17 Dec 2012

F•R•I•E•N•D•S and dysfunctional lovers

As Joey Tribiani once said, there’s no such thing as a selfless good deed. The good-deeder always gets something in return, even if it’s purely the fuzzy satisfaction of having helped the deed-ee.

For the remainder of the FRIENDS episode in Season 5, a philosophical battle ensues as Pheobe desperately attempts to prove Joey wrong and provide an example of true altruism because ‘I just gave birth to three children and I will not let them be raised in a world where Joey is right!’ 

But sadly she is unable to do so. Because people are basically egotistical and selfish (either due to sin or the evolutionary instinct to outrun your neighbour so they get mauled by the lion- take your pick cause both of them work) and to be fair, she only had 30 minutes to gather her evidence.

While I reluctantly agree with Joey on this one, I’d like to further explore the warm fuzziness and see what happens when that runs out.

I've been a Street Pastor for a few years now (www.streetpastors.co.uk/) which, as a nocturnal person who likes to talk a lot and listen a lot, is more fun than most people imagine. The majority of people we meet at stupid o'clock are so appreciative to see us there, awake and sober that they are more than happy to pass the time of night and take a lolly before the customary kebab and taxi home. Fuzzy satisfaction in abundance- for punters and pastors.

But then sometimes there are nights like this:

• It’s 3am and our team have been dealing with a large group of friends in varying degrees of sobriety for over an hour.

• No one seems to know exactly how many of them will be getting in the taxi which is arriving imminently, or who’s house everyone will be staying at.

• One of them is having a panic attack.

• One of them has lost her coat. Or maybe she loaned it to someone. She can’t remember.

• One of them is desperate to get home to her toddler son as the babysitter was expecting her home 2 hours ago.

• One of them has done a runner and is hiding somewhere after allegedly cheating on his girlfriend.

• Cheated girlfriend is in a drunken heap with a massive lump on her head, crying out for cheating boyfriend. Repeatedly. And loudly.

• Two taxis come and go again because everyone isn’t ready and waiting. They still haven’t decided where everyone’s staying tonight. And no body wants to leave cheated girlfriend with lumpy head. Besides- the paramedic hasn’t turned up yet to confirm whether her vomiting is due to excessive alcohol or an intracranial hemorrhage.

I have now lost all fuzz and warmth.
I have bits of vomit, mud and blood on me.
I tell cheated girlfriend that if cheating boyfriend really did what he did tonight then he doesn’t deserve her. She continues to cry out for him anyway.

Paramedic arrives and diagnoses no intracranial hemorrhage (yeah!) but advises that cheated girlfriend must not be left alone tonight. Hmm. Probably too early for reconciliation with cheating boyfriend.

Sleepy looking relative of cheated girlfriend arrives in a car. Paramedic hands over to him (yeah! again). We quickly ascertain that group can somehow get home and make a quick exit back to the warmth of the base. Then go HOME. Thank you God.

Before I go to sleep I am flicking through a book I’d looked at earlier that night when I get something far heftier than a fuzz of warmth and satisfaction. It’s like the BAM of exposed pride and the realisation that God is far bigger and far more loving and gracious than I can ever imagine.

(‘Dangerous Wonder’ by Michael Yaconelli, pg 146. Scenario is a High School State Final 2000 metre race. One of the contestants has deformed legs and is limping badly. It is later revealed that the only reason she's in the final is because no one else from her small-school region competed).

When the gun went off she began racing. I assumed that although she was limping, she would be able to keep up with the rest of the runners. I was wrong. After the first lap, she was a quarter of a lap behind, and by the time everyone was finished she still had a whole lap to run all by herself. As she went down the back stretch I could see the agony on her face. Every step she took was excruciatingly painful, but she would not stop. Without realising it, all of us in the stands had risen to our feet. We were all cheering her on. As she passed by the front of the stands, the noise was overpowering. We were all screaming in unison 'Go Go GO!' When she finally crossed the finish line, the crowd erupted in a lengthly ovation.

That race was a very long time ago. To this day I have no idea who won the girls' 2000m, but I will never forget the girl who was last.

The grace of God says to you and me 'I can make the last place more significant than the first. I will use prostitutes to teach others about gratitude. I will use lepers to teach others about cleanliness. I will take men who persecute the church and make them its pillars. I will take the dead and give them life. I will take uneducated fishermen and make them fishers of men.' God's grace does not exist to make us successful. God's grace exists to point people to a love like no love they have ever known. A love outside the lines.

Something massive shifted in my chest and my head as I read this and thought about the events of the previous few hours. I could almost feel the new understanding seeping into until-now numb areas of my brain as I realised just how much grace was demonstrated that night. And not by us- supposed agents of God walking the earth, but by the cheated girlfriend with the lumpy head.

She was totally devastated about the situation with her boyfriend- most of the time we spent with her she was wailing that she loves him and crying out for him to be there. Granted this is not a healthy example of love, but doesn't it beautifully demonstrate how indiscriminate and shocking grace is??

Undeserved favour.
When nothing can be gained for the giver.
And I almost missed it cause I was frustrated by the context.

I have tons of God stuff to learn.

How much do I miss because I get distracted by the wrapping paper or think that the warm fuzzy bit is actually the thing?

Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. (Matthew 6, The Message)

I love Phoebe. She's the Friend who is least likely to be distracted by the packaging. And her efforts to prove the existance of selflessness in order to be right still amuses...