I think it is just as scary to do a risky and immoral act as it is to do a risky and noble one. In my younger days I had all but lost that alarm system which sounds when you are about to harm yourself or do something that would land you in prison or even dead. In my days self defeating I spent some time in a small western town with a Puerto Rican dude named Nick. He was from New York City and was crazy. By crazy I mean he had a high tolerance for danger and a low regard for safety. His natural charm won the confidence of a wide variety of persons from every segment and strata of society. He had a quick smile. As far has he was concerned everything was “cool.” “It’s all cool” he repeatedly said to me when I frequently showed any signs of losing my nerve.He stayed with Rita, a Mexican American, who was, if possible, even more laid back than Nick. She lived in a one bedroom house which was part of a federally funded complex. She had several small children, but her mother cared for them. I never once saw them or signs of them. I remember that it was strange that her place was in the middle of town and yet the streets were packed dirt – not even gravel – just packed dirt. I was never directly involved in the purchase or sale of the vast amount of marijuana that passed through Rita’s apartment but I was there when it was received, processed, packaged, and distributed. I never financially profited from it. I never purchased any of it. I know my disclaimers do not excuse my presence there and knowledge of their illegal activities. It has remained one of those things in my life that I consider when I think of the sins Christ atoned for on the cross. Although the activity was extremely immoral, the relationships were pleasant and real. Unlike many of my Churchly colleagues, I trusted Nick and Rita to “have my back.”
One evening I stopped by and came in through an outside entrance that opened to the kitchen. From the sounds of their voices I surmised there was a group of six African American men lounging in the small living room. They intently listened to what they called “Rap.” It was not like the Rap Music we hear today - old school, new school, west coast or eat coast. It was more a poetry reading than singing. It was like the style of some Black Preachers combined with the Beat Generation poets like Alan Ginsberg and Neal Cassity. There were lots of bongos. But the message was strictly political. It was a negative message about all white men and the American society at every level. Whites were considered a deadly threat to all Blacks. Violence was promoted throughout the Rap. Rita stopped me in the kitchen and ordered me to leave. “These N…s are crazy and they will mess you up.” I asked if I could just sit at the kitchen table and listen. Rita almost never was stern but this was the exception. She gave me clear instructions on how and when to take my leave. I sat close to the backdoor and listened with fascination. I have always felt a sense of rage over racial injustice so the poetry drew me in. I was frightened and yet was willing to take the risk.
One Saturday, eight members of the Bandito gang rolled in on their Harleys. The one riding an Indian got a pass because this bike was the forerunner to the revered Harley Davidson. These guys came to see Nick about a large score of weed they brought from Mexico. They were wild and I liked them very much. They drank beer all afternoon and into the night. As time passed, they got louder and meaner. That is when I decided I had better find my way back to my apartment. All the while I was there; just as I did with the Black militants, I felt that same combination of fear and the thrill of taking a risk.
These risks were real and unrighteous. I risked going to prison. I risk serious injury and even death. All of this was for the sake of being too stupid to understand the threat I was under and too nihilistic to care much. Nothing I did then advanced the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At that point in my life, I wasn’t close to the Church, although I was always a seeker after God. It wasn't very easy to walk away from this adventure. Nick and Rita were my friends, I liked them and they liked me. They were doing what they saw others doing in their families and among their friends. For them, the risk was part and partial of the only life they knew.
I am not facing a hostile gang of bikers or politically militant minorities. I am facing, none the less, a real and present danger from Liberal Middle-Class Protestant Church professionals who want to silence me for “keepin it real.” Just as though I was part of the Banditos, there is a strict sanction administered against those who are disloyal to their revisionistic ideology. Like Nick and Rita, a person can become more and more involved in a destructive and wicked organization. One day, you realize that leaving is more dangerous than staying.
I often think of Jesus in the Garden the day before his public execution. He knew how to escape. He was encouraged by his friends to do just that. Even he, himself, desired to leave and avoid the humiliation of a trial and the degradation of a cruel public execution where he hung naked on a wooden stake for six hours while his enemies insulted him.
I am sure that faithfulness to God is never truly risky, although it will surely lead to pain and suffering. While the risk is immediate, it is not ultimately life threatening. You can not kill someone who lives forever in the blissful presence of Christ Jesus our Lord.