Tag Archives: prison

Ashes in Prison.

Now that I am no longer at the prison, I can reflect on some strong memories I have from there. Ash Wednesday is of particular note.

There hadn’t ever been an Ash Wed service before. It was not because there was not a need, there just had not been the energy to make it happen. In the prison system, everything runs according to a very strict, rigid schedule. Deviation from the standard, “schedule of calls” throws off the day and usually is not very helpful. The downside of this kind of rigidity is that being spontaneous and creative just makes a mess of the day, is frowned upon, and often just cannot happen. The upside is an extreme amount of predictability in my workday and the fact that while it was hard to change the schedule, once the change happened, it became an embedded part of the work day very quickly. That schedule of calls was a bit like the “law of the Medes and Persians.”

In order to make an Ash Wednesday service happen, I looked at the schedule and for reasons I do not remember, it couldn’t take place in the evening so I planned it for the opposite end of the spectrum, 0730-0800.

This meant that the prisoners would come to chapel instead of work call, attend service and then return to work after. One of the interesting impacts of this which I was not planning or intending for was that myself and my inmates were getting ashes on our foreheads at the beginning of the day. There is something very spiritually significant about “bearing the cross” all day long. Going to work, lunches, visiting, and interacting with my Soldiers while wearing an ashen cross. Over and over, every year I was at the prison, I would need to explain why “my forehead was dirty” or what Ash Wed was. Inmates who chose to come to service and wear the cross had to do so very publicly.

It put “bearing the cross” in a whole new light.

Not only was it a reminder of our own frailty and humanity, it was also a testimony to the Gospel. It took some courage to bear the cross.

Remember you are from dust and to dust you will return. Repent. And believe the Gospel.

Remember you are from dust and to dust you will return. Repent. And believe the Gospel.

The first year, I was able to coordinate a service with our Catholic Deacon that provided pastoral care to Catholic inmates. This made the service truly eccumenical and helped to emphasize that in the Family of God, we can come together to recognize our shared humanity.

The second year, the power was out, the correctional specialists had switched to 12 hour shifts and the service had been lost in all the movement. I showed up that morning and was greeted by emergency lighting and the inmates were all still in their housing areas.

(side note: in military prisons, every inmate had a job. Every day is the same. Your cell pops open at 0500, breakfast soon after and by 0730, everyone is at work. Everyone goes to work, every. single. day. Therefore, the only time anyone is able to sleep in is Saturday and Sunday. Even then, you can’t really “sleep in” as wake up and breakfast always happen at the same time. However, you can go back to bed after breakfast if there is no work call. So when work call is cancelled and you have the opportunity to sleep a bit, it makes for a very quiet prison…)

So I had it put out over the sound system that there would be Ash Wed services that morning. I really didn’t expect much participation as work call had been cancelled and most everyone was taking advantage of the time to sleep away their time and to top it off, the Deacon could not come because of the weather.

But after putting out the word, the doors to the housing areas opened and out came inmate after inmate, filing into the chapel where we, with emergency lighting and no instruments, had our service of penitence and reflection.

The final Ash Wed service was a year ago today. I had mentioned in service on Sunday at my post congregation (Memorial Chapel) that I’d be conducting the service in the prison. A couple of my church members to include the Garrison Commander asked if they could join us in worship.

That morning everything worked, the schedule of calls was on time and the church was fairly full. Looking out over my congregation, it was a picture of the Church. The powerful and powerless, the formal worshippers next to the informal, the Catholics side by side with the Protestants, the Mormons next to the Baptists, the handsome next to the homely, the brown (prison uniform) next to the green (Army uniform), the inmate and the Garrison commander, the public sinners who were tried and condemned for their crimes and the private sinners who alone knew of their brokenness – I remember sitting in the pastor’s chair a little speechless by what was before me.

I knew it was to be my last Ash Wed service in the prison and very soon I would be leaving the prison and my inmates. My voice quivered when I started but soon confidence took over and the service went on. As inmates filed up to receive their ashes, the officers and Soldiers mingled with the prisoners, all one, all equal, all aware of their humanity and frailty.

Finally it was time for me to receive my ashes. I motioned to one of my inmates and, surprised, he came forward.
“Will you put the ashes on me?” He nodded.
I said the words, “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return. Repent, and believe the Gospel.” His hands trembled a bit as the prisoner applied the ashes to the chaplain’s forehead.

We are all one. We are all sinners in need of a savior. We all come from dust and no matter what power or prestige is given to us on earth, to dust we shall return. Repent. And believe the Gospel.

Sacred dust. Sacred Ash. Sacred Redemption.

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Google Glass in Law Enforcement

When I worked in the prison, I was initially put off by the ever present camera. They are everywhere in a prison, always on, always recording.

At first, I thought about them, found myself looking distractedly in the corner, and fascinated when in the control room looking at the live feeds.

Which is where I was the first time I witnessed and incident. I watched the inmate’s actions, the correctional specialists response and the resulting team effort calming the situation.

I was amazed.

The camera footage actually protected the inmate in that the cadre could not contradict video footage. It protected the correctional specialist in the same way. And, by reviewing the footage, all the Soldiers could benefit by using it as training. It is a mark of a profession that they self-evaluate, self-police, and train to a standard. The cameras were a vital part of that effort.

Turns out, cameras were good for everyone.

I thought about this after reading about Ferguson. If only there was some video footage of the incident. That got me wondering about cameras in regular policing. The dash camera has been in use for years but what about something like Google Glass?

Then I looked it up. Here, NYPD is considering using it; here, it is analyzed for use by police.

Technology never solves problems in of itself but why not use what we have to protect both law enforcement and citizenry?

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Hope (part two – from prison to the Tomb and beyond)

Speaking of the afore mentioned hope

There was no such hope for the two women that approached the tomb that Easter morning. (Matthew 28:1-10) There was no comprehension that anything was going to happen outside of their own suffering. They had hope that Jesus was going to be some kind of king, that Jesus would bring some real change to the world they lived in. But that didn’t happen. After all the talk, all the prophecy, all the miracles, all the hype, Jesus came to Jerusalem and nothing changed.

Nothing changed. Nothing.

