Superman had Lex Luthor. Batman had the Joker. Holmes had Moriarty. And me? I had the high school life guards at the public swimming pool. Though their names and faces changed over time, they were my elementary school arch-enemies, my nemeses, my thorns in the flesh, every last one of them. They solely existed to ruin my fun and humiliate me in front of my friends.
Not that I’m bitter.
Sometimes, though, I still wake up in a cold sweat, imagining I’ve heard their whistles and fascist voices barking orders in the middle of the night. No running! No cannonballs! No diving into the baby pool! No breathing!
I guess if I’d been drowning, they would have saved me, but only because they had to. Otherwise they remained aloof, perched on their aluminum towers waiting for me and my buddies to step out of line. If we wanted to have any fun at all, we’d have to do it behind their backs.
I used to wonder how hard it would be for a group of fourth graders to unbolt their chairs and topple them like revolutionaries overthrowing a third world dictator. Sure we would get kicked out of the pool but not before being hailed as heroes.
The funny thing is that later in life I actually met some nice people who swore they’d been life guards in high school. I couldn’t get my head around it. I’d grown up thinking all lifeguards were tyrants. These guys had obviously never worked at my pool.
Somewhere along the line, just as I let few bad experiences at the pool taint my impression of lifeguards, I’d also let a few bad experiences with religious people color my view of God. Many of the Christians I’d known talked so much about the things they were against that I didn’t really know what they were for. No wonder they were so big on heaven, I thought. They sure weren’t having any fun here on earth.
Because of this I came to see God as a cosmic life guard of sorts. Sure, I figured, He’d sometimes help me out, but only because He had to. Most of the time, though, He just sat up in heaven in His celestial lifeguard chair and wait for me to step out of line.
The God of my imagination loved to blow His whistle and yell at anyone having a good time.
Then in college something weird happened. I met some people who swore they were friends of God, but they weren’t like most of the church people I’d known. In fact, they didn’t act religious at all. They didn’t talk in thous and thees. They didn’t sound weird. They didn’t judge me. They actually stood by me during a pretty dark time in my life. And craziest of all, they knew how to have a good time.
It got me thinking that maybe I’d been wrong about God. Maybe as I’d done with the lifeguards, I’d made a sweeping judgment based on a few bad apples. Maybe I’d even misjudged some of the Christians I’d known.
Eventually, when I met God for myself, instead of a lifeguard I discovered a life-giver. He hadn’t been waiting for me to mess up after all. He’d been waiting for me to come home. He didn’t save me because He had to. He saved me because He loved me.
So I guess first impressions aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, and I guess if we call ourselves believers or Christians or religious or whatever, we should probably be careful how we treat people and how we talk about God. You never know how many people like me are paying attention and may be getting some mixed signals because sometimes our mouths may say one thing when our lifestyle says something else. At the very least we should probably be careful about judging people or acting like jerks.
God’s not cool with people thinking He’s a jerk because of us. He’s not. The Bible’s kind of big on that one.
And if you’re like I was, and you think God is a jerk, I’m sorry for whatever got you there. I hope you’ll keep looking and will eventually meet people like I met, whose authenticity and love will convince you that’s God’s more into doing cannonballs with His kids than blowing the whistle on their fun.