Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Looking For Lepers

"I'm shallow?"

"Yeah. Sometimes." Pat said.

I stared at my friend and let her comment sink in. It was not a pleasant experience. We were sitting at the study table at Starbucks, and the hum of conversation filled the cafe. Yet for the moment I heard nothing but the clanging bells of dismay.

Pat and I had been friends for about four years. We'd met at the Starbucks, and though we didn't get together on a regular basis, we knew each other well enough for her comment to hit me in the stomach. She tossed her long hair to the side and bent back over her text book.

"I don't think I'm shallow." I said, still trying to register the weight of her words and the collapsing feeling within my solar plexus.

She smiled, as if it was no big deal.

"Like I said, you're not always shallow."

The value of friends is that unlike self-examination, explaining to her how spiritual I was or how I went to church or how I'd been a pastor or how I had a degree in Theology and read big books about God, meant nothing.

As I drove home that night, I started praying in the car. Even then, a part of me wanted to scream. See how spiritual I am! I bet you're not praying in the car! Instead, I asked God to forgive me, because I certainly had ignored this side of myself. And when she'd mentioned it, I realized it was true. I realized it from the way I went from confusion to "I am?" and by the sinking feeling in my stomach.

The Ottawa winter had finally come, and the car still hadn't warmed up by the time I pulled into my building. I'd forgotten my toque, and by the time I unlocked the doors my head felt like it had been wrapped in an ice pack for the past hour. One of the things about Jesus that made him such a compelling figure, and hero, was the way he continually looked for the people in his society who didn't belong. The lepers. The women. The sick. The un-righteous.

The lepers in particular, were a group of people who had been ostracized from society because of their debilitating, contagious disease that attacked the nervous system. Their bodies and limbs became deformed, and once you had leprosy, you were not allowed to return to your family or society. Jesus made a point of not only healing lepers, but hugging them and holding them as well.

In our society though, much as it was in Jesus' time, the beautiful received all of the attention. The beautiful and the charismatic and the successful. I suspected that it had always been that way. I left my coat on and walked through the living room and off onto my balcony. The air was crisp, and the cold wind whistled by the building, causing me to shiver. When I was a kid, and even through my adolescence, I was never that popular. Oh, I wasn't a true outcast, but I was a short, pudgy kid until I was 17 before the weight room and a developing sense of humour helped push me into the more popular part of the teenage hierarchy. Before that, however, was another story. I'd never even kissed a girl until I was 17. And as I stood there, I wondered if a part of me was still afraid to let it go. That if I still worried about being moved 'down' that same ladder.

My ears felt like two slabs of ice, but I pushed my hands in my pocket and forced myself to take it. I glanced up at the stars twinkling in the night sky. I let my gaze move down through the trees until I saw what I was really looking for, a blue lit cross from a downtown church that hovered in the horizon. I thought about how often I'd defended my faith with such vigour, political arguments and apologetic arguments and theological arguments. But there wasn't anything spiritual about that, especially if my friends noticed a capacity for being shallow. If I noticed the successful, good looking people before I noticed the lost, the lonely, the hurting.

At that moment, my heart ached. Maybe I'd remembered my past, or maybe I'd filled myself with so much pride that instead of allowing Jesus to work through me, I'd taken it upon myself to be more spiritual. And failed miserably.

I stared out at the blue cross, somehow radiant in the quiet stillness of the cold night, and with a quiet prayer asked God to help me with my eyesight. I needed his eyes. Eyes that would see the people who really needed my help, because from now on, I was looking for lepers.