Jim Mayzik SJ                   Everything Matters
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Jim Mayzik SJ Blog

I'll be using this space from time to time to share my reflections and thoughts on various topics.  Please feel free to add to the conversation by writing some reaction in the COMMENT section! 

 

 

When the revolution comes.

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When I meet a family—children of any age, accompanied by their parents—I like to ask the parents a crucial question: “So tell me, Maria, which one of these kids do you love the most?”  Or, “Joe, really…who is your favorite child?  Come on, you can be honest with us!”  And Sarah or Bobby or Julie or Tom immediately look at their parents’ faces, expecting the answer they have heard so many times:

“Why I love them all the same, all of them equally, of course”. 

But their children don’t always buy it. “Ah, not true. She loves Michael more, he’s her baby…” “Amanda is Daddy’s little girl, she can never do anything wrong in his eyes”.  And mommy or daddy smiles, head protesting, denying. “All the same, we love them exactly the same amount.” 

That’s when I tell the parent, ok sure, but let’s go over there in the corner and you can tell me the truth.  “Oh, Father, you devil! You’re trying to start some trouble between our children!”. 

Well of course I am, and I sure have fun watching the reaction.

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You know in the Gospels there is some evidence that Jesus may have had brothers and sisters. For instance, in Mark’s Gospel, a crowd asks of Jesus, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are his sisters here with us?” There are similar references in Luke’s and John’s Gospels.

But scripture scholars and theologians have been debating these and other passages for nearly two millennia, arguing whether those brothers and sisters were in fact biological siblings, step-siblings, “half” siblings, or not even siblings at all, but cousins.

Whatever.  But if he did have brothers and sisters, don’t you wonder how Mary or Joseph responded when some wiseguy priest like me posed the question to them as they were leaving the Temple at the end of the services. “So, is it true that you love Jesus more than the rest of these guys?” A small smile breaks out on Mary’s face, as she looks on her brood of children or even if they are just cousins of Jesus. “We love them all the same,” Joseph says, tussling the unruly hair on Jesus’ head, pinching the cheek of the beautiful young girl standing beside him.

And don’t you wonder if there were times when Jesus’ brothers or sisters or cousins or even friends were a little envious of him, or resented him, maybe because the adults always thought he was the perfect child, said to them, why can’t you be more generous like Jesus, or, look at Jesus, he’s not whining.

I was in Tal Bagels the other day, waiting to get a delicious sesame bagel---with butter, not cream cheese. Who likes cream cheese?  Yechhh.

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Anyway there was a Jewish mother with her two children, a boy and a girl, and the kids were fighting over one of those fidget spinners.  The mother took it away from them and put it in her bag.  This one had LED lights in it, and it looked so cool that I wanted to ask her to give it to me.  “It’s not fair,” whined the boy. “She got to play with it for a long time.” The girl looked equally unhappy, although she did seem to enjoy the fact that her brother felt cheated.

Life isn't fair. It’s the issue that the Gospel offers us. Jesus tells the familiar parable of the landowner who hires workers at different times of the day and pays them exactly the same amount even though some have worked longer than others. Those who have worked longer complain about it to the owner, telling him it's unjust, it's not fair.  And the owner tells them it's none of their business--they got the money they were promised, that's all that matters. 

Life isn’t fair. It’s not just unfair for children, of course, but for all of us.

It’s not fair that a single mother of three preschoolers should have to work at two part-time jobs and raise her children alone while their irresponsible father parties and plays and neglects child support.

It’s not fair that a young father of two little girls should die suddenly of a heart attack while on vacation with his family.

It’s not fair when a 10-year-old boy is killed by a drunk driver while the driver "escapes" with only bruised ribs and a hangover.

It’s not fair that CEOs of failing corporations never seem to suffer financially when employees are laid off and businesses fail. 

I saw a movie last night at the Kips Bay AMC Theater.  It is called Stronger, and Jake Gyllenhaal plays the real-life Jeff Bauman, a 28 year old resident of Chelmsford, Mass., who lost both his legs above the knee in the terrorist bombings of the Boston Marathon in 2013.   The emotions and situations of how he deals with his incredibly unfair injury are as raw and painful as an exposed nerve, as Jeff struggles with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), his relationship with his girlfriend and his family, and his sudden fame as a ‘hero’ for having been a victim of the bombing.  Talk about unfair! 

Jeff Bauman and Jake Gyllenhaal

Jeff Bauman and Jake Gyllenhaal

You know, a lot of us in New York have been beaten down by the stresses and pressures of our lives. Our youthful expectations of success—many of which are manufactured for us by our consumer-oriented economic system---are almost impossible to realize.  And as we get a little older and more experienced, we can begin to see life as unfair. 

How do some people get to live in those condos, have those lifestyles, look that beautiful or handsome, have those impressive titles and positions in their professions… and no matter how hard I try, I don’t? 

