Last week I had an experience I will never forget.
Josh and I were wrapping up a date night by stopping by the grocery store. We were on another side of town, a wealthier area, and he dropped me off at the store while he got gas.
The store was nearly empty as I picked out tortilla chips and salsa. Suddenly the quiet was interrupted as a cart, pushed by a blustering middle aged man, blew by in a fury. The man was dressed for boating and wearing sunglasses inside. He was tailed by two young boys. Locals would recognize him as one of the visitors who join us in summer. The boys were lagging behind their father, tousled heads bobbing like ducklings. “Daaad can we please -”
“Shut up!” The man barked without looking back and wheeled around the corner. I was a little taken aback by his response to his son, but everyone has bad days; maybe the kids were whining, he was tired. I made my way to the register.
It took me a moment to realize he was two people ahead of me in line. There was only one cashier (it was almost 9 PM at night, and a small grocery store). As the cashier rung up his pile of wine bottles and food items, the conveyor became more and more congested. The man made no effort to bag the groceries (though he could have; he was standing right by the bags) and the boys continued to beg him for something on a nearby shelf.
“Can’t you be quiet?” he yelled to the boys. He turned to the cashier. “What are you doing? Can I have some space here?”
“I’ll get to the groceries in a moment, I’m trying to finish your order.”
He swore. “Don’t you have anything for these bottles?”
She handed him a cardboard wine carrier. “If you can get this open, you can put them in here. I haven’t been able to figure out how to use them.”
The man snatched it from her hand, bending and twisting it for a few seconds as he continued to curse. Then, in a rage, he threw the wine carrier across the cashier’s station. The boys’ eyes widened. “Dad!” One gasped.
The line of us was silent, including the two people ahead of me: a grandmother and her grandson – he looked to be about twelve years old. As the man raged and stuffed wine bottles in his cart, I watched the twelve year old boy quietly walk around him to the abandoned wine carrier, pick it up, and hand it back to the cashier. He returned to his grandma and loaded her things onto the now-empty conveyor. As the man stormed out of the store, the boy loaded his grandma’s bags and watched with earnest eyes as the cashier finished her work. “Thank you,” he said gently.
The cashier looked at his grandma. “You must be very proud.”
She smiled. “I am. He’s one of the good ones.”
Dr. Joel Muddamalle once said that we live in a culture of dishonor. We celebrate dishonor. We encourage it. We want to normalize the rampant use of curse words as humor, even cursing people who do things that inconvenience or cross us. We think courtesy and manners are for antiquated times and people. We consume media and music that encourage us to dishonor others and ourselves.
And then, after all of this, we speak of love as if we can accomplish it.
What you consume will come out of you. What you believe about yourself and others will become your very mode of speech and conduct. But most of all, who you are at home, in the coffee shop, in the grocery store – in the little places, as Francis Schaeffer says – is who you are.
I was astonished this father could treat his sons with such disrespect in public. Then I was astonished he could treat a stranger – the cashier – with even more dishonor. But if this is who he is at home, of course this is who he is in public! If you do not live by an ethic of honor held accountable to the most honorable Person of all, you will never believe people deserve your respect. You will live from entitlement.
To be a Christian is to live by an ethic of honor. And not just live by it, but to actively disciple people into it. Christian honor is not “niceness”. It’s not pretense. Christian honor looks at another person and sees the image of God. “I might be offended by you,” the Christian must think. “But I may not wound you, because I am accountable to God for how I treat His image.” We are responsible to teach our children this kind of honor. We are responsible to fight back against a culture that tells us OUR emotions come first, OUR feelings get precedence, OUR way is best and instead choose to say, “Yes, God sees my feelings and emotions, but He has called me to obedience, and because I am loved by God, I choose honor.”
This is what we teach our kids. This is orthopraxy: The right ordering of our lives around theology. And this theology deals with sin ruthlessly on the Cross so that honor is possible by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As our culture becomes more and more dishonorable, entitled, and deceived, may we be the people who choose honor. May we be awake to the Spirit’s call, awake to His prompting to mature and grow and get outside ourselves enough to walk by His leading. May we be like the twelve-year-old boy who was more of a man than the 45-year-old father, quietly picking up the wreckage of a world’s rage, looking into the eyes of the wounded, serving in the small places.
And when we do, I imagine God looking up on us like we all looked upon that sweet young man, perhaps saying something like we said: “I am proud of you. You’re one of mine.”