I am sitting, as I often do, in a diner. On days when I'm not at the office in Boston I like to do my work as much as possible in a diner because I don't like to be alone. So, even when I don't have a mentoring appointment you can often find me in a diner.
One table away there are some women discussing how best to give their now-three-year-old girls the best leg-up on college grants and government handouts. One has identified her daughter as "hispanic" on all the forms, even though she is only one quarter of that ethnic group. Another woman chimes in, "How can I pass off my son?"
I begin reading in James. HOW do the rich blaspheme the name of Christ?
I'm drawn back to the women's conversation.
"We wanted to go to Boston the second weekend, but it is Patriot's Day and the opening of the baseball season, so rooms at the Long Wharf Marriott were going for $499. So we'll go the first weekend when they'll be half that." "We go all the time," said another. And all agreed that Boston is a great place to go for a weekend.
I find myself judging the contradiction I've just heard and thinking they wouldn't NEED to look for government handouts for the kids' college if they weren't spending so much on hotels and trips and such.
Like I'm one to talk! I find the same contradiction in me: I want the world's goods... I crave the best of everything... I love a beautiful hotel, a good steak, a night at the symphony or the ballpark, a great Italian meal in the North End. What then is it that bothers me about these women? Ah! I see myself in them, and my tendency to forget the Lord so quickly and follow after other gods when my impulses softly caress my heart.
Dickens' Scrooge has a moment that might have provided the same sort of self-revelation. The Ghost of Christmas Past has taken him to see the end of a courtship. His betrothed speaks kindly and lovingly to him. Her rebuke is just:
"It matters little," she said, softly. "To you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve."
"What Idol has displaced you?" he rejoined.
"A golden one."
"This is the even-handed dealing of the world!" he said. "There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!"
"You fear the world too much," she answered, gently. "All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?"
"What then?" he retorted. "Even if I have grown so much wiser, what then? I am not changed towards you."
She shook her head.
"Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made, you were another man."
"I was a boy," he said impatiently.
"Your own feeling tells you that you were not what you are," she returned. "I am. That which promised happiness when we were one in heart, is fraught with misery now that we are two. How often and how keenly I have thought of this, I will not say. It is enough that I have thought of it, and can release you."
"Have I ever sought release?"
"In words? No. Never."
"In what, then?"
"In a changed nature; in an altered spirit; in another atmosphere of life; another Hope as its great end. In everything that made my love of any worth or value in your sight. If this had never been between us," said the girl, looking mildly, but with steadiness, upon him; "tell me, would you seek me out and try to win me now? Ah, no!"
He seemed to yield to the justice of this supposition, in spite of himself. But he said with a struggle," You think not?"
"I would gladly think otherwise if I could," she answered, "Heaven knows. When I have learned a Truth like this, I know how strong and irresistible it must be. But if you were free to-day, to-morrow, yesterday, can even I believe that you would choose a dowerless girl -- you who, in your very confidence with her, weigh everything by Gain: or, choosing her, if for a moment you were false enough to your one guiding principle to do so, do I not know that your repentance and regret would surely follow? I do; and I release you. With a full heart, for the love of him you once were."Oh! I would become a confirmed Arminian! For in my heart when I cast God as the fiancee and myself as Scrooge I tearfully realize my own lust for "other things". I 'blaspheme' the good name of Christ in the same way Scrooge blasphemed his girlfriend's good name by calling her betrothed and beloved when his heart was far from the passion of those words. And I thank God he has more patience with us than we have with each other! Thank God he refuses to release US with a full heart for love of what we once were when our passion burned for love of Him alone!
What sadness... to be rich in the things of this world: money, friends, sex, beauty, food, wine, and be so poor toward Christ! Wasn't Lewis right when he said we turn to Him, finally, when "there is 'nothing better' now to be had?"