reasons and the best of intentions. It was not my politics that were inherently wrong. It was how my politics always got in the way of the Gospel.

I do not want to make a political statement here as much as I want to point out how easily we are sidetracked. I do not know if these people were Christians, although apparently this young man was a believer.

If this was "fellowship," it was a horrible representation, particularly to those 20 or so onlookers outside the restaurant. If there was an opportunity to represent Christ -- if not in words, then in deeds and action -- this young man probably has lost the respect of the couple who left in offense.

It heightened in me the need to always be about the Gospel, about Christ and the Cross. Even if I am not speaking of it, I need to live it, so that people do not know me by my politics, or my social causes, or my extraneous theology. Even to those who I fellowship with as believers, I want them to see Christ in me so that I do not stumble them. Especially to those who I fellowship with who are not believers, I want them to see through me to the One who has rescued me and redeemed me.

This is not to say we should not be active in this world as citizens, taxpayers, and voters. However, I think it's best to do these things in ways that glorify God, and I'm don't think you have to read through the book Proverbs to see that patience, prudence, and love trump our ability to sway men with arguments.

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