“Four Inspiring Stories” and “God’s Law and Human Justice” by Pat Conover

2018 Eastertide altar, "For the Love of God"May 13, 2018

7th Sunday of Easter

I have written two sermons for today. You only have to listen to the second one. The first sermon is aimed at engaging the themes Celebration Circle has lifted up for the Easter Season, such as whether God has laws and whether they change. The first sermon weaves in guidance from all four of the lectionary readings. I will ask Celebration Circle to post my bonus sermon as well.[Find “God’s Law and Human Justice” at the end of “Four Inspiring Stories” — ed]

This sermon also responds to the Easter Season theme. I’m going to tell four here and now resurrection stories, three of them about Christians and one of them that reminds us that Jesus was a Jew.

Oswaldo and Rosa are my inspiration for this sermon. I think you will see the connections. Meditating on their witness brought back a flood of memories including the four stories. Some of you have heard some parts of the stories and I hope you can tolerate a second dose. Most of you have never heard much or anything about the people, now dead, that I am about to memorialize. They lived out biblical inspiration, and, in small part, they helped me grow into my imperfect faith. If you remember the stories, or are at least vaguely inspired by the stories, they will be resurrected imperfectly in you as well.

I am sharing memories, some of them very old memories. I can no longer promise that they are completely accurate. They are just what I carry forward.

The first story is about my father, Edward Arnel Conover. He died when I was fourteen and I have this story from my mother. Father wanted to be a Congregational Church minister and attended Chicago Theological Seminary for a year in the 1920s. He was one of many who were inspired by the Social Gospel movement personified by Walter Rauschenbusch. Some opponents attacked the Social Gospel movement as communist or socialist and a few were inspired by the Social Gospel to become American Christian socialists or communists. My father was just a Democrat inspired by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Hubert Humphrey. Still, I remember the celebratory moment in our house the day Lavrentia Berea died, the killer under Stalin who executed or exiled millions of Russians to Siberia. What the Social Gospel was about was Christian inspired cooperation “Thy Kingdom come on Earth.” If you want to imagine the lasting significance of the Social Gospel movement, think of the importance of the non-profit movement in the United States.

Mother was not willing to be a preacher’s wife even though she was a skilled organist and piano player and thus was perfect for such a role. So Father became a social worker back when social workers were also organizers. Father began his career as a social worker in Joliet Prison, working with pre-release prisoners. He followed the inspiration of Jane Hull who created the first Settlement House in response to the Social Gospel.  Father and mother moved to Chicago, rented an apartment over a garage in “Little Sicily” where stolen cars were broken down for parts, and started a Settlement House. Like Hull House, the work was with immigrants pouring into Chicago speaking no English and fresh from Europe.

After awhile Father and Mother moved back to their native Minnesota, to Minneapolis. Dad became one of the leaders in organizing the Red Feather campaign, a model that in a decade or so became the United Way now found in almost all major cities across the nation. The basic organizing trick for the Red Feather campaign was to get the many independent charities in Minneapolis to start cooperating with each other instead of competing for contributions against each other. The competition was leading to mission creep which amounts to “We will do anything if you will pay us with contributions.”  The organizing work was to get the main charities to more narrowly define their ministries and then get together to pull off a really big fund raising campaign. They shared the take by agreed upon percentages. One important result was to build up the tradition of making referrals between agencies and organizations.

My second story is about Rev. Bill Baird. I met Bill when I was a student at Chicago Theological Seminary. Bill had put himself through college in North Dakota as a professional welter-weight boxer in the small town, small scale, fight circuit in the Dakotas and nearby states. Boxing was a big sport back then, easy to put on and easy to bet on. Bill fought more than sixty times; won some and lost some. And Bill was used to living poor, a critical skill for a lot of Congregational ministers serving small churches in Midwest small towns.

Bill wanted to work on overcoming black-white racial divisions and he was stuck in small town white congregations. Essex Community Church was a white church on the Southside of Chicago, a couple of miles South of Chicago Theological Seminary on the Southern margin of the Woodlawn community. When white flight in the Southside ghetto expanded, Essex Church lost its minister and went into disaster mode. Bill saw the “disaster” as opportunity. He took the pastoral job no one wanted and was paid the handsome salary of $360 a month to support himself, his wife, and a disabled grandchild that was the full-time ministry of his wife. He supplemented his income by marrying and burying American communist Christians that no other minister would serve.