The Pharisees still walked to and from the Temple, praying on the street corner. The Sadducees still were the elite. The Sanhedrin still ruled in Jerusalem. Pontius Pilate was still procurator of Judea. The Romans were still the power. The Zealots were still on the run, still hiding. The disciples, for all their talk, were in hiding.

The world on that Sunday morning was still the same. Nothing had changed.

At least nothing they could see.

Actually, the world had changed. Resurrection had come.

Their hope was based in their reality. No matter how much Jesus had been with them, spoken to them, shown them miracles they couldn’t explain, their life was still profoundly attached to the reality they knew.

So they went to the Tomb. To sit. To remember. To think on what life had been for the last few years. To reset. To think about what to do next. To grieve.

There was no better tomorrow. There was only suffering. Today.

They had limited vision. They only saw God working in a way that made sense to them. We do the same thing with our hope, we put all our eggs in one basket and see God working in a way that makes sense to us. We know that it’ll work out because the Army will send us where we need to go, we’ll get that promotion, that family member will come around and see life the way I see it, time will start happening the way I want it to – I have hope but my hope is built around my life.

Only God does not work like that. We can’t make God work the way we want God to work. NO amount of hoping will make it so. God’s plan is not bound by a world that makes sense to me. Truth is, we have no idea what comes next. We can look to the past to reassure us that we’ll live, but then, the moment may still hurt.

So the hurting women came to grieve.

This passage plays out as a drama – there is an earthquake, the guards “become as dead men,” an Angel says “do not be afraid. Sometimes our salvation brings fear. We need our God to assure us that in the midst of it all, it’s going to be ok.

They were grieving and needed hope. They needed a vision for they were dying. They looked to Jesus for Salvation but that didn’t happen so they came to the Tomb to wait.

I’m wondering what they did with Jesus’ words. I wonder if, in those moments before the earthquake, they thought about what Jesus had said. That he planned on going to Jerusalem, where he would die and rise again. I wonder if they talked about what that would be like. I wonder if they believed it.

I wonder if they set their mind on the heavenly reality. I wonder…

The Apostle writes to the early Church, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

We have the resurrection. They didn’t. We have the benefit of looking back on their reaction thousands of years later and wondering about them. They didn’t.

But the challenge of looking heavenward still remains.

Too often, our vision, our hope, is earth centered. It is human-focused. We see only what we want to see. We see only what we are looking at and when we do that, we miss what God is doing. We miss the possibilities in God. I wonder what I have missed because I only could see what I wanted to see. I wonder what you have.

Seek the things that are above…” Actively do it. Actively seek. Make it happen. Saints – where are you looking? What are you seeking?

I wonder if they had been seeking a risen Lord – would they have looked somewhere other than the Tomb? I wonder if we tend to look for God in the last place we saw God instead of a new place with the earnest expectation that God is present and alive, actively moving in this world – in our lives.

I wonder how much extra pain we end up with because we’re looking in the wrong place for a God who is doing something we don’t even imagine is possible.

This Easter – hope in God.

Look Heavenward. Seek heavenly things. Look for what God is doing and imagine what God might be doing beyond my reality.

So that you too might be able to say, I am in sorrow right now, but I know that I will make it.

For if God is with me, who can be against me?

Hope is stronger than memory.

Salvation is stronger than sin.

Forgiveness is stronger than bitterness.

Reconciliation is stronger than hatred.

The open tomb is stronger than the bloodied cross.

The Risen Lord is stronger than the dead Jesus.

We are the Easter people.

We are the people of hope.

We are the people of the empty tomb, the Risen Lord, the new life in Christ.

– Kennon L. Callahan, Ph.D.

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Hope

This last week, during counseling, one of my inmates made a profound observation about his life,

 “I know I’m going to make it, but right now really sucks.”

What a resilient statement. It’s a life-giving, hopeful statement. It’s based in reality. It is a recognition that he is full of sorrow and discouraged but, based on his past journeys through similar terrain, he knows that he’ll make it.

On the same day, Good Friday, I served Communion in the SHU. The SHU is the “specialized housing unit” 23 hour lockdown, solitary. Inmates end up there because they are having a difficult time getting along with others or obeying the rules. It is, by it’s nature, a depressing place. Inmates struggle back there. It is not a pleasant place to be. I put on my stole, filled individual communion cups, and took the trays into the SHU. The inmates are usually very respectful of my presence in there. They’ll stop their conversations and, particularly if I’m bringing communion, they’ll quietly prepare themselves for their turn.

The SHU becomes a sacred place. A place where God is present.

I move from cell to cell. The small feed tray is opened and I kneel down outside of it. Because of the low height of the open slot both myself and the inmate inside are in the kneeling position. Though a massive steel door separates us from one another, our faces are inches apart which creates a very intimate experience. Behind us, radios squawk, correctional specialist discuss what needs to be discussed, other inmates talk through their doors to one another, but in that sacred space between me and the inmate, God is there. I invite the inmate to confess whatever they need to God and then say amen out loud so I know to pray. When they are done (this can take a few seconds or even minutes as we kneel on the hard cement floor), I pray for them, myself, and the correctional staff. I thank God for the forgiveness promised in 1 John 1:9 and praise God for mercy and unmerited favor. I speak the words of institution:

“I will tell you the story as it was told to me, that the same night Jesus was betrayed, he took bread…”

We partake of communion together and end with the Lord’s prayer. Some of us have known each other so long now that they could recite the entire liturgy with me. When I finish, it is not uncommon for the inmate to have tears in their eyes. Yesterday, I ended with, “My friend and brother, it is Good Friday. Easter is Sunday. I’m so sorry that this will be your Easter.”

Over and over, they would say something like, “your right Chaplain, but God is here.”

Hope is so powerful. It can carry us though such hard times. It can give us strength to make it. It can endow us with the courage we need to see life as it is – tough, but we’ll make it. Hope is the very stuff of life.

When I hear hopeful statements like that, I am encouraged that growth is taking place. I am convinced that though it may be hard for them to experience it, they can see it in the Gospel. For that moment, that sacred moment, it’s going to work out.

Life is bigger than their suffering. 

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How “Open and Affirming” has impacted my ministry thus far

So, it’s not been quite a month since I posted my little sign on my door.

My emphasis on inclusivity has had an interesting, though anecdotal, impact on my pastoral care. I’ve noticed that those coming to see me have “gotten to the point” faster than in the past.

