Sinners & Saints that are five feet nine inches tall–#29 of the 30 day challenge to blog

5’9’’ might not mean much to you, but to me it’s a term that once meant height, then meant camaraderie. Camaraderie transformed into friendship, and for me thanks to time and circumstances friendship gave way to family.

It was my freshman year, and an army of us freshman were walking from our dorm, Smith Hall, at our college in Anderson University. We looked around and noticed most of us were all 5’9’’, with the exception of literally two. We joked that we should be a gang, and call ourselves 5’9’’. The joke stuck. Way longer than we thought it would, and way way longer than anyone that knew us wanted it to. That pretty much describes the method of our humor: Beating a dead horse. We’d beat the hell out of that joke, till no one was laughing, but us…and eventually we’d stop laughing. But then we would just keep beating that damn horse, until something wonderful and beautiful happened. We’d start laughing again, and harder, and louder. And now those jokes, and little moments are set in stone in the fabric of our little fucked up community of friends. And it’s wonderful, and lovely, and better than all the treasures that this world has to offer. It’s friendship.

There were too many wonderful people in this motley crew to remember in the beginning, but what I do remember is that we were all a part of this beautiful dysfunctional family. There was Micha, Weasel, Liechty, Kyle, Frank, Trent, Robbie, Abe, Jevon, Matt, Bryan, and myself.

We were dumb, arrogant, tough, tender, hysterical, cocky, angry, sarcastic, and stupid. And I loved every minute of it. We were in on the joke, that we loved ourselves, and no one else did. I can still remember someone who didn’t know our little college gang asking one of us, “how tall are you anyway?” And all of us jumping, getting in their face, and yelling in the style of the best Will Ferrel impression…”I am 5’9””…and than another one of us would do the same…and much like the Night of the Roxbury sketch from SNL…we’d surrounded this person yelling things like “Who dares question if I’m 5’9”…I’m five feet nine inches dammit!” And so on…

We came up with this thing where we’d snap…any one of us…and the rest of us would come running from wherever we were…ready to fight. I can still picture one of us making eye contact, whistling, and snapping and all of us dropping our back packs, and books and come running. You may think it’s dumb, but I can’t stop smiling.

One day someone bought us three or four toy’s r us Walkie-Talkies…and we’d hang them on our back packs or belts ready to talk to our fellow five niners at a moments notice…class or no class. It turned into a real thing…we really got pissed at each other if they hogged the walkie-talkie’s too much.

Even now as I think about those guys, a rush of memories, laughter, joy, and tears is ambushing me and there’s so much gratefulness that I feel for these friends that I honestly don’t even know where to begin, or to end. But I can honestly say to my dying day, I’ll be proud to be 5’9’’. And even though with age, and cigarette smoke I may shrink, I’ll always tell anyone that asks, I’m five-nine.

I’ve always been more drawn to sinners than to saints. I just enjoy the realness of it all. And a common thread that I’ve always found in the Christian faith, amongst believers, is that they like to play “make believe” a lot. It’s ironic that I’m an actor, as that I have such a distaste for pretending, but nevertheless I do. Christians rarely tell you what they are really thinking and feeling, because they were raised to be a “good boy or good girl”…prim, proper, and polite. And often when I interact with these type of Christian folk…everything in me wants to say…”Bullshit. Tell me what you’re really thinking.” I can’t fault these people too much, as a lot of them are just really trying to be obedient in their faith…but somewhere along they way they were taught that obedience is coencided with wearing a religious mask, and were taught it’s not okay to be transparent that you’re in a shitty mood, or that you’re addicted to sin…and so you hide…and you pretend…and you as they say…”fake it till you make it.”

So the 5’9” was more my speed. Some of them were Christians, and some weren’t sure, and some were and aren’t now…and some just never knew that Jesus really loved them…and some still don’t…but they had something that always drew me to this riff-raff group that no other “Christian” clique or group had an campus: raw authenticity.

As Brennan Manning’s spiritual mentor Larry Hines once told Brennan:

“Be who you is, because if you ain’t who you is…you is who you ain’t.”

How many Christians have you met, even amongst your family and friends do you walk away from a conversation and go…”But who are you really?”

