|“Green Hats and Camel Hair Coats” is a short story in three parts from a collection of essays I am compiling for future publication. Drawing from a childhood spent living in a tiny fishing community on the coast of Maine, “Green Hats” not only resonates with local homespun flavor but also provides invaluable God-centered life lessons I wouldn’t trade for the world. You didn’t ask for it but you are getting it anyway … I present to you “Green Hats and Camel Hair Coats”.
Green Hats and Camel Hair Coats, Part 3
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
The Conclusion …
Fortunately, there wasn’t anymore time to explain. The school bus was now a scant 100 yards from Bus Stop #7. There was not enough time to pack away our instruments without approximately 20 of our peers, some seventh and eighth graders, seeing our private saxophone serenade for Mrs. Hunter. Legendary snipper or no legendary snipper, it was definitely not cool to be seen holding court with a blue haired, gnarly nailed octogenarian.
We were doomed. Or at least I was. Jeff didn’t seem to care what people said or thought of him. I on the other hand, was insecure to a fault. If I had known about focus groups in those days I would have consulted them before I made any decision.
As we stepped aboard the bus, something inside told me that this was not to be my day. Perhaps it had something to do with the obscenely embarrassing hat I was wearing, or maybe deep down inside I knew that the 20 people staring at my head had witnessed something I did not want them to see -- our private concert for Mrs. Hunter. Galvanizing my suspicion was the fact that two eighth grade boys, known around school for their bully-ish behavior, were eyeing me uneasily as I slid into my seat.
As we settled, the bus thundered down the road toward its next stop. I journeyed inward, analyzing every possible barb that could be directed toward me before a single word had been uttered. I wanted to be prepared for any and all verbal confrontations. This is a skill that I have carried into adulthood. I am not proud of this but the ability to over-analyze just about any situation into mindless drivel is a special talent of mine.
Silence. No one said a word to me. The bus continued to rattle and hum along just as the thoughts of at least half a dozen unforgiving peers were doing the same. Finally one of the Nasty Boys broke into the awkwardness of my adolescence defining moment.
“What were you little dweebs doing back there at the bus stop?”
I looked to Jeff for a quick consultation but he was wasn’t there. I mean he was there beside me, just not emotionally. With his eyes half closed again, he was either muttering the lyrics from “Hot Stuff” or expressing his unrequited love for Mrs. Hunter. I really wasn’t quite sure. Completing the imagery, Jeff was playing air drums on the back of the seat in front of him. I would have to face this one on my own.
“Ah, what do you mean?” I countered; hoping Nasty Boy #1 would just give up and leave me alone.
He fired back, “What were the two of you doing back there with that crazy old snaggle-tooth Mrs. Hunter? She’s crazy as a loon you know. She sniffed too much fish oil down at the factory from what I hear.”
Before I could carefully craft a response, I blurted out, “Don’t talk about Mrs. Hunter like that. She is a nice old lady.”
“Nice my (expletive deleted). She gave us some little book about Jesus on Halloween. Everyone else gave us candy except for her. What kind of an idiot does that? She is a freak. Jesus on Halloween my …”
Nasty Boy #1 knew exactly what he was doing. He was baiting me by playing the religion card. My parents had instructed me repeatedly to ignore people when they made fun of my faith. We are to forgive our enemies. You know … the old 70x7 routine. My blood was beginning to boil as number 491 loomed just around the corner.
I turned my head the other way to ignore him. Just as I did, Nasty Boy #2 swooped into action, snatching my “blessing” from my head. My first instinct told me to go after the hat and him but something inside me said “stop”. At the time, I didn’t know whether it was because I really hated the hat and didn’t care what happened to it, or that a life lasting lesson was being taught to me by a force I would later learn was the Holy Spirit. At that moment, the only thing I was certain of was that I had a severe case of hat head.
I looked to Jeff for guidance as I often did and those days. As usual, he was not the best source of guidance. He had fallen asleep. Apparently his mixed thoughts of “Hot Stuff” and Mrs. Hunter had taken its toll. I shook him awake in a half crazed fury.
“Did you see what those guys did?” I shrieked in a heavy whisper.
“What guys?” Jeff paused, and then said, “What happened to your hair? You look like your Dad did that morning last summer when we went on that camping trip. Does he have a toupee or something because he looked pretty freaky that day?”
“Comb over. He has a comb over. You didn’t see anything did you?”
“See what? Hey, where is your green squirrel hat?”
