Go, and Do Thou Likewise

SamaritanDear Will:

I’m not going to rehash the ugliness of what happened recently in Charlottesville except to say that it put on full display the worst side of humanity. It was all so awful, in fact, that the Church was moved to issue a public statement reiterating its stance on the issue of racial discrimination and hatred: “No man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ.”

Weirdly, even that was not enough. Just two days later, the Church felt compelled to issue a further clarification inasmuch as some had twisted the previous release somehow to justify racial bigotry. The second statement was unequivocal: “White supremacist attitudes are morally wrong and sinful, and we condemn them. Church members who promote or pursue a ‘white culture’ or white supremacy agenda are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church.”

In the midst of all of this, I couldn’t help thinking that we would all be better off if more people simply went to Sunday School and paid attention. On the question of how to treat those with whom we may not agree—particularly those of a different ethnic or religious persuasion—Jesus taught very clearly:

25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

26 [Jesus] said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?

27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

28 And [Jesus] said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. . . .

(I suppose I should pause here to point out that Samaritans were considered foreigners whose religious beliefs were abhorrent to the Jews.)

. . . and when [the Samaritan] saw him, he had compassion on him,

34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

So on the question of how to treat those with different racial or ethnic or religious backgrounds, we might reasonably ask: “What would Jesus do?” And the answer is simple: He would be like the Samaritan.

PW

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Blown Away

Dear Will:

As I think I may have mentioned, my daughter Bryn left her job dancing for American Ballet Theatre and enrolled in BYU in the Fall. Although at first it was tough to adjust to Provo after having lived in Manhattan the previous year, Bryn took immediately to college. She loved the chance to explore new ideas, meet new people, and feel like a “normal” person for a change.

So imagine our surprise when she called us in October to inform us that she had accepted a job dancing for the Royal New Zealand Ballet in Wellington. Starting December 9. A week before the end of the semester.

Suddenly we found ourselves trying to help Bryn figure out how to move to New Zealand without failing all of her classes. Our efforts were mostly ham-handed, I must confess, as we found it difficult—the amazing Internet notwithstanding—to determine where to live, how to set up a bank account, what to do about phone services . . . the list goes on.

Fortunately, we have a missionary serving here in our ward who is from (it’s hard to believe) Wellington, New Zealand. When he heard our exciting, perplexing news, he immediately contacted his family and just like that we had new friends in Wellington offering to help.

(An aside: If you haven’t met Elder Savaiinaea yet, you should make a point to do so. He is one of the most charming, delightful missionaries to come through here in a long time.)

It then occurred to me that there is a family from New Zealand right here in our stake. I barely know him, but I approached Brother Broederlow and told him of Bryn’s impending move. Within 24 hours he had reached out to friends in Wellington, and before I knew it I was corresponding with Leonie and Peter Brunt, who offered to pick Bryn up at the airport, show her around the city, and give her a place to stay until she figured out a permanent solution.

(Another aside: When Bryn departed LAX, we knew we’d have no way of corresponding with her until she reached out to us somehow. So you can imagine how I felt when I got an email from Leonie which included a picture of her and Bryn on a windy hill in Wellington. I wanted to cry. I can’t tell you how comforting it was to know that someone was watching out for my little girl.)

Bryn and Leonie

I could go on for pages about the Brunts, but they are not the only people who have reached out to Bryn since she arrived in Wellington. When Christmas arrived, Bryn spent several days living with the Charions, a wonderful family she met at the ward there. While it was very hard for us to be apart on Christmas, it was wonderful to see Bryn gathered in by another loving family as she tries to find her place in a strange land far from home.

As I contemplate all of this, I am blown away. No one could reasonably expect this sort of selfless regard by strangers for my daughter’s welfare. The Savaiinaeas and Brunts and Charions are simply living the principles that Jesus taught—and as a consequence their actions cause me to feel His love as well. After telling the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus said, “Go, and do thou likewise.” Which is precisely what they have done.

What a blessing it is to associate with people such as this: members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my brothers and sisters in a very real sense.