There was never doubting even for one minute with the 5’9’’…they were who they were, warts and all. And I dug that.

But still being a Christian, going to a Christian school, and being associated with sinners had it’s consequences. Seems like Jesus knew what that felt like. He got the reputation, because he too hung around sinners. But don’t let me fool you. I did my fare share of sinning. Like what you ask? I was in my twenties, and I was in college. What do you think? Don’t take my boldness and vulnerability as a badge of honor about my sin…but what I have learned over the years if I don’t face transparency like a lion, I too can wear a religious mask. And that is the first step to becoming lost in my own self-righteousness.

Since this is a blog, and not a book, I can’t spend all day talking about each 5’9’’ member…but I loved them all. I think fondly about my conversations with Micha about Jesus. He’d also like to talk about he could beat me up…and then I would wrestle him to the ground, until he would say…”never mind…you’re crazy Schultz”…Weasel became an even closer friend after college…allowing me to go to his cabin in the woods to just get away and write…we’ve lost touch over the last few years…but we seemed to enjoy each other even though we were different. He texted me when the Ragamuffin trailer was released with a very kind message. Jevon, was the most religious dude among us, be we didn’t hold that against him. He genuinely loved Jesus, and loved people without judgement, even when he didn’t approve of are some “un-holy” actions…but he was Jesus to me a lot in those years…sometimes even in his quiet way…he was the dad we all needed…a source of stability…St. Kyle you know from my earliest blogs…and than there is Trent…Trent always supported my heart for Jesus…encouraging me and supporting me in whatever ways he could to “keep going” and preaching the gospel. Trent could easily kick my ass, but one time he put his hand on my shoulder, and I flipped him…he was shocked and went…”how the hell did you do that”…He didn’t know about The Kickboxer…Then there was Robbie…Robbie was once in The Color Green for a year…Robbie could easily be a movie star if he wanted to be…he was not only funny…but he was cool…I remember once Robbie said…”They only thing I’m not afraid of…is I’m not afraid of anything…” The group we were surrounded by all laughed…Robbie did not. I remember that moment, and I thought. A lot of us talk about being a “Bad Ass”…Robbie actually is one. My friend Matt Liechty who mostly we just called Liechty…we fought like cat and dogs…but also loved each other like brothers and still do…I don’t really think you can have a genuine friendship with anyone until you go to hell and back with each other. And if you survive it. You’ve got a real friend. In Liechty I have a true friend. He’s the one that gave me the Rich Mullins Interviews that helped me dream up the movie Ragamuffin…and played worship at the Ragamuffin Retreats we put on this past year…but my favorite memory of him playing worship…is when he, Bryan, and Robbie and I were all in The Color Green…Bryan and Liecthy were pretty much the worship band…and Robbie and I are horrible would say…”can we sing with you Liechty?”…And liechty would get so mad!!! Like really mad! Lol! To this Day Liechty has had one of the deepest impact on my walk with Christ. We both love Rich Mullins, Brennan Manning, ragamuffin culture, and cigarettes. Then there was Frank. How do you explain Frank? You know, you can’t, except to say…he’s more comparable to a phenomenon…he’s an unexplainable force. He didn’t have it easy growing up…And he had on a tough exterior. A sometimes wild and crazy exterior…but deep inside Frank was a gentle kid that could love people well, especially his friends. And I’ll be always thankful that I’m one of his. Then there is Abe. Abe and I wouldn’t probably know each other if it wasn’t for this ragamuffin crew that brought us together. But when we’re all together it’s similar to family get together. Laughter, fighting, and tears. Abe is one of those, who I can remember smoking with quite a bit in college. And in the stillness we’d get deep, real quick. It wouldn’t be long conversations, but they would be straight and to the point. The last time we saw each other was our friend Bryan’s wedding. We yet again smoked on the balcony of this hotel…and talked about how lucky we were to have these strong friendships…and how we’d lay down in traffic for each other.

And we would.

