Less Complements, More Jesus (#330)

The Principle of Complementarity states that a person’s emotional state tends to evoke complementary responses in others. When a spouse is depressed similar emotions are induced in the other. Likewise, when one is happy, the other is inclined to be as well. We have a propensity for deducing the emotions of others and matching them in ourselves. Such complementarity shows itself in our normal interactions. For example, if a waiter serving our restaurant table is pleasant and charming, we’re likely to be so in return. The opposite is also true. A rude and unfriendly waiter will naturally draw from us a like reaction. This isn’t limited to people with whom we have close relationships. When we’re around strangers, if the emotional vibe is strong, we’ll find ourselves being caught in up those emotions, for good or for ill, that is if we don’t check ourselves.

Complementarity makes sense from our social evolution in tribal cultures. It’s a way we’ve evolved to be in tune with others and to build alliances. So, we tend to go along with the emotions around us without reflecting on them. It’s an effective bonding response within groups. Most often the stakes aren’t very high when complementarity is unconsciously occurring. But, of course, it has a shadow side. It explains how quickly mob behavior forms and just as fast turns mean or deadly. With the advent of social media, mobs also occur in cyberspace. Read comments to new stories on social media and see how emotions get ginned up and shared with each additional comment posted.

It takes considerable self-awareness to notice how our emotions are driven by those around us and to not always go along with them. Those emotions may lead to harmless behavior (and thus we can ignore them or just enjoy them). But if such emotions are leading in a sinister direction, we can try to exercise non-complementary behavior. Jesus was a master at such non-complementary behavior. It’s throughout the Gospel.

Consider Jesus with the woman caught in adultery. The self-righteous emotions of the people around him build until they are determined to stone her. Jesus doesn’t “fight fire with fire.” Rather than “complement” their anger with his own, he calms the situation down by kneeling and doodling in the dirt. He then turns the emotional tables and says: “If any of y’all are without sin, then go ahead and cast the first stone.” In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the father, the older son, and the entire household upon seeing the younger son return could’ve said to him: “You little degenerate, go to the bunkhouse, take your place with the hired hands.” Given what the younger son had done, that would’ve been a justifiable emotional reaction to his behavior. But the father turns the tables and declares the young man will have the finest garb put on him, a feast thrown, and his place restored.

The Good News is God’s non-complementary behavior toward us. Jesus doesn’t “complement” our sin with judgment, but rather with grace. We don’t get our “just deserts.” And he calls us to such non-complementarity with the world. Love rather than hate our enemies. Be tender when others choose toughness. Exercise mercy when those around are calling out for blood. Forgive when others want to condemn. We’re going against powerful evolutionary forces when we do. Still, it’s God’s way with this world.

+Scott

 

Consider the Odds Against Refugees

The odds of things fascinate me. For example, the odds of being struck by lightning while outside in a thunderstorm are only 1 in 12,000. The South Dakota State Jackrabbits have better odds to win this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. They’re at only 1 in 5,000. There are much higher odds when it comes to winning a typical state lottery jackpot. Those odds average out at 1 in 292 million. And according to the Cato Institute, a rather conservative policy think tank, the odds of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack perpetrated by a refugee who’s been vetted through our government’s 18-month to 24-month process is 1 in 3.6 billion.

And yet, our government sees these folk as such a threat that the whole refugee program is being brought to a halt. Based on the odds, our government’s action makes no rational sense. A ban on people going outside in lightning storms would make more sense. Of course, this refugee ban isn’t based on any sensible data or rational reality. It’s grounded in emotion, fear, and scapegoating. Refugees aren’t a physical danger to us. They’re not taking our jobs. They’re not ruining our way of life. They’re absolutely no threat to us, existential or otherwise. Nevertheless, our government has mean-spiritedly banned them from receiving hospitality from faith-based refugee resettlement ministries like our own Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM).

I know people in our country are scared and anxious about the future. We live in a time of great economic uncertainty and global change. Demagogues pick up on our fear of uncertainty and our anxiety about change, and then they offer up convenient scapegoats to blame. They tell us to listen to them and they’ll protect us from harm. Throughout history, demagogues have had a penchant for such scapegoating. In the great narrative of redemption that we call the Gospel, Jesus was named a scapegoat by the demagogue Caiaphas (John 11:50). The resurrection was, among other things, God’s word to humanity that such scapegoating must end. The scapegoats du jour are refugees.

This isn’t a political issue although it’s lived out in the political realm. This is a profoundly moral issue that cuts to the heart of our faith in Jesus who spent his first two years of life as a refugee from the violence of King Herod (Matthew 2:13-16). I can’t see in this refugee ban anything that remotely looks like Jesus. Thus, I must reject our government’s action as profoundly counter to the Gospel of Jesus and antithetical to his teaching. I repudiate the false notion that a refugee ban will do anything to address the fears and anxieties present in our culture. Even though a judge has temporarily blocked the refugee ban, I ask us all who seek to follow Jesus to support and pray for the important ministry of Episcopal Migration Ministries, one of nine national agencies responsible for resettling refugees in the U.S.

For more information about how you can help refugees, please visit the EMM website: http://episcopalmigrationministries.org. I also commend to you the statement of my colleague in Atlanta, Bishop Rob Wright. We share a strong opposition to this refugee ban as being incongruent with following Jesus as Lord and Savior.

