Have Mercy

I’ve heard the story of “The Good Samaritan” countless times in my fifty years.  You know the one, the guy is traveling down a road when he is attacked by robbers and left for dead.  He’s lying there mangled in the dirt, gasping for breath, hoping against all hope that someone will stop and help him.

One of our pastors this morning set this story in the context of current events. He recalled with us the tragedies of the last week, month, year, years, and asked us the question, “What does it mean for us? for the church?”

Let me just go on record here and say that in the past weeks and months I have  NOT immediately gone to that question as I’ve witnessed all kinds of horrendous acts.  I have been more often found standing in front of the television, eyes wide, saying, “What the…”

It doesn’t take me long to launch into the words I used to hear my grandparents say, “What’s the world coming to?”  From there it’s just a short trip to quoting scripture about the end times and “wars and rumors of wars”.  Before you know it, I’m in a frantic outrage trying to find someone to blame.  It must be the Republicans.  No, it’s the Democrats.  Wait, I think it’s corporate America.  No, no, it’s the extremists.  I’m not really looking for what it means for me, or, to be honest, for ways that I could possibly help.

This morning, our pastor in his re-telling of “The Good Samaritan”  pointed out that each of us, like the man in the story,  is essentially half-dead, lying in the dirt, gasping for breath. He said, “Jesus is the good Samaritan.” Gasp! How did I get fifty years into my life and not realize that the point of the story is not that I would see myself as the good Samaritan and look for ways that I can be better than the priests and the Levites and actually help out the poor hurting soul?  How have I not seen that I am the poor hurting soul!?!?!?

Jesus was telling this story to a respected expert in the law.  The expert had asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He of course knew what was written, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and  mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”  He just needed a little clarification.  “Uh, Jesus, who, uh, exactly, would you say qualifies as ‘my neighbor’?”

Can’t you just see Jesus inhaling slowly, thinking to Himself, “This one is gonna take a story.” He doesn’t just say, “Every living human, you moron!” like I might. Nope.  He takes this expert in the law, pulls him onto his lap and has a little story time.

The Teacher tells the expert that, in the story, the Samaritan didn’t first check to see what neighborhood the hurting man was from.  He didn’t ask him his last name. He didn’t try to find out if he was an illegal immigrant.  He didn’t check to see if he had a conceal and carry permit.  He didn’t examine the color of his skin.  He didn’t determine if they spoke the same language.  He didn’t check his ID.  No.

He saw a dude in the dirt that needed help. He used his own wine and oil to cleanse the man’s wounds before he bandaged them. He put the guy on his own donkey and then walked with him to a place of shelter. He paid for the stranger’s care. Period.

The Teacher looks the expert in the eyes and says, “Who was a neighbor to this man?” The expert says, “The one who showed mercy.”  And the punch line? “Go and do likewise.”

Is it dangerous to meet the need of someone we do not know? Yes. Is it scary to reach out when we see someone hurting? It can be.  Is it uncomfortable to stand up for the oppressed, the wounded, the outcast?  Sometimes.

Our pastor’s challenge to us this morning was that we ask God to show us the people in our regular flow of life who need us to see them, share with them what we have, walk beside them, and befriend them.  His closing words? “Take the risk to love for the sake of the Gospel.”

Go and do likewise.

Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid.

For I, the Lord your God, will be with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1: 9

 

 

 

Advertisements

Sharing oxygen

Did you ever think about how many you share oxygen with during the week? Some weeks the number is higher than others.  This has been one of those weeks!

On Sunday we were with my in-laws in the Thumb of Michigan.  We worshipped with them at their little Lutheran church. In that small space we shared oxygen with about a hundred people — among them were a former college classmate, two additional relatives, and a young woman who is looking for her first job after college.

On Monday I got to share oxygen with an eye doctor who is doing his fellowship at the University of Michigan, a nurse, and a cornea specialist.  Then, I was able to share food and laughter with several of my husband’s coworkers.

Tuesday I had the blessing of inhaling hope at my physical therapist’s office, exhaling stress at the gym, and then breathing calmly over a table at a library where I leaned in with two students — a woman from Romania who is studying to become a nurse and a man from China who is an automotive engineer.

Wednesday the sweet aroma of my Bible study battalion filled me up before I headed to meet three more students — all children of Indian professionals, eagerly breathing and learning with me.

