Esther

In the Bible, there are certain things that when they happen, you should pay attention to them. For example, when God says directly something that we should do. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself. Or, my favorite, from the Book of Micha, the Lord requires us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Another time you should really pay attention is when a woman is mentioned by name. And when a book of the Bible is named after a woman! That means the woman must be incredibly important! Because it only happens twice, here, with Esther, and in the Apocrypha, with the book of Judith.

Or, at least the story must be important. And that’s what I’d like to talk about today, the overall story told in the book of Esther.

Because our lectionary really cuts this story in an odd way. In fact, this odd cutting of this one part is all we have of Esther in the lectionary. Which is too bad, because this really is an interesting story. So, if it’s ok with everyone, I’d like to take you on a story through the Book of Esther!

I think at the outset it’s important to mention that Esther is almost certainly just a story. Much of the Old Testament is a capturing of the stories that were told, the stories of the Hebrew people. Some stories are believed to be true or at least based in truth. And some are understood to be just stories. Important stories, that capture many different people, places, and stereotypes into fictional events, places, and people. Esther, like the Book that immediately precedes it, Job, is such a story.

Important stories, conglomerations of things that were passed down from generation to generation, to help explain to the Hebrew people who they are, where they come from, and why their identity as Jewish is important to hold on to.

And now, to the story! Esther is King Ahasuerus’s second queen. She is selected after a nationwide search because she’s beautiful and chosen by the King from among all of the most beautiful virgin women in the kingdom after each spent a night with him (before they were married). Had she not been selected as Queen, she would have joined the other women who had the honor of being considered but not selected as part of the King’s harem of concubines. Because, she would have been spoiled goods. Spoiled by the King, but spoiled nonetheless, and thus no longer of value to other men in society.

But the first Queen, Vashti, was still alive. She had recently been deposed because she did not come to the King while he was drunk and wanted to show off how beautiful she was to some of his friends. The King’s noblemen convince the king to depose her so that other wives do not begin disobeying their husbands. The king agrees, and Vashti is never heard from again.

Esther, was raised by her uncle Mordecai after her parents died. Mordecai was very well respected in his community, Jewish, and a very shrewd man.

After Esther was made queen, Mordecai would hangout by the gate of the kingdom to wait for times that he could see Esther. Because he did this, he heard two of the kings Eunuchs talking about a plot to kill the king.

Mordecai got word to Esther, Esther told the king, the allegations were investigated and found to be true, the eunuchs were hung, and the King was very happy with Mordecai.

Around the same time, the king promoted one of the members of his court, Haman, to be the highest ranking official.

Haman really liked being respected and his position of honor being recognized. He required everyone, other than the King, to bow down to the ground before him. Everyone did, except Mordecai. Why he doesn’t put himself on the ground whenever Haman came by isn’t said, but, it was a common practice later, much later, for the Jews to not lower themselves before the Greek authorities.

Haman is absolutely enraged at Mordecai, but won’t lower himself to actually strike Mordecai, because that would be below a man of his stature and importance. Instead, Haman decides to brutally murder all of the Jews in the kingdom as punishment to Mordecai. The king agrees in large part because Haman pays the king 10,000 Talents to be able to do so. A Talent was the equilivent of a years wages for the average person.

Mordecai and all the Jews, except Esther, put ashes on their faces and put on sackcloth in mourning. Somehow, Mordecai gets word to Esther about what’s going on, and tells her to go to the King.

Except that Esther can’t just go to the King, she must be called to court, and the King has not called her to court in more than 30 days. Going to court without being called was required to be punished by death. The only way around being executed was in the King held out his golden scepter to you. Esther gathered her courage and went anyway.

Fortunately for Esther, the King really is quite fond of Esther and holds out his scepter to her. He offers Esther anything she wants, up to half the kingdom.

And all she asks for is a private dinner with the King and Haman.

The king and Haman come to dinner and greatly enjoy it, the king again offers Esther whatever she wants, up to half the kingdom, and she asks for the king and Haman to come to dinner again tomorrow night. Everyone agrees.

Haman goes home, he calls his wife and his servants and his children to share with all of them how amazing he is! They all agree that he’s great. Haman again brings up that he really hates Mordecai, and Haman’s wife suggests that Haman build a 50 cubit high gallows to hang Mordecai on, and to get the king to let him hang Mordecai the next day.

Haman thinks this is the best idea ever! Orders the gallows built, and the next morning goes off to see the King, certain that the king will grant his wish.

The king looks at Haman and asks how Haman thinks a man who had done an incredible honor to the king should be honored. Haman, thinking the King must surely be speaking of him, says the man should be dressed in royal robes worn by the king, and paraded around the city on one of the King’s fancy horses while the person leading the horse shouts how wonderful the honored person is.

The king says “you’re right! That’s great! I never honored Mordecai after he saved my life, go honor him this way, yourself, now.”

Haman does this. And after, Mordecai is returned to his place at the gate, and Haman goes home, absolutely furious. And his wife warns him, if Mordecai is Jewish, be careful, because the King seems to really like him.

While he’s still seething, the king’s eunuchs arrive to summon Haman to dinner.

Haman goes, expecting another lovely and calm evening to help rejuvenate his spirits after such a bad day.

The dinner is lovely, and after, the king again asks Esther what she would like, anything at all, up to half his kingdom.

Esther asks the king to save her people, the Jewish people, to save them from the hand of Haman who has bought the right to execute them.

The King is furious at Haman for ordering the death of the Jewish people, which includes Mordecai and his wife (which the king had apparently not realized of before). The king goes out to walk in the garden to calm himself. Haman stays to beg Esther for his life. Esther isn’t swayed and reclines on her couch for a calm after meal moment. Haman throws himself on the couch (which is how they said bed in those days), and the king walks in, sees Haman in bed with his wife, and doesn’t even need to question what has happened.

He believes his wife. Believes Haman is capable of raping her. Has caught him in a position that looks like Haman is forcing himself on his wife.

It is at this point that the eunuch points out Haman just built gallows to hang Mordecai on. The king, in a moment that I can only imagine is filled with cool and pure disdain, says simply “hang him on that.”

Now, what we have today makes it seem like the end of the story. But it’s not. Next, we hear of how the Jewish people are allowed to arm and protect themselves, how they kill 75,000 people who came for them, and how Haman’s wife and sons are also hung from the gallows. The story also talks a bit more about how great Mordecai is.

And that’s it. That’s the book of Esther.

The book of Esther, the story these few pages tell, is the story of the festival of Purim. A festival that celebrates being alive.

What I think is the most interesting about the Book of Esther, honestly, is how little of it is actually about Esther. It’s the story of Mordecai, a story of survival, and story of the abilities of the Jewish people in battle.

Esther risks her life, but only at the insistence of Mordecai. She is brave and courageous throughout. But we don’t know much about why she did these things other than because Mordecai told her to.

