Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Cross And The Switchblade - A Call To Anguish

Not too long ago, I stayed over at a friend's house with my brother and sisters while our parents were out of town. I was sleeping with my little sister, who was asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow, so to speak, but I always have troubles getting to sleep in strange houses, so I went over to the bookshelf, looking for something to read. The book that caught my attention was The Cross And The Switchblade, because I had just heard my Mom talking about it that week, and I wanted to read it. So I did. I started on the very first page, and I said, "I am going to read this book if it takes me all night." (We teenagers don't have any problems with staying up all night - we're very flexible about bedtimes:) That was one decision I will never regret - one night that was not wasted... I laughed, I cried, and over and over I set the book down and prayed, because you cannot read that book without praying. I should warn you, The Cross And The Switchblade is a hard book, and you will probably break your heart over it, but I'm learning every day that it's OK to break my heart. And it's OK to keep breaking it, over and over again. That way I keep a vision of The Perfect. I don't get so used to how it is that I forget how it SHOULD be.

The Cross And The Switchblade is the incredible story of how one young man got a call to do a hard thing - and did it. But it's also the story of the New York City street gangs and the teenagers like Nicky Cruz who were so lost that Wilkerson thought no love could reach them. David Wilkerson was a young, married preacher in Pennsylvania and his call to go to NYC came through a murder-trial picture in a magazine. The murderers were kids, all under 18. And Something told Wilkerson to "go to NYC and help those boys." He didn't want to go. He didn't know anything about violent, teenage street-kids. He didn't WANT to know anything about them. But he knew he was supposed to go, so he did it. What happened afterwards is a story that actually defies reality, but don't get me wrong here - this is not a book about David Wilkerson changing NYC. In fact, much of this book is about moments of absolute miserable desperation, moments of shock and that sickening feeling that comes with the realization of a nasty truth. Much of this book is about defeat and anguish.

Wilkerson says that everything in his life that ever mattered to God was born in anguish. I can testify to that fact, for I have found it to be true in my own life. If I am not anguished over something, I will not do anything about it. The only times in my life where I have committed to set my alarm for five in the morning and get up to pray, were those times I have been anguished over something and could not live with the hurt of it any more. And, to be honest with you, it is only this year that these moments are beginning to come regularly and I am starting to realize what all of this anguish means and how it all works together for good. If you feel up to hearing something that will bring you to your knees, I'd recommend that you listen to A Call To Anguish.

I'd say it is really passages like this one, detailing Wilkerson's first meeting with Nicky Cruz, that show the reader of The Cross And The Switchblade the anguish that birthed everything Wilkerson did for the NYC gangs:

'Go to H---, Preacher,' he said. He had an odd, strangled way of speaking and he stuttered badly over some of his sounds.

'You don't think much of me, Nicky,' I said, 'but I feel different about you. I love you, Nicky.' I took a step towards him.

'You come near me, Preacher,' he said, in that tortured way, 'I'll kill you.'

'You could do that,' I agreed. 'You could cut me in a thousand pieces and lay them out in the street and every piece would love you.' But as I said it, I was thinking: and it wouldn't do a bit of good - not with you, Nicky - there's no love on earth that could reach you."

That is tragedy. There's only one word for that last line: tragedy. It's surely a good thing it wasn't true. The Cross And The Switchblade testifies relentlessly to the Power of Prayer. It cries over and over again, "never, Never, NEVER underestimate the Power of Prayer." If you've read it, you probably know what I mean.

My favorite line from that book is Nicky Cruz' first prayer: "Dear God, I'm the dirtiest sinner in New York. I don't think You want me. If You do want me, You can have me. As bad as I was before - I want to be that good for Jesus." Anybody can say, "I am the dirtiest sinner" but in Nicky's situation, it was probably true. I think it would be hard to imagine a sinner worse than Nicky Cruz...and yet he fell to his knees in tears at the altar and gave it all up to Jesus. How can anbody refuse to believe in miracles?!

I recommend this book to everyone who isn't afraid to cry for the utterly lost kids in our country and to pray for them, not just today or this week or this year, but as long as we live. And I recommend this book to every teenager because we need to know these things.

Seize The Day!


Anonymous said...

Thought you might want to know that there is a major motion picture in development about the life story of Nicky Cruz named after his book Run Baby Run (which you also should read if you haven't already).

Check out the official website.

Anonymous said...

I was a bit hesitant about some parts of the "Cross and the Switchblade", but I agree...it was very challenging.

I was listening to a podcast by Leslie Ludy this morning about the fact that this world is dying...and we are the ones charged with the message of life.

Anya said...

Awesome review.

Isn't it incredible how you can pray when you are anguished?

Mandy Grace said...


That sounds like a very good book! When I was younger I used to love staying up late at night to read. I should start doing that again. :-)

Have a blessed day!

JoyfullVictory said...

I think you did a great job on this review. I even put it in the Weekly as the literature of the week!
Love ya!

Wings over Earth said...

Strongjoy, thank you - your review is a good insight!

Nicky Cruz (b. December 6, 1938 in San Juan, Puerto Rico) is the former leader of a New York City gang, The Mau-Maus. He later became a world-renowned religious minister.

Let's see what Wikipedia had to say about these great men - especially in God's eyes.

Nicky Cruz was born to a Theistic Satanist family in Puerto Rico, into a home where his parents brutally abused him, both physically and mentally, his mother saying that she did not want him and his father locking him in a room full of pigeons.

They soon sent him to New York, to live with his brother Frank, but Nicky decided to go solo and ventured onto the streets alone. He was beaten-up by a gang leader, and then left unconscious, trying to heal for ten days. After it was over, he improved his fighting tactics, and sought out after the gang leader, to teach him a lesson. He found the man, and beat him so badly that he was unconscious and bloodied. Soon he was the talk of the neighborhood, and made friends with a gang called the Mau Maus; named after an African tribe. He agreed to joining the gang, and underwent their initiation ceremony; which left him unable to move for ten days. It was about six months later that Cruz was elected the leader of the gang, and under his rule, they were known as one of the most feared gangs of New York.

David Wilkerson (born May 19, 1931 in Hammond, Indiana) is an American Christian evangelist, most famous for his book The Cross and the Switchblade. He is also the founder of Times Square Church in New York, an inter-denominational church.

Wilkerson's widely distributed sermons, such as "A Call to Anguish," are known for being direct and frank. He emphasizes Christian beliefs, such as: God's holiness and righteousness, God's love toward humans and especially Christian views of Jesus. Wilkerson tries to avoid categorizing Christians into distinct groups according to the denomination they belong to, and as such he is an evangelist with broad-based appeal.