Justin Harvey

The Used Car Salesman of Yesterday

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This is an excerpt from an untitled memoir I’m currently writing.

Have you ever just wanted to test drive a car, but had no interest in buying it? I was seventeen years old the first time I had this urge, and I just happened to be near a used car dealership when it struck. So, naturally, I fed that impulsive nature with a quick right turn into their parking lot. I was barely out of my car when I was greeted by Shane. I could tell he was young, perhaps only five years older than me. But he had the demeanor of an experienced salesman and he launched his pitch immediately, yet not awkwardly. Oh yes, he had done this before. I hit him with the bad news from the start. “I’m not looking to buy a car today, I just want to see if there’s anything I like.” Shane may have just been hospitable because it was a slow sales day, or maybe he believed he could talk me into making a purchase, either way he agreed to show me around the lot. We browsed, looking at a variety of “gently used” vehicles. He was surprised that I preferred manual transmissions and lots of cargo space. “Most people don’t know how to drive a stick these days,” he remarked, “I have just the ride for you.” Shane lead me to the other side of the lot. I can’t recall the make and model of the car we went to, only that it didn’t strike me as a car I’d be particularly interested in. Nevertheless, when he asked if I wanted to test drive it I said yes. That was why I was there after all. 

Shane darted off with my drivers license and returned moments later with my ID and a temporary license plate in hand. We loaded into the whatever-it-was and I drove off the lot. We were perhaps 100ft into our drive when he asked, “So what do you do? Are you in school, do you work?” I assumed this was part of the salesman routine – that getting to know and relating to the customer part – finding the best angle to hook the sale. “Actually, I recently dropped out of high school to serve poor and homeless populations. I work for God right now.” His eyes doubled in size. “Wait, what? How does that work?” So Shane and I took a drive to the city line and back. During the trip I told him about how I became a follower of Yeshua and how serving God means serving others in need. I told him about how my own financial needs were constantly being met and even exceeded, allowing me to give away much of what I had to those less fortunate. He had a lot of questions and I was happy to answer them. Eventually we pulled back into dealership lot. “Well, that was an interesting ride,” he said. “I already know this isn’t the car for you, but when you’re ready to buy something, come back and see me.” I thanked him for his time and we went our separate ways.

About a year later I stopped at a gas station in that town. After filling the tank I went inside to grab a drink and the moment I walked in the clerk shouted, “It’s you!” I turned to see a face I did not recognize, “Last I checked,” I acknowledged with a smile. “You don’t recognize me, do you?” “Sorry,” I responded, trying to place his face. He came around the corner and reached out to shake my hand. “My name is Shane. Last year I was working at a sleazy car dealership, having to lie to people every day and hating my job. You came in for a test drive and changed my life. I was miserable in my work, my marriage was falling apart, and I was the furthest I had ever been from God. You and I drove a lemon around town together and you told me about how you became a follower of Christ and some of the incredible things that had happened since then. I was so glad you didn’t buy that car, it was garbage. That night I went home and told my wife about our encounter. We stayed up the whole night talking about our lives, our marriage, and our faith. The next day we decided things were going to change. I quit my job the next day and we started seeing a marriage counselor that week. I got this job, working at a gas station and just enrolled back in college. I’ve lost nearly 40lbs too. Our lives have changed so much for the better.” 

I was dumbfounded. Such a simple interaction had been a catalyst for such a grand transformation in someone’s life. “Man, that’s incredible. I’m genuinely humbled by this. Thank you for remembering me and sharing your story.” Another customer had come in and was waiting to pay. Shane headed back to the counter but turned to say, “I’m glad to know you’re real. I honestly thought you might have been an angel. Keep being you, man!” I left the store with an overwhelming sense of awe and refreshment… yet still parched without the drink I had intended to buy.