We don’t know how Esther felt about giving up the one thing she had to offer, her virginity, to a man she had never met and potentially impoverishing herself for the rest of her life by doing so. She didn’t have a choice. All of the most beautiful women were required.

I love that a Book in the Bible is named after a woman. Truly. But this isn’t her story. Her voice isn’t heard.

This Book is an example of a woman being used for what a society thinks are her best virtues, her looks and her virginity.

I enjoy reading this story. It’s fun. It’s action packed. It’s short. It’s literarily excellent. The way scenes are started and ended with banquets and festivals, the way the role of honor comes back and forth, the book ending of people being hung, the king blindly agreeing with his advisors (first to depose Queen Vashti, then to allow the murder of all the Jews in his kingdom). It’s a well told story. I recommend it to everyone.

But my question today is: why isn’t Esther’s voice heard? I’m not going to answer that. I’ll just point out that this is common for women throughout history. It’s part of why so few women are named in the Bible. It’s part of why Mary Magdalene, who was clearly close to Jesus and important among the Disciples, it’s part of why history has vilified her and made her out to be a whore.

Why women are unimportant throughout history is not something I seek to answer today, but in the interest of learning how to love your neighbor as yourself, I encourage all of us to consider why this is.

I encourage us to consider this because it is part of how we can actually get closer to the humans that God created us to be, and who Christ calls all Christians to be.

In the interest of explaining the rhetorical tools I’m using today, I’m book ending this sermon with things in the Bible that we should pay attention to. And using the one book in Scripture named after a woman to better point us towards the commands that God has given us on how to live.

It’s up to us to live into and up to those commands.

Amen

Knowledge and Wisdom

I was honored to be invited back to St. Andrew’s by the Sea, in Little Compton, RI this weekend (and a few more times in the coming weeks). The readings can be found here; I focused mostly on the Proverbs reading and the Gospel.

 

One of my closest friends is a guy named Chris (that’s his real name; this isn’t an incriminating story). Chris and I grew up together. After high school, I began what would be a rather long journey through college, grad school, law school, and seminary. College wasn’t for Chris. He joined the Army, did a few tours in Iraq, was injured in a massive explosion, lived to tell the tale, and two weeks ago got engaged to a wonderful woman.

Chris and I are very close friends. We know each other well and have talked about a lot of diverse and incredibly complicated things. Chris is a smart person. I am a smart person. But the way that we understand and process information is very different.

The best way that I can describe this is in how Chris and I have studied and can discuss the Civil War. Chris knows a lot about the Civil War, far more than I do. He knows about the generals, the battles, the troop movements, and the military reasons for the success and failure of different campaigns.

I tend to view the world on a systemic level. And so my work on the Civil War has focused more on the systemic issues that were at play in causing the South treasonously leave the Union, what the actual reasons for the Civil war were for both the North and the South, and most importantly, the systemic issues and ramifications from before and after the Civil War that we are still dealing with today.

Spoiler Alert: Chris and I agree that in the south, the civil war was fought over the state’s right to have an economic system predicated on owning other humans. While the North had moved away from a slavery-based economy to an industrial economy that thrived by providing goods to the Antebellum south. But the soldiers on the Northern side didn’t fight to abolish slavery, as is commonly believed. The North fought to preserve the Union.

But that was just an aside. The real point of this story is to show that Chris and I are both very smart, and the two of us are able to have difficult conversations because we respect one another, even though we occasionally speak about the same things in different ways. We do, however, listen to one another and learn together.

I tell this story because I think it’s important to point out that intelligence comes in different forms and expressions. Some people are great at math. Some are great at remembering historical facts and figures. Some people are good at languages. Some people can fix machines. Or make things. Or understand children. Or dogs. Some people are organized. Some people can view the same issue from multiple angles and share what they learn. Some people can write beautifully and creatively. Some people can make art. Some can make us laugh

And we are all intelligent in our own ways.

Being intelligent, being smart, those are things that can be learned and developed, often in classrooms, but not always. I am filled with knowledge because of my time in classrooms.

I have come to appreciate a couple of things about knowledge. First, the more you know about something, the more knowledge you have in a field, the more you realize what you don’t know. And, also that there’s a big difference between knowledge and intelligence, and between knowledge and wisdom.

I’m an intelligent person. But my knowledge of the facts of the Civil War is small. That doesn’t make me unintelligent, it just makes me not an expert on the troop movements and the battles of the Civil War.

My buddy Chris is a smart guy. That he didn’t go to college doesn’t change that he’s a smart guy. And some of the things that he has seen and experienced have given him a wisdom beyond anything that I would be able to learn about in a classroom.

Readings like the ones we have today really make me consider the difference between intelligence and wisdom.

Readings like these encourage me to take a deep breath, and really consider the places where I am relying on my own intelligence instead of trusting the wisdom of God.

This is complicated because it can be really difficult to discern the wisdom of God. It’s difficult for a lot of reasons. But the biggest struggle for me is to figure out when it’s my knowledge talking, or God’s Wisdom. Or when it’s the world talking, instead of God’s Wisdom. Or a combination there of. Or one of those rare, blissful moments, when I’m actually on the same page as the Wisdom of God!

What the world says we should be doing is incredibly blinding. Especially when what the world, or society says is right aligns with what we want to do anyway!

There’s an example of this in the Gospel today. Jesus says that he will have to suffer and die, and Peter pulls Jesus aside to tell Jesus not to say those things.

I really appreciate the audacity of this scene. A guy, who is following Jesus to learn how to be more like Christ, is pulling Jesus aside to tell him he’s wrong.

I laugh at this scene. Until I remember that it happens every day. Every day.

Humans, every day, attempt to correct God about what is right, or best, or needed.

There are a lot of ways that we do this. A lot. I’m sure that as we sit here, a few thought bubbles of this are happening.

Throughout history, there has been an attempt to claim that God ordained something that humans wanted to do. The wars that Kings waged in Medieval Europe to expand empires. The Crusades. Manifest Destiny. Colonization. Slavery. Racism. Violent Jihad. The Prosperity Gospel. Violence against LGBTQ identifying people. Refusing to bake a cake for the wedding of those LGBTQ identifying people.

My point, is that this has been happening for as long as there have been humans trying to figure out the difference between what God wants and what we want.

I have a proposition. I propose that we, the humans who are alive now. I propose that we be the ones who finally, truly, honestly, and vulnerably, spend time to actually figure out the difference between what we want and what God wants.

Here are a couple of useful road signs, courtesy of Richard Roar: if something is violent, warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, or vain, it’s not of God.

Now, note, I’m not saying that we always have to do what God wants. I would suggest that we should. But what I’m suggesting is to be honest with ourselves and others about why we’re doing something; that’s actually all I’m looking for. You can still occasionally be greedy, or selfish, not violent or warlike or racist – let’s just get rid of those things, but I will be the first to admit, I’m vain at times.

