Walk In Tragedy. Awaken to Life.

(Listen to the Dick Staub podcast of an interview with TC Boyle author of book, “Drop City,” today at “The Kindlings Muse”.

And now for today’s thoughts.

Two simple lessons.
1) Be there.
2) Awaken to Life.

My first international trip was to Indonesia in 1967, two years after the national revolution that overthrew communism. I saw poverty and it changed my life. Forever. It awakened me to the injustice of life, but it also awakened in me a gratitude for life.

These thoughts went through my mind when I read about renowned chef Emeril, who is being scorned for his post Katrina behavior. Immediately after Katrina he chose not to return to New Orleans where he owns three restaurants, but rather to finish a national book tour, then return to New York, where he raised ($) 2.5 million dollars for Katrina relief efforts.

I’ve met Emeril and interviewed him three times in Chicago, before, during and after his fame. He always struck me as a decent guy who understands he has been blessed, loves New Orleans and wants to give back. He’s learning the hard way that sometimes being there means more than money.

The New Orleans reaction to Emeril who gave money but was not present, is an important reminder to all of us who care about the poor and give our money to great organizations like World Vision, but who don’t actually personally walk with the poor.

Here’s the quote that got me: “to locals such as Dinah Campbell, a radio account executive, ¢â‚¬Ëœit’s not just about the money. It’s about walking with the people, and letting them know you care.’ ¢â‚¬ËœHe got his big break here, and I was shocked that he wasn’t the first one here” after the storm, Campbell said. ¢â‚¬ËœI know I’m not going to support him anymore.'”

If there’s one thing Jesus taught us, it is that God showed his love for mankind by “moving into the neighborhood” (Eugene Petersen’s paraphrase of John 1). When we give money to an organization that serves the poor on our behalf, that is a good thing. When in our personal life we spend some time with the poor–that is a better thing. I’m not suggesting instead of sending your check to World Vision that you show up at their door with a plane ticket and a do-gooder’s smile. I’m saying in addition to sending your check, you could also do a short term missions trip or help build a house with Habitat for Humanity or volunteer some time at local afternoon tutoring program. Emeril sent money but did not “walk with his own people,” and money wasn’t enough.

Facing tragedy offers the side benefit of awakening gratitude and a zest for life. I thought of this when I read about Arizona Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb whose friend, college roommate and newlywed, Jon Hooker was killed in Sunday’s plane crash in Kentucky. The newlyweds boarded a Comair commuter jet en route to a honeymoon in California and were among 49 who died when the plane, taking off from the wrong runway at the Lexington airport, crashed and burst into flames. “It was just a freak accident and probably could have been avoided,” Webb said. “As bad as the situation was, for him to just be married a few hours beforehand makes it that much tougher.”

“It was a slap of reality, Webb said, a jolt that made him realize life is not to be taken for granted. At 27, he realized that no one is invincible. ¢â‚¬ËœThat’s the way I’ve felt my whole life. You can ask my mom, she’ll tell you the same thing,’ Webb said. ¢â‚¬ËœI feel like I can go out there and do anything and not get hurt. That’s what came to mind right when it first happened. Anything can happen. It makes you think, and really take things in and enjoy life.'”

My experience is when you walk in the midst of tragedy, whether a plane crash, a natural disaster like Katrina, or the perennial poverty trapping millions “it makes you think, really take things in and enjoy life.”

The financially wealthy among us have already learned that money does not awaken you to life, service does. Jesus said, “it is better to give than receive” and urged us to love one another. Walk in tragedy and awaken to life.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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