“Like sparks through the stubble”: A Vision of All the Saints

Good morning, Saints of Christ Church Cathedral!  That’s what you are.  If we were living in the first century, and St. Paul were to write us a letter, Paul would address it “to the saints of downtown Houston.”  This recognition is an important corrective to the popular notion of saints, which says that saints are only those who perform miracles or have stigmata on their hands.  Not so.  In the days of the apostles, “saint” was synonymous with “Christian.”  To be a follower of Jesus was to be a saint.  Well, it is All Saints Sunday, and I say to you good morning, Saints of Christ Church Cathedral!

I love All Saints Sunday.  I especially love the first scripture reading on All Saints, which each year includes an option from the Apocrypha, that oft-ignored portion of the scriptures sandwiched between the Old and New Testaments.  Some years, though not this one, we read a passage from Ecclesiasticus, which praises great saints and heroes, both secular and faithful, but then says, “of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them.”[i]

How sad is that?  It is tragic, that so many from past generations have lived well but been completely forgotten as though they’d never been born.  Sorrow compounds when we realize that this will be the fate of most of us.  All we need do is walk through old Texas graveyards and wonder at the crooked stones whose names have been erased by weather and time to know this.  We will become, at best, the portrait on a descendant’s wall three generations hence, of whom someone says, “I think he may have been my great, great grandfather, but I’m not sure.”

old gravestones

Are we Shakespeare’s brief candles from MacBeth, walking shadows who “strut and fret [our] hour upon the stage and then [are] heard no more”?[ii]

Well today, on this All Saints Sunday, we read from another great text from the Apocrypha, the Book of Wisdom, which gives us a different perspective.  Wisdom says this:

The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them. 
In the eyes of the foolish they seem to have died,
and their departure thought to be a disaster, 
and their going from us to be their destruction;
[But it is not so]  They are at peace.

The Book of Wisdom says that it is foolish, nihilistic, and untrue not only to believe that anyone is forgotten, but even to believe that any have truly died.  The saints only seem to have died. The world seems to have chewed them up and destroyed both their lives and their memory, but it is not so.  The saints live on in the very hand of God.  They know a peace of which we only glimpse on the earth.

I believe this.  I believe that the dead are not dead and that they live, that the saints of countless generations abide in and with God.  I believe it because the ancient Church Fathers believed it.[iii]  I believe it because Dante believed it in the Paradiso.  I believe it because our boldest contemporary theologians believe it.[iv]  And, friends, I believe it because at this point in my priesthood I have heard more stories that I can discount of those who have sensed the presence of those they love who have left this world.

The saints are not forgotten, and they surely are not lost, because they live across the threshold in what the Church once commonly called larger life.   But do they impact us now?  Put another way, are we still in relationship with the saints of the past, including the people we have loved?  The Book of Wisdom has something to say about this, too.  Wisdom says:

In the time of their visitation, [The saints] will shine forth,
and they will run like sparks through the stubble…

Rather than Shakespeare’s brief candles quickly snuffed, Wisdom says, the saints now live in God as sparks of divine light, and they can shine so brightly with God’s grace that they are known to us.  They make visitation.  But what does that look like?

In the novel Remembering[v], Andy Catlett, a discontented man who moves through the world like one of Shakespeare’s walking shadows, one day takes a walk through the woods and hollows surrounding his home town.  As he crests the ridge that overlooks the town, everything is transformed.  The veil between this world and the next becomes porous, and divine light shines through.  The story picks up this way (and listen with care):

“Andy looks and sees…the signs…of a longer love than any who have lived there have ever imagined…Over town and fields the one great song sings, and is answered everywhere.  And in the fields and the town, walking, standing, or sitting under the trees, resting and talking together in the peace of a sabbath profound and bright, are people of such beauty that [Andy] weeps to see them.  He sees that these are the membership of one another and of the place and of the song or light in which they live and move.

