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Monday, December 13, 2010

So Many in Our World Will Never Know They Matter.

On Sunday nights I'm fond of, when I can, watching a program called Undercover Boss. The premise of the show is the CEO goes undercover and goes out in the field (last night it was Johnny Rockets, a quasi-retro burger joint) as a new hire or trainee to get a birds-eye view of what it's like to work in the company at the grass-roots level. They often stumble into human interest stories of which they were unaware. It can be very poignant what they discover.

I  am drawn especially to the working people who struggle to raise their kids and make ends meet day in and day out. They're often the "hard-luck" people who've never seemed to get untracked for whatever reason.What sociologists refer to as the working-class comprise a large portion of the people who work in our fast food places, big box stores and service businesses. They tend to be hourly workers or low-salaried. Nevertheless, they love their kids, and want to provide a better life for them. The people highlighted are dedicated to the work they do. They have passion and integrity to provide the service or do the job well. Some show a flair for creativity, even panache.

So last night one of the people highlighted was a guy working as a Shift Manager in an Atlantic City Johnny Rockets restaurant. He had a sad tale to tell of the unsolved murder of his daughter. He was convinced he knew who the perpetrator and took revenge on him, hurting him badly enough to warrant prison time. After he got out, his life was in shambles. He was homeless, living under the Boardwalk until he was given a chance at this job.

The undercover boss was so moved by his tragic story that he generous helped him financially, reducing the man to tears. But what the Shift Manager said in shocked gratitude caught my attention most. He said that no one had ever noticed him enough to do anything like what the CEO did. I couldn't forget what he said and what it meant.

I realized that innumerable people over the world now and throughout history live(d) the totality of their existence never knowing they matter a whit to anybody. They're mostly " fixture people" - they're just fixtures strewn about in our lives, not people we relate to -  we walk by every day without really seeing them. They are persons of little interest to us. They remove our garbage, clean our public bathrooms and hotel rooms. They serve our fast food, drive our buses, and cashier at our local food market . They might be addicts, panhandlers, prostitutes, the wandering mentally ill, or just street people hanging around with no particular place to go or initiative to get there. We glance at them and dismiss their common humanity. The uncomfortable truth is: they bear the same image of God as do we.

This morning I looked into the broken, sad eyes of such a person today. He looked cold and uncomfortable because of an old injury. He really just looked tired and miserable. He is a man who never got past what happened to him many years ago. I see him often. I call him by name and when he calls me 'sir," I remind him I am not a "sir" to anyone. My name is Kit. He mostly doesn't remember my name. I asked him if he needed anything. He looked up at me (he crouches much of the time), and said hesitantly, almost under his breath, "I'm hungry," then averted his eyes

I said, "I'll be right back." I went to our apartment and we heated up some homemade turkey and rice soup. I got him some bread and butter, an apple and shortbread. We gave him a Dunkin' Donuts Gift Card - they can sit in there as long as they pay for something and are not disruptive. I brought it back to him. He was surprised and grateful saying "God bless you." as he always does. I looked him right in the eye and said "God wants you to you matter a great deal to him. He wants you to never forget that," and I used his name. He needed to hear it. And I plan to keep trying to show him that its true. I don't want to treat him like a fixture in my very important life.

What the Shift Manager said last night on Undercover Boss helped me realize how many people learn they do not matter at all because of the way they are routinely treated, especially as not particularly worth knowing beyond being the other side of a service transaction at a store, or a walk-by and glance-away transaction on a city street. Most of them don't really matter all that much to most of us, and they learn to expect as much. They are rendered insignificant.

As Jesus-followers we are not given the OK to ignore people everyone else ignores. We are summoned to offer them the level of dignity the image they bear affords them even if they've not worn it well. We do not treat them as subservient even if they are serving us in some capacity. We honor the common humanity we share with them. We find ways to show interest in them as persons with stories not fixtures only there to meet our passing need. Remember, God has a special heart for his lowly, broken and forgotten children.

The Kingdom of God is the place where everyone is invited to the Banquet of the Shepherd King, the Host of redemption:

"Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." (Luke 14:12-14)

The Church carries the Kingdom of God to the world, one person at a time mostly. There are no fixtures in the church, only people who've found out they matter beyond their wildest imagining, or at least they're invited to find out. The church is a place where this happens on earth. It's a crazy-quilt family where helping people discover they matter should be a prime directive.

I sadly realize people arrive and leave this earth never knowing they were invited by God to his banquet all along. They spent their years as whispers and glimpses most thought never worth exploring further.

But I bet God's heavenly banquet table will be jam-packed with the world's forgotten who woke up to Jesus smiling at them, calling their name with a love so penetrating they became who they really are in the twinkling of eye. They will never be fixtures in his eternity.

So maybe when you and I are going about our very important business every day we could chance a pause in the midst of one of our very important transactions with the nameless image-bearer across from us to ask how they're doing or maybe thank them for their hard work, especially the folks whose tired facial lines show the weight they've been carrying for years. Or notice the faces of people you walk or drive by and ask God how to pray for them. However you do it, find ways to tell people they matter to you and to God.

Remember: many or most the people you encounter will have never heard that from anyone. Their Father wants to tell them through you and me.
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