Scar Show

scarYou’ve heard of a car show.

But what about a “scar show”?

I became involved with one of these a couple of weeks ago.

The occasion was a visit back to see my siblings and parents in the Pacific Northwest. One afternoon as we were driving south on the freeway, I said to my brother, “Hey, isn’t this the exit we always took to get to that first house we lived in out here?”

He agreed it was, and so, just for fun, we decided to take the exit. We were both curious to see if the house we moved in to in 1969 was still standing.

He knew exactly which turns would get us to the spot. And sure enough, there it was… our house! Right where we left it. Of course the whole area around it had changed dramatically. No more big open fields with ponds and trees. Just a whole bunch of other houses… cheek by jowl… crowding the entire area.

As we started to drive away, the road turned sharply downhill. I turned to my brother and said, “Oh wow! Remember your sledding accident on this hill? Remember that awful gash on your leg? How many stitches did it take to close that thing up?”

Naturally, a conversation that begins with that kind of set-up would not be complete without getting a first-hand look at the actual scar that resulted from such a mishap. And then of course, you know what happens next; somebody else has to show THEIR scar and then the next person shows THEIR own scar and so on…

Hence the name: scar show.

A couple of years ago I was able to overhear a slightly different kind of scar show going on. There was a table of men near me at a local McDonald’s. I estimated they were all baby boomers (like me) and a couple were even a little bit older than that. It was early morning and this seemed to be a regular gathering with senior coffees, Egg McMuffins and other breakfast items. I was trying not to eavesdrop, but the volume of the discussion made it impossible not to.

Soon the conversation turned into a scar show. The difference in this case was that the scars they were comparing were not the visible, physical kind. They were not – thankfully – lifting up shirts and rolling up pants legs to show off old war wounds.

But in much the same way that my brother and I had engaged in a friendly game of “can you top this” with the scars on our bodies, the guys at McDonalds that morning were comparing the scars on their souls.

They talked about divorces, disappointments, and deaths. They compared their different experiences of unemployment, underemployment, unease, and uncertainty. They had seen injustice, intolerance, ineptitude, and intoxication.

They had each been through a lot. And they were not afraid to come right out and say so. My heart was going out to them (and honestly, probably still should) right up to the point where they started comparing their wounds to the wounds of the present generation. And as you might guess, the present generation did not come out very well in the comparison.

“Kids today… they don’t know how good they have it,” one said. “They really think it is a disaster when the Internet goes down for a few minutes, or when their Starbucks latte isn’t made quite right.”

The speaker snorted a disapproving snort and then continued, “I’d like to see them try to deal with some of the stuff that we had to deal with when we were their age. They wouldn’t have the first clue about how to cope with ANY of it!”

Naturally the speaker was showered with affirmations from both sides of the table. Had it continued much longer, in fact, he might be standing today as the nominee for president of one of the parties.

But the whole conversation started me pondering the effect of the activity taking place there… the activity of comparing scars and insisting that somehow MY pain is greater than YOURS.

I wondered, why do we do it? Is there any value to it?

In the first place, I don’t know whether my pain is greater than yours. How can I?

I know that when the thing happened in my life that caused the pain – be it divorce, job loss, bloody nose, or sprained ankle – it HURT! In fact, it hurt like hell! But I was not inside your skin when your moment of pain occurred. I can’t possibly know what the experience was like for you. Not only that, your pain threshold is likely very different from mine. You might just shrug off something that makes me cry like a baby, or vice versa.

Given the difficulty of accurately comparing our two different, highly subjective experiences of pain, I began to feel that I must be seeking a payoff of some kind when I invite you to participate in a “scar show” like this.

But what is that payoff? Am I looking for sympathy? Am I in search of fellowship and some ground of mutual connection? Am I seeking to somehow bolster my own self-image by asserting a superior level of tolerance or virtue?

It could be any of the above. Or it might be some other motivation I haven’t considered. I am certainly not smart or insightful enough to be able to accurately name all the hidden forces at work below the surface of my consciousness.

But this I do know: neither my pain nor yours hold a candle to the pain Jesus experienced in his death. Or, for that matter, to the pain in God’s heart as he watched his son suffer. Both had to have been utterly “off the charts” in either the physical or spiritual dimensions when it comes to any kind of agony you and I might ever experience.

And now, maybe for the first time ever, I think I might realize why the pain of the cross HAD to be such a super, extra, heavy duty, uber level of pain. It had to be exactly that so that no pain on earth would ever be able to compare to it. Wherever human experience took us, there could never be the slightest doubt that God has walked in exactly the shoes we are walking in… no matter how much they hurt.

I think that also might be what it means when our Creed makes a point of including the phrase, “He descended into Hell.” It might well mean, “No horror you can imagine is beyond the reach of your Creator. Whatever is happening or has happened to you, he has been there too. In fact, He IS there. Right now.”

As Jesus said in his farewell discourse to the disciples right before being led off to his trial, torture, and crucifixion, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NRSV).

My pain is mine. Your pain is yours. But thanks be to God, all of it belongs to Christ and has been redeemed by him forever. AMEN.

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