I worked with Bill as a volunteer student pastor, and later as a full-time co-pastor and community organizer, paid $600 a month by the Chicago Metropolitan Association of the United Church of Christ. Bill led me into participation in the Greater Woodlawn Pastors Alliance. The Pastor’s Alliance was at the spiritual and practical heart of The Woodlawn Organization (TWO). TWO was the largest black community organization that has ever been organized in the United States. The Pastor’s Alliance invited in, and paid, the controversial Saul Alinsky organizing group that became the biggest Alinsky, success.

I believe the success of TWO was because the Pastors Alliance not only provided the initial salaries for the Alinsky organizers, but were also a big part of the organizing efforts. The other big part was organizing block clubs and getting them to cooperate beyond the usual block oriented efforts such as buying shared snow blowers. I stumbled into a small but meaningful gift when I had an opportunity for a brief side conversation with Saul Alinsky at a TWO annual meeting. I asked him if he had known my Dad, thinking they had both been in active in Chicago at about the same time. He said he had known him in the Back of the Yards Movement, a big labor breakthrough by the Packinghouse Workers Union. Supporting labor movements was another part of the Social Gospel Movement.

Essex community was outside Woodlawn proper and was commonly, if improperly, called South Woodlawn. I organized two house churches within Essex Church, based on my understanding of the English house church movement, and helped coordinate our house church mission of improving the Essex Community in cooperation with Essex block clubs. My block club was the 7400 Dorchester block club. When we had our Summer block party we counted 250 children living on the block.

Essex Church was small and growing. In contrast, the Greater Woodlawn Pastors Alliance included two large Catholic parishes, the city block square First Presbyterian Church, big Lutheran and Episcopal parishes, and a dozen other strong, but not giant sized, churches. Some of Alliance leaders had national reputations within their denomination. The ecumenical cooperation was beautiful. All the public face leaders were black.

Bill had an out-sized presence in the Greater Woodlawn Pastors Alliance in its support for The Woodlawn Organization for three reasons. Bill was not burdened by heavy ministerial duties in Essex Church, partly because it was small, about forty members, and partly because of my assistance. Bill put time into the background organizing work of TWO as a primary practical liaison between the Pastor’s Alliance and TWO. His dailyness helped the Pastor’s Alliance be a lot more than a cheering section that paid some bills. Among other things he paid attention to budget details without ever becoming the Treasurer. He was fearless and called out the bullshit work of some Alinsky organizers who did some very good work and some very poor work. Secondly, Bill made small loans to poorly paid Alinsky staff members from his poverty and didn’t press them about paying him back. They did not want to pick a fight with Bill, at least to his face, and his face showed up in a lot of places. Third, Bill had a nose for corruption, and discovered a never revealed significant financial corruption within TWO that I will not discuss although the statute of limitations must have expired by now.

I do not want to overstate Bill’s importance. There were some terrific priests and ministers in the Alliance and some great emergent grass roots organizers. Just one example will do. Bill led me into Chicago political organizing against the famous real Mayor Daley political juggernaut. The ghetto parts of the Daley Machine was led by Congressman Bill Dawson. The result was Dawson’s control of seven or eight black alderman in a City Council of fifty aldermen. White racism was rampant in Chicago and Dawson delivered crumbs of political patronage through his aldermen. The crumbs, compared to the large-scale Daley patronage machine, were highly valued crumbs in poverty wards.

Bill and I supported the campaigns of two candidates who became the first two independent black alderman in Chicago. I took on organizing five precincts in Essex proper and Bill took on five precincts in nearby Essex. Both of them won. Bill Cousins didn’t have to spend any of his limited resources and attention in the five precincts I worked and we gave him a nice bump as part of his winning campaign. Within four years all of Dawson’s aldermen either became independent or were replaced. This was the heart of a movement that peaked long after I was gone in the election of Mayor Washington, the first black mayor of Chicago.

Bill was more of a hero than a mentor to me but I learned from him and, more importantly, saw clearly what an inspired fighting prophetic Christian looks like. My time in Essex confirmed me in my Christian faith and gave me an education in community organizing that connected me to my father’s faith.

Some of you may recognize the name I. F. Stone. Isidore Stone was a Jewish devotee of Socrates, wrote a book on Socrates. He smelled a rat at the heart of U. S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The U.S. swooped into Vietnam to pick up the colonial mess that had been made by the French and backed the official government made up of the people who had run Vietnam for the French interests. The U.S. called the war a war against communism, which was true. It was in the same spirit as getting into the Korean War. My third story is about for who, and for what, was the United States fighting for.

