Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Learning a Lesson from a Strange Place

I don't have time for much TV watching during the day, but once in a while when I have laundry to fold, or I don't feel good, I'll fire up Netflix and see what I can find.  With a small daughter at home, I have to be doubly careful what I choose.  Yesterday, I found a show called "The Paradise," and decided to give it a try.  It's a BBC show, so I kept one hand on the remote, expecting to have to turn it off any moment.  What I got instead was a lesson on loving your enemy that beat any sermon I've heard in church about the topic. 

The protagonist, Denise, has enemies.  She's a young lady living in 1875 England who goes to work in the nation's first "department store." The store provides room and board as well as a small wage and commission on sales.  Denise has good ideas and a natural flair for salesmanship; she soon makes enemies of the other girls in the store.  Clara, another salesgirl who has once shared the boss's bed, believes the man who rejected her is now enamored of the "new girl." Miss Audrey, the middle aged head of the ladieswear department where Denise works, feels threatened by Denise's skills in sales and fresh ideas.  Both of them work to make Denise's life miserable.

In one episode, we find out that Clara has a daughter in an orphanage.  Little Grace doesn't know who her mother is, but Clara sends money each month to ensure Grace will not be adopted.  Clara dreams of being able to claim her one day.  But when Denise comes, Clara's commission goes down and she is unable to keep up the payments to the orphanage.  She tries to strangle Denise when she can't find the money she had taken from the collection tin in the store. Denise saw Clara steal it, so Clara believes the newcomer took it from her.  Denise, moved with compassion, finds out what actually happened to the money, and gives it back to her. When Clara later realizes that Grace would be better taken care of if she is adopted, she uses the money to try and drink her sorrows away.  After coming home drunk and telling Denise how much she hates her, she ends up sobbing in bed in the middle of the night.  What does Denise do? She crawls into the bed with Clara and holds her as she weeps.

In another episode (I had a lot of laundry), Miss Audrey firmly tells Denise that she is not to have any more ideas.  Denise had already been chastised for taking her ideas over Miss Audrey's head to the boss, so she had tried passing them through Miss Audrey first.  However, Miss Audrey knows that the boss will know where the ideas come from no matter who Denise tells them to, and she fears losing the place she worked so hard to get.  She even threatens to get Denise fired if she tells her ideas for the store to anyone at all.  Later, Miss Audrey becomes ill, and Denise is made the head of department in her absence.  Denise correctly deduces that Miss Audrey's illness is a direct result of her worry over her job.  The young lady goes to the boss, explains the whole situation, and pleads with him to throw Miss Audrey a birthday party and fuss over her as much as he does the brilliant young girls.

In both cases, Denise went out of her way to show kindness to the people who hated her. Not only that, but Clara and Miss Audrey did not return these gestures of goodwill.  Clara continued to be spiteful and petty.  Miss Audrey told Denise once again that ideas were forbidden.  Denise loved her enemies, and they didn't love her back.

In Denise's place, I'm afraid I would have laid in bed praying for Clara without ever getting up to comfort her. I would have prayed for Miss Audrey to get better, but I wouldn't have gone out of my way to find out why she was sick. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).  Too many times I've been guilty of turning these two commands of Jesus into one.  I try to love my enemies by praying for them.  But this was two commands.  Love your enemies AND pray for them.

When Jesus tells us to love each other and to love our enemies, I don't think he meant for these to be two different kinds of love.  In fact, the same Greek word is used in both cases.  We would never assume that we could love other Christians by sitting back and praying for them but never doing anything. Why did I think it was okay to do that for enemies?  Denise, a character on a secular TV show, showed me what loving your enemies REALLY looks like.
I haven't finished both seasons of "The Paradise." (All my laundry is folded now).  It's possible Denise rises up and crushes them all after weeks of bad treatment.  But for the first four episodes, she was a good example of a Christian woman, loving her enemies by going out of her way to be kind to them.  I could learn a lot from her.


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