The Quest for Values

The BMW, the cell phone and the tailored suit said he was rich. He was out of place among the sorted, disheveled street people huddled around the storyteller.

The crowd of homeless was spellbound as the storyteller crafted a joke. When he suddenly stopped speaking, the heads of the crowd collectively tilted forward in anticipation. And then the storyteller cried, "I already painted her feet." and, suddenly, the whole gathering broke into uninhibited laughter.

The rich man was short on time. He had to get back to the office. Rudely, he shouted to get the storyteller's attention over the rolling laughter. "Pardon me. I'm sorry to interrupt."

The storyteller, his eyes sparkling with tears of glee, turned to the rich man, "Yes?"

"May I ask you a question?"

Trying valiantly to shift gears, the storyteller swept a look over the crowd's faces and then looked into the eyes of the rich man, "Yes, certainly."

"What do I have to do to gain eternal life?"

" God with everything you have and love others like you want them to love you. Obey the 10 commandments. Do this and you will live forever."

"I've done all that since I was a kid," replied the rich man. "I'm looking for more."

The storyteller paused. He observed the man with a great deal of affection. He reached out and took him gently by the arm. "If you want to live life to the hilt, sell the cars and the houses. Give your clothes to Good Will and join me as I walk the streets of Los Angeles. We'll work with run-away kids living as prostitutes. We'll spend time in nursing homes, hospitals, and jails. We'll work to bring together Jews, Christians, Moslems, Buddhists and atheists."

An anger rose in the rich man's gut. He didn't expect that answer. I can't surrender control, he thought. "I can't do that." He waited for a word of agreement from the storyteller. But the storyteller didn't speak. Finally the rich man jerked his arm free, lowered his head and moved to his car.

"You are welcome here any time. I care for you very much." Unfortunately, the storyteller's words weren't heard; the rich man had closed the doors on his sound proof BMW.

"Tell us another one," smiled a toothless lady. The creases in her face were caked with dirt.
The story is an adaptation from the Christian Gospels. It offers values for our lives. The plan is to acknowledge God as our loving Father. We are to follow His commandments: faithfulness in marriage, care for the elderly, honesty, and satisfaction with our family.

The renewed acknowledgment of these sign posts is needed if we are to escape the mire of so much pain in our world: alienated children in broken marriages, unwanted babies conceived and rejected, neglected elderly, racism, sexism, genocide, violence, nuclear threat, and escape from responsibility through addiction to drugs, pornography, drink, and work. We need a dedication to God and the commitment to follow His will to overcome the forces of selfishness, fear, anger and ignorance.

God's way is difficult. There's a war waging within and without us against doing things His way. Often the war is subtle. I believe that God has created us inherently good. He's set us up so that every decision we make needs a "good" as it's goal. We can't do anything unless we believe there is "good" in the action. Unfortunately this "good" can be watered down to be only a "seeming good." Here enters our talent for rationalization. We can find a "good" in the musty corners of just about everything from adultery to lying from theft to murder. Adultery is okay because intimacy is "good." Lying is "good" because I save myself from embarrassment. Stealing is "good" because I make up for the injustice of my low salary. And murder? Well, what can be bad about saving a person from pain?

Improper understanding of freedom frequently clouds our grasp of true good. A freedom that's based primarily on me and not on a facility to serve others is not true freedom. We often tout the infallible goodness of freedom without the balance of responsibility. And so the force of God's call to do good is watered down.

Only with a special help from God are we able to recognize our falling short of true good. We Christians call this grace.

Back to our story. The storyteller challenges the rich man not to be satisfied with doing the good of loving God and keeping the commandments. He offers another value: Fall completely into the arms of God. Let go of everything you possess and care for the world's forgotten. Wow. That's an overwhelming invitation beyond the good to the excellent.

I have a love/hate relationship with this call to excellence. There's something in me that is satisfied with just "getting by". What's the minimum good I have to do to get to heaven? But, in my heart of hearts, I know there is so much more fulfillment and excitement by accepting the challenge of moral excellence over doing just the good.

This surrender to God and others isn't the prerogative of a monk. The storyteller's call to excellence can be lived in marriage, politics, waiting on tables and suffering on a respirator in a nursing home.

In my life, good intentions aren't enough to call me beyond the good to the excellent. Only with the experience of God's acceptance, forgiveness and love for me can I risk the surrender. Strengthened with this relationship, I am not overwhelmed with the enormity of the pending change. I know that excellence is as close and as simple as a "yes" to the next person who seeks my help. And is the effort worth it? For me it is. And for the world? Yes again. I believe the grasping of moral excellence, even with an unseen gentle touch, indelibly influences the world for good.

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