I unintentionally gained an inside informant on Vietnamese politics. When I was a nineteen year old student at Florida State University I became friends with Phung Ling Doan. Doan was one of my groomsmen when I was married at twenty, much of the irritation of my soon to be mother in law. Doan was a child of a Vietnam political family favored by the United States and came to FSU to avoid fighting in the Korean War. He happily told me about Vietnamese politics, something I knew nothing about. Thus interested, I searched around and followed some obscure-to-me reference to the I. F. Stone Weekly Report. I promptly subscribed, a significant step considering my poverty at that time.

You can think of the I. F. Stone Weekly as a paper blog delivered to the mail box on the front of your house. It exposed what was actually going on in Vietnam. The first years of Establishment Press reporting relied almost completely on press briefings by the Pentagon or State Department. The Establishment Press told about brave Americans sacrificing to stop the scourge of communism. They told big stories about capturing small areas of land, small areas that were often lost or compromised when the focus of the fighting moved on. In fairness to the Establishment Press, they had no contacts of their own in Vietnam.

Stone made enough contacts to tell a different story, a story buried in the small     readership of people like me. He told about the leadership of Big Minh, a former Vietnamese General who represented a coalition of Buddhists, students, and some workers, a non-establishment leadership in South Vietnam. It became clear to me that we were losing the war in Vietnam because we were backing the wrong leadership. Big Minh represented and spoke in the language that sounded like U. S. democracy to me, a Vietnamese populist opposing a corrupt Vietnamese colonial remnant establishment as described to me by Doan.

As it began to become clear that things were not going well in the Vietnam War, other people began to discover I. F. Stone and his Weekly Report blossomed in readership. More importantly, the Establishment Press took up the work Stone had begun and began writing some critical stories. Suddenly, from a national perspective, and unsurprising to me, a big anti-Vietnam movement erupted in the United States. I played my small part in that movement by becoming the co-organizer of the movement at Florida State University. We pulled off one very large demonstration that got no national attention and very little attention from the Tallahassee Democrat.

Isadore Stone made a big contribution to democracy in the United States. One part was helping to further unpack the dangers of the anti-communist movement. From my point of view, the anti-communist movement was at least as big a problem in the United States as communism. It was personal for me. The FBI tapped  our phone. The FBI walked into my mother in laws High School English class and asked her in front of her students whether she knew I was a communist. I was not, then or now.

My fourth story is more group focused than individual focused. When I moved to Washington, DC in 1986 to become a policy advocate for the United Church of Christ, I was supposed to focus on poverty issues in the United States. But the big issue for our office in 1986 was the U. S. involvement in the wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

As a new staff member with a very different job description, I played only marginal and supporting roles. But I did have a ring side seat and I loved what our office was doing in cooperation with a couple of ecumenical coalitions. Because our office was one of the largest mainline offices back then, because we had staff flexibility and clear policy guidance from the denomination, and because we had some program money back then, we had four or five staff focused on the Central American wars, and two or three more like me that helped out as needed.

As in Vietnam, the early coverage in the Establishment Press was mostly about fighting communism in Central America and supporting our allies against revolutionaries. As in Vietnam we were on the wrong side because of the foreign policies designed by Henry Kissinger and called reality politics. Reality politics was justification for supporting dictators representing the interest of a few powerful families, often families connected to U. S. based international corporations such as the United Fruit Company. Reality politics was supposedly an improvement on sending in the Marines to prop up such families and dictators. U. S. policy included training the military leaders of the dictators in suppressing internal dissent from students, whatever there was of a free press, and other enemies. Like in Vietnam, the Establishment Press depended mostly on Pentagon and State Department press briefings. And, as in Vietnam, the story was opposing communism, real or imagined.

The United Church of Christ, like the Establishment Press, had few if any strong contacts in Nicaragua or El Salvador. We had never focused missionary activity in those nations. However, some UCC members had some contacts and other mainline churches and peace churches had some very good contacts. The ecumenical groups started releasing press reports that told a very different story than the stories based on Pentagon and State Department briefings. These press reports were assembled in well attended news sharing and editing groups that I did not participate in. As in Vietnam, it eventually became clear to the Establishment Press that the ecumenical reports, like I. F. Stone’s reports, were far more accurate and honest than the Pentagon and State Department based stories.

