Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
Still too far away to smell the hot dogs and hear the calls of “beer here!”, Shannon and I walked briskly amongst the crowd. The San Francisco Giants stadium rose over McCovey Cove on our right. I thought back to the 2001 Barry Bonds record chase, and recalled the kayaks moving like sharks awaiting homerun balls. Today only three or four vessels navigated the waters, still hopeful for the 49th “Splash Ball”, the name given for the rare occasion when a player hits a ball into the cove. We dodged traffic and $30 parking and made our way to America’s pastime.
An unassuming black man stood with an eight foot red sign near the gates. He spoke little, choosing instead to gaze at the horde flowing by him. The sign advertised unapologetically, “Jesus Christ Loves You”. Most passed by without a second glance. But not the woman in front of me. She darted straight at him, leaving her boyfriend in the dust. Skipping pleasantries and standing inches away allowing him to taste her breath, she challenged, “How do you know?” Her energy carried the clout of a Mike Tyson punch. The story of her heart emanated a hardened tenderness that I could feel ten feet away. It spoke of a life filled with enough bruises and scars to prove that hate rather than love exists at the center of the universe.
With gentleness and humility, the man murmured a response, “I just know it to be true.”
She tore away and rejoined her boyfriend who had not missed a stride. She smirked and mumbled, “Good enough for me” before setting her focus on the Giants and Astros.
I thought of John 4’s account of the woman at the well; her shame motivates her to choose the most inopportune time to fetch water. She runs into Jesus instead, who exposes her shame with kindness. Jesus’ benevolence, whether by words or gaze, dismantles her guard. Unlike the woman at the baseball game, the Samaritan’s heart was ready. But how many encounters that resembled the one at the baseball game were left out of the gospels?
In the midst of analyzing the perfect heart-melting answer to her challenge, it occurred to me that she never really wanted a response. In a sense, her words of “How do you know?” could have just as easily have rung, “Do you want to fight?” It mattered not how the man responded, whether with the eloquence of a theologian or the simplicity of a ragamuffin. She wanted to exchange blows.
How would you answer her question?
WWJD, right? Thankfully I gave up rather quickly in my attempt to construct the perfect reply. I did think on the man’s reply, though. Gentle. Soft. Humble. He made no attempt to leave his own skin or his own journey to procure her attention. He offered where he’d been and where he was.
We answer from our story. I think of Horatio Spafford. Elisabeth Elliot briefly illustrates the events that led him to sing:
The great Chicago fire of the 1870s caused Spafford, a wealthy businessman, to take stock of his life. Wanting to know Jesus better, he decided to sell everything and move to the land where He (Jesus) had walked. …Shortly before the ship sailed, he was delayed by business but took the family to New York. For some reason that he was unable to explain, he had the purser change their cabin, moving them closer to the bow. He returned to Chicago to finish his business.
Then came a telegram: “Saved alone.” The ship had sunk. Mrs. Spafford had survived. Their four daughters had perished. Had they been in the cabin originally reserved amidships, all five would have been drowned, for it was just there that the steamer had been struck by another vessel.
As we sipped tea and munched on Arab sweets, Mrs. Vester, who was not born until after the disaster, told me how her mother had described that terrible, black night when she and her four little girls were flung into the cold sea. Frantically, she had tried to save them. Barely she had been able to touch just with her fingertips the hem of the little gown of one of her babies, but she could not grasp it. She herself had been miraculously rescued as she floated unconscious on a piece of flotsam.
During Mr. Spafford’s voyage to join his wife in France, the captain summoned him one day to the bridge. Pointing to his charts, he explained that it was just here, where they were at that moment, that the other ship had gone down. Spafford returned to his cabin and wrote the hymn which has comforted countless thousands:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll–
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
And, Lord, haste the day when our faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back like a scroll;
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,
“Even so”–it is well with my soul.
I picture Horatio breaking into song in response to the woman at the Giants game.
We live in a culture that has become nauseated with continual exposure to truth. While God’s word cuts like a sword and needs no advocate, truth often affects Americans like the road signs and billboards you pass daily driving to work. You don’t notice them anymore. A good friend just returned from ministering to college students in Northern Italy, a place where communist and Nietzsche ideologies hold far more spiritual weight than Catholicism. His greatest astonishment was that no one had been burned or scared by evangelism. The result was genuine interest in hearing truth with little need for personal testimony. The woman at the Giants game cared little about verses of Scripture. Her greatest curiosity, hidden beneath the boxing gloves and masked by her question, revolved around whether the man really believed what he proclaimed. “How do you know?!” His genuineness disarmed her. Dan Allender talks about “mad Christians”, those wild enough to risk what they believe, and it’s those, he says, that attract a sedated culture.
In my haste to see the opening pitch, I ushered Shannon along, through the ticket scanners, and up to our seats. I wished for the chance to approach that man again. “Excuse me, sir, I appreciate what you’re doing. I’m so curious about how you’ve come to know this is true.”
And what about you? Are you the passionate woman with a bout against God or the man with a settled trust? And if the latter, what story has God given you to tell?