Thursday, September 25, 2008

Yes, I Am My Brother's Keeper

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.”
--Genesis 4: 8-11

I read this passage recently as part of my class, and immediately I thought, “What a greedy, arrogant bastard that Cain! ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’! Jackass!”

I had a visual of him: he had a big head, cocked off to the side, little bit overweight, his pectoralis minor muscles are pulling his shoulders forward and in….hmmm, funny he looked like the previous Republican Governor of Florida from a very famous family….

And yet, he could just have easily looked like me.

Or you, maybe.

Or maybe not even looking like an individual person, but like a nation of people, who upon realizing that God hasn’t looked with favor upon their offering, has turned bitter and ruthless toward the one who has received God’s blessing. The favored one doesn’t deserve that attention, not when we have something just as good...or better!

In the Cain and Abel story, God cautioned Cain to not let his jealousy of Abel and his fatted portions of his flock get the better of him. However, there was no stopping Cain and his rage, and he whacked his brother in the field. And then gets that attitude with “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

In many respects, I see parallels between the jealousy and greed that drove Cain’s actions and the public policy behavior of those in the developed countries such as the United States toward those parts of humanity who live in places without means and the ability to meet basic needs. In this country, we panic at the idea of gas costing five bucks a gallon for unleaded. And we can actually fathom the idea of bailing out greedy financial institutions with $700-billion dollars. In parts of Africa and Asia, such numbers are inconceivable because the average person makes less than a dollar a day…and that’s if they’re doing well. There are no televisions with reality TV shows; no radios with NPR. Frankly, my dears, we have a whole lot that nobody else has got, and we use more of the world's resources than most other countries. So why don’t we share?

In fairness, I think the American people do open the hearts and their wallets to those in need. Recently, the congregation of St. John’s, in a couple of days, pulled together $5,000 for our companion parish in Cuba that had been devastated by recent hurricanes. But our government, and the corporations that benefit from our developed-nation status, bear the sin of Cain when we have the means by which to aid a country toward self-sufficiency and instead keep the knowledge and resources to ourselves or, worse, exploit the people of another country to enrich ourselves. Probably one of the most disturbing things to read in the book by former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill about our current administration was the trip he took to Africa, in conjunction with the rock musician Bono, to see how an irrigation system could turn a fallow dry piece of land into a place where farming could happen. When O’Neill returned to Washington, DC, with this proposal for creating sustainable agriculture in Africa…he was shut down. And an opportunity to address global poverty in at least one nation and one continent went up on a shelf in DC to gather dust.

When you think about the commandment from Jesus to “love thy neighbor”, you have to wonder: what the hell is wrong with our foreign policy? Why haven’t we done more to act on the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals? The Millennium Development Goals ought to be efforts we can all embrace: ending extreme global poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, improving maternal health, ensuring environmental protection, and promoting global partnership for development. In this increasingly interdependent world, we all ought to be committing to seeing these areas addressed, not just abroad, but at home as well.

The question remains: can those of us in the developed world overcome the Cain-like envy which leads us to want to always be the favored one, so that we do right by our under-developed neighbors? How will each one of us examine how we live in this world, and make a change and demand our leaders do the same?

Can we accept that we are our brother’s keeper, and not his eventual killer?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Humpty Dumpty Had A Great Fall

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
couldn't put Humpty back together again.

Let's be honest: this past week's news of Lehmann Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG...and the federal government, Barclays and Bilk....I mean...Bank of America coming to the rescue with buy-outs and bail-outs should make us all take a pause, and question that notion of financial security.

Of course, there are those of us who don't own stock or have a portfolio that could be sunk by a banking collapse. However, even those of us at the bottom of the financial food chain know that when those with means suddenly find they don't have anything....we all will suffer.

