Melissa and I were recently in Key West. I officiated a wedding for our best friend’s oldest son on the beach at Ft. Zachary Taylor. Well the beach-ish anyway. If you have been to Key West you know what I mean. No one goes to Key West for the beaches. Those who do, only visit once.
We stayed in a condo well out of the thick of Duval Street but popped in from time to time to drive through, take a walk or get a meal. If you have never visited, Duval Street is sort of like Bourbon or Beale Streets….with additional humidity.
As we walked about the crowded street, we experienced the expected sights and sounds of a place far from the American mainstream. Or did we? You see it was not the expected revelry that surprised me, it was just how similar it is to the streets in so many other American cities circa 2018. Yes, Key West seemed shockingly mainstream…and that is what troubled me.
As I thought about my childhood, I always knew there were exotic and decadent places “out there” but such places never, ever, ever seemed “normal.”
Have I been desensitized? Have we all?
As we walked Duval St. it occurred to me that this was precisely the kind of place my dad would have carried a fifteen foot wooden cross in the hey day of No Greater Love Ministries. He would have waited until the most crowded and decadent moment, and pushed a group of a hundred Christian guys through the middle of it singing Amazing Grace. We would have carried big signs through, handed out tracts and perhaps prayed with a few people.
Perhaps I would have felt better had I done that myself but I didn’t. There were no crosses or big signs for rent. Only golf carts and scooters. There seemed to be no one or nothing offering a counter message to the “hedonistic” novel they have been writing on this street since Hemingway was spending his mornings writing and afternoons and evenings drinking.
This blog is not a moral play. In fact, it is anything but a judgmental piece trying to put the “fun” back into fundamentalism. The experience was just disorienting somehow. And perhaps that is it, I had no sense of place.
I very much wanted to suggest that there is another way to live. Perhaps the population of aging homeless people living on dirty streets with the chickens would have offered an “amen.” And perhaps that is why I write; because I was there and I made no difference at all. My dad would have at least tried. Where is a big wooden cross when you need one?
But these days my keyboard IS my way to attempt to deliver a message. And not unlike my dad carrying a cross, if I can just make people stop…if even for a second and think about where they are going and what they are doing, I will of at least some value.
As I fly home with my wife of thirty-five years tucked beside me, fond memories of a more innocent world seem overwhelming. My grandchildren will never know that world. My stories of it will seem to them like those of my great-Aunt Flossie telling me about life before electricity.
And then it hit me! BAM!
Perhaps it is WE who are now out of the mainstream!
WE are the new counterculture!
We love God, love people, live by our understanding of the Bible, offer our lives in service, try to treat everyone with respect and have chosen to walk a path fewer people seem to choose these days.
And on this street we walk, I have no regrets. There is another way to live. We are living it with no apologies.
Our walk down Duval Street was my most recent reminder.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois and the author of “Love God. Love People. Don’t Do Dumb Crap.”