How could this be happening? Just the day before, I would have thanked them profusely for removing this “blessing” from my custody. But now, everything was different. I felt used, dirty, violated in some way. But it was not because they had stolen my hat. It was what this nasty boy had said about Mrs. Hunter and her faith that bit into me like a bee sting. While I was upset by what he said about her, I was even more incensed by his remarks about Jesus. I really didn’t know why at the time.
What I discovered on that fateful day is that it was not only Mrs. Hunter’s faith under fire but it was mine too. For the first time, it really connected that I had a faith that would need to be constantly defended and fought for throughout my lifetime.
The concept of exchanging hate for love is a powerful guideline we are to live our lives by. But is it worth the suffering a Christian must often endure for the sake of what we believe? For the strongest among us, it is not a problem. But the person of average spiritual means struggles with this balance between loving and hating our enemies. It is a struggle that will plant those seeds of indifference. When push comes to shove do we really believe what we believe? For some the answer is an emphatic yes. Others aren’t quite so sure. This fragile dividing line between cultural relativism and Christianity has conquered many who are faint of faith.
It nearly conquered me.
Sans hat, I was immediately put to the test that day when I stepped off the bus. The Nasty Boys had so graciously provided a trail of breadcrumbs, er, hat crumbs to lead me to what remained of my blessing … the pom-pom. With a pocket knife, they had cut the hat into several strips and dropped them along the floor of the bus and into the courtyard where they were waiting for me. You can’t fault their creativity.
“I suppose you want this,” cackled Nasty Boy #1, nodding to the poofy pom-pom in his hand.
Mrs. Hunter had worked so hard to make it. My mother was so happy that she had “found” it. As close friends do, Jeff had had such a good time teasing me good-naturedly about it. Now all that remained were several jagged strips on the ground and the person I suddenly hated holding it.
Furious, scared, and foolish all rolled into one, I tearfully reached for the item I had absolutely despised a day earlier. Not so fast. Before I had even touched it, Nasty Boy #2 grabbed me and threw me up against the brick wall of the school. He held my arms behind my back as Nasty Boy #1 punched me repeatedly in the face, in the stomach, even kicking me in the … next sentence.
As they beat me until the blood flowed, Nasty Boy #1 shouted repeatedly, “Where’s your Jesus now? Where is this Jesus who your father talks about? Huh? If he is real why isn’t he helping you right now?”
At that moment in time, he had a point. Despite my cries to Him for help, it seemed as though He wasn’t listening. If He was, why didn’t He put a stop to my forced impersonation of a human piñata?
The carnage went on for at least a couple of minutes before the bus driver saw what was happening. He left his perch behind the wheel and rushed toward us. Sensing they were about to be reprimanded and subsequently punished for their misdeeds, the two Nasty Boys released me from their clutches and rushed into the school building.
I lay on the ground, beaten, battered, and holding the last remnant of my blessing – the poofy pom-pom. The bus driver helped me up and carefully brushed away the grassy chaff that had accumulated on my clothing. I was incredibly sore, bruised, but sadly, I was emotionally beaten.
It was official. I had been accosted because of who my father was, here on earth and in heaven. I had been persecuted for my faith and all I had to show for it was a torn and tattered “blessing”. It was a blessing I certainly did not want.
I dropped it to the ground that morning, vowing that I would never again be ridiculed for my faith. But rather than turning this negative into a positive, I allowed it to fester in my soul for 20 years. A seed of indifference had been planted within me.
For the first time, I doubted whether God had actually heard my cry for help. Why hadn’t He delivered me from this dastardly situation? He had, I just didn’t know it. Perhaps I didn’t want to know it. The world has a funny way of frowning upon the use of Christ as our spiritual compass.
In Luke 6:27-28, Jesus said, “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.”
In this passage, Jesus wasn’t talking about having affection for enemies. He was talking about an act of free will. As I mentioned earlier, we are to exchange hate for love. We need to treat others fairly regardless of the circumstances. We don’t have to like our enemies; we just need to love them. When mistreated by others, our response should be one of positive behavior, not determining right or wrong from our emotions or feelings.
Yes, that is right. It is the biblically correct response. It is not the way the world around us would have us believe but it is what Jesus would do. To be quite honest, it is not the way I would prefer to conduct my life. I like to be in control. But as I have found, with Chris at the controls, life is a whole lot more challenging than when Jesus is in charge.
I admit it is a really tough sell for those who want to conduct their lives on a level playing field with the world. But as Christians, we are not playing on a level field. We are conducting our personal business on a higher plane. It is crucial that we keep that in perspective.
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