Charity’s Cheap Absolution (#326)

Luke Sanders was a sweet man. He and I would exchange greetings outside the parish office where I served as rector. He’d always smile and offer an encouraging word for me. “What’s the good word today, Luke?” I’d say. And he’d say something like, “God’s good all the time” or “I’m blessed today.” Luke lived on the street when he wasn’t living in our shelter for homeless persons nearby. Sometimes he’d be denied entry to the shelter if he were too drunk and disorderly. So, he’d just hang out around our church block that included the shelter as well as a community kitchen that fed him and hundreds of others each day. When he was “plastered,” he wasn’t easy to deal with. I recall the times we had to pull him from the middle of our busy street where he had been “directing traffic” (in his altered state, he saw that as his important public service).

When Luke wasn’t wild-eyed drunk, he was a pleasant companion. Earlier in life he’d been an accomplished Golden Gloves boxer. I know this because he showed me old pictures of him in the ring wearing a boxing belt with his name on it. He had family (we all have family, somewhere, right?), but I could never know when he talked about his wife and children whether they were real or just a distorted memory from an alcoholic fog. Of course, I was always too busy to listen to him more.

One hot summer we didn’t see Luke for a few days. That wasn’t at all unusual. He’d occasionally get arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct and spend time in jail. But then we noticed an awful odor from the window well in front of the Parish Hall. We found his body there. The autopsy determined he died of heat stroke and dehydration. A few days later, with the full Burial Office of the Church, we buried his remains in our church’s columbarium grounds. Presiding at his burial didn’t assuage my conscience.

We failed Luke Sanders. More accurately, I failed Luke Sanders. We housed him. We fed him. We pulled him off the street when he was a danger to himself and others, but we failed him. Our charity toward Luke, as Dr. Bob Lupton of Focused Neighborhood Strategies in Atlanta would say, was “toxic.” I knew his addiction was a disease and not a personal moral failing, but along with others, I settled for dispensing charity toward him. We did this, all the while patting ourselves on the back for how “Christian” we were toward him and toward others, who like him, were suffering.

We in the Church dispense charity because it’s easier than the more difficult work of transformation and conversion of life. Dispensing charity makes us feel good about ourselves. Such charity dispensing though keeps the other person as an object of our good works. It doesn’t, as our Baptismal Covenant says, “respect their dignity.” Our behavior won’t change until we make our work to be more about the “good of the other” instead of “our good feelings.” Luke’s face still haunts me today. And appropriately so. I don’t want the haunting to go away. It’s a kick in my conscience’s backside reminding me that I had a hand in his death. I don’t want the cheap absolution from voices who say: “He was a drunk. You did the best you could.” I’ve heard such voices too many times and I know them to be lies. We didn’t do the best we could. I know I didn’t.

+Scott

 

Running a Spiritual Ponzi Scheme (#325)

Everybody’s going somewhere, riding just as fast as they can ride
I guess they’ve got a lot to do, before they can rest assured, their lives are justified
Pray to God for me baby, He can let me slide
Bright Baby Blues by Jackson Browne

NPR’s Radio Lab had a fascinating program on Bernie Madoff last week. You know, that Bernie Madoff, he who bilked billions of dollars from his investors in the largest Ponzi scheme (i.e., to date, stay tuned) in history. Madoff’s interviewer spent hours talking with him trying to get a sense of how Madoff, serving a prison sentence of 150 years, now understood his own past behavior. Apparently, Madoff, even as he expresses tacit remorse for his actions, considers himself a victim. He claims he was under enormous pressure by his early investors to duplicate an annual 18% return on investment. He felt bullied by them, so he made sure they received the returns they wanted, even though anyone who knows anything about investing would never expect such a return every year. So, he wasn’t the one at fault. It was those awful “investor bullies.”

This is just another version of the old the-dog-ate-my-homework excuse: “It’s not my fault, it’s the dog’s,” or in Madoff’s case, those “investor bullies.” What the Radio Lab segment illuminated for me is that Madoff is hardly unique. He’s just an extreme example of our human inability to acknowledge fault. We resolve the universal problem of being human by trying to avoid any sense of guilt. When was the last time we heard a public figure say: “I was wrong to have sex with an intern.” Or, “I created a major conflict of interest by allowing Halliburton to write environmental legislation.” Or, “I was wrong to say President Obama’s birth certificate was fake.”

