Chapter 6 — Redemption: The Sexy Carrots
“Long before I landed in Portland but shortly after my own conversion to Christian spirituality, I experienced periods of affinity with God. I would lie on my bedroom floor, reading my Bible, going at the words for hours, all of them strong like arms wrapped tightly around my chest. It seemed as though the words were alive with minds and motions of their own, as though God were crawling thoughts inside my head for guidance, comfort, and strength. …God was no longer a slot machine but something of a Spirit that had the power to move men’s souls. I seemed to have been provided answers to questions I had yet to ask, questions that God sensed or had even instilled in the lower reaches of my soul. …I don’t think, however, there are many people who can stay happy for long periods of time. Joy is a temporal thing. It’s brief capacity, as reference, gives it its pleasure. And so some of the magic I was feeling began to fade.” ~Blue Like Jazz, pp. 59-60
Jesus & Fiery Bus Crashes
In the spring of 1991, just one year after I graduated high school, an evangelist came to Grand Saline to speak at a youth revival sponsored by a local church. I won’t give the evangelist’s name, but I will tell you that even today, 22 years later, he is still working full-time. He arrived in town a day early and visited the high school. He spoke at an assembly in the gym — this was back in the day before everybody went nuts about things like that in schools — and then he ate lunch with the students in the cafeteria. That was on a Thursday. The next night, Friday night, the revival began.
I did not attend any of the services as I was living in Tyler at the time and was working while attending school. However, my sister and her boyfriend (now my brother-in-law) went with most of the kids in high school and middle school. I don’t remember the specific numbers from each night, but by the time the final service happened on Sunday morning, well over one hundred students had either accepted Christ as savior for the first time or had rededicated their lives to His service. The town was abuzz with the news. The next Wednesday night at the regular youth meeting the facilities were so full that they had to move to the church gym. Much rejoicing was done at the number of young people who’d had such amazing conversion experiences, and it was fun while it lasted.
What I didn’t tell you about those young people making commitments during those services is that there were a lot of tears shed. You see, as almost all of them are prone to do, that evangelist stirred up those students’ emotions with heart-rending stories of other young people who “missed their chance” to accept Jesus into their lives and perished in car crashes or died of drug overdoses or committed suicide. I was told later by a friend who attended that as he neared the end of his message the evangelist had soft music playing in the background. Before long the platform was full of teenaged girls and boys crying and praying and making commitments to God.
It is not for me to question the relationship between other people and God. All I can base my assumption on is the evidence I see. What I saw was that by the time I returned from school that summer and started attended those Wednesday night meetings again, the numbers had dwindled and the people who were there were the people who had always been there. The majority of those students who’d responded to the stories of fiery bus crashes and accepted Jesus in that moment of heightened emotion were nowhere to be found. Many of them had gone right back to the lives they were leading before. Back then I was surprised and disappointed. Now, after my own experiences, it seems like an obvious outcome.
I’ve heard it said that a person should never make a decision when he is sad or angry and should never make a commitment when he’s happy or in love. I think that’s almost the same principle as never go to the grocery store when you’re hungry. Anytime when make big decisions or commitments in moments of heightened emotion there is bound to be a fallout. No emotion is sustainable, whether it is happiness, sadness, infatuation, anger or any other member of the pantheon of human feelings. They all fade over time — even reverence waxes and wanes. So, for any one of us to make such momentous decisions as spiritual commitment in a moment of angst or euphoria is, at best ill-considered and, at worst, dangerous.
There have been instances in my life — even recently — when I made decisions in moments of weakness. They seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but almost without exception seemed stupid in just a short while. At 41 I’ve learned to get over those sorts of disappointments fairly quickly, but 20 years ago they were devastating. When I was younger and made those bad decisions (and there were MANY of them) I would sink into a deep depression at the moment I realized I’d screwed up again. It was extremely hard for me to pick myself up and move on. I know the same is true of a lot of those students who made commitments at that revival. I personally know of several of them whose lives have self-destructed since that time. I’m not blaming it on the evangelist or the revival and certainly not on God, but someone should have seen what was happening and put the brakes on that fiery bus before it ditched again. I think it’s important for all of us to remember that emotions don’t last forever, but some of the decisions we make out of them do.
All decisions, even ones that seem right, have consequences…
The Sexy Carrots
“There once was a rabbit named Don Rabbit. Don Rabbit went to Stumptown Coffee every morning. One morning at Stumptown, Don Rabbit saw Sexy Carrot. And Don Rabbit decided to chase Sexy Carrot. But Sexy Carrot was very fast. And Don Rabbit chased Sexy Carrot all over Oregon. And all over America, all the way to New York City. And Don Rabbit chased Sexy Carrot all the way to the Moon. And Don Rabbit was very, very tired. But with one last burst of strength, Don Rabbit lunged at Sexy Carrot. And Don Rabbit caught Sexy Carrot. And the moral of the story is that if you work hard, stay focused, and never give up, you will eventually get what you want in life. Unfortunately, shortly after this story was told, Don Rabbit choked on the carrot and died. So the second moral of the story is: Sometimes the things we want most in life are the things that will kill us.” ~Blue Like Jazz, pp. 64-76
OK, I really have to be careful with this one, especially since I just posted yesterday about how important it is to stay focused and chase after your dreams, but I don’t really think that’s what Miller is talking about with this little story. I think what he’s talking about are all of those shiny things that we seem to be drawn to no matter how hard we try to avoid them…all of those sexy carrots in our lives.
There was a time, not too long ago, when I seriously considered quitting my job and becoming a freelance writer. Nevermind the fact that I’d received no indication from any publication that they were interested in paying me to write for them. Nevermind the fact that I’d not even approached anyone to ask if they might want to pay me to write for them. No, neither of these things were true. What was true was that I began “hanging out” with some freelance writers on a web site where they would post to a discussion board. It seemed so romantic and so….possible. I even crunched some numbers as if there were numbers to crunch. I bought a book about how to become a freelance writer and I dreamed of the day when I could sit at my desk in my house and write all day long and have lunch with friends and travel at my own leisure….HOLY COW!! Thankfully, I remembered how much I enjoy eating and that momentary flirtation with utter disaster faded away.
The point of me telling that story is to let you know that I know about those shiny, sexy carrots. We all have them floating around us all the time and every now and then one will dangle itself before our eyes just long enough to get our emotions all charged up (uhmm…where have I heard that before) and off track. It’s so easy to be distracted by these things because they look so very good. In the end, though, most of them prove to be just that, a distraction that takes our focus away from what is truly important — our relationship with Jesus and with other people.
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” ~Romans 7:15
Such is the human condition summed up in two sentences, huh? I don’t do what I want to do — what I know I should do — but I do what I know I shouldn’t. I think we all want to do what is right and what is good. I believe that basic human nature is good and not evil. I think that most of us are inherently decent, kind and compassionate, but are influenced by the world in which we live and end up doing silly, stupid and sometimes bad things. We chase after things that look pretty and that seem to be things that will make us happy only to find that, as with every other emotion, happiness fades and so do those shiny sexy carrots. We are creatures of habit and we don’t always learn lessons easily.
Heavenly Father, as we begin a new week we ask Your guidance and wisdom. We humbly ask that You help us make decisions and commitments only after careful thought and consideration and only after seeking You. Lord Jesus, help us calm our emotions like You calmed the waters during a storm and help us chase after You knowing that when we do, our efforts in other things will be honored, as well. Forgive us in our weakness and give us strength to do what which You would have us do. Amen.