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You have to have faith.  Faith that what you are doing matters.  Faith that you will find what you need.  Faith that God will provide.

Otherwise?  Why even try?

I always think of this when I hear the story of the Good Samaritan.

Before the Samaritan came along, a priest and a Levite walked by the beaten man.  They walked on by because if he died, they would be unclean.  They would have to pay fees and make sacrifices to once again become clean.  Sure, he might be okay but they didn’t have the Faith needed to take the chance.

The Samaritan? He wasn’t the same culture as the victim.  If the Samaritan tried to help and the man died, his family would probably take revenge on the Samaritan.  After all, wasn’t he the last person seen with the victim?  The Samaritan could take shelter in a city of refuge, but his family would still be at risk, because the victim’s family could seek revenge against a son, brother or nephew. This was much bigger than a simple risk of his ability to perform temple rituals. This could be a matter of life and death.

But it was the right thing to do and the Samaritan helped.  He got involved.  He had faith that it would turn out okay and he did something big.

With faith, we can all do great things.

–SueBE

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My, my, my. The Church Lady must be having a field day. I refer of course to the old Saturday Night Live sketches featuring Dana Carvey’s judgmental and oh-so pious authority on all that is good and evil. She was always quick to call out hypocrisy in the “whited sepulchers” who frequented her show. Such insight has never been as necessary as it is now.

America likes to think of itself as a Christian country, though religiously speaking, we’re actually mutts — a mix of everything, from Mormons to Sikhs. Yet those who project — and protect — this “Christian America” image most fiercely seem most in need of a reminder of what Christianity actually is.

There is no Christianity without Christ. And to know what Christianity is about, one only has to access the words and deeds of Christ. This is not a case of “what would Jesus do?” but “what did Jesus do?” He embraced the outcasts and told us to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger, a radical reversal of the current state of immigration. Jesus, tellingly, put no codas, no provisos, on his commands — no clauses like “only if they speak English” or “only if they have a good job.” Indeed, he seemed most concerned about those most on the outside, most in need of lifting up.

Emma Lazarus’ poem on the Statue of Liberty (written, I hate to tell you, Mr. Miller, expressly for the Statue of Liberty) comes down hard on the side of the outsiders — and, consequently, the side of Christ. To stand in defiance of the huddled masses longing to breathe free is to stand in defiance of God.

Oh, I know. It’s hard to welcome the stranger. Strangers are scary precisely because they are strange to us. Is every immigrant a good person? No, but neither is every homegrown American. It is simpler to draw ourselves inward, to turn our backs on the “other” and “take care of our own.” Except who decides who is “our own” and who is not? Who was the “neighbor” in the parable of the Good Samaritan?

I am not saying that everyone opposed to the welcoming of immigrants is a bad person. But neither is he or she following the precepts of Christ.

What I’m asking for is very simple: a little truth-telling. It’s time for a good scrub, America. Let’s wash out our mouths with soap and water and get down to brass tacks. Either we welcome strangers or we do not. Either we are Christian or we are not.

But we don’t get to have it both ways.

Love your neighbor as yourself works best when your neighbor is defined rather broadly.  That’s the whole point in the tale of the Good Samaritan.  The Samaritan wasn’t of the same culture.  He didn’t live next door or, most likely, in the same neighborhood.  In fact, he could actually get in trouble for helping the man who was in distress.

Remember “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”?  If the Samaritan tried to help and the man died, his family would probably take revenge on the Samaritan.  After all, wasn’t he the last person seen with the victim?  The Samaritan could take shelter in a city of refuge, but his family would still be at risk, because the victim’s family could seek revenge against a son, brother or nephew.

Still, the Samaritan helped.  And he wasn’t just an anonymous helper on the side of the road.  He took the victim to an inn, spoke to the innkeeper and sacrificed his anonymity.

The Samaritan didn’t say, “He looks different.  He worships different.  I don’t even know him.”  He looked at a man in need and saw his neighbor.  Just a little something to think about.

–SueBE

As I read through various blog posts on Friday, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  Pope Francis had done a TED Talk?  No way!

But, he had.  For those of you who have missed out on these talks, TED stands for Technology, Engineering and Design.  Thus the first talks were all pretty techy and many of them still are.  But the people behind TED have branched out with talks on creativity and writing and how people see each other.

This past Tuesday, the Pope addressed the TED conference which this time around had the theme “The Future You.” In working within this, he addressed the power that each “you,” each individual in this world has to make change.

Francis discussed how deeply interconnected we are and how this connectivity works. To truly connect, and I’m paraphrasing all of this because he spoke in Italian which was translated, equality and solidarity have to be the goal.

