These two words, spoken listlessly by the scruffy, not-quite-clean, but once-proud man were exactly what I had expected to hear, as I looked at what he had to sell. The now-commonplace scene was repeated again one day recently and I’ve got to tell you, I long for the days when the musical instruments coming in my door are being brought by folks who want to sell them. I love a good bargaining session where the give and take, the reciprocity, are mutual and spirited. I make an offer, they counter-offer. I balk, they come down a bit, and we come to an agreement (you know, like Pawn Stars on The History Channel). I now own an instrument which can be resold for a reasonable profit and they leave with money in their hands, usually more than they came in expecting (and sometimes less). But they wanted to make the deal and leave satisfied.
Today’s specimen is not such an example. The instrument is a no-name, beat-up, barely-playable electric guitar in a non-matching and groaty case. And yes, I realize the term “groaty” is an obsolete fad-word, used by my generation in our prime (a long, long time ago) to describe a gross, disturbing mess, but that describes this case precisely. It is almost slimy with mold and putrid with the stench of stale cigarettes and cat. If I were anyone else (you know, like Pawn Stars), I would probably order them out of the shop with it, but I cannot. This is not about an instrument, a case, nor even about money. This is about the person holding the monstrosity. I don’t need that guitar. I already have a back room filled to over-flowing with such unmarketable eyesores. But, I do need to buy the instrument. He doesn’t want a hand-out, but he needs one, so he’s brought the only thing of “value” that he can let go of. This man needs to walk out of here with dignity (but with money in his hands) and I rise to the occasion. Why? Because I have to. It’s my reason for being here. Well, one of them anyway, but an important one.
When I wrote my first post, I said I needed a “pulpit from which to preach.” So here’s a little of the preaching part. When Jesus said, “The poor you have with you always,” as He gave permission for an extravagant gift to be given for Him, what He did not mean is, “Don’t help the poor.” He meant exactly the opposite. Give to the poor and give extravagantly to God. We are not excused from helping them, simply because we can quote Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians, “If a man will not work, neither shall he eat.” That phrase is so overused and incorrectly applied that it has lost all of its original meaning. When uttered today, it means, “I really don’t want to share with you and it’s your own fault that I have an excuse.” In its original context, it was never to be applied to unbelievers, and certainly not as an excuse for selfishness! If love is not the purpose of our actions, they are wrong. Period!
Wow! I’m almost done preaching now…But I do laugh at how people (notice; one finger pointing outward, but three pointing back at me) just don’t “get it.” The other day, one of my “always with me” guys (let’s call him Joe) was in as I was bartering with a different “always with me” guy (call him Jack) for an amplifier. When I gave Jack too much for the amplifier (because he needed a break), Joe waited until he was gone and asked, “Is he somebody special? You gave him way too much for that.” Picture this being said as Joe was pocketing the proceeds from the sale of his guitar, for which I paid him well more than Blue-book price, simply because he needed money to make a payment to his creditors. But that’s all of us to a tee isn’t it?
I like to think that I’m a student of human nature, but my guess is that I’m just as blind as the next guy when it comes to recognizing the gifts I’m given. Instead of simply being grateful, I point to what others are given and talk about how little they deserve it. Look around you, you may also see what I mean. We’re surrounded by examples. You can probably find one if you try…
“Twenty dollars.” I paid the man and later threw away the case and added the guitar to my ever-growing collection.
I’m hoping someday to find plans for an art project that calls for electric guitars without pickups, trumpets with missing valves or slides, and moldy saxophones with broken keys. Any suggestions?