We continue in our series The Dark Side. I have a true story to tell you which is also a parable of life. This is a story in which I take the fall: literally. A couple of years ago, my wife Susan and I made up our minds to get all of our Christmas shopping done in one day. To do that we would have to make a plan and execute it with precision. Its called targeted shopping, and, frankly, I prefer it. No lolly-gagging around the mall for me; get in, get out, get on with it. But that is not the point of my story. My story has to do with how the precise intentions of that day got taken up into another story I never saw coming.
It was a very icy day, and everything was coated with slipperiness. Susan was wearing what I call her “stylin” boots, meaning their look trumps any value they have for real winter conditions. I repeatedly assumed the role of expert ice-walker: “Careful, Susan. Those boots of yours aren’t going to help you much. Watch yourself now.” I probably repeated those words at least twice, maybe three times. I might have crossed over to annoying. You will have to ask her.
Then we were done. Our one-day sprint through the malls and over the icy parking lots of Calgary had succeeded. We decided to pick up a few groceries on our way home. We parked on a frozen lot one more time. The numbing winds suggested we get inside as quickly as possible so I almost jogged towards the warmth, hands in my pockets. My mind was completely absent of what I had been saying all day.
And then it happened -- so suddenly. As I stepped on to sidewalk in front of the supermarket my feet went backwards and I went down, face first, hands in my pockets all the way. It was a spectacular thing to see, I am sure. I smashed my glasses, opened a gash on my head along my right eyebrow, and found out soon enough that I had broke two ribs. The hardest fall of my life. A crowd gathered (its nice to know I can draw a crowd). Someone actually called 911.
Would it surprise you to know Susan never lost her feet like I did? She had quietly been more careful than I. She didn’t do the talking, just the walking. But she did see the entire scene play out. She saw me, the one who counseled her in carefulness, fall in a way she never could have, even if she tried. Then she did what she always does: she helped me.
Aside from the pain of that spill, it wasn’t long before I knew there was some lesson in that little episode. I can’t help it; I just tend to think this way. There seemed to me a parabolic quality to the whole day from beginning to end.
“... if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12, NIV).
This is Paul’s counsel to the Christian believers in Corinth. He was trying to help them take seriously the real possibility of sudden upset, of being knocked off their spiritual feet because of careless and calloused living. Yes, we are people of grace and forgiveness, people whom God has promised to lead and provide for. But Paul reminded the Corinthians of the dark side, of the need to take warning from the story of Israel. At various times in its history, Israel had played fast and loose with sin and sinful ways of thinking and living. And because they were forgetful of who they were and the nature of the world they were part of, they were prone towards tumbles. Its possible, said Paul, to foolishly test the slipperiness of things, to be forgetful of our own human weakness and the power of a slippery world. We, of all people, should know how easily tumbles and upsets can come. We should know that, after we have preached to others, we ourselves must walk out life.
Why do we think that being a Christian is first about talk? Wouldn’t it be better to conceptualize our faith as a way of walking in the world, a way that inspires and helps others? I think we should be ready to talk, but not before, or apart from, our willingness to walk. There is a line from a recent Bob Dylan album that I have been rehearsing in my mind as I write this piece. Bob sings: “ain’t talking, just walking”. He echoes the words commonly attributed to Saint Francis: “preach the gospel, and if necessary use words”. The talking first depends on the walking.
One winter day I broke two ribs to remind myself that being a preacher is not enough. Its more important to stay steady on your own two feet.