I don’t know if other chaplains or counselors have experienced this phenomena but it’s been true of my pastoral care wherever I’ve been a chaplain and even more so in prison. It goes like this: the individual requests an appointment. They come into the office and we spend significant time in the “joining process.” We talk about what we have in common, where we’ve served, likes/dislikes and theology. We do this gentle dance where I ask about what we’re there to talk about and they, passive/aggressively talk about everything under the sun but what they are really struggling with. I sense this, probe, and sense that they are not quite ready. It used to frustrate me but I’ve come to understand that it’s just their insecurities bleeding to the surface. If I try to rush it, it just gets worse. So, patiently, I wait till they trust me.

That’s the thing about trust – I can’t convince people that I am trustworthy – I can only be trustworthy.

This goes on for the majority of the hour then, after I note that it’s been a great talk and we can schedule another appointment – boom! Out it comes. The real issue. The deeper presenting problem. The shameful secret. Then, we’re out of time and I am in the position of choosing to address it or wait till next time.

Generally, I ask why it took so long. The answer is almost universal – they were concerned that I would judge them. That I would condemn them. That I would “think they were crazy.” It’s so normalized for me, I’ve come to expect it and plan for it in my pastoral counseling.

What I have noticed in the last month is that the “flash to bang” time has been less. Much less. I not only hung the sign on my door but also in the direct line of sight with those who sit in my office. There has been this neat moment when it catches their eyes and they read it. Silently. Take a deep breath and we get to the meat if the issue so. much. faster.

This last Sunday, I preached on the subject of how the Christian interacts with the world. I worked with the story of the Samaritan woman. I asked my congregation if Jesus judged the woman. Of course not. He said what was true for her but not in a condemning or humiliating way. He does not seem to have a need to call out her sin and make sure that she sees it. Of course, it is an assumption on our part that Christ considered the five husband thing a sin. He simply says what is true and she perceives that she is in the presence of a prophet.

Sometimes, we’re so intent on “taking a stand” and “calling sin, sin” that we miss out on the relationship that is forming. I challenged my prison congregation to focus on the “love the sinner” part and let the Holy Spirit take care of the sin part. I wondered what relationships we miss out on because we’re so committed to calling out the speck in our brother’s eye. I wondered what blessings we were missing out on because we refuse to interact with those whose charges we do not like or choices we do not approve of. I wondered what the “other” might have to say to us that would give us hope and encouragement but we were so bent on them “knowing where we stand” instead of just loving people for people’s sake.

I ended by reading my little sign.

After the service, (there were two) no less than ten different inmates wanted to know more about the Disciples of Christ and the response was overwhelmingly positive and affirming. In both services, inmates who know me and those who didn’t were coming up and thanking me. Clearly, it was water to thirsty souls.

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Back Pain and Soul Pain

There is a lie that floats about in our culture. It goes something like this – “healing has not happened (or worked) unless I do not feel pain any more.” As an Army prison chaplain, I experience it most in relationship to mental/spiritual anguish or “the dark night of the soul.” 

It goes something like this – the individual’s coping methods to dealing with pain land them in jail. They continue down this path (substituting alcohol, sex, drugs with ego trips, anger/rage, prescription meds) until they realize that they are still suffering greatly. They first reach out to mental health for relief and then, after realizing that drugs “won’t fix it” or that their counselor is encouraging them to work through their stuff reject it and show up in church. 

Here, they start reading the Bible furiously. Or, they start praying (at least in church) until something offends them at which time they either approach me about changing it or drop out all together. I challenge them on it and they say something like, “well, it didn’t take.” 

Another scenario that happens all the time is that someone will be the best Christian you ever met until they are denied parole. Then, clearly, God hates them and does not keep promises. (That they made to themselves on God’s behalf)

By the way, this is a common line of reasoning outside of prison too…

Which then introduces me mantra – people will not change until the pain of change is worse than the pain of staying the same. 

Somewhere along this path, they reach out to me for help. I introduce the above idea and say something like this, “I will not carry your burden. I cannot heal for you but I can and will join you and suffer with you if you want to really heal. You should know that it’s going to take you through some very dark waters. I’ll walk with you but not for you. I will be asking very hard questions and if you really want to heal, it’s going to be a little worse before it gets better. AND, it may actually NOT get better! In fact, your family might not be down with your growth and won’t like who you are becoming. You need to ask yourself if it’s worth the sacrifice.” 

Silence follows. 

Then a sigh and “I’ll give it a try.” 

Then we’ll enter into a pastoral care relationship. 

We explore the pain. We analyze why it’s painful. We struggle through how that pain might actually be a good thing and not something to be avoided. We seek to integrate it into life in a healthy way so as to not “cope” with it or avoid it but use it for positive growth. Those with enough courage hang in to the bitter end and experience great growth. Something people fall off. It happens. Either way, I’m there. Christ is there. 

What fascinates me on a regular basis is that the aforementioned lie is so prevalent in our culture. “Whatever you have to do to get rid of the pain…” 

What if pain wasn’t something to be avoided but embraced as God’s gift to guide you to healing? 

I heard this article on NPR this morning – loved it. It’s about managing back pain. 

“…along the way, she’s learning not to be afraid. “It’s learning not to fear the pain, learning that you can live with pain,” Wertheimer says. “Understand what that pain is, but then put it aside.”

In essence, sometimes the pain we experience both physically and emotionally is pain about the pain.

I teach my inmates to live with the pain, use the pain, make it a part of their spiritual strength and thus take away it’s power. 

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – Jesus

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All Saints and the struggle of understanding Christian History

All Saints Sunday, 2013

Luke 6:20-31

It’s All Saint’s Sunday. A day when we, as a Church, remember the saints that have gone before us. Generally, it’s a day for warm memories and challenging stories. Traditionally, capital “S” saints who are revered in the Catholic Church are people who are set apart, their holiness and particular living worthy of memory. In the Protestant church, many hold that all Christians can and should be categorized as “saints” even the not so holy. Therefore, on a day like to today, we remember all our beloved who have “gone to glory” before us.

This brings us a challenging thought however – isn’t our collective past as Christians fraught with very non-holy actions? Even our saints, upon closer examination, are not exactly paragons of holiness. If we expand the definition to include everyone, we’re really in a bind!

