When I re-introduced myself at my twenty year high school reunion, most of my classmates simply gaped. I was unrecognizable to them. Not just because I had grown older, but because I had become someone entirely different. One long-lost friend said, “Eugene, we voted you most likely to be dead.”
In a way he was right. I had died. All most of them could remember about me was that I was a good [sic] source for drugs and that I had flunked my sophomore year and had disappeared (dropped out) in the fall of my junior year. There are no pictures of me in the yearbooks, even my name was expunged for what would have been my junior and senior years.
I had died. At least that angst driven, drug addicted, confused, human IED I was back then had.
Robert McKee, in his book Story, writes that we humans don’t “take any risks we don’t have to, change if we don’t have to. Why should we? Why do anything the hard way if we can get what we want the easy way?”
How is it then that I had changed (again not gray hair, wrinkles, and a bit of a gut) so in twenty years? McKee was right. It was not easy and it came at the cost of two lives.
Every story has a turning point. Robert McKee calls it the “negation of the negation.” This is the point in a story where the worst that could possibly happen does–and then gets worse. Nothing changes, truly changes, in our stories until this point.
For Jesus’ friends nothing could get worse than Jesus’ awful death. They are grief stricken, deflated, finished. Every dream, hope, and plan for their world to get better was nailed to the cross and drained of life.
But wait! Jesus conquers death, is resurrected! Now he’ll show those Romans and those unbelieving religious people. Now Jesus’ll set things right. Jesus’ll get ‘em.
But instead of using his power to conquer evil, he wanders around for forty days eating fish and teaching and saying cryptic things such as, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
I can imagine the folks at the back of the crowd, confused looks on their faces, asking, “Who’s this Holy Spirit guy? We’re his witnesses? What does that mean?” Then Jesus floats off into heaven.
Things just got a whole lot worse. Jesus has disappeared in a cloud and left the entire revolution up to losers like Peter and Bartholomew and you and me. This is the plan, however, the true turning point. But they don’t know that. We know the end of the story, they don’t. This is it for them. Only now are they ready for change. And change they do.
In The Message, in his introduction to Acts, Eugene Peterson writes, “The story of Jesus doesn’t end with Jesus. It continues in the lives of those who believe in him. . . . [T]hey are in on the action of God, God acting in them, God living in them. Which also means, of course, in us.”
We only change if we have to. The easy way would have been for Jesus to bodily stick around. Jesus, it seems, never did anything the easy way.
I’m glad for that because I was dead at sixteen, out of earthly options. My transformation cost two lives: mine and Jesus’. I am so fortunate one of those “who believe in him,” two thousands years after the fact, showed me the One who had given his life for me. Then and only then was I changed!