This week is “Say Something” week in my school, and it is all about connections.
So, yesterday we watched a silly, animated video about a guy who is so lonely and self-absorbed that he walks by and ignores several chances to connect with other human beings by offering his aid.
Then, providentially, an elderly woman grabs his arm at a stop light and compels him to walk her across the street. Miracle of miracles - this single instance alters his entire existence and henceforth he is engaged with others, helping them and helping himself connect, and thus healing his sad little soul while bettering the world all around him.
They had to pack a lot in the two minute video, so they left out all the realistic parts about his fits and starts, relapses into selfishness and shame, his stumbles and bumbles along the difficult path of agape.
The admonition is truth, though. We need to look outward to see those human beings around us – old and young, strong and weak, happy or miserable, lovely or difficult.
We need to recognize others, and help them to feel known, and loved.
This is hard.
This morning as I drove to work, praying the Lord’s prayer, I noticed an important sequence for the first time.
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” is immediately followed by “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
I always thought the “temptations” were things like lying and debauchery, you know, the really bad stuff. I’m sure that’s part of it. But the sequence jumped out at me today (what a slow learner I can be).
We must really see those around us, and we must love and heal or we won ‘t survive.
Yet, often, we can’t get past the flaws and failings of our neighbors, and so our looking out turns to judgment and disdain, perhaps leading to slander and gossip, but certainly nurturing pride.
The proximity of forgiving trespasses and asking to be directed away from temptation is important, I think. What a dilemma we face. If we do not love our neighbor, we have no place in the Kingdom of God. Yet, this requires us to see them, in all their frailty, and stifle our judgments, and only love, as we are loved by God.
This conjures the painful musings of St. Paul, which are often our own – “…I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep doing.”
In an attempt at practicing being present this week, I turned off the television and went into the playroom and sat down beside my son Seth, who is 5. He was playing with a variety of action figures and stuffed animals and Legos. I just sat quietly and listened as he gave a different voice to each of his characters. He was also pretty handy with the sound effects.
If you have not observed your child like this in a while, I recommend, highly. It is as soothing as listening to a bubbling creek or watching wind jostle tree boughs in a forest. More, because he is my son.
Sadly, my silent presence was strange to Seth, so he asked me what I was doing.
I am watching you play, son.
Yes, but why?
Because you are special.
No, I am not special.
You are truly, son.
No, I am not.
Well, let me say it differently -you are wonderful.
Yes, I am wonderful. Just not special.
Ah, the wisdom of childlike faith. It is God’s desire that none should perish, and Christ died “for all.”
Each of us, despite our fallen natures, our loneliness, or crooked brokenness and scars, have been lovingly made in the image of God. We are wonderfully and fearfully made.
And so are our neighbors.
Even if they have made former President Donald Trump into an idol.
Even when they have decided their true gender identity doesn’t match their gender at birth.
Even if they protested recklessly and violently in Portland.
Even if they protested recklessly and violently in D.C.
Even when they draw false equivalencies, or promote damaging untruths.
Remember the demonized man from Gadara, who lived in caves, cut himself with stones and had to be chained because he generally terrorized the area. Remember the outcast lepers and tax collectors, or the self-righteous teachers of the law?
Remember the woman caught in adultery and the Samaritan woman at the well?
How can we forget the man whose position of power represented oppression for the Jews – the Roman centurion? Or that other Roman centurion who crucified our Lord? What of the thieves on the cross to His left and His right, one repentant and the other hardened?
What of Mary Magdalene, the one-time demonized harlot who wept beneath his nailed-scarred bloody feet?
What about those valiant men who abandoned him as he died: Nathaniel the skeptic, Thomas the doubter, Peter the denier, or Judas the betrayer?
All wonderfully and fearfully made.
Just like you and me.
"Examine all things; hold on to the good."
-Saint Paul the Apostle