I was sitting on the rocker on the front porch, sweating profusely after my run when Jesus showed up.
“Hey,” he said.
I’d been sitting with my head in my hands, wasting time before I went in to shower so I’d smell okay and maybe stop sweating before church started. Online today for the hundred forty-third week in a row. Or so it seemed.
But at Jesus saying my name I jump.
“Holy hell, what that… Oh, it’s you.”
“I’m happy to see you, too.”
Normally Jesus is self-contained, almost bemused when he talks to me. As if I’m his precocious three-year-old telling me stories. He radiates calm and completeness. Then again, he’s Jesus. You’d expect that.
But today, he seemed preoccupied, distracted.
“What’s up?” I said.
He took in a long breath, fidgeting the fingers on his right hand. I thought for a moment that his Jesus clothes were uncomfortable in the summer Florida humidity, even in the morning.
“What do you think?”
I was reaching for my towel so I could wipe some sweat that was starting to invade my eyes, but his tone made me stop.
“You pissed at me?”
He sighed in a way that made me remember my mom when I stopped being precocious and started being a pain in the ass. But this wasn’t my mom. It was Jesus.
“You realize it’s not always about you.”
I waited for more, but he just stood there bouncing on the balls of his feet slightly.
“Okay.” Then I waited some more. Eventually he had to say something.
“Brad called you racist yesterday.”
I shrugged. Brad was part of my men’s small group, which was fraying a little under the strain of the Covid and the unemployment of a couple of the guys. Brad was one of them, and he differed politically. For some reason, he and I were getting into it lately.
“You didn’t shrug yesterday. You said you were done and were a bit of a drama queen about it. If you’re gonna leave a call, leave it.”
Now I was pissed at him. “I kept looking for the exit icon so I could get out of the call. It wasn’t for lack of effort, you know.”
“What do you think of what he said?”
Normally, I share with Jesus. When I don’t, it’s because I don’t want to acknowledge that part in front of him. This was the first time I was intimidated and afraid how he would react.
“I was trying to find the damn icon to exit the call. What do you think?”
“I think the people who’re getting their butts kicked have more a lot more cause to be angry than you do.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but couldn’t. Brad had pronounced my racism solely on my political stance, which isn’t pro-Trump, but that didn’t matter to him. I was the idiot who took the bait.
“You apologized, though. So there’s that.”
“And offered to not be part of the group.”
He nodded, not exactly looking me in the eye. “That’s not what I want.”
Again, I didn’t know what to say.
“You add to that group, and it upsets me that you might have to leave.”
“I’m the one who reacted.” Normally, I don’t get snippy with Jesus, but he was setting the tone today. And I didn’t like the unspoken part of his words. “You know, I realize that others have it worse, but frazzled is frazzled and that’s me.”
“And I didn’t kill that guy. Or cheer for it. Or make excuses. And I’ve tried to put myself in the shoes of the people who were hurt by it, even if I don’t agree with the rioting and looting.”
“I read your blog posts.”
I almost asked Jesus if I could quote him on that, but he didn’t seem to be in the mood.
He walked away from me a few steps, then turned back.
“You seem a little…different today.”
“Ya think?” His voice echoed a little, which is scary because he’s Jesus.
My wife had used that tone with me during an argument the day before, but it didn’t stab at me the way this did.
“You think I like this?”
I said nothing, waiting to see exactly where he was going.
“You think I like watching everything unravel like this? This really hurts that community. You can’t understand their pain.”
Jesus was pissing me off to the point where I almost told him he made me white. But that seemed like a bad idea. There were supposed to be lightning storms later.
“Do you have any idea how much pain there is now? How much fear? Do you have any idea how many people were on the edge of suicide or assault yesterday? How many kids and spouses were abused? How many people wept quitely in the dark?”
I didn’t weep, but it had been a few weeks since I’d slept past four-thirty in the morning. And there’d been plenty of yelling.
“No,” I said.
Then I had to work to not look away. You’ve never felt naked the way you do when Jesus hits you full force. There aren’t enough hands to cover up the parts I don’t want him to see.
That’s when I noticed the sheen under his eyes, the glossiness in his eyes. And then the struggle for composure made sense.
“It happens, you know. You can’t love people and see all this and not be affected by it.”
It felt odd, but I thought maybe Jesus could use an ear, so I did something out of character–I kept my mouth shut. The sun was high enough now to hit my on the porch, so I raised my hand to sheild my eyes.
“My heart’s breaking for you guys. All of you.”
“Pretty dark out.”
Neither of us spoke for a while, until he decided the silence had gone on long enough.
“You won’t ask why I don’t fix it.”
Another shrug from me. “We had that conversation before. The answer was intensely unsatisfying.”
He lot out a long breath and nodded, then stepped forward and put his hand on my shoulder. That was nice.
“I could stop it. But that’s not love. That’s force. Did you stop your kids when they picked stupid fights?”
I remembered the one time my son was little and doing something I didn’t want him to do. Given that he was maybe two or three at the time, I had the ability to literally force him to do what I wanted, so I did.
My looking down as my cheeks burned at being reminded of this almost twenty years later should tell you how that felt.
He nodded. “Yeah, you get it.” It sounded like an indictment.
“What are you gonna do?”
He shook his head. “Cry. It breaks my heart. Seeing people I love in so much unnecessary pain. What are you gonna do?”
Yet another shrug. “I dunno. Write a blog post that no one will read. Pop off on Facebook.”
“I could ask you why you write the blogs no one reads, but that’s not the point today.”
Nothing to say to that.
“You’re okay. And you did okay with Brad. Not awesome but okay.”
“He believes I’m racist. Part of me believes he’s right.”
I started to talk again, but Jesus raised his hand to me, palm and all.
“Don’t ask me about the future. You know I can’t tell you that.”
“Is it gonna be okay?”
Jesus rolled his eyes, but I hadn’t asked something specific this time. It was allowed.
“No. It won’t be. It’s never okay when this many people hurt. And yes, because everything’ll be set right.”
“How you gonna manage that?”
Jesus shook his head. “You can’t understand. Just accept that the best possible outcome will occur, but not in the way you expect it on the timeline you want.
“Don’t worry about Brad. Just be you. And maybe challenge yourself a bit.”
It was the first Jesus-like thing he’d said.
“I’m gonna go visit people, Maybe reach a couple people, sand off some of the jagged edges.”
And then he was gone.
It’s unsettling when God upset.
I mouthed a silence sorry and though Jesus wasn’t there, I felt his hand on my shoulder again and for the moment, I had peace, which seemed selfish and insufficient.