Forgive and Remember…A Christmas Message.

 

Sometimes I wonder what we would do without Christmas. I don’t mean this in the ‘What if Jesus never came into our world,” sense, but in the way in which Christmas is a time of forgiving and forgetting. Feuds, both silly and serious will be forgotten and relationships patched up by people that simply cannot resist a softened heart at this “most wonderful time of the year.” Without these wonderful Christmas miracles, the feuds would fester and burn year after year.

People will swear that they won’t attend a Christmas event because of so-and-so, and then they give in, and peace is made, or the feud and hurt are simply forgotten.

I myself have had this experience, swearing to avoid a situation where I feared being ridiculed again, and at the last minute letting loose of a stubborn grudge. In doing so, I found myself surrounded by those warm feelings that we seem to save up for Christmas.

Still, not all people will participate in “Good will toward all men,” this Christmas. Some feuds will continue, some grudges held. In every case, it will be because we will find it impossible to forgive, and the reason will be the conclusion that the other person(s) doesn’t deserve forgiveness. At the very worst of it, people will either believe that they don’t deserve the bad feelings directed at them (or refuse to accept their part) or that one believes that the other needs to come to them to beg forgiveness.

It is difficult to forgive and forget. Difficult indeed.

Recently, I had the good fortune of listening to a sermon on this matter by Bishop Clifton Daniel of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.

The Bishop provided me with a new way to look at things. I have thought about it quite a lot since then, and I am grateful to him; and so I wrap his thoughts and mine together, and offer them to you.

Basically, the Bishop says that we are not always able to forgive and forget. Although we have some terrific models for this, we generally are not able to get all the way there.

One example was Pearl Harbor. The hatred for Japan seems to have dissipated and now the U.S. and Japan are friendly. Nelson Mandela seemingly forgave his jailers to the point that he could provide leadership to exercise “truth and reconciliation,” to a once divided country.

The Bishop also uses the Bea Arthur character in the TV show Maude, and her constant pronouncement “I can forgive, but I can’t forget.”

What is the stumbling block? Why is it that for some, that they can never get past the hurt?

This is the help that the Bishop offers, and it is so obvious that it is brilliant.

First, consider that this always occurs in a broken relationship. Imagine any relationship between two people and you can identify what is at the center of it. It may be two friends that simply find humor in the same things, or two people that share a common spirituality. It might be the family connection of siblings, or parent to child. It could be husband to wife, or between co-workers. It doesn’t take much thought or imagination to see and name what was once at the center of that relationship.

And then something violent occurs. Someone steps out of a relationship, or tells a lie, or insults or steals or is just plain thoughtless. A wound is made. A deep cut that is undeserved. Isn’t the sense of undeserved pain always the cause of the wound? Can’t we always say “I didn’t deserve that!”

And so where we once had placed love or admiration in the center of a relationship we now place the wound. It’s like a rock the Bishop says. Perhaps it’s like a burning coal. A burning coal that burns on because we provide it with plenty of oxygen. The bellows of “I didn’t deserve that,” keep it a red hot and searing wound. It continues for as long as we wait for the guilty party on the other side to make things right, while we stand in our own righteousness with our arms folded across our chest.

This is what the Bishop tells me what I must do. Not them, me.

Take the wound and move it out of the center of our broken relationship. It is still there, you can’t forget it. But you can move it out of the center, and by doing so we can see what truly belongs in the center. It is the love or admiration that we once had for our friend, daughter, co-worker, girlfriend, mother, brother, neighbor, pastor, father…whoever. It’s up us me to do that, with the hope, but not the expectation, that they will do the same.

It’s about our own act of forgiving, with the knowledge that we won’t completely and entirely forget. Still, you have created a pathway to remembering the wound less. With the wound removed from being between you, all of the good stuff that was once there can become visible, can resurface, once again.

The Bishop seems to know that for me, I can accept a change only if the new thought or idea has a spiritual component.

He reminded me that when the resurrected Jesus came back to see His friends, he had already forgiven them.

Had Jesus forgotten the pain? When he reappeared in His resurrected body, it was complete with wounds at his hands and feet and side.

But He had removed them from the center of the relationship.

 

Thanks Bishop.

Imagine

 

Imagine that you are a father. Imagine further that on a certain day, your son comes to you with the happy news that he has found love, and he plans to marry. I have had that situation in my life, I don’t have to imagine it . It is a great day for a father.

As the story continues, imagine that your son bestows a great honor on you. He asks his father, a Methodist pastor, to perform the wedding ceremony.

It shouldn’t be hard to imagine this double measure of joy.

Is there any way in which you would not quickly begin making plans for this doubly big day?

Now imagine that it is nearly seven years into the future. Somewhere, a person, doing what he believes is right in the eyes of God and His Church, decides to alert the church authorities that a rule has been broken. A person with no personal stake in the matter decides that it is warranted to report that the young man in love, is in love with another man.

For the father, this was apparently of no import at all. I can see it that way, easily. If God is love, then the Creator creates and bestows love as He wills it. Note that it is as He wills it, not us. It is beyond my imagining that the young man  is confused in thinking that what he feels is love. We know love in ways that we can only feel, and have difficulty in describing. But we know it.

