A couple years ago I was making the long drive from Welch to Weston early in the morning for mandatory Sexual Ethics Training for West Virginia’s United Methodist Clergy. The early morning trek was made more enjoyable by my three colleagues carpooling with me. At that time, the Tudor’s Biscuit World in Pineville was still brand new (for those of you not from West Virginia, Tudor’s Biscuit World is a wonderful, hidden treasure only known to those of us from the Mountain State). We had decided to leave even earlier than we had to (like, at 4:30 am) just so that we could make a pit stop there and have breakfast.
All the way up the road my mouth was watering for a Mary B biscuit. I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into all that bacon, egg and cheese deliciousness. Those of us in McDowell County had only been able to enjoy Tudor’s as a rare treat when we were traveling to Bluefield or Beckley. To finally have one just across the county line was heaven. And nobody, but nobody, would even think of driving by without stopping for their favorite biscuit.
But the day started off terribly.
Halfway between Welch and Pineville, my car began acting strange. We didn’t want to make the long drive upstate with a car that might break down, so we had to turn around and head back to Welch. We clamored out of my car and piled into Ken’s and began the trek again.
We probably shouldn’t had stopped at Tudor’s with the delay… but… it Tudor’s Biscuit World! So we stopped.
As is the case in those early Saturday morning hours, the place was filled with two types of people: Those who have to work (coal and logging truck drivers, miners, railroad workers, and United Methodist clergy), and those who were finally heading home to sleep off their Friday night fun.
My friends and I ordered our favorite biscuits and found a table for four, and prepared to wolf down our food and get back on the road. I turned to Vance and asked him to say grace, which he did very eloquently. With the “Amen” we began talking and laughing and speculating about what sort of things we could expect at Sexual Ethics workshop.
All of a sudden I could hear a young man behind us, obviously very drunk, laughing loudly and mocking our prayer.
I turned to Vance and hissed, “Can you believe this guy?”
Vance raised and eyebrow and gave his, “yeah, that’s outrageous” grunt, and went back to eating.
Pat was a little more sympathetic to my anger. After all, what had we done to this guy? It wasn’t like we had stood up and tried to force our prayer down everyone else’s throat. Four beleivers blessed their food before they ate it. It was a private moment between us. What business did that drunken fool even have in eavesdropping on us?
Ken just listened and took it all in in that laid back way that personified Ken.
Clearly, Pat was my only ally in this battle.
The more I listened to the young man mimic and laugh and comment about our prayer, the angrier I got. He was making fun of our faith. Which meant, in some extrapolated way, he was making fun of God. I ignored the fact that his equally drunk friends didn’t seem to think the jokes were funny and were trying to distract him with other conversation. I ignored the fact that the kid was drunk and probably wouldn’t remember this moment later. I ignored the fact that the kid’s drunkeness was a more serious immediate problem on those Southern West Virginia roads that twisted and turned and wound their ways up and down steep, rugged terrain. I ignored the fact that there was clearly something about religous that upset this young man, and maybe what he needed was someone willing to hear his anger and frustration rather than to confront him with her own anger and frustration.
I was more interested in calling down the wrath of God on a foolish young man.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not usually so quick to utter those Old Testament style prayers, asking for enemies to be destroyed. And I didn’t actually want this kid to be destroyed. But there was something about this kid that drew a knee-jerk reaction from me. He was the frat boy type. The ones who lived a privilegaed, entitled life and snickered about the chubby girls and cracked jokes about the poor kids. He represented to me that sparked outrage deep in my own heart… the same way my colleagues and I sparked an outrage deep in his heart.
Finally, after I glanced back over my shoulder at the latest joke the young man was making, Vance looked at me and with all seriousness said, “Let it go, Amanda.”
I wanted to tell him why I couldn’t let it go, but it suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t have a good, rational reason for clinging to my anger. I really didn’t even know why I was so angry. I just was.
Reluctantly, not wanting to drag my friends into the misery of having to listen to me rant and rave, I let it go.
In the years since a lot has changed in my life. I moved from the southern coalfields up to the northern part of the state. Vance passed away in his sleep one night, and I lost a good friend. Ken and I still chat. I’ve largely lost contact with Pat, the way people sometimes do when their lives take two different roads. But I still love a Mary B, and I still remember that drunk kid, as vividly as if it were yesterday.
Of course, what I tend to feel these days is shame.
Why was I so angry at a kid I didn’t even know? A kid I should have been worried about conisdering the state he and his friends were in. Why did I jump to those conlclusions? Why did I assume this was some pampered, spoiled kid who got everything he wanted?
What if the kid was drunk because his homelife was so miserable to return to? What if hated religion because religion had been used to excuse abuse toward him? What if the kid got in his car and drove off and slammed into a tree or rolled over the side of a steep hill somewhere? What if that had been his last chance to experience forgiveness and grace… and thus, the love of Jesus Christ… in this world?
If it had been up to me, if I were that kid’s last chance to see the face of Jesus, I failed him. He didn’t see anything but a self-righteous Christian outraged that someone outside the faith didn’t respect her religion the same way she did.
And in the end, what did it matter? Should my faith hinge on the attitudes and opinions of a drunk teenager? Can those tasteless jokes really damage God in anyway? No. Of course not.
But my reactions might have done more damage than a joke ever could. Because there was nothing funny about my outrage that day. There was nothing funny about self-righteousness or the assumptions I made about some random kid my life crossed paths with for a few minutes on autumn day a couple years ago. There’s nothing funny about a beleiver acting like a fool.
But this is why Advent is so important.
Advent reminds us that things are not about us. It forces us to look into places most of us would never look: Into those places where the homeless, the disenfranchised, the forgotten sleep. To look into those place where poor children and immigrants are born. We are forced to listen to the message of the people we delegated the worst tasks of society to. We are forced to hear the wisdom of outsiders proclaiming a message of salvation to us.
Advent forces us out of our own narcisissm and directs our attention to a Savior who came looking not for the preachers praying together over their food, but for the drunk kid cracking tasteless jokes about God.
Advent reminds me of those wise words of an old friend: “Let it go, Amanda.” After all, this isn’t about me and what I want. This is about God. And God’s purpose for us all.