Friday, March 23, 2012

Judging the Unclean

I woke up feeling disoriented. Within a couple of seconds I realized that I was in my bedroom at home, having just spent the night in my own bed for the first time in two years. I looked at the nearby alarm clock and saw that it was nearly 10 am.

The previous evening had brought a joyous reunion with my family after a long flight, the last leg of which was very stormy. It was dark as we headed home, but I could tell that parts of town had changed. When I walked into the house, everything seemed the same but different. The colors were much more vivid than I remembered. I was suffering from a nasty cold, which had made flying unpleasant. But I was glad to be home.

After rolling out of bed, I went upstairs and found the house eerily quiet. Nobody else was home. It was the first time I had been by myself in two years. I found something to eat for breakfast. As I was finishing up, the phone rang. I answered and heard the voice of an old friend asking about my plans.

Having arrived home a few weeks after the start of the school term, it would be a couple of months before I could return to college. Since I had nothing lined up for that time, my friend asked if I would consider working with him delivering waterbeds in the meantime. Waterbeds were all the rage at the time. Any honest work is good work, so I accepted. It felt good to be employed only hours after returning home.

The next morning I met my friend at the waterbed store and began a few weeks of interesting education. The store owner had been a minor league baseball star. He had a De Tomaso Pantera sports car. He loved the fast life, but it eventually caught up with him. Less than a year after I returned to school, the owner was arrested for dealing cocaine. He ended up losing everything.

I quickly learned the waterbed delivery trade. Going into people's homes and setting up beds was an educational experience. I remember setting up a huge king size bed in a tiny apartment near an air force base. When we were done, you could truly call the room a bedroom, because nothing else could fit.

We delivered beds at the homes of wealthy people. One family that bought new beds for every child in the family had a real pipe organ built into their living room. They let me play a couple of songs on the organ. Some of these well heeled folks were gracious; others were snobby.

Most of the homes we visited were middle class homes, but we also set up beds in homes that probably should have been condemned. It bothered me that most of these people bought the beds on high interest rate credit. Some of these people were just getting started in life. Others seemed to lack the capacity to properly manage a household.

I recall going into one small home that was built of cinder block. Tidiness was clearly not these people's forte. There was ample evidence scattered about of their familiarity with adult beverages. The master bedroom was decorated in blacks and dark reds with mirrors on the ceiling. The mirrors may have been the most valuable part of the home prior to the bed being installed.

We made a little small talk with the lady of the house, who looked very much like an aging street walker. Then we went to work setting up the bed on deep shag carpet that had not seen a vacuum cleaner in years. I wondered what the woman's shirtless husband was doing at home at that time of day. Without our asking, she volunteered that he was out of work. I wondered where they got the money for the bed.

As we were packing up our gear, I noticed a garish painting of Jesus on black velvet above a faux fireplace mantle. The framed picture was sandwiched between two spent tequila bottles. The dissonance of this ensemble was pretty shocking to me. In my mind I wondered why these people would bother to hang a picture of Jesus, while they seemed to be making no effort to follow him.

During my two-month stint delivering waterbeds, I helped set up beds in all kinds of homes. Most of them left no lasting memory. But I still occasionally find myself returning in my mind to the little cinder block dump and the painting on black velvet background.

I now realize that I judged these people rather harshly. I knew so little about them. While I would not have wanted to live as they did, I really have no idea how or why they got to that point or what they might have been doing to improve themselves. Perhaps having a picture of Jesus displayed in their home was part of their effort at self improvement. I'll never know. At any rate, it was not my place to pompously judge them.

Maybe I return to this spot in my memory because I am still far from being free of the sin of unrighteously judging my fellow men. Being a sinner myself, perhaps my heart is like that nasty little hovel with a picture of the Savior hung on the wall.

Any good Christian will tell you that only Christ can cleanse us and build a mansion for himself in our hearts. But we have to let him do that. He will never force his way into anyone's heart. I believe that he is willing to cleanse anyone that will let him in.

Since each that lets the Savior into his life begins his journey from a unique place, it is pointless to compare our location with anyone else that is on this path. Instead, we should be ready to help others progress on their journey. I think that focusing on doing this will likely render condemnation of others unnecessary.

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