By that love the young man chooses to share his life with another. The father blesses the union.

The issue now becomes a church legal matter. The church has made rules, the pastor has broken one. It is no longer about love. No one interviews the couple to see if they love each other. Love suddenly fails to matter. The commandment of Jesus to “love one another,” stands in the shadow of the rule.

That rule is the same in many churches, or at least it was until reason entered.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” they say. A church rule undoubtedly supported by Fundamentalist Heterosexuals, with no stake in the matter.

I can understand that the Methodist church has to make a ruling, now that the “concerned Methodist” has brought it up. I further understand that the church must conclude that indeed their rule was broken. The Pastor should admit to it, because he did it, and willingly. It also provides the opportunity for folks to speak to the rule.

Before you trot out the Bible verses that we all know that can back up the “one man to one woman” mantra, I will ask you to use your imagination.

What do you imagine the church fathers should do now? What do we do when the presence of love in our world seems to fly in the face of our church rules?

Rev. Frank Schaeffer doesn’t have to imagine any of this. It is his present reality. Here are some of his words.

“I didn’t do this to make a rebellious statement against the church,” Rev. Frank Schaefer said on Friday, reflecting on the action taken by a United Methodist Church jury of fellow pastors that last week sentenced him to a 30-day suspension after convicting him of violating church law for having officiated over his son’s same-sex wedding in 2007. At the end of the 30-day period, the Lebanon, Penn., pastor will be defrocked unless he renounces same-sex marriage, including his own son’s marriage.

In a few weeks, the church will have to make a decision. I feel confident that this decision will have to be made in light of the fact that Rev. Schaeffer will continue to chose love and reason… over the rules.

Can you imagine what the world becomes if the church decides that by this one act, Frank is no longer called to serve God and His Church and His people?

I can’t imagine being silent about this. I will find my way to say as a Christian father that I can only admire the reverend for this act of love and bravery. I will be heard, even if it is in some small way.

I can imagine that the church will have a difficult time looking at the rule and listening to the voices of those that want “justice”.

None of us sinners should be asking God to reign justice on us. We live in,and by, His mercy. That is the demonstration of His love for us.

Imagine that.

Many Mansions.

 

Somewhere in the Bible, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house, there are many mansions”.

I visited such a mansion last night. To some, it may not seem like a mansion at all. In point of fact, it is a row house in Phoenixville that is a bit ramshackle. By name, it is the Good Samaritan Shelter…http://www.goodsamshelter.org/

It is a mansion nonetheless. Sitting in the warm and comfortable living room with some friends that are current residents, we share and discuss the Bible. As it is Thanksgiving Eve, we begin to discuss all that we have to be thankful for me. My own list is pretty long, I am a lucky and blessed guy.

For the others, they offer thanks for one single thing. This shelter, their home.

One by one, they talk about where they have been, and how this place where we now sit and talk is testimony to God’s love for all. They smile, and look toward the kitchen as they talk about the huge pile of Thanksgiving food provided for them, all from the generosity of strangers.

There is some talk about previous Thanksgivings, including one tale where a fellow describes himself as being like George Washington, having spent a winter in Valley Forge. Unlike George, he spent his winter under a bridge.

In the midst of this genuine expression of gratitude, we all are mindful that we have it better than many do, and need to care for them, as we are able.

One gentlemen remarks that in this place, he doesn’t always see himself as “less than”.

As I count my blessings today, I am thankful for the providence of being led here, and being accepted by these new friends. I am grateful for the opportunity to be reminded that what may seem like a “homeless shelter for men” to some, is, in fact a mansion, which I am humbled to welcomed in.

I am doing my best to share this story,so that you can feel what I feel, but I don’t know how to write the words that describe the genuine smiles of gratitude.

There is a website above, in case you want to know more about this mansion.

Am I an Apostle Sheep, or a Lost Sheep, or a Wolf?

 

Jesus sends out the twelve, to preach to the Lost Sheep of  Israel. However, he sends them “as sheep,” and amidst the wolves.

In the world of the metaphor, who am I? Am I an Apostle sheep, or a Lost Sheep, or a Wolf?

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Wow.

In the verses just prior to this reading, Jesus is is giving instructions to the twelve. They were pretty basic. Go to the lost sheep of Israel and tell them that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

And when you’re not telling them; show them. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons:

Oh and by the way…don’t take any money. Depend on the hospitality of those who will hear your message.

For anyone that has ever preached, think about the fact that your bed and board are going to depend on your ability to preach your way into the house….

But these were simply instructions. Our reading begins with a warning.

“Behold, I send you out as sheep. We know about sheep. They are dumb, they are willing to walk into danger…they need a shepherd, they frighten and scatter easily.

In the midst of wolves. We knew about wolves, they are hungry, attacking things that move in packs. They are sneaky and dangerous.

Notice the I. Jesus takes responsibility. I am sending you…

Now comes the advice, the wise counsel.

I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. So be wise as serpents. When did Serpents become wise? In Genesis 3, when we first hear about serpents, it says: Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.

Crafty and wise. It is a fair translation to change wise to “Clever” in it’s most positive way. Crafty works.

