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24 Questions for Advent: Eleven

Do you only care about the bleeding crowd--- How about a needing friend?

- Rado & Ragni, Easy to Be Hard, Hair!

The relationship between the general to the specific, or global to local, is an interesting one. We know that humans suffer, and have for all of history, but its only when we personally experience suffering we ask: Why, God? Things suddenly get real, and our faith is tested, challenging us to believe in God’s Providence not merely in a grand sense, but in a personal, immediate way. Faith can be a concept or construct until we really need it.

Christina Grimmie, a promising young singer who died tragically at the hand of an obsessed fan, has a song that poses a challenge to our perspectives on faith:

I bet you don't curse God When the doctor calls With a stern voice and the test results And he asks you to come in right away I bet you don't curse God When you're on a plane In a turbulent pourin' rain And you're hoping that you'll make it out okay Everybody cries We've all faked a smile When your back's against the wall And your hands are tied There's pain, Life hurts There's a thousand things You think you don't deserve All hope is lost When You spend it all And you just can't beat the odds I bet you don't curse God I bet you don't curse God

It can go this way with love as well. We can be brought to tears by images of starving children a half-world away, people we will never know, yet struggle to respond to the hurting in our own communities. It’s far easier to love from a distance. Which of us hasn’t been transfigured by a fantasy image of a beloved other, yet can be passive and calloused with those closest to us?

I love movie musicals, and one of my recent favorites is La La Land by Damien Chazelle. In it he constructs a wondrous homage to classic musical fantasy, down to enhanced colors and background posters, about two star-crossed dreamers who find each other and champion the others’ dreams. As reality begins to set in, and real life gets complicated, the colors and backgrounds fade into the drab and dank, and discouragement sets in. When they go separate ways and time passes, they find that they have met their dreams---just not together. The finale is a chance meeting that sets them back into an alternative fantasy in which they had stayed together. When that ends, they again go their separate ways, with a knowing nod that the reality---that they had propelled each other for a short time---is just fine.

The film, and life, remind us that lasting love is about hard work. The hospitality that we practice at St. Andrew’s House is what I call “love in the daily grind.” Providing space for people to come and heal, simply by cooking and cleaning for them, is an under-rated gift. I believe, when the end of this age comes, the true heroes of the faith will be the overlooked service providers, not the ones at the platforms, pulpits or parapets. In C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, the most heralded “bright one” in heaven was in fact a simple woman who endured suffering with daily acts of patience and love on earth.

Even in our acts of charity, we can easily fall into championing causes and lose sight of the very individuals we wish to serve. We can have great compassion on the homeless, oppressed and downtrodden and still avoid them when we see them in the street. The parable of the Good Samaritan drives this home.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.

“Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37, NIV

It was not by accident that Jesus compared a priest and a Levite, both highly respected spiritual leaders in Israel, with a Samaritan, part of a people the Jews largely despised. Those of us who are privileged can give inspirational talks about lofty ideals, but it’s the one who is willing to bend down and do the unnoticed work that God applauds.

The above question from the musical Hair! Brings this perspective home. "Do we only care about the bleeding crowd? How about a needing friend?" They are right there in front of us. Go and do likewise.

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