A Costly Faith: Lessons from a Pawnshop Van
by David Crowder
I grew up in east Texas—Texarkana, Texas, to be precise. The town's name nods to its fantastic geographic mergers, as half the town sits in the great state of my birth, while the other half hangs over into Arkansas. I guess the idea of a dualistic geographic state seems fantastic enough to warrant this pictorial monument, as I have in fact personally observed a number of pictures taken in front of the sign. And I'd add that those participating seemed genuinely excited. But I've stood there myself, and I couldn't feel a thing.
If I were to sum up my experience growing up there for those who are unfamiliar to its culture and its people, I would tell them about Gary Mills. Gary worked for my dad. Sort of. That is, when he wasn't in jail.
Gary owned a van he bought at a pawnshop. Only in the piney woods of eastern Texas and portions of rural West Virginia can vehicles be acquired from pawnshops, for like $2. It seems vans acquired from pawnshops can be surprisingly prone to failures of varying types. One day Gary's accelerator cable broke. Gary, being almost genius, rigged up a cheap solution. The large intrusion of plastic in a van, bulging out into the forward-inhabited space between the driver's right knee and the passenger's left knee, is often crowned with faux-wooden beverage holders and covers what mechanics like to call "the engine." Being almost genius, Gary drilled a hole through the plastic cover. He then ran a rope through the newly drilled hole and attached the rope to the engine's accelerator arm. Thus, the rope then became the accelerator pedal! Now to move the vehicle in a forward direction, Gary needed only to reach over to his right and pull on the rope hanging from the freshly drilled hole in the plastic engine cover. Astounding! Almost genius! But his mastermind genius did not end there! No! He then took a saw and cut a slit down from the freshly drilled hole, effectively forming the shape of an antique keyhole. He then tied knots in the rope at different speed increments. Cruise control! Almost genius I say!
This strikes me as too closely metaphorical of my faith—being born in the American South, Christianity costs me nothing. It often feels to me cheap and rigged. Like things keep breaking along the way, and now I'm pulling on this ridiculously intricate array of ropes spreading to so many levers and pulleys, and my hand is getting rope burn from all this tugging, and the knots are starting to fray, and I think duct tape is involved. Not to say I haven't occasionally made attempts toward a costly faith. Once, I gave up R-rated movies (being more concerned with a movie's rating than the real-life societal issues the film may have been a reflection of). Or perhaps we relinquish the use of certain words, or cease the consumption of certain beverages or the inhalation of certain burned materials. And we applaud ourselves while bemoaning the costliness of the Gospel. And the irony is that all these efforts often serve to only cheapen our faith. They become but more ropes through more holes, and I have but only so many hands.
Lately I've been thinking about the soul. And death. Our mortal state, situated here as humans. It seems like we don't do that much anymore—think about death and the nature of the soul and the body. And maybe this is understandable, seeing as it used to be our primary point of conversation when discussing our faith with others—the turn-or-burn evangelism of our not-too-distant past. The logic was that if the present were just transitory, if we're just passing through, then it followed that there was no need to feel any affinity toward this place or spend much time trying to tidy up, which is almost brilliant. But we've now moved on, I think. The present has taken center stage. But my fear is that in hopes of becoming more palatable and less divisive, we forget the eternal unfolding in our words and deeds.
I think we live in a space divided. I think Jesus insisted that the kingdom of heaven was not just a space we would later inhabit, but also one that He was bringing here and now. We exist with one foot here in the earthly and one in the eternal. Yet we rarely feel it. We rarely live with a sense that someone should take a picture. That what is happening right now bears documentation. That we're in two places at once.
I want to live a faith that is a reflection of the cost of its eternal origin, not merely a reflection of my transient one. I want to feel the reality of where we sit. That the things we decide here are eternal ones. That our conversations mean something. I want to live in a manner that feels heroic, that turns the invisible into the visible, that is a solid intrusion of the eternal into the divided streets of humanity.