Thursday, back at the gym, I panted and sweat among many I do not know. Then, I was refreshed by sharing space with my chiropractor and his office manager before I headed to meet another student — a  Chinese man who shared the aroma of my tea and his goals for improving his English.

This morning, my dog and I are sharing space and oxygen.  We are snuggled in together on the futon. He’s been patient with me as I have read my Bible study, chatted on Facebook, and responded to emails.  He knows that in a while I will leave him so that I can sit beside two more students this afternoon — an International college student and an American high school student.

Then tomorrow I will be surrounded again at the gym before I share space, ideas, and air with, first, a Jamaican woman and , then, an Indian young man.

Many times throughout the week, my husband and I have sat side-by-side, often exhausted after very full days, breathing deeply, drinking in each other’s quiet company.

I’ve shared a lot of oxygen this week.   And in all of my encounters, I have not had one single conflict.  I have not felt betrayed. I have not been abused.  I have not been taken advantage of.  I have not been intimidated or afraid. Rather, I have been encouraged, inspired, enriched, and blessed.

It’s worth noticing, don’t you think? It’s worth reporting on a life so blessed.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Psalm 150:6

 

Confessions of an English Teacher, numero uno

My students have helped me keep my secret for years — I’m not really the best English teacher.  It’s true.  They correct my grammar as much as I correct theirs. I misspell words, even on the board!  And, to be honest, I always have to look up the correct usage of lie and lay.  

I mean I have the credentials and everything — a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English.  I was even magna cum whatever both times.  I love English.  I love literature.  I love words.  I’m just not a big fan of rules.  (All of my middle school and high school teachers would not be shocked by this.) 

What I love about language, actually, is its fluidity, its malleability.  I love the way meaning changes over time and according to circumstance.  I love playing with language and trying out new words in new contexts.  

One of my best memories of the classroom is my students teaching me the ‘in’ words of the moment.  I like to pretend that I have swag and that I can use the words in the appropriate ways, but really I am just providing comic relief for my students who don’t really love the English language as much as I do. (Sigh.) I am quite sure I never got cakin’ right, but I tried to throw it into conversations whenever possible. Last year I had a group a students who were committed to saying ‘that’s dead‘ at least twenty times per class period.  Now for those of you who are not as hip as I am, ‘that’s dead’ means “bad idea” or “I don’t like that” or “no, I disagree”.  So, I would say, “The paper is due tomorrow.” My students would reply, “that’s dead.”  See, now isn’t that fun? 

When I taught at an inner city high school in St. Louis, my students one day spent ten minutes of class teaching me the etymology of the word bird. If I remember correctly bird means a female human.  Old bird means my mother. I can’t seem to remember how to refer to a girlfriend, but that’s ok, that was 2005, the words have surely changed by now!

Last year, for the first time in my career, I taught a class of freshmen.  I loved it.  They were easily impressed, tried the things I asked them to, played along with my games, and encouraged my love of words.  One day we were working on a grammar lesson (blech!), a particularly tough grammar lesson if I remember, and one of my students demonstrated that he understood.  For whatever reason, I high-fived him and said, “Bam!”  That was all it took.  For the rest of the year, whenever anyone did something right, we had to have a “Bam!”  What did I care?  They were engaged, enthusiastic, and I got to high-five fourteen year olds!

Language is a reflection of personality, individuality.  We are not all the same, especially in this country.  We are all kinds of people.  We can’t all mean the same thing just because we are using the same word.  We negotiate meaning all day long.  We have have to listen, to question, to communicate.  We can’t assume that we understand just because we hear words that we recognize.  We have to enter into dialogue.  We have to get to know one another. We have to be flexible, malleable, fluid. 

Ah, grasshopper, there is a lesson here for all of us, isn’t there? Let’s use our words.  Let’s listen to each other, without judgment.  Let’s try to understand where the other person is coming from.  Someone who looks different or uses different words isn’t necessarily dangerous or less than me.   He is just different.  And isn’t it beautiful that God created so many different people?  A world full of people just like me, using all the same words that I use, would be incredibly bland and boring. 

So, I break a few rules.  I try out words that I don’t really understand.  I talk to people who are different than me.  I make mistakes.  I ask for forgiveness.  Then I try again.  Bam. 

Revelation 7:9

 a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.