August 14, 2011
So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
I don't know if you recognize the name Charles Lamb. Most people don’t read his works anymore, since he wrote back in the early nineteenth century. At the time he was known world-wide for his books of essays, and as a result of his writing, he became a well-known and sought after speaker. He did have a little quirk, though, at the end of his talks. If someone would come up to him and say, “Mr. Lamb, I really loved your talk. I want to introduce you to my friend,” Lamb would often say, “I don’t like your friend.” Shocked, the person would reply, “But you don’t know my friend.” Lamb would respond, “That’s exactly why I don’t like him.”
An odd quirk, but Lamb was hitting an essential idea, however inappropriate it was. Lamb had a point. How can you actually like, or even love, a person if you don’t know the person? And how can you actually know the person if you don’t have an interest in him or her?
Lamb captured a fundamental point in being a Christian: you cannot love someone unless you have an appreciation for that person. And in our day and age it’s easy to find reasons to depreciate people rather than appreciate them. Before I go on, I want to go over the two words I just used: appreciation and depreciation. They are two of my favorite word because of how much they say.
Let’s start with “appreciation.” The word is used in a lot of contexts, but think of it in terms of your home. If our house appreciates, what does it do? It increases in value. If it depreciates it decreases in value. When we appreciate a person, we see her as someone of increased or enhanced value. We see her as valuable. When we depreciate a person, we see him as having decreased or no value. We don’t see him as being valuable. These two terms get right to the foundations of love. If we say that we love people, we have to see them as inherently valuable and treat them as valuable. But we live in an age in which people are easily devalued and depreciated.
When we depreciate people, we may criticize them, but even worse than criticism is to not even recognize them. The most typical way to not recognize people is to functionalize them. In other words, we only recognize what they do for us. We don’t regard them as people in their own right. Let me give you an example. When you go to a grocery store, a clothing store, or some other store, how do you regard the clerks and salespeople? Typically, we see them primarily as people who sell us stuff or process sales. They are primarily a function. We don’t necessarily see them as people with value, especially if they are doing something that gets in our way (being too slow to process a sale, or taking too much time with another customer). This is only a fraction of the ways we functionalize. We constantly functionalize people at work in terms of their jobs. We look at people in our offices in terms of what they do, not who they are. We depreciate them by functionalizing them. We depreciate co-workers, salespeople, government workers, bosses, employees, neighbors, teachers, students, and sometimes even spouses and children.
To love someone, we have to start as seeing him as being valuable beyond what he does. And once we see the person as valuable despite what he does, then we can start treating him with respect, kindness, compassion, and even love.
I said that in this day and age it’s easy to depreciate people, but it’s always been easy to depreciate them. Humans have always had a hard time with appreciation. Depreciation is the cause of every war because we depreciate our enemies. It’s the cause of every act of violence. It’s the cause of all conflict. And it’s the true cause of poverty and the sinful ways we treat each other.
It was Jesus’ great appreciation for all people that led him to talk so much about the poor, the ill, the hungry, the imprisoned. He knew that these people were always being depreciated. So he constantly talked about valuing the devalued. He told us in Matthew 25 that we’re going to be judged by how we treat those who are hungry, homeless, ill, imprisoned, and rejected by society. He told the man who was rich, and who followed all the commandments but wanted to take the next step, to sell all he had, give it to the poor, and follow him. Jesus also spent much of his time healing and lifting up those rejected and devalued by Jewish society. He healed the servant of a centurion, a soldier in the Roman army whom the Jews saw as oppressive and against God. He healed a woman with a hemorrhage, seen as sinful because of her condition. He healed a Canaanite woman, the blind, and those with leprosy, all who were seen as sinful. He lifted up the woman caught in adultery, prostitutes, as well as Samaritans who were considered to be the worst of the worst because they took the Jewish faith and synced it up with other faiths. And he lifted up tax collectors, making one his disciple, even though tax collectors were looked upon with the same regard that today we might look upon someone in the Mafia. Jesus appreciate them all, and as a result was able to love them all.