But we rarely hear that. And we rarely do that ourselves.

Instead, we either insist we have no fault, or we speak of wrongs committed passively, as in “mistakes were made,” so the actor of the wrong is separated from the deed. When we don’t admit our faults, we create a society that’s spiritually and emotionally stunted. And when our leaders fail to take personal responsibility for their faults, they bend us all further toward communal sociopathic behavior.

As with Jackson Browne’s song, we’ve got “a lot to do” before we “can rest assured” our “lives are justified.” For such self-justification to occur, we must convince ourselves of our own righteousness, and by doing so, innocently declare ourselves to be fault-free. So, if not us, who’s to blame for what’s wrong? That’s when we give ourselves permission to blame the wrongs on immigrants, or lazy poor people, or those who don’t share our political convictions. But when we look in the mirror, we must know we’re only fooling ourselves. And when such self-delusional behavior is role-modeled for us by people we elect, then we have no one to blame but ourselves. We get the leaders we deserve.

None of us are fault-free any more than we’re sin-free. We’re all spiritual Ponzi schemers passing the fault on to others. Just like with all Ponzi schemes, it only works when one makes the other pay. Is that really so hard for us to admit? Apparently, it is. Our only hope is to pray to God, hoping he’ll let us “slide.”

+Scott
The Rt. Reverend Scott A. Benhase
Bishop of Georgia

 

Leadership Hubris (#324)

There’s a scene in the 1977 film, “A Bridge Too Far,” that’s stayed in my memory. The scene is of a thousand wounded British soldiers spread out on the ground awaiting boats to take them to safety after an epic battle during WWII. The camera pans over these soldiers lying there exposed and helpless and a lone soldier stands and begins singing the hymn, “Abide with me.” Soon all the soldiers join in forming a great choir:
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide: The darkness deepens, Lord, with me abide:
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Eventually, they make it back across the river safely. This film is about an actual military battle called Operation Market Garden. In 1944, British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery believed the Allies could parachute nearly 35,000 soldiers behind enemy lines, cut off the enemy’s supply lines, and change the course of the war. He convinced himself that the paratroopers would face little resistance, only youth and old men with guns, even though reconnaissance photos provided by his subordinates and reports from the Dutch underground showed two German tank divisions and front line troops present. The operation was a disaster and Allied soldiers paid the price. Of the 10,000 British paratroopers sent, history reports only one in five returned.

This film isn’t about a military battle or even military strategy, really. That’s merely the dramatic container for an important history lesson. It’s rather about the hubris of leadership and the consequences when leaders don’t listen to those who may know more than they do. Montgomery failed a basic test of humility with respect to leadership. Believing something doesn’t make it so. And failing to listen to divergent voices, especially provided by the “rank and file,” often leads to disastrous decisions.

The real hubris in this situation (and in others since then) is the leader’s willingness to actively ignore facts that don’t fit what he wants to believe. So, we witnessed over 400,000 dead Americans and Iraqis over non-existent weapons of mass destruction that UN Inspectors had said clearly didn’t exist. We get the near collapse of the world economy caused by banks’ institutional hubris even though there were plenty of warning signs everywhere about the housing bubble. And today we see refugees, who are vetted for 18-24 months before entering this country legally, denied entry. None of them come from countries, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, that have produced terrorists on American soil and not one refugee vetted and brought to America has engaged in terrorist acts.

Once again, we’re witnessing the hubris of leadership, which demands a circular logic that goes something like this: “Because I’m the leader and I believe something is so, then it must be so, because I’m the leader.” The cost of leadership hubris is rarely paid for by the leader. It’s most often the weak and helpless or those who are bound to follow orders that pay the price. Wanting to believe something doesn’t make it so. Willfully ignoring the facts isn’t a leadership virtue.

Help of the helpless, O abide…

+Scott
The Rt. Reverend Scott A. Benhase
Bishop of Georgia

 

God’s in the Reality, Not the Lie (#323)

I’ve always been fascinated by how we humans behave, both individually and in groups. I just reread a book published twenty years ago entitled Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust by Daniel Goldhagen. In his book, Goldhagen documents how many people knowingly participated in the Hitler-directed genocide of the Jewish people. His book sought to counter what had been commonly accepted about the Holocaust: it was perpetrated by the Nazi Party, but “ordinary” citizens played no real part in it. Goldhagen showed how hundreds of thousands of Germans were directly involved in the Holocaust and even more knew of the genocide taking place. To Christianity’s shame, most of the German Church went along with the genocide. Few were willing to risk their lives to resist the Holocaust.