Life is rigged, it’s really unfair, and we can develop an attitude of disappointment, discontent, dissatisfaction.  All too often we're looking over someone else's shoulder and comparing what they've got with what's not--for us. How is it that they're more loved, more blessed, more powerful than me?  

It's a condition, an attitude, that goes all the way back--I guess--to Adam and Eve, when human beings first looked out upon the world and forgot Whose Love it was that created them in the first place and sustained them; Whose Love sheltered them and fed them and kept them safe from all dangers. That same Love keeps us, enfolds us,  promises us we will never be forgotten, not for one minute, not for one second: that Love satisfies our every need, our every real want. The problem is, we've forgotten that.

That’s what happens in Stronger—and I guess the real Jeff Bauman’s life.  He has an understandable difficulty in accepting the incredibly unfair hand life has dealt him. But then he turns a corner when the man who actually saved his life shows him what gratitude is all about.

So I was walking up Madison Avenue very early the other day.  The moon was still in the sky, getting ready in humility to fade away with the rising sun. There was no one on the streets, everything was closed. 

You know, as you walk north on Madison Avenue, all the way up towards 86th Street, you pass these amazing stores with super duper expensive items for sale in their sidewalk windows: outlandishly stylish clothing, the coolest of cool eyeglasses, refined furniture, finely crafted watches.  Ooolala.  The price of those things!  I’d be afraid to walk into one of those stores. Definitely out of my league.  Who buys these things, I wondered.  

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And on almost every block, tucked into the indented entrances of these elegant, swanky shops, there was a pile of rags and bags and cardboard, disguising a man or woman fast asleep upon the pavement.  I mean, sometimes there were two or three on a block. There was an absurdity to it, these brothers or sisters lying there, hoods pulled over their faces, shielding them from the glaring lighting that was shining on the expensive idols of our consumer madness. 

And I looked up at the buildings above the stores, imagining the people sleeping at that very moment amidst their 1000 count Egyptian cotton sheets in penthouses and duplexes with views of the awakening city that must make you feel you are living amidst the gods in the heavens.

Across the street, the Frank E. Campbell funeral home, where celebrities and millionaires are elegantly waked.  Their clientele would never include these sidewalk brothers and sisters.

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A few blocks away the people who rule the world—the leaders of the nations united---would be emerge from their limousines to meet on the East River and give flowery speeches about the equality of everyone.  When the revolution comes, I thought to myself, I would like one of those limousines for myself.  Maybe that would redress the unfairness I’ve felt, at least a little bit.

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And then, on the corner of Madison and 80th, where the stoplights were silently changing green, then yellow, then red, and the numbers were counting down for non-existent pedestrians to hurry across the street, I noticed a plastic bag floating above the intersection.  It seemed to have a life of its own, riding the currents of a breeze that blew it up and over, dipping and rising, tumbling upon itself in mid-air.

It mesmerized me, I couldn’t take my eyes off it.  I was totally taken in by its freedom ride. 

It wasn’t seeking anything. It had no attachments. It was indifferent to the elegance of the neighborhood, cared nothing about prestige or social order or fame and honor.

The humility of a plastic bag falling into the grace of the wind that was carrying it both low and high as the world was once again bathed in the light of day. 

Life isn’t fair, no sireee.  But there was something about that plastic bag.  Was it gratitude?  Is it possible for a plastic bag to be grateful? 

I don’t know, but you know what?  That’s what I learned from it the other morning.  To be grateful for everything, to let go of my sense of justice, and my terrestrial wants and desires.   What if my mom or my dad loved my sister more than me? What if I lost my legs in a random act of violent terrorism?  What if I did? 

There is an old Cat Stevens song called Moonshadow. I’ve always understood Moonshadow to be another word for the love of God, God’s love for us, and everything.

Oh, I'm bein' followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow---
Leapin and hoppin' on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow---

And if I ever lose my hands, lose my plough, lose my land,
Oh if I ever lose my hands, Oh if I won't have to work no more.

And if I ever lose my eyes, if my colours all run dry,
Yes if I ever lose my eyes, Oh if I won't have to cry no more.

Oh, I'm bein' followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow---
Leapin and hoppin' on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow---

And if I ever lose my legs, I won't moan, and I won't beg,
Yes if I ever lose my legs, Oh if I won't have to walk no more.

And if I ever lose my mouth, all my teeth, north and south,
Yes if I ever lose my mouth, Oh if I won't have to talk...

Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light.
Did it take long to find me? And are you gonna stay the night?

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It is about gratitude.  Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. 

Life isn't fair. But we know One who is fair—and He can be trusted. The love of God.  We all of us have that, guaranteed.  Maybe the revolution that would join is a revolution of gratitude: gratitude for the Moonshadow who follows us through every moment of every day, right until it takes us home again, forever and ever.

"For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality..." (Deuteronomy 10:17).

James Mayzik1 Comment