PW

Strength Beyond My Own

Dear Will:

I know it doesn’t seem possible, but I’m pretty sure my hair hurts. My earlobes throb and my toenails are cramping. Even my freckles are in pain. That’s what happens, you know, when you ignore the realities of middle age and decide—who knows why?—that you will climb Mt. Whitney. That’s right: Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states, 14,505 feet above sea level. It’s not exactly a walk in the park, as they say—at least, not any park I have ever been to before.

Think of it this way: Say you start your climb (as just about everyone does) at the Whitney Portal, a mere 8,300 feet up. From there, it’s 11 miles to the summit, uphill as it turns out (who knew?). What you’ll notice as you make the ascent is that somewhere around 10,000 feet the trees pretty much give up and go home. The oxygen loses quite a bit of interest as well. So after hiking six miles with a 35-pound pack and spending the night around 12,000 feet to acclimate yourself, you will finish the climb surrounded by nothing but boulders, a few hearty wildflowers (how is that possible?), and other morons who are trudging up the hill simply because, like you, they had a few free hours and somehow it seemed like a good idea.

If you’ve never hung around at that altitude, you can’t begin to appreciate the air you’re breathing right now.  During the final five miles of our climb, I was out of breath constantly. Now I’m the first to admit that in my present physical condition I can get winded navigating the produce section at Ralph’s, but even so, this hike was different. By the end, I was barely shuffling along, concentrating on every breath in the vain attempt to give my lungs the oxygen they craved.

In our little group of 11, seven of us (four teens and three adults) made it to the summit. I confess that my reaction was more relief than elation, however, because the climb was such an ordeal. Little did I know, however, that the ordeal was just beginning.

Upon arriving at the mountain-top, one member of our group started suffering from altitude sickness, which is a polite way to say that he threw up. Repeatedly. For the entire 5-mile descent to our base camp. The poor guy was unable to eat or drink anything without, shall we say, gastric emanations. With no fuel in his body, he had a very hard time getting down from the summit. He would take a few steps, feel weary and nauseated, and have to stop to gather himself.

Once down to 12,000 feet, he began to feel better, but our group still faced the daunting task of getting back to the portal—another six miles below. Because we were racing a thunder shower, we could not stop to eat and decided we would make our way on trail mix and PowerBars alone. The trouble was that, partway down the trail, another of my companions found it increasingly difficult to hike on—not because of the altitude this time, but rather due to complete exhaustion. Eventually his food ran out. His water ran out. His legs could barely move. And yet he remained several miles from the end of the trail.

Most of our group hiked on, making it down the mountain a couple of hours ahead of me and my pal. Totally spent, he bravely stumbled on, zombie-like, willing his body down the trail only because he had no alternative. We radioed ahead to the rest of our fellows to let them know of his plight and to update them on our slow but gradual progress. Then the miracle occurred.

At some point, still far from our ultimate destination, one of the boys who had already completed that day’s 16-mile odyssey came running up the trail to meet us. He greeted us with a grin, and without much conversation relieved my friend of his 35 pounds of gear, gave us a cheerful wave, and went bounding back down the mountain. It was a stunning display of fellowship, a selfless act of amazing proportions. I learned later that when one of our leaders asked for volunteers to climb back up the trail to render assistance, everyone else was too exhausted to make the attempt. Only this 16-year-old boy was willing to go.

His act of compassion brought to mind several images: of the Good Samaritan proffering roadside aid, of Peter and John lifting and healing the lame man at the temple gates. I was also reminded of what Alma taught: That those who would be called followers of Christ must be “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light” (Mosiah 18:8). Indeed.

Jesus said: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee?  or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in?  or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:31-40)

I am also reminded of a favorite hymn:

Savior, may I learn to love thee,
Walk the path that thou hast shown,
Pause to help and lift another,
Finding strength beyond my own.
Savior, may I learn to love thee—
Lord, I would follow thee.

Let’s be clear: I did not enjoy climbing Mt. Whitney. It turned out to be one of the hardest days of my life. Even so, I know my pain will fade and my energy return, and when that happens, I will be left with a treasured memory: One of a smiling young man coming to the aid of one of his brethren. That image alone made the ordeal worth it—even in spite of my aching freckles.

PW