Trestle

I was homeschooled.

There is little I can do to keep you from drawing certain jaundiced conclusions based on the above sentence. In fact, some of you are probably judging me right now. I can’t say that I blame you – I do the same thing to other homeschoolers and I’m sort of getting used to it. Now if only I possessed the necessary social skills to actually overcome this tragedy…

I bring this up because there seems to be this myth floating around that homeschoolers don’t ever cause any trouble – that they are good little boys and girls that never break the rules. This, to me, only more deeply affirms my suspicion that homeschoolers are among the sneakiest people on the planet.

I’m here today to herald with lifted chin that homeschoolers are perhaps not as pure as you may have previously speculated. While many do not spend the bulk of their time becoming acquainted with the “Big Three” of adolescent exploration (sex, drugs, The SImpsons), countless numbers of these un-sung heroes investigate more creative avenues of deviance. This is one such tale.

Since the majority of my friends couldn’t afford drugs or alcohol in the first place, we often resigned ourselves to alternative methods of entertainment. These endeavors often resulted with frequent expression of confusion and dismay by grocery store cashiers, local police officers, and onlookers.

One of our most beloved of these undertakings was to jump off a bridge.

Now, this wasn’t just any ordinary bridge. This was a railway trestle bridge. It was on private property about 40 minutes from our house and stood roughly 45-feet above the small pond below. Old Tressy was glorious. She did more than bridge a railway – she bridged our hearts.

On numerous occasions throughout our high school years we would sneak on to the property late at night, scale the crumbling stone hill beside it, do our best to muster any level of courage, and hurl ourselves from the bridge to the water below.

This was particularly terrifying for a few reasons. The first was that, well – it’s jumping off a bridge. I feel pretty justified in my fear there. Secondly, because it was so late at night when we went (so as to not get caught) and there was little to no lighting available, often we couldn’t even see the water below us. That may not sound like a big deal, but when you’re 45-feet up on a railway bridge, to not be able to see the destination where you hope to land is terrifying. Lastly, somewhere in Michigan during the time of our excursions a young man died doing the exact same thing we were doing on a fairly regularly basis. Apparently there was so trouble with the construction of another nearby bridge, and they had to disassemble what they had already started. When they completed the new bridge, however, the original foundation spikes remained and one night a man jumped and impaled himself, dying shortly thereafter.

But did this tale stop us? Of course not. In fact, it wasn’t long before other friends asked to accompany us to the great bridge. We were, of course, happy to oblige. Homeschoolers are nice that way.

After months of treks to this great solution for teenage thrill seeking, we decided that we needed to go Emeril on our adventures and take it up a notch.

Our solution? – Let’s jump naked.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and I wish I had been thinking the same thing at that time as well,, but who really is making wise, well-informed decisions at 17 anyway? We’d all like to think we’re a “Cory” but honestly, most of us are probably “Erics” (clap twice if you got that reference).

So, as we pull into our secret spot across the road and “quietly” sneak past the house on the property, we cannot help ourselves from letting out the occasional giggle knowing full well that tonight was the night that we partook in the disrobed dive, the bare bound, the stripped spring. We climbed the familiar wall, walked up onto the track, and did what teenage guys in my community did best – we got naked.

Now imagine if you will (just not too vividly) – there are five of us standing on the edge of this railroad bridge, doing our best to cover ourselves with our hands, staring apprehensively at the black abyss below. We had jumped this bridge nearly a dozen times before and yet, in this moment, we were frozen.

“Why don’t you jump, pansy?” one of us would ask. “Look who’s talking, Kenevil!” another would snap back. “Why don’t you grow a pair and jump?” We would each take a friendly stab at the other, desperately hoping they didn’t hear the fear in our voices.

This went on for a few minutes until eventually Chris, who hadn’t said anything up to this point, calmly said, “I’ll go” – and before we could react, had leapt from his spot on the bridge. There was a brief moment of sheer silence until we finally heard a loud “slash” far below us. It was then quiet for another moment or two when finally Chris hollered back up at us:

“Um – guys? I can’t swim”

Worried, surprised, and, frankly – a little humored, we turn and look at each other for a solution. With our friend 45-feet below us, we begin to debate who will brave the frigid waters and save him – naked.

“You save him!” one shouted. Another would reply, I’m not going to save him. I hardly know him! He’s your friend!” Which inspired the response, “Yea, but I don’t know him that well. I’m also not very buoyant.”