Consider the serpent. No legs to run with, no wings to fly. All they can do is make Esses in the dirt. Not a first rate system of defense. Some have venom, most are benign in their bite.

So how does a serpent behave? He hides, he watches, out of necessity he must be cautious. Serpents don’t charge headlong into dangerous situations. Clever, Crafty, Wise.

And be innocent as doves. We know some things about doves. They share their nest, they don’t steal corn like crows. They stick with their mate and care for their young. We think of them as pure, which is why they are a fitting symbol for the Holy Spirit. Doves are also a symbol of Hope as in the story of the Flood, and a symbol of peace. Pure. Pure of heart. Above reproach.

Apostle James and Soren Kierkegaard remind us that “Purity of Heart is To Will One Thing.” Be single minded about your task to herald  the Kingdom of Heaven and be pure. So…when you go out, Don’t go out looking for trouble.

Jesus seems to be saying…

“Be shrewd as serpents… beware of men.” Don’t go out and conduct yourselves in such a way that no one would ever know that I warned you about what men will do to you. You may be sheep among wolves, but you are not to be naïve and gullible. As one commentator says, “The first wisdom of serpents is simply the prudent realization that they are amid wolves.”

So be shrewd… for the sake of the Gospel. It fascinates me when I consider how Jesus, the Great Storyteller combines these two things. To be shrewd for your self is Evil, and to be innocent is to be Foolish, or Gullible, but it is the combining of the two that makes you a suitable warrior, when you are taking the Word out amidst the wolves.

And how will you measure success? Well,  Jesus tells them, men will drag you into court, and you will be beaten. You will be placed in front of angry and anxious rulers and you will need to defend yourself.

There is not a lot of ambiguity in this new lifestyle. Jesus is giving them the grimmest outlook possible. But he also reassures them. Consider the idea of being place in front of the Governor and told to explain yourself. “What’s with all this healing and raising of the dead?” And tell me more about the “Kingdom of Heaven.” I thought what had a Kingdom going here already. You know…Caesar and all. This is a perfect opportunity to begin waffling. Think about knowing that the rest of your life is likely to be defined by your response.

I am reminded of a quote that floated around in the seventies. “If you were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict?”

Here comes the grace…Don’t worry about it. Our Father will put His words into your mouth.

And who is going to bringing you up on charges when you are out preaching and healing? Everybody. Not just the people in town, everybody is a candidate. Parents, siblings, children.

And how long do you have to do this? It’s made pretty clear that you will be betrayed to the death. At the very least…you will be hated. But the one who stands firm to the end…will be saved. You have to stick with this while you are being hated…and up until the moment of death. Salvation is given to those who endure… no matter what  comes.

Is this a Metaphor, or clear language? (As I am fond of saying…since I don’t really understand, I’ll try to explain it to you.)

I struggle here, I don’t want to be suspicious of everybody…or anybody. I still struggle with something that was said to me by a friend years ago. “You know what your problem is Dennis…you like too many people.”

For me…step one is understanding what the Gospel says and means. The second step is to see how it speaks to me, right now, today. Isn’t that the point…the timeless truth of the Gospel? So how do I see myself in the metaphor?

I first believe that I am called out, as we all are, to spread the news of the Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t feel called to raise the dead and heal the crippled. So this is easy going for me. I have no fear of being whipped, or beaten or put to jail.

Where are the wolves who need to hear the Word, but will hate and kill me for bringing it to them? Who are the wolves that I need to be wary of?

The apostles are sent out as sheep, to find the Lost Sheep. They all look alike. It is the sheep that will reject them, and the wolves that will attack them. And sometimes the lost sheep act like the wolves.

When I am out in the World, I often, but not always, get a pretty good sense of who I suspect of Wolfiness. It is the sheep that fool me. Sometimes it is clear who the Lost Sheep are. I see them in my work with the hungry and the homeless. They look just like me…but we have different circumstances.

Perhaps the wolves are closer than we think…and just as sneaky as always.

Church and family share a common characteristic. They are hard to rip apart from the outside. When someone attacks my brother or sister of the flesh, or my brother or sister in Christ, I defend them…we all do. We circle together and form a unit and keep the bad guys out. No…to destroy a family or a church community you have to do it from the inside. It is that insidious and hateful work that sneaks up on us, draws us and and we don’t recognize that we have become a part of it. It’s called Judgement…or to use the vile word that my mother taught me was the one thing I was allowed to hate…Gossip.

Little factions spring up until we find ourselves focusing on ways that we can be better or smarter or holier than someone else until we lose track of the fact we are connected through the saving Grace of God. I need to be cautious of the wolves there. They often start by impeding any progress or new thinking with the simple words. “That’s not how we used to do things here.”

I consider also the timeless call to be as innocent as doves. To be single-minded, and to know that it is not my will or words or skills that I need to worry about, it is the reminder that the words will be put into my mouth, as long as I know when to shut-up.

One final reflection about these wolves that I need to fear. This is perhaps the one I fear the most.

I was discussing the serpent and the dove with my wife at dinner. What are their characteristics? How do we know them? We talked about how the Serpent needed to hide himself, and be cautious of going out into the open.The wolves were not on my mind at that time. In my mind, in the world of that metaphor, I am a sheep.