Many reacted negatively to Goldhagen’s claims. They didn’t want to believe that reality about ordinary citizens. That reaction provides an insight into how we humans deal with hard truths about ourselves or the world. We want to think that evil is perpetrated only by bad people and not by good people like us. But I wonder: What were ordinary Germans thinking when they smelled the odor from the crematoria smokestacks? Were they too afraid to act? Did they convince themselves it wasn’t happening? Did they hope someone else would stop it all? Hannah Arendt’s term, “the Banality of Evil,” comes to mind. Everyone was just doing their job, keeping their noses clean, and trying not to reflect too much on what was happening. They, of course, were lying to themselves.

Our inability to see the truth about ourselves and what’s happening around us is due to our fallen, sinful natures. Sin being what sin is, we’d rather not face reality. We prefer the story we tell ourselves. But when we do that, we stay locked in the grip of sin. There’s no Good News in the false stories we tell ourselves, for God isn’t found in them. On the Cross of Jesus, God meets us in the reality of the world and not as we fantasize it to be. And that’s Good News to us who are exhausted with the lies we tell ourselves and the lies others tell us that we simply accept as true. George Orwell contended that when lies are told often and repeatedly, particularly by those in power, then fighting the lie becomes more exhausting than just acquiescing to it. So, we go along with the lie. Orwell also proposed that falsifying reality is a way those in power try to control others. But that attempt is ultimately a dead end. Truth and reality always have a way of asserting themselves, eventually.

And that’s where the Good News of Jesus meets us. Owning up to reality is liberating for us because God is always in the reality, and not in the lie. There’s no “down side” to embracing the truth about ourselves or what’s happening around us. Our faith in Jesus and his Cross tells us that he’s paid the price for our lies and the lies marketed to us as truth. We’re free to be real, to name things as they are and for what they truly are.

So, be bold in naming the reality you see in yourself and the world around you. There’s no need to acquiesce to the lies, the ones inside us or the ones outside us, for God is always mercifully in the reality of the world. We are more free than we realize!

+Scott

 

My Anxiety (not what you may think) (#322)

When I coach parish clergy through a difficult congregational situation, I often counsel them not to hold onto the situation’s anxiety all by themselves. I encourage them to take it to their lay leadership and place the anxiety in their midst and say: “OK, here it is. What are we going to do about this?” My reason for such counsel is that it’s not right or healthy for clergy to take all the anxiety on themselves. Whatever the issue, it belongs to the whole parish and its lay leadership should share in the responsibility of addressing it. That’s good baptismal theology. The parish leadership, lay and ordained together, ought to deal with the issue. I’ll even say something to the clergy like: “We have a Savior, Jesus, and you aren’t Jesus. The Body of Christ needs to handle this together.”

So, I want to practice what I preach and not hold the anxiety I’m feeling all by myself. I’m frustrated, but in my frustration, I certainly don’t want to appear whiny. I’m not one quickly to complain. I’m uninterested in finding anyone to blame. That rarely proves helpful in the long run. I’m well-aware when a bishop (or any leader) vulnerably shares his feelings that this will upset some people, while it will just plain annoy others. I don’t wish to upset or annoy anyone, but I don’t know what to make of our situation in the Diocese right now. And that’s why I’m frustrated.

We’re near the end of a Capital Campaign to raise much needed funds so we can continue the important mission work we’ve begun and to start new work to which we believe God is calling us. Over the last few years, we’ve checked in with the Diocese about our goals and objectives and have received positive feedback. The people of the Diocese have told us overwhelmingly in separate surveys that the Campaign priorities were spot on and we should confidently move forward. We even lowered the expected goal to make achieving it quite attainable. And here’s where I’m frustrated. We’re nowhere near reaching the goal and we have less than five weeks to go before the Campaign ends. I had hoped everyone would realize the importance of what we’re doing and how crucial it is for the future vitality and faithfulness of the Diocese. People across the Diocese have told me that what we’ve done together and are planning to do is important, so the lack of widespread financial support to date has left me confused.

