I’ll probably feel comfortable in a coffin when my time comes, because I
As in, clear definitions. Simplicity. Nice, tight boundaries, that’s my style. So when people complain about being boxed in I don’t get it at all, because that’s my preferred status.
But not necessarily God’s. One delightful night a few years ago was a case in point, when the edges of my box got smashed and it was all good.
Renee and I were attending a performance by our son and his band. Both our boys amaze me; both of them are multi-talented and creative. Our oldest took up guitar in his teens and has performed ever since, even doing a stint with the Marine Jazz Band, which is no small accomplishment. Now he adds personal trainer and martial arts competitor to his resume.
His younger brother has followed suit, playing that night at the Viper Room in West Hollywood. You might recognize the name – it’s the nightclub the young actor River Phoenix tragically died right in front of.
It’s also a showcase for well-known and up and coming talent. Jeremy’s band, led by a superb young female vocalist who summons thoughts of Peggy Lee and Lena Horne when she sings, was opening the show, so my wife, another couple, and I trekked out to West Hollywood for dinner and an evening at the club.
We found a restaurant near the venue which looked perfect. Healthy fresh salads and greens were their specialty; the prices were fair. We ordered and settled into our booth, looking the place over more closely.
Only then did we notice it was all things gay.
I don’t just mean gay waiters or gay people; that would be no big deal. I mean gay everything. Huge posters of gay parades, gay slogans printed on the walls, appeals for gay causes, one big pro-gay sermon. Nothing obscene by any means; just heavy-duty advocacy. If there were any other opposite sex couples in the place besides us, I sure couldn’t see them.
Well, it was West Hollywood, what did I expect? I quietly asked my wife if perhaps I should leave my business card. She kicked me under the table while smiling at the waiter. That was a no.
But hey, we’d paid in advance, the food was superb, the service top notch, and you couldn’t find friendlier or more enjoyable people.
Most of my daily interactions are with conservative Christians, so I was far adrift from my Assemblies of God box, and you know what? I was having fun. These folks were all easy to like because they were, well, likeable.
Dungeons and Dragons
The Viper Room was minutes away. We navigated Hollywood traffic, parked, and waited in the line growing outside. The velvet rope was up, and I was a groupie for my own son.
Strike that, I was a relic. Everyone else in the line could have been my grandson. They also could have been from the Addams Family, since black seemed to be the only acceptable color there, and smiling was clearly
I tried striking up conversations and struck out, first with a well pierced young lady standing next to me who regarded me the way I regard unwanted insects, then with the doorman who, upon letting us through, demanded to see my ID.
“Not sure if I’m old enough for a beer? Happens to me all the time”, I grinned, pulling out my wallet. The glare he gave me could have intimidated the anti-Christ. Smiling wasn’t cool, I forgot. Sorry.
We climbed pitch dark stairs through a black passage into the dimly lit main stage room. The pounding electronics they called pre-show music pulsated at torturous decibels.
I saw posters of upcoming bands with names like Headless Porcupines or The Disemboweled Mailmen (I’m making this up but it really was something like that) and thought of asking if they could play any Beach Boys tunes. I changed my mind when I saw the DJ. I’d had enough glares from dragons for one night.
We waited, standing. You don’t sit at night clubs; did you know that? You stand for hours, which has to be tough on The Disemboweled Mailmen.
By then I truly felt my box not just stretched but coming apart. From a gay vegetable fest to a pitch-black orgy of thrashing and thumping, my not-of-this-world status was neon-bright. I was too theologically and socially conservative for this bunch, this club, this town.
And too old to boot, way too unhip, hopelessly out of my element. I would only embarrass my poor son; who needs this, where’s the exit?
Just then the stage lights came up, the MC announced the show, and there they were.
More to the point, there he was. My grown son, gripping his upright bass, dressed to the nines in bowler hat, plaid shirt and jacket, baggy pants and spiffed footwear, looking like he just stepped out of the Big Band era into this new dimension.
All the band – trombone, sax, keys, drums and guitar – were dressed in 40’s garb, suitable for their music and style.
I panicked. Surely this crowd would never tolerate music by Arte Shaw and Benny Goodman!
But then the lead singer, resplendent in her long yellow vintage gown looking nothing less than regal, took the mike, opened her mouth, and ruled the world.
For the next half hour, as we were treated to American Songbook classics like Minnie the Mooch, I kid you not, these black clad Addams Family kids ate it up! Just goes to show that great music, performed well, transcends age, tats and piercings.
Suddenly nothing else mattered to me, not my discomfort with my surroundings, nor my obvious alien status. My son and his friends were making magic. I was no longer a geezer in culture shock, but an indescribably proud Dad in awe of what was coming from what used to be my boy, but who was now unmistakably his own, well adjusted, spiritually grounded and generously gifted man.
The takeaway is pretty simple: sometimes we need stretching.
I’m accustomed to the daily Pastoral Counseling environment, where people ask me to assess their situations in light of scripture, offering Biblically-based solutions. I speak in churches to Christian groups, move in Christian circles, socialize mostly with believers. Nice box, if I do say so myself.
But that night no one gave a rip what I thought about anything, everyone around me seemed to have a world view contrary to mine, and I was without control, out of context, unboxed.
Also wrong in my presumptions. The openly gay clientele and servers at the restaurant couldn’t have been more pleasant to be around, and the gloomy kids in the dungeon went nuts over my son’s band when, in fact, I thought they’d assassinate them. All my stereotypes were way off; all my discomfort was needless.
In the midst of it all I sure didn’t do anything special or redemptive – no evangelism or commentary – but I did have the chance to, as Paul said, live peaceably with all men, enjoy people I disagree with but can appreciate nonetheless, and see my son let his light shine, broadly and boldly.
So now, in the safety of my own office, back to my own routine of using my own laptop in my own world, I smile and thank Him for that
And I relish, not for the first time and surely not the last, the memory of a fun, unnerving, and delightfully unpredictable night outside the box.