And not just the goal on Sunday.  Or when we are doing churchy or charitable things.  Equality and solidarity have to be the goal of politics, of economics and even of science. This means, according to Pope Francis, going beyond our culture of waste in which it is okay for certain people, individuals and groups, to be cast aside. People, he reminded listeners, are not statistics.  They are not numbers.  It isn’t enough for us to have good intentions and talk about social justice.  We have to get out there and make it happen like the Good Samaritan or Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Like them, we need to be individual candles in a world of conflict.

In doing, we will create hope. Where one of us is there can be hope.  Where many of us are, there can be revolution.

That said, he calls on us to create a revolution of tenderness. This needs to be a revolution of tenderness to hear and see the hopeless and those who are crying out, to hear and see the damage being done to our Earthly home, It means to use our hearts and our hands to take action.

A revolution of tenderness.

Wow.

Just wow.

–SueBE

holidays 2011 017

During the holidays, there are many wonderful things to look forward to, like dinner with family, gifts being exchanged, and seasonal music on the radio.  But as we settle into Christmas Eve, have you noticed the general sense of being frayed-around-the-edges?  People are stressing over getting all the presents they need, putting cards in the mail, and cleaning house for the relatives coming to visit.

What we need right about now is a compilation of feel-good viral videos.  Here are my nominees for the most epic heroes of the year, 2013 edition.

Happy Holidays, All!

 

 

SamaritanLast week, I wrote a post calling for an end to one kind of Religious Bullying.  I challenged those mothers who, when they don’t approve of a specific child, encourage other mother’s to keep their children from playing with this “bad child.”  I’m sorry, ladies and gentleman, but seeking to isolate a child you simply don’t like is wrong.

This was one of the most difficult pieces that I’ve ever written because of my own experiences with this and other types of religious bullying.  I expected a certain amount of backlash from religious conservatives, the people I most often see bullying people in the name of Christ.

There was a bit, but not much. Not surprisingly, it consisted of people telling me either publicly or privately that they would continue to practice what the Bible tells them to do, especially in regard to certain Biblically banned sexual practices.  Wow.  Make assumptions much?  That wasn’t even on the radar in this particular incident but I love the way some people bring it up to justify bad behavior on the part of other adults.

It’s just like assuming that you’re in the clear as long as you don’t bully people in the name of God.  But there’s a problem with that assumption.  Whether we are talking about the bullying mother’s I encountered, gay bashing, cutting a woman down because of how she dresses, or badgering the school board into teaching your religious beliefs in the public schools, simply not participating is not enough.

You need to speak up, even if you aren’t comfortable correcting your fellow Christians in a firm but loving manner.  You do this by playing the part of the Good Samaritan.  Reach out to those who have been robbed of their dignity.

Far too many people I’ve talked to this week had a story to tell.  I don’t know about you, but I want them to meet the God of love.  He directed us to help people who don’t believe as we do and stood up for the woman who was about to be stoned.  How can we do any different?

–SueBE

Lately I’ve been thinking about the verses that form a prequel to the Parable of the Good Samaritan – the ones that lead up to Christ telling the parable.

Luke 10:25-27:

25  On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27  He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28  “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

An expert in the law.  Most likely a Jew, this man wouldn’t have been an expert in the Roman law but Jewish religious law.  He wasn’t there to learn from Christ.  He was there to show off.  How do we know that?  “[He] stood up to test Jesus.”  He wanted to show everyone, including Jesus, how much he, Mr. Expert, knew.  He wanted to strut his stuff.

But how often are we already guilty of this kind of religion?  For so many of us, the rules and regulations that accompany our faith become the core of our religious practice.  We know the rules about who is saved and who isn’t.  We’re crystal clear on the regulations concerning who is a child of God and who isn’t.  Ask us who can preach,  what constitutes a valid baptism, what clothing is Christian and even where we should go to church and we can trot out a rule (or thirty) to prove our point.

And  you know something I’ve noticed about these rules and regs?  They’re never used to hold someone up but to keep someone down.  Want to beat your wife?  There’s a verse and no doubt several rules to back that up.  Against mixed race marriage?  Or maybe you’d like to declare that various people aren’t even fully human.  Let’s sit around and debate whether or not they have souls.  After all, we have rules and creeds and more.  We can do it and in our not-so-distant past, we have.

But  what we aren’t doing when we’re staging these almighty debates is holding our hearts and prayers up to God.  We aren’t gazing up at Him in awe of His Grace. We’re looking down at the rule books, keeping score.  In trying to keep other people small, we are taking our eyes off Him.