But let’s own that it is us and our will, not us doing what we think God wants, when we are greedy, selfish, or vain.

For example: You’re against immigration. Fine. But why? And I ask that as a person who has spent a lot of time gaining knowledge about God and Scripture, and that knowledge leads me to believe that what Jesus said in the Scriptures is what I should be aiming for, and Jesus says to welcome the stranger. To treat everyone the way we would want to be treated.

You think being Gay or Trans is a sin. Fine. But own where that comes from, and that it is something within you, and not God. Because the word “Homosexual” wasn’t even invented until the last century. And God still looks at each of us and thinks we are perfect, including those who are born trans and those who are born gay (and believe me, you are born trans or gay, it’s not something one just wakes up and decides to be one day).

Think the races should be separate? Fine. But own the racism and hate within that belief, and don’t claim that God made it so. Because God made this beautiful rainbow of humanity. Every single color.

“Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: ‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?”

How long do we need to live this way? How long do we need to ignore God, as she stands at the gates, waiting to be invited in. How long do we, as a collective we, not just individuals, how long will we leave God waiting?

How long will we set our minds on human things instead of Divine things? How long will we mistake our knowledge for the Wisdom of God? How many Civil Wars must be waged until we are finally able to admit when it is our will instead of God’s Wisdom?

How long until we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ?  For if we want to save our lives, we must lose them. Because, really, what do we actually gain if we gain all the things in the world, but forfeit our lives, and the reason we live?

What would you be willing to give up to follow Christ? Anything? What’s the one thing you would give up everything for? Does that point to love? If it points to love, it points to God.

And if it doesn’t, well…

The Words We Say…

When you are in my line of work, you spend a fair amount of time thinking about words. I attempt to spend a bit of time every day thinking about words, specifically the words of Scripture, their ancient meanings, the ancient contexts, and what those ancient words mean today.

Because over time, words lose their meaning. Or better said, meanings evolve. Meaning evolves as time goes by. Just as human beings have evolved over time.

Quick side note: if you don’t believe in evolution, you are in the wrong church! Evolution is settled as truth in the Episcopal Church. But, this is actually a really good illustration of my point. Because, it wasn’t until 1859 when Darwin published the Origin of the Species that we had any idea of what evolution really was or that it exists.

It wasn’t too long before Darwin published Origin of the Species that humans figured out that the earth revolves around the sun. And before that, humans had to figure out that the earth was round.

It was within the last hundred years or so that science figured out that the woman is more than just an oven in reproduction.

Things evolve. Understandings change. Humans evolve. And we have come to understand more, and more of those changes that humans have undergone.

And words, cultures, meanings, those have evolved much faster than humans have.

Now, if at this point, you are thinking back over the texts for today and wondering where I am finding the inspiration to talk about words and evolution, I would like to say simply, I’m not. Because today, I’d like to spend a little time discussing the Confession of Sin. And more specifically, some words within the Confession.

I’m afraid that over time, a lot of those words have just become words. Hopefully not for all of us, but for many, we repeat these words, but don’t spend a lot of time thinking about them.

I first became aware of these words becoming just words after the Sandy Hook school shooting. As I said the words of the Confession the afternoon of the shooting, tears poured down my cheeks.

And the day following the news of each mass shooting, when saying the Confession, the same tears flow down my cheeks. I could list all of the shootings, but that would take most of the time left today and get away from my point.

My point is that I noticed these tears and decided that I should spend more time with the words. Because clearly, these words have a deep, deep meaning and impact within me, even if intellectually they had become words i merely repeated. And my guess is that for some of us gathered here today, the same is true.

“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of our Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.”

Notice, that it’s we. It’s not I. It’s not me admitting to God that I have sinned. We, as a collective group of people, we are saying to God, that we have done wrong, that we have sinned, in how we think, in how we speak or stay silent, and in how we act, or don’t act.

We admit that we love and value things more than God.

We admit that we do not love our neighbors as ourselves. And for evidence of this, look at all that is going on at our borders, and in the conflict about immigration, how we are treating those with different viewpoints. Or in the way we have come to immediately distrust those with a different political affiliation.

We say we repent, but over time the word repent has come to mean merely “I’m sorry”. But to repent, means so much more than words, it means to physically turn away from something, and back towards something else.

To forgive, is so much more than an acceptance of an apology as though nothing has happened. Forgive has become conflated with forgetting. And nothing, nothing could be further from the meaning of forgive than to forget.

These words, the way we use them, these things matter. We can’t merely say these words.

Over time, Christianity has somehow evolved away from the idea that what Christ taught is how to live in the world we are in, and towards a focus on eternal life.

But Christ didn’t merely teach us a way into Heaven. Christ taught us how to live the lives that we are intended to live, and the Confession of Sin is the way that Episcopalians stand, or kneel, in humility before their God to admit that we have strayed from God’s plan for us. To admit that we don’t stand up for our neighbors, we don’t love them as we love ourselves, hell, often we’ve forgotten how to love ourselves.

We remember how to love our things. But have somehow come to confuse accumulating things with actually loving ourselves.

Loving ourselves, loving our neighbors as ourselves, loving God, walking in God’s ways, those are things we’ve started to say, but have all too often forgotten how to do. These words that we repeat in the confession, these words have in and of themselves become things done and left undone.

The words we say, how we say them, WHY we say them, these may seem like trivial things, but they matter very much to God. Our intentions matter.

Think about the stories we tell. The Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is a story. It’s the story of the Israelite people. Each word is intentionally used and placed. Each Gospel tells the same story, but they tell the same story very differently. The Epistles are all letters to specific people addressing specific things.

These words matter. A lot.

Today is my first trip to Little Compton. And before I arrived this is what I knew: Little Compton is a particularly wealthy and very old community. The wealth of the community having been built in large part on profits either directly or indirectly accumulated as a result of the slave trade.

So I did some research on Little Compton before I came. I wanted to see how the story of Little Compton is told.

The story that Little Compton tells glosses over that this land was taken from the Natives who lived here, the Sakonnet people, and taken because the settlers of the Plymouth Colony wanted to expand their holdings. The most highly regarded founder is Benjamin Church, who is so regarded because his role in conflicts with other native tribes, the Narragansets and Wampanoags.

There is no mention of slavery. There has been a fair amount of research done on Little Compton and slavery, but the main narrative of Little Compton leaves out these parts of its history.

In 1904, Little Compton resident Roswell Burchard gave an address and said of Little Compton “When however, we come to line these stories up against the measuring stick of history, we find that like many of the oft-told legends, they do not coincide with the facts.”

The way we tell our stories, the parts we avoid, the parts we acknowledge, this is important in understanding what is most important to us. But this is also how we line up against the measuring stick of history.