The Diocese is well-managed and responsive. Six years ago, we reduced most parish’s annual “asking” from 15% (or more) down to 10%. Even with this reduction, we’ve managed to keep the Diocesan budget in the “black” every year. Adjusted for inflation, our Diocesan budget is smaller now than it was seven years ago even as combined gross parish revenues have increased. We did this purposefully. We wanted more funds kept on the congregational level for local mission. But we also made it clear at the time that we would need to raise funds beyond the Diocesan budget if we wanted to be faithful to God’s mission by training new leaders, by growing our congregations’ witness in their communities, and by sharing God’s grace and mercy with more young people.

So, I need help in making sense of what’s going on. I’m sharing this anxiety with all of us because we’re all in this together.

+Scott

 

The Cross, not Glory (#321)

 

You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the slum…it is madness to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacrament and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating Him in the bodies and souls of His children. — Bishop Frank Weston to the Church of England in 1923

There’s a theological itch that gets scratched in most every generation of the Church. It started first with Gnosticism and Docetism, but other varieties of this itch have also appeared in the Church based on the larger cultural currents present at the time (Prosperity Theology is a current itch). While no single explanation tells the whole story, let me offer a compelling one for us to consider: this itch is caused by our desire to have a Religion of Glory rather than the Gospel’s Religion of the Cross. Whether it’s Gnosticism, Docetism, or Prosperity Theology, we’re drawn to a religion that focuses on our Glory rather than on the Cross, which the Gospel proclaims as revealing God’s very nature. It’s not Glory that defines God, it’s the Cross.

This recurring itch isn’t surprising given human nature. We’d prefer the Cross only to be an unfortunate, unpleasant means to a glorious end rather than the revelation of God’s very nature. Everything about our current cultural ethos screams “Glory!” Business success, athletic victory, or celebrity attainment are all about achieving Glory for oneself. So, business people daily violate basic ethics, athletes cheat, and celebrities pursue self-promotion to get such Glory. And if we can’t get Glory for ourselves, then we settle for basking in the reflected Glory of those we worship in the culture around us. It then stands to reason that we’d want a religion that would affirm our pursuit of such Glory; a religion that tells us that it’s what God truly wants for us all.

Like with any itch, we scratch this one even though it produces in us only temporary satisfaction. As Bishop Weston so clearly points out: We who worship God must connect such worship to how we live with others. To praise God on Sunday and then to turn around and bully, cheat, or exploit God’s children during the week means we have not yet chosen to learn and follow a Religion of the Cross. A Religion of the Cross confesses a God who gives grace to those disgraced by life, sight to those who have been blind to God’s mercies, healing to those who have been sickened by the world, and life to those who have finally realized just how dead they were without God’s forgiveness.

Beginning today, we’ll all need to have a revived and robust Religion of the Cross because we’re entering a time where, for some, Glory will be all that matters. They’ll further erode ethical behavior, normalize cheating as an acceptable way to be a “winner,” and baptize selfishness by calling it a virtue. We must be steadfast in our humility that God alone is God and we are not. We must insist that God’s grace alone is sufficient for us all. And, we must proclaim that nothing outside of sharing God’s unmerited grace with others has any permanent claim on us. Bishop Weston rightly called it “madness” when we suppose we can have a safe religion while we witness the degradation of God’s children. It’s time to take up the cross and follow Jesus!

+Scott

 

Connecting Belief with Action (#320)

An unfortunate development in western culture has been the growing separation of thought from action; from what we believe in our heart to how we act in the world. On some level, we still recognize we ought to have a congruence between what we hold to be true and how we live, but we seem to believe that it’s enough for us just to have the right thoughts about life. We just don’t have to do anything about it. We can still feel righteous because we believe we hold the right conviction. And we can denounce anyone who doesn’t feel the way we do or hold the position we hold.

This has also crept into our religious life. If we hold the right belief about God, or Jesus, or the Church, then it doesn’t matter whether that belief results in right action. We have divorced orthodoxy (“right belief”) from orthopraxy (“right practice”) so much so that it’s enough for us just to be “right.” I hope we’re all convicted by this. And I also hope we’re willing to not only do some soul-searching about how each of us has manifested this disconnection, but also to take steps to reconnect belief and action in our own lives.

Presented for your consideration: We’re all aware that many of our public schools are struggling to educate our children. In Georgia, we’re 45th among the 50 states in most measurements for educational quality and success. Teachers in our public schools are asked to do a near impossible job of educating our children while also dealing with a multitude of issues those children bring to the classroom. There are many reasons why our public schools aren’t measuring up. Depending on our point of view, each of us will blame certain reasons while discounting others.

