One of my favorite books as a kid (I confess that there were many books I would fit into this category) was The Monster at the End of this Book featuring (as the cover of the book itself puts it) “Lovable, Furry Old Grover.” The book breaks the fourth wall, certainly figuratively and perhaps even literally. Basically, upon realizing the book’s title, Grover tries every means imaginable to get the reader (that’s you!) to stop turning pages, lest you get to the end of the book and to the monster that threatens to be present there. But, since all of Grover’s obstacles are merely illustrations on the page (rather than literal ropes tying the page down or brick walls impeding one’s progress), the reader turns each page effortlessly until the end of the book is reached, and Grover himself is revealed to be the only monster present. The book has been so popular that it's spawned a sequel (almost identical to the original, but with added Elmo).
In Slacktivist’s weekly tirades on the Left Behind series, he often suggests that the authors’ intent behind writing those books is to engage in a bit of self-congratulatory fantasy. Basically, he sees them as saying “When the Rapture comes, and all of the End Times prophecies turn out as we said they would, and we Real True Christians (Slacktivist’s term) are safely in heaven and you guys have to endure the torture of the tribulations, then you’ll know that we were right and you were wrong!” He depicts them as laughing at the hoped-for misfortunes of those who do not believe as they do. In short, he depicts them as monsters.
It’s tempting to agree with him, but I've come to realize that I’m not really all that different. For example, while traveling home from my recent vacation via Amtrak, there were a couple of passengers who didn’t feel like members of the Amtrak crew were treating them fairly. Personally, I quickly got the impression that they were angry for completely unrelated reasons, and were looking for things to complain about. They thus tended to look at every little thing in the worst possible light. Although there were a number of other people in that same car, some of whom were closer to where I was sitting, they were the only ones I could hear talking, and I couldn’t shut them out. Later, during the same trip the train stopped briefly in Bakersfield, and passengers were allowed to step off the train for the first time in many, many miles. I myself joined them, but only for a few minutes, as it quickly became clear that pretty much everyone around me was taking the opportunity for a quick cigarette. I personally have pretty much no tolerance for cigarette smoke, even when outside, and so quickly went back on-board the train for the cleaner air.
One struggle I have faced all of my life has been the feeling that I am utterly unlike most other people. In this case, it was the fact that I don’t smoke, or that I was actually pretty happy with the way I was being treated on the train. During the vacation in Placerville, it was my lack of affection for the outdoors life (hiking, hunting, etc.). Often in my church/seminary circles, it could be the ways in which I interpret the Bible when it comes to certain issues (the ordination of women, for example). Other times, it's the fact that I’m introverted in a world that prizes extroverts. I could go on and on….
Now, it probably goes without saying that I know that I’m not alone in any one of these areas. I know friends who will join me in my tastes on each and every one of them, at least when taken individually. It’s probably true that no one is exactly like me in all of them, but you don’t need to read this blog entry to know that no two people are exactly alike.
The point is that, when in these times of isolation, I often not only feel “different,” but deep down, I wish that I could just change everything and everyone around me so that they would just stop being those things that bother me. For example, that I could grab a roll of duct tape and fix it across those complaining passengers’ mouths for the duration of the journey. But these are actions that, I’m sure most would agree, would make me a monster.
There is a monster inside of me, too, and it’s pretty easy to let that monster out. While I can (and, hopefully do!) work to keep that monster from lashing out at people with whom I disagree, at the end of the day, the monster remains a part of me, and it’s still there despite my own best efforts. I can only hope that God helps others to see my inner Grover instead of the more fearsome monster we all know is really there.