The story we tell, the way we tell it, it avoids that this nation was built on a foundation of white supremacy, of white Christian supremacy, and that it was literally built with the blood, sweat, and lives of native peoples, and African slaves.

With that in mind, how different does the confession of sin feel today?

How different does it feel to think about the things we think, or avoid thinking about? The things we do, or don’t do? Those things we acknowledge or ignore? The people and causes we stand up for, or the moments we choose to remain silent?

We say the confession, but how do we live it out? Have we repented for the sin of slavery? Have we truly returned to the path of God in response to the sins committed in the colonization of this very land?

We say the confession; how do we come together to discuss these sins, and figure out how to heal the harm and return to the will of God?

I don’t have an exact answer to this. But my instinct is that we must educate ourselves about the real stories, our histories, and then come together to talk, to heal, to learn. These conversations will be difficult, but they must happen. Visit the Little Compton historical society, where they have a more full history of this lovely town. Check out what the Center for Reconciliation is doing and become involved in what we’re doing over at your Cathedral.

We must use our words as more than just things we say. Let’s engage our words to be the things we say and create the things we do, rather than allowing our words to represent the things unsaid, and undone.

Otherwise, our words are just words.

Christians, gathered followers of Christ, hear me, we are called to be more than mere words. Every part of us is called to follow Christ, our hearts, our words, our actions, our beliefs. All of us, mind, body, and soul, we are all called.

God wants all of us. All our hearts, and all our minds, and all our bodies. Our words are one of the ways we show our hearts and our minds.

We as Christians need to find words and a way to truly repent, to truly return to the path of God, because how we say the words of the confession show the intentions of our hearts.

God sees our hearts. What do you want God to see?

The 0’s and 1’s of Equality

I happily returned to an Episcopal Church this week, to St. Paul’s, Pawtucket! And I was able to honor the amazing Pauli Murray (seriously, google her)!!!

This week, I learned about Binary in a mathematical sense. Basically (I think), everything is broken down into 1’s and 0’s. And it is the combination of those 1’s and 0’s that make up everything. Roughly. I think. I’m a great priest and was a decent lawyer, but math was never my strongest subject. But I did check with the amazing math person, who says this is correct.

In the world today, there are a lot of things that have been broken down into binaries, but in the sense of if you’re not 0, then you must be totally 1. There’s a constant sense of us v. them: black v white; gay v straight; male v female; cisgender v transgender; citizen v migrant; republican v Democrat; good v bad; strong v weak. The world and people tend to be viewed this way, instead of in the more accurate sense that each human, each of us is a unique combination of 0’s and 1’s. We are all made up of the same stuff, the same 1’s and 0’s.

In this world it seems like we’re all different, but we’re not. We’re all made up of the same stuff, just individually organized and packaged!

As the world has started to evolve, and communication has made the world seem smaller, it makes it seem like we’re all so radically different. And so what I think is happening is that we are tightening our circles around “us” and “them.”

We are focusing on what makes us different, instead of how we are the same. At the same time that people who have always felt a bit different, like outsiders, and marginalized, we are starting to see that there are a lot of people like us.

And so we are celebrating our differences, embracing the unique patterns of 1’s and 0’s that make up each of us.

It makes it seem like we’re breaking out of our binaries. And in some ways, we are. We are now embracing our uniqueness rather that trying to squeeze into boxes designed around someone else’s unique makeup.

The world has been organized around the boxes acceptable boxes to those in power. But what this organization system is now reacting against is that humans can’t easily be categorized! We’ve always been made up in unique combinations.

We just talk about it now.

As uncomfortable as it may be for many, and I admit there was a learning curve for me as well, both for how I understand and view myself, and also a learning curve in recognizing that the world, and humans, are not only one of 2 things, but instead are instead a combination of things. This view of the world, one that recognizes that the world and humans are not us and other, this is getting closer to the will of God.

Because the will of God is for us to honor and respect each human, not despite our differences but because of them.

And we have come a long, long way. Work remains to be completed, but to be sure, we have come a long way.

And on this day, this day that the Episcopal church has set aside to celebrate and remember the Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, this day is a perfect day to talk about binaries, and the will of God.

Has anyone here today heard of Pauli Murray?

It’s okay if you haven’t. It’s quite common for the women important in various movements to be less well known than their male counterparts. But Pauli is a person worth knowing about. Or else, honestly, she wouldn’t be a saint.

I’m going to jump ahead in the story of Pauli’s life. To when she was in her late 60’s. In 1977, Pauli was one of the earliest women ordained in the Episcopal church. She was ordained in the National Cathedral, next to our very own Canon to the Ordinary (and honestly the best boss I have ever had), Linda Grenz.

Pauli was the first African American woman ordained in the Episcopal Church.

Pauli is considered to be the first lesbian ordained in the Episcopal Church, even though she wasn’t able to be out at that time. But sexuality isn’t the full story of what Pauli represents.

Because what we know now, but what we didn’t know then, is that Pauli was also the first transgender person to be ordained in the Episcopal Church.

Pauli grew up and lived in a world where gender and sex assignment, those were binary things. It was a world where the word transgender didn’t exist. Where gender, which is cultural, and sex, which is biological, were conflated into the same thing. Pauli’s was a world where if you believed or behaved in a way contrary to the gender assigned at your birth, you were considered to have a mental illness, and often people who struggled with gender identity ended up in mental institutions. As Pauli did at various points.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, and making Pauli seem far to one dimensional.

And Pauli Murray was so much more than 1 dimension.

Pauli fought, scraped, and demanded her right to live, to be a black woman, to be a black woman from the south, and for her right to be educated. And she was very, very educated.

She struggled through her undergrad degree, worked for human and civil rights, became a good friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, went to Howard Law School, became very active in civil rights and nonviolent resistance, and while at Howard, Pauli’s senior thesis was the first to challenge the separate in separate but equal – and was referenced in Brown v Board of Education. Pauli became a Dr of law, Wrote what then became a seminal paper on housing discrimination and different ways to challenge discriminatory housing laws and practices. Pauli then worked as a professor at Brandis. And at each step and stop, she was badly discriminated against because of her race, gender, or both.

She was an early member of the National Organization for women. She was an incredibly active member of the Civil Rights movement, and hers was a voice that constantly pointed out the important work black women were doing in the movement, but that women were not in leadership within the movement.

And throughout her life, Faith was incredibly important to Pauli. A lifelong Episcopalian, Pauli often sought and found refuge and strength for the battles of her life in her faith.

Pauli became part of the movement for the Ordination of Women in the Episcopal Church, and while her voice wasn’t the loudest or the best known, her presence was felt. Pauli was discriminated against in Seminary, both for being a woman, and for being black. It didn’t seem to matter that Pauli was an important figure in civil rights and women’s rights. In seminary Pauli once again became only a black woman. Not a black woman who was better educated and more accomplished than even her professors.

