A Peanut Butter Sandwich

I write to you on the 20th anniversary of the darkness in 9/11 and the heroic rescue operations that took place by the first responders. Louisville Author Doug Keeney reminds us of the “untold” story of the evacuation from the boat lift that rescued nearly 300,000 people on Manhattan Island during that dreadful day[1]. Reflect with me on this importance of character.

You know who is a “bad” person. It is one who intends to hurt and destroy. A bad person does not do anything constructive. In fact, when you think about it, the devil is known as diabolis, and is the one who only breaks life apart. Where bad people are, evil is close at hand.

Flip this discussion around and think what makes for a “good” person. The word “good” is derived from the word God. When we say “goodbye” to someone in the old English it was not a way of saying “farewell” but rather it expressed “God bless you.” The same is true of Good Friday. It is God’s Friday, a symbolis that pulls life with God together.

When we make distinctions between bad and good, we look within to form a good person. Traditionally, a “good” person advanced human life and upheld what Augustine referred to as the Natural Law which is a primary characteristic of being human.

Simply put, a good person is permeated with love. Such love professed by Christians was known as agape love, a self-giving, sacrificial, sacred love. It is a love that simply wills to do good for the other person. It is not about desire or being selfish. It is more a matter of the will and giving. The organized boat evacuation from Manhattan Island following the collapse of the Twin Towers reminds us of good people engaged in heroic deeds. It represents a deeper understanding of this self-giving love that permeates the inner character of those first responders. In other words, what we witnessed was courage.

The root of the word courage is from the Latin word for heart. When we act in courage, we are putting our heart on the line. Such courage is then born out of love. Love is put on the line. Love and courage are not soft and mushy but extraordinary values and virtues that form and shape within our character.

As Christians, we understand extraordinary love and courage are gifts of grace. It is grace that gives us the strength to do those things we are normally not capable of doing on our own. For the Christian, this grace is found when we place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ who then permeates our lives with love and courage and transforms our character. It is not necessarily of our own doing. Nor is Christian character something with which we are born. It is not about nature or nurture. It is about the supernatural and life from above and change.

The Letter of James encourages us to give specific and effective help to those in need with both love and courage. This is our mission. Like the first responder, at the end of the day, we may receive a peanut butter sandwich with an expression of love made by a class of kindergarten children. James considers this the “crown of life” that fits on a heart of gold.

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[1] L. Douglass Keeney, The Lives They Saved. Rowan & Littlefield Publishing. 2021. P. 200

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