“You are doing the Lord’s work”. That’s a tongue-in-cheek expression when you think someone is going a great job. But… did you ever think that sometimes we are doing the Lord’s work, without ever intending it? It could even be, that someone you do not consider to be an ally, could unwittingly be doing the Lord’s work on your behalf. That’s a humbling experience when you receive help from above, clothed in your interactions with someone with whom you might disagree.
I know, because this happened to me.
We live in strange times, where people no longer seem to be able to discuss the merits of ideas. Instead we find ourselves polarized as a society. This hit me like a dash of cold water when someone I used to work with (on good terms) called me an asshole on Facebook because I supported a political party that he did not like. I am a social conservative. He is a Liberal (whatever that means anymore). Ne’er the twain shall meet, it seems. You are instantly the enemy. And yet, by conscience, life has brought me to that place and I would not lightly abandon things I have come to see as true. However, it remains that possibility for dialogue has been replaced with a Michael Foucault struggle for power, and how best to seize that power from the other. It is not a recipe for detente.
People will disagree. That is an inevitable fact of life. It makes me think of the story of Jacob and his uncle Laban told in Genesis chapter 31. After a stormy relationship of many years, they have a parting of ways. They set up a stone to commemorate this decision called ‘mizpah’ which means ‘watch tower’ in Hebrew. They separate with the curt observation, “May the Lord watch over me and thee while we are absent one from another”. This verse has been taken out of context to sell cheesy friendship necklaces made out of two halves which complete each other. But it is not what the verse means. The verse means that they each wash their hands of the other and draw a line in the sand. They leave God to judge which man’s conduct is right in the end because they cannot agree.
This is often how it goes in real life. However - it can get turned around if you need help, and if the one you see as the enemy helps you. That might be God tossing a not-so-subtle grenade back into the laps of both people who disagree, that there are higher truths which govern human interactions.
So let me tell you the story of a magical bowl of soup which helped me out when I was down. It is the Biblical ‘even a cup of cold water in my name’ that Jesus talked about, because it’s effort was minimal, but as an act of kindness its effects were amplified by the One who makes everything mysteriously work in the end.
Problem: In about 1990, things very suddenly changed over to computers in my profession. It seemed overnight, that the physical illustration work and such was disappearing, and the opportunities for freelance work depended on your ability to do graphics from computer driven platforms. I had returned from a year in the Middle East to this truth, and worse, a failed attempt to move out west. I had to beat a retreat back to Toronto with much diminished funds and my tail between my legs. It’s the proverbial ‘sleeping on a friend’s couch’ arrangement.
And so, I was looking for an ‘in’ to a lot of work where the first requirement was three to five years experience doing computer graphics. A lot of doors were slammed in my face. It’s one of those frustrating junctures in life where you just cannot catch a break. Moreover, there are not many people out there who really want to hear your tales of woe or help you out.
Except for one old lady in my parish. Hearing that I was essentially ‘unemployed’, she invited me over for a bowl of soup. Now this little old lady was the proverbial aging hippie. She was an activist involved in about every ‘progressive’ movement there was going. The kind of person whose politics I don’t generally agree with, whom I might find annoying because of the virtue they attach to their politics. But none of that matters when you need help and someone is willing to listen to you.
And so lacking a better plan, I went for the bowl of soup. The old lady lived in a large house with a collection of dogs and kids she had adopted as her own. Her house was not very clean. It smelled like dogs and could have used a bit of tidying up. We sat down to eat the bowl of soup and trade ideas about life. She said, “I don’t know really how I could help you, but I did notice that there was a little basement print shop down the road where they put out a sign saying ‘help wanted’. Maybe you should knock on their door.”
And so I did, as a matter of covering off all bases. Turned out it was exactly the right thing at the right time. From God’s mouth to your ear as the saying goes. The manager was running a tight ship. He was a shyster and looking to take advantage of the impasse in the labour market. He was looking for people with no experience in computer graphics. He would train you to work on the computers. But you would have to be willing to work for free for three months.
We worked out an arrangement where I would do my own freelance by day, and give him the night shift. 4 PM to midnight. In that three months I sat and absorbed a crash course in computer graphics, learning everything there was to know about operating the popular platforms of the day. It spring-boarded me into some opportunities that have spun out into ongoing work ever since. It all worked out in the end despite the temporary impasse that seemed so impassible.
I saw that old lady periodically in the paper. She had written a book of poetry. She had immersed herself in leftists causes. Last shot of her was clad in leather, and riding a motorcycle, a colourful character. I always thought to myself that I should go back and tell her what had happened. She likely had no idea how much she had helped me out. I was just another person she had invited over for a bowl of soup. And then I saw the obit - all of this comes to an end at some point.
Which leaves me with some observations about this Punch and Judy show we find ourselves in.
Public debate will always be a thing. There will always be people with whom we disagree about how life should be. But there is one thing that overrides all of this. The willingness to help someone out. It seems to cross all borders and erase all sins. It gives you pause to think that in the end, our humanity is undone by what God thinks. Apparently, he thinks we should sometimes put aside our differences and get along.
I don’t know exactly what God is opposed to, but one thing I am sure of is that he is FOR people. Your help may come one day in the form of a cup of cold water. Or a bowl of soup from an enemy. I hope you appreciate it because that is the Lord’s work. We might find ourselves unwittingly part of it, because life can be funny and strange.