Each life full of valuable stories that remind of God’s love, others’ love

Bob Chell

Bob Chell

Each year at Christmas someone tells the story about the year I hated my presents. I was in seventh grade. Mom heard me crying in my room and when she came down and asked: “What’s wrong?” I said, “HERE’S WHAT’S WRONG!” as I thrust out a list of all my presents and why I hated them. The only one I remember now is the pair of purple socks with white polka dots the size of quarters. I wanted the NAVY BLUE socks with white polka dots the size of quarters.

Everyone laughs while I smile. It isn’t told to be mean but as one of the Christmas memories which make us family. I don’t mind, I guess, though it touches a scar which remains tender some forty years later. It brings back the feelings of how it was to be in seventh grade. It was a painful and lonely time for me. I know now it wasn’t my presents I hated as much as me. God may have loved me but I sure didn’t. I wasn’t as popular as I wanted to be. I wasn’t as talented as I wanted to be. I wasn’t popular at all. I wasn’t talented.

In Jesus’ first sermon he told those gathered in the hometown synagogue stories of which they didn’t care to be reminded. He told of the time when all in Israel were starving yet God’s prophet, Elijah, provided food for a foreign widow and her son. He reminded them that the prophet Elisha had healed, not a poor deserving leper in Israel, but a wealthy Syrian army officer.

By telling these stories Jesus as much as said, “You people are too thick-headed to hear God’s message so He finds someone else who will listen.”

In his whole ministry Jesus preached an inverted kingdom, an upside down kingdom, a kingdom where God loves the unlovable, the losers, the outsiders, the oppressed.

He spoke of the Good Samaritan, the illegal immigrant of his day, who helps a man robbed while the religious folks pass by. A son who squanders a fortune only to be embraced by his Father’s love upon his return.

Stories which embrace us when we are the outsider. A ray of hope for a seventh-grader on the margins. A glimmer of possibility for one who is ‘everyone’s friend’ and no one’s love. A lifeline for one denied tenure. Comfort to a single parent with more month than budget.

Stories which outrage us when we are the insider. Stories which touch our tender scars reminding us of those we have failed to love. Dad’s girlfriend. Mom’s new husband. That so-called friend who told EVERYONE. The one in seventh grade whose face stays twisted in disgust as they said those hateful, hurtful things.

Stories which remind us not only we are loved by God but the other. The other whom we do not love. The other whom we don’t want to love. The other whom we cannot love.

Each of our lives is full of stories of which we do not care to be reminded. Stories of our pain. Stories of our failures. Each story unique, as we are unique. Each story universal as we are, each of us, more alike than different.

Jesus’ words challenge us to see ourselves, not only as the outsider, but as the insider; to recall the stories where it was us speaking the hurtful, hateful words.

When it was I who, fearing I would be singled out, did not dare to speak on behalf of the one who bore other’s pain, who had the fears of all heaped upon them in the guise of scorn.

To hear the word not to be burdened with guilt and shame but in facing our failure, to be free of it. Free to accept not only ourselves, but the other, the one we find most difficult to love.

Next Christmas I’m hoping for PURPLE socks with white polka dots the size of quarters.

Bob Chell serves the University Lutheran Center and is a member of the Campus Interfaith Councill. Reach him at [email protected].