[Andy] sees that they are the dead, and they are alive.  He sees that he lives in eternity as he lives in time, and nothing is lost.  Among the people of that town, he sees men and women he remembers, and men and women remembered in memories he remembers, and they do not look as he ever saw or imagined them.  The young are no longer young, nor the old old.  They appear as children corrected and clarified; they have the luminous vividness of new grass after fire.  And yet they are mature as ripe fruit.  And yet they are flowers.  All of them are flowers.”

farmyard

Andy Catlett has encountered the saints, some known and some forgotten by him, but none forgotten to God.  They are luminous, as the love that is the realest of all things shines through them.  And the encounter changes Andy.  The novel goes on:

“Grieved as he may be to leave them…[Andy] must go back with his help, such as it is, and offer it.  He has come into the presence of these living by a change of sight… Their names singing in his mind.”

By a change of sight, Andy Catlett sees the saints.  He re-members them, even those he never knew, which is to say he recognizes that they, and he, are knit together by God’s love that can never be sundered by time, or death, or the failure of memory.

This account is fiction, but as I said a few minutes ago, I have heard enough stories of wonder from you and others about your encounters with the saints that I say it is nevertheless true.

That, I believe, is the key for us this All Saints Sunday.  We are invited to have a change of sight, to see the world as a place infinitely more nuanced and layered than we have imagined, a place in which the saints we have known and loved and the saints we have forgotten are alive and are still connected to us.  They can shine so brightly that the love through which they now live can be known to us, they can make their visitation in ways that are incredibly subtle or incredibly overt, restoring our souls with the promise that, in God, nothing is lost.  Sometimes, when I am in the Cathedral alone and in the quiet, I think I almost see them: those generations of saints who have been born, and baptized, and wed, and died in this sacred space.  Their light surely shines, and I feel it.

Good morning, Saints of Christ Church Cathedral!  May you know the joy of all the saints this day.

_____________________

[i] Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10, 13-14

[ii] Shakespeare, William.  MacBeth, Act 5, scene 5

[iii] See especially Origen.

[iv] See John Polkinghorne, The God of Hope and the End of the World.

[v] Berry, Wendell.  Remembering. Counterpoint: Bekeley, CA, 2008.

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The Island of Misfit Toys

Every Christmas during my childhood, my older brother Robert and I eagerly awaited the night CBS would air the Claymation cartoon special, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”  We loved everything about it: Santa Claus, who took care to fatten himself up before Christmas so his red suit would fit; Rudolph, with his nose so bright; Yukon Cornelius and Hermie the Elf, who tame the Abominable Snowman.  But the part of the cartoon I most anticipated, for reasons I could not explain in childhood, was the Island of Misfit Toys.

The island is populated by flawed toys: a fire engine painted pink instead of red; a security doll that is herself insecure; a Charlie-in-the-box no one wants because his name isn’t Jack.  The toys live isolated on the Island of Misfit Toys because, they believe, their flaws render them unlovable in the toy box of any child.  Even at age six, the sadness of this scene worried and overwhelmed me.

Island of misfit toys

This morning Matthew gives us his version of Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding Banquet.  As in Luke’s version of this same parable, a host plans a wedding banquet for his son, but the guests everyone expects to be invited all refuse to attend.  So the host creates a new invitation list.  His emissaries go out into the streets and gather all whom they find, both good and bad, and, we are told, “the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

But Matthew’s version of this parable adds something that’s missing in Luke: a disturbing coda to the end of the story.  When the host enters the festive banquet, he notices a man who is clothed wrongly, and he asks, “Friend, how did you get in here dressed like that?” The guest cannot answer, and he is removed from the party.

Especially when we remember that the host is God in this parable, there are two things startling about this twist at the end.  First, and most often remarked upon in sermons and bible studies, is that the host removes the guest after taking such pains to invite everyone in.  It seems ungracious if not unfair, and maybe even cruel.  But second, and more often overlooked, is the word by which the host addresses this guest.  The host calls the guest “friend,” affirming a relationship of companionship and even love.  And so, whatever else happens at the end of this parable, it must be interpreted not through vindictiveness or retribution, but through the friendship and love the host extends to this final guest.  Though at times one may have to do so, one never seeks or wants to exclude a friend.  So we are left to ask, “What is the wedding garment that this guest lacks, and which prevents his participation in the party?”

parable of the wedding banquet

Flannery O’Connor’s stories are about the American South, about which she said “while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is surely Christ-haunted.”[i]  O’Connor’s stories are unflinching.  She uses abrasive and challenging language to get our attention.  In her short-story “Revelation,” O’Connor tells the reader of Ruby Turpin, a genial, middle class Southern Christian woman who has, as Ruby repeatedly reminds herself and others, “a good disposition.”  Ruby is cordial, she is outwardly kind to the African-Americans who work on her small farm, and she supports the causes of those in need.  True, Ruby is also preoccupied by how relieved she is that she wasn’t born (as Flannery O’Connor puts it) poor white trash or black, and she allows herself the satisfaction that it’s people like her who make the world go round.

