I'm new in the neighborhood, and I don't seem to have much in common with most of my neighbors. Different cultures, different lifestyles, values, tastes - I haven't felt much of a connection.
At the same time, I find myself thinking more and more that what's really important in life are the relationships: family, friends, neighbors, community. It's people that matter. And I ask myself what am I really doing that will make a difference to the people in my life.
In the midst of this soul-searching, my daughter and I saw the movie, "The Pianist." Wladislaw Szpilman, the title character, survived the Nazi occupation of his native Poland, partly because of his courage and love of life, but also because of the people who helped hide him - people who saw that it would be wrong to let the light of his musical brilliance be snuffed out. It was a testament to their humanity, that the beauty of Szpilman's music so moved them that they would risk their own safety to help him. I think that these people understood intuitively that "Thou shalt not kill" is more than a rule; it's an affirmation that the life of one man has such beauty and meaning that we are meant to hold it in reverence, to cherish and defend it.
As this deeply moving story unfolded on the screen, as grateful as I was that this one individual was helped and protected, I found myself wondering why these people couldn't see that every Jew living in Poland at that time had a gift worth protecting. This eventually led me to a tougher question: Did I really believe it myself?
It's easy enough to recognize the brilliance of a Wladislaw Szpilman. But could I honestly look at every man, woman, and child on the planet, and see in each of them a gift worth risking my own life to protect? Do I live my life as though I understand that all men and women really are created equal?
Jesus did. He had a unique and powerfully redemptive understanding of God as the Creator. When his students asked him to teach them how to pray, he began this model prayer with the words, "Our Father"- an acknowledgment of our fundamental equality in the Creator's eyes. In his dealings with others, Jesus was radically impartial. He didn't seek out the brilliant talents of his time. He tended toward the unnoticed and undervalued, and he uncovered a dignity and purposefulness that even they didn't know they had (see Luke 19:1-9, Matt. 8:1-3).
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor, said, "The divine nature was best expressed in Christ Jesus, who threw upon mortals the truer reflection of God and lifted their lives higher than their poor thought-models would allow, - thoughts which presented man as fallen, sick, sinning, and dying" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" pg. 259).
I love the idea that Jesus not only reflected God's love to all people, but, like a mirror that catches the sunlight and bounces it across a room, he threw this reflected love on their lives, bringing to light a higher and holier potential.
Lately I find myself walking through my neighborhood, looking at the strangers I pass on the sidewalk, and asking silently, "What is your talent? With what God-given gift are you blessing the world? Is there something I could say to you or do for you that would help you recognize more clearly or value more fully the talents you have within?"
It's a small beginning, but I don't believe it's an insignificant one. If we can get this one right as families and as neighbors, perhaps we'll lay the groundwork for getting it right as nations. So I am praying to learn this lesson well and let its grace be woven into the fabric of my life.
As every man hath received
the gift, even so minister
the same one to another,
as good stewards
of the manifold grace of God.
I Peter 4:10