“OMG, he’s a Jesus Freak! Is this gonna be, like, a lecture, or something? Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard about this Samaritan dude. Isn’t he, like, the guy who, like, is walking along that road, and there is this other guy laying in the weeds cause someone, like, put the hurt on him? And, so the “S” dude helps out the other dude and we’re supposed to be, like, the same to our neighbors, cause that’s what Jesus said we’re supposed to do. Got it! But, do we have to say, like, the “J” word?
I’m writing this section just before Christmas and I’m looking at our tree. The countdown to Christmas began after Thanksgiving when we trudged out to the tree farm out on the edge of town. The kids were full of anticipation with a nip of the North wind in the air, the smell of pine in the forest of small trees, and the sound of fresh snow crunching softly under our boots. We wandered about, down to the end of the balsam line, then up and over a ridge to where the short needle Colorado Spruce trees are hiding. Maggie, our team’s leader finally spies a candidate for surgical removal from its home in the ground and points with approval to the 8 footer saying, “I think mom will like that one.” So, I grabbed my ax and Maggie brought the saw. 5 minutes later we shared a moment of silence and allowed the shapely Spruce to say her last good-byes. Darkness was falling quickly so I strapped our new-found friend to the roof of our car and off we went to show mom and Charlie the fruit of our labors.
“Look, Mommy…look at the tree we got,” Max proudly squeals when we arrive home. Jeanne is ready with the boxes of ornaments and her collection of myriad snowmen. Charlie’s eyes nearly blow out of their sockets when the musical Santa perched atop the chimney came out of storage. It was the last Christmas gift from my mother. It plays Jingle Bells and remains his favorite.
Quickly, efficiently, and with three pairs of little helping hands, our tree is transformed from a lonely spruce languishing in the far corner of a tree farm, to a place of honor in the bay of our living room. Later that evening, the tree shines resplendent in lights and colors. The kids smile and the stage is set.
Jeanne and I do the slow walk-around ritual noting more than 20 years of our family Christmas times together. These memories, in ornament form, are flanked by some of our extended family hand-me-downs. We see, touch, and talk about the “Nole” sign Maggie made at age 5. I laminated it to last as a self-deprecating slap at our home-educating prowess. My eyes go to the top of the tree and I make the same comments I made last year and the year before and the year before……about the small Styrofoam ball with arms of pipe cleaners in the shape of the Christmas Star that I made when I was in the 5th grade. In the middle of the tree, occupying a focal place of honor, hangs a small ceramic star with an even smaller picture of Sammy sitting in his Grandpa Joe’s lap, and I feel the movement in my wife’s heart wishing her father could see Sammy now. The tour of the tree high-lights professional artwork of commercial store-bought decorations as well as the infinitely more precious hand-made works, such as a piece of red construction paper with a scribbled message saying simply, “Sammy, 1994.”
Manheim Steamroller is oozing out of the stereo with their compelling arrangement of Silent Night, the version with the wind blowing and the sleigh bells fading into the distance at the end. My father was a musician and I am triggered by the power of this piece to wish he could hear it with us tonight. Finally, a longing gaze at the flames dancing above the logs in the fireplace calls to mind Jeanne’s mom Rosie, and the mood in the background of this evening is a silent witness to our existential anchors long since called away and, all too soon. The tree is complete now so the kids swarm mommy with hugs for transforming our home into a wonderland, with our many treasured memories of Christmases past.
We are pumped and primed. The buzz is in the air and it is time for the bringing of the gifts. I can’t help but remember the feelings I had as a child, and they flood me each year as I watch our children with their excitement, hopes, and their growing expectations. After all, as Max says, “The Big Guy is on his way!”
And yet, this Christmas, and at this time in our lives, Jeanne and I are looking for something more than a buzz for the kids, and a fine Lutefisk dinner. Just as we’ve done since Maggie was born, we’re looking for some help. I don’t mean the hope kind of help; you know, the philosophical stuff. We’ve got that, and we guard the promises of God in an impenetrable lock-safe deep in our hearts. More recently we are looking for some help answering the question, “who will help these guys when we are gone?” It’s a burden growing exponentially in our hearts each Christmas.
You see, 3 years ago something terrible happened to our youngest son Charlie and its been a “game-changer” for our entire family. If there be such a thing as a “cross of sadness”, it’s on that cross my wife and I hang, and plead to God daily, “please help the boys, especially Charlie.”
The “what happened” question will be answered elsewhere in these pages. But, for now, we are just wondering, “Who else, besides the Most High God, will listen to and offer to help with our unremitting heartache, confusion, sadness, and the myriad uncertainties concerning the futures awaiting our boys? Who knows how to cry that cry?” Then, how do we navigate the future for these three young men, considering their disabilities and their many needs?
Conventional wisdom has, (essentially since the 1960’s) shifted responsibility for managing the care for the disabled from the family to the state and, today social workers have been inserted where parents now fear to tread. Such has become a mandate for the professional classes, the medical community as well as all levels of education, and the legal establishment, just to name a few.
But, the Doctors, Teachers, and Lawyers of today can only give what their business plans allow. And, considering the Clerics within the Christian Church today, there seems little difference between their ministries and the experience of the despised Samaritan lying in the ditch described in the Gospel of Luke.
As for me and my boys, hearing “I’ll pray for you brother” can be more hurtful than helpful. That is because unless you stop and get into the dirt of the ditch in which your brother/sister/mother/father is lying and perhaps even dying, the Christ one confesses may, in fact, be invisible. I’ve had a hard time seeing Christ in much of the Church over the past years.
So, the search goes on.
Drawing on data published by the Barna Research Group 2001, Part Two of “Searching For The Samaritans” will examine the beliefs expressed by the institutional Christian Church in 21st Century America. Think; Laodicea.