What if God isn’t impressed with Honk if You Love Jesus bumper stickers, or Christian T-Shirts, or necklaces with big shiny crosses, or the latest Bible app, or rolled up pantlegs— pointy shoes— and slicked back hair-do's? What if He’s impressed with red kettles, free hugs, and Pumas? Yes, I said, “Pumas.”
We have a neighbor named Billy, and for ten years now, he’s knocked on our door for money— not a lot, just enough to get a cup of coffee at the Waffle House. By stopping by, I mean, several times a week, and sometimes even multiple times a day. Billy's timing isn’t always convenient. Sometimes it’s while we’re napping, or cleaning, or cooking, or watching the World Series. Other times, Billy doesn’t have to knock, because he sees my husband outside playing catch with the boys, or backing the car out of the driveway, or mowing the grass, or shingling the roof. And sometimes, Billy knocks while we have a house full of company (of the which, they’ve been known to take out their wallets, too).
As a rule of thumb, we’ll give him two-dollars (some days a little more and some days, none). One time, we gave him twenty-dollars thinking we wouldn’t see him for a few days, but we were wrong. He returned the next evening. Thus, teaching us the importance of rationing.
Two weeks ago, my husband gave Billy a few bucks, and asked him, “What do you want for Christmas?”
The thirty-eight-year-old neighbor smiled widely, and said, “Pumas.”
I have to admit, it blew my mind, and not in a good way. I was perturbed and thought to myself, after all the money we’ve given him, now we have to buy him a gift? This pretentious thought toward Billy caused me to think about Mrs. Ruth, the lunch lady from junior high. In middle school, my twin sister and I were ridiculed and picked on— especially in the lunchroom. We’d rarely be able to find a seat, and sometimes, when we did, a cheerleader or a jock wouldn’t let us sit there, or, someone else would beat us to it. And each time, the lunchroom would erupt into laughter and we’d scamper away humiliated. So as a solution, my sister and I volunteered to wash dishes and serve trays during our lunch break. This way, we could eat before the lunch rush came in and ensure that we’d have a place to sit without being told: “This seats taken,” “Take a hike,” or “Does anyone else smell anything besides me?” The memory of Mrs. Ruth goes something like this…
It was the final day before Christmas break. Charlene and I finished eating our mashed potatoes and gravy, before putting our rubber gloves and aprons on. Multiple times, we noticed the lunch ladies glancing our way and whispering to one another.
Mrs. Ruth, the head cafeteria lady made her way toward Charlene and I with two tall gift bags. She held out her hands and shooed the bags at us. The bags were mint and cream striped with JC Penny written on the front. I held the rope-handles and looked at Mrs. Ruth for further instruction.
“Well,” she said, “what are you waitin’ on. Go on, open ‘em.” The other two ladies gathered around.
I jerked open the fancy bag. Reaching in, I pulled out a knee length purple jacket and a pair of matching moon boots. I wasn’t sure how to react or how she expected me to.
“Thank you, Mrs. Ruth,” I said, holding the jacket up, and grinning with bared teeth. “It’s beautiful. I don’t know what else to say.” I wanted to dance, and shout, and hug her neck, but I was too afraid of crying and becoming vulnerable in front of them.
Overwhelmed by Mrs. Ruth’s kindness, and as hard as I tried not to, a trail of tears snuck down my cheeks.
Mrs. Ruth’s eyes watered, too. “Well, try ‘em on. Let’s see what you girl’s look like.”
I kicked off my old grimy sneakers. My big toe and heel poked through the worn threads. In hopes she didn’t see, I stretched the worn threads and tucked the hole between my toes. The boots were plush and warm and purple. I loved them.
“Nice,” She said, smiling winsomely, “Now the jackets—”
I flung my jacket with patches sewed on the sides and stuffing poking-out from under the arm onto the floor, and threw the long purple one on. The jacket came below my knees and touched the rim of the boots.
Mrs. Ruth said, “You two look beautiful! Go on. Go see what you look like.” Her words “you look beautiful” stuck with me.
Full of fervor we hustled to the basement bathroom and viewed ourselves in the full-length mirror.
“Finally,” Charlene said, “we look normal.”
“I know what you mean,” I responded, spinning halfway around in the mirror, and rubbing my eyes to make sure they weren’t playing tricks. “I can hardly believe it myself.” (a small excerpt from my forthcoming memoir).
Yet, from beatitudes to candlesticks to repentance to offering gifts to turning the other cheek to going the extra mile to loving your enemy to doing good to those-who-hate-you to being perfect—The sermon on the mount is a timeless reminder to be a light by doing good.