Pauli’s sexuality and gender identity were so deeply buried and unacceptable at the time that discrimination for those were not overt issues. Other than raised eyebrows & whispered comments that followed an unmarried woman at the time.

And then, even after being ordained, Pauli struggled to find a church that was willing to have her, and non that were willing to pay her.

Pauli’s struggles, and battles, they aren’t widely known. But the reverberations of her work, and struggles, those are still widely felt today.

And Pauli’s importance, as we move into a world that is finally dealing with the fact that life and people are not easily categorized, cannot be understated.

Especially for us as a church.

The church model that we operate out of was developed in the 50’s and 60’s. And the world has simply changed a lot since the 50’s and 60’s.

Look at this world today, we are no longer merely white and black. We are no longer gay and straight. We are no longer men and women.

But what we are, and what we have always been, are the people of God.

It is time for us as a church to learn to appreciate the beautiful rainbow of humans that exist on this planet. And I mean rainbows of all different kinds!

The colors of our skins! Our sexualities! Our nationalities. The languages we speak. Our gender expressions. Our immigration status. Our religious beliefs.

This is the time to do this. The movement has started, and just as the Corinthians reading says, it’s time to finish what has already been started. We must seek to accomplish equality!

And the best part is, when we do this difficult work, when we learn to see and value everyone, it doesn’t put any additional pressure on us. It doesn’t change our position in the world. It doesn’t harm us in anyway. Instead, just as Paul said, our abundance will match their need. Our love and acceptance will create a balance of love in this world.

It will take effort. But God is with us. This is the will of God.

It is time to get out of our own ways and find a way to be in line with the will of God. If we do this, then we will find the reconciling love of God, and offer true freedom to others, and especially to ourselves.

We will find the freedom of life in the knowledge that while all things may be made up of 1’s and 0’s, all things are a unique blend of 1’s and 0’s.

And we are all beautiful.

Amen

As the Storm Rages

Here is the text of the sermon I gave on June 24, 2018, at the First Baptist Church in America, here in Providence! It’s a bit longer than usual, but I was in a Baptist Church, after all.

Good morning! And welcome to Ecumenical Sunday at the First Baptist Church in America! I am, as you may have guessed from the attire and title, an Episcopal Priest. But I haven’t been an Episcopalian for very long, believe it or not. I didn’t go to church much when I was younger, and ended up spending a fair amount of time as an adult trying to figure out what denomination I belong to.

I settled on the Episcopal Church because of the theology of the church, because I really love the sacraments, and because deep, deep down, I really like the hierarchy. Basically, I’m possibly the most un-Baptist person to ever ascend this pulpit.

That I’m here today, in this historic place, is fairly crazy. I told a few Baptist friends I would be joining you all today, and there was a lot of looks along the lines of (make stunned face).

I say all of this as a warning that if the floor feels a bit cold, don’t worry, it’s just that hell has frozen over because I’m preaching in the First Baptist Church in America.

And I’m going to preach on politics. At least a little. Now, before you get uncomfortable in the pews, hear me out. Because what I’m hoping to do is discuss the storm that is raging around us from a distinctly Christian perspective, not from the left nor the right. And I want you to be warned that the goal of today is for us to be prepared to wade into the storm together.

Because beyond political affiliation, beyond the color of our skin, beyond our marital status, our sexual orientation, our denomination, beneath all of this, if we are gathered in this room, we are all Christians.

And Christians have never been afraid of difficult conversations. Nor to take a stand for what is right in the face of a swirling storm.

The storm in the Gospel reading today, I think is a great metaphor for the political storm that we are in as a nation. There was chaos on all sides. No one knew what to do, or where to go. All appeared to be lost. And keep in mind, many of the disciples were fishermen. They had seen storms, they’d seen bad storms, they’d seen bad storms on this particular body of water.

And they were still scared.

So they did the most logical thing, they sought help from their leader, who just happened to be God in human form. Which, really, was pretty lucky for them. All was saved, they got a tongue lashing, but I can’t blame Jesus for being a tad on the testy side. He must have been deeply asleep to sleep through that storm. I wouldn’t have wanted to be woken up either. But I digress.

As Americans, we’ve seen bad. We’ve seen bad times in war, in conflict, in recession, in depressions.

But honestly, I don’t think we’ve ever seen a time when our government has just done lost its mind like it has now.

And that’s the storm that I would like to talk about today. I do so for a few reasons. First, Jamie told me to preach whatever the Spirit gave me, and this is it. Really. I was preparing to preach on David and Goliath, which is the Old Testament reading for today, and then the Spirit was like – no. Storms. Go.

Second, I think that as Christians we’ve become too polite and too afraid of politics. We forget that we follow in the footsteps of a man who was so political the ruling elite killed him.

Third, we should talk about this storm because we have to! We absolutely have to. And we must have a genuine discussion. No pointing fingers, no placing of blame. An honest discussion. Where we hear each other, and we seek to understand. Not convince or convict.

There may well be some who are staring at me right now and thinking something along the lines of “yeah, right.” But I am right. It is possible to have an honest discussion. One where we simply listen to one another, seek to understand rather than to persuade.

I know this because it’s my experience. The church that sent me to seminary is a conservative, literalist, evangelical Church in Maryland. They consider me a sinner because of my sexual orientation and I was unable to be in leadership of any kind in the church, nor was I able to become a member. But they recognized my call to ministry and sent me to seminary anyway.

I’ve had conversations with the pastor of that church on theological issues that we are deeply divided on. And we are able to have conversations.

Conversation is possible when you disagree. And at this moment in our history, conversation is necessary.

Because this storm, this storm has potential to divide our nation so deeply, we may never recover.

We must remember how to have difficult conversations with one another. Conversations where people might get offended. Conversations where we might get offended!

Because Jesus calls us all to sit at the same table. We are to sit at the same table and be in community with people who are different from us. Slave and free. Rich and poor. Jew and Gentile. White and black. Gay and straight. Married and single. Married and divorced. Immigrant and Citizen. Democrat and republican. Man and woman. Transgender and Cisgender. Episcopalian or Baptist. Dog person or cat person. Gryffindor or Slytherin.

We are all called to Christ’s table.

We are all called to be in community with one another. A community whose goal is to learn from one another.

And unlike the disciples in the Gospel, we don’t have the benefit of waking Christ up if the storm is so much that we’re scared. We have to figure this out on our own with only the lessons left behind.

And so here is what I suggest we do. Are you ready? It’s revolutionary.

We talk to one another.

I know. It’s crazy. But we should all find someone we trust, or at least respect, who has a different opinion from us, and talk. I would be willing to bet that in this room there are people who disagree with one another. Find someone you disagree with. Talk to them.

What I believe you will find is that buried under all our disagreements, is that we actually want the same thing. We just believe in very different ways of getting there.

We all, well, most of us, want what’s best for people, for all people.

