I received a very special phone call this week. It was from my father who lives in the suburbs of Paris in France. He is now 87 and feels the need to put in affairs in order.
During the call we talked business as well as about a book on our family history that I am translating for him. He was still rejoicing at one of my son’s wedding last summer as I announced to him that another one is getting married this fall, and another next summer. But to me, the peak of our conversation was when he pronounced a blessing over me, my family, and my descendants. He also told me, “You are an exemplary father!”.
I must say that this touched me very much. I was born in 1958 and became the teenage French version of the imported American Hippy as the movement was in full sway. My father saw me as I went through these very organic but unstable times through my young adulthood. He did not always agree with my choices but if I was in real trouble, I always knew that wherever I was in the world, I could call him and he’d try to do something. One time he even said, “What are fathers for but to clean up the ‘messes’ (he used another word!) of their children?”
My father came to visit me twice in the States in recent years. He saw how my wife and I live and he spent time with our children. He accompanied me as I commuted from place to place teaching, giving classes, playing for concerts as well as giving lectures. He came with me everywhere I went . He even helped stack my wood for the winter. One time as we were quietly driving Hwy 224 towards Estacada he pensively said, “You’re on the right path”. Those words may not be much, but to me, even as a father of six children myself, these words of approval from my father felt very precious.
We all travel on our journey trying to make do the best we can. We win some, we lose some, and we learn in the process. Now that we have grown, we may look at our children with fear and apprehension, and whereas we feel they may at time need a whack in the rear, though just a couple of hand spans up, an acknowledging approbatory ‘Well done” pat on the back may do wonders.
Preparing for the Saturday Bible lesson that I host weekly at my home I was reading from the story of Moses and his big sis’ Miriam.The story took place when a ruthless king felt threatened by the proliferation of a minority group in his empire. The solution was simple: throw all the baby boys born to the minority group in the Nile River. One day, a mother could not bring herself to throw her beautiful baby boy in the river. She hid him for three months and then thought to herself, “The king never said to ‘drown the babies’, just to ‘throw them’ in the Nile. I’ll throw my baby in the Nile, but in a nice little basket that I’ll waterproof with tar.” When the mother was done, she let the basket in the Nile and sent big sis’ Miriam to watch what would happen. Miriam kept following her little brother until, … well, you know the end of the story.
Miriam was a faithful big sis’ in watching over her kid bro’. Little did she know that 80 years later she would owe him her freedom. Big sisters can be rather annoying. If you had one, you know what I mean. They forever feel like a second mom watching over you. Sometimes it’s nice, but sometimes it’s frustrating. Moses knew the feeling. He was the leader of the whole nation, and though God trusted him with that job, big sis’ has her doubts. One time she went as far as starting a rebellion against her kid brother saying that he was too proud. The story says that God punished Miriam with a loathsome contagious skin disease. She was quarantined out of the camp for seven days. You’d think that Moses would have sighed a sigh of relief saying, “That’s what you get!” but he didn’t. He actually stopped the whole nation in its tracks to wait for Miriam. Moses himself went everyday to bring her food and take care of her.
Miriam was faithful to watch and wait on Moses when he was in a precarious situation in a basket on the Nile, and now Moses waits and care for her when she is in a precarious situation in the desert. While this story seems to be about ‘What goes around comes around’, I saw something more in it today.
We are often very quick to condemn people for something wrong they do. Not just in everyday life, but particularly in politics and religion, the court of public opinion is not only very unmerciful, but very ungrateful. No matter what is written on their tombstones, people’s whole lives are often judged on a single indiscretion. Yes Miriam did something wrong and needed to be called out on it. But in spite of it, little bro’ never forgot the previous good she did to him, and neither did the nation she helped him lead. We certainly would not want to be judged by our failures or indiscretion without having our successes be remembered; may we therefore extend that same courtesy to others!
