When people are whistling it’s a sign of bonhomie. When the wind is whistling it’s a sign that another cup of hot coffee is called for.
I called. The cup remained obstinately almost-empty.
Sighing yet being a man of patience, I opted to show it one more time the mechanics of a refill. Crossing the room, I’d filled it with fresh Columbian Supremo and was standing, looking out the window and down on Crenshaw when I saw the Lexus glide to a stop.
A man of means got out. He meant to get from his warm car into my building before the fun-loving, coldhearted wind reassured him New Years greetings are always served on ice. He meant well; most people of means do. The wind won. It usually does.
The muted sounds of the street door opening and closing and the hesitance as he checked the new digital directory made their way up the wide, generous staircase. From the number of steps once he reached the third floor, it was apparent I was about to have a visitor. Breathing a prayer for wisdom and guidance, I took a deep breath, slowly letting it out.
I never know when someone walks in what adventure God has in store.
I stood savoring my fresh coffee, appreciating the warmth and cheery interior of my office while the wind kept whistling at me. Always the good sport, I blushed. It served no purpose to remind myself the wind out here on the Plains waggles its brows and whistles at everyone. Why bring myself down?
I turned and was still standing there as he opened the door and entered. I grinned at his messed-up hair. He noticed, ruefully returning my grin as he removed his overcoat. It cost more than my best suit.
“Just lay it over the other chair. Coffee?”
“Please. Black.” He began trying to smooth his hair.
As I took him a brimming mug of CS, I noticed him eyeing my yellow and black Geezer mug.
“Don’t believe it. I’m still trying to train it to refill itself.” I turned it so he could read it.
GEEZER formerly known as STUD MUFFIN, and on the other side, IT TOOK A LOT OF YEARS TO LOOK THIS GOOD. A LOT.
“I need one of those.” His grin was open and genuine. It didn’t stay long.
He stood, crossed to where I leaned against the front of my desk and offered his hand. “Greg Matthewson.” I introduced myself and invited him to get comfortable. His clothes were understated but classy, and expensive cologne suggested itself.
“What can I do for you, Greg?”
His eyes sharpened as he gave me a quick appraisal. “Thank you for that. I didn’t really have time to stop, but I’m making the time. We’ve no reason to know each other. Arlough suggested I consult with you.”
As he gathered his thoughts, I did my own appraisal as I pulled my desk chair out and sat down across from him. There are people who seem constrained to fill every island of quiet with verbiage. There are others with whom silence is not strained. I read that somewhere. Whoever wrote it said very few of them are women. I waited.
“I’m a surgeon. I’m a nominal Christian. I believe I’m nominal because I’ve become what I would characterize as chronically cynical. I attend a large church as faithfully as my schedule allows. I tithe and give to causes I think worthy, always through the church.” He stopped, looking at me to assure I was tracking with him. I slightly raised my eyebrows and minutely bobbed my head. Yep. Still awake and with you.
“Here is my dilemma. I routinely worship with persons in whom I sense God’s Spirit moving and active. What part of God’s nature resides in me really does bear witness with their spirits. They’re Godly people, and of such personal faith I can only admire. Yet it’s me who is sought out to serve on boards and head committees and such.” He stopped to drink some coffee.
“And you are put off because they seem more interested in seeing the ‘M.D.’ behind your name on their publications and letterheads than fulfilling God’s work. And, of course, you have money, a source of which they’re always willing to tap.”
Matthewson sat for a moment with slightly widened eyes. Taking a breath and chuckling, he said, “Arlough said you have a disconcerting ability to see what isn’t being said. There’s more to it than that, but you’ve captured my essential issue quite well.”
It was my turn to sit thinking for a moment. I noticed again that frayed spot on my second-hand braided rug . . .
“Greg, I don’t want to answer questions you’re not asking. What’s the ‘more to it’?”
He smiled slightly. “That’s why I like medical chaplains. Arlough said you’d been that among other things. You deal with things pretty much head-on without playing games.” He raised his head a little, eyes unfocused and gazing downward and blinking twice as he got to the point.
“Granger, sin has become polite if it’s acknowledged at all, and Biblical truth an option. Isaiah talks about sin as a deep blood-red stain – something I’m very familiar with as I know you are. Those stains just do NOT come totally out if they’ve been there long. It’s amazing how many surgical drapes get tossed in the toxic waste bins to be incinerated because the stains don’t come out. That’s the real value to me when Isaiah says sin stains like those in my own life will be snow-white, like pure white wool!”
Here’s where I noticed a steely glint in his eyes, making me glad I wasn’t somehow in his crosshairs. Ah. There’s the surgeon. I grinned inside, remembering those with whom I’d spent many an hour in ER work.
“It’s as if the Church has somehow gotten too classy to not just admit sin’s existence by name, but to offer deliverance and freedom from it. There’s an arrogance attached to so much that ought to be known by a loving, sincere humility that realizes ‘There, but for God’s grace–.” I’ve assisted in countless procedures to get rid of cancerous tissue and tumors. Never – not one time – have we as a surgical team taken a look at what’s clearly malignant and say, “It think it’s acceptable to leave some of that there. We got the worst of it, right? After all, he’s a super guy and we’ve already caused him a lot of discomfort.” I mean, we’d lose our license to practice medicine and be sued for malpractice. Yet we expect God to overlook what the Bible says HE says is sin, and therefore cannot be left inside.”
I waited, sensing he was probing for an answer.
“Granger, have we become so post-Christian, so – here he wrinkled his nose as if smelling the rancid putridness of long-septic tissue – progressive that what we’ve believed all this time no longer applies? That the Bible is now being treated just like our Constitution and Declaration–just a suggestion, malleable and arbitrary?”
