Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Matters of the Heart

In the cold of winter, I decided to get a puppy. Some of you have met her. Her name is Annabell. Annie for short. I also call her bunny because she hops and pounces. And Annie Bananie, which has somehow free associated into the nickname, Banana Head. Annie’s very sweet and I love her.

But she wasn’t cheap. When I started doing the research on puppies, I kind of fell in love with the idea of getting a Moarkie. Now, a Moarkie is a cross-breed between a Maltese and a Yorkshire Terrier. My parents are the proud owners of our family dog, Coco Bongo, who is a Yorkshire Terrier. So in deciding what kind of dog to get, I knew I wanted someone like Coco, but not exactly.

On the internet, you can find everything. I found tons of people selling Moarkies. There is a trend in cross-breeding the little dogs now. Maltapoos. Shitzapoo’s. Yorkapoos. Mitzus. The thing was, I didn’t want to send some person from the internet several hundred dollars and then wait for my Moarkie to arrive in the mail. I wanted to see him or her first. The breeders offered to show me pictures, but somehow that didn’t sit right with me. I wasn’t about to drive down to North Carolina in February so I when I found a pet store in NYC, called Raising Rover and Baby, that sold Moarkie’s, I made plans to head to NY, have dinner with my best friends on Valentine’s Day, and go to Raising Rover with the possibility that if I fell in love, I would come home with a puppy.

It was there I found my Annie. I’ll be honest. She was expensive, but I was able to see her in person. I even met her brother. The man at Raising Rover talked to me for over two hours about having a puppy. And, it was immediate gratification. I went to the City looking for a Moarkie puppy, and I came home with a Moarkie puppy. Even though Annie came at a high price, she was worth it to me.

I’ll tell you what wasn’t worth it to me. The several hundreds of dollars of food, vitamins, supplements, and accessories – combs, leash, collar, sweater, puppy playpen- that Raising Rover tried to sell me. Some of it, like the food, I purchased because its not good to change a puppy’s diet suddenly, but the $8 leash I bought at the small pet shop in New Paltz is just as functional and cute as the $30 leash at Raising Rover. And thel puppy gate they tried to sell me there is no better than the baby gate my sister gave me now that her kids are older.

Some things in life are worth the price you pay. Others aren’t. When it comes to financial matters, being an educated consumer is paramount. After that, it often comes down to matters of the heart. Annie is a matter of the heart. She is worth her weight in gold.

It’s not just things that cost money that have a price though. Our daily work has a price too. It affects are energy, our bottom line, our feelings of self-worth and well-being. So do choices we make and situations we find ourselves in. Our relationships cost something to us emotionally, psychologically, physically and spiritually.

Several Thanksgivings ago, when my family still lived in Ohio, one of my cousins drank too much at dinner. He drank too much, and then he wanted to drive home. His brother, my other cousin, wouldn’t let him. He took his keys. Perhaps something like this has happened in your family. Drunk people do not like it when you take away their keys.

So there we all are at like midnight, our bellies hyper-extended from turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, cake, coffee, you name it. There we are after having gone around the table each saying what we’re grateful for, some of us seeing each other for the first time that year. And now, there we are arguing over whether or not my one cousin could drive home.

It really put a damper on the evening to be honest. But my one cousin, the sober one, was training to be a lawyer, so after over an hour of back and forth, back and forth, my intoxicated cousin finally gave up and took a nap. The 1 ½ fight that Thanksgiving which possibly saved some lives was worth it. It was worth the price we all paid. Drinking too much at a family function and then fighting with your family because your proud and stubborn, that was not worth it.

Everything we want or have or do in live costs something. The question is: is it worth the price you pay? We can rationally analyze the situation. Make pros and cons lists. Weigh our options. But often times, when it comes down to it, the only way to truly know if something is worth it is comes down to a matter of the heart.

Do you stay in a relationship that makes you feel safe and comfortable in some ways, but is unfulfilling and shutting you down in others ways? Not if your heart tells you you have to go.

Do you take that other job even though it pays less and you’ll have to move? I don’t know. What does your heart tell you?

Do you put your mother with advanced Alzheimer’s in a nursing home? I can’t answer that for you either. What it comes down to is a matter of the heart.

I know that the heart can be perverted. The Bible says that. But I also know that the heart is the center of everything dear to us, of everything that means something to us, everything we’re convicted in, everything we’re passionate about. The heart is the center of everything we love. So it is here that we must decide if it’s worth the price we will pay.

Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem today. As he did, many, many people fell on their knees in admiration and praise. They waved palm braches and lay them before him as he rode a donkey (which was a sign that he was the Messiah the Jewish people were waiting for) into their midst, and they shouted, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

Many of the people that Jesus has healed throughout his ministry are there. There are also many there who hardly know of the traveling preacher from Nazareth.
Many whom he has instructed in God’s way are there. His best friends are there. They get to have a sacred Passover meal together.

But after the fancy parade, we know what happens. How one of those friends betrays him. We know Jesus gets arrested on trumped up charges, and then one of his friends denies knowing him in public. We know he gets beaten, and mocked, and humiliated, and that he’s killed.

Do you think it was worth it? Giving his life in loyalty to what he believed? Giving his life to save sinners like you and me? Maybe, Jesus should have stayed home that year? Maybe there was some other way, some less costly way to accomplish these things?

