Thursday, August 28, 2014

What Happens in Vegas

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas

New York may be the city that doesn't sleep, but Las Vegas is a vampire. "Sleep all day, party all night" as The Lost Boys movie tagline says. The flashing lights and pervasive mega-music festival of Fremont Street pull everyone in for a slam dance of fast action. They pile onto the inner road where no cars are allowed, pulse against each other like it's a mosh pit, drink a little (or a lot) too much, get wild and frantic and... then they sleep. They sleep all morning, past noon, wallowing in hungover self-pity, grab a quick bite at a cheap buffet, and get ready to do it all over again. Every night, the names are different, but the game's always the same. Cliche doesn't ring true -- what happens in Vegas definitely does NOT stay in Vegas. Trust me, I know. I've been there eight times, and I love every minute of it. But I come back home with the three hour time difference, unable to sleep at night because I'm still hard-wired to be up partying, and feeling like a train wreck throughout the day because it feels as though I've never slept in my life. Ever.

After a week in Vegas, you don't feel the heat. Even when you stumble out of an arctic, air-conditioned casino onto the sun-filled Strip and head back into the next one (which looks like it's fifty feet away but, in reality, is at least a half mile.) You start to become numb to the clanging, excited drone of slot machines and it becomes white noise every time you enter a new building (casinos, yes, but bars, gas stations, and even grocery stores have them.) You begin to know your way around the crowd. You notice which people are paying attention and which are too involved in their penny slot venture to get rich quick to even realize they ran into you.

And after two weeks, you look up.

There are mountains. There's a desert. There are palm trees.

There is a magical beauty to this town that most people never encounter because they're too absorbed in the myth. What happens here is much better when you have your own experiences, not the television and movie kind. What happens here is something that doesn't stay here. What happens here goes back with you to your 'home' and stays with you forever in your heart.

What happens in Vegas has the potential to change your life.

People keep asking us why we love it so much. Why on earth we would want to move there as we've always said. What could we possibly do in Las Vegas for more than three days which is the average amount of time our friends stay when they go. The only answer I can give them is that it's the most beautiful place we've been.

Have you ever wondered what makes something beautiful? Is it true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Of course it's true. When I fly into Las Vegas (preferably at night), I have the most joyful giddiness in my heart. All of the potential of what's going to happen for the week. Not gambling and getting drunk and losing all my money. That's the myth. That's the TV and movie experience. I mean the lights and the sounds and the people, the desert and the palm trees and the mountains, the sky and the weather and the desperate need of so many people just to be seen. To be heard. To be loved.

There are more than 500 churches in Las Vegas, of all denominations. There are mosques and temples and places of worship both within and outside of the city limits. And people can go TO church, and that's all fine and good. You can stop there and get your weekly fix of what you feel is 'good' and then go back into Sin City and revel in it for six more days, if that's what you want to do. You wouldn't be the first. But the real difference isn't made inside of a building, as it's NEVER made inside of a building. It's made on the streets, it's made one-on-one, it's made by people who care and who love, whether or not they identify as Christians.

My best friend is an absolutely amazing woman I've known since I was in second grade. She has the biggest heart of anyone I've ever met. She is humble and compassionate and loving and agnostic. She has a great dislike of religion and believe me when I say, I don't blame her. I have the same dislike. There's nothing good about hypocrisy, about doing something for a reward, about doing something for show. The Big Guy railed on that all throughout His own ministry in the gospels. But Jesus also had more in common with my best friend than most Christians I know.

He wasn't afraid to get His hands dirty.

Each week, my best friend goes to the store, buys bread and sandwich items, fruit, cookies, bottled water, ice... she and her boyfriend painstakingly make as many sandwiches as they can, pack lunches in brown paper bags they purchased, put waters in a cooler of ice, and hand deliver at least 40 lunches to homeless people in town. They don't do this because anyone told them to. They're not a part of some church group that goes to preach about Jesus and also feeds people to lure them in. (However, they have encountered these groups, who are somewhat territorial about THEIR homeless people that THEY feed so THEY can teach them about Jesus...). No, my friends do this because they love people. They just love them. They care about them. Incredibly, my agnostic friend and her boyfriend are two of the most Christian people I know.

Why do I say this? Because I've read the bible. I've read it almost as many times as I've been to Las Vegas. I've read it in four or five different translations. But one things rings out true every single time, without fail, and that's that Jesus didn't give a crap whether or not people went to church. He didn't care how eloquently they spoke, how pious they were, how much money they had, who they were born to, whether they drank too much alcohol, whether they were disease-free. He loved people. All people. And, shortly before He was murdered for His radical beliefs and teachings, He said one last all-encompassing thing:

"I give you a new commandment: that you LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Just as I have loved you, so you, too, should LOVE ONE ANOTHER. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples: that you SHOW LOVE TO ONE ANOTHER." -John 13:34, 35 [emphasis mine]. Pretty mind-blowing, huh? Only 42 words, and he repeats the words LOVE ONE ANOTHER three times in there.

Jesus is leaving His disciples with this consummate direction. All this time, He's been showing them what this love looks like: compassion, serving, forgiving, teaching. Humility, taking no glory, sharing what little He had, concern even for those among them that were the outcasts: children, lepers, demon possessed, prostitutes, tax collectors. Laying down His whole life for others, ultimately. And then He said, "BY THIS, people will know you are my disciples."

We see people who call themselves Christians picketing and protesting, shouting and complaining about being persecuted, hollering at others, calling them sinners, condemning and judging. We see people who call themselves Christians slandering entire communities of people they deem different from themselves. We see people who call themselves Christians doing things simply for the glory and fame, and wielding their title like a weapon, taking verses from a book some of them haven't even read and using them to belittle and hurt others.

So I ask you, is this what we're known for? Our overwhelming, far-reaching, humble and compassionate love? Our serving of others with no desire for credit or glory? Loving one another as Jesus loved us, as He commanded us to do?

It's not?

Well, shouldn't it be?

Stephanie Jean

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