So, we can blame teachers, poor parenting, or the government, all the while congratulating ourselves on being right, or we can do something about it. Each of our congregations is near a public school. What if our congregational leaders made an appointment with the principal of their nearby school and simply asked: “We know y’all have a difficult job, what can we do to help?” Now, the principal may list ten things her/his teachers could use help with, and because of limitations of time and talent in the congregation, we couldn’t do nine of them. But we could do that one thing.

Jesus summed up religion succinctly in the Great Commandment: “Love God with all you have and love your neighbor just as if you were loving yourself.” What I’ve proposed is a direct way for all of us to show neighbor-love. To do this, congregations don’t need an outreach budget or a strategic plan, they just need a willingness by a few people to make a difference at a nearby school. It’s a way for us to begin to reconnect our belief and our action.

+Scott

 

More Religion, Please, Not Less (#319)

“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” – Jonathan Swift

A common contention of many non-religious people is that we have too much religion in the world; that if people were less religious we’d have fewer wars between peoples and nations; that religion is a prime motivating factor in inter-tribal and regional conflicts. On the surface, this seems to make sense. After all, people who give affinity to a religion and then engage in barbarity in its name, appear to prove such contentions. But appearances are often deceiving. Just because people give allegiance to a religion doesn’t mean they’re faithful practitioners of that religion. Riffing on the Jonathan Swift quote above, these people have cherry-picked the part of their religion that justifies what they want to do. They’ve accepted just enough religion to justify their behavior, but not enough to be faithful to the whole of their religion. In other words, they have enough religion to justify hatred, but not enough religion to practice love.

Fundamentalists from every religious tradition ought to be the ones that take the whole enchilada and not just the tortilla of religion, but experience shows they’re the least likely to do so. Mohamed Atta, Eric Rudolph, Yigal Amir all used their religion to justify their actions. But these men were dabblers on the fringe of their respective religious traditions. Their politics and worldview were what informed the part of their religious tradition they used to support their actions. Their approach should’ve been the other way around. If they had delved deeply into the tradition and practices of their respective religions, then they would’ve been appalled by their actions.

Not enough religion produces not only terrorists, but also successful politicians. The 2016 U.S. election proved candidates only need to show their religion publicly in a limited way, but they don’t need to take it seriously. After all, most Christians voted for the “Two Corinthians” guy who publicly declared that his ghost-written book was second only to the Bible on the all-time list of great books. The Pew Research Center discovered from post-election polling that Christians who voted for him didn’t truly believe he was at all honest or serious about his religious convictions. That, however, didn’t seem to perplex these voters. It was enough that he kept up the appearance that religion in some way mattered to him. We’re very good at suspending disbelief.

We don’t need people to “cafeteria-ize” their religion to suit their already-held hateful convictions or to use just enough religion to get elected to public office. Rather, we need people to go more deeply into their religion and its practices. In other words, we need us all to drill one 90-foot-deep well rather than numerous nine-foot-shallow wells. As an old rabbi friend of mine from North Carolina once told me: “Scott, we Jews will never again be afraid of Christian violence against us if y’all do just one thing – take Jesus very seriously and do everything he says. If y’all do that, then we’ll be just fine.”

What we need now is more religion, not less, in this world.

+Scott

 

Christmas Message from Bishop Benhase

There have been pregnancy announcements that were easier to receive than the one Joseph received from his betrothed, Mary. Discovering your fiancé is pregnant before the wedding isn’t exactly novel in the history of human relationships, but when you know you’re not the father, it’s still difficult news to receive. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that since Joseph was a decent guy, he swallowed hard, accepted the news, and vowed not to put Mary through any “public disgrace.” Then, as we all know, the angel intervened.

But what Joseph hadn’t yet discovered was that God has never been averse to “public disgrace.” In fact, God has welcomed it. Part of God’s very nature, God’s modus operendi if you will, is God’s continuing vulnerability to “public disgrace” in human eyes. For what other term could we possibly use to describe first the Incarnation and then the Cross? None of us can understand the mystery of God becoming human until we first get it through our hardened hearts that God is a flagrant flaunter of the proper and seemly. The Bible is chock full of examples of God not caring one whit for what we humans see as respectable behavior.