When I was finishing up at Princeton Theological Seminary, the Rev. Dr. Brian Blount preached a sermon the weekend of my graduation called, “Pick a Fight!” In a nutshell, he said: “Wow, graduating class. You sure are accomplished, faithful, good-hearted and well-intentioned people. I’m proud of you. But now what are you going to do? Are you going to go into the world and get a good job, find a suitable mate, settle down and try to make sure that everybody likes you?

Or, he said, are you going to go out there and do what Jesus did? Are you going to go and stand up for what you believe God wants – things like justice and mercy and faithfulness – even if it makes you unpopular and uncomfortable? Are you going to spend time in study and prayer, searching for the will of God in the midst of your particular situation, and proclaim that will even if no one wants to hear it and people hold it against you once you’ve said it?” Or he said, “are you going to go make for yourself a nice bed and lie in it while people suffer around you? While wars rage and babies starve? While the earth cries out for help and the poor stay poor because they can’t get a decent education or a role model to show them what to do? The Rev. Dr. Brian Blount, who now is the President of Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, encouraged the graduating class of 2005 to go out in the world and pick a fight – and you could have heard a pin drop in that upper middle class, white Presbyterian church in Princeton, NJ as he said so.

If I’m going to pick a fight and risk all that, it better be worth it. You too.

In the film, A Time to Kill, Matthew McConaughey plays young lawyer, Jake Brigance, and he doesn’t decide to pick a fight so much as he agrees to enter into a battle. The story is set in Mississippi, the deep South, in the 1990’s, where yes, believe it, racial tensions, prejudices and injustices are still alive and well. (They’re still alive and well here today in NY. At Fishkill Correctional Facility, of the 25 students in the class I am teaching, all but maybe three are African American men. How can that not be injustice?)

Anyway, Samuel L Jackson plays the role of Carl Lee Hailey. Carl Lee is African American and so is his 10 year old daughter, Tonya. Walking home from the grocery store one afternoon, poor little Tonya is raped, beaten and hung from a tree to die by two drunk, white men (if you can call them men). Thankfully, the tree branch breaks and Tonya lives. The men are caught and are going to go to trial for what they have done, but just the year before, four similar men had raped a black girl and got off. So Carl Lee decides to take justice into his own hands, and he kills the two men who raped his daughter right there in the courthouse.

Now, Carl Lee’s the one on trial. Jake Brigance agrees to be his attorney, a white man defending a black man in Mississippi. In using this film as an example, I am not condoning murder or taking justice into one’s own hands, but I do want to lift up Jake Brigance, a man who wants to save the world one case at a time, and a man who wants to prove that “in the new South, justice can be and will be colorblind.”

No sooner does Jake take the case that the threats start. First, against his life. Then, against the lives of his wife and daughter. One dark night, the Klu Klux Klan burn a cross on the family’s front lawn. Right about then is where most of us would have walked away from the case, the fight. Jake’s wife and friends certainly tell him to.

But as a matter of the heart, Jake can’t quit this case any more than Jesus could have avoided going to Jerusalem for the Passover. They both had the option, and yet, for them and what they believed, there really was no option. Their hearts told them that whatever the cost, whatever happened, it was worth it.

The Klan continues. They attempt to throw a bomb in Jake’s house, and eventually succeed in burning it down. Thank God no one is in it. Jake’s secretary and her husband are also threatened, and the secretary’s husband dies of a heart attack or a stroke when the Klan surprises him. And Jake’s legal assistant, played by Sandra Bullock, is abducted, beaten, hung on a pole and left to die until someone comes back to cut her lose and take her to the hospital. It comes to the point where the only way all the pain and suffering is going to be worth it is if Carl Lee Hailey gets a fair trial and is released from prison like a white man would be, and as the movie says, like white men have been who were in similar situations as Carl Lee.

In the final summation, Jake Brigance powerfully describes the crime against Tonya. He has the jury shut their eyes and imagine it. When he’s laid out the whole brutal scenario, he says, “Can you see that little girl, bruised, beaten, her little womb dead from what happened to her. Can you see her? Now imagine she’s white.”

When the jury returns, Carl Lee is found not guilty. Justice has prevailed as colorblind in the South, and Jack Brigance has made a difference in the world, which makes the battle he entered into and the price he and everyone around him had to pay, worth it.

And Jesus, was his sacrifice worth it? Do not doubt, but believe. Believe in him and believe that it was worth it. It cost his life, but it was worth it because to God, we are worth it. When it comes to matters of the heart, Jesus is all heart. We are his heart. And the love that God and Jesus have for us is so great that there is no cost, no price they would not pay to ensure that we will live our lives close to them.

What about you? Is what you’re living for worth it? Are you spending your time and energy and money and spirit on what you love? Because that’s what God wants. Are you fighting the good fight? It all comes down to what your heart is telling you.

Jesus showed us that what really matters are matters of the heart! Live by your heart and you will truly live.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am glad you have had good luck with your dog. I also purchased a high-priced dog from Raising Rover and Baby but my dog was extremely ill and after further investigation we found out she was from a puppy mill in Missouri. But the owner told us she was from a personal friend/breeder in Long Island. We also discovered that she was not the breed that the owner represented. We got a DNA test and unfortunately he lied. But, everything happens for a reason and I am happy that we have our little pup. Check out her blog: which shows where she came from, etc.