Now, I know that you all don’t know me very well yet. But I am not a person who backs down from a challenge. And I’m not going to simply because I haven’t met most of you before.

I would like everyone to take a deep breath. Because I’m going to talk about immigration. Again, I’m going to do so from a deeply Christian position. At least, from my understanding, based on my life, training, and experience, my understanding of a Christian position.

To begin though, a quick history lesson. Because I truly believe that it is of vital importance that we understand how we got to where we are. I believe it helps us all to better understand the totality of a situation, and how different viewpoints develop.

American was founded by immigrants. It was founded by people in search of a better, more prosperous life. What those initial immigrants did to the Natives who were already here is a sermon for another day, but, it’s important to note that the arriving white people considered themselves to be superior to the darker skinned natives, they considered the natives to be heathens, stupid because they didn’t speak English, and not truly human, so they could easily be displaced, enslaved, or killed.

This is just fact. I know it is difficult to hear, but if you go back and read some of the original documentation and correspondence from the founding of this country, this is what was thought.

Those who founded this country, who built the foundation of this nation, built a foundation of creating a better life for themselves, at the expense of others.

It sounds prettier to refer to this as the American dream, of coming to America to create a better life for you and your family. The earliest settlers of America didn’t come here to escape persecution, they chose to come to America.

That’s the idea that shaped the immigration policy of this nation – people come here to help make America better, and to build a better life for themselves. So immigration should be limited to the people who can help make America better for everyone. And it’s a great concept. But it doesn’t fit the current situation.

The current immigration crisis is a lot more like the earliest days of the Holocaust. The Holocaust, just to remind you, was endorsed by the German Christian Church, and Hitler claimed to be Christian. Before the mass slaughter of the Jews began, the German government made it as impossible for Jewish people to live in Germany as they could, so that the Jews would choose to leave. This anti-Semitism spread throughout Europe and into America, making it very difficult for the Jews to escape.

So much so that when immigration applications began arriving, they were denied. New immigration laws were put in place, and boat loads of Jewish refugees were sent back to Europe, often to their deaths.

The refugees today are fleeing for their lives. They aren’t coming to America seeking a better life, they are coming to America seeking the opportunity to be alive. They are fleeing violence, war, famine, extreme poverty, gang violence, murder, rape, and being sold into human trafficking.

And I hear the argument against allowing the refugees to enter, I do, fear about the economy and the need for Americans to have jobs. Especially, lately, I’ve been listening to the arguments supporting the separation of Children from Parents – that the parents are criminals and whenever a parent commits a crime and goes to jail, even an American parent, they are separated from their children.

I understand the desire to keep our borders safe so that criminals do not enter this country – and the argument that by the very nature of entering illegally, these are criminals entering the country.

The argument against allowing Jews to enter America in the late 30’s and early 40’s – was a fear that some of them were German spies. That some of them were criminals.

What if I tell you, the law that is currently being used to detain now families at the borders, took its current form in the 1950’s. And that up until this year, entering illegally was considered a Civil Offense, not a Criminal Offense. No jailing, a civil citation, and entry into the immigration court system, not the criminal system.

But the law is in place. And now, there is movement to do something about the law. Moderate republicans are attempting to put forward legislation to address at least some issues. Conservatives republicans are rejecting the legislation, and Democrats are refusing to negotiate.

Our system right now, is broken. The measures so carefully put in place to prevent this very situation from happening, have failed. No one is talking to one another. There is only yelling, and distrust.

It’s not a surprise to me, nor to many who have studied the social history of this nation, that we are in this situation. It’s not new. Our very nation is founded on a premise of distrusting “others”. Especially others who don’t look or talk like us.

So here we are. This storm is raging, the boat that is America is taking on water like crazy. We are sinking. I don’t know about you but I’m pretty scared the very fabric of this nation will be ripped apart. Regardless of whether you think the direction of this country is good, or bad, we should all see that we are sinking.

And honestly, all that I can see left to do is to cry out to God, “Jesus, do you not care that we are perishing!”

And in the stillness and peace that follows asking, as we marvel in the presence of Christ, as we accept our tongue lashing for letting things get to this point, in that peaceful moment we must realize that God has been with us the entire time.

God has been, and is still with us. Waiting for us to reach out, and start to focus on God again. And what God is calling for us to do, is to love another, to treat our neighbors as we treat ourselves.

If you’re not ready to treat a refugee neighbor at the border as your neighbor or even to consider them your neighbor, start with your next-door neighbor at home. Or your neighbor in the pew this morning. Someone new at coffee hour. Talk to a stranger next to you in line at a coffee shop.

Get to know people. Learn how to respect people who are different.

And to be clear, I mean all of us. Even those who are proudly liberal. Just because you give money to a good cause isn’t meeting this command of Christ. And if you are proudly conservative, you are called just the same. We are all called Christians. And Christians are called to be more than all of this.

Christians are called to rise above the storm. The People of God are called to love. We are called to be known by our love. So love. Love big, or love small. Love however we are called and prepared to love. But we must get out of our comfort zones. We must all stop approaching the world as though we are right and the other is wrong.

In all likelihood, we’re all wrong.

But it is never wrong to love. Ask Christ how to love more. Ask Christ to help you love your neighbor as yourself. Ask Christ to help you understand who your neighbor is.

This storm that we are in, it’s huge. And it’s consuming us. Every week there’s something new, some other way that our world and nation are broken.

It’s time to start fixing.

And as Christians, we know that what will fix this, the only thing strong enough to possibly heal the brokenness, is love.

So love.

Love everyone as God loves us.

Amen

Careful what you wish for…

I had the honor of preaching at Providence Presbyterian Church on June 10, 2018. The text is 1 Samuel 8:4-11, 11:14-15. Take a look & let me know!!! (I’ll post the audio link soon)

I have a little dog. Actually, I have two. And whenever I’m in the kitchen, the little dogs are super close by. My little dogs are also very insistent that they want to be eating whatever it is that I’m working on up there.

Now, one of the dogs, Stella, will eat anything and gladly. But Albus (yes, Albus Dumbledore – I like Harry Potter, a lot), often has moments of regret at his insistence when I finally give in. Last week he demanded that he wanted kale. And I told him I didn’t think he actually wanted kale. But he insisted. So he got a piece of kale.

And he did NOT like kale.

Stella, however, gladly picked up the kale and handled the situation. She’s useful that way.

Much like my little dog, I’ve had a lot of moments in my life when the phrase “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it” has popped into my mind. And this reading from Samuel truly, truly exemplifies that idea.

We know how this story ends. We know that the Israelites get a king, Saul. Saul really looks the part. He’s an eldest son. Tall. A strong military leader. And handsome.

Saul also leaves a lot to be desired as a king and ends up going crazy at the end. Then there is David. Then Solomon. Both of whom have positive traits, but are also profoundly human and, especially Solomon, do a lot of harm. And then there is a series of kings in Israel that just aren’t good. For a long time. The Israelites end up in exile. Twice. And then the Romans show up.

Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

I, as a human and especially as a priest, spend a lot of time trying to understand people whose views aren’t the same as mine. And often, in order to do this, I have to go back in time, to learn the history of how we got to where we are.

And today, I would like to take a little time to explain a bit more about this Scripture. And then I would like to offer a story that helps me put a major issue of the day in better context.

But to start, the Israelites demanding a king.

At least, that’s what it seems like on paper. It seems like the Israelites just couldn’t wrap their mind around the idea that they should live by God’s law. It seems like the Israelites wanted a king to rule them, instead of God. The reading is set up in a way that suggests the Israelites were turning their back on God.

And maybe they were. I don’t know. I wasn’t there.

But here is what I do know.

I know that kings at that time in history were often essentially military leaders. Invading other nations was a way of life – it kept the young men occupied and employed and provided a money stream into the kingdom.

Israel didn’t have a military leader. They were sitting ducks.

And their neighbors, the Philistines, knew it. They were threatening and preparing to invade. And in fact, they would attempt to invade, in just a few chapters.

So, the Israelites were scared because they wanted someone to protect them from the very real threat of an invasion, which would mean slaughtered men and male children, lost homes, lost fields, pillaging of their towns, enslavement of all, and rape of the women and girls.

That’s a real threat. I’d be scared too. Especially in a world where it was the job of the king to lead the army into battle. And especially in a place that didn’t have a king. I would like to believe that I would cling to the idea that all I need is God. But there are times in my life when, if I’m being truly honest, the fears of the world can get in the way of my relationship with God. And being afraid for my life, and for the lives of those I love the most, that would blind me a bit.

There’s one other thing going on as well that I’d like to point out.

And that is children.

Specifically, a father’s love blinding them to their duty to God.

Before Samuel, Eli was high priest. And Eli had several sons that he raised up in the family business, the priesthood, and they were given positions of importance and authority. And they absolutely violated their positions. They ran amuck. And did terrible things in God’s name. We know this because scripture tells us they did, and because God punishes Eli for not keeping his sons under control, and for letting his sons do terrible things in God’s name.

What this reading today leaves out are verses 1-3 of chapter 8. And verses 1-3 say that Samuel’s sons are doing the same thing. They are also priests, in positions of authority and importance, and they are doing terrible things in God’s name.

And so the Israelites are probably getting pretty tired of the highest authority on earth, the high priest, letting their sons do whatever they want. That would lead me to mistrust the church. As, to be clear, it has lead hundreds and thousands of modern people to mistrust the church because of how we as Christians in religious authority have protected priests, ministers, and pastors who have abused children and adults, and have used their religious authority to condemn women, people of color, LGBTQ identifying people, and anyone who doesn’t agree with their narrow view of Christianity.

But, back to this story, if I were an Israelite several thousand years ago, living under the constant fear of rape and murder by a neighboring army, and feeling as though I couldn’t trust the religious leaders, I’d probably have wanted a king too. Someone to protect me, and to reign in the religious elite.

When I read this story, I get where God is coming from. I do. I get that God is saying to Samuel this isn’t a rejection of you, it’s a rejection of me. Because at the base of this, there is a rejection of God that has lead to boundaries that others want to cross. There’s a rejection of God that means that some have enough, some have excess, and some are in need. There is a rejection of God, a rejection that results in an idea that God loves some and hates others – even though God made all in God’s image.

There has been a rejection of God. But that rejection of God is not what’s on the mind of most of the Israelites. Most of the Israelites are scared and fed up with things as they are. And so they are demanding change.

They demand change back to what they understand. They are demanding a change back to a time that they probably weren’t alive for. Back to a time that had been made to sound better than it actually was. And they are looking at the kingdom’s next door. Kingdom’s with secure boundaries and strong military leaders. Kingdoms with more money because of those leaders and the wars they wage.

And the Israelites say “we want that. We want what they have. We want to make Israel great again. Like it was under Moses. And Joshua.”

Sound familiar?

It should.

Because the same thing just happened in our country. And is still happening.

Now, I want to be very careful not to pass judgment on those who support the President, nor on the President himself. Nor am I passing judgment on those who don’t support the President and what is happening under his administration. Nor is it my intent to encourage anyone who is not supportive of the President to become so.

All I want to do, right now, is share that sometimes having a backstory gives you a different view of people with different opinions. Knowing more about what’s going on, knowing more of the history, helps us to better understand those with different opinions.

And understanding is the first step to loving. And to love one another, that is what we are clearly called to do as people of God.

Please also understand that Scripture isn’t a history book. Scripture isn’t impartial. Scripture tells a story from a particular point of view and with a particular intent. This is why there are 4 Gospels, each telling the same story a little differently.

The Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, are also telling a story from a particular point of view. It is the story of how the Israelites came to be in the position they were in, which many biblical scholars now think is the story of how the Israelites came to be exiled, again, from their land into Babylonia.

As we have discussed, sometimes there are parts of a story that are important to understand all of what is going on, but they don’t drive the narrative as the author envisions it. So those parts are left out. Like in this Samuel reading.

JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, has said that she had thousands of pages of backstory on each character, on each plot twist, on each element of the story. While she knew those parts, she didn’t share all of them because those details weren’t important to the story she was writing.

Way back in the beginning, I promised to tell a story. And what I’m going to tell is a story that is often, if not always, left out of American History books. I am going to attempt to do so in a fair, balanced, and honest way. And my hope is that we will all leave here today with eyes opened in a new way to something we don’t often think about.

It is a common American belief that the American police system was based on the British system of policing. There are elements of truth, and similarities to this. But, the American and British systems were both rising up and developing at roughly the same time.

The American system of police started, primarily, with gangs of armed white men who patrolled plantations to keep slaves in, and to catch and punish slaves who escaped. In New England, there were slave patrols, and there were also a lot of patrols to catch and control Native Americans.

Everyone, all over the US, who owned slaves or property, were concerned about a slave revolt. And, they had reason to be concerned – because there were riots & uprisings – more than 200. Participation in slave patrols became mandatory for free white men – both rich and poor – but freed men were not invited to participate.

In Rhode Island (and other parts of the north), slavery was not fully abolished until 1840, but there was a law for gradual emancipation passed in 1789. More and more freed slaves and free blacks began living in communities together, particularly in urban areas. And further and further away from the white landowners who had once owned them, but not further away from wealthy whites living in the same urban areas.

The city of Providence was incorporated in 1832 after a race riot in an area known as Snow Town, which was not far from where we are today. A white sailor was shot in Providence in 1831, and without any justification to do so, an angry mob of armed white men stormed into Snow town, burning houses, wreaking havoc, beating and murdering people of color. The well armed (& all white) militia was called to end the riots.

