(A TRUE story, in the grand tradition of "The Wedding Dress," and "The Sword in the Stone.")
It was the most beautiful leather; perfectly James Dean-esque. (Alternately, it tended to remind me of Ray Verzi, the coolest of the cool, toughest of the tough, tight-jeaned, leather-jacketed rebels without a cause at Thurston H.S.) It was a high-gloss jet-black, fur-lined, taper-fitted, must-have-been-a-beautiful beast leather, that still retained that amazing new leather smell right up to the last time I sniffed it. And zippers! more zippers than surely could ever have been of practical use, but they did manage to accomplish their one true aim: THEY LOOKED COOL; this jacket was, in fact, the very epitome of cool. It was a gift from Dean. But not to me. Dean was the guy who led me to Christ. In early Spring of 1982, he rolled up to WCAR Radio of Detroit (my place of employment) on his Triumph motorcycle, clad in faded jeans, t-shirt, and a very beat up, well-worn biker's leather jacket to take over the contemporary Christian music program, "Higher Power," started by WCAR's born-again Program Director Foster Braun. Dean was bold, even brash, highly intelligent and supremely articulate, sullen, outspoken, AND UNCOMPROMISINGLY REAL; in short, everything I thought these pesky "born-again Christian" types most definitely WERE NOT. To this day I still don't believe I've ever met anyone so utterly devoid of the fear of men. He would unashamedly preach Christ and the Cross while standing in line at a crowded McDonald's, as frustrated customers were snidely grumbling about a lag in the service; or in a radio-station reception room to a group of Detroit's most wealthy, well-dressed and self-important V.I.P.'s; to WCAR's ultra-intimidating, 6-foot-6-inch (Dean was an inch or two shorter than I), business-suited General Manager, Jack Bailey, and (he solemnly assured us) to mourners in a funeral parlor who were paying their respects to a departed friend or relation whose eternal destiny was uncertain, if he found himself in such a circumstance. He was over the top, out of the box and off the charts, but the Lord knew he was exactly the radical I needed to be convinced this Jesus stuff was the real deal, and not just some namby-pamby, "let's pretend" kind of cop-out for those who couldn't cope. Most importantly, Dean knew his Bible and expertly quoted scripture after scripture with an effortless fluidity to show me that ALL men are incurable, incorrigible sinners, and our ONLY hope of salvation from sin and its eternal punishment is to place one's personal faith in the finished work of Christ on the Cross. He taught me that when the Bible says "saved by Grace" (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:24-28) it means that God gives us eternal life as a gift that is ABSOLUTELY FREE, totally apart from any good works of ours (Titus 3:5;Romans 4:3-5; 11:6), because CHRIST has already paid the bill, once and for all (John 19:30; II Peter 2:24; 3:18). All we need do; all we CAN do, is place our faith, our trust, in CHRIST ALONE. Just four years after coming to Christ, I came to New Tribes Bible Institute to be trained to go to "the regions beyond" to reach tribal people with the gospel of Christ. There, I met my beautiful, sold out to world missions wife-to-be, Karen Ziegler. And, I met and befriended two of the loveliest, funnest young Christian men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, Sasan Tavassoli from Iran, and Nova Massie from Indonesia. Dean met and spoke to Sasan and Nova for the first time at the wedding rehearsal dinner. He was so hugely impressed by these two young guys and their unfeigned love for Christ (and, let me tell you, Dean was not easily impressed!), he felt he just HAD to buy them each a gift from the biker's accessories shop where he worked -- two brand new black leather jackets (about $250 value each!). Sasan, who, at the time, kind of resembled a very slender, young version of Sylvester Stallone, loved his jacket from the start. Nova, on the other hand, had to be one of the meekest, most gentle souls I have ever met. He was as unlike James Dean, Ray Verzi, or John Rambo as Snoopy is unlike the T-Rex in the Jurassic Park films. Nova found me as I was getting out of my tux in the men's room at Bethel Baptist Church after the ceremony was over, and most everyone had gone. "Oh, Brudder Air-Nee; thees is not me," he said, shaking his head, a pained and embarrassed look on his face; "I can't wear thees. You have to wear it, my Brudder. You take it." He was absolutely right, of course. For Nova to don such a jacket would do terrible violence to the poor boy's entire persona. It would be a violation of every rule of order in the cosmos; a "disturbance in the force," a travesty of justice akin to the unprovoked murder of a mockingbird. So, I did just what any true friend would know he HAD to do in similar circumstances: I took the jacket.
To be continued . . .