There’s an ancient scripture that I love. It says, “And God saw the light that it was good.” Rabbi Lubavitch teaches that each successive day of Creation alludes to light which was created on the first day. Each Creation day concludes with “it was good,” thus, pointing back to the light.
As humans, we wrestle with incompleteness and spend a lot of time wondering why we were created. Is it possible that our soul’s purpose was instilled in us at Creation? Yes, I mean, back when God called light—good, on the first day.
Maybe, just maybe, our soul’s purpose is to do good, and in doing good we create sparks of light throughout the universe. I say this, because at the moment, Mrs. Ruth handed me the bag, a warm yellow flame began to glow, transforming darkness itself into light. I didn’t have the means or words to express it at the time, but something happened inside of me. This thing called Light and Love and Good and God happened.
THE BEAUTY OF LIGHT
Remember Billy? Well, on Christmas day, Billy came by to get his gift. He was ecstatic, as you can imagine, and kicked off his old shoes in the driveway to put on the new ones. Which reminds me of the other week, when my older sister, Pauline, found a toy at the Goodwill and, when she went to pay discovered she was two-dollars short. The woman in the line behind her kindly said, “I’ll pay.” My sister had all she could do not to cry. Why? Because what the woman didn’t know was that her twin boys had died after birth, and that at forty-six years old, my sister had no surviving children. Thus, being able to give the toy to her girlfriend’s daughter for Christmas meant everything to her. Which brings me to the other day, where I read about a stranger carrying bags of groceries to the car for an elderly woman. The elderly woman asked the stranger, “How much do I owe you?” The stranger replied, “Nothing. I just wanted to help.” The feeble woman was shocked by such kindness and commenced to giving the lady a hug.
There’s this unique thing that happens between light and darkness, soul and spirit, God and man when we do good. Somehow it has the power to transform a hurting and dark soul into a warm yellow glow. I guess it makes sense, seems how we are created in His image, as a means to reflect His light. This thing called good, transcends time and space, and has the ability to bring the God of heaven down to where we are— right dab in the middle of the Goodwill, or lunch room, or parking lot.
CROSSES AND CANDLESTICKS
“We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.” – Ben Sweetland.
One might wonder, is light essential to Christian living? The answer is, “Yes.” Light was created in the order of importance. It’s the first and most essential of all creations, and every subsequent living thing was created after it, thus, relying upon it: grass, and herbs, and fruit trees, and sea creatures, and birds, and land animals, and man.
Jesus proclaimed in Matthew, “You will know them by their fruits,” and in Galatians Paul writes the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. "Fruit" being used as an analogy has the unique way of directing us back to the beginning, to Creation, and light, and meaning.
Another thought-provoking passage that speaks of "light" and "good" is: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it gives light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” What if in this passage, the cross is a candlestick?! Consider this, The Light of the world set upon "the candlestick of the universe" for all to see. What if “take up your cross” doesn’t mean “avoiding all the stuff we don’t get to do anymore,” but really alludes to doing good. Not as a means to glorify ourselves, but as a means to glorify our Father which is in heaven.
In Matthew, there’s a fascinating parable about a shepherd dividing his sheep from the goats. As he’s separating his sheep, i.e., the righteous to his right hand, he says in so many words, “I was hungry, and thirsty, and naked, and sick, and you took care of me.” The righteous asked, “When did we do all these things to you?” And the shepherd replied, “When you did them unto the least of these, you did them unto me.” The shepherd then turns to the goats/unrighteous on his left hand, and in so many words says, “Depart from me…for you didn’t do any of these things.”
Interesting, huh? The parable is about two kinds of people: those who did good and those who didn’t.
The Gospel is more than the Death, the Burial, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ; and yes, I believe in the essentials of these things. But it’s also about a baby, and a manger, and a virgin, and a bright shining star, and a jealous king, and an adulterous woman, and a compassionate God, and a skin covered tabernacle, and a temple that housed the presence of the Divine, and a New Covenant delivered by a spotless Lamb.
There’s something about doing good that is reflective of the heavens—like the jacket touching the rim of the boots, that blurs the lines between heaven and earth, and makes the invisible God visible. Don't get confused, I’m not writing about reward systems, or merits, or who’s got the “oil” and who doesn’t, or who’s been baptized in what formula. I’m writing about candlesticks and crosses, and red kettles, and free hugs, and Pumas, and fruit, and light, and purpose with the intent that someone’s darkness can be made light, because the attributes of The Creator are at work in the universe through us.
I Am M.O.R.E., and so are you!