I’m a life-long New Yorker, and I have the pleasure of working minutes from the neighborhood I grew up in as a boy. As I pass by it, I still come across a few familiar reminders of that neighborhood I grew up in, including an old friend’s mom, and some buildings that spark fond memories as well.
One of those memories was a corner luncheonette/stationary, Francine’s. They had some of the best lunch specials around thanks to the owner, my mom. It was also a place to buy nearly everything you could think of in the 80’s. From cigarettes for the adults, to cheap toys and other trinkets, or whatever sparkly thing that would catch a whining kid’s eye. We sold comics high on the wall rack, away from thieving little hands, and even higher up were magazines of the “adult” variety. Three issues for $10.00, which were respectfully and strategically wrapped in colored cellophane to avoid anyone getting a free show.
I’m sure other people bought the magazines, but I remember one guy specifically. I’m guessing he was in his forties, maybe a bit older. His clothes, including a knee-high brown rain-jacket that always looked wrinkled. He hair seemed stringy and a little greasy. He wore big round glasses, and I want to say his nose always had a reddish hue to it, maybe it was just shiny because he seemed to be constantly sweating or maybe drinking. I don’t know anything else about him, but I could guess that he was a loner, and had that “pervert” look about him.
The memory is funny thing. As many things as I can’t remember from my past, this guy stands out, which makes it all the more remarkable when I began to see him occasionally on my morning drive to work as I pass my old stomping grounds. I’m sure it’s him. His hair is still stringy but white and his build hasn’t changed much. He was always a bit on the rotund side. The few times I’ve seen him, he’s walking gingerly, almost as if he’s afraid his legs will give out. He seems kind of spaced out in the eyes, and his mouth is moving but no one was there to hear what's being said. He was still wrinkly and disheveled, and seemed every bit the loner he appeared back in the day. Of course, now he’s a frail old man.
I often wonder if he lives in the same place, and if he adapted his porn fetish with the dawn of the internet. I wonder if this sin continued to rule over him. I know scripture says sin is enjoyable for a season, but man, that’s a least a 30-year season, if so. I see this guy and remember his penchant for porn, and he either didn’t have a deep moral compass or his obsession overrode every leering eye that watched him buy porn from a local mom & pop store. It was an outer borough of New York, and in this little “Isle of Staten”, there weren’t too many ways to get your fix back then.
Then I remember…
My mom had to put a little check mark next to the books she wanted to put on the magazine rack, including the discreetly wrapped “porn-o-palooza”. She made a business decision to put those into circulation. Then, I remember that my father hid smut between the bed and box spring, and I remember taking joy in hiding my older brother’s stash, including some dried out leafy greens I discovered in a zip lock bag. I took joy in thinking he was worried that he was about to get caught.
I could remember a lot more, but the point is, as I reflect on this elderly man and wonder if he changed, it opened a floodgate of memories. I think of my mom, my dad, my siblings and all the things I’ll never reveal here. I don’t think any less of them for it, because with these memories, I’m reminded also of all my old sins as well. It reminds me that I am lesser still.
Scripture says, before you remove the speck in your brother’s eye, remove the log from your own. Have you ever wondered how intently you have to look in someone’s eye, how close you have to get to find a speck? How much rooting around you really have to do?
I just told you the story, a partial story at best, of a man I remember, who on an infrequent occasion came into my mother’s store to buy porn. This was nearly 40 years ago. Man, if I don’t remember random people’s specks like they were yesterday! I guess specks are easier, because they aren’t ours. They are always someone else’s, but we do treat them like logs, don’t we? We can go on and on about their sins. I’m telling you I’ve got “specks” on lots of people.
Just stay away from my logs.
I know “logs” are supposed to be giant pieces of wood. But if there isn’t some irony in its other definition; “an official record of events.” If I’m honest, my “logs” are a litany of indiscretions, as the saying goes, “As long as my arm”, but more than likely quite a bit longer. Oddly enough, as much as I can pinpoint this frail old man’s one deviancy from nearly 40 years ago, I probably couldn’t remember half of what I’ve done.
But someone could.
That phrase, “God knows our hearts” shouldn’t be a comforting saying at all. We want it to mean, “God knows we meant well” but what God really knows is, “we could be even worse.” Our heart is wicked, even beyond repair. God knows this as much as he knows every hair on our head, just as much as he knew King David in his mother’s womb. He even consecrated him, appointed him king, knowing that he would be a man after His own heart and also a wretched sinner, who would steal a wife and kill a husband.
God knew David’s logs, God knows my logs. He knows my browser history. Even yesterday’s. God knows them all and that’s good, because in Christ, in faith of the one who went to the cross, he tosses them all into the sea of forgetfulness and never holds them against us again. This is a message we all need to hear, over and over again, new Christians or old.
The cross is the catapult for our sins being tossed away. The resurrection is proof, God never turns back and fishes them out. If we are honest, only we do that. We are still flawed. We struggle to grasp this truth that God can and does completely and recklessly forgives us. We think, one more misstep and we’re out. And God sees that log, that sin, balls it up, and tosses it over his shoulder into the sea, a million miles away.
This is my hope.
Forgiveness, mercy, grace, and hope for the future. No matter how much you struggle. No matter how much you despair.
Our hope is in Christ.
A theological misfit landing in the area of Lutheranism, Dominick has come to deeply appreciate the truth of scripture as defined by the distinction between Law and Gospel. He has found freedom in knowing that Christ is his substitute on even his worst days. He has been for the course of his church life everything from chair-stacker to men's ministry leader. He is blessed with a wonderful wife and two great young men, which he can say without a doubt, he doesn't deserve. He counts among his favorite things: Star Trek, classic superhero comics, movies, Yankees and yes, he admits to it, the Knicks. He enjoys a good conversation and good food. Finally, he is grateful for the opportunity to share the message of God's Grace among all these great teachers, pastors and theologians and hopes he doesn't mess up big time. But then again, that's what grace is for, right?