My favorite movie is Good will hunting, and when I watch that movie, I think about my friends, the 5’9”…yes because they have short fuses…(they are a little longer now)…and yes because of the humor…and yes because of the tight friendships…but it’s more than that…and honestly I don’t know if everyone has this…and that’s why I feel so fortunate…but the friendships you see in Good Will Hunting are friends that would lay down in traffic for one another. And I have those type of friends. Either that or the type that will push you in front of a movie car because they think it would be funny. Now that I think about it…it could be either one…but it’s still friendships I would trade anyone for.

By our Senior year of College some of us lived in a place called 909 Freemont. And one time, and many times since we all looked around and talked about how one of the things that brought us all together is how so many of us have fucked up lives. Some of our parents didn’t live to see us graduate college, some didn’t survive marriage or cancer, and some were never around, or might as well be dead because that’s how much they wanted to be in our lives.

I remember the first time I got drunk was in the garage behind 909 Freemont in Anderson Indiana. It was August 2001, and I was especially depressed because I was coming off the summer of my life, and brokenhearted for too many reasons to talk about here, or maybe it’s that I just don’t want to revisit some of the pain that I had…that hasn’t fully recovered…and maybe never will…but either the case…some of my friends had it worse than me…and we all looked at each other and said…”let’s go get fucked up”…and that’s exactly what we did. We sat in the garage and drank, and drank, and drank…Me, St. Bryan, and St. Matt…the three of us never laughed harder that night…and never cried harder either. I remember at one point…me going…”I would want to die if I didn’t have you guys”…I just can’t remember if I said it or I felt it…Now keep in mind I never drank, except for turning 21 earlier that summer when St. Justin and the Bartender bought me some drinks…so when I say I had no alcohol tolerance…you better believe it…And in the course of an hour…I had a six pack of honey brown…3 shots of vodka…3 shots of jack…and we each popped a vicadin or two…yeah for a dude that wanted to get drunk of the first time…that did the trick.

I was shit faced. And at that point Matt & Bryan decided they wanted to go to some girls house…and I remember because I was a Christian, and because I went to a Christian school I didn’t want anyone to know I was drunk…so I said…”If I go…do you think they will know”…and they said…”Yeah, dave…they’ll know”…So what did my two best friends do? They left me in that garage. Dicks. I still can remember Bryan’s truck lights fading into the night. Because that’s when the “spins” started. What’s this I thought? It’s like being on a merry-go-round from hell. I fell from the couch to the garage floor and threw up….and it was going to happen again…so I rolled over and threw up again.

Now I’m a baby when I get sick…so my only thought when that was happening was…I need to go take a bath…so I started taking off my clothes and made my way to the bath tub. I eventually made it, turned on the water, and passed out. I woke up! Not knowing how long I had been passed out…I thought I better turn it off or I’ll down.

So I did. Now Bryan and Matt come back, and pull in the drive way. They say…”Where’s Dave?” All they see is a circle of throw up in the garage and my clothes all over the back yard…Bryan, being the saint he is, shoveled my throw-up out of the garage. They begin to make their way through the house, continuing to find articles of my clothing through the house…and then they find me…Butt naked in one inch of water. “Dave why are you in the bath tub with one inch of water?”

Me: I didn’t want to drown.

They wrapped me in a sheet and took me downstairs to my bed. Bryan’s bedroom was next to mine, and our walls were super thin. During the night, here’s what Bryan would hear…Me…like a little baby squeaking out….”Bryan….I don’t feel good….what’s happening to me????”

Bryan: You’re drunk Dave. Go to bed, or don’t, but either way shut up!

The next morning I awoke to Matt standing over my bed.

Matt: Wake up.

Me: Why?

Matt: You’re going to church. That’s your punishment.

And that’s exactly what we did. We sat in that church, and listened about Jesus, when all I could do was think to myself…”So this is what a hangover feels like…now I know.”

It wouldn’t be my last. I could pretend otherwise, but why?

Later that year, I was moving away to do an internship in Mississippi, and as I was packing I saw an envelope on my bed. It just said, “Dave”…by the way I hate when people call me Dave. Except my close friends. I don’t tell people this…I let whoever call me whatever they want. But when a non-friend calls me Dave…I cringe…I’ve always cringed at familiarity when there isn’t actually any…but “Dave” in my heart at least is reserved for true friendship…and so when I actually hear it from a true friend I can odd feel safe. I opened it. It was a card saying “Goodbye” . It was from my friend Bryan.

