Friday, April 11, 2008

Paper or Plastic?

When I was 17 years old I went to work for Tom Thumb grocers in Euless, Texas as a “sacker.” The Cullum Companies used to own that chain of stores, and when hiring sackers back then, they would send us to “sacking school” for a day to teach us how NOT to smash the bread. In addition to product integrity, the sacker training class also stressed “safety.” Apparently one of their ace sackers of that era had cost them dearly in the form of a lawsuit.

In our class they told the story of a young man who had the habit of swinging the paper bag to “pop” it open with a rush of forced air. On one such occasion, as he swung the bag and it popped open, a little girl happened to be walking by in the opposite direction of the bag’s flight. At just the right moment, the bag opened and its serrated edge cut her, laying open a gash across her face. Negligence causes wounds and scars.

I was one of the best sackers in our store, only surpassed in speed and efficiency by my buddy Jeff, my best friend from Junior High. He was lightning-quick with the cans, and his product was usually in the bag before the next item hit the counter. He never smashed the bread. I never did either - unintentionally. Coincidentally, we were among the first human beings on the planet to ask the question, “Paper or plastic?” About 6 months or so into my employment, the introduction of the plastic grocery bag had arrived.

The chagrin with which people responded to that now age-old question was a lot like the feeling you get when a doctor says “you’re going to feel a little stick.” You would have thought we were asking them to give away one of their children, although I was convinced some of them would have in order to secure the bag type of their choice. It wasn’t long before opposing camps passionately emerged. In retrospect, I think the “I prefer plastic” or “I prefer paper” T-shirts would have been a big seller. I often wondered why that simple question was so inflammatory to some – “It’s a stupid bag for Pete’s sake! Get over it already!”

As youngsters will often do, we expressed our disdain for others in the “assembly of the afflicted” after work. Throughout the shift we would suffer insult after insult and offense upon offense just because of our lowly state as “bag boys.” I’m reminded of Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, a bucket, and a coin in History of the World Part I. The condescending attitudes came flowing freely from the lips of every Einstein in Euless that made sure we understood our place in their own personal play.

Our rallying cry at the end of the day was “I hate people!” At an early age, I had learned to personalize and project. I personalized what came from people that didn’t even know me, and projected their offense on the rest of humanity – “They’re all jerks!” I would proclaim.

As I’ve matured, I have come to understand just how much people hate change. It’s our nature to resist it, yet it’s the one thing we can always count on in life. I really believe if we would embrace that idea more readily, our transformation process would be a lot less stressful. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting all change is good, but I am suggesting that if we will let Him, the Holy Spirit will take the change in our lives and use it for our spiritual growth and benefit. The very concept of transformation demands it, and the process of being conformed into His image ensures it.

Ironically society has come full circle on the issue of grocery bags. The profits of the plastic are now being supplanted by the realization that the organic is better for the environment. There’s something analogous to this within the context of the body of Christ. I’ve been around so many people who are trying to be something they are not. They are trying to carry spiritual food in a plastic vessel. We were made to be organic vessels for a reason. Our Heavenly Dad wants us to have a freshness about our walk that is pure not perfect. Let’s call it the journey of the genuine.

He allows us to decompose and be transformed into the beneficial rather than recycling the simulated. Who wants to be the bag stuffed in a closet until time to transport trash? Paper and parchment put on display the words of truth and life, while the phony simply displays someone else’s counterfeit conscience. My heart longs to house the soul of the sincere rather than the slickness of the synthetic. It cries out for the natural over the non-nutritional. I desire to experience community in the messiness of men who seek to serve God in their vulnerable humanness, rather than the cries of the contrived that imitate the insincere. Give me real and rough over polished plastic any and everyday.

Jesus was real. He was real loving. He was real honest. He was real open. He was real naked. That is the reason I so love the telling of His struggle in Garden of Gethsemane. When God Himself will put His “humanity” on display, then we should be free and encouraged to do the same. There is this frustrated part of me that wants to scream out “Forsake the FAKE!” Actually, there’s another F word that comes to mind that my brittle clay would like to use, but I submit it to the process of conforming to the image of Him who is faithful.

There is no life in the place of plasticity - period. If we can embrace the truth of the mirror, then we can watch the “extreme makeover” up close and personal without the pretense of the pretend. Pastor Doug White once said of the Apostle Paul, “He wore his chains like bracelets.” He walked openly with his loving limp. Brothers and sisters, sport your scars for the beauty marks they are, and forget about the plastic surgery; we are not a masquerade of mannequins but the assembly of saints.

Rom 8:29-31 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

No comments: