I used to tell children and sometimes adults “I’m Buzz Lightyear” with a wink. In a world where appearances are everything; hardly anyone understood what I meant as they tried to decide whether or not I looked Buzz.
While there is a certain irony in the fact that one of my first poignant memories was watching the first moon landing on my parent’s Zenith black and white T.V. and I wanted to be an astronaut after that, Toy Story holds a deeper meaning for me than my childhood dreams. It begins with Buzz Lightyear, a toy astronaut with an identity complex. Basically Buzz does not know he is a toy. He thinks he’s is a real astronaut and by extension – a superhero. The story begins with Buzz comparing and competing with the other toys for the love and approval of Andy their owner. Buzz is obnoxiously oblivious to his self-delusion and rationalizes his failures to the point of the absurd. Buzz thinks falling is flying. The other toys are dumbfounded but lovingly tolerate his ridiculous grandiosity.
One day Buzz is confronted with the truth when he sees himself in a Television commercial.
Instead of surrendering to reality, he musters all of his remaining powers of denial for one more attempt at flight only to plummet to the ground. He loses his left arm in the process.
Next, we see a broken Buzz in crisis drinking Darjeeling tea with a bunch of headless dolls in Andy’s sisters’ room. His former identity is shattered, and he believes his name is Mrs. Nezbit.
His fellow toys try to salvage his shattered self-worth but to no avail. Buzz must go through the fiery process of transformation sparked by the death of his false self. Fast forward to the conclusion, we see Buzz rallying a bunch of broken toys to overcome Sid. Sid is an archetype of evil – the bully we love to hate.
He’s also an archetypal traumatized child.
Ironically, Buzz becomes a genuine superhero but within the context of his own brokenness rather than his previously imagined celebrity status. He overcomes in partnership with other broken toys. So inspiring is the tale of redemption and destiny fulfilled that no one gives a second thought to Sid.
The blessing is in the brokenness.
Working with troubled and disenfranchised youth has been a recurring motif since I gave my life to Jesus. It’s a calling from which I’ve attempted to stray but I keep coming back. It’s a calling that unsaved friends and family frequently regard with varying degrees of disdain. Who does he think he is – taking care of other people’s kids when he didn’t take care of his own?
What a hypocrite!
Taming Snapping Turtles
Snapping turtles will invariably bite any hand that tries to feed them. I was a snapping turtle as a teen. Those who have read my previous posts will know what I mean. God loved me in spite of it. Eph 2 Many of those whom I’ve had the distinct pleasure of serving are the same. One particular boy has a special place in my heart. I can’t tell you his real name so I’ll call him “Sid”. Sid made a bomb just for fun and accidentally blew himself up before he arrived in our care. I get that. I made bombs when I was a boy too. In this case, it’s a perfect paradigm for how Sid was living his life. He laughed as he told me he enjoyed the burns on half his body because he got high for free. “They gave me the good drugs!” he laughed. As one might expect, Sid had a particularly foul mouth. My supervisor counted the number of times in the course of three minutes that Sid referred to me in the urban rendition of a female dog. She quit counting at 47. That’s not accounting for the other explicatives, and slurs he vomited. He was particularly frustrated that day because he’d dropped the pencil with which he’d planned to stab me. “Go – head bend over and pick it up so I can kick you in yo face!” I held his gaze and calmly kicked it away.
“You a b#&*!” Sid snapped.
Still, Sid was funny and witty at times. “I need to s*&t!” he exclaimed. “Can you find another word?” I asked. “Ok,” Sid said. “How about “shoot?”. “That’s fine,” I replied. If you keep cussing it’ll be another grounding. Sid was always grounded. Later he told me he was about to shoot himself. “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” I asked completely forgetting our prior conversation.
“Blank No!… You told me to find another word.”
“Can you unlock the bathroom?”
Sid ran away for the second time a few days later. The police brought him back in handcuffs. He was spouting off about “swinging on staff” as soon as the cuffs were off. I guess he thought he sounded pretty tough. The cops told us he’d surrendered when they threatened to release the dog. They thought that was pretty funny.
They didn’t have a dog.
Every day I’d greet Sid with a smile and a hand on his shoulder. “How ya doing Sid?” to which he’d reply,
“Blank you! You blanking blanker!!!”
This went on for weeks. Every day Sid would snap until he was tired of snapping. I’d hold him accountable and give him every available consequence. I’d tell him he needed to stop blowing himself up, that threatening me amounted to him holding a gun to his head and screaming “stop or I’ll shoot!” But Sid didn’t care. At least that’s what he wanted us and himself to believe. One day the Lord prompted me to stick my head in his room after he’d had a particularly rough phone call. His sister and his dad told him to “stop being stupid”. Sid had at least three tears streaming down his face as I spoke.
“You don’t want to hear this now”, I began. “But let me just plant one seed. If you ever get tired of blowing yourself up and give your life to Jesus, that demon that is destroying your life will leave.”
“Hell yeah,” Sid said.
One day I told Sid I loved him after he called me and other staff the usual slew of explicatives. He finally laughed.
“You really like the bad kids don’t you?”
“Hell yeah!” I said.
One day one of Sid’s side kicks, asked me if there is anything a kid could say or do that would make me hit them? “Absolutely not” I replied.
“Well…what if I hit your wife?” He grinned.
“That’s different,” I replied.
“Wait! Is that biblical?” Sid asked with a grin.
It was around that time that Sid started to open up about the most horrible trauma you can imagine.
