I was a contra when it wasn’t cool.
From a cultural perspective, my transition from high school to college was jarring, dislocating – and often bewildering. It wasn’t because academics were harder; I actually found college to be overall easier than high school (except for chemistry!) in the academic department.
No, the disconnect was cultural. I had been born and raised in New Orleans, which was (and is still) a lot different than the rest of Louisiana. Despite the rather more, ah, freewheeling culture of my hometown, I found myself pitched headfirst into the college culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Yes, even in Louisiana.
And, weird clothes and hairstyles aside, the single greatest difference between high school and college was drugs.
Of the 24 of us freshmen in the wing of our dormitory, five of us were not into drugs: marijuana, speed, sometimes harder stuff. By accident, one of us five discovered that drugs were stashed throughout the wing – mostly closets in the rooms but sometimes other places. The uncool five got together one night and said, what do we do about this? If some legal authority suddenly did a raid, we would be scooped up with everyone else.
So we called a meeting of our wing, without the two counselors. We asked the other 19 to remove drugs from the premises. We didn’t lecture them on the evil of drugs; we didn’t make any veiled threats; we just asked them to remove it.
I have to say that I didn’t act out of my Christian faith and beliefs. Faith was three years in the future. I did it out of self-preservation and (to a lesser extent) concern for two of three of the people caught up in using drugs. They were spiraling downward and fast.
The real surprise was, the people using drugs agreed with us. And before the night was out, all the stuff was gone from the dorm. Drug use didn’t stop, of course, but not having drugs readily at hand did tend to decrease consumption.
It was my first real lesson in being a “contra” – standing against the prevailing and sometimes overwhelming culture. Three years later, when I did find faith, I discovered another “contra” – Jesus. Jesus was not about conformity. He was not about going with the prevailing wind. He was not about telling people what they wanted to hear. Nor was he about trying to be cool and hip.
He was something else. Something original. And he spoke a language I had not heard before.
“When preached purely,” Brennan Manning writes in The Furious Longing of God, “His Word exalts, frightens, shocks, and forces us to reassess our whole life. The gospel breaks our train of thought, shatters our comfortable piety, and cracks open our capsule truths. The flashing spirit of Jesus Christ breaks new paths everywhere.”
I’ve been caught up in “contra” situations numerous times in my life – school, work, church, the community. What I’ve learned is – right doesn’t always prevail. Not everyone says, “No, keeping illegal drugs here is wrong.” Sometimes The Big Lie wins. People say terrible things about you and what you hold dear. People do terrible things to you and what you hold dear.
But even when you feel like fresh road kill, you know something unbelievably shocking, something that is an integral part of the gospel message.
Those who do the wrong thing, who may hate you for what you say and do, also know God’s Word is right. They can’t help but know it, because each and every one of them is made in God’s image. Sometimes that makes it worse. But they know it.
The gospel message can be – often is – a fire in the soul, and a fire in the heart. And that’s what it was meant to be.
Led by Jason Stasyzsen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Furious Longing of God. Today’s discussion is on the chapter entitled “Fire.” To see more posts, please visit Sarah at Living Between theLines.