By This Shall Everyone Know

Dear Will:

There once was a man traveling the 15-mile stretch from Jerusalem to Jericho, heading to some other destination beyond. He brought along his donkey, perhaps because it was too far to walk, perhaps because he had too much to carry. Probably both. At some point, he came upon a stranger who had been beaten and bloodied by robbers—mercilessly left for dead on the side of the road. Filled with compassion, the traveler rushed to this stranger’s aid, taking oil and wine from his personal provisions to tend to his open wounds. Who knows which item of his own clothing the traveler was forced to tear up to fashion makeshift bandages?

Having slowed the bleeding and done the best he could with whatever other injuries he found, the traveler was forced to make a decision: What should he do with the suffering stranger? Surely he couldn’t leave him at the roadside. So he did the hard thing, lifting the bloodied man onto the back of the donkey and continuing his journey on foot—perhaps even carrying whatever supplies he had removed from the back of the beast in order to make room for the injured victim.

No doubt hours behind schedule, the traveler eventually stopped for the night at a roadside inn, where he paid for the stranger’s accommodations as well. The next morning, before continuing on his journey, he left additional money with the innkeeper along with these instructions: Please nurse this man back to health, and if your expenses exceed what I have paid you, I will reimburse you when I come back through this way.

Jesus taught this parable about the kindly Samaritan and the unfortunate Jew to help us understand what love looks like. If he told it today, it might be about a Muslim and an Evangelical Christian, a Democrat and a Republican, a Palestinian and an Israeli. It is a story about compassion, about bearing the burdens of others, about inconvenience, interruption, generosity. It illustrates what we mean by “the pure love of Christ.”

Elsewhere in scripture we find other detailed descriptions of what love looks like. On another occasion, Jesus said that love is feeding the hungry, giving shelter to strangers, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, reaching out to those who are in prison. It’s treating the poor, the homeless, refugees and other victims of misfortune as you would treat Him—as if He and they were essentially the same person.

In Paul’s well-known letter to the Corinthians, he said love is patience, kindness, and celebrating the success of others. It’s humility and respect. It’s looking out for those around you and always giving them the benefit of the doubt. It’s celebrating truth. It’s tolerating, believing, and hoping, enduring whatever might come your way.

I’ve known many people who have shown me what this sort of love looks like. Through their selfless generosity of spirit, they have come to embody for me a real-life ideal of what I’m striving to become. I return to their stories again and again, perhaps as an antidote to the hate and unkindness that seems to dominate public discourse. Their examples lift and inspire me, urge me to try to be better myself.

In all of this I hear again an essential message and mandate directed to all of us who say that we are “trying to be like Jesus.” Because of love, you should be able to spot His true followers anywhere people gather: at the park, in the grocery store, at a school board meeting, at a football game—even on social media. In fact, you should not have to look very hard. Jesus gave us a simple way to spot the true believers: “By this shall all men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).

Go, and do thou likewise.


Image: Ferdinand Hodler, The Good Samaritan (1875)

Presents of Mind

Dear Will:

Just by hanging around we have managed to live through over five dozen Christmases. For just a couple of humble heads, that’s a lot of dancing sugar plums. We figure that over the course of two lifetimes we have received hundreds of gifts around the holidays, some magical, some practical, most all of which, we hesitate to admit, we have already forgotten. (Except that thing you gave us that one time. We still have it and cherish it. Use it all the time. To this day we just love it. It’s our favorite.)

OK, in fairness, we’re not as sharp as once we were and our synapses fire only inconsistently at best. So maybe some really great stuff just sort of slipped out of our brains while we were trying to find our reading glasses. But try this experiment and see if you can do any better: Look around your home and see if you can identify more than, say, three or four things that you can associate with a specific Christmas giver. You don’t even have to limit it to what’s currently in your home. Open up whatever is left of your memory and scan all of the Christmases come and gone. How many of the dozens of presents you’ve received do you still recall to this day? Not that many, we’re betting.

Or if you think you can take it, here’s an experiment we do not actually recommend: Ask your spouse or kids or significant someone which gifts they remember getting from you over the years. When you do that, you’ll probably be thinking of a couple that you were certain you got just right. Look into their eyes anticipating the sparkle that will settle upon them as they recall the tenderness of the moment and the thrill of the receiving. Just don’t be surprised if instead they furrow their brows and admit that nothing immediately comes to mind. 

What you and your loved ones are more likely to remember are favorite holiday traditions, most of which have nothing to do with the stuff under the tree. Unsurprisingly, those are memories rooted in doing and feeling rather than getting. And before you know it, those memories may start to give way to the sounds of Whos down in Who-ville, singing their Christmas morning song. And perhaps you’ll think: Well, of course! It’s not about ribbons. It’s not about tags. It’s not about packages, boxes, or bags. Boris Karloff says as much every year about this time. And perhaps then your mind will drift to a dimly-lit stage where Linus is reciting from the book of Luke. And you’ll think: He’s been preaching that same sermon since the sixties, but somehow it never seems to fully land.