He pinned me once again with his eyes, shaking his head slightly. “Rhetorical. I don’t buy it. And to be honest, I’m this close to moving on from where I’ve attended for years. You’re sort of my last stop.” He shifted slightly in his seat, waiting for my response.
Though my eyes were open, I paused and asked God to help me have His wisdom flowing through my thinking and especially my words. Doc Matthewson, I knew, wasn’t alone in his unrest at what at least part of Christ’s church has become.
“Sin as defined by the Bible still exists: scarlet-stained, permanently-tainted, no-excuse-sir, God-wants-zero-to-do-with-it sin. That’s why it’s such a big deal to be forgiven and delivered from its grip. Only the man or woman who’s been stuck in its web can appreciate the night-to-day contrast, the new life.
“There’s the possibility that someplace there lives a man untouched by sin. Highly unlikely, though. Right now, the world’s population is just under 7, 288,000,000 souls. Back in Eden, there were two. Sin enticed and they bit. Sin and sinning hasn’t gone anywhere.
“Jesus said in Mark 7 that it’s what’s on the inside of you that causes sin to grow. His little brother James agreed, saying one’s tongue corrupts the whole person and can land them in Hell. Paul told the cosmo-metro-Corinth church that’s the kind of people some of them were, but they were washed in the name of Christ. Many think he also wrote Hebrews, and it says even our consciences can be totally cleansed. Then there’s tough old John who said the blood of Jesus Christ purifies from ALL sin.
“Greg, those are all radically interventional terms. They are not halfway measures merely to treat sin’s symptoms; nor are they colorful placebo tests to give the impression something’s being done about sin while secretly leaving it in place.
“We are indeed one-time sinners who’ve been cleansed, washed and purified – having our hearts, minds and spirits completely changed from ugly-brownish-red blood stains to sparkling, bleached-white new freshness–all because of Who Jesus is and what He did on the cross, what He did after rising again, and what He’ll soon do whenever God nods and calls Time.”
I paused a minute, refreshing my coffee and trying to wipe up the little I’d spilled on my shirt as I got excited. Gesturing with a loaded coffee cup is, ah, contraindicated.
“What do you do with, ‘Well, I’m just a sinner saved by grace’?”
“I won’t speak for others. I love the old Cathedral Quartet song. But I personally think there’s no ‘just’ about it. I’ve long had the impression that statement has become an excuse to think and say and do things contrary to clear Biblical direction while looking contrite and acting sorry. It sounds pious and religious while expecting very little appreciable change.”
I saw a glimmer of recognition flicker in his eyes.
“So that means—“
“That means the church can treat well-heeled, prominent members with kid gloves, acting as if they’re the real-meal-deal while excusing things in their lives God says He doesn’t want in any of His kids’ lives.”
Matthewson sat there a minute staring into inner space, then slowly began to nod.
“Greg, God’s not confused about who He is and hasn’t changed His rules for living here so we can be with Him there. He knows our hearts, and knows what you and I mean when we write or say, “I’m a sinner saved by grace.”
I saw his head slowly come up, scanning my walls, sampling the obvious spiritual ambience. I saw it in his eyes.
“You’ve seen clothing made of natural fibers that have the disclaimer saying something like, “Imperfections appear naturally in this garment. They are a part of the process in making these one-of-a-kind masterpieces. The imperfections make this garment what it is, and they enhance the beauty of the fabric.”
“That’s me. James Joyce wrote that ‘Mistakes are portals of discovery.’ I have created so many portals I could sell doors for a living. The best part of being imperfect is the joy it brings to those around you. I have been a source of joy to many across the years. I don’t dwell on them and don’t live back there. For, you see, though once a sinner with permanent stains inside, I’ve been saved by God’s grace through the blood of Jesus Christ. So–I’m not ‘just’ anything. Nothing about the changes God’s made and continues to make in my life are trivial.”
“They’re not in yours, either.” He’d been sitting, head canted slightly to his right, eyes unfocused, absorbing what I was saying. Pursing his lips, he clucked slightly. still thinking as he rose and reached for his overcoat. Brooks Brothers. Double-faced. Very warm. I hoped the wind was listening.
As he shrugged into it and stepped across to offer his hand, I felt impressed to hand him a card – one of many I’d recently signed but with which I hadn’t done anything else. As I shook his right hand, I smiled at him and handed him the card with my left.
Puzzled, he accepted it as he said, “Thank you. Perhaps one day you can expand on your story. I think it’s one I need to hear. Goodbye.”
I told him goodbye. I was standing once again at the window as I noticed him exit the building, the Lexus ‘chirp-chirping’ so he could jump in out of the wind. As I figured, he started the car and let it warm as he opened the card I’d given him. I hoped it would help, because honestly I couldn’t even remember what it said. Shrugging, I went across to refill my Geezer mug with some slightly-overheated Supremo and sat back down to get busy.
Below on Crenshaw, a moving truck trundled by Matthewson’s sleek Lexus, momentarily shielding it from the insistent wind. Curious, he ran his finger under the sealed flap and removed the card. Inside was a picture of a man standing alone in a darkened room, looking up at a light source that shone down on him.
He glanced across the page and several things happened at once. The truck went on up Crenshaw, leaving the car susceptible to the wind’s vagaries; it renewed it’s assault on the vehicle’s suspension, and the good doctor began quietly weeping.
The message in the card read, “Things have a way of working out if you work hard enough to make them happen.”
It was signed, “I believe in you – Granger”
© D. Dean Boone, January 2015