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Feb
12

The path less traveled

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The life and teachings of Yeshua Hamashiach (Jesus the Messiah) have held my attention since I first encountered them. My secular childhood saved me from experiencing religious indoctrination and developing dogmatic beliefs, but it also left me yearning for something more substantial than the spiritual and mindfulness practices that had I developed on my own. That yearning was satisfied when I made the choice to follow The Christ and it has continued to satisfy my soul for the following 25+ years. Yeshua changed the way I saw myself, and more importantly, how I saw others. The book of Matthew records a teaching that he gave his disciples.

“When the gate to God’s kingdom opens, my followers will hear me say ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.’ They’ll reply, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me — you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25)

This teaching echoes one of the first things Yeshua was ever recorded saying.

“In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. This is the embodiment of a valid and healthy religion.” (Matthew 7)

This notion of others being just as valuable as me was the missing ingredient in my spiritual life. Embracing it and practicing it is what set me free from a nasty addiction to myself: an addiction which took the form of disregard for others when they didn’t align with my own interests. That’s called selfishness, and it, ironically, was my biggest hurdle to experiencing true joy and fulfillment.
Paul, an early disciple who also had a profound life change by this teaching, wrote in a letter to the Philippian church,

“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death — and the worst kind of death at that — a crucifixion. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” (Philippians 2)

These ideas are fundamental to following Yeshua. One literally can not be a follower of Christ (a christian) without embracing and practicing this. If you’re on a spiritual journey and are Christ-curious, let this be the litmus test for yourself and for others who claim to be christians.

Yeshua concluded that teaching in Matthew 25 with a warning to another group of people who piously believed they deserved a pass into God’s kingdom too.

“‘Take a hike, you don’t belong in my Father’s house. And why? Because I was hungry and you gave me no meal, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was homeless and you gave me no bed, I was shivering and you gave me no clothes, Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’ They’ll reply, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’ He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me — you failed to do it to me.'” 

This statement wasn’t directed to pagans or agnostic folks, it was directed to church people – specifically those who falsified a life of substantive love with a life of useless religion.

Perhaps you’ve spent your whole life in church culture, or perhaps you’re an outsider like me. The point of origin isn’t very important. Christ has made a path for all of us. It’s the same path he took. Know that you belong, know that you matter and your life is valuable. Then extend that sense of belonging and value to everyone you encounter. Show them they are just like you, worth being loved and cared for.

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Oct
12

Nashville Tornado

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The sirens began droning just as I was falling asleep. I opened my eyes to a spectacular light show bleeding through the bedroom windows. My family and I took shelter in the center of our home and we heard the fabled train sound and our house rumbled. I knew it was passing close by, if not over us. Fifteen seconds later it was over. I dressed and stepped outside to inspect the damage. Nothing worse than some displaced patio furniture at my house. 500ft away the story was very different. This morning I ventured out to check on my neighbors, help out however I could, and document the damage.

This is the Donelson neighborhood of Nashville, TN. 3/3/2020

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Mar
3

I Am Not A Christian

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B.C. and A.D.

I grew up secular and had only a few memorable interactions with Christians throughout my childhood. In my mid-teens I stumbled into the teachings of a guy named Yeshua Hamashiach (frequently called Jesus, the Christ). I found his ideas to be challenging and compelling, and so I began practicing them in my daily life. His teachings revolutionized how I esteemed myself and others, and they informed nearly every decision I would make from that point forward. Twenty-three years later I am still practicing his teachings.

It was several months after starting this journey that I began making my first connections with Christians, after Christian peers noticed the changes I had undergone and invited me to join their communities. I quickly realized there are many sub-groups that claim the term “Christian” and while their stylistic differences could be vast, they universally professed a commitment to living by the example modeled by “the Christ”. That was enough for me to believe that I had become one of them, but within a year after immersing myself in Christian communities, I began to distance myself, convinced Christianity and the term Christian were not for me.

What’s in a name?