The Chapel where I pastor is called, “Memorial Chapel.” This year will be the 136th year of active worship within it’s walls. Those walls are covered with what are essentially gravestones marking the heroic dead – many of whom are officers who died during the “Indian Wars.” Surrounded by the memory of one of America’s bloodiest periods, where sovereign peoples were put to the sword and whole people groups laid waste by good Christians who worshiped in that very church is complicated to say the least. From here, native children were placed in good Christian homes forbidden to even speak of their cultural heritage. Fort Leavenworth was the edge of civilization back then, beyond that was war.

On All Saints day, I remember that our Christian past is complicated and not always terribly Christ-like.

Then, as I am preparing for my message, my text is from Luke 6:20-31:

“Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Not helpful.

How do I, a Chaplain in the mightiest Army the world has ever known make sense of 1. Our bloody history and 2. Jesus words in this text?

As I thought about his text I remembered another pastor, a saint, who faced similar questions. Perhaps it might be helpful to remember his struggle.

Cheap Grace

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing….

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

These words were written by a young pastor. The words were first published in 1937. The pastor the wrote them had been overseeing an illegal seminary training pastors for ministry in Nazi Germany. At the time of this publishing, the Gestapo closed the Seminary in Finkenwalde and arrested 27 pastors and former students. This was a text written for a country in battle for its soul.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his twin sister Sabine was born on February 4th, 1906. His father, Dr. Karl Bonhoeffer is just beginning to teach neurology and psychiatry. He would go on to become one of the most well-known and most respected psychiatrists in Germany.  His mother was one of the few women in her generation who obtained a university degree. It was a happy family. A family of thoughtful, educated, and scientific people. D’s brothers would go on to become scientists and were dubious at best of D’s forays into the theological life.

Dietrich’s young life was marked by a continual interest and calling into a life in the ministry. His father is proud of his son but hopeful that this religious phase would pass and he would pursue something more fitting his vast academic abilities.

This didn’t happen however, and Dietrich did indeed pursue theology. He was published at a young age. Within four years after beginning theological studies at Tubingen University, he successfully defends his brilliant and ground-breaking doctoral thesis, Sanctorum Communio (Communion of Saints), a significantly new way of looking at the nature of the Christian church. He is just 21 years old.

Like any young seminarian, he wonders what comes next. He sails to New York and begins a teaching fellowship at Union Theological Seminary. He identifies with the African American church experience in Harlem where he spends a great deal of time teaching and interacting with the congregation.  He is exposed to the “Social Justice” movement as taught through what would become known as the “Social Gospel.”  It is a profound moment for him and would inform what came next.

He is a contemporary of the theologian Karl Barth and the two wrote often. Barth said to him that Germany needed his voice. Things were getting bad there. In 1931, Dietrich Bonhoeffer returns to Germany.

1933. A pivotal year for Germany. Adolf Hitler, the Austrian Corporal turned artist turned political theorist completes his rise to power and is appointed Chancellor. Two days later, Bonhoeffer now a professor of theology at the University of Berlin, delivers a radio address on leadership attacking Hitler. He is cut off the air. In April, 1933 he publishes “The Church and the Jewish Question,” which was the first known essay to address the new problems the church faced under the Nazi dictatorship; his defense of the Jews was marked by Christian supersessionism – the Christian belief that Christianity had superseded Judaism, in history and in the eyes of God; the real question, he argued, was how the church would judge and respond to the Nazi state’s actions against the Jews; his essay was completed in the days following the April 1, 1933, boycott of Jewish businesses. Some scholars believe Bonhoeffer was influenced on this issue by his close friendship at Union Seminary with his African American colleague, Frank Fisher, and his direct observation of Fisher’s experiences under racism.

In the summer of 1933, many protestants welcomed the rise of the Nazi state. A group called, the Deutsche Christen (“German Christians”) became the voice of Nazi ideology within the Evangelical Church, even advocating the removal of the Old Testament from the Bible. The Deutsche Christians cited the state Aryan laws that barred all “non-Aryans” from the civil service, they also proposed a church “Aryan paragraph” to prevent “non-Aryans” from becoming ministers or religious teachers; the Deutsche Christen claimed that Jews, as a “separate race,” could not become members of an “Aryan” German church even through baptism a clear repudiation of the validity of Gospel teachings. The mainstream church was also coming under the grip of Nazism, becoming silent on the world that Germany was becoming.

In November of that year, he is ordained pastor at St. Matthias Church, Berlin.

In 1934, he and a group of brave Christians, form the “Confessing Church” in direct opposition to the established church who was about the business of assisting the State along the path leading to genocide. The Confessing Church was free of Nazi influence but not Nazi persecution. On August 2, German President Paul von Hindenburg dies and Hitler is proclaimed Chancellor and President.

He moves to Finkenwalde in 1935 where he is part of the founding of the aforementioned Seminary training pastors for ministry. By December, Himmler declares all examinations for the Confessing Church invalid, all training there invalid and all participants liable to arrest. German Jews are being arrested under the Nurmburg laws.

This is the world in which he writes about “Cheap Grace.”

He sets it against “Costly Grace” – “Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

It is “All Saints Sunday.” A day where we remember those saints who have gone before us, stood with us, and in whose shoes we stand today. It is right that we remember them. It is right that we recall the stands that others have taken so that we can evaluate where we are, who we are, and what we represent. Our Faith is not a faith that exists in opposition to others. We have a faith that is typified in its best sense in Love.

However, if the shoe of opposition fits, are we willing to wear it?

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

Dietrich lived in that tension between the being a peacemaker and embracing war – even internal war – against a State which was doing such wrong. By 1938, he had made contact with the German Resistance. His twin sister Sabine and her Jewish husband escape together to England by way of Switzerland.

1941, Bonhoeffer is forbidden to print or publish. He makes two trips to Switzerland for the Resistance. WW2 is in full force. Over the next two years, Dietrich would continue to write, teach and preach while making several visits to Norway and in Sweden he would meet with the British – all on the behalf of the Resistance.

1943. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is arrested. He writes during his incarceration. He continues to minister while in prison – both to the other inmates and the guards. One guard, a Corporal, approaches Dietrich with a plan for his escape and the Soldier’s with him. The plot is laid but in the end, D stops it as he does not want other members of his family, incarcerated and not to be endangered by his actions or escape. He is transferred to Buchenwald. He is very cold in the winter of 1944. The news is that America and Russia are pushing in on Germany from all fronts. They cannot hold out forever. He leans up to the crack in his door and for hours converses with those near his cell, prisoner and guard, about the grace of God.