First in dribbles, then in a bunch, the ecumenical based stories became more widely told. Once again weak and discounted protest groups took off. Seekers had a small piece of the story when we began supporting Dr. Vicki Guzman who was creating public health services in a hill region of El Salvador despite opposition from the six powerful families of El Salvador. As I remember it, the connection between Seekers and Vicki Guzman was made by Ron Arms, a former member of Seekers who had been working in Central America for an ecumenically oriented Baptist group.

Two of my stories were about organizing in a community that turned out to have national implications. Two of my stories are about peace movements responding to bad U.S. behavior in foreign wars. Our Eyes to See, Ears to Hear, Peace Prayer Mission Group is one place where such caring is part of current Seeker’s life. Stories flowing out of Bokamoso, New Story Leadership, and Guatemala have been well told in Seekers in recent years, stories with mostly unknown leaders, including members of Seekers, who have done their parts. Some of our stories are about successes. Some of our stories are about frustrations and marginalization.

For me, part of the Easter story is that people on the margins, people with little in the way of recognition or resources, people like Jesus, sometimes have big unexpected impacts. I account for such unexpected successes as being breakthroughs in recognition of the guidance of God’s Presence, variously named.

Sometimes it is a lot easier to see what is dreadfully wrong than to follow inspirations into making things better. Plenty of false steps show up in the gospels and Paul’s letters. The constructed memories of Jesus, the good ones at least, have helped to inspire famous and not famous people to make big and small differences down the years, to make small and big differences today. My stories suggest that counting big and small isn’t always obvious. I hope we can keep in mind that, for better or worse, we are also limited to working with our own constructed memories of Jesus.

Like Jesus, then and now, far too many prophets have received the prophet’s reward. Paying the prices of rejection and shaming is one of the peace and justice aspect of resurrection. Embodying and following the inspiration and guidance of God known in Jesus, and experienced as Presence, is our part of resurrecting Jesus today: here, there, everywhere.

We have many people in Seekers we can honor with such stories. Some of the stories have been well told and some, such as the contributions of Paul Holmes, are little told. The story that led me to write this second sermon is the story of Oswaldo and Rosa. They are very good at what they do and I hope Seekers will find many ways to support them and their ministries. We need what they have to offer in Seekers. The United States needs what they have to offer. Nicaragua needs what they have to offer. Let our resurrected shared body of Jesus smile on them, walk with them.

[Pat asked that we include the following as an additional sermon written for this Sunday — ed]

God’s Law and Human Justice

May 13, 2018

7th Sunday of Easter

Today I plan to wrestle a bit with you on some of the themes provoked by Celebration Circle: For the Love of God; Do God’s rules change, and  Just what are we resurrecting as Christ’s body in our Hear and Now, in our Time and Place. I’m also responding to David Lloyd’s words about the importance and function of the laws we construct and change. How shall I cut through such a sermonic muddle?

The lectionary scriptures for today help.

I begin with my transliteration of Psalm One verses 1-2 as found in the Jewish Study Bible.

People who have not followed the guidance of the wicked,

who have not taken the path of sinners,

who have not joined the community of the wicked,

are happy.

They delight in studying the teaching of God and do so every day and night.

Perhaps the author of Psalm One was prodding her students to constantly study Hebrew Scripture. I suggest that studying the teaching of God every day and night can be easily done by practicing prayerful engagement in our daily routines and sometimes in focused prayers. Prayerful awareness sees guidance all around and in us. God known as Presence is available as teacher whenever we are ready to be students. We can cut through our daily muddles experience by experience without first having all the rules clarified and memorized.

Many of you know I am not a fan of the Gospel of John. But, since it was part of today’s lectionary I had to face up to my biases and ignorance. First I noted that todays readings in John have no parallel Verses in the synoptics Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I doubt these are authentic words of Jesus but they are still relevant for picturing John at work trying to make sense of whatever he had received as oral or written sources about Jesus. That is the same task we face when we engage biblical Jesus. In verse 6 we are told that the name of God that Jesus made is “I Am,” the name God had reportedly revealed to Moses. The name “I Am” is a prompt to consider the relationships between the Jewish roots of Christianity and the Greek philosophical roots of Christianity that became prominent in early Christian orthodox theology. This is the sort of question some Gentile believers in Judaism would have been interested in as they considered the inspiration of Jesus and constructed Christianity. In verse 13 Jesus is presented as praying that his followers would have his Joy. This pairing gives us a grounding in feeling as well as philosophy for working through sermonic muddles.

There are interesting arguments to be enjoyed in considering the letter we have in the Bible as First John. I will skip the arguments and jump to what seems to me to be the author’s main point: the claim that we already have eternal life if we have the Son of God in our lives now. Most telling, the author anticipates Seekers in pointing out that a major mark of whether or not we have the Son of God in our lives is whether we experience love within our community.

