Remember when you’d travel, as a kid, and each town felt different, and had different stores and restaurants and experiences? Now it’s all Walmart and McDonald’s, and you can be blindfolded in Georgia and teletransported to Ohio and never know the difference. And don’t get me started on how much I miss the days before the EU, when traveling in Europe meant changing cuisine, currency, and language every few hours…..
Now everything has been Disney-ized. I used to love General Stores, the kind with totally random merchandise and a one-eyed cat behind the counter. But the last General Store I went in was far too clean, and far too modern (as in, the overhead lights didn’t flicker and the roof wasn’t held up by a broom).
The merchandise was all made to look old. There was a stack of jigsaw puzzles by the register, and one of them had a Nostalgia theme, and featured photos of tin lunchboxes.
Remember tin lunch boxes? They all had a distinct smell, of warm peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, forgotten bananas, and stale apple juice. I had a Snoopy lunch box, a Snoopy tennis watch, and a blue Snoopy jumper, which I wore on picture day with a pair of saddle oxfords. Striding down the hallway to first grade, I was a vision of sophistication and style.
Being a kid in the 1970s was fun. My brother and I spent every waking moment outside, roaming the neighborhood or swimming. The only time we watched TV was on the rare Saturday evening when the star-shooting logo started spinning on the screen, signalling that something awesome was coming, like The Shaggy D.A. or The Love Bug or Rikki Tikki Tavi.
Commercials were awesome in the ’70s, too. Remember Iron Eyes Cody, the Native American who shed a single, poignant tear because of pollution? Turns out he was Sicilian, not an Indian, but that commercial is indelibly inked into our collective psyche. And the shampoo commercial: They’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends… And who does wear short-shorts?
One of the craziest, and longest-running, ad campaigns was for Kool Aid. A group of kids would be playing basketball in a gymnasium, wearing short-shorts and knee socks, and one kid would dramatically wipe the sweat from his brow with his super-cool rainbow striped sweatband.
Suddenly, fueled by an overwhelming desire for flavored sugar water, that kid would stop in his tracks and yell, “Hey, Kool Aid!”
Summoned by this urgent incantation, the Kool Aid man, an obese pitcher of maniacally-grinning red drink product, would crash through the brick walls of the gym, crushing everything in his path — small children, referees, concession workers, coaches and spectators — in his hurry to satiate the kid’s thirst.
God is like that pitcher of Kool Aid. You’re just humming along, minding your own business, at one with the universe….when out of nowhere, boom! God appears, minus the artificial flavor and Red Dye #40.
Of course, God doesn’t appear in the flesh, since none of us are really equipped to handle that. Instead, we experience God as some incident or event or entity that turns our life on its ear. Whether it’s the death of someone we love or the death of a dream we’ve held dear, the beginning of a new life or the beginning of a life-altering love, an opportunity or an obstacle that we never saw coming, God can interrupt our lives in the most unexpected ways.
Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of the disruption, even when it’s to our benefit, because the ruts we live in – the nice little ditches we spend years digging, decorating, and feathering – can be so familiar and comfortable.
But I don’t believe God calls us to be comfortable. I think he calls us to constantly challenge ourselves, to climb ever higher.
If you spend some time in the Old Testament, you come away with the clear perception that Yahweh wasn’t overly concerned with anyone being comfortable. In establishing the covenant with the Israelites, God did promise blessings and land and abundance — but no one got to just sit on a rock and wait for those things to be delivered.
And Jesus, as the New Testament makes abundantly clear, was anything but complacent. He was a radical force within the world of the 1st century CE, turning social conventions on their heads and sending the disciples out into a hostile world with nothing but a staff, some old sandals, and new faith.
The whole story of the people of Israel is one of constant challenge, as is the account of the very first believers in Jesus Christ. So where did we ever get the idea that life is supposed to comfortable?
I don’t think life is meant to be comfortable. I don’t think we were put here to be background music or muted colors. We were created to shine, to thrive, to live and love and find our joy. We were meant to avoid ruts at all costs, because ruts — like graves — are not meant for the living.
So I’ll leave you with God as the Kool Aid Man, and a thought from theologian Henri Nouwen:
Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.
Bring it on.