Friday, April 22, 2016

"Why Seeking Approval Gets You None"

John 12.42-43 NASU

“Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.”

A follower of Jesus Christ must be strong to resist conformity and stand up for what’s right. He may be required to endure a little disapproval or rejection…

The phone call was from one of the most popular boys in the high school. He wanted to know, “Can you get us some beer?”

When I was in 10th grade, my friend, Mark, gave me an old draft card he found in a discarded wallet in a trash can. A date of birth was printed on this legal document. The guy would have been 27 years old at the time. “False ID… my ticket to the most wanted commodity on earth, that illegal elixir holding legendary fascination for high school students everywhere… beer!

“You think you can get away with it?”, Mark wondered aloud. “I can try”, was my fake-modest response. So approximately 48 years ago, I sat in Mark’s Volkswagen bug in front of the Sundown Tavern on 85th Street in Seattle, Washington. It was dark outside. I mustered my ‘guts’ and with a push from accomplice Mark, boldly entered where no boy had gone before... the inner sanctuary of the revered “tavern”, the place only real adults dared to tread.

Ignoring the scrutiny of the patrons, I addressed an elderly gentleman behind the bar. “I would like a case of Heinekens, please”. He squinted through ancient, bloodshot eyes. “How old are you?”, he demanded. “I’m 27 and my name is ____________.” I cannot now remember the name on the draft card I thrust at the bartender, but then I had memorized every letter and number on the card and was prepared to defend my new identity. I was 15, and I’m certain I did not look 21, much less 27. If the man behind the counter had stared me down or surprised me with “Boo!”, I would have fled in fear. Instead, in the silent moment of truth, the bartender made the decision I dreamed of… “O.K.”, he said finally and ambled his way to the cooler.

A middle aged lady, several bar stools away, hunched over her drink, glanced my way. “You don’t look no 27”, she said, with a wink I think. “I am too. I am 27 and my name is ______________.” I paid and thanked the old man who handed me a case of beer, and casually made my exit. A safe distance from the Sundown’s front door, I dashed to Mark’s car with a sense of exhilaration and the beloved merchandise under my arm. I still vividly recall the rush, the excitement, the thrill. Nowhere in high school history had a young man displayed such machismo in the face of danger. I was a hero. Mark slapped my back and emitted a loud and victorious, “Yeeaaahh!”

Word of my daring exploit swept through Ingram High School in 1968. I was now known among the elite, adolescent underground as “the kid who could get beer”. I purposely understated the experience as I strutted from class to class, but my new swagger betrayed how pleased I was with myself. Then it happened. The call I had been waiting for. One of the most popular boys at Ingram phoned my home early one Friday night. “Can you get us some beer?”

So this is how you make it into the “in-crowd”. My reputed feat of valor had gained the attention of the coolest kids in school. “Sure!” My response was immediate. I crowded into the backend of a car filled with the veritable “cream of the crop” kids. These were the “movers and shakers”, the most revered and respected guys in the entire school of 2000 kids, the top level B.M.O.C.’s, truly the most popular teenagers I knew. And now… I was one of them! I could hardly contain myself. I would have thrown myself in front of a moving train to obtain the favor of this group. Fate had handed me an opportunity to prove myself worthy of a place among this venerated collection of boys.

My repeat performance at the Sundown Tavern came off without a hitch. I flashed my false I.D. and got the beer. We hastily drove away, the most popular guys on earth, laughing and shouting, holding up our trophy… a case of Heinekens. Where would the driver take us? Carkeek Park? Golden Gardens? Some party with girls and no parents in sight? I couldn’t wait. It was my shining moment. My flash of stardom. My 15 minutes of glory. My highest and most noble achievement to date.


The automobile took a strangely familiar turn. Then another. Before I could grasp the obvious, we were parked once again in front of my parents house! There was an awkward moment of silence. The unthinkable was occurring before my eyes. The unbelievable thought slowly penetrated my mind, “They want me to get out!”

This was my real moment of truth. Obtaining the beer was easy compared with the challenge now confronting me. Would I dare to admit that I had hoped to stay with these kids for a night of partying? Was I crazy? Did I really think I would be invited to join the fun? Did I actually imagine myself to be more than a courier, a necessary means to the end, just a way for these guys to get beer? I had allowed myself to be used. What a fool I now thought myself to be. I would not dare to demonstrate the guts to say what I have often since wished I could have said…”Listen, you dumbs_ _ _s! If you want the beer then you take me with you. It’s a package deal.” Instead, I failed the true test of machismo. I could not risk the horror and dishonor of rejection. I acted as though it never even occurred to me to tag along with this auspicious crowd. Maybe they did not know how much I craved their approval. Maybe they would have welcomed me. Maybe not. I will never know.

I quickly exited the automobile. “Thanks for the beer”, one of the boys yelled driving away. I waved back, “No problem.”  My mom was surprised to see me. “You’re home early. Did you have fun?” I mumbled something adolescent like, “Yeah. It was O.K.” 

Quietly, in my bedroom, early on a Friday night in 1968, I stared in silence at the draft card. It was my ticket to beer, girls, and popularity. I briefly savored the possibilities. Somehow, deep inside, I knew it was folly to pursue a career as my high school’s most notorious beer smuggler. It would bring even more of the same unhappiness and shame I had experienced minutes ago. It might even destroy my life and endanger the lives of other stupid teens who wanted to drink and drive. I made the most courageous decision I was then capable of making; a decision I am still proud of and never once regretted… I tore up the draft card.

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