Perhaps the lectionary editors were steering me and others to consider that the author of Luke, who is also the author of Acts, linked Psalm One’s joy in not being among the wicked and instead studying God known as Presence, the Gospel lesson that encourages engaging the Presence of God with both thinking and feeling, and the letter’s author to love one another within our community.

What is God’s Law? Priestly authors set out to answer the question by claiming the authority to write, teach, and interpret laws attributed to Moses as the laws of God. Gaining acceptance for their authority was the original historical construction of Judaism as a “People of the Book” as a “People of the Law.” Priestly claiming of authority was at the expense of the claimed divine right of kings to do whatever they wanted and call it the guidance of God. Caesar Augustus, as for Cyrus of Persia, and the Pharaohs of Egypt, claimed to be both God and Human. Kings  claimed they should be obeyed AND honored. They held up victory in battle as sufficient evidence that God was on their side, a story we get over and over again in the various history narratives of Hebrew Scripture.

The winning strategy for gaining priestly authority was to support the kings as chosen of God and then to tell the kings what God wanted them to do and how to gain the support of the people by supporting and adjudicating good laws. The prominence of the Ten Commandments, which David helped us work with once again, is that it is good guidance for what people should do an not do. When elders gathered at the city gates, and later when rabbis sat in the judgment seat in synagogues, the Ten Commandments provided shared references for settling disputes and assigning punishments.

It is interesting to me that the Indiana Legislature, following in the tradition of infamous Judge Roy Moore, has sought to put up a Ten Commandments monument on the State House grounds on the premise that it is an historic document. First of all, calling it an historic document rather than a religious document is an insult to Jews and Christians who consider it a highpoint of biblical scripture. The legislature apparently assumes that the United States is a Christian nation rather than a freedom of religion nation as clarified in the First Amendment. In writing the First Amendment Jefferson had in mind the brutal oppression of Baptists by Anglicans in Virginia. The Indiana Legislature has managed to malign Judaism, Christianity, and the United States in one action.

Should we think of the Ten Commandments, and the commandment that all roofs should have parapets, as laws of God. If not, what other sources might we refer to discover the laws of God. Priestly and then rabbinic authority has been maintained down the years by interpreting Torah, mostly by telling exemplary stories. Such was the strategy of Jesus for the most part. An example of such interpreting in current Christian argumentation is whether the “Thou shalt not kill” commandment, as found in the King James version that I memorized as a child, should be better understood as “Thou shalt not murder.” Who would get to decide which language would show up on the Indiana “monument.”

More importantly, how shall we consider the guidance of the Ten Commandments as it relates to authorized and unauthorized killing, including the right to concealed carry so that any person can decide when they are justified in pulling out a hidden gun to kill someone. It is one thing to memorize a list of the Ten Commandments and quite another thing to decide how to interpret them, obey them, and honor them. What is it that should be honored in all parents? How should we honor the Sabbath and keep it holy? I refuse to shop at Walmart on Sunday. Of course I never shop at Walmart anyway. What if I really like my neighbors lawnmower and wish I could afford one just like it?

Can legislatures, priests, and preachers to spell out all the details so we can know how to be obedient? Do you ever get tired of interpreting rules, spelling out rules for your children, figuring out what should be rules in Seekers? Do you ever want people just to tell you what to do? Do you ever want to ask first and then ask for permission. Do you think you have to keep God’s rules so you can go to Heaven?

Do you want to forget rules and just rely on your own conscience for guidance. Do you want other people just to act according to their consciences. I refuse to feel guilty when I drive 38 miles an hour in a 35 miles per hour zone in a no traffic situation. I know that the goal of traffic laws is safety and I’m sure I can be safe at 38 miles an hour. I’ve done it many times and I’ve never had an accident or been pulled over for a speeding ticket.

I am much more comfortable with the emphasis of Jesus on the two Great Commandments as presented in the story of the Samaritan who helped a Jew. The two commandments are to love God with all that you are and to love your neighbor as yourself. The first of the great commandments is wonderful in terms of its wide applicability and vague because of the challenges of interpreting what it means to love God in the dailyness of living. The lawyer might well have asked “What is the guidance of love?” Instead, the lawyer in the story asked “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds in typical rabbinic fashion by telling a story that honors a Samaritan and dishonors a priest and a Levite for not coming to the aid of a wounded man in need. It is good to love inclusively, but does it help to guide love by rules?

