Beliefnet
Leaving Salem

I love it when my children ask me to take them to school. It doesn’t happen often, so if I can take them, I do. Why? Because I know there will come a day when they will be far too cool to be seen with their father. Soon enough, being driven to school in a Subaru by their old man just won’t be hip enough. When my own father used to take me to school it was great. I didn’t care about the type of car he drove or its color or what others thought of me or anything like that. I was proud enough just to be seen with him rather than getting off the bus with everyone else. Of course that changed as I got older.

When I was in high school my father drove an aged blue Chevrolet station wagon my sister and I affectionately called the “Blue Bomber.” I say it was “blue” but that is not completely accurate. This old ride was about fifteen years past its prime. So it was more rust-colored than blue, the paint having faded to oxidation a decade earlier. Worse, it had a hole in the muffler large enough to stuff a watermelon. This resulted in a symphony of strange, loud, guttural noises. And to add insult to injury, the windshield wipers stopped working some time before I hit puberty. On rainy and frosty days my dad would have to drive with his head craned out the window to see the road.

So it’s not hard to imagine that my begging would begin every morning on the way to school: “Dad, please drop me off at the driveway or at the far end of the parking lot,” I would desperately implore. Because the last thing I wanted was to be seen in this image-killer. Rain, sleet, snow, dead of night – these never troubled me. I was happy to walk through hell itself if it meant putting some distance between me and the Blue Bomber. Sadly, my father never listened. Undeterred he would drive that rolling junkyard right up to the front door of Gordon Central High School and force me out. In front of the jocks; the hottest girls of the Junior and Senior class; and the kids too chic to be caught in a deteriorating station wagon.

Maybe he enjoyed destroying my high school reputation. It sure seemed that way. After I slinked out of the backseat each morning he would stomp the gas, belching black smoke and sulfur all over me. With his head cocked out the window, he backfired and rattled over the horizon, smiling all the way. My Father’s mode of transportation still bothers me. No, I’m not speaking of dad’s station wagon. That old thing went to the graveyard the year I left for college (How’s that for timing?). I’m speaking of our Father who is in heaven.

For reasons I am always at a loss to explain, God has chosen to communicate his good news for the world through this bewildering vehicle called the church. No, I don’t think God can be monopolized by a particular strain of Christianity or religion. Still, he seems very determined that the church, belching, knocking and smoking as it goes, deliver his grace to others. And this embarrasses me.

I’m embarrassed by the filthy extravagance the church spends upon itself. I’m embarrassed by the flashy televangelists who shuck and jive more like hucksters than rough-and-tumble tellers of the truth. I’m embarrassed by the harsh gracelessness exhibited by card-carrying Christians. But that’s not the end of it. I’m embarrassed by myself; by my own failures and hypocrisy, the way my profession as a follower of Christ so rarely matches my actions. I wonder why God puts up with us all. He is the one who should be embarrassed.

Yet, he is not. He just keeps guiding this old, antiquated vehicle on its way. Seemingly past its prime, the church tumbles down the road, barely holding speed, God smiling all the time. I’m no Pollyanna thinking the church is a faultless hotrod, burning up the streets. Na, it’s a clunker. But it is still the ride God has chosen. Maybe we should be less concerned with what people think, and do our best to enjoy the ride.

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