1945. In February an Allied conference is held at Yalta to discuss post-war settlements. On March 7 American forces cross Rhine River. On April the 3rd of that year, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young German pastor, theologian, and author, is moved from Buchenwald to the Flossenburg concentration camp. On the 9th, he is executed with several other key leaders of the Resistance. On April 12 President Franklin Roosevelt dies; Harry Truman is sworn in as president. On April 30 Adolf Hitler commits suicide in his Berlin bunker. By May 2 Berlin falls. On May 7 the German forces make an unconditional surrender.

“Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is therefore the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus. It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

So which was it? Was Bonhoeffer a combatant? A German patriot fighting for the soul of his country if not it’s government? Is there a time to take up arms? Is there a time to stop turning the other cheek?

These are questions I face regularly and struggle through. I recall Jesus words, “If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword.” I do not experience them as particularly judgmental but more of a statement of fact, if you live by the sword, it is very likely that you will die by it.

We live in complicated times but no more so than any other time. Those who are commemorated on the walls of memorial chapel lived in complicated times as well. They followed God in ways that made sense to the world that they understood. Let us not forget that their immediate peers and superiors had just finished fighting a war to end Slavery and the economics that the institution upheld.

When working through our Christian history and all the victories and failings of those who have gone before, we would be remiss forget the times in which they lived. They should be understood and given grace for the world that they understood rather than be judged by the one we understand.

Where does that leave us?

Living the Gospel in the best way we know how. Living out our faith in a way that makes sense to us in the world we understand hoping that a hundred years from now, we will be judged by the world we knew.

And in all this, seeking to live in the way that Jesus taught. Loving others. Blessing those that curse us. Doing good to those who hate us. Doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Is there a tension? Of course. But as a Chaplain who preceded me once said powerfully, “if you don’t feel the tension, then you’ve probably already given in to one side or the other already.” It is no wonder that the Apostle, in one of his last letters, written from prison, said that we were to take on the example of Jesus Christ in our lives. Living as a servant to our fellow man and, in the end, to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Even so, I hope we can remain faithful. Perhaps when we, as saints “going into glory” meet Jesus he’ll say to us that we had this right and that wrong but in the end, we were faithful. I can only hope and work for that moment when he says to me, “Welcome home my good and faithful servant.”

Amen.

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Filed under Sermon, Theology

I’m a prison chaplain. I talk about sex addiction with addicts on a regular basis.

…You should know that before reading this post. In it, I am going to acknowledge the existence of sex and… other words…

So… I read this today on Huffington Post. It’s about a reddit group “NoFap” (Fapping is masturbating), a collection of (and I just saw this – it’s significant) no less than 74,000 “fapstronauts.” These are *mostly* men, 89% of whom are under the age of 30 who have taken a pledge not to “fap” for a variety of reasons not the least of which is to improve their sex life. Read the article, there are alot of amazing stats. 

Item I find MOST fascinating? Zero talk of religion. 

This is not a religious movement. It’s a personal health one. 

When I was in Bible College (I now own that I am a graduate of Pensacola Christian College – they kicked me out 3 weeks before my graduation, then gave me my degree a year later – though for years I said something like, “I went to a small private college in Florida when asked…) there were thousands of sexually repressed young men who “fapped” all the time. It was referred to by those who dared acknowledge it’s existence (though never by it’s actual name – I have a memory I’d love to erase of Gregg Mutch the college president preaching a sermon to “just the guys” about, and I am not kidding here, true story, “stroking the snake of pornea”). Those progressive enough to own that sometimes 19 year old men who are not allowed to get within 6 inches of a girl (broke that one a few hundred not sure how many times..) sometimes might give into the lustful thoughts constantly on their mind and “fap” also used the most powerful tool in the fundamentalist arsenal to fight it – guilt. 

Nothing like some good, old-fashioned, unadulterated guilt to make someone go forward and confess to someone else that you had “thoughts” and sometimes even “lustful thoughts.” It was unhealthy and made sex dirty. 

We were told it was bad, bad, bad and then, once married, its on like Donkey Kong. Cause that’s not weird and backward. 

Understand. I have, as a chaplain, experienced the dark side of porn addiction. It is very painful and what it does to families is a plague. 

What is amazing about this article is that this group approaches the idea of purity for their own health. It is people who come to some kind of awareness that their tastes and pleasures are not healthy and they want purity. And they seem to be doing it without guilt! 

More power to you. 

This article was encouraging to me. Whether we approach a healthy view of sex from a religious worldview or not, less porn use is better for the human race. 

Update: here’s the website: http://www.nofap.in

Also: your brain on porn – quite good

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On community. In which, I drop some thoughts on sex offenders…

Edward Hale, a Unitarian Minister  wrote  the short story, “A Man Without a Country” in 1863 at the height of the Civil War. It was a simple story, patriotic, and became one of the most popular short stories in the 19th century. It is a story about a rash young Army Officer who thought he had found a new identity  and hero in Aaron Burr who wanted to set himself as king of the Louisiana territory. He was caught and tried a traitor. In his Court Martial, he lost his head and cursed the United States. He wished he might never hear of the US again.

The Judge who heard the case was a Revolutionary War veteran himself and thought that since young Philip Nolan had such distain for the US, he would oblige the request. Nolan was put to sea, sailing away the rest of his life with the US Navy. Every captain that took him aboard was under strict orders to never mention anything about the US to him. For 50 years, he traveled just off the coast line, far enough to never see or hear of the US in his lifetime. He dies a broken-hearted man.

One of the stories told of Nolan involves him translating for a group of slaves saved off the coast of Africa. The captain of the ship wants to, for their safety, drop them off at a nearby island. They have none of it, “home, take us home!” they cry. Nolan translates their anguish at being close to home but not able to step ashore. The reader shares the narrator’s discomfort as the irony is in full display.