Which is why the Collect of the Day assigned for the Sunday closest to September 21st was perfect:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Amen, indeed! There are a myriad of "things" that people writing the collects probably had in mind...including the official start of fall. But I am always amazed and often amused when the words assigned speak so directly to the situation at hand in my life! Add to this the gospel in Matthew about the laborers in the vineyard who start kvetching when they realize that the guys who were hired at the end of the day got the same pay they got, even though they'd been working all day long. I'm sure most of us would cry foul at such a concept. But Jesus is telling that story as yet another analogy about the Kingdom of Heaven: everybody gets in, and no "works" will earn you more gold stars for your crown. Anyone who has answered "Yes" to the invitation will get the red carpet treatment.

But wait a minute here! This is still just so unfair!! If I've been busting my butt all day, then I want more than the person who only came in at the last hour to prune a few a branches. My works should count for something. Answer: they do! And if your works are coming from a place of doing right by the owner of the vineyard (aka God) then you will get the reward promised to you. So quit looking over here and over there to see who else is getting what from the vineyard owner and pay attention to the work you're doing!

What's this got to do with my Humpty Dumpty and Collect story? Greed. And the greed that has governed Wall Street, where laborers not only thought they should get paid more, but were willing to pick the pockets of their fellow workers to amass more and more wealth, has come crashing down like Humpty Dumpty. This type of greed is the kind that plays up the evil in our hearts by giving us that "All for one and none for all" mentality. Meanwhile, the Collect is the balm for the rest of us, who are now sitting on pins and needles as we watch our federal tax dollars going to bail out the banks. Now, we who are at the bottom rung of the financial ladder could wag our fingers and say, "Hey, what about me? How come I don't git no stinkin' 700-billion dollar fixer-upper money?!" And we'd be justified in our anger. But then that would be our own form of greed now, wouldn't it? This is one of the situations where we have to suck it up because to do the self-righteous anger-thing would lead to a possible economic meltdown with global ramifications. And that would not be "good news".

However, as with the covenant with Noah, this should signal a change. We can not go back to the days of such deregulation.

Personally, I hope Humpty Dumpty can be swept up and taken away...far far faaaaar away. And then let's hope that we can claw our way out of this mess. Please.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I'm Just that Type of Gal

And now for something completely different, and more revealing of me.

I took the Myers-Briggs test (again) for the purposes of showing what "type" of personality I am. As always, the test is administered with the instructions that there are no wrong answers, no "bad types"...and that I should answer according to what is my preference. And so I answered most of the questions, some of which are paired words or differing responses to stimuli, dutifully filling-in the ovals on the scantron sheet.

From these answers, I learned something not terribly new to me: I'm introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging....aka an INFJ. This is the opposite of being extroverted, sensing, thinking and perceiving or ESTP.


Great question! What this test shows is my personality preference for how I take in information and use it to process through things and function in the world. Probably the most telling thing about this particular round of testing is that not only did I go off the scale as an Introvert (I apparently have no Extroversion in me at all!), I also make my decisions more from my heart than my head (because none of my answers put me in the Thinking category). That is news, but not terribly surprising since I'm a licensed massage therapist. My iNtuitive score was weighted more heavily toward my passion for the possibility and not being as concerned with the details (very, very true. Math was the most evil subject in school). The closest score I had was in the Judging vs. Perceiving category. I fell into the Judging side of the ledger...which means that I'm the type of person who, upon seeing the options, will pick one. I like to have a plan. I like to follow said plan. I do outlines. I follow lists. If I were a Perceiving type...I'd see the options, like them all, and figure out more. If you give a Perceiving type too many choices, they're not likely to arrive at a decision. They would rather hit the road with no idea where they're headed then to have somebody plot out a travel plan on a map. "Getting there" is secondary to the sightseeing along the way.

I took a similar test, the Keirsey temperament sorter, when I was a senior in prep school. Keirsey's test allows for there to be ties between when I took it, I was an ISXJ (meaning I scored equally on the Thinking/Feeling questions). Given that I was trying to survive in a tiny, private school environment where I couldn't be queer (in the sexual orientation sense or otherwise)....there's no surprise there. Out from that environment, allowed to be on my own, I have developed into a better representation of who I really am.

