Monday, February 14, 2005


Psalm 19:1-10 (King James Version)

Psalm 19

“1The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
2Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
3There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
4Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,
5Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
6His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.
7The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
8The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
9The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
10More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.”

Since December Nancy and I have missed watching Booknotes on Sunday nights. We began watching about a year and half ago and became regular viewers. The thing that made it special to us was that it was so different from what the talking heads on network and cable have been doling out for years. It was especially pleasant to see a host (Brian Lamb) who actually read the books he and his guests would discuss for the hour. After watching Christ Matthews or some other “celebrity” discuss someone’s book or other work without knowing a thing about them Lamb was a breath of fresh air.

About three weeks ago, on a Sunday night, we were channel surfing and stopped for what we thought would be a minute or two to watch “Extreme Makeover, Home Edition.” Well, the minute or two became an hour that night and since then the show is part of our regular Sunday night television viewing.

Apparently we’re not alone. The show started in mid-season last year and, according to Reality TV World, has “improved on that start to become one of ABC's stunning Nielsen success stories (along with the show that follows it on Sunday nights, Desperate Housewives, and Lost).”

Why, you ask, would someone who was addicted to “Booknotes” find something like Extreme Makeover, Home Edition so appealing? My answer – simplicity!

The show’s premise is very basic. Find someone who has a REAL need and fill that need by either renovating or building them a home in a week. For Nancy and me the question of how they do what they do is very secondary. We don’t need an answer to the question of how a home can either be built or renovated in a week. It’s the human story and the interaction between the cast/crew and the family receiving the help that’s captured us.

Yes, the show’s premise is simple. In one case, for example, the crew renovated a home for a family who had an autistic son. In another a home was rebuilt for a family of a young girl who was suffering from a rare genetic disorder, Krabbe Disease.

Last night the show was about a man named Frankie Correa and his family. Frankie, a laborer, had lost his job in a layoff right after the September 11th attacks. Since then he has tried to make ends meet for his wife and four children by working at whatever part time job he could find. But it wasn’t enough and the family wound up living in a shelter. What really caught my attention was the pride Frankie took in supporting his family and the devastating effect not being able to do what he wanted so badly to do was having on him. He was a good, honest, decent man just wanting to do what was right by his family.

By the time the show was over the crew had built a duplex that the family could live in rather than the one room they had in the shelter. But the real joy came when one of the contractors who had been working on the project offered Frankie a job with his construction company. Frankie was absolutely overwhelmed, so much so that he hugged the man who hired him. Now I’ve never seen job interview end with a hug, have you? But Frankie was so grateful to have the opportunity to support his family the expression of love and gratitude just came pouring out of his heart.

There was also a small aside about halfway through the show. Another man who was living in the same shelter as Frankie was also unemployed. He wasn’t what appeared to be Ivy League material, but he had a willing, tender heart. He spent his time just wanting to help the crew with little projects around the worksite. One of the crew took notice and a real liking for him and found him a job as a security guard. I sat amazed as the man hugged jut about everyone in sight for the eight dollar an hour job he’d just landed. “I promise you, I’ll do my very best, I won’t let you down,” he said as he hugged the man who had hired him.

It’s all very emotional, very touching. The crew genuinely gets involved in the lives of the people they help and the people who get the help are genuinely grateful for the help they’ve received. It’s not like most of what Nancy and I see on TV these days. It’ a great counter-point to those shows that pit divas and egotistical maniacs against each other on desert islands, eating bugs or maggots, or chasing each other around the world. I say leave those plastic losers on the desert islands or trying to find a cab in Mongolia where they belong.

I’d be willing to bet there are people who will read this post and think that Nancy and I are just wasting our time letting ABC pull on our emotions. I can almost hear what they’re thinking. “ABC and the show’s sponsors are just trying to make a ton of money by using someone else’s problems as a vehicle. They’re all a bunch of phonies.”

I don’t know what the show’s detractors are watching or doing. I try to assume that they’re doing something much nobler. But as much as I do I can’t make that assumption. I honestly think they’re people who have bricks stuffed up in their chests where their hearts ought to be. I’d even be willing to bet they’re the kind of folks who sit on the cat bird seat and criticize everything they see and then walk right by a need that’s staring them in the face. What they wouldn’t lift a finger to do, the show and the sponsors did, and they find that something worthy of their nobel criticism. I wonder if it might not be professional jealousy, maybe something that hits just a little too close to home.

I’ve seen their types before. They love the nuances; they love to analyze from their position of superiority. They’re above it all. When I was going to seminary I told a group of students about a man who was a member of the church I attended. He was a man in his mid eighties that we knew as “Brother Frank.” He was a man of very short stature, about five feet two. He’d come to the United States from Italy in the late forties, after the war. What made him so special to the rest of us were the words he shared with us each Sunday morning. At the same point in the service, after the singing was done, he would come to the altar area and stand in front of the pulpit. The pastor would acknowledge him. “Brother Frank, what’s on your mind today?” Frank would lift his head and began to speak in his wonderful broken English. “You know…..It’s a hahd hahd row to hoe in this life…..Wid de helpa God I gonna’ be eighty six next month…..So I learn, ya’ know, dis life can be a hard, hard row to hoe and the only way I gonna’ make it is with de help of God…..So you learn from Bruddah Frank…..Wid de help of God we gonna’ get somewhere.” When he was done he would then turn around and shuffle back to his seat.

Each week it was almost exactly the same thing. The only thing that changed was his age, which varied from eighty six to eighty nine. And each time he shared the church would erupt spontaneously in applause.

Well I made the mistake of telling a large group of fellow seminarians about Brother Frank and all I got in return was, “So what’s the point? Where’s the punch-line? What was he talking about, anyway?” I realized by their responses there was nothing I could say that would convince them that this old Italian man had a profound, yet simple grasp on what this life is all about. I could see they weren’t the least bit interested in simplicity. They were more interested in sermons about considered consequent eschatology or barge people or Peckinpah’s films and the cult of blood than they were about the simple eloquence of an old man. At the end of the discussion I reminded my fellows that we would all one day stand before God and if the question of great theology came up in the heavenly conversation, God would say something like, “Good theology? You want to know about good theology? Just a minute while I summon Brother Frank…..He’s got it nailed!”

And so I suspect the simplicity of touching another human being is beyond the detractors of Extreme Makeover, Home Edition in the same way that the simplicity of someone like a Brother Frank would be beneath their dignity. They’re above it all. Yet I suspect that when the day comes and they meet their Maker, they’ll find out that service is about as simple as Brother Frank’s theology. Who knows? If they ask what service is all about it might just be that the Almighty says something like, “Hold on just a minute and I’ll summon the cast and crew of Extreme Makeover, Home Edition. They’ve got it nailed!”


Paul Yates said...

Your post was a challenge and reminder to me to not forget the "simple things". Touching another's life may be a simple thing, but it leaves a profound impression on both participants. Probably the most profound simple thing I can think of is the prayer of the publican, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner."

Sherry said...

You're right, of course. Nuance and complexity are highly overrated in our culture, especially by the "intellectual elites."