When it’s done, the usually diminutive Nolan is moved and tells a young ensign to think of home, his family, his country. “Youngster, let that show you what it is to be without a family, without a home, and without a country. And if you are ever tempted to say a word or to do a thing that shall put a bar between you and your family, your home, and your country, pray God in his mercy to take you that instant home to his own heaven. Stick by your family, boy; forget you have a self, while you do everything for them. Think of your home, boy; write and send, and talk about it. Let it be nearer and nearer to your thought, the farther you have to travel from it; and rush back to it when you are free, as that poor black slave is doing now. And for your country, boy,” and the words rattled in his throat, “and for that flag,” and he pointed to the ship, “never dream a dream but of serving her as she bids you, though the service carry you through a thousand hells. No matter what happens to you, no more matter who flatters you or who abuses you, never look at another flag, never let a night pass but you pray God to bless that flag. Remember, boy, that behind all these men you have to do with, behind officers, and government, and people even, there is the Country Herself, your Country, and that you belong to Her as you belong to your own mother. Stand by Her, boy, as you would stand by your mother, if those devils there had got hold of her to-day!”

It’s a beautiful passage that gets to the heart of “country.” Hale does not define what it actually is – there is no “real America” here, just the recognition that whatever your country means for you is what you need to remember about that country. It is the remembering that is important. Distilling everything that is great about one’s country to the one essential element – and then rushing to it. Patriotism to Hale’s Nolan is not letting the people, bureaucracy, government, ideals etc. get in the way of the essence of “the Country herself.”

Beautiful.

Hebrews ends in a similar fashion.  The book is written for a very specific purpose and to a very specific audience. The readers are Hebrews who have chosen to follow Christ. These would be at least second and perhaps even third generation Christians. They have become teachers of the Way, they have a confession, they are thoughtful and educated. They have ritual and engagement in doctrine. The very complexity of the arguments presented demonstrate this! But the readers are a faith community in crisis. Some members have grown lax in attendance at their assemblies, and commitment is waning. If the writer’s urgings are problem specific, then we have in the letter a painfully clear image of their condition. Christ has been dead long enough to pass into legend. He is not discussed as a person – as he is in the Gospels – but as God. Specifically, “so much better” than all gods. “So much better” than all the systems of worship before. This Christ, this deity is worthy of all adoration and worship. This is this point. Hebrews is heavy. It is theological. It is profound.

Until the end.

The end of the book crystallizes Christianity. Here, the author gets to the very heart of community. Like, Hale’s Nolan, it is as if he says to the Church, “look, beyond all this doctrine, beyond the arguments and the evidences, beyond apologetics and esoteric philosophy – there is the Community itself, your community – you belong to it and it belongs to you.”

This deeply theological book ends with a discussion of faith heroes and then, an appeal to simple community living. The community is everything. I wonder what Christianity has if it does not have community?

I often point out that Wicca has a solitary path. Buddhism has a solitary path. Druidism has a solitary path. Christianity does not. Christianity is at is best when functioning as a healthy community. It is described by Christ as a “body” after all.

Hebrews 13 begins simply – Let mutual love continue. Love that cares for one another. It’s present in the community. It is the basis for mutual respect and affection. Think of it – the old apostle, who has seen it all, traveled, planted churches, mediated fights and helped to shape what this Christian thing is going to look like – says to the young, driven, maturing church, “if you want this thing to thrive: love one another.”

Love the body AND love the Stranger.

Hospitality matters. Bring the Stranger to the table. Do not reject those who are different. They too, are the Body or could become part of the Body. The strangers in mind here are most likely the itinerant Christians who depended on local Christian communities for hospitality. It is understandable, however, why some house churches, either living in an atmosphere of suspicion due to opposition and persecution from society or facing the upheavals created by traveling heretics, would become reticent about extending hospitality. Some even used certain criteria for testing strangers before welcoming them. It makes sense that this would happen – being a Christian was not the most popular thing! However, caring for the Stranger came from the best part of the Hebrew tradition and mattered to the healthy functioning of the Community.

Remember those in prison and those being mistreated. Tortured. Suffering.

All is not well in the Community. Every gathering highlighted who was not there. Who was missing. Community does not end when separation begins. The Body cannot lose a member to suffering and not feel the pain of that loss. The language is so strong here – remember them, as though you, yourself, are with them in prison/suffering. As you are to join those in prison, so you are to be in the body of those being made to suffer. To do so requires more than a sympathetic ache; it means refusing to distance oneself from those suffering out of fear of becoming the target of the same mistreatment, providing for the needs of prisoners (prisoners depended on those outside for food, clothing, and all other needs), even though this meant exposing oneself as a fellow Christian, and being present with the sufferers in every way that might encourage and give relief.

What might this look like today? Clearly, no one is going to prison for being a Christian and, at least in America, prisons (while not pleasant places), provide sustenance. What does it mean for us to “remember the prisoner?” For starters, I believe that we need to recognize that prisoners are often there not because they are inherently evil, but in bondage. Their choices have not come out of nothing! There are reasons they have done what they did and, quite frankly, none of us are far from that.

If I have learned anything from my time in prison, it is that anyone is capable of anything. I cannot think of an exception to this off the top of my head though I’m sure there is – put anyone, put me or you, in a certain set of circumstances; add a healthy dose of pleasure and escape from pain; take away proper oversight or inherent inhibitions; add a dash of unhealthy coping  – anyone reading this is capable of just about anything to include myself.

I don’t judge. What’s the point?

I also don’t equate – I don’t say, “well, there but the for the grace of God go I.” That’s a silly comment – as though you got some special grace that the Other did not. No, I made choices based out of what I had available. There is a reason that I am not a prisoner. However, I also do not hold to any notion that I am a better or worse person for not having gone to prison. I certainly am capable of it. And so are you.

So what? Are we to pretend that we are sex offenders so that we can identify with those in prison?

Lets at least start with seeking to understand. Seek to understand why a person is now labeled a “sex offender.” Seek to understand why a person made the choices they made. Seek to understand so that we can help rebuild and repair. Do we really believe in restoration?

I read an article by a chaplain in the Minnesota State Penal System. He compared how we view sex offenders to how this ancient culture would have viewed lepers. Outcast. Scorned. Unclean. Horrible people needing to be cleansed from clean society. God forgive me for ever using my fear to vote for laws that only help drive predators further under ground and set up a world where no one can get help. Just like there is a safe way to integrate an alcoholic or addict into the Body, there is a way to integrate a sex offender. Jesus was not afraid of lepers because he had the means to cure them, cleanse them, help them become clean again. So. Do. We.

