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January 5, 2013

Religion column: Put away the baby pictures and use the Force


I love me a lot, and unreservedly. I not only try to meet my every need and want and whim, but I try to anticipate them and meet them up right front. In loving me, I really go out of my way. 

And that’s the love I’m to give my neighbor — the real thing, what I shower on me. Jesus lays out the general principles of this in one of his best set pieces: The Beatitudes. (You’re blessed, he says, if you’re a peacemaker and hunger and thirst for justice — and he doesn’t mean just for yourself.) But he gets very specific elsewhere, when he describes what opens to very gates of heaven to us.

He invites in the blessed, he says, because they’ve fed the hungry, clothed the naked, comforted the grieving, visited the imprisoned (I’m betting he included ones housebound by age, sickness, or fear), sheltered the homeless ...

There’s the basic message, before it got cocooned in millennial accretions, the sticky filaments of theology. You’ve been given gifts, says his persuasive voice. Now, do some re-gifting! It’s not your theology; it’s what you do that proves you really love God.

A have a treasured friend whose whole life speaks re-gifting, and never more than at Christmas. I taught him as a teenager 40 years ago, and now he’s a middle-aged man, a granddad, re-gifting still. Here’s an excerpt from his Christmas note to old friends, teachers included:

“Hi guys,

“I spent Christmas afternoon with our homeless brothers and sisters on the streets of Philadelphia. I gave out hiking socks, oranges and cash to as many folks as I could. Everyone was grateful for the help.

“One guy stood out. His name is Kevin, he is an army veteran. He was sitting on a bench on 18th street wearing a Santa hat with jingle bells on his combat boots and singing Christmas carols. He went on at length about the injustices of the times and how he will someday be a lawyer and make a difference. I had to excuse myself to move on, as he was not running out of material. 

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