That said, I don't think I have zero extroversion (although I don't have a lot), and I really don't think I should be seen as a bleeding heart because I know I have more Thinking in me than was revealed on one Monday evening taking a test. The iNtuitive, and Judging...yes, those are quite accurate, and interesting that since transitioning from public radio into massage therapy as a career, my iNtuitive preference has increased. An NF combination works very well for a therapist. It also served me well when in a one-on-one interview as a public radio reporter. Press, not so much. Is it any wonder I used to find those to be mind-numbing, boring, and an otherwise unproductive means of getting information? :-)

Hey: I just shared my type with the blogosphere. Score a half-point for extroversion!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Connecting the Covenant Dots

As I've mentioned, I have started in the Education for Ministry class at St. John's which means, among other things, I am reading and reflecting and wrestling with the Old Testament. Needless to say, I recommend keeping a bottle of Advil (or Scotch) nearby when tackling this document because, back in the day, nobody wanted to be "the one" who ruled out someones take on what happened at the beginning of time (according to the Israelites). Hence, you have stories that read like you're caught in a movie like "Groundhog Day" where you seem to experience the same scenes only with slight variations in the details. I've found that if you get too overly concerned with the details, you'll go stark raving nuts. So rather than worrying about is it Enosh or Enoch...and ravens vs. doves at the time of "The Great Flood", I just go for the bigger picture of: what's the main point of the story. I've found this approach saves me from a headache....and possible liver damage.
One of the latest big picture moments for me came in reading the backside of "The Great Flood" story. Once the waters have receded, and Noah, his family, and the animals disembark from the ark, God makes his covenant with Noah. (Note: I had no idea that rainbows were the sign of this covenant. Don't ask me how they failed to get that across in Sunday School...) The language of this passage that struck me was this:

"I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth. God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."

When I read this section, I checked the footnotes of the Harper-Collins Study Bible, and learned that I will soon be getting more signs of covenants God made with people: Abraham and circumcision and Moses with the sabbath. And then my mind did its "popcorn thing". The hot oil heating up, the kernels poured in, and I recalled the words we hear each Sunday during the Eucharist:

"Likewise, after supper, he took the cup of wine. And when he had given thanks, he gave it to them and said, "Drink this all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of me."

Pop! Pop! Poppity pop pop pop!!!

And, if the realization that this is now the "Christian covenant" wasn't enough, my highly-curious brain started picking apart this new agreement. And I realized, in this moment, Jesus (God) is making a new bond with us that our sins are forgiven. And not just the sins of those at the table with him at that moment: and for many. And, as with Noah, the remembering isn't merely a "Oh, yeah. You there, in the boat", but more like a "re-membering" encompassing of us back into the fold, part of the body of Christ; hence part of God. What's more: while Jesus (God) is sealing this deal with the disciples at the table and giving them the tools they need to carry this message out to "the many", I became aware that God hasn't stopped this same sort of call to individuals to go from discipleship into becoming apostles of the Word.

What strikes me is how a book that, for some, is symbolic of close-mindedness can really be a mind-opener if you just spend some time with it. And perhaps that is why the Episcopal Church holds such appeal. Get hooked up with an Episcopal Church that still follows scripture, tradition, and reason, and those with eyes wishing to see and ears eager to hear are going to discover some amazing and powerful passages that can, and will, turn your life around...and make your brain into a perennial popcorn popper. Open the book. Ask some questions. Free your mind, and trust in your seeking that God wants to be found.

Friday, September 12, 2008

King Comes A-knockin'

Knock. Knock.
Who's there?
King who?
Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses at your salvation service!

OK, that's not exactly how it went, but that's kind of what has gone down for me this summer on any given Saturday morning. Two nicely dressed, middle-aged African-American men have apparently made me their "project", and they come 'round on Saturday mornings when my partner is at Temple, and talk to me about The Watchtower magazine, and whether I believe .

