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  • cmcsullivan

Is inclusivity a tacit endorsement of “sinful” behavior? Does Jesus’ command to “love one another, as I have loved you” include within the definition of love the application of particular, timeless moral judgments?



These are not simple questions, though they are often presented by Christians as though they are. With the implication that these ideas are authoritatively and unquestionably true, church leaders and teachers tell us that to love means, sometimes to judge and to exclude.


I don’t buy it.


I’ve tried.


I would rather not admit it, but I have tried to accept this line of reasoning as it presents itself – that is, as the inevitable conclusion of rational argumentation. I could follow the line of thought: Certain actions are inherently “sinful.” One cannot condone “sin” as a good Christian. Therefore the “loving” thing to do is to condemn those actions regardless of the harm that such condemnation might cause the person whose actions they are. Q.E.D.


It’s the latter bit that I could never live with, that caused me, again and again, to wonder where the argument went off the rails, because, if its “truth” includes the sort of deep soul-harm that I have seen it cause, it isn’t the Truth. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him,” says John 3:17.


What I have come to discover is that it is the premises of the argument that are wrong. That is, it’s a case that’s misguided its core.


What is sin anyway? This is not as straightforward as Christian teachers make it sound. We who have been churched have been given laundry lists of behaviors – some taken from passages in the Bible, others from later sources – that, if engaged in, make us “sinners.” But is that how the people who wrote the Bible, how Jesus from within his Jewish tradition, understood sin?


Sinners in the world of Jesus were those who were or who had become estranged from the nation of Israel. That meant all gentiles and any Jew who had, by violating the law in some way, been excluded from the larger community. Good Jews were only to associate with other good Jews.


Jesus challenged all that. It’s on every page of the gospels. He touches lepers. He eats with tax collectors. He gathers around himself the rejected and excluded, including women, children, and a fellow named Simon who, in meeting Jesus, exclaims, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” This is the same guy whom Jesus will later call his rock.


We never see Jesus imposing a set of moral guidelines for people to follow before he includes them in his embrace of love. Quite the opposite. Instead, Jesus creates a new “Israel” that is open to everyone who wants to belong, who wants to be welcomed and included and loved. Paul affirms this too: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).


I may not be a Bible scholar nor a bishop, but I know this – there’s no way that I am more loving than God. As Jesus himself says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” We Christians claim that the greatest gift of all is the love of God in Christ. Who has a right to claim on that love as her own? Who gets to decide?

Invitation to practice


Be honest. This is only for your own awareness: Who are the people in our world who you think of as “sinners” or who you would exclude from community? Consider the possibility that God wants to include everyone. How do you feel about that?


Do you ever feel yourself condemned as a “sinner”? How would you want to be loved into wholeness as part of a universal human community? What would you need in order to receive that kind of love?


What do you think it would mean for you to extend love to “sinners” – maybe including yourself?

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  • cmcsullivan





The headline of a story in our local diocesan paper reads, “Gratitude: A Moral Obligation.” Where to begin? The church is fond of declaring certain practices obligatory. I am troubled every time I see that word, obligation, imposed in a spiritual setting. Institutional power can oblige us, but by doing so, it cannot compel our hearts.








When I act out of obligation only, I can, sometimes, build a wanted habit. That is not nothing, but it is only an entry-level commitment. It may lay a foundation for deeper commitment, or it may, alternatively, form the basis of resentment and rebellion.


In some ways, acting out of obligation is easier. Just do it. Send the thank you card. Show up for Sunday mass. It does not require any intention beyond the doing. It does nothing in itself to engage the mind and the heart with the act of will. Such acts can be done for show only. Who could tell from the outside? Show up. That’s enough. The obligation appears to be fulfilled.


I want more for myself and for my directees – and for all of us. Gratitude is a good thing. Practicing gratitude can serve us and our communities in myriad ways, turning our attention from not-enough to plenty. When I experience gratitude, it can change me.


Experiencing gratitude, as opposed to making the proper show, requires inner work. I have to wake up and pay attention. I have to listen to my life. Where is there abundance, even in the midst of want? Healing in the midst of hurt? Hope in the midst of struggle? This is a taller order than fulfilling the mandate of obligation. It requires time and effort to sit with these and other such questions and wait for God to move our hearts. Do I experience gratitude or am I simply going through the motions?


Invitation to practice


What are the "ought to's" in your life? In what ways do you act from a sense of obligation? In what ways have these actions helped you to build good habits? In what ways have they created a sense of guilt or of "faking it"?


For what are you grateful? Don't be too quick to answer. Take time to sit with the question and let the answers well up. Where do you experience a deeper sense of gratitude, rather than settling for acknowledging just the things for which you "should" be grateful?



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  • cmcsullivan

Do you remember Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who? Horton is an elephant who discovers that on a speck of dust there lives a whole world of people called Whos. Horton protects the speck, carrying it about on the flower of a clover, telling all and sundry about this tiny world. But Horton's community doesn't believe that such a thing as a world on a speck can be so, and they persecute Horton and try to destroy the speck, thinking it's nothing but a troublesome fantasy causing Horton to disturb the peace.


There are plenty of ways we might apply the story of Horton and the Whos to our present moment, but here's the one I've been thinking about: In order to prove that the Whos really exist on the tiny speck, Horton urges them to make as much noise as they can; Horton, with his big elephant ears, can hear the Whos, but his neighbors cannot. The people of Whoville spring into action. They yell and sing and trumpet and bang the pots and pans, but, alas, they cannot be heard.


In a final burst of desperation, the mayor of Whoville searches the town to discover if there mightn't be Whos not doing their part. At last he discovers one small Who who is silent. He implores the little Who to join his voice to the chorus', and out of his mouth comes a single word: YOPP! This yopp proves to be enough. The little Who's yopp, carried aloft along with the sounds of pans and pots, of trumpeting and singing and shouting, transcends the speck and allows the Whos to be heard by Horton's tormentors, saving the Whos and Horton himself from a pot of boiling oil. (Dr. Seuss is darker than you remember!)


Here's why this is on my mind: When I most need to pray, I often find myself silent. I wake every day to headlines of contagion and financial ruin, and I know I should pray, and I can't. I open the scriptures and read the words, but my own words fail me. There's too much to ask for. I'm overwhelmed by the scope and the depth. I feel helpless, like a tiny Who on a tiny speck on a flowering clover in the trunk of an elephant.

In the late 1300's in England, there lived a woman who we only know as Julian of Norwich. Julian suffered a terrible illness, of which she was expected to die. In what seemed would be her final hours, Julian experienced a series of visions. She recovered from her illness and wrote of what she saw in a manuscript now circulated under the title, Shewings or Revelations of Divine Love.


One of my favorite passages from this text goes like this:


"Our Lord showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, on the palm of my hand, round like a ball. I looked at it thoughtfully and wondered, 'What is this?' And the answer came, 'It is all that is made.' I marveled that it continued to exist and did not suddenly disintegrate; it was so small. And again my mind supplied the answer, 'It exists, both now and forever, because God loves it.' In short, everything owes its existence to the love of God. In this 'little thing' I saw three truths. The first is that God made it; the second is that God love it; and the third is that God sustains it..."

Thus, I take this to be the truth: I am a tiny Someone on a tiny speck on a ball the size of a hazelnut. Suddenly I know how to pray. In my weakness and my uncertainty, there is only one thing required of me -- and this I can do. I raise my voice with the chorus and utter the only word I can think to say. I breathe in and shout a tiny, mighty


YOPP!


And I trust that it's enough.

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