The only people Jesus seemed to depreciate were those who persistently, and then violently, depreciate him. He criticized the Sadducees and Pharisees who saw no value in him, yet we know that if they came to him for help he would have helped because despite his criticisms he loved them. Jesus was able to love those who were devalued by Jewish people because he saw value in them. He appreciated them
We are called by Jesus to love everyone, but to do that we have to find a way to value everyone, to appreciate them. A lot of people think they are loving in a Christian way, but they constantly devalue others, which means they can’t love. The whole idea of forgiveness is wrapped up in appreciation. We can’t forgive another person until we begin to find value in that person despite what she or he has done to us or another. To forgive we have to find value in a person and see that person as loved by God—to see our love of that person as essential to healing that person of all that has led her to do terrible acts to us or others.
There are an awful lot of seemingly good Christians who believe they love, but then show the limits of their love. For example, about fifteen years ago I was sitting at a traffic light behind a car whose bumper displayed both the owner’s level of “appreciation” along with her level of “depreciation.” On the left of the bumper was a sticker that said, “We Vote Pro Life.” Now, there’s a person who appreciates people. She cares about the unborn, and seemingly about all people who live. Yet on the right side of the bumper was another sticker that said, “Die Liberal Scum.” I guess she’s only pro-life if the person is either unborn or agrees with her religion or politics. I’m sure she sees herself as loving, but if you devalue everyone who’s liberal, you are not loving the way Christ taught us to love. In fact, you are loving only those close to you or who agree with you. That’s not true Christian love.
Let me close with a final story that I think captures how important appreciation is to love. Once there was a small village that had a reputation for being a unfriendly, especially towards strangers. One day, a raggedy stranger showed up in town and knocked on a number of doors, asking for food. Predictably, he was rejected by everyone. Finally, he came to the last family’s door. The wife answered, and the raggedy man said, “Could you spare some food for me, I’m very hungry.” The woman, wary of strangers, said, “We have very little ourselves. I’m sorry. We can’t help you.” The man smiled and said, “Not to worry. Not to worry. I really only need a pot, some water, and a fire. You see, I have this magic soup stone, and with it I make the most incredible soup you have ever tasted. Would you be willing to lend me a pot and some water? I’ll build a fire, and then I can feed myself.” After consulting with her husband, the woman agreed.
He built the fire, and as the pot heated up he dropped his odd-looking stone into the pot. He began stirring the pot, pausing every once in a while to peer in. Soon he took the spoon and tasted his soup: “Oh my! This is wonderful! But you know, it is lacking one thing.” “What?” asked the woman, who hovered to watch what he was doing. “I hate to bother you, but it could use a few potatoes.” “Sure,” said the woman. Then she retrieved some potatoes, chopped them up and threw them into the pot. By now a crowd was gathering, wondering why their neighbor was conversing with this raggedy man. Once again sipped the soup. “Oh my Lord, this really is wonderful! If only,… if only…” “What?” asked a few people. “If only we had a few carrots, that would really round out the flavor.” Immediately a few people ran home and brought back some chopped carrots.
Again he sipped, and again he declared the soup the wonderful, if only we had some lamb—done! If only we had some spices—done! If only we had some scallions—done! By now everyone was gathered around the pot. Finally, the man sipped the soup and yelled, “Perfect! It’s done! This is the best soup I have ever had. Soup for everyone! Get your bowls and share in my feast!” They all grabbed their bowls and shared in the soup, and everyone agreed that it was the best soup they had ever tasted. They shared it with each other, they talked, they laughed, they began to dance, and it turned into a real celebration. What they didn’t notice was that in the middle of it all, the man had slipped away, leaving the magical soup stone in the bottom of the pot. To this day the town gathers once a week to share in the magic powers of the soup stone, a stone that makes the best soup ever. And they invite the poor, the hungry, the hurting to share in their feast.
The raggedy man was depreciated when he first came into town. He was appreciated once he made the soup. But what if he had been appreciated at first? That would have made all the difference.