As we began our descent, the American Airlines pilot informed us passengers that the weather in San Francisco was clear, sunny and 58˚C so, “they must be having a warm spell”, and that was the first clue that there was about to be a huge paradigm shift in my world. Whoever wrote, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”, could not have been more shocked than I was when that pilot used ‘58˚’ and ‘warm spell’ in the same sentence!
San Francisco was also the ‘classroom’ for another life-preserving lesson I had to learn very quickly. Apparently, you cannot stare, then point at the girl with the purple hair, black lipstick, 12-inch mini-skirt, and 6-inch heels; you absolutely cannot ask her why she is dressed like that or where she is going; and you definitely cannot wonder out loud to your companions, why she chose to dress like that if she didn’t want attention. Epic faux pas! I learned very quickly not to ask out loud every question which popped up in my crazy Jamaican head; hence my deepening insecurity issues and my dilemma with ‘Deer Crossing’ signs.
I was living in Castro Valley, and felt a little less homesick in the early spring when everything was lush and green. Driving through the rolling hills surrounding LakeChabot, I could almost imagine I was back in Jamaica; except for the really nice roads and all those ‘Deer Crossing’ signs. ‘The question’ popped into my head the first time I saw one, but I refused to ask it out loud since apparently, I could get into all kinds of trouble asking the wrong questions at the wrong time.
All this happened before “Google” was created, so I wrestled with the question burning in my brain for months; paying close attention and searching for clues, frustration building, until one day, without warning, it erupted:
“Aaahmmmm…I was wondering about those signs. How do the deer know where to cross the road?”
I believe the hysterical laughter that followed…and continued for weeks afterward…may have caused the earthquake in ’89.
Back in those days I was still very insecure and a new immigrant desperately trying to fit into a new culture, so under the polite face mask, I was really hurt and embarrassed. Everyone thought the question so ridiculous that there was a lot of guffawing, but for a long time no one even attempted to give me an answer. They were not mean-spirited, but I found the insensitivity irritating and thought:
“Pshaw! Typical ethno-centric Americans. No wonder people in the rest of the world don’t like y’all.”
That was such an unfair assessment, but when you are new to any environment, you long for someone on the ‘inside’ to point you in the right direction, say a kind word, or take you under their wing; to be the difference between prolonged misery and a fairly smooth transition. It is a hard thing to be the only one not ‘in the know’; to be the ‘new kid on the block’, the one on the outside of all the inside jokes, and not to have a single person be sensitive to your vulnerability or discomfort.
On the other hand, I also think outsiders are Jesus’ favorite kind of people. His angelic birth announcement was made to shepherds; the lowest of the low on the socio-economic, religious, vocational, and every other kind of totem pole. He irritated the religious movers and shakers who labeled Him, “…a glutton, and a drunkard; a friend of tax-collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34). His response was unapologetic:
“…Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. God and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13-14)
My favorite encounter in the Bible is the one between Jesus and Zacchaeus, the tax-collector; hated by the Roman government officials because he was a Jew, and hated by his fellow Jews because he collected taxes on behalf of their Roman oppressors. Zacchaeus had become rich by overcharging his own people and skimming off a portion of their taxes for himself.
But even he was not immune to the notoriety that caused Jesus to draw huge crowds wherever He went, and being too short to see over the crowd, he climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of this Man who healed miraculously, fed thousands with five loaves of bread and a few fish, and silenced the condescending, self-righteous Pharisees with the power of His words. Jesus surprised everyone when He stopped under the tree saying,
“’Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’ So he made haste and came down and received Him joyfully.” (Luke 19:5-6)
Jesus changed Zacchaeus’ life forever with a single act of kindness and acceptance, and I can imagine he almost fell out of that tree in shock and gratitude. Outsiders already know they are a hot mess, and are much more willing to accept God’s unconditional love, forgiveness, and power to change their lives.
“Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come t this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’” (Luke 19:9-10)
So here’s the thing, the “Deer Crossing” story is now a ‘classic’ in my circle of family and friends, and though I still maintain it was a legitimate question, I also know it was really funny! Having been an outsider, I hope I always remain sensitive to the plight of other outsiders in any environment. Of all people, we followers of Jesus Christ should look to the example of the One who loved and accepted us when we were outsiders; always ready to extend grace and kindness with sincerity because we’re …just living the thing.