This most recent offshoot of my creative energy probably has its roots in events from my entire life to date, but the only starting point that I can put my finger on is when I watched The Great Gatsby last week. If you've never seen it, all you need to know for my purposes is that Gatsby, the main character, is a fantastically rich, suave, accomplished incarnation of Leonardo Dicaprio who started out as a poor farming kid in the Midwest and moved up to his lofty position largely by himself. He dies at the end of the movie, and his funeral is populated only by the media and one friend, the narrator of the story.
See, up until the whole funeral thing, I had kind of looked up to Gatsby, or at the very least was impressed by him. He was a self-made man who had collected for himself incredible wealth, countless accomplishments, jewels (chiefly rubies), and even a new identity. He'd hardly depended on another human being through it all; he was completely self supported - and in that way, I wanted to be just like him.
By time numero three of being starstruck by Gatsby's sparkling, larger-than-life festivals and his mannerisms and his stuff, I was just as impressed as ever. But as the credits rolled, my parents, who had been watching with me, threw out some radical new ideas.
"That's so sad."
"His whole life was pointless, when you see the end. He had everything, but once he was gone, no one cared."
My goal for the past few years had been, in essence, to be like Gatsby. I had friends, sure, and family that I cared about a lot. But in the back of my mind, I knew that if I could just hone my sense of humor a little more, make my hair fall perfectly, get my mile time down a few seconds, carry myself with confidence . . . I wouldn't really need them anymore. I was unbelievably attracted to the picture
of a fantastically rich, suave, accomplished version of myself, in which I would depend on no one. Literarily speaking, Gatsby was a foil character of me, showing me what would happen, at the very best, if I pursued that image. His was no way to live.
So here I was, dislodged from my former way of thinking by the fact that, yeah, people are pretty important. That was rolling around in my brain, bumping up against my goals and dreams and generally creating mayhem, trying to figure out where it could fit. It was then that I opened up my iPhone Bible to continue reading the book of John in preparation for a Bible study that I help to lead and came across this:
"In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal."
Ahh! Ahhhhh! Does God know what's going on, or what? I have to be reckless in my love. I have to learn to love without question, not to weigh my options by asking what path would elevate me to the fools gold glitter of a Gatsby-esque life. To let myself need and depend on people. To spend a few extra dollars on gas to go see a friend rather than saving up for new pants. (I formerly prided myself on this and called it restraint.) To help my little sister work on her homework rather than agonizing over my own. (Formerly: discipline.) To love someone I've just met rather than guarding myself against the possibility of a hurting heart. (Formerly: being smart.)
I've always known, in a very practical, above-the shoulders kind of way, that Jesus said I was supposed to love people. It wasn't until my run-in with Gatsby and John 12 that my heart was struck with the need reach out to love with abandon. Doing God's work necessitates a willingness to lean into another person's life and deep reserves of love for them - traits that I'd previously not attributed to myself. I settled it with a firm, "That's not my personality. I'm just not cut out for that." On my worst days, I actually looked down on people who loved easily for handing out their kindness to whoever asked or didn't, deserving or not. I prided myself on loving selectively. Hold on, let's WWJD that really quick.
Would Jesus love selectively?
"Depend on and keep at it because in the you have a sure thing. Those who lived high and mighty he knocked off their high horse. He used the city built on the hill as fill for the marshes. All the exploited and peoples build their lives on the reclaimed land."
So, God loved the outcasts. Hm.
"The religion scholars and Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company and lit into his disciples: “ 'What kind of example is this, acting cozy with the riffraff?” '
Jesus, overhearing, shot back, ' “Who needs a : the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting the sin-sick, not the spiritually-fit.” '
Jesus kept company with the riffraff and the sin-sick.