The Apostle goes on – be sexually pure. How can the community thrive if people are afraid that their homes are not safe? That the impurity that so defines how the World interacts will bring itself into the Church.

Finally, he warns against loving money. The destroyer of so many communities. Introduce money to something that just watch the community struggle. Greed that knows no limits. It has even become theologized in the church. As though capitalism is the way of God. Saints, it’s just an economic theory. If we love money more than each other, the Stranger, the prisoner, the suffering, our families – all that has been said in Hebrews about Christ being “so much greater” than all the angels… it’s just so many words. We make it true. We put action to it. It’s just hot air. Fancy arguments. Lovely debates – until it becomes action

What the Apostle is talking about here is action.

Doing.

Living.

This is the Kingdom of God.

Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

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September 1, 2013 · 2:16 am

Failing to thrive. In prison and everywhere else.

“Blessed is he who considers the poor.” This might also be said, “blessed is the one who cares for the weak.” Being poor is a bad thing in our paradigm. It’s a sign of failure, a sign that somehow, whether through some calamity not of their making, some character flaw that causes them to not seek to better themselves (though just what “bettering one’s self might look like is up for considerable debate), or just weak – being poor and needing help is a sign that one is failing to thrive.

When I worked on the mother/baby ward during my year of CPE, there were babies whose diagnosis was “failure to thrive.” It seemed to me to be something of a catch all for babies that just struggled to make it, struggled to gain weight, struggled for life. In any other world, they would have just died but through the amazing advances in medical technology, nutrition, and medicine, they are able sometimes to recover and thrive.

I wonder what “failure to thrive” might look like in prison?

I wonder what “failure to thrive” might look like in a marriage?

In a professional career?

In a one’s personal life etc.?

The psalmist in Ps. 41 declares that the one who considers that one who is “failing to thrive” is blessed! The one writing the psalm is so sick, so in need that they seem despairing of their life. This psalm is often identified as a prayer of individual thanksgiving but it reads more as a plea for help. The prayer comes from one so sick that his continued survival is in jeopardy.  Reading the Psalm makes me wonder if the writer is so sick they are getting a little paranoid?

If the writer is David, it would have been written during a time in his life that he was running. Running from Saul, running from his past, running from death which is always nipping at his heals. David, in the story of his running, takes huge risks. He takes on huge responsibilities, does things that one the one hand are courageous and on the other, frankly stupid. He struggles as I have experienced America’s warrior struggling, with life.

Listen to what his enemies say:

I said, “Have mercy on me, Lord;
heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
My enemies say of me in malice,
“When will he die and his name perish?”
When one of them comes to see me,
he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander;
then he goes out and spreads it around.

All my enemies whisper together against me;
they imagine the worst for me, saying,
“A vile disease has afflicted him;
he will never get up from the place where he lies.”
Even my close friend,
someone I trusted,
one who shared my bread,
has turned[b] against me.

Ever feels like someone is just waiting for you to die? Waiting for you to fail? Waiting for you to struggle, fall, give up? Ever feel like there are those around you whispering about you? Imagining the worst for you? A close friend, someone you trusted, your spouse, your loved one, your confidant – turned against you? Just when you needed them the most, just when it would have been so important for them to stand by you – they walk away, leave you in your failure to thrive?

Ever feel like this might be God?

Have you ever felt like the old Yiddish proverb, “Thou hast chosen us from among the nations – what , O Lord, did you have against us?”

I believe that it is reasonable to feel this way in chaos. If you experienced this, are experiencing this, or are wondering if your feelings about this in the time of your struggle are valid, I can say emphatically that I’ve been down that road myself and they are valid.

Saints, what holds the Psalmist together here is the confidence that they are acting in integrity. They are doing what is right. Though around them is scandal and pain – they are confident that this too shall pass and moving to a place of integrity will carry them through.

“You shall know the truth,

And the truth will set you free.” – Jesus

I read this as a promise that when we get honest with ourselves and move to a place of integrity, we will experience true freedom. It will hurt, it will be painful, it might even give those who have spoken against you cause to triumph but know that in the long run you are better, you are healthier, you are stronger because you no longer care what they say about you! You are no longer dependant on “them” for affirmation and strength. Your day is your responsibility! Your health is your responsibility! YOU are your responsibility!

How freeing would it be for verses 5-9 to not even matter?

Blessed is he who takes care of the weak.”  Once we have cared for ourselves, we can care for others. It is given to us to be authentic, be real, get to the truth and acting with integrity  – then, when we care for others, we do so from a place of love.

I wonder what world’s view of the church would be if, instead of lashing out against perceived ills and confessing grandly the sins of others, we got real with ourselves and spent our energy on what we could control , namely “considering the weak?”

Luke 10:Jesus stood in a field. Around him were his disciples and among them were the “72.” These were disciples that had gone out to spread the news of the coming kingdom. They had returned and were ecstatic! They were bubbling with news of what they had seen and experienced. With joy they relayed what they had seen. A crowd gathered.

Lord! Even the demons are subject to us in your name!” Jesus smiled and replied that he had seen Satan fall from heaven and that he had given them power to tread on serpents and scorpions – over all the power of the enemy. The crowd around Jesus were in awe of the stories they heard.

Of course, not everyone was all that impressed. Some were quite cynical. Cynicism always follows the miraculous. As is should with reasonable people. Doubt can be a good thing.

Jesus praises God –  “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

He then says to his disciples quietly (but remember, people are quite close so they can hear), “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!  For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” Jesus says to his uneducated, unlearned, unread, unstudied grubby, blue-collar, emotions-bleed-all-over-the-place disciples that they are seeing things that many prophets begged God to see and did not. Things that kings, in all their power and wealth could not see – something that might be just a little annoying to someone standing close by, a lawyer, a theologian, a learned and holy man.

He jumps to his feet and challenges Jesus. “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Immediately, all the air is sucked out of the space. It gets silent. People look to see how Jesus is going to respond to this challenge.

In the ancient Mediterranean world, questions are rarely perceived as requests for information. They are almost always viewed with suspicion as a challenge to personal honor. The hope is that the person who is asking the question will not know the answer and be shamed by ignorance. This is absolutely the case since Luke points out that the intent of the questions is to “test” Jesus.