From everyone else I got a…”See ya” …”Later Schultz”…”See you down the road”…but Bryan was the only one that took the time to write a letter. I wish I could tell you what he wrote…but I barely remember to wear pants let alone keep track of momentos…although I do have a few…But I remember the card talked about our friendship, and faith, and what he saw in me as a Christian…and knowing that Bryan’s faith was teeter-tottering at the time…I remember being so humbled by that card. And so grateful. Grateful that I have a true friendship with Bryan.

St. Matt Gast that has had the shame shampoo for five years because he is cheap and only uses a tiny dab at a time…..in the years to come would be one who stayed in Indianapolis…and because that’s where I’m from…I had more opportunity to see him than any one else from 5’9’’.

Matt and I came up with a tradition 13 years ago, that we still do to this day. We spend Christmas together. We drink. And we smoke. I’m not going to share his story, because it’s his, and not mine to tell, but I’ll say this…we decided to start our own holiday tradition. Matt and I had a lot in common. We both loved Jesus, and yet knew we needed shit loads of grace. Not to use as a license to sin, but when it came to being good at being good…we weren’t very good at it. Matt even to this day, is someone I can call, and say…”Help. I’m not being very good…will you pray for me.”

There’s not a movie I’ve made that I haven’t put Matt & Bryan’s name in it. However subtle it may be. On January 9, 2014 when we premiered “Ragamuffin” in Wichita, Kansas…I was sitting next to my lovely wife Amy, and my best bud Bryan. I waited in anticipation for the line…”Hello this is Bryan Bontrager from Nashville”…I didn’t tell him…and it was awesome watching his mouth drop to the floor…

Life moves on, but sometimes there are friendships that are as lightning in a bottle. And if you can catch one. Never let it go. I’m lucky that I caught more than one.

When it comes to faith. Faith in Jesus. I wish I could say we all made it. That we all made it through the trials, tribulations, and doubts of life. But we didn’t. And I’m still so angry. Not at my friends you see…but often when I would ask my friends why they lost their faith…they would say “Christians”…Does it make a little more sense why I’m so vocal against the religious? You would be too if they were the reason, that your best friends are no longer standing with their faith and trust on the only source of true love found in the universe: Jesus himself.

I get it. Self-righteous Christians are no better or no worse than the Christian that struggles with un-righteousnes. That’s what you’re thinking. And you’re thinking we shouldn’t judge them. And love them too. Yeah, I guess you are right. But I’ll tell you a pattern in the Scriptures…a biblical pattern if you will…with sinners he would often offer friendship & compassion…and with the religious he’d offer them a vocal ass whoopin’ …period. This was the biblical pattern I see in Jesus. With sinners he’d offer love, hugs, and forgiveness…and with religious assholes he’d kick them in the nuts…So I’m just trying to be like Jesus over here. I’m not very good at it though, but I at least wanna get in there and swing the bat.

Can I tell you about a mystery involving Jesus and the 5’9”?

Often I would experience the grace, love, mercy, and compassion that I needed to keep going in life, and in my faith in Christ…and it didn’t come from Bible reading…or church attending…or even the fellowship of other more obedient Christians…but often would come form this group of outlaws, rejects, and misfits known as the 5’9’’…it would happen time and time and time again…I saw and experienced Jesus in all of these guys…and I don’t know if those who don’t believe in Jesus and trust him with their life will ever come home like the prodigal son in Luke 15…but I’ll never stop praying that they do…why? Because I would fucking lay in traffic for all those guys…and as Jesus said…”there is no greater love than someone who would lay down their life for another”…So the least I can do is pray. The very least. I owe my life to these guys. The least I can do is pray that they find true life that is found at the center of true love. A love that knows no “boundary, limit, or breaking point”…and furious, reckless, and patient, tender, loyal, and non-judgmental love. A love that is found at the center of the cross. A love that…well as Rich Mullins said when he was singing about Jesus…”he came to give love a face, and love a name.”

David Leo Schultz

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~ by David Leo Schultz on November 2, 2015.

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