He calls himself "Pedro" even though he's not Spanish but Anglo—-from the John Lennon tin-rims to the half-baked goatee and turtle-neck to the gray felt fedora he's not without, even in church. But I can live with that. I'll you there are some in Riverside that can't, but live with a hat. Our own kids have been sporting caps for a decade.
Some of our kids picked him up from a Christian rock concert or a weekend rally somewhere. He's a convert—and I know I should say that with more emotion. He's been saved—there, that sounds better. He's found the Lord—but I'm not so sure the Lord found him. To me, he's strange—and terribly pushy.
I know this: what he's found at Riverside Church is kids who fawn over him and the extent of his body piercing. Pedro's become the guru of our youth group. He wants change—and he wants it now.
"When I got converted, man, I got saved because I walked into a church and saw a set of dmms. Once I saw that, I like knew—you know, that this was a place for me."
Behind him, our kids smile proudly.
"We're a generation raised on rock, see? We don't respond to this old slow stuff you play. I mean, our music is our life, man. I mean, every kid I know is plugged into some kind of Walkman."
I remember the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. The Stones' "Satisfaction" was the theme song for my high school football team. Years ago, I danced twenty minutes straight to the Iron Butterfly. Don't tell me about rock music, man. That's what I wanted to say.
"I got to use my talent for the Lord, man. I mean, I got to use my gifts—you know what I'm saying? My generation's got needs, and I don't think Riverside's meeting them right now. We got to have a place in the worship is what I'm saying. I got to use my talents in worship."
He plays the drums. His buddies play guitars. I believe what he wants is a gig. "Organ?" he says. "That's no problem. Lots of bands got good organs. You can use them right in the music."
Then I have to smile. Alma Draayers in a rock band—now don't that beat all? "And we can do things, too—I mean, your stuff. Like 'Amazing Grace.' Shoot, we can do that stuff."
Stuff, eh? What I love about youth is their reverence.
"I mean, what we do doesn't all have to be rock. We're willing to compromise, you know. But the bottom line here is that we're not getting our needs met."
We were at church because the youth group had asked the members of the liturgy committee to talk to them about changing our worship style. They're not alone, of course; even their youth group leaders are taken by Pedro and his cronies. It's not that we're Neanderthal in our worship. I'll admit we're not Willow Creek, but then—my goodness, we're not Willow Creek. Does that make sense?
"What this is all about," Pedro says, "is that we're not getting our needs met." There were times in that meeting that I would have liked to take the kid on. I even thought seriously about returning to an era when the church allowed no instruments whatsoever, just to starve this kid out and send him somewhere he could, for all I care, get his blessed needs met. I'm sorry, but I thought the kid arrogant, and even though I'm hardly retirement age, I didn't have a clue where this idea of "getting our needs met" comes to play in the nature of worship. Getting our needs met. Sounds to me like a frustrated husband— or wife. Getting our needs met. That's the language of a doper in need of a high. Getting our needs met— what about Alma Draayers' needs?
So the committee met right afterwards at Durward's, the restaurant down the street from church, and it was the consensus that we'd better include Pedro's group.
"If this is what the kids want," somebody said, "we better give it to them. Do we have a choice?"
Yeah, I wanted to say—we have a choice. But I didn't. Just like I didn't say a thing in the youth group. Suffer the children, right? You don't say no to kids anymore, do you? That's something that went out with spanking butts and "seen but not heard." Today, you give 'em videos and Nintendo and a thousand athletic trophies to build their self-esteem. Today, you send them to theme parks and Christian Contemporary music concerts and call it "youth group activities." Today, you send them to San Francisco on a service project and make sure their nights are heavily scheduled with fun. We got to meet their needs.
What I would have liked to ask is how to square this needs business with C. S. Lewis: "I was dragged, kicking and screaming, before the throne of God"? How do you fit my needs into the old-fashioned paradigm of God loving a broken spirit and a contrite heart? Where in the Bible do we find "getting our needs met" other than in stories like Aaron's ad-hoc golden calf blowout, or King David's surreptitious date with a nearby bathing beauty?
