By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston
“After his suffering Jesus presented himself alive to the disciples by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This,’ he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’” —Acts 1:3-8
Growing up in the Holston household, respect for your elders was the rule. Fear was not exactly what my brother and I had for our father, even though we were scared at times, but it was the awesome power of his presence. He was a yes sir/no sir kind of guy. If he asked you to jump, you asked how high. If he asked you to run, you asked how far. If he asked you to stand, you asked how long.
I believe the late folk singer Jim Croce said it best in these lyrics, namely: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape; you don’t spit into the wind; you don’t pull the mask off the ole Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with Jim!” Jim was my dad’s nickname, and my brother and I had a healthy dose of respect for him.
But everyone has a weakness. Mythology records Achilles the Greek god and his heel. The biblical text tells us about David and Bathsheba. The comics suggest Superman had his kryptonite. My dad’s weakness was repairing cars. He belonged to that grand fraternity of “shade tree mechanics.” You know, those people who enjoy working on automobiles in their spare time, in their own driveways, doing basic maintenance, sometimes beneath a shady tree in their yard. Those who can sometimes cause more damage than improvement to their cars.
Now, my dad was a do-it-yourself kind of guy, but not when it came to cars!
It was a cold Sunday night in January. Remember that respecting your elders was the norm, which meant as children we had to be outside while he repaired the car, often standing and freezing.
As he worked, the vehicle almost started. He invited us to get into the car, but it was colder in there. I observed through the windshield in the small opening created by the lifted hood that the air filter was removed, exposing the carburetor. I noticed my dad poured gasoline into the carburetor and poured more…and more…and more.
He yelled “Hit it!” My brother and I both rushed to the ignition. I was the oldest, and I wanted to be the helper; my brother wanted to keep me from being first. Now this was a blur for both of us. He said I did it, but I thought he turned the key.
Regardless, the key was turned and we had ignition. There were colors—red, yellow and orange. There was smoke—a lot of smoke. There was that signature loud noise of an explosion—kaboom!
My brother and I looked at each other both thinking, “We’re going to get it. We’ve just killed our dad!”
Then he slowly moved to the side, and we saw him. The best way to describe it was if you’ve ever seen the movie Gremlins. The character Stripe had a white stripe down the middle of his head. When we saw our dad, his mustache and eyebrows were singed. He also had a brown stripe down the center.
Have you ever had laughter emanate in your body and you had to stifle it? It’s painful, really painful.
There was our dad. Staring at us. Daring us to speak. We waited ever so patiently for him to give us words of grace, and finally they came.
“Go inside the house with your mother.”
We zipped out of the car and inside the house as fast as we could, because we knew that was our only opportunity for escape.
As tough as it was to stifle ourselves, we patiently waited for our parents to go to sleep. Then when the coast was clear, my brother and I stayed up all night laughing about the night’s events.
Sometimes it is not possible to say anything or respond in the moment. You simply have to wait patiently for an opportunity, even if that is not right now.
In the midst of a humorous moment, I remember the patience of my dad. For him, patience was a manner of graciously accepting life without forcing one’s own agenda onto it. Patience is not only a virtue, but also an acquired taste.
People want to get back to living, and that is important. But we can’t rush it.
None of us are perfect. We are all venturing into these new spaces with a steep learning curve. No one really has all the answers. But what we do know is that we need to move forward slowly. There’s no point in pouring all the gasoline into the tank before the first crank.
It is important to give ourselves space to be patient as we go forward. We are learning as we go, trying one plan, then course-correcting if that plan does not work. There are some things that we need to keep in the forefront of our minds through the transition back into our communities and back into our church buildings. Love each other. Care for each other. Be sure that you don’t get so exasperated that—kaboom!
Before sharing opinions or feedback with one another, listen first to make sure the coast is clear, to confirm that now is the best opportunity to respond. If it isn’t, then continue to wait patiently. Show a healthy dose of respect.
When Jesus returned to visit the disciples after the resurrection, their most burning question was “When?” As people who profess to be followers of Jesus, we yield to God’s authority. We focus now on preparing our hearts for the coming of the Holy Spirit so when we are called to be witnesses, we can answer, “Here I am Lord, send me.”
We’ve got cabin fever, and like the disciples we, too, want to know “when.” But as we practice patience, we need to give each other space to prepare, to figure things out, to maneuver safely in this new normal.
We are all trying to live beyond our expectations. With God as our authority and with patience acquired, we’ll be ready when it’s time to turn the ignition.
By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston