Tuesday, August 7, 2012

On Books with Bad Words

A few weeks ago I showed up at the library five minutes early for our Monday service project because I needed some reads. I scanned the shelves and found some familiar names. Down on the bottom shelf, I noticed a random title by an author I'd never heard of. He's a dude. And I never read dude fiction. But I liked the title, loved the cover art, and was sunk by the inside flap. I brought it home.

I brought it home and immersed myself in the world of Abraham Singleton, living in Ever, the projects, and I fell in familiar love. I know this kid.

As for me, I had done three things. One: I went to school. I sat like a piece of furniture in class. I stared out of the window, put my head down on the desk. I did my work when I felt like it. I passed it in rarely and most often never. I didn't raise my hand, not once. My mother, she whose sole responsibility was to love me unconditionally, proved I held less value than a small chunk of baking soda and cocaine. So what did I have to ask or contribute? So I had stopped talking. I had become mute.
- Hold Love Strong by Matthew Aaron Goodman

The funny thing about blogging is that it can sneak into your thoughts when it really doesn't have to. Just a few pages in I knew there was trouble because Abraham's family cusses like a cramped apartment full of Mobsters. Did I dare link the title over on my side bar? What if someone bought it blindly, on just my recommendation? They would be offended. They would be disappointed in me. They...they...they...

I decided I'd just write a disclaimer. They'll still be disappointed in me, but at least they'll know not to buy the book.

Then I kept reading. I couldn't read fast enough. I took it to the conference and after we'd stumble in at midnight, full of pizza and dreams, I'd pick it up and read until two in the morning. When it was time to check out, I opted not to put it in my bag because I wanted it out with me for the drive home. I wanted to be able to glance over and see it on the passenger seat. (weirdo alert)  

(In a strange twist, the previous decision actually caused me to accidentally leave it in the hotel room and pay to have it mailed back to me. It was a rough couple of days.)

It made me wonder, why did Christians decide to choose cussing as one of our top 3 worst sins? Because I'm telling you, I grew up believing that if a person said the d-word, they definitely needed Jesus. Pass the tract.

A few years ago, a church lady said, "We were at a football game last Sunday and the men behind me wouldn't stop cursing so I finally turned around and said, 'I'm a Christian, and I am offended by your language'. So even though I wasn't at church, I still felt like I was able to be a witness for Jesus!"

To put it feather-lightly, her stance didn't make sense to me. I'm quite confident that her personal offense did nothing to point those men to the Kingdom.

I had nothing to say, no song to sing. I owned not a single word, not a guttural syllable. No matter what I claimed, what I learned in school, how I loved to jump and run, how I played basketball for hours with friends, and alone in the dark of night against imaginary defenders, no matter how I watched TV for hours: I was not free. The absence of my creators enslaved me. And not just me; there were armies of brothers, so many children, like me. So I did what I had to do. I did what plenty of other brothers did too. I looked down, spit on the ground, and stopped myself from crying. Hell no; Lord knows, I would not break. From then on, I would be a dam; a dam that dammed a dam. Nothing would leak from me. Nothing would slip in. 
- Hold Love Strong by Matthew Aaron Goodman

I know that kid, the one talking up there. I have seen his pain and felt his fear. I've stood next to the dam and wondered who built it.

The more time we spend with people we have nothing/everything in common with, the more I'm overcome with compassion and fierce love for them. I want them in my face as much as possible. We ask that they not cuss around our kids, because the last thing I need is Silas carrying around a four-letter-word. For the most part, they're quite respectful, even without our asking. They tone it down about twenty-five notches.

But at the end of the day, I just don't give a rip. I don't want them to see a list of things about them that excludes them from our club. I don't want them to worry about a senseless hierarchy of sin the way that we do. I just think God has bigger fish to fry. If they can come to Jesus just the way they are, who are we to make stipulations?

This sort of thing just doesn't offend me. If it did offend me, it would also separate me from some of the people who need me most.

This was the effect of Ever, that even the strongest and most courageous and most blessed of us, even the most confident and willful, even the most brilliant were infected with a dangerous degree of self-doubt, that damn dankness that infiltrated bones. In worst-case scenarios, it caused us to aim ourselves at self-destruction. In best cases, we fought and clawed and used that seed to fuel our refusal to fail. 
- Hold Love Strong by Matthew Aaron Goodman

Suffice it to say, I've got opinions about this stuff. I'm sorry if you're disappointed.

But if you're interested in an extremely true-to-life glimpse of life lived in the Projects, if you want to be pulverized to your core, this story was beautifully, flawlessly rendered. It was told so well, in fact, that I had to force myself to remember that it isn't an autobiography. It's the kind of writing that makes me believe that I should hang it up and leave it to the pros.

Hold Love Strong paints a searing picture of urban American poverty. It starts to unwind some of the biggest tangles, it answers a few questions and leaves you with more. It was heart-breaking and raw. It was hard to read and impossible not to. It was Rated R, but you know what? There's a lot of Rated R out there waiting on us to pull our heads out of the sand and stop being a bunch of wimps. Their kind of ugly is really no scarier than our own.