This weekend on the annual Beach Retreat, our youth engaged in conversations about heaven and earth. What I consider to be a perfect platform for contextualized eschatology with teenagers evolved into a weekend of storytelling and a rare attempt on my part to write a short tale.
What resulted was Life According to Trey, short stories of faith and doubt. I never imagined my youth would be so captivated and intrigued, adopting this fictitious character as though a member of the youth ministry. It even forced me to write Part 2 on the whim while they ate dinner. That will be posted tomorrow.
So, without further delay, meet Trey...
Trey lived in a small town just outside Washington, D.C. He was a junior at the local public high school and probably registered as ordinary according to the social standards of his peers. There was nothing about Trey that made him stand out or draw a crowd. Trey was cut from his JV baseball team as a freshman and so never tried out again. Many said he was smart, but B+ smart. So smart enough to keep his parents off his back but also only smart enough not to be invited to those end-of-semester breakfasts the principle held for all those on the honor role.
Trey also attended his youth group, but he was the quiet type. Trey participated enough to be known by name but apparently not enough to capture the attention of the youth pastor. He assumed this is why he was never asked to share his story at the local fundraising event. He often came home lamenting to his parents about how he wished the youth group would, maybe just once, recognize that you didn't have to be loud and out-going to be evidence of something good going on in your life or able to contribute interesting ideas.
Trey was not eager for attention, but also appreciated when someone acknowledged his existence. That's why he was so thrilled and stunned when he received a particular invitation. Trey's mother had asked he run down the drive-way and get the mail, sure to be mostly junk that would either be recycled or used as kindling next time his dad couldn't catch the match-n-light charcoal on fire.
But this time was different.
Trey opened the mailbox and, wedged between the grocery ads and the Community Courier, was cream-colored envelope addressed to him. The return address:
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington D.C. 20500.
On the reverse, the presidential seal.
It wasn't an election year. Trey was not old enough to vote. Trey was a B+ student and he had not even been active in too many service projects or volunteer opportunities. He was also certain his parent's were so jaded by politics that neither of them cast a ballot.
So why would the President send Trey a letter?
He walked into his house, ran up the stairs, and dismissed any and all questions from his mother about what he was up to. Trey shut the door behind him, sat at his desk chair, flicked on the lamp, and held the letter in his hand.
He knew he wanted to carefully open this letter so not to rip it. Trey expected a card, but instead it was a hand-written note. Trey doubted whether this was a legit letter, but then he kept seeing the seal:
I am making my rounds with some local teens and wanted to see if you would be willing to have dinner with me on June 20th at 6 p.m. I would love to have the chance to hear about your community, your family, your questions, concerns, hopes and dreams. If interested, please mail in the card included within this letter and we will see you then.
The President of the United States
The President's left-handed, loopy signature just above the title confirmed this was a real letter.
Trey had not realized his hands were shaking, and so the card lay on the floor after falling from the envelope. He quickly filled out the card, not wasting a second with this rare invitation, and ran right back out to the mailbox and put up the red flag.
The next few weeks he told everyone he new about this incredible invitation. Trey shared about the greatest news ever to come to his mailbox. All his friends and family knew about June 20th at 6 p.m., so when that day came Trey had more than enough help getting himself ready for the occasion and the 35-minute ride to the White House. The family hopped in the car and headed to Pennsylvania Avenue, assuming they would know what to do once they pulled up to security.
They arrived right at 6 p.m. Nothing.
Paged the security guard. Their names were not on the list.
The President wasn't even there at the moment.
Then they received a phone call from their neighbor.
"Trey, the President and his entourage are here in our neighborhood. They said they sent you a letter and you confirmed your availability for dinner. They were wondering where you were. I told them you were in Washington. Has there been a mix up?"
Trey had been so eager about the invitation that he failed to recognize the letter was actually an invitation to dine at his home. The President wanted to sit at table in the rawness of his hometown. The President was willing to come to his place and, in his zeal, Trey had assumed he was supposed to head to the White House.
Trey thought the purpose all along was to leave his neighborhood and head to Washington, where he would be greeted with all sorts of flair.
This was more than a mix up, Trey thought. It was a confusion that could have been prevented had he actually read the letter.*
Thoughts to Ponder
How does Trey's story pertain to the way the church and Christians have frequently understood the goal of faith in Christ?
What about this story challenges your own discipleship and perceptions about what it means to be the church on mission?
What could have prevented Trey's blunder? How does this relate to the way many, maybe you, have read Scripture and the especially the New Testament?
N.T. Wright suggests the Apostle's Creed has played a role in our negligence of the life of Jesus Messiah and on-earth-as-in-heaven theology. How so?
What do you believe contributes to our neglect of God's kingdom already here and still to come?
*This story is an adaption and expansion of an illustration within N.T. Wright's, How God Became King. Wright suggests the popular assumption of the goal of Christianity as "going to heaven when we die" is "as though you were to get a letter from the president of the United States inviting himself to stay at your home, and in your excitement you misread it and assumed that he was inviting you to stay at the White House" (44). This is a fantastic read that challenges many on what Wright calls, "the forgotten story," which deeply affects the Church's theology and praxis of mission.
**The story above was embraced with so much enthusiasm on this past weekend's youth retreat, I had to write a second part on the whim while they ate dinner. Stay tuned tomorrow for more of Life According to Trey (Part II). The illustration was also crafted by a 9th grader while I told the story. Kind of fun, huh...