Does Paul's admonition to be all things to all people mean Alma Draayers has to give up the psalms so Pedro can beat his bongos? Do Christ's last words, "Go ye into all the world," mean that Alma Draayers—and, okay, me too—should leave behind everything we've held dear? That's what I'm thinking when we leave Durward's.
I get home and it's 10:30, and I'm not in the mood to go in the house, because my wife will want to know how it went, having already heard our kids' rendition in the excited tones of true discipleship— discipleship to Pedro. They'd have told her everything, I'm thinking, and she'll look at me with the kind of gracious pity she offers our cat when it suffers hair balls. She'll know very well that I didn't say a thing through the whole meeting, and she'll understand that whatever it is in me—anger, envy, pride, nearly half the seven deadlies—needs only a nudge to spill out all over the house.
So rather than go in the house, I stay outside for awhile. We live on a cul-de-sac with a big backyard full of weeping willows, the kind of trees reminiscent of the poplars where the Israelites hung their harps in Psalm 137: "By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept when we remembered Zion." And I have to laugh to myself, full of sin as I am, when I think, just then, of the blood-and-guts anger of that imprecatory psalm. I've got a little of that in me right now myself—the desire to bash some heads. If it was okay for the Israelites, isn't it okay for me to feel the way I do? That's what I'm thinking.
I sit out back on a plastic lawn chair and look up into a perfectly clear sky, millions of stars. It's early spring, and the air has the sense of changing seasons, but it's still cool enough to make me pull up the collar of my jacket. My wife appears at the back window. She's heard the car, but I know she can't see me. And I like it that way. King David used to beg God not to discipline him in His wrath. There's something about that story that's sweet right now too—the idea of God himself cooling off somewhere, blowing off steam, taking five for a breather.
And I think of Abram, the old man, and his wife, Sarai, no spring chicken herself, and the cosmic joke the Lord laid on them when he told them, long after their childless retirement, that he was going to make a great nation from seed they didn't have. Somewhere half a globe away, the father of all believers must have sat outside on a night like this, maybe a touch of cold in the desert air, and listened to what Sarai thought was the biggest whopper she'd ever heard.
Maybe Abram was mad, too, after everything the Lord had said. Maybe Abram was ticked when he looked up at this sky full of what appeared to be empty promises. Maybe that's why he laughed— absolutely preposturous. That's what I'm thinking.
My wife appears at the back door in shorts and a cut-off sweatshirt. She stands there, arms over her chest as if chilled, and she spots me sitting on this cold hard chair. "Keith," she says. "I got some hot water on."
And Sarai laughed too. Both of them must have looked up into a sky that probably looked almost identical to the one I'm looking at. "Crazy," they must have said.
"You'll catch your death 'a cold," my wife says. She's barefoot, and I can imagine how cold her toes must feel in the grass as she walks over. "You want to talk about it?"
"You sound like a therapist," I say.
"What else is new?" she says. "I hear it was quite the meeting—Katy says Pedro really unloaded. She said she couldn't believe her father didn't explode."
"No kidding," I say.
"She says Pedro seems self-centered—"
"Really?" I say.
"She says he just talked and talked and talked— too much. Tough?" she asks.
So I told her about the stars and the absurdity of Abram's promise—all of these pinpricks would be God's people. "Look at 'em," I said. "There's millions of them."
"Millions," she said.
"They're not all alike," I told her. "Some of them wear grey fedoras."
"Every last one is different," she said.
"But if we believe the promise, they're all his," I told her, "every one of them."
"All of them," she says. And she touches my shoulder. "Even Pedro?"
"That's quite a stretch," I tell her. "Abram and Sarai laughed."
She looks up at the open blanket above. "They were old," she says. "What's your excuse?"
"So am I," I say. And then, "With a sky like this, it's not hard to believe in God," I tell her. "What I have trouble with is believing in his people."
"So does he," she says. "But the tmth is, he loves us."
"More power to him," I say. "I couldn't."
"And isn't that wonderful?" she says. "He's a whole sky bigger than we are."
I reach for her arm and hold it. "Lucky thing for us," I tell her.
"No kidding," she says. "Come on in. The teapot's blowing its lid."
Today is another day. And what I find myself saying, all day long, after reflecting on everything that happened last night, is that one of those millions of stars—meaning me—sure enough got his needs met.