One of them is, in fact, named King. King does all the talking. The other man just stands on the steps, holding materials as King attempts to engage me and reel me in.

It used to be that when the Jehovah's Witnesses showed up on my doorstep, I would be really obnoxious. As a teen-ager into the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and Nina Hagen, I could be very punkish with these well-intentioned, determined people. One time, the question of the day was, "Do I want to see a world without sickness and death?"
Me: No.
Witness: (Pause) You don't want a world without sickness and death?
Me: (with loud rock music blaring from the kitchen radio in the background) No, because people have to die. Otherwise we'd have overpopulation and starvation. Death is natural. More people should die.

My deadpan brooding look, my long straight hair, New Wave t-shirt, background sound and seriousness of my "Death is natural" was all the woman could take and she left...without giving me the magazine.

So now, almost 30 years later, the Jehovah's Witnesses are baaaaacccckkkkk. And this time, they have sent me King.

The last visit I had from King and friend was interesting, at least for me. First, he handed me material that would help "strengthen my marriage" which I took and thanked him, silently chuckling to myself. Then came the question he wanted me to answer. It had to do with whether I was aware of the Kingdom.

"Yes, and I believe the Kingdom is now."

This answer surprised him...and me as well. I wasn't expecting that I would launch into an Episcopal philosophy lesson with a stranger, but there was something about being engaged in a discussion of the Kingdom of Heaven that made me take off.

"I believe eternal life is right now. It's our choice to live into that."

King looked puzzled and clutched his Bible. He wanted me to "understand" that the Kingdom was something we're trying to attain, that it is at hand. But I wouldn't budge from my position.

"It's in the Lord's Prayer. 'Thy kingdom come, thy will be done *on earth* as it is in heaven'! We shouldn't wait for it to happen. We are supposed to live into the Kingdom now."

None of this was working for King, and his friend was starting to shift uncomfortably, so the pair simply handed me their Watchtower magazine, and went on their way. And I could get back to visiting with my friend who had wondered why I would engage the Jehovah's Witnesses at all.

It's hard to say why I wanted the discussion, except that when such folks come 'round knocking on my door, and wanting to tell me how to think, I feel a need to enter a dialogue with them and meet their proselytizing head on. It's a little like when I was in college and surrounded by fundamentalist Christians on my dorm floor who felt the need to "save" me. Back then, I didn't know how to meet them at all. All I knew how to do was get angry and hostile, bordering on rude. Today, I have an answer for the "Are you saved?" question.

"Yes, of course, and so were you 2,000 something years ago!"

Huh? You see, "saved" for me happened when God, as Jesus, went to the cross for us, and gave up his life as a human being, shedding his that all would be forgiven for all. We don't have to do anything to earn this redemption. There are no frequent prayer credits, no heavenly upgrades. All that's necessary is for us to say, "Yeah! OK!!" and believe that it's true. Because from that belief, that willingness to center on God, you'll find-as I did--you'll understand what it means to be saved, and the incredible...indescribable that is God will blow you away!

Post-script on King: I don't know if he'll come back again. The last time he visited, my Jewish partner was home and I wasn't. She promised that she wasn't mean to him, but she told him point blank that she wasn't buying what he was selling. I guess it doesn't hurt to be blunt sometimes.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Should I Stay or Should I Go

No, this is not about The Clash.

Someday, maybe. But not today.

The readings from this past Sunday I would categorize as those that can really, really, really make a person think twice about coming back through the church door. Particularly, the gospel taken from Matthew 18...which has the part about pointing out when someone sins against you...point it out to them privately. And it keeps escalating from there that if the person who has sinned refuses to listen even to the church, "let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." In other words, they aren't part of your church any more.

Taken alone, this portion could make anyone squirm. No doubt each of us, if we were really honest, are aware of the sins we commit against one another, some more serious than others. And this idea that we might get 'called out' for it is a little daunting.