A few minutes later the conversation changed, and she thanked me for picking up the Organic Lettuce. I had told her earlier in the day that I would be going to the grocery store, and if she needed anything, she should text me by a certain time.

When I arrived at the store I checked my phone on the way in. Nothing. So I picked up a few things, and checked out. As I was putting the bag into the car, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I got in the car, started up, and checked my phone. There was the text. Please pick up Organic Lettuce. I was already done. She had missed the deadline, I didn’t feel like going back in. I put the car in reverse and went about four feet before I stopped and thought, parked and went back into the store.

“You know I almost didn’t get it.” I said, and told her the story. “What I wanted to do was tell you that I was already driving home (which was kinda true.) “I know that you would have understood if I told you that.”

“Something like that just happened to me too.” She said. “I was in the grocery store last Sunday on the way home from Church, getting a few things for dinner.”

Now my wife always remembers, unlike me, to take her own “Save The Planet” cloth bags for shopping. “I had unloaded everything” she continued “ and had already paid. When I started to re-load, I saw an onion at the bottom of the bag that I had failed to unload and pay for. I stood there thinking…No one knows…there are people in line behind me….it’s only one lousy onion…everything is overpriced anyway…and I almost decided to steal it. But I stopped, and said ‘Hold on here” and pulled out the onion. The cashier rolled her teen-aged eyes, and she rung up one onion on a separate sale. Out comes the debit card again…

We both agreed that it is letting little things like this slide that lead us into greater problems.It’s the old slippery slope. Doing a little wrong gives permission for greater ones.

Reflecting on the story, I see myself as one of the sheep. That might be a bit pretentious, as this discussion was aimed at the Apostles, which I decidedly am not.

In a way, I am called to do as they did, but not exactly. We seem to be long past the time when believers went about raising the dead.

Am I to understand that in post-Apostolic times that all of the believers are to spread the Gospel, telling our own stories of how God moves and shapes our lives? Or, as St. Francis says….tell the Gospel with your deeds, as that will be the only sermon that some will hear.

Or do I need to only see myself as one of the Lost Sheep of Israel…waiting for the Word to be brought to me… helping me to understand.

Or a bit of both. I will leave it to you to decide what kind of sheep you are.

Still, I cannot, I should not, ignore the fact that I have to be mindful of the seemingly innocent lies. I have to be wary of accepting false prophets and watered down Gospels. Wary of believing that all of my Christian responsibilities are met, by showing up to Church once a week.

And although I don’t feel like a wolf , I know God wants me to consider it.

I’m Awake

 

I don’t want to bore you with my own life story (although I surely can), but in some ways I have been asleep since 1971. Before that I was a bit of a peace-mongering activist. Vietnam had that effect on me.

When Nixon was re-elected over the peace candidate McGovern, I was shocked. The fact that Nixon got 2/3 of the popular vote, and all of the electoral votes broke my heart. I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t accept it. So I shut down. I became an Amish-Quaker-Pacifist-Episcopalian that kept his nose out of every news source there  is. It is a way of hiding that suits me. I have been chastised and vilified for these views often enough to learn to keep them to myself. I have been called a lousy American, which I tend to agree with.

Still, I have always had a sense that I need to do my bit for others, in service to The Creator. I have looked for ways to do my part, and sometimes I actually have.

However, the belief that has kept me holding on to my old views is the the abiding sense that not only am I unable to make a difference, but that I am also unable to see the wisdom in the opposite viewpoint.

I mean Nixon by a landslide…really? I stood convinced that if you try hard and then lose so profoundly, then it’s best to just give up.

Last week I was in El Salvador. It has been since the 1980′s that I have even thought about Liberation Theology. But thanks to the organization Cristosal, and particularly to it’s Executive Director Noah Bullock, I have been kicked awake by the discovery that there just might be something I can do.

I am not saying that I have been fully extracted from my long-held beliefs, however I can state that I am no longer afraid to be made aware of the facts of injustice. I am discovering a way to to willingly contribute to working, with the belief that it just might be, in some tiny way, worthwhile.

Here is why, these words are taken directly from the website http://cristosal.org/

“A human rights-based approach understands poverty not as an accidental condition but rather, the product of a social structures in which the poor and marginalized live partially or completely outside the protection of human rights.”

And even more clearly:

“Foundation Cristosal takes a human rights-based approach to community development and poverty reduction that recognizes at its core the inherent dignity, equality and inalienable rights of every human being. This principle re-positions the poor in the development enterprise from beneficiaries of charity to citizen partners, architects and owners of their own development process.”

You can apply your own definitions to who you see as poor or marginalized. You can apply this to class poverty or to an individual.

Here are some other words, as said by Noah to me and others in a group. I will quote him as carefully as I can.

“If you try to engage with people in order to help them, without investing in their particular history, then all that you are really doing is intervening.”

Perhaps you don’t share in my big discovery. But then again maybe you are one of the many people that I know that have the sense that they would be happy to do more, or offer more, if there was some way to feel as though it would be worthwhile. Something beyond writing a check and wiping your hands.