“My mom is a whore.” he began. “One of her boyfriends was beating her up. I thought he was gonna kill her. So I grabbed a bat and beat his @$$! Then my mom called the police and pressed charges on me!”
Sid’s favorite aunt shot herself in the chest and bled out in front of him when he was 12. “I didn’t know what to do…” he said nearly crying again before he could get the walls back up. Sid had concluded that not giving a “blank” about anything is the key to survival. I told him that’s only true if you are planning to do life in prison.
“That’s where I’m going,” he said.
Then a miniature miracle happened. Sid started saying “thank you” instead of “F-you” and “good night” instead of “Blank you mother blankers”. One day he stopped, turned to me, and said,
“You know I could be a really good man if I changed.”
“Hell yeah!” I said.
The next day Sid asked me a question. “Hey, Mr. Brian ya know what you remind me of?” “What’s that Sid?” I asked. Given the previous night’s revelation, I was half expecting a positive response.
“A Q-tip!” he cackled.
“I can see why you might say that” I replied. Sid’s shoulders sank in disappointment and he walked away.
Then Sid tried to form a gang of other broken boys. He facilitated a classroom brawl at our school and tried to lead a rebellion. In the end, they took him out in handcuffs. One plant, one waters only God gives the increase.
I wept for Sid.
The longsuffering of our Lord is salvation. 2 Pet 3:15
That’s the reality on earth as it is in heaven.
One reason why my wife and I have such a heart for the Sids of the world is that they are transparent. That’s why we lived with inmates for twelve years. As I always say, “I’d rather be punched in the face than stabbed in the back.” Their Sid reputations are fully documented and usually precede them so they don’t bother to pull punches in telling me exactly what they think.
If “F-you!” suddenly becomes “thank you” you can be fairly certain it’s real
Granted some of us grow up to be successful adults with families, houses, and cars… Maybe we get saved and start going to church. Still, we compare ourselves to others and do our best to make the grade in school, in careers, in social life, and church. People are corralled by society into constantly selling themselves to other people. Too often, who they are is determined by who they are with. Our value is determined by other people. Meanwhile, our increasingly narcissistic self-aggrandizing culture produces idolatry of expectation, giftings, anointings, and celebrity. We pursue people we think are awesome because we want to be awesome. People tell us we are amazing. We reply with “You’re amazing!” No one really believes it. So we attend conferences and prophetic meetings in hope of receiving an impartation that will make us amazing. We think we are chasing after God. Too often we are chasing our own reflection as we’d like to imagine it in God’s eyes. Maybe we have a Buzz Lightyear revelation and behold the image of our own absurdity. We rejoice that our true identity is finally revealed and chuckle that we once thought we were real astronauts. Thank God! We’ve been transformed. Now we can get to work saving the world with the other broken toys. We aren’t completely wrong.
We aren’t right either.
The longer I abide in the Lord and He directs my steps, the more aware I am of the utter brokenness that surrounds me, people faking it until they make it but never do. It appears that the average Christian carries so much shame and condemnation concerning the very things thru which God wants to display His grace, and power that it’s a wonder that anyone gets saved at all. God forbid that we would ever feel bad about ourselves. We think we can coat our mess with a prayer, a dip in a pool, and good intentions and call it the blood of Jesus.
But His blood is not a condiment to make us look or taste better and go on living as we did.
The blood of Jesus is the product of His brokenness on our behalf.
Do we think we have a better paradigm? Mat 10:16-39
It occurs to me as I write, that tomorrow is Pentecost. The first Pentecost is recorded in Exodus 19. The Jews had come from Rephidim into Sinai to encounter the presence of the living God.
Rephidim means “rest”. Sinai means “thorny”.
Maybe let that sink in.
It’s not our perfections or intentions our eloquence, our gifts, and anointing or resulting celebrity status that open people’s hearts to the true gospel. It certainly isn’t our eccentricities. Twitching, jerking, flopping, and roaring like a lion does not scare the devil let alone advance the gospel.
Neither do celebrity superheroes.
Rather, our transparency and authenticity regarding our brokenness, our weakness, – our failure in light of His love makes His truth believable to us and then to a dying world. It is only through our comprehension of this truth that we become empowered to share His amazing love with others. Aside from my brokeness, nothing brings me closer to the heart of God than when He works through me in spite of me to love the Sids of the world. We can talk about “MY IDENTITY” ad Infinitum and convince ourselves of His reckless love for the almighty “I” and “ME”. In the end, it only feeds the narcissism that consumes us and the anxiety that feeds on our delusion. Listen! If you really want to experience God, get low with the people and things that the world shuns and despises, the people you despise but might never admit to it.
Genuine Christianity is messy. Proverbs 14:4
We touch the heart of God and experience His presence when He loves the most unlovable among us – through us.
Love is the true anointing. His presence is found among the thorns.
Today I work with kids like I was and parents like the parent I became; messed up angry snapping Sids that the world loves to hate and rejoices when they get the beatdown or the bullet they deserve. People might deny it. But look at the movies they watch or the ratings-driven evening news. Everyone loves to choose a side. Everyone loves to hate a Sid be it an individual or a nation. It’s so normal we think hating is healthy. But if you want to know God, His love, and experience His peace that passes understanding, then love the people he died for. Love the Sids. Pursue the idolatry of self in the form of IDENTITY if you must. Hopefully, your Buzz Lightyear moment of truth is coming. As for me – it turns out that I never was Buzz Lightyear.
I am Sid
My true life is hidden in Jesus. Col 3:3