Some of my brothers and sisters who are LGBT people of faith have already experienced this kind of exile. Passages, such as the one from Matthew 18, provide the perfect self-righteous weapon to wield in excluding, excommunicating, and otherwise excoriating us from our houses of worship. After all, if the community of faith believes that homosexuality is a sin, then one who is a homosexual must be told and told and told again to "Repent!" or risk banishment to the badlands.

But never forget that the same Jesus who talks about reproving another who sins also warned those ready to stone an adulteress in John's gospel: You without sin, cast the first stone. And, suddenly, nobody had it in them to hurl a rock at this woman. Score one for Jesus.

And you don't even have to leave Matthew's gospel to get the idea that Jesus' first desire, and seemingly fervent desire, is to look to forgiveness:

Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I will tell you, seventy-seven times".

What's more: the other readings from this Sunday went a long way toward fleshing out what appears to be the underlying message in the gospel. The Romans passage, (Chap. 13: 8-14), starts:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law......Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.....Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

And the First Reading, from Ezekiel 33:7-11:

"As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live."

All of these readings, when allowed to stew together in the pot of my brain, lead me to think the message is clear: God is kind and merciful, and does not desire to see us fail. We should support and love each other, as brothers and sisters, and if a brother or sister rejects our love, we must be prepared to move on. But if a brother or sister comes back to us with an apology, we have to forgive.

Alright, but what about those churches and other places of worship that accuse gay people of being the sinners? It's a shame such institutions exist. It's a shame that people who profess a belief in the one who lived, died and was resurrected for everyone feel they can put themselves in God's place to determine who is and is not a sinner. And furthermore, look at the starting point that was there in Jesus' explanation:

"If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone."

My translation: if you aren't gay or lesbian, and the queer member of the congregation isn't touching you or trying to hit on you or otherwise get into your physical and emotional space, then where's the sin? How has this person's mere presence caused you fault?

And if an LGBT person of faith does find themselves in a congregation that would drive them out for being who God has made them to be.....well, you may find a new home elsewhere. Kick off the dust, and leave the place where you are unwelcome. And remember that vengeance is God's. And the God who knows you better than anyone will guide you to a better place. Trust it and don't let fear and anger dominate you as you move on.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Recent A-Ha

There's nothing like a new class to start stirring the popcorn in the popper of my head!!

I'm not far along into my Education for Ministry course. Really, I'm just at the tip of the Genesis iceberg having only covered the two creation stories (yes, there are two)...and I haven't even arrived yet at Noah and his Ark (which is apparently one of two flood stories). My brain has been strained trying to make sense of the lineage of Cain after he kills his bro in the field (really bad move), and then uses language that sounds suspiciously like a former Governor of Florida with connections to the White House (that whole: "I'm not my brother's keeper" line is reminiscent of our last Republican Governor's arrogant attitude).

One of the lessons I have pulled thus far is that for the Hebrew people, no one can look upon God and live. And the more I let that thought settle into the hot oil of my brain, the more the heat gradually got the kernels to start popping.

The first thought was, "Well, if the belief system of this ancient group of people becomes one of we can not look at God and live...then of course, carry that forward, those same people many centuries later are going to have fits trying to reconcile the thought that God would not only be visible as this guy named Jesus, but he can be touched, and he can be killed." When I mulled this over, I had a new appreciation for some of the very basic early splits between Jews and Christians over Jesus as Messiah and LORD.

But then a second thought emerged. Jesus spoke in parables. Reason? Look at Matthew 13:

Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets* of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
“You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.

This would seem as though Jesus is saying, "There are those who 'get it', those who 'don't get it' and then there are those who long to 'get it', but refuse to 'get it'. And you guys are 'getting it' and hence are closer into the center of this circle that is me." And yet, still, it's only closer, but it's not necessarily a full knowing of all who Jesus is. And that would appear to be some of what Jesus is driving at in this portion of John 16:

‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

From this, I gathered that Jesus is letting the disciples know that even though they have learned from him, and experienced his way and his teachings among the people, they still do not have all of him within their grasp. That much more will be revealed to them: stay tuned, not tuned out!