The story that is told, and may well be true, again, I wasn’t there, is that Providence was incorporated to form a police force in order to prevent angry mobs like this again.

And maybe that is true, I’d like to believe that it is because I like to believe the best in people.

But, the other side is that the city was incorporated so that there could be a police force, to keep the black people, away from the wealthy white elites. Riots would be prevented by keeping the races separate.

For myself, I will tell you that I used to say I wanted to know more, I wanted to understand. I wished for a greater understanding, particularly how we got to where we are as a nation and world.

And I got it.

And my life has never been the same. I no longer see the world in the same way. I see layers, and systems, and I see through the words that seem good on the page, to the reality of why those words were said.

Even though I see the world differently, and I struggle to understand how so many claim to be Christian and yet are so cruel to everyone who doesn’t look and think like them, even though this is my reality now, I still work everyday to love everyone. Even those who disagree with me.

I don’t wish to love everyone, I don’t exactly want to love everyone, I am commanded by God to love everyone.

And so I will. At least, I’ll keep trying. My hope is that we all will.

Albus, my little dog, he still asks for whatever I’m making when I’m in the kitchen, even when it might be kale. And I still ask to have a better understanding of those with whom I disagree, even though it means I may have sympathy for someone who would rather I not exist. And that I will have to learn to love them, even if the realities of this world say that I should hate them, turn my back, and walk away.

And for me that’s really the moral of this Samuel story – ask to follow God, learn the difference between what God is saying and what the world is saying, love one another, and do not rely on the religious elite nor the culture you live in to tell you what to believe about God. Have your own relationship with God. And find for yourself that at the core of us all, is a piece of God, calling to each of us to love and respect everyone. Regardless of what anyone else says.

Amen

Be Careful What You Wish For…

Be careful what you wish for. Those are words that I know I heard a lot growing up and have seen played out in my own life (and in the lives of others).

Today, I would like to take a moment to discuss those words in terms of the Second Coming of Christ.

I would like to take this moment because there are a lot of people claiming to be Christian who, at this very moment, are cheering the bloodshed, violence, and loss of lives in Palestine.

There are couple of reasons for this subset of people who claim to be Christian to cheer for this: the conservative evangelical belief that Israel is promised to all Jewish people by God through Abraham; and, that this violence, and the ongoing (and illegal, according to the UN) expansion of Israel will fulfill a prophecy necessary bring about the second coming of Christ.

According to a poll by LifeWay (an evangelical Christian organization), and reported by the Washington Post, more than half of Evangelicals believe that in order for Christ to return, Israel must possess all of the “Holy Land” again – on both sides of the Jordan River – in order for Christ to return.

In modern days, this means one thing: war. A really big war, in the middle east, where Israel will expand it’s borders.

It means that thousands, and thousands of innocent people will be killed, in order for Christ to come back.

There are a lot of things wrong with this idea. A lot. I am not a Jewish scholar, so I will not be talking about the gift of God to Abraham of the “Promised Land”, now called the Holy Land. Just know that there are a lot of different interpretation to that story as well.

I am just going to say it: but if you think Jesus would endorse the violent murder of ANYONE, you have clearly read a different book than I have.

Because the Jesus that I know, whom I have dedicated my life to following, teaches that you should love your neighbor as yourself. Not kill them. Love. Respect. Honor. Make sure their basic needs are met.

But that’s an idea I’ll flush out a bit later. For now, let’s consider what it would mean for Christ to come back.

Here’s the thing: I have dedicated my life to learning how to follow in Christ’s footsteps. And it’s hard. It’s actually rather hard to be a Christian. I have to interact with a lot of people that I normally wouldn’t (for a variety of reasons). I have to respect people even when they don’t respect me; even when they bully me, harass me, spit on me, and belittle my existence. I have to stop what I’m doing while walking home at night to buy an unhoused neighbor dinner. I have to love people. All people. I have to treat others the way that I would want to be treated.

Because Jesus tells me to.

And if Jesus comes back! Watch out world, things are going to be different.

What I say now is specifically for those who are cheering the death and destruction in the Middle East (but everyone is welcome to read):

If Jesus comes back, your life is going to be remarkably different. Jesus would not be cheering this death and destruction. Jesus would not cheer any death or destruction! Jesus would be wondering how we let things get this bad. Jesus would ask us all, and hold us to account, for the way we treated one another that resulted in this violence.

Jesus would hold us to account for valuing ourselves and our lives more than those of Palestinians.

Jesus would hold us to account for using innocent lives as political pawns.

Jesus would hold us to account for using innocent lives as a way of manipulating God.

Because, really, I’m sure God has a pretty good idea of when God plans on coming back. If God wanted it to be now, there wouldn’t need to be the blood of Christians, and Jews, and Muslims, covering the Holy Land.

Here’s what happens if Jesus comes back: you have to make sure everyone (yes, everyone) has basic needs met. Safety. A place to sleep. Water to drink. Food to eat.

You must treat everyone with respect. Men. Women. Trans. White. Black. Brown. Purple. Polka dotted. Gay. Straight. Liberal. Conservative. Christian. Jew. Muslim. Unitarian. Agnostic. Atheist. That Spaghetti Monster religion. American. Israeli. Palestinian. English. Irish. Italian. South African. Ghanaian. Chinese. Japanese. Mexican. Indian. Native American. Employed. Unemployed. Well employed. Rich. Poor. Imprisoned. Convict. Victim. Accused. Homeless. Married. Single. Divorced. Citizen. Dreamer. Immigrant. Illegal Immigrant. Documented. Undocumented. Educated. Uneducated. Descendant of Slave. Descendant of Slave Owner. Women who have had an abortion. People with Tattoos. People without Tattoos. Dog owners. Cat owners. Gryffindors. Slytherins. Hufflepuffs. And Ravenclaws.

EVERYONE.

And y’all, that is not easy.

Jesus is also super clear that it’s not up to us to judge others on earth. That’s Christ’s job. Jesus has got it under control. Christ will judge for us, so we shouldn’t do it.

And if we do, if we do judge others, we will be judged using the same standard.

I would much rather be judged as a person who loved and cared, who cries and mourns over the loss of innocent lives, than as a person who sees humans as disposable pieces in a game for power.

You must care for one another. It’s not optional. You must give to those who are in need. You must shelter the immigrant. Protect the weak. Feed the hungry. Provide for the poor. Be nice to people. All people. Even if they aren’t nice to you.

This is what Jesus teaches.

Jesus also teaches us to not make decisions lightly. To ground our decisions in Christ’s teachings.

Christ teaches us to love. Christ teaches us to love the Lord our God above all others and all other things. Christ teaches us to love ourselves. And to love our neighbors as ourselves.

So be careful what you wish for. Because if Christ comes back tomorrow, we’ve all got A LOT of explaining to do.

And we’ll all have A LOT of life changes to make.