It’s important to understand that Yeshua wasn’t a Christian. He didn’t start Christianity. In fact, from his teachings we can see that he never intended a new religion to be formed around him. He was Jewish, unabashedly Jewish, immersed in Judaic culture from birth to death to resurrection. He fervently opposed the politics and corruption that had inundated Judaism’s religious establishment, and he revealed a new way of interpreting Judaic tenants, showing the hidden character of God, and ultimately making God accessible to all of humanity, not just those of Jewish faith. One of my favorite examples of this comes from the Gospel of John. In it Yeshua encountered a Samaritan woman while visiting a water well. A significant element of this story is how culturally taboo this encounter was. At the time, the rift between Jews and Samaritans was vast. Imagine the tensions you’d find between west coast Bloods and east coast Cripps, Northern Ireland’s Catholics and Protestants, or FOX News and CNN fans… shade was constantly being thrown. Yeshua wasn’t participating in that foolishness. He engaged the Samaritan woman, started conversation and dispelled the taboo of their interaction when she brought it up. She realized he was someone unique and responded, “I can tell you’re a prophet! Help me understand why my people worship God on the mountain before us, but your people claim we’re supposed to worship in Jerusalem.” Yeshua’s response was simple, “Just because that’s how it’s always been done doesn’t mean that’s how it is. A time is coming—in fact, it’s here right now if you’ll choose it—when you will worship God neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You’ll be true worshiper who will worship with your life, by your words and deeds and motivations, no matter where you are.”

This interaction set a precedent for Yeshua’s followers. Life with God wasn’t meant to be lived only in the churches for a few hours on one day every week – it was a 24/7 life. It was a chance to discover one’s unique identity as designed by the Creator, and to embrace that identity through action.

The Samaritan Woman story isn’t a mere anecdote – the teachings of Yeshua and the canonized writings of his early followers are filled with instructions to resist the religification of faith so that the substance gained in following Yeshua isn’t lost in creating the appearance of following him. We see this stated rather bluntly in Colossians 2: “So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? ‘Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!’ Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important.”

Ergo

I had the fortunate experience of becoming a follower of “the Christ” outside the confines of Christianity, without its traditions, rules, and cultural expectations. From that vantage point, there’s a stark unfamiliarity I often see between the teachings of Yeshua and the religious system that was established to follow him. Since I had already formed a worldview prior following Yeshua, I know that the outsider’s view I had of Christianity was equally misrepresentative. This is problematic. The term “Christian” has wildly varied definitions based entirely on each individual’s past experience (or lack thereof) with people who call themselves Christians. The word—coined during the first century A.D. in a city called Antioch to describe the unusual people following a murdered and then resurrected hero—has lost its meaning. It’s now entirely subjective. This is why I have no reservations about distancing myself from Christianity. It’s a word that lacks cohesive definition because it is largely divorced from the Christ from whom it was derived. As Inigo Montoya would say, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I am not a Christian because I have no idea what you think that means. I am a follower of Yeshua Hamashiach and the only way you can find out what that means is by trying it yourself.

Photo by Camille Perreault

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Feb
10

A Stranger’s Eyes

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At the abrasiveMedia gallery, during the November Arts & Music at Wedgewood/Houston, I set up a photo booth for attendees… the caveat was that they had to take 3 picture with a stranger… and they had to stare into each other’s eyes for 30 seconds while that happened. Most attendees found the idea too uncomfortable to participate, but some, either for the love of art or new experiences, did it anyway.

In the end, this experiment gave us a glimpse of our diversity. Some people remained distant, others clasped hands and drew close, some remained silent the entire time, others started conversations, some laughed, others shied away, embarrassed. A few friendships began too – in just 30 seconds, some people found common ground with complete strangers. They kept talking well after the shoot and even traded phone numbers!

At a time when loud polarizing voices are fighting for our attention and telling us how to think about others, it’s critical that we take the time to really get to know each other and find out common grounds. 30 seconds is a great start.

My only regret… in the haste to make this happen I forgot to properly setup the camera, so many of the photos came out blurry.

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Nov
11