JOPLIN, Mo. —
The writer Anne Perry in her novel "A Christmas Odyssey" presents a tale about ruined and repulsive lives and the select few who seek to rescue such lives from this dark and hopeless condition.
For most of us, such lives are considered too complicated, too ugly, too violent and too lost to be saved. Practically speaking, we have given up on this segment of society. We -- cities, states, charities and churches -- have for the most part learned to carry on without successfully addressing the issues of these failed lives which are just off to the side, lives easily ignored.
Perry's story is about a father who approaches a friend with the request to find his lost son and bring him home. This is the father's last hope of ever having his son once again where he belongs. The first step is to seek the help of those who possess a unique knowledge of this life so ruined by those vices that drain life of soul and spirit.
When two additional people fit for the job are enlisted, the mission is launched. As the story unfolds, three distinct approaches to the task at hand become apparent. Noteworthy is the fact that these approaches are easily recognizable in actual life.
The first is portrayed by one whose primary motivation is the good feeling he receives by helping. He feels noble and right. These feelings move him, not the son being lost.
Truth be known, he holds little hope for success. These people, he believes, are where they are because of their choices, and the only way out is to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. They made their beds; let them sleep in them.
We all make choices, and we have to live with the consequences, as harsh as it may seem. Sounds right, doesn't it? Or does it?
A second approach is illustrated by one who is able to alleviate some pain and discomfort, but this relief is temporary. No solution is found. The issues are too deep and too complicated. There is no answer, only a sense of being overwhelmed.
And then there is the third approach illustrated by the leader of the group. His intent is singular: go after a lost son and bring him back to his father.
How? Not sure. Will this work? Not sure. Will the son cooperate if found? Again, not sure.
Obstacles are hurdled. Unpleasantness is endured. Fatigue, both emotional and physical, is handled with rest but not retreat. Failure is met with new strategy, not despair.
This approach has the tenacity of a bulldog. This approach is the example of Jesus.
In the Gospel of John, we find a Passover odyssey strikingly similar to Perry's Christmas odyssey. There was a pool in Jerusalem near the Sheeps' Gate with five porticoes. It was one of several places where "used up" life was found, full of venom and despair, empty of hope.
In the Christmas odyssey, the public was preparing for Christmas; in John's odyssey, the preparation was for the Passover. In both, close at hand was this ruined life: complicated, homeless, addicted, broken, cruel, impoverished. And upon entering Jerusalem, Jesus immediately went there.
And so must we, liberal and conservative, high church and low church. We must come together. We must find a way. We must go immediately there where life is ruined.
Our clothes will get dirty. We won't like what we see. We will make mistakes. We will despair. But some will hear as the one who heard Jesus and walked out of that world.
Craig Tally is the senior minister of First Community Church in Joplin. His email is email@example.com.