+Scott

 

Plumbing Life’s Complexities (#328)

In the The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone, cognitive scientists Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach investigate how our minds work by, of all things, a toilet experiment. We use toilets daily, but do we really know how they work?

Toilets, it turns out, are complicated. In a study, they asked graduate students to explain how toilets work. Most participants were confident they knew, but the study revealed just how much they didn’t know. Even after showing them how wrong they were about how toilets worked, participants continued to insist they knew a lot about toilets. Sloman and Fernbach refer to this as the “illusion of explanatory depth.” We assume we know a lot more than we really do. And this assumption comes from the evolutionary process. Throughout human evolution we’ve always relied on and benefited from other’s expertise. As new tools for living (like toilets) were invented, new ignorance was also introduced. That’s fine if we recognize our ignorance. But, for example, if everyone had to become an expert on glass blowing before anyone could use a drinking glass, then drinking glasses wouldn’t be used by many. This makes it hard for us to discern where our expertise ends and someone else’s begins. So, we simply learn to rely on others to make the toilets and drinking glasses and then we benefit from their expertise.

But it’s in other areas where our “knowledge illusion” can be more problematic. What if we’re not talking about toilets or drinking glasses, but the health care system? Then it does matter if I don’t know what I’m talking about. Sloman and Fernbach refer to a 2014 survey about Russia’s military takeover of Crimea and how the U.S. should respond. Participants were also asked to find Crimea on a map. The results? The farther off base respondents were geographically (the median was 1800 miles off base!), the more likely they were to favor military intervention. Similar results were found from other surveys. “Strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” they wrote.

What transpires from there often goes something like this: If my position on, say, fixing the health care system has no factual substantiation, but I insist it has merit, then my position must be groundless, even though I feel strongly about it. And when I share my opinion with another person and he concludes that I’m right, now his position also has no merit. And because there are more of us sharing the same meritless position, we believe we’re right because other people share our position. This is how passionate groups form around clearly false claims and then simply reinforce one another even though there’s no real basis for their position other than their strong feelings about it.

This is good for us to hear during Lent when we reflect, as the Ash Wednesday Litany in the Prayer Book says, on “the pride and hypocrisy of our lives.” At the very least, it should give us all pause when we start pontificating on an issue or event when we really don’t know the real complexities involved. Now back to toilets: I’ve been trying to repair our downstairs toilet for two years now. During that time, I’ve replaced every part, first on the inside of the tank and then the outside hose and water valve. It’s still not working right. “How complicated can it be?” I ask my wife, adding ” I can’t get it to work right!” Kelly shakes  her head and says to me for the 50th time: “Please, just call the plumber.”

 

Saving Starfish, One at a Time (#327)

A parable is told of a writer who rented a cottage on a hill overlooking the sea. As he sat writing each morning he saw a man on the beach who looked to be doing an elaborate dance. After a week of watching this daily ritual, he went down for a closer look. When he got to the beach, he saw that the man wasn’t dancing at all. Rather, he was picking up live starfish that had washed ashore in the night and hurling them back into the water. The writer saw thousands of starfish on the beach, so he said to the man: “You can’t save them all. Why are you doing this?” The man smiled, bent over, picked up a starfish, and threw it into the sea. He turned to the writer and said: “Saved that one, didn’t I?”

This parable reminds us that while we can’t make a difference in everyone’s life, we can make a difference for some, possibly more than we realize. Last week, I ended my eCrozier about Charity’s Cheap Absolution by offering my own confession of failure to help someone, metaphorically, “get back into the sea.” I ended it there, without further thoughts, because I wanted readers to struggle with their own memories of “things left undone,” as our Prayer Book confession puts it. You see, charity involves making sure the “starfish” is comfortable that day, but it’s still going to die on the beach. Making a difference for a “starfish” requires a long-lasting effort beyond offering immediate comfort. It takes determined action and focused commitment. Like the effort of the man in the parable, he couldn’t save them all, but he could save some.

All parables fall short (except for Jesus’, which never seem to). From my reading of the Gospel, Jesus never just “fixed” the presenting problem of someone he encountered. He also helped them go to a new place in their lives. In other words, Jesus was going after the whole enchilada, if I can use a theological word. So, while ministry that provides food or clothing to people is truly Gospel work, it doesn’t make a lasting difference in people’s lives. A coat or a meal provide short-term help. Jesus was about more. He was about transformation. So, I ask: How might we go further and partner with God in people’s transformation? Or as St Paul might say: How might we help them “work out [their] own salvation in fear and trembling?” (Philippians 2:12)

Going further would demand that we partner with people on a way out of their current condition. I envision a community-living house with skilled staff, life coaching, the Daily Office prayed, community support, job placement/development (when needed), the whole deal. Residents would contribute a percentage of their income and/or do in-kind work to cover operational costs. We’d respect their dignity too much to give them a handout. So, nothing free, except for God’s (and our) grace-filled acceptance. This will demand from us lots of forbearance and love, the determined kind that Jesus brings.

We need some “angel investors” to fund the upfront costs. Who might those people be? Can you help us find them? We need the right property to start. Who knows of one? Who will help us raise the money to initially staff this self-sustaining ministry? We could have a ministry like this in every town in south Georgia. We may fail a bit more often than we succeed, but when we fail, it’ll be a magnificent failure!

+Scott
The Rt. Rev. Scott Anson Benhase
Bishop of Georgia

 

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

 

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