In untangling the Samaritan story, it helps to remember that Samaritans honored the Torah but not the rest of the scriptures. They broke with the claimed authority of the Jerusalem priests by doing their animal sacrifices on Mount Gerizim rather than under the control of the priests in Jerusalem. Is it enough to love your neighbor and forget about worship laws?

Can we interpret the stories of Jesus as appeals to everyday morality, while challenging the religious authority of priests? Do religious leaders lose their moral authority when they pass by on the other side of the road?

The Jerusalem Temple had three main parts in the time of Jesus. The inner part that was supposedly so holy that only priests could go there. The middle part was only for Jew. It had a wall around it and a sign threatening death to Gentiles that dared enter. The outer part was a big plaza with a giant portico providing shade. The outer part was a common location for meeting and having conversations. Jesus, and then Peter, taught in the outer courtyard of the Temple. They could teach and argue about Torah but only priests were allowed to offer God’s forgiveness of sins through the rituals related to animal sacrifice. Jesus, following John the Baptist, preached forgiveness following baptism and practicing repentance. This upset the priests for ritual and financial reasons.  Another part of the economy and some wealthy Jerusalem families was colluding with the Romans to keep the population docile while the Romans reduced them to poverty by taking crops, fish, and labor at slave labor prices.

Jesus couldn’t escape the politics of his moment anymore than we can escape the politics of our times. In 1911 Joe Hill wrote the song “The Preacher and the Slave” which had the famous line, “There will be pie in the sky by and by when you die.” Owner thugs murdered Joe Hill. Randolph Hearst promoted Billy Graham which suited his politics of keeping workers docile. Graham talked about getting to Heaven and didn’t weigh in on economic exploitation. His son, Franklin Graham, is even worse. We don’t need an interpreter to guide us when we sing the freedom song “Which Side Are You On.”

What is fundamentally beautiful about the United States of America is that we do not have to kill each other to change the laws. Still, we are not lacking for everyday martyrs in our time including a lot of people who are in jail for being “uppity.”

To face up to the guidance of Jesus in the story of the Samaritan Who Helped a Jew, it is not nearly good enough to wag our fingers at the priest and Levite who passed by on the other side.  It is a really hard story. With so much bad news available to us every day, how can we respond to all who have been beat up and left on the side of the road. How shall we prioritize among current black lung victims, Rohyingas in Bangladesh, sexually abused women in businesses, victims of police violence and those imprisoned by the courts based on police manufacturing or withholding evidence? When I lived in the Southside ghetto of Chicago I was more afraid of the police and the FBI than I was of the Blackstone Rangers who shot our Boy Scout leader between the eyes because they look on our Scout troop as a rival gang. Choosing sides leads to seeing the world differently for better and for worse. Shall we go to the demonstrations for gun control, or to protect the rights of women to control their bodies, or to support teachers who are underpaid? Should I feel guilty because my feet hurt to much to go to any of them?

I go by on the other side of the road all the time even though I know better. I need daily forgiveness as much as I need my daily bread.

Lift the curtain and face up to God’s law. Everything we do and don’t do that makes the world harder for other people, that confuses people into what is called mental illness, that leaves people as confused as we are about right and wrong, that makes people feel unseen and anonymous, that makes people feel alienated and unwilling to vote; everything we do that prompts some people to become bullies and others to become victims, that makes a few of us far too rich and so many more far too poor, puts us on the side of the road with the priest and the Levite.

Only love can help us cross the road. Only humility and caring can help us cross the road. Only better laws and taxes can help us rebalance injustices. Only trusting in the midst of risks, of giving the benefit of the doubt, can help us see what is true in the darkest places. Only paying out our share of the wages of sin, intended or unintended, can help balance the scales of privilege and inequality.

God’s justice is just the anger, alienation, and frustrations we discover when we walk on the the side of the road with the robbed and beaten victim. The Samaritan didn’t whip out his AR-15 to hunt down the robbers. He made the extra efforts healing so often requires. When we walk the vulnerable side of the road we don’t have to cross the road to help out.

The best kept secret of loving and healing communities is that we find happiness in following the guidance of the just, when we walk with sinners in shared forgiveness, when we truly are doing the best we can and can endure being with others who are doing the best they can. When we walk the openness side of the road rather the supposedly protected side, we can delight in curiosity and caring about how things can become better. We can be thankful for the hardest teachings of Jesus beginning with the two Great Commandments.

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