It  seems to me that when we take such a legalistic approach to religion, it shows that we lack a full understanding of God’s Grace.  We are saved by our belief in God and His love for us.  We don’t earn Grace through good works or religious rites.  It simply is not something that we can earn.  It is not something we can buy through tithes.  It is a gift.  And it isn’t ours to give.  It is God’s.  Ultimately?  Its His call, folks.

Until we fully understand that, we are missing the point and it is a very big point indeed.

–SueBE


		

The Good Samaritan isn’t the only parable I covered in my class, and I really do plan to blog on the others.  But it was this particular parable that I found myself contemplating over the weekend.

The  setting?  A family dinner at my house.  As I got the house ready, I mentally monologged.  Why should I be the one to make family dinner? We’re tearing out and replacing a bathroom, we’d be spending all morning at church, we just finished a busy swim season and we redecorated a bedroom and have things scattered all over the house.  Why me?  I’m not the only capable person.

Then I thought about the Samaritan.  Why him?  He wasn’t the only one would could have helped.

The first one on the scene was the priest, but he had some pretty solid reasons to ignore the man and ride on by.

To do  their jobs, priests had to stay ritually clean which means no contact with dead bodies.  To get close enough to see if the man was still alive, the priest would be risking contamination.  Purification meant a full week of expensive sacrifices and rituals and he can’t do his job until that week is over.  That means no income including his share of the food sacrifices.  These sacrifices would be a large part of what fed his family and his servants.  All of these people would suffer for at least a full week if the man on the road was dead.

See?  Lots of good reasons to keep on riding.

Then  along came the Levite.  Levites assisted the priests.  If the boss rides by, it’s ok for the Levite to do the same thing.  Isn’t it?

But what about the Samaritan?  He had plenty to worry about too. Remember “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”?  If the Samaritan tried to help and the man died, his family would probably take revenge on the Samaritan.  After all, wasn’t he the last person seen with the victim?  The Samaritan could take shelter in a city of refuge, but his family would still be at risk, because the victim’s family could seek revenge against a son, brother or nephew.

Still, the Samaritan helped.  And he wasn’t just an anonymous helper on the side of the road.  He took the victim to an inn, spoke to the innkeeper and sacrificed his anonymity.

The Samaritan risked it all.  He didn’t say, “Why me?”  In fact, I can hear him saying, “Lord, here I am, Your servant.”

How  often do we talk ourselves out of serving God instead of looking up and saying, “Here I am, Lord”?

–SueBE


		

Luke 10:25-37

New International Version (NIV)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

Earlier, I blogged about praying for something to help me get through our church choir’s summer sabbatical.  As I wondered what God would find to fill my spiritual time, I was asked to teach the adult Bible study.  I happily accepted, but then almost didn’t do it. What happened to change my mind?

One chance comment.

I was practically dancing with joy when I told a group of friends about the invitation to teach.  Then one of them shrugged.  “They asked me first.  I told them I was too busy.”

I tried to shrug it off, but the comment continued to bother me.  They didn’t want me.  They wanted someone else.  I was the also-ran.  Just how many people had they asked first?  Were they scraping the barrel when they asked me?

It bothered me while I picked out which parables to cover.  It bothered me while I wrote my first lesson.  It really bothered me when I found out that my husband had to be somewhere else that night.  Who would be my support group?

I managed a few quick prayers but I felt a bit foolish.  Hadn’t God sent this my way?  Wouldn’t praying about it sound . . . desperate?

That first night, I barely managed to look up from my notes.  Instead of looking at each person in the room, which is what I try to do when speaking to a group, I picked a few “harmless” souls to focus on.  When the class was over, I gladly sent every one on their merry way to craft class.  But wait.  One of them, a retired teacher, was still here.  Why wouldn’t she shoo?

Instead, she came up to me.  “Do you know what an honor it is for a teacher to sit in a class taught by one of her students,” she said. “And your mother would be so proud of you.”  Then she gave me a big hug.

That poor woman almost ended up with a shoulder full of tears.  Just a moment and a few kind words were all it took to buoy my confidence but to also bring home the lesson from the parable of the Good Samaritan.  The Samaritan had helped one man.  His actions wouldn’t dull the prejudice the Jews felt toward the Samaritans.  He hadn’t done anything about the harsh Roman rule.   He had helped one man.  I had compared this to Mother Teresa.  She believed that by helping one person here and one person there, her work was but a drop in the human ocean.  But she acknowledged that by not caring for that one drop, the ocean would be diminished – one drop less here and one drop less there.

Human emotions are such fragile things.  We women seem to feel our inadequacies so intensely – as you can surely tell by our posts this week.  When you feel God nudge you to say something to someone, don’t resist.  Add that one drop to the ocean of human joy.  It may be the drop that makes all the difference.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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