There was an early Church heresy called Docetism. It comes from the Greek word meaning “to seem.” It bothered these early heretics that God would become human; that God would enter the same diseased and alienated flesh as ours and become fully as we are. They thought it was no way for any respectable God to act. It was so messy and uncouth. So, they argued Jesus only “seemed” like he was human, sort of like one of the gods in Greek mythology who took on a human form, but only for short time.

But we Christians contend that God fully entered our humanity in the birth of Jesus. God entered every part of our confused and broken humanity at Christmas and began his journey toward our healing and transformation. Beginning in Bethlehem, Jesus picked up our humanity on his back and carried it on this journey all the way to the cross, where in his sacrifice for our sins, he completed that healing and transformation. And then he took our humanity, healed and transformed, into heaven at his ascension.

For many, that’s no way for a respectable God to act. Shouldn’t a proper God hold us personally accountable for our unrighteousness? Any God worth his salt would insist we do something to deserve being carried on his back. Such a God is an affront to our sensibilities that demand we earn what we receive; that insist we be judged by our merits alone; that dictate suitable behavior of which no Pharisee would disapprove.

Yet, God doesn’t care at all about being proper in our eyes. Any God who’d be willing to be born in a stable behind an over-booked inn in a backwater town like Bethlehem wouldn’t be too proud to share his lot with the likes of you and me in a place like Georgia. That truth sinks thoroughly into our hearts when we stop long enough in our over-booked lives to trust that’s what God has done in the birth of Jesus. God became fully and “disgracefully” human in Jesus. As we learn to trust that truth more each day, we will begin to behave just as “disgracefully” with one another.

+Scott

 

Compassion and the Urgency of Our Lives (#317)

When do we show compassion and when do we not? That was the question a study recently tried to answer. To answer that, the researchers gathered some seminarians and asked half of the them to prepare a sermon on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The other half were given other passages from the Bible on which they would prepare a sermon. When finished, they were asked to go to another building to deliver the sermon. As each left, they had to pass by a person the researchers had placed there who was exhibiting great distress. The researchers postulated that the seminarians, who had just worked on the Good Samaritan sermon, would be more likely than the others to help. They, however, discovered something else. They had also told the seminarians as they left that they had varying amounts of time to get to the other building. Some were given plenty of time, enough time even to stop for coffee. Others were told they had to hurry if they were to be on time. The researchers discovered that it didn’t matter which Bible passage the seminarians had worked on. What mattered was how much time the seminarians believed they had to reach the place where they’d deliver the sermon. Most of those who were given enough time stopped and assisted the person. Almost all of those who thought they had very little time failed to stop and help the person.

So, it’s not teachings from the Bible that determine whether we’ll show compassion to another hurting soul. It’s whether we believe we have time in our schedules to do so. That doesn’t speak highly of our collective Christian characters, now does it? Still, that’s the disturbing truth of my own life. I’d like to think that the Bible has so formed me that I’d respond to such an obvious biblical warrant to assist someone in distress. Of course, I always have a good excuse when I don’t. As a Bishop of the Church, I’m a busy person with important work. Besides, someone else will help that person. I’m always sure of that or at least that’s the story I tell myself to engage in self-absolution.

I get it. We all have busy lives. We have schedules and commitments to keep. We have obligations to our employers and families that matter. Helping another might mean we don’t fulfill a job or family commitment. Life’s messy and complicated, always. Still, I’m uneasy with such excuses. Can I recognize the difference between the urgent and the important? The urgent (e.g., being on time to deliver a sermon) may seem at the time as trumping the important (e.g., stopping to assist someone in distress). Discerning the difference between the urgent and important is where we live as disciples of Jesus.

As we approach our celebration of God becoming flesh behind an inn that was so over-scheduled it had no place for him, we find ourselves in a rush of holiday frenzy. We have work to do. Our employers demand it. We have family commitments that can seem overwhelming, even if some of them are banal (“What will we get Uncle Joe this year for Christmas?”). So, can we stop for a moment and learn again the difference between what’s urgent and what’s important? Can we set aside our pathetic efforts at self-absolution that seek to justify ourselves at the expense of those we think don’t measure up? After all, as Jesus asks in the parable of the Good Samaritan: “Who is it that does the will of God?” His answer: “The one who shows compassion.”

+Scott