The Painted Lady- Do You Have Time to Help?

A poor boy runs out to thank this mysterious lady for leaving them food

So, I’m finishing the holiday with my family and household watching the third season of The Last Airbender series. I know, it doesn’t sound festive, but we’re loving it. It’s 1130 at night, the kids are wide awake, and this story is seriously addicting.

If you’re not familiar, it’s a kids show, geared to the 8-13 crowd, about a fantasy world. There’s 4 nations, each with an element; earth, air, fire and water. The fire nation is trying to take over the world.

Each generation there is a leader called the Avatar. He bridges the gap between the spirit world and the physical, and his job is to keep balance and harmony among the people.

The show fairly consistently explores a lot of Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu… and whether the creators meant to or not, Christian themes. One of the underlying ones is passivity verses action… detachment/enlightenment verses being attached, and emotional, and fighting for what’s good. *** (see below to understand what I meant there)

Well, we’re watching an episode called ‘The Painted Lady,’ where our heroes are trudging along on a tight schedule to defeat the fire lord before he kills everyone but his own kind. (very hitler-esque)

They’ve got a lot to do in a very short amount of time. But on their way, they come across this river village who’s been totally oppressed and run down by a factory just up river. Their water is so polluted that they’re all malnourished and dying.

Katara, the main heroine of the story takes pity on them. Her heart breaks and she wants to help. But everyone else wants to keep moving. They’re “…working for the greater good” they all say. They’re trying to take on the big problem, and they don’t have time to worry about each little village they come across that’s in pain.

Katara simply can’t hack this. She sneaks off at night and steals food from said factory and delivers the food in secret to the villagers.

Now, the villagers, not knowing who has done this, decide that their tribal deity, The Painted Lady, has helped them in their distress. Katara finds out, and takes on the persona. And the story unfolds.

Eventually everyone finds out the truth, her friends have mixed reactions. Some are furious that she would jeopardize their trip to do her own thing. Others join in right off, seeing that it’s probably a good thing to help these poor folk. They need hope, and they’ve got hope to give.

In the end, she triumphs. But she receives some reassurance that she had done the right thing. The real painted lady comes to her in secret to thank her for liberating her people, and her as well.

____

Now, this post isn’t about the Avatar series… it’s about a concept within it.

We can get going on the big things. We can be set on the ‘greater good’ that we’ve got to do. Basically, we can get serious tunnel vision, and miss the people who may need us right under our own noses.

I suppose that we can all find ourselves in this situation, where you have to actually fight to do what’s good.

In doing good, real and actual good, there is seldom smooth sailing. This story is a great picture of that. As Katara’s friends confront her about her lack of concern for the greater picture, she get’s in his face and says, “I will always help people who need me!” And she makes her stand.

____

We have a thought we try to teach each other here in our village, that ‘the people are more important.’

It’s a big deal. A very very big deal.

There is no issue, doctrine, agenda… nothing higher than loving people. Sometimes to help them means to give a buck or two. Sometimes to listen and give them a safe place to freak out. Sometimes it means giving a word that they absolutely don’t want to hear.

Katara, in the story above, was willing to set aside their whole agenda to help a handful of people.

I know, I know… it’s a cartoon. But I don’t care.

I think that there’s things that God just really likes. And taking time out of our agenda, the big picture, to love on someone, has got to be at the top of the list. You know, that whole thing in Matthew 25 that He talked about. Oh, and then there’s that description Isaiah gave of what real religion is, to care for the widows and orphans and such.

I think it’s on God’s heart. And that makes me think that I need to ask Him to put it on mine far more often.

“God, please give us eyes to see need around us.

Give us the grace to step out of our selfish will and be the answers to other people’s prayers.

God… help us be like you.”

____

****Regarding the religions explored in the above mentioned series, for those who are squeemish and too religious to take a look, I really think you oughta. It’s pretty neat the conclusions that they draw and the outcome of the entire story.

There’s a good reason that in every single ‘religion’ you can find amazing stories of amazing people who have risen above, and led the way in compassion and expressing God’s heart for taking care of the hurting in the world, and throwing off the chains of oppression.

The whole point of the Avatar series is that Aang is faced with the weight of the world. At one point, he has the opportunity to become enlightened… detached and free, and spiritual energy could flow through him. But Aang, our hero in this story, chooses to remain attached. He chooses to remain with the weight of love and so forth on his shoulders.

He cannot simply separate himself. His life is for the people, (as is ours) and he will not disconnect. At first, this appears a mistake, but in the end, we find it to be his greatest strength.

And just a side, that I don’t feel like turning into an entire post on it’s own; if you’re a Christian, you’re not to be part of a religion, you’re to be part of Christ. So don’t be afraid to grab hold of the teachings of others. You’ve got a good measure to hold them up to. We have nothing to fear in hearing out what people out there exploring life, love and faith have to say.

For example, I believe that the Avatar series is a sweet and precious gem in culture filled with nastiness. It’s amazing that a company like MTV, who owns Nick, allowed them to make something so deep and rich, with great moral aim. (the creators thought so too) The show is genuinely deep, with every episode leaving me with something to talk with my kids about.

Now and then it’s a little more romantic than I’d like for my kids, but other than that, (and only that) we love this one, and will enjoy it for years to come.

Anyhoo… that’s my two cents.

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