This went on for what seemed like an eternity until finally Zach, in exasperation said, “Fine, I’ll save him”. He then took a big nervous breath and jumped after our naked, non-aquatic friend.

We all waited in anticipation to see what would happen next. Zach’s voice was the next sound we heard.

“Whoa, dude – do NOT touch me, man!” he shouted. “But I ne-“, Chris tried to respond. But Zach interjected. “No dude – do not touch me. Turn around and I’ll swim you to shore. Otherwise, I’ll drown you right here. Seriously.” We think Chris got the point because we didn’t hear another sound out of him.

The rest of us eventually jumped, trying desperately not to be outdone by the guy that didn’t even know how to swim, and we reconvened on the shore. Chris stood there, naked, and with his head hung just a little lower than usual.

“You can’t swim? What were you thinking, man?” one of us asked? “I don’t know” Chris said, “It just sounded so fun.”

We, of course, forgave Chris for giving us the scare, but delivered a punishment of having to spend the rest of the evening sans-clothing. No one ever wanted to sit in the backseat of my car again after that.

I was thinking about this story the other day and about how often my faith journey has mirrored so many elements of this adventure. I began to recall the many times in my life that I dove head first into something without even so much as a consideration of what it might truly entail – which often ended in relative disaster.

Jesus talks about this in the Gospels when he speaks to the issue of expectation and how it relates to being his disciple:

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” – Luke 14:28-30 (ESV)

Essentially, what I believe he was saying was, “Don’t kid yourself – this is a big deal.”

In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan talk about seeing commercials for the Marines when he was a young man and recalls being enamored at the idea. The only setback – he hated running.

In every single one of those commercials one could see a man or woman sprinting across a dessert or running through the forest before the climactic end – “The few. The proud. The Marines.”

He goes on to say that he still desired to join the Marines, but knew it would be ridiculous to approach a recruiting officer and say, “I’d like to join you all, but I was hoping that I could skip the running part.”

My concern is that many Christians, young and old (myself included) have never really considered the cost of serving Christ. Someone once preached “cheap grace” instead of “free grace” to us years ago and, like my friend Chris, we responded – “Sure, that sounds fun.”

And maybe we were once told that, “If you give your life to Jesus, all of your relationships will be flawless, the money tree you planted last year will finally sprout, and a cloud filled with double-rainbows will follow you wherever you go.”

So then we begin to grow in our faith, or at least in our knowledge and theological vocabulary. Many of us begin to spend more time debating chairs versus pews or obscure theological nuances instead of putting flesh and bone to the nucleus of the Gospel truth – love. But not merely bumper-sticker love, but a love with hands and feet – the kind of love that enters into the pain of humanity and brings stitches when the rest of the world is handing out band aids. A love that doesn’t avoid the storms or pretend that they don’t exist, but s rooted in something deeper.

Then difficulty strikes and we’re furious. We shout as if God abandoned us, not realizing that, for many in the early church, things got more difficult once Jesus entered their lives – not easier. And so we become more and more inwardly focused, slowly imploding on ourselves. Whether this is manifested by a perpetual insistence that we remain the center of caring attention, or we begin to dissect and dissent about the many trivialities in our churches and homes so that we don’t have to deal with the deeper frustration of feeling like we got a raw deal.

I often wonder, “Where are least of these in our vision statements, small groups, and board meetings? Or more personally, where are the least of these in my vision statements, small groups, and board meetings? Have we so emasculated Scripture to point that it functions to serve us rather than the other way around?

Don’t get me wrong – grace is still very much grace. More so then we’ll ever realize, I think. The beautiful and scandalous truth is that there is nothing we can do to make God love us less and there is nothing we can do to make God love us more. We are justified, not by what we do, but by what he has already done.

But is it possible that, in pursuit of noble goals (orthodoxy, friendship, community, encouragement), we have overlooked the deep and pervasive orthopraxy (right action/practice) of service?

Please hear me in this – we still desperately need risk (not the game, praise Jesus) in our lives and the church, maybe now more than ever. Counting the cost is not meant to be the counteragent of risk. We’re often clutching the balance-beam of life, playing it as safe as possible, desperately hoping that at the end we’ll hear our Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

This is why I believe we so deeply need both.

May we begin to loosen our grip, being willing to jump into the unknown when God calls us there, always remembering that the cost is real, the road is narrow, and the reward is beyond measure.

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