Wednesday, June 30, 2010


These days I'm reminded of a man who once upon a time grew up in a place far, far away but not so different in culture, religion, constitution, citizenship, or bone structure.

On his 21st birthday in this faraway land, he went, as was the tradition at this passage to adulthood, to register at the Coordinating Office, which required signing various papers and cards and smiling for several photos. They then pointed him down a long, smooth-tiled hallway. He walked and walked, paused several times to rest, sweating an thirsty. Every twenty paces a small, clean sign in twelve-point Times New Roman said Water Ahead. He would have turned around, but it was blurry back that way.

Finally he arrived at a door. hen entered a room and stood alone, though it felt crowded with a million pairs of eyes watching and directing and waiting for him. He'd never been in such blaring silence. Tow elongated basins sat in the middle of the room. They were painted cheery colors but looked like the top and bottom of a coffin. He walked to the middle. A small, cardboard sign with twelve point Times New Roman told him what to do. He was twenty-one. He refused. he cursed. He paced. He kicked the wall. Eventually he resigned himself, figuring everyone else's birthday passed through here, and they all seemed fine afterward. He laid down on his back in the basin full of gunky plaster, like what they use to make a cast of your teeth before getting braces or a crown. Two faceless assistants came in and deftly lifted him out, leaving his impression in place. They they helped him lay face down in the other half, which had a special breathing apparatus. when they lowered him in, he began to hyperventilate; if felt constricting, and the breathing tube was too small. but when he finally relaxed into the gunk, it actually became soothing after all the walking, after all the fluorescent lights. The faceless assistants pulled him out, and he sat in the corner as the plaster dried. He was covered in the gunk. He fell asleep in the corner.

When he awoke, he was washed and clean, sitting on a bus that was arriving at this home. There awaiting him in his own front yard was himself- cast in ceramic. He inspected it, amused, but it was also unsettling. Then in the middle of the night, he felt something was going horribly wrong. He found a two-by-four and ran out his front door and started smashing the ceramic statues with his face on it. the legs started cracking, and a mask fell off. He laughed because in the moonlight the face now looked like the face of the country's most famous sports star. A few neighbors watched with passive condescension. He stopped for a second, relieved, like he'd gotten to something. But no. He started smashing again, splinters driving into his hands. The statue's legs kept cracking, and then another mask fell off to reveal his nation's first president. exhausted, with hands bloodied, he kept smashing through the faces of a top business mogul, a top religious leader, a top chef, a top model, a top designer and architect ... and eventually the whole statues shattered into small pieces on the ground. He briefly felt free and had a sudden urge to listen for God's whisper, but he only had enough energy to carry himself to bed.

When he awoke at dawn, he quickly swung the front door open only to see that the Coordinating Office had delivered a replacement statue made from his mold. Night after night he smashed it, and the masks fell off, in different orders at different times. A few months after its first appearance, when he saw he couldn't permanently smash it, he arranged the burning down of the Coordinating Office. It was charred badly, but the didn't even bother rebuilding. The statue kept reappearing in his front lawn. Things were coordinated but not centralized. then one day he simply went to bed early; when he left the house in the morning , he accepted its presence and kept going. Other times he took to dressing it up on his birthday or religious or national holidays, putting a wreath on it or some blinking lights. Once someone else tried to smash it, but rather than welcome the help and join in, he chased the guy with his two-by-four, ready to beat him for attacking it.

As he became a successful, well-respectred leader in the community, the young men and women in their late teens would gather round to hear his stories and learn how he navigated into his respectful position. They'd sit under the statue, which he never mentioned, which he admired but also resented because he suspected he shared his success and power with the statue. As he got still older, he would finish his talk about doing things the right way to get where they want to go- and then wistfully, as though it were a throwaway suggestion, he would say there is this story you might find interesting in the ancient Scriptures, if you can find it, about three young men close to your age named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and a statue. And he would remember his two-by-four, wonder if he gave up too easily, hope that a few of the women and men would find the story and, quickly wiping a tear from his eye so it wouldn't be noticed, even wonder if it still might be destroyed.

-Kent Annan
From: Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle

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