Here, Jesus responds (as he does in other passages) by insulting the questioner back. Jesus asks the lawyer – a man who has spent his entire life becoming an expert in the law, a specialist in the Torah ,the written Word of God – “well, how do you read?”

What we have here is what is affectionately referred to in my military career as a “sharpshooter.” It’s that Soldier who knows Army Regulations and Field Manuals from back to front. They can quote paragraph and line number to contradict whatever point you are making and they do it in such a way as to make a fool out of you and make themselves look good. If they outrank me, I ignore them or say something like, “thanks for your input Sir. That is a good point.” Or if it’s not going to be disrespectful, I just call it out. “Help me understand why you needed to make that point???” Awkward silence ensues.

Jesus calls him out. “Ok smarty pants, how do you read it?”

The Lawyer, now on the spot, regurgitates the catechism answer. He quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18 thereby revealing that he knew the answer all along. He question wasn’t just a test of Jesus, it was a lie. He pretended to be ignorant though he wasn’t. Instead of shaming Jesus, the lawyer shames himself and Jesus emerges – once again – as the honorable victor in the contest. I can see the gentle (and maybe a just a little condescending, trying not to laugh because the disciples are chortling off to the side) smile as Jesus answers, “You have answered correctly, do this and live.” By now, people are laughing out loud. The lawyer needs to save face. He retorts, “Ok, then, who is my neighbor?”

Now that is a good question. Its really the question. No one argues the point that God requires us to help the “other” what we argue about is just who the “other” is and how much help we have to give them. We don’t argue about the need to holiness, but oh the legalese that comes out when we get into just what that look like and who gets to say what holiness is. Soooo, yeeahhh…

Jesus tells a story.

“There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

 “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

It’s a parable in 7 scenes.

Scene 1 – Robbers strip their victim and leave him for dead. Now, no one can identify his ethnicity. This is important. Remember, this is a small place. Everyone looks the same. You distinguish your tribe, money, status by your clothing but now, that’s all gone. Helping this guy carries a risk. No one knows anything about him. If I help him, what does that say about me? What might others say about me, what might I be risking, I don’t know his charges, I don’t know his preferences, I don’t know if he’s weird or not, I don’t know if he can help me back – I just don’t know!!

Scene 2 – The priest comes, riding his donkey which highlights his own status as an elite. He sees the victim and ponders helping him. If the victim is dead or is a non-Judean, he runs the risk of defiling himself by helping him. Then, he would have to return to Jerusalem in shame in front of those for whom he had just performed, gloriously, his priestly duties! His shame stemming from the reality that now, he would have to seek purification rites. The risk is too great and who has the time for all that. No one will even know he didn’t help the “other.” Note: Sirach 12:1-7

Scene 3 – The Levite comes. He might have come a little closer to examine the victim since the road was not straight and it’s possible he even saw the priest pass by before. If the priest did not give first aid, why should the Levite? I mean, if someone else ignores the plight of the weak, should I put myself out there? This would be a challenge to the priest, an insult, and God forbid I insult a preacher! Moreover, if the victim lived in Shechem, that would make him a Samaritan and we all know what that would do to my rep! The Levite passes on.

Scene 4 – The Samaritan shows up. We talked last week all about how Samaritans (Northern Jews) were viewed by Southern Judeans. The fact that Jesus highlights this is shocking and controversial in this tale. Allow me to demonstrate. What if we read the story as this, “the Preacher passed by, not wanting to get his suite dirty – what if the man was a criminal or an addict?? He clearly has nothing for me. The deacon passed by, the director of the men’s ministry who has been a Christian all his life and always is there first thing on Sunday morning in his best three-piece praising God with practiced hand motions. Can speak tongues on command. This guy saw the preacher pass by and thought better of putting that guy into his car. After all, he had another marriage retreat to plan for. Then, an atheist comes. A person unwelcome in their church comes upon the man in the street. He is filled with compassion and reaches out to help.

Scandal.

Scene 5 – The Samaritan offers first aid (wine, oil and bandages), which the Levite could have done but neglected to do. This is risky. The victim could hate him once he regained consciousness since, after all, he was being treated with Samarian wine and oil – impurity. In this story, the Samaritan is “damned if he does and damned if his doesn’t.”

Scene 6 – The Samaritan does what the priest could have done but didn’t: he places the victim on his own animal (by the way, very, very risky – who knows if the robbers are not close by) and takes him to an inn and continues to care for him.

Scene 7 – Finally, the Samaritan, in contrast to the Robbers leaves money and promises to pay what else would be needed in the care of the victim. This is perhaps the most risky part of the story – if the robbers find out that this guy has a soft heart and helped a witness who was supposed to die (tying up loose ends right?) they might come for the Samaritan and his family. Or, if the victim survives, he might rage at the Samaritan for helping him. I cannot express effectively how much these two groups hated one another. Purity matters. Read Leviticus.

The story is not lost on the lawyer. Red with shame and anger, he cannot even bring himself to utter the word, “Samaritan”  when Jesus asks, “Which of the three became a neighbor to the victim?” The lawyer’s question was, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus question was, “To whom must you become a neighbor.” The obvious answer is anyone and everyone in need.

The victim is laying on the ground like the psalmist, failing to thrive, his life passing before him. Naked, his exposed skin (his shame) feels every pain and agony on that ground. He sees his commander, his NCO come near him. At last!! They will help me!! Then they pass by. He sees his Chaplain come near. “He’ll help me. He has to. He’s the chaplain!” The chaplain follows the commander’s lead and passes by on the other side. Then, in shame, he goes to prison. He deepest, darkest secrets known to the world. His career gone. His family gone. His success gone. He is failing to thrive when an inmate, a sex offender, reaches out to him and says, “come, be healed.”

Oh saints!! What stops up from helping? What stops us from healing? What stops us from receiving the blessing of God for “considering the weak?” What keeps up from becoming the neighbor of those who need us? Is it pride? Anger? Is it others? Men of God, this will never go away. You will not get some special dispensation from God once you leave here to help others. There will ALWAYS be a good reason to not help. There will always be a good reason, a solid justification why you can’t “get your hands dirty” if you will not help now, if you will not be a part of God’s healing in someone’s life here, when will you?

When will you?

 

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