Mr. Beckner taught me how to wash a car [by hand, for those of you who always hire Auto Bell]. Anyone could spray some water on a car, and rinse the mud off the tires. But to really wash a car you had to look at the car. You had to see the corners and crevices where mud would hide until you had just almost finished drying it with the chamois and then drag a smear of mud across the freshly shined surface. You had to notice the things that a customer might never comment on, but would notice weren’t clean – the thresholds of the doors, the crack between the seats, the tar that leaps off the roads in the West Texas heat.
I washed a few hundred cars for Beckner’s Exxon station before I turned 16 and had my own car to take care of. During those busy months, I learned the groove of car washing: to get into the rhythm of the work; to really see the car and what didn’t belong on it, to see the possibilities underneath the grime, to revel in the surprise on people’s faces when you exceeded their expectations.
You learn a lot about people by cleaning up their cars after them. I took a measure of joy in taking a scrub brush to the dog-eared carpet in the convertible of a soon-to-be-married bride and making it look [almost] like new, That bride liked to toss her unfinished fast food into the back seat. I’ve thought about her husband a few times since then. Some folks had interesting reading material on the un-vacuumed floorboards. Empty beer cans crowded the inside of more than one pickup. One car did seem to have an alien sludge growing out of the carpeting, but it turned out to just be some kind of mushroom that had taken root. How long do you let a mushroom grow in your floorboard before you ask yourself “Should that be there?” Quite a few folks brought in cars that were spotless even before I started, but they came in by habit every week anyway. Maybe they just liked Mr. Beckner who treated everyone like family.
Discipleship is something like car-washing. We need each other to help face the unfinished fast food, the pile of weird thoughts and images we’ve dropped on the floorboards of our lives. We could use some help cutting down on the beer cans, and sometimes we need someone to say – “Don’t want to be nosy, but is that a mushroom growing down here between the seats?” And even when we’ve got things in pretty good order, well, it isn’t a bad thing to just drop into the car wash on a regular basis just out of habit.
Did I tell you that Mr. Beckner was a rocket scientist? Oh yeah, he helped put Neil Armstrong on the moon. I’ll tell you about that another day.