Jesus and parables: pop.
Jesus and disciples: pop.
Could it be that even in the New Testament, even as Jesus, God is still retaining some of God's knowledge because to know God fully and completely would blow our human brains away? So even with Jesus, we never get to fully look upon all that is God?
Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!

As the saying goes in Isaiah 55: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts".

These ideas keep my mind so jacked up you'd have thought I'd downed a couple of triple mochas with an extra shot!

Nah, it's just popcorn. No salt or butter required. And it's the sort of snack food that I can seem to feast on, and never get tired of it because I keep going back for more.

Geez...and I'm only a few chapters into Genesis......

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Patience and love

Another day. Another sad story of homophobia...this time at an Episcopal Church south of Atlanta.

On Sunday, August 24th, someone posted a piece of cardboard on the door of St. John's Church with the message: "Homosexual priest in the pulpit in this church are (sic) an abomination. 666." The threat was directed at the priest of the church. His congregation includes a lot of gay people who, not surprisingly, were a little shaken by the note that greeted them that Sunday. According to the story in the Southern Voice, the priest targeted in this incident incorporated the note into his sermon. Instead of condemning the person who would do such a thing, he asked for the congregation to pray for a person deeply trapped in their fears.

How appropriate. It reminds me of what I saw watching Bishop Gene Robinson in England this summer through the magic of the internet, and seeing how my brother-in-Christ stood still and quiet as another fearful person, a young man, waved his motorcycle helmet in the air and yelled at the Bishop that he was a heretic and needed to "Repent!"

And it reminds me of the experience I had a few weeks ago in North Carolina, observing at a close distance the screaming man on the sidewalk and his friends, who blasted people on their way to watch some gay and lesbian-themed movies. Again, the words "abomination" and "repent" were liberally scattered throughout the man's diatribe. As I've told some people, the amazing part of that moment was that I never rose to the same level of anger, fear, or condemnation I was hearing from him. Instead, I stood still and listened. Hearing the fear in his speech and thinking this man really believed he was speaking for God, I felt an odd sense of compassion that someone would be this wigged out over gay people that they'd stand outside and scream at people for four hours. He may have been invoking God's name, but God doesn't dwell in fear.

All of this speaks to what is the most difficult, sometimes elusive, practice that I believe God asks of us. That is to continue to show patience and love for one another. Just in the same way that God, who time and time again in the Old Testament and the New, showed enormous patience and love for us! It was all over the readings from this past Sunday:

From Jeremiah 15:

19 Therefore thus says the LORD: If you turn back, I will take you back,
and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
you shall serve as my mouth. It is they who will turn to you,
not you who will turn to them. 20 And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you
to save you and deliver you, says the LORD. 21 I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.

From Romans 12:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20 No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

And the Gospel from Matthew, in which Jesus gives this instruction:

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

This last one in the gospel speaks to Bishop Robinson's phrase: "Jesus doesn't want admirers; he wants disciples". He doesn't want us to just say, "Oh, yeah: I love God and I love my neighbor, and I go to church on Sunday just to prove it." The call is for us to follow in his footsteps, knowing that if and when we stumble, God will be there to help us up again, dust us off, and keep us moving forward.

We must be willing to face our enemies, and rather than getting sucked into their vortex of hatred, remain centered in our love of God, and ourselves, and let that love be the words we speak in the face of the person who attacks us. That may sound impossible, or way too much like a lightweight self-help motto...but it is not. I did it in North Carolina. Bishop Robinson did it England.  And it's the approach of one priest in an Atlanta suburb. Meet the hatred with love, the fear with confidence, the screaming with silence. And offer a blessing that one day Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of a land where the content of a person's character trumps all the outward and visible signs that keep us separated from one another becomes a reality.