Difference, Positive Christian

Difference, Positive Christian

by Rubel Shelly

Published in LoveLines (Mar. 30, 1994)

The Power of One

Once there was a notion of the "heroic ideal" that we preserved in Western culture, made the theme of stories we told our children, and cherished in our hearts. It inspired people at critical moments and enabled them to act both correctly and courageously. This ideal affirmed to us that a single life could make a profound difference.

Today we seem to have accepted the notion of personal insignificance -- if not meaninglessness -- for individual human life. Our world of six billion people is seen as being swayed only by large coalitions and power blocs. Thus too many of us not only suffer from low self-esteem but actually live as though what we are doing makes no real difference in the grand scheme of things.

Occasionally stories are still told that affirm the heroic ideal. They show how individual acts spread like ripples on the surface of a still lake to reach distant places. They encourage the rest of us to take our behaviors more seriously.

Schindler's List is such a story. A bestselling novel by Thomas Keneally that was put on film by Steven Spielberg, it won the Academy Award for "Best Picture of the Year" for 1993 by telling the story of one man's far-reaching heroism. It is the true story of Oskar Schindler and how he came to save more Jews from the Nazi gas chambers than any other single person during the Holocaust.

Schindler is not a particularly appealing character at the start of his wartime experience. He is apolitical and hedonistic. Moving to Poland in order to profit from the war trade, he buys a factory from Jews who are being dispossessed and herded into the Warsaw ghetto.

With a sexy woman on one arm and a Nazi official on the other, Schindler serves his own selfish interests as an entrepreneur making money off human depravity and suffering. Working Jews in his factory by special permission from the Nazis, he fills contracts for mess kits and utensils for German troops and accumulates great wealth.

As time goes by, Schindler gets to know first one and then another of the people that come to be knows as the Schindlerjuden (i.e., Schindler's Jews). Compassion emerges and conscience prompts action. Putting principle and the value of human life above his selfish interests, he puts himself at some personal risk and spends his entire fortune to save some 1,100 Jews from sure death.

You will probably never save hundreds of people from murder or head a mover-and-shaker organization. But you can love God with your whole heart and treat your neighbor as you want to be treated. You can protest injustice when you see it, champion the rights of the weak when you are allied with the strong, and pay attention to someone everyone else has ignored.

When you do these things, you will be imitating the One whose single life has given all of us hope.

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