Perhaps you feel called to missionary work that means that you need to go somewhere and build homes or a water filtration system. Or like me, you latch onto the wisdom of asking people if they are worthy of clean water in their home, and if so, how can they go about the work and process of getting it. After that you can help them in their own efforts, and stand in solidarity with them in their belief that, by virtue of their humanity, they are indeed worthy.

Walter Orantes of Cristosal asked the question, “How do you tell people that are severely marginalized that God loves and cares about them?” It is a tricky question, because you first have to have the courage to ask it. You have to believe, against all evidence, that God does indeed care for them. Then you have to feel as though that there are words that you can put together so that they will actually believe you.

I have woken up to the belief that if I, through the example of Jesus Christ, hold them as equal to all others, and if I can support their own work and efforts rather than telling them what they should do,( or worse yet, do it for them), that they will ultimately stand up for themselves in taking what they have always deserved.

In some ways it is very little different that asking a woman that has been knocked around by her husband for years, if this is what she deserves, in the eyes of God. If she re-discovers her own sense of worth and dignity, she will begin to re-claim it. Perhaps I can help her to do that.

Asking a teenager how his continued use of Oxycodone is going to help him to realize those dreams that we all have for ourselves…can be a kind of Liberation.

And that, I am learning, is doing something.

Eve and The Serpent. The Prequel

 

In a beautiful and tranquil garden, The Serpent leans casually against a tree. The woman, only a few feet away. is completely unaware of him, as she ambles along with ease, absorbing all of the beauty of the world around her. The Serpent watches her closely, as she experiences all the smells and sounds that the earth offers. The Serpent is fascinated by this apparent waste of time. So, he decides to engage this creature in conversation.

PSST. .”Hey. What are you?”

The Woman looks around. “Me? I’m a little hungry, what are you?”

“No..I mean what are you?”

“Well, I guess I’m a little tired too. I walk around here a lot. There’s not a lot else to do.”

The Serpent rolls his eyes. “No,…I mean WHAT are you? You know, like I’m a serpent, and that thing on your face is a mosquito.”

The Woman swats the mosquito away. “I think that it likes me. It always seems to be around. But, I do enjoy the company. It doesn’t say much though. Kind of like Adam.”

“Adam? What is an Adam?”

“He is my owner….or something like that. He was here before I was anyway. He tells me that all the time. He says that before i got here there wasn’t a lot of chit chat.”

“What is a chit chat?”

“I’m not sure really, but I think they got here the same time that I did.”

“So you have two bosses?”

“I think so. The Maker and Adam. The Maker isn’t bossy like Adam though.”

“How so?”

“I don’t see The Maker very much. When I do, he just smiles a lot. But Adam always makes me do things. Labor, he calls it.”

“Like what?”

“You know, bossy stuff like, ‘peel this banana’, or ‘cover my poop’. Sometimes it’s messier like ‘butcher this Yak’. It’s usually pretty easy stuff, but he makes me do it. He says that The Maker wants it that way. Before i came, he had to do all that stuff by himself. So, he got a helper, which is me.”

“So, is Adam that big dude that only walks on two legs?”

“Yeah. You must have seen him. He’s kinda hunky. I don’t get the hair thing though. All the other creatures I see around here have hair either everywhere or nowhere. He just has patches of it. Except for his back, which is covered like his face.”

The Serpent tries anew. “So anyway, what are you?”

“I’m a little hungry, I guess.”

The Serpent sighs….”No! WHAT are you?”

“Now you sound like Adam. I can hear you just fine without hollering.”

The Serpent tries a new tactic. “Look…I am a Serpent. What are you?”

Silence….followed by…

“I’m a little tired I guess, we usually nap around this time. You know, the cool of the day. See you later Serpent.”

Eve begins to walk off, but looks down to see The Serpent sidling next to her.

“Let me try this again, it seems as though we got off to a bad start.”

The Serpent clears his throat. “I haven’t seen you around the garden before. I have seen lots of other creatures, but none so beautiful as you. What kind of a creature are you? I am a Serpent. You are a…?”

Eve is thoughtful. “Oh I get it. Sorry, I was having a blonde moment. I am a chit chat. Or maybe I am a Helper. Anyway, that’s what Adam says.”

The Serpent sighs, then lights up when a new idea occurs. “What is Adam…what kind of creature is he?”

“A Serpent?”

“No….I’m a serpent, does he look like me?”

“No. He looks more like me than you do, except in a few spots, which he refers to as my hubba-hubbas.”

OK…what does The Maker call him?

“Adam…you know like ‘Man’.”

“And what does he call you?”

“Well, sometimes precious, or sweetie. I get darling a lot, but then again I have only been here for about eleven sunsets.”

“So Adam is a man and you are a precious?”

“No silly, I am a wo-man. You know, since I came out of a man.”

“Out of?”

“When did you get here Serpent? The Maker made the garden, then he made all you guys, then he made Adam, then me. I’m the newest around here. Adam told me all this. For a guy with a protruding forehead, he sure seems to know a lot.”

“How did you come out of him?”

“Oh yeah. Adam went to sleep; He pulled out one of his bones, and made me out of it.”

“You buying that story?”

“What story?”

“Since Adam got here first, then he gets to make all the decisions, like what you eat and who covers the poop?”

