I like to write early in the morning, provided I can get past my snooze button. As a positive incentive, I started setting my coffee timer to 4:55 AM, because a fresh cup is at least 8.5 times as wonderful as a stale cup. I smelled it when my alarm went off this morning, then dragged myself to the kitchen, filled up my trusty Allan Bros mug (not realizing the pot was already half-empty), and tiptoed into the living room. When I switched the light on, I saw at once that I was not alone. There were two men sitting on the couch, waiting for me. I almost let out a scream until I recognized them. They both looked just like me.
“It’s a good brew,” one of them says. He wears a thin beard, jeans, and an earthy flannel. “But we’re out of half & half.”
The other one shakes his head and takes a sip from his own mug. “Nope, he’s just blind. Sara just picked some up yesterday.” This one’s hair almost looks combed, and he wears khaki pants with a nice blue sweater.
I gape. “Who… what is…”
“Come on, you know us,” Flannel Jay says. “We’re you. The different sides of you. And by the way, I freaking LOVED your last blog post. The letter to Jack? You really put yourself out there.”
I sit down, feeling a bit less panicked. “Okay. Uh, yeah, thanks. I don’t know…” I look over at Sweater Jason and see he is biting his lip. “What did you think?” I ask.
He takes another sip and looks up at the ceiling. Is he unsure of what to say? No, he is just being diplomatic. He has an opinion. He always does.
“I don’t know,” he begins.
Flannel Jay interrupts him. “Don’t say that. You do know. Spit it out.”
Sweater Jason shrugs. “I think you over-shared.”
I nod. “I knew it! I agree with you. I feel like I’ve written about the whole ‘I have trouble with hope’ thing already. Several times, probably. And this last time, it’s like I told the whole world that I still suck in that area.”
“Dude?” Sweater Jason raises an eyebrow.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t say ‘suck’ in a blog post, should I…”
I hear a snort to the left. Flannel Jay has a mouthful of coffee and is trying not to spit it out in laughter. He lifts a finger, swallows, and opens his mouth. “Sorry, but nobody is offended by ‘sucks’ anymore. And even if they are, you’re just being real, dude. People need to connect with… realness.”
“Transparency?” I offer.
“Exactly, but not in a cliché kind of way,” he says.
Sweater Jay slaps his knee. “‘Transparency’ is a cliché whether or not you say ‘not in a cliché kind of way.’ That’s like using the phrase “just saying’” to get social acceptance for a rude comment.” He stands up and starts to pace. I hate it when he gets angsty like this. “Transparency in and of itself is not a good thing.”
“It’s not a bad thing, either,” Flannel Jay counters.
“Right. It’s not. But in that post, you,” and he points to me, “got transparent and even vulnerable about something you’ve supposedly beaten at least three times already. In front of a ton of people. Many of whom are in the congregation where you serve as one of the leaders.”
I slump in my chair. “I know. I know.”
“And you teach on hope all the time. You always used to quote Hebrews 11 about faith being the assurance of things hoped for, and then you say ‘if you don’t have hope, then you can’t have faith.’ You see what I’m getting at?”
Flannel Jay waves his hand. “He gets it. Give him a break.”
But Sweater Jay presses on. “You are called to build up peoples’ faith. But if you are telling them that you yourself don’t have any hope, then…”
“I get it!” I start to yell before Flannel Jay shushes me. We all get quiet for a moment. Then, I hear Jack in the next room. I can tell he’s wide awake and stimming. Specifically, he’s flapping his sun-glasses and duct tape while scripting something. A piece of dialogue from Kung-Fu Panda, I think, but I can’t tell which scene.
“Just admit it,” Flannel Jay whispers at last to his companion. “You want him to write posts about rainbows and butterflies, and how he’s got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in his heart even when he doesn’t. Well, there are real people who read this blog, and they are struggling, too. Some with autism issues, and some with… well anything. And being real is the only way to encourage them.”
“Encouraged?” Sweater Jason asks, looking baffled. “By the fact that he, a pastor, can feel every bit as weak as everyone else? What does that do?”
I’m getting nervous now. The two of them are whispering, but they are clearly upset with each other. I want to diffuse the argument.
“Who wants a bowel of generic Cinnamon Toast Crunch?” I ask.
“Don’t do that! Your wife hates it when you evade conflict with banter,” Flannel Jay says. He’s right. I feel ashamed. “I’ve been defending you here, but you actually need to answer this question. Not for anyone else, maybe, but for you: How does ‘being transparent’ show the hope of the Gospel?”
I put my head in my hands and close my eyes. My companions both fall silent. All I can hear is the sound of my son’s flapping, and a muddy voice that sounds vaguely like Dustin Hoffman as Master Shifu.
And in that moment, I remember the words of Jesus: “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
I take a breath, then speak. “If I have stressed my own poverty instead the Hope of the Kingdom–the beauty of Christ Himself–then I am truly sorry. Sometimes I get stuck in my head, and that’s a bad thing, because the answers aren’t in my head.
“But I’m still going to be honest, because He meets me in the honest places. That’s where I find myself being reborn. If I can point people to their own honest places, well… maybe they’ll find Christ there, too. Because that’s where He waits.”
When I open my eyes, my guests are gone. I take another sip of coffee and in a moment, my son runs into the room. He is wearing only his sagging green pajama bottoms and a hyperactive grin: “Daddy tickle me?” he says. It is not really a question.
I pull him into my arms instead, and thank my Father for new beginnings.