Which is why, when you finish reading these last few lines, you’ll still be tempted to put down this letter, open up your browser, and click on Gifts for Her—because you can never figure out what to give your mother who always says, with unquestionable sincerity, that she doesn’t really want anything but love and peace and common courtesy. (At this very moment, we are likely in the midst of doing something similar ourselves.) After all, the wrapping and the giving is a way of saying (poorly) a thing that words don’t properly convey. 

Those kinds of urges—to do something nice for those we love—we should always give in to, even when they lead us inexorably to Amazon. But after you BUY NOW, it will be even more worthwhile to ponder if there might be a better way. Because deep down you know there is. You just have to figure out what to do about it.

When you do, please let us know. Because we have this one friend who is impossible to shop for.

This letter is an imperfect way of expressing our love and wishing you holidays filled with the very best gifts of all. 


Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Crying Uncle

Dear Will:

To say that my mother’s four brothers were bald fails to capture the intensity of their commitment to alopecia. They weren’t merely bald—they were extravagantly so. From behind, they looked like a quartet of ostrich eggs jammed into individual nests. On a sunny, mid-summer afternoon, the reflected glare from one of our family picnics could be seen from space. (Allegedly. NASA doesn’t actually monitor northwest Wyoming closely enough to confirm it.) Bald, it seems, has always been one of the core attributes of the Taggart brand.

So it’s not as if I wasn’t forewarned, is what I’m saying. Hanging around my uncles had a way of setting expectations. But just in case I wasn’t paying full attention, in my formative years I was told repeatedly: “You know” [side-glance at my uncle Mac], “boys inherit the bald-gene from their mother’s side of the family” [eyebrow dance]. That’s what passed for the internet in those days. A halfhearted query on the modern-day web reveals that that old myth is maybe only half true, but still. Even when you correct the math, my odds of reaching middle age with a full Gino Vannelli bouffant were never very good.

I recognize that some men effortlessly pull off this polished look of mine, but I never had a chance of balding gracefully (if that is even a thing)—what with the whole Frisbee Incident and all. February 22, 1968. It was a Thursday. I should have been in school. But we celebrated Washington’s birthday on the actual anniversary back then, so I was home, tossing the disc with my sister Barbara. Next thing I knew I was falling headfirst onto the concrete step leading up to our elevated yard. Wham-o. A fractured skull. The repair job left what has been called “the most glorious scar of all,” an unsightly blaze stretching across the breadth of my now-hairless dome. On any other cranium, that crannied indentation would be hidden by a magnificent pompadour. But given my genetic predisposition, you could have forecasted my comb-free future as soon as the surgeon tied off the last stitch.

But even then—even then—you had to figure I had time. Perhaps, but not much, as it turned out. Maybe a dozen years later, little more than halfway through my two-year mission in Uruguay, a sweet, well-meaning, grandmotherly soulcrusher informed me that my hair was much thinner than it had been when she met me a year earlier. I would have been [grimace] barely 20 at the time. I might have hoped to put up more of a fight, but it was clear that while I was engaged in another theater of operations, my frontline follicles had retreated considerably from their original beachhead. The war might not have been over, but surrender had become a foregone conclusion.

So here I am now, all these years later, having spent the majority of my time on this planet with my own denuded globe. That’s a lot of time with a clear head (as it were) to ponder my condition, which now prompts me to request a few societal accommodations. I realize that others have it way worse than we do; nevertheless, I believe that the following is not too much to ask in acknowledgment of the plight of bald guys everywhere:

  • Barbershop Discounts – All of our haircuts should be half-off because—and it hardly seems necessary to point this out—we have half-off already.
  • Preferential Seating – We should be allowed to sit or stand in the shade whenever the sun comes out. Otherwise, within 20 minutes we start to burn worse than those guys from Raiders of the Lost Ark. And trust me on this: You don’t want to sit by those guys at the ballgame.
  • One Token RomCom – Just once I’d like to see Ryan Gosling lose the girl to someone like, say, Ned Ryerson. That’s not unreasonable, is it?

I might add one last thing: The scriptures say that, in the resurrection, “a hair of the head shall not be lost.” Forgive the cynicism of a beleaguered man, but it doesn’t say we’ll necessarily get them back. My fear is they’ll say something like, “We know exactly where they are,” and then hand me a map. So, if it’s cool with the rest of you, it would be nice when that day comes if we could get a head start.

So to speak.