“Well, I’m kinda new around here, but it makes sense to me. I’m fine with it.”

The Serpent, not getting the reaction that he hoped for, says, “Maybe we should talk about this some more.”

“OK. I’ll ask Adam about it, and then you and I can talk.”

“You and me.”

“Oh…sorry, this language thing can be persplecting.”

The Serpent sighs.

“Hey, how come you talk so good? None of the other creatures talk to me at all, and I have tried, I’ll tell you.”

“Let’s just say…I have a friend that is interested in my um…communication skills. Anyway, do me a favor wo-man. Don’t talk to Adam about you and me just yet. Let’s see what we can figure out on our own. And by the way, I love how you chit-chat. Let’s do this again. say…tomorrow?”

“OK. If I’m not busy helping.”

As Eve disappears into the garden The Serpent smiles slyly, but then mutters to himself. “This might be harder than I thought.”

And the very next day…

“Hellooo there Chit Chat.”

“Oh, Hello! Hey, I checked with Adam. My name is Eve, and I am a human.”

“You didn’t tell him about us did you?”

“Nah, he barely listens anyway. I just told him I was curious. He said The Maker named me the mother of all life, but I am not getting what that means exactly.”

“He didn’t tell you about, you know, sex?”

“Not that I recall. Sex?”

The Serpent smiles slyly and turns away. “I gotta run, but we can talk about it tomorrow.”

The Serpent slithers away, his head held as high as he can manage. As he leaves, he can hear Eve muttering something about men never wanting to talk to her.

The next day, Eve, is walking around their regular meeting spot, where the cool breeze comes off of the brook. She is humming a tune which will one day be known as “Oh Susanna.”

After a while, she spies The Serpent, head up, leaning against a rock, with a fashionably shaped scarf around his neck, fashioned from passion flower vines. He has rolled up some leaves which will one day be known as tobacco. It is his cough as he exhales that gets her attention.

“Hey gorgeous.” says the very cool looking serpent.

“Oh hi! Guess what? Adam brought up sex last night. He used some other name for it.”

“What was that?”

“Wifely duty, he calls it”

“Didn’t he talk about the fun, the big wow of it?”

“What fun?”

“Fun for you doll. Big fun indeed.”

“I guess I missed that.”

“Men”, says The Serpent in mock disgust. The subtlety is lost on Eve.

“Aren’t you a man sort of, you know, like Adam?”

“You know it baby. All man. Well, male actually.”

“You know, you told me what you are, but you never told me your name.”

“Oh, I have many names,” says The Serpent, sidling up to Eve, grazing against one of her upper hubba-hubbas. “But what I like to say is, ‘Pleased to meet you, won’t you guess my name.’” That will be big one day, really big, he tells her. “Sex is fun Eve my lovely, and I would be happy to show you how.”

Eve looks The Serpent up and down, and says, “I’m not sure how that would work for you and me…except for the obvious, which is disgusting.” She moves away slightly.

The Serpent is disappointed that he hadn’t thought the obvious anatomy differences through further. He had focused too much on his “bad boy” look.

“I think that ‘wifely duty’ means that it supposed to be between just me and Adam anyway.”

“Adam and me.”

“Whatever.”

“Why is that, does he own you? Have you no life of your own? No independent spirit? No adventure? I could take you places that he never dreamed of. And why shouldn’t you enjoy all that there is?”

“Well, The Maker says….”

“The Serpent interrupts. The Maker? Are you telling me that The Maker denies you a good time? What else is he keeping from you?”

“Just a few things, he says it’s for my own good.”

The Serpent chuckles. “You buying that?”

“Well, he really is very sweet. Plus he says that he never lies. I didn’t know what lies were until he explained that I might meet a guy that makes all the bad stuff sound good, and that he is a trickster and that I should be careful who I…”

The Serpent interrupts, “That Maker, he promises everything, but then he squeezes the fun out of things.”

“No really, do you know him? He is super-nice. He says it’s all for I and Adam…”

“Adam and me.”

“Whatever. He says it’s all for us, and there are just a few little things that could make trouble for us.”

“What, the fun things?”

The Serpent slithers back to Eve, trailing up her back and around her arm. She makes a small cooing sound as he does so.

“I better not.” She can feel hot breath on her neck as she says it.

Eve pulls away.

“I remember why. He says we are one flesh, and I am supposed to cleave. That’s it! Plus it would hurt Adam’s feelings if he knew.”

“I’m not going to tell him….”

“No, but thanks anyway,” says Eve as she bites into a succulent peach that suddenly  appears and is hanging before her face. Mmmmm I love these.

Off goes The Serpent, into the forest, muttering “This is going to be harder than I thought.” as he goes.

“See you tomorrow?” calls Eve. She cannot see The Serpent, but sees the long grass shaking in his trail.

“Maybe.” he says. “I might need a few days to work on some things.”

“Okay,” says Eve sweetly. She picks a peach for Adam as she heads back to their hut.

A few days later…

The Serpent looks dejected, sitting on the shaded section of a flat rock. Eve walks cheerily into the garden.

“Well hello there Serpent! It’s been six sunrises since I have seen you. Is everything OK?”

