Thursday, February 11, 2010

51 Were It Not For Grace

In case there was any doubt that the dream was dead, shortly after arriving back in the United States, I received a letter, actually both Shannon and I did. It was a letter from Pacific Union College letting us know that we were banished from their city set on a hill. More specifically, it was a letter letting us know that this was their notice that if we ever stepped on their campus again, they would be calling the police for criminal trespassing. They also noted that this applied to any property they own including many of the homes that several of the faculty members lived in, the businesses in town and many of the nature trails around there. In short, they wanted us to never step foot again into Angwin.

I can’t say that I blame them being this away from it. While neither then nor now do I consider myself a grave danger to society of people at large, they had to work from the fact that they had in fact given me an opportunity, perhaps a very unique one and that I had treated it with disdain. If I really didn’t care I should have not taken the opportunity to go to Majuro, it would have been far more honest. Plus, sexual sin is always more scandalous and better gossip and now I had taken part of it with two different students of theirs. However, can I say that I took it as gracefully then; of course not. I had lost my purpose in life; I had failed at what I was born to do and I had not come anywhere near replacing it. I was a broken, bitter shell of the person I was. The natural jovialness in my personality was still present but this was one of those times in life where you’re scraping the bottom with every other movement. Out of the same stubborn pride that I had made the t-shirts with, I almost framed the letters banishing me and put them up on my wall; they would have been the only decorations. I didn’t both because it would have been stupid and because at the end of the day, when I allowed myself to be completely candid, it stung rather deeply that the school that once had heavily recruited me and also had given me a full scholarship was now officially exiling me. I do think its ironic that despite that fact to this day my email is under their college domain and that every year, sometimes multiple times a year, I get letters from them requesting alumni donations. I can’t say that I’ve ever made a donation.

Shortly after a few friends realized I was back in Texas and in the area, I received a phone call from an old friend, Kisha Norris. The girl who I had once thought of as the most political person I know was calling to simultaneously share concern and frankly to gossip. Jaime Cruz, the last of my three great mentors, had also fallen. Pastor Gonzalez, the Pastor who baptized me, had left the ministry due to marriage complications. Jerry Cates, the man who had made my Adventist schooling possible, had left because he decided faith was not reasonable and perhaps even counter productive. The last great mentor in my life, Jaime Cruz, who had tried to show me truth, humility in my last two years of high school, the man who had conducted my wedding was the only one left…until he wasn’t. Kisha called to let me know that he had been arrested for having sex with one of his students. By all accounts, including the victims, the girl had offered herself to Dr. Cruz and he had gone along with it. I don’t mean to suggest by that last sentence that he was in anyway excused or to minimize the fact that a man in his sixties had taken part in sexual relations with a 17 year old. He was older, wiser and more mature in the ways of life and the world and he should have known better and done better and I don’t know why he didn’t but for some reason at the time I found a small measure of comfort in the fact that “she had started it.” Nonetheless, he was arrested for statutory rape, fired midyear and he was released on bond to serve house arrest. The thought certainly crossed my mind that if Dr. Cruz, Jerry and Pastor Gonzalez had all failed that perhaps our standard for pastors or for human was so high that it was unachievable for most if not for all.

Kisha was a little taken aback by my response that we should visit him. She said that she wouldn’t know what to say and I agreed that I would not either but that wasn’t the point. She dismissed me saying that it would be too awkward. Still despite what she was doing, that same weekend that I found I drove out to his house and visited with him. By court order and out of common sense, we didn’t talk about what had happened. He and I had not been in contact for a while so he didn’t know anything about my scandals and that certainly didn’t appear to be the time to tell him. We talked, at points about old times, at points about nothing more exciting than the weather, at points we did nothing but sit in silence. His wife was at the house but I never saw her since she understandably never came out of her bedroom. I hugged him goodbye and told him that if there was anything he needed, I’d be there in a heartbeat.

I then began a campaign among our old friends from high school who lived in the nearby area and both those who lived further away. While my memory exaggerated exactly how alone I’d been, I realized that sitting at home with nothing to do but think about your failures was tough. When I had gone through it, it would have helped to have a few friends like biblical Job’s were when he initially went through his bad circumstances. Sure the story talks about how they talked too much eventually and misunderstood the situation but what a lot of people miss in the story is that they sat with him for a week without saying anything. These were the friends that had helped me best get through my ordeal; Orlando and Julia, Joseph and Sal, Winter, Mark to name a few. Eventually some of them would get their licks in and take their verbal shots at me and that was fine but they also had sat with me in silence and done nothing other than help me cry.

I was and am open to the fact that so many people so quickly abandoned me during my crisis was due to my faulty personality, my leave-much-to-be desired character. It takes only a cursory reading of all this or a casual conversation to realize that at some level I am proud, stubborn, at points defiant, at others condescending and can come across as smug and superior. Those are all attributes that when people love me they can spin more positively, even embrace at some point but if they don’t like me, they can easily paint me as one arrogant bastard. Still, none of those attributes could be placed on Dr. Cruz. He was a man who was so buoyant he generally lifted you with him. He had been our class sponsor and a chaplain that people loved to interact with. He was more quite, not a bigger than life type but a short simple man who came across as a kind grandfather. Surely, I thought, despite what he’s now accused of, people will remember all the good he has done and extend a kind hand. I didn’t expect them to forgive, minimize or excuse what he had done but to simply extend some grace and not kick a man when he’s done. I wanted to believe even then that believers would be gracious towards a man who had given his life in service.
This turned out not to be true in the short or long haul. I called several dozen people from high school, mostly focusing on the ones that lived within an hour’s driving distance or so. I was encouraging them to go visit him while he was trapped in the prison of his home. The Cruzes knew they were going to have to move from the Adventist community that was Keene and had started packing up but had no clue so the house itself looked disheveled. Undoubtedly, the man’s thoughts and emotions were too. I called so many students several times but essentially none called or came. Leandro called (he was out of state), Kisha went but no others did. I had a lot more respect for the people who simply said that they thought what he did was so horrible that they didn’t want to support him. The ones that bothered me were the ones that would rather not visit or call than deal with the awkwardness. It reinforced exactly why my faith had failed when many of my friends, most of them regular church workers, some of them Adventist employees, made it clear that they wanted to help but just thought it would be too weird to make the phone call. What good was this belief in faith and grace if like me or Cruz those only applied until people sin? I felt like this was merely an echo of my own crisis, that as a group, the church only offered grace until people actually needed it.

Dr. Cruz, unaware of all that had gone on, encouraged me during one of our visits to apply for his job. It was a flattering request but that was beyond the time where I’d given up on my past. I was still lost in my own way and had not discovered what I would displace the gigantic place that faith had left in my life. While I tried to figure that out, I was determined to always be graceful towards people who needed it.

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