Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. Ephesians 5:14 (King James Version – that’s all they had in 1958)
[A summary of the first few chapters of Saint Ben …]
It’s a bright Sunday in March, 1958, when the new pastor, Jeffery T. Beamering and his family are being introduced to the Colorado Avenue Standard Christian Church in Pasadena, California. And it may have escaped some people’s notice, but the youngest of the three Beamering boys is the only one in the whole church not smiling. That would be Ben, age 10, and the sarcastic smirk on his face broadcasts the fact that he is not going to participate in one bit of superficiality … ever. Jonathan Lieberman, also 10, and the son of Walter Lieberman, the choir director, is one who noticed, and he had to admit a certain admiration for the nerve.
After church, the Beamerings are invited to the Lieberman home for traditional Sunday dinner. Ben and Jonathan immediately bond over a love for model cars and an inseparable friendship is born. We soon discover that Ben has an odd attachment to the 1958 Edsel. Indeed, he is a walking encyclopedia on the car. He even looks like the car — the odd grill-like smirk on his face and his ears turned inward like the taillights. Jonathan gives Ben a model Edsel for his birthday, and Ben treats it like a religious icon. The boys play for hours with their cars, even creating a city block in Jonathan’s backyard. Early on we find out Ben has physical challenges, and we wonder what is wrong.
One day while the boys are playing with their cars, Ben reveals a plan to wake up the church. “I didn’t know they were asleep,” says Jonathan. “Of course they are,” says Ben. Ben has found out the scripture reading for the next Sunday includes the phrase, “Awake thou that sleepest” from Ephesians 5:14. “That’s when we’ll do it.” “Do what?” says Jonathan. “Set off an alarm clock behind the organ pipes when my dad reads that.” Thus begins a long string of pranks the boys play every Sunday that corresponds with the scripture reading that, unknown to the congregation and staff, the deaf-mute janitor, whom the boys call Grizzly, is sneaking to them ahead of time every week. Grizzly, whom they used to fear, becomes a welcomed accomplice to their shenanigans.
* * * * *
There is a lot there in Ben’s smirk.
We all know what it is to fake it. We smile regardless. We know the expectations. Someone asks how we are and we feel like responding, “Do you really want to know?” And most often, we assume they don’t, so we say, “Fine,” because it’s easier, but it is not truly sincere.
Ben represents truth-telling to an almost painful degree. He’s just not going to smile if he doesn’t feel like it. And he’s especially not going to smile if everyone is insisting that he must. Ben exhibits true sincerity. He is never going to be anyone other than who he really is. If we were all more like this, we would have deeper relationships, we would be more believable, and we would get real help when we need it instead of suffering alone.
For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. 2 Corinthians 2:17