“I’ve been doing a lot of plotting…er, I mean thinking.”

“Are you troubled, vexed?”

“A bit. Some things are harder than they should be.”

“You know what I do when I’m a little troubled? I talk to Adam; and sometimes to The Maker. He always has good suggestions. And he’s so nice!”

The Serpent groans quietly. An idea comes to The Serpent… he sits up.

“Why do you go to them when you have questions?”

“Well The Maker seems to know everything; and Adam was here before me, so he must know things that I don’t.”

“Well, maybe he does.”

“Plus, I don’t like to do anything without consulting Adam. He’s the man of the hut.”

“Does that mean he knows more than you?”

“He seems to. He is the man after all.”

“Okay I get it; he’s the man of the house. But it doesn’t seem fair to me”

“What do you mean by fair?”

“Well, you came from him you say, so you must be the same as him. But he bosses you around, gives you chores, and tells you what to do.”

The Serpent pauses, watching Eve to see if she is catching on.

“And…is that fair?” He finally asks her.

“What do you mean by fair?”

“Aren’t you two equal? Or is he better?”

“I wouldn’t say better.”

“Then why is he in charge?”

“Cause he’s the man….and that’s the way it has been always.”

“For how long?”

“Many sunrises.”

“So that means that you will be the boss of whoever comes next?”

“Who is coming?”

“Geez. Think hypothetically! If Adam is in charge of you, then you should be in charge of the person that comes next. Right?”

“I don’t think that’s what The Maker had in mind.”

“Who told you that?”

“Adam.”

“Hmmm…”

“Hmmm what? “

“Maybe Adam and The Maker made a deal, to keep you doing the chores.”

“I don’t mind the chores…so much.”

“Does Adam do chores?”

“Oh yes, he kills the food. After that he always tells me what he named it, and then leaves it there for me to take care of.”

“Take care of?”

“You know, get rid of the innards, cut it up, cook it, feed Adam, and clean up.”

“Maybe Adam could do that once in a while.”

“He says that he doesn’t do women’s work.”

“And who said it was women’s work?”

“I told you, Adam and The Maker.”

“Do you like to kill the food?”

“I wouldn’t mind, but he won’t show me how. But I do like picking the fruit and carrying it home.”

“Adam doesn’t help with that? Oh…I forgot, women’s work. Eve my dear, I think that you are sweet, and beautiful; but perhaps a little naive. Don’t you see my dear? Adam won’t teach you how to kill, because when you figure out that he is taking advantage of you as a helper, you might kill him. That’s because if you killed him, The Maker would put you in charge, and make a helper for you.”

“I would never kill Adam. That would be mean, and wrong.”

“Well then, just go and tell him that you deserve to be in charge, at least half the time.”

“He’d kill me!”

“That’s my point sweetlips.”

“No, no he wouldn’t really kill me…would he?”

“You never know with men.”

“You know Serpent; you have made me think about this differently. You certainly are a clever one.”

The Serpent looks away and smiles broadly. “Progress” he says, as he and Eve go their separate ways.

The very next day…

“There you are!” says Eve.

The Serpent smiles a sly smile of apprehension.

“You know…I would never kill Adam! He’s a cutie.”

“But…does he have your best interest at heart?”

“He does, he says that we are equal, we just have different roles.”

“You didn’t tell him that we have been chatting did you?”

“No…but he suspects. He says that I seem to have different notions.”

“What does that have to do with me…with us?”

“Well, the Maker says that I should listen to your words carefully.”

“The Maker? You told The Maker about us.”

“Not exactly, but he seemed to know. He’s pretty sharp, Serpent.”

“Don’t I know it.”

“Look. Things are perfect here. We have everything we need…and it’s all just handed to us. Why would I disturb that and do something silly like wasting Adam?”

“Wasting?”

“That’s Adam’s word. He says it will be big one day. Look Serpent, Adam reminded me that we only kill what we need to eat. Anything else is wrong.”

“Well, as long as you’re happy with The Maker calling all the shots, then go right ahead with that kind of thinking.”

“But we have everything we want. All we have to do is be kind, and to avoid one little tree”

“One little tree?”

“Yeah…you know the one.”

“I don’t know that one. Tell me about it.”

“The tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

“That doesn’t sound little to me. That sounds like a biggie.”

“Does it?”

“Well Eve, let’s think about it. You tell me that everything is perfect here, except that you are to take orders from both The Maker and Adam. Also, Adam seems to give you all of the heavy lifting to do, just by calling it “women’s work.”

Then there is your friend The Maker. He tells you that he made everything just for you, and now you are telling me that there is one tree that he keeps all to himself. And more importantly, you seem to be falling for his nice guy act, and that’s why you miss the point.”

“What point?”

The Serpent pauses to concentrate. Hey senses victory, finally.

“What did you say the tree was called again?”

“Um….the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

“And that’s the one that is forbidden?”

“Yep. But that’s the only one….all of the other trees and their fruit are…”

“Wise up Eve.”

“What?”

“Look, you are as smart as Adam, maybe smarter, and The Maker knows it. As long as he keeps you away from his special tree, he gets to keep you in second place. “

“But Serpent, really. Look how beautiful all of this is. Look at all of the beautiful fruits and flowers!”