Today I was thinking of the first call I ever went on after enlisting as a fire chaplain. The incident was about two cars that had gone off the road due to a collision at an intersection. Some people were injured, others traumatised, pets were confused. The call did not really require a chaplain but I was on shift that day and anxious to experience some action. I eagerly accepted the lieutenant’s invitation and climbed in the back seat of the rig alongside the EMT’s.
The lieutenant instructed me to just stick by him, which I did. We arrived. The EMT’s took care of the people; I was assigned ‘pet duty’. I really felt I played a part when the Lieutenant asked me to get him a big duffle bag that contained some equipment he needed.
I had imagined that the people receiving the care would be full of gratitude for those volunteers who made it their life’s priority to help them out of a rather bad situation. I was expecting the cooperation, the ‘thank you so much’, and all the signs that denote a grateful attitude but Instead, from one side of the accident I saw suspicion towards the medics, and from the other side a resentment at what they felt was the invasion of their privacy and independence.
While I understood the trauma these people faced being suddenly thrown in a life and death situation that was going to completely alter their immediate and maybe long term plans, I still felt that they could have done something to get themselves under control and cooperate a bit more with the people who were trying to help them.
Today as I thought back at that situation, I looked at it from a different angle. I felt a sentiment of praise for the Lieutenant and the EMT’s who gave themselves to their rescue task with sensibility, care, and whole-heartedness and without any concern for acknowledgment or gratitude. This reminded me of a saying I heard once that proclaims that ‘true kindness is one that is done without ulterior motives’. Sometimes acknowledgement and gratitude can act as an incentive for doing a good deed. It can even act as the ulterior motive of an emotional personal reward . We like the warm fuzzy feeling inside. But it is more difficult to do good deeds when the recipients are non-cooperative, unthankful, or even suspicious. I believe that in the eyes of God, these latter situations are the most meritorious. Could it be that it was part of what Jesus meant when He said, "If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? .... And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? ... And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? … do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (Luk 6:32-35 ESV)
There is an amazing story behind the the famous Michelangelo sculpture of David, the Bible hero. As a layman though, I am sure that I cannot fully appreciate its artistic value. It took a certain boldness for the Renaissance artist to sculpt him naked illustrating the depth of the idea that when David came to fight Goliath, his giant opponent, he came with only the strength and protection of faith in his God.
That alone coupled with the fine work of art is enough to amaze us. But there is an interesting story behind this amazing sculpture. Agostino d'Antonio, a sculptor of Florence, Italy, wrought diligently but unsuccessfully on a large piece of marble. “Bah; nothing can be done with it!” he said. Discouraged, he left it to other sculptors who also gave up the notion that anything good could come out of this piece of marble. The stone was then discarded. It lay on a rubbish heap for forty years.
Michelangelo saw the stone and in it saw the possibilities. He brought it to his studio and immediately began to work on it. Ultimately, his vision and hard labor were crowned with success. From that seemingly worthless piece of rock was carved one of the world's masterpieces of sculpture.The idea also plays with the life of David. The Bible tells of Samuel the prophet samuel visiting Jesse’s family in order to anoint a king for Israel. Jesse introduces all of his sons except David whom he thought too young, maybe the ‘runt of the litter’. Later, in his poetry, David who eventually became that king related to this episode of his life in the following words, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. (Ps 118:22).
How many times do we look at some people just like Jesse concerning david or Agostino d'Antonio with that piece of rock and say “Bah; nothing good can come out of him/her!” Why not instead like Samuel and Michelangelo , look at them with a sense of wonder, seeing talent, opportunity and possibility. It could change their lives. Like they say, ‘give a dog a bad name, and you might as well kill him!’.
I can’t help but think at my own life. If someone, and even a few ‘someones’, had not stopped and seen possibilities in me, I may well have also been discarded on the rubbish heap of those rejected by cynical humanity. May we remember our worth only come from the reflection of the faith that others have in us.
If you appreciate these articles, support their upcoming publication in a book called, "REFLECTIONS OF A FIRE CHAPLAIN"