Wednesday, July 25, 2012
But If You're Dirty ...
“But if you’re dirty, you need to take a bath.” I can still recall those words of my mother, in those days when I was so young and trusting. My routine as a child was a weekly bath, and even then sometimes it was in water previously used by my brother or sister. (We practiced conservation even then, but it was not for the greening of the earth, but of dad’s wallet, which never had much spare cash.) Washing hands before meals was our normal weekday cleaning, with perhaps some touchups before bedtime. Still, there sometimes happened in the life of all young boys those days of some unexpected dirt or mud. And then mom would say: “Ewwww! You need a bath!” And almost as sure as her words were my words, with the logic of a child: “But I only take baths on Saturdays, and today is Tuesday!” And it was then that I heard mom’s logic: “But if you’re dirty, you need to take a bath!”
And if I were smart that day, mom’s argument ended all discussion.
I built my house in 1972, and have lived here long enough to see many neighbors come and go, and a few grow up. The family across the street lived there many years. Their oldest son was, as they say, a handful. More than once I looked out my front window to see the flashing police car lights and saw him, hands up and leaning against the car --- in trouble, again. I don’t know if he ever went to jail, but I did stumble across his name a few years back on our state’s sexual predator registry. And regarding the three bungled attempts at breaking into my home years back, well …. But now he is an adult.
A few years back he received a crippling injury at work, keeping him home for over a year, just when jobs were becoming scarce. He’s been unemployed since. Perhaps his injury was a blessing, however, for his mom and uncle who lived with him both were dying of cancer. It was a long, slow death for both of them, and I saw and heard how ornery they sometimes were while bearing their pains. But he took care of them, and he spoke very lovingly of them to me, even as I heard them cursing him for not doing some trivial task fast enough, or in anticipation of their needs. He loved them well, and they both died this past year, and now he is the owner of the house across the street, and still unemployed.
In the beginning he wouldn’t take charity, and so I paid him to cut the grass, shovel the snow, trim the hedge and whatever else I could find for him to do. But recently, in this long hot summer, the grasses have all dried up, and with it so did his lawn cutting business jobs. And he has taken to borrowing money from me on occasion, to be paid back in work, work which I don’t have for him. And as the balance between us grows, I’ve turned to God in the chapel and asked: “Is this what you would have me do?”
Where does “Love of Neighbor” turn into enabling one who seems on the wrong path, whether it be drugs, drink or sloth? Has what started out a routine with good intentions, had an unexpected turn? Does the “adult” in the situation need to point out that something unexpected has happened and the routine must be broken? “But if you’re dirty, you need to take a bath!” But we’re not dealing with children, only child-like behavior.
And, perhaps, sometimes baths must be taken unwillingly. The situation I described has me, obviously, thinking of myself as being in the adult role, with my neighbor as the child. Thoughts on this situation rolled unresolved through my mind these past few days, but this morning at mass I suddenly found myself asking: “And how often are you, naively, acting as a child, to your own detriment? How often are you going down the wrong path? And who will set you straight?”
And would I accept their advice --- or chastisement? It’s hard to see, sometimes, how we have drifted into wrong thinking, and it’s impossible to see longer term implications which only God can see.
I also think a lot, lately, about our country’s upcoming election. How could one not? There are large groups of people in this country, heading down differing paths, each thinking theirs is the right way, each thinking they are the “adult” in the situation. And each thinks, in their own fashion, that the other “is dirty, and needs a bath.” But there is no reasoning going on between them, as happened between my mother and I, and certainly no love.
My neighbor and I have more love for each other than is seen in politics today. At least we can calmly talk. And I wonder who might get dragged, kicking and screaming, to the bath tub this fall, and will they really get clean, or will the mud just get splashed over everyone?
How do you “love your neighbor,” when he doesn’t want to be loved? How do you “judge the sin but not the sinner,” when he wants to continue sinning? And how do we overcome the temptation to give into concupiscence, our own tendency to sin, and just make the situation worse? How do we act in love, when love hurts?
The way before us does not look easy.
Today is the feast day of the apostle, St. James. The gospel spoke of his mother’s asking Jesus if her son, James, could sit at Jesus’ right hand in heaven. And Jesus’ response was directed at James: “Can you drink of this cup of which I will drink?” James said “yes,” not realizing all the pain that his answer would require. It reminded me of Peter’s “yes” to the question: “Do you love Me?” Peter gave the right answer three times, and then found the cost of love.
Wanting to follow the Lord, wanting to do what is right, and wanting to love our neighbor sometimes will cause us pain, sometimes beyond what we can expect or imagine. But we know the answer to the question, as the apostles did.
I don’t know what will happen in the next election, but I find it hard to imagine that either side is “the adult” in our present situation. And I wonder if, perhaps, pain must to be meted out, in love, to both sides. There are so many things about our country and the path our culture is on that just make me feel dirty.
Will we hear our REAL Parent say: “But if you’re dirty …”
And I think of some other words so often said: “Jesus, I trust in You.”
Faith is hard when you don’t understand, but that’s what faith is. But our faith is not without hope.
“Jesus, I trust in You.” Say it often in these difficult times, my friends. And also remember some other words of His, which were once pointed out as being the best words in the Bible: “Do not be anxious.”