“Eye candy. That’s all it is Eve. Wake up to the fact that he is treating you like a child, and Adam seems to be in on it.”

“I have it all…except for one teeny thing.”

“The one thing you say. The one thing indeed. You have it all…except for the most important thing. Wisdom. Wisdom unlocks all of the doors Eve. I hate to be the one that ruins things for you, but I just can’t keep the truth from a friend. “

“I don’t know Serpent, I really don’t.”

“You’re not scared are you?”

“A little.”

I thought so, The Maker is counting on you being afraid is my guess.

“Can I ask you something Serpent?”

“Sure, luv.”

“Why don’t you eat the fruit of that tree?”

“I guess I could, but it’s no big deal for me…and the rest of the creatures. It was only forbidden for you and Adam, right?”

“That’s what I understand.”

“One more thing Eve. The Maker, does he like you to have adventures?”

“Yeah, I believe he does.”

“And he gave you the whole garden to roam around in?”

“The whole thing?”

“All of it.”

“Except for one tree.”

“Do you think maybe that The Maker is challenging you? Inspiring you to have it all, to be just like him….but you have to earn it?”

“I think so! I am going to go find Adam and discuss all of this with him.”

“I wouldn’t bother. I don’t think that he would get it. I think that this is a place where you claim leadership, because you’re just a little smarter about these things.”

“You really think so Serpent?”

“It’s obvious to me.”

“I’ll tell you what. Meet me by The Tree tomorrow. Tonight, keep it to yourself and think about how great all of the rest of your days will be, when you have all knowledge and wisdom.”

“But I want to be a kind ruler Serpent. I don’t want to leave Adam behind.”

“You are so sweet and thoughtful Eve. Okay, meet me after another sunrise, and bring Adam if you want to.”

“I will! This is going to be exciting!”

“You can’t possibly imagine Eve.”

“Bye Serpent!”

As The Serpent slithered through the grass, a faint and wicked laugh flowed from his lips, followed by the words…”You can’t possibly imagine, Eve.”

All in all, it was much harder than The Serpent imagined. As he slunk along, he thought to himself that the truly good people were going to be lot harder to turn…but worth it.

Of Confederate Flags and Hardened Hearts.

 

The sermon was about the power, and the impact of a once-hardened heart… now melted. The model for this is good old Paul, formerly of Tarsus, formerly named Saul.

Saul was a Super-Jew and an enemy of those folks that were following the new notion of a risen Jesus. They called themselves “The Way”

To refresh you, Saul was walking down the road to Damascus, minding everybody else’s business, when the risen Lord came to him in a vision, with a question. The question, in modern vernacular was, “Why are you messing with me?”

After a few days of Jesus-imposed blindness, Saul’s eyes were reopened; to see the power of our risen Lord. Saul became Paul, and he immediately knocked off the persecution of Christians, and became the guy that brought the Good News to the whole world outside of Jerusalem.

It was the power of this hardened heart…now melted, that founded a church.

This message of how absolute forgiveness can inspire us to march in His name reminded me of my own life and struggles. But as I listened, my thoughts went to a young friend of mine.

He is only fifteen. A nice young man, and is surrounded by loving family. I have gotten to know him because there is a hole in his life where a father should be; he lost his dad at age four. He is thoughtful and kind and very open. And he wears a confederate belt buckle.

I personally have nothing against yearning for the Old South, but that is not why a fifteen year old white suburban kid sports the confederate flag on his person. It is a statement, and it is born in bigotry and hate. It is not subtle.

“Why do you wear a confederate flag belt buckle?” I asked him.

“I just like it.” he replied sheepishly.

“Bullshit.” I said, un-sheepishly.

We talked about this for a while, and he explained how he had every right to wear it, because of the black kids that picked on him. As you may recall, telling adolescent people what they should believe in is a fools errand, ripe for rebellion. Still, he was willing to discuss it.

I suggested that he consider Brother Martin’s words that we judge others by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. I hoped that he could see that the actions of a few don’t fairly apply to all.

“Who made you?” I inquired.

“God.” he said.

“Who made those kids?”

“God.” he replied, with a slight hesitation.

“Then if God made you both, aren’t you brothers, in a way?”

No response.

I was thinking more about him and his belt buckle as the sermon ended and my week began. I worried about the effect on him as man, if his heart had become so hardened by age fifteen.

A day passed. We sat in my living room, and I put on the movie American History X. If you don’t know it, it is a modern story about little American minds hating other Americans. It is also a powerful story about a once-hardened heart…now melted. The strongest message though, is that when we hate, we teach others to hate, and the residue can be devastating.

I asked him to watch it with me, and to consider his belt buckle as he did so.

I watched him cringe and move uncomfortably at all of the right scenes. We didn’t discuss it afterward; I was just hoping that he would consider the message.

On the drive home, I noticed that the belt was now rolled up in his hand. As we said goodnight, I asked him why he took it off.

“It’s not right.” he said, and there was sorrow in his voice.

There is nothing more powerful than a once hardened heart…now melted. Watching one melt is enough to make a grown man cry.

p.s. Hey Fr. Hyatt, thanks for the message.