In a doctor’s office waiting room one afternoon, Ruby finds herself surrounded by all those in society from whom she considers herself set apart: a poor and ignorant white family, whose little boy drips snot from his nose and mother has snuff stains around her mouth; a black delivery boy who mouths back at Ruby just enough that she can guess what kind of family he must come from; and a sullen, pimply-faced college coed who scowls at Ruby over the top of the textbook she is reading.

With Ruby’s only recognized peer in the waiting room (a tidy woman who happens to be the mother of the coed) Ruby carries on a conversation that is genial, but also indicting of anyone whose circumstances in life differ from Ruby’s own.  She talks about the character flaws of this group and the vices of that group.  And she mentions how important it is to society that her people are at the top of the social pyramid.  Ruby crescendos, “Thank you, Jesus, for making everything the way it is! It could have been different…Oh thank you, Jesus, Jesus, thank you!”  And at that moment the college student hurls her textbook at Ruby, hitting Ruby square across the forehead, and says, “Go back to hell where you came from, you old warthog!”

flannery o'connor

Flannery O’Connor

If you’ve not read the short story “Revelation,” it would be easy to imagine Ruby Turpin in caricature, as if she is a cartoonish lampoon of the worst kind of backwards Southern Christian.  That would be a mistake.  She is not.  But in an earlier era, she could be us.  Outwardly, she truly is genial and kind; she truly does have a good disposition.  And, her cultural lenses lead her subconsciously and uncritically to imagine that she is deserving of her place and everyone else is deserving of theirs, that all is just right as it is.

Ruby recovers from the coed’s assault and goes home, but the coed’s words won’t leave her mind.  They burn deep beneath the surface.  She wanders to the hog pen on her farm and begins to wash down the swine with a water hose, as if to scrub away the coed’s application of “warthog” to herself.  How could she be as ugly to the others in that waiting room as they were to her?   “How am I me and a hog both?” she asks in anguish, “How am I saved and from hell too?”

And then Ruby looks up at the setting sun.  A purple streak cuts across the crimson sky, and Flannery O’Connor tells us:

“A visionary light settled in [Ruby’s] eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire.  Upon it a vast horde of souls were tumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of [black folks] in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself…had always had a little of everything and the given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They, alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even their virtues were being burned away. She lowered hands and gripped the rail of the hog pen, her eyes small but fixed unblinkingly on what lay ahead.”

In the Rudolph Christmas special, grace comes for the six-year-old viewer when Santa’s first stop on Christmas Eve is to the Island of Misfit Toys to retrieve all the toys and find them homes of acceptance and love.  I can still recall the childhood memory of that blessed relief.  Every child feels that he is, in his way, a misfit toy, and Santa Claus is a natural and intuitive stand-in for God.

Flannery O’Connor gives us the grown-up version.  In “Revelation,” the parade into God’s heavenly grace includes everyone, even white trash, poor blacks folks, and blind Ruby Turpin herself who, until her illusions were shattered by her vision, could not imagine that they all belonged together and to each other.  She is—and, friends, we are—the riff raff and rabble scattered around the doctor’s waiting room, sullen and anxious and proud.  We are the pink firetruck, the insecure blanket, the Charlie-in-the-box.  The truth is that we are all, every one of us, misfit toys.  Our flaws may not be so obvious on the outside.  With our bravado and neatly-put-together-selves we may even, like Ruby, almost convince ourselves that our flaws don’t exist.  Almost.  But we know deep down, perhaps when we are alone looking up at the evening sky, that it is a blessing beyond imagining that God’s grace is extended freely, along the highways and biways, to everyone—everyone—including you and me, that in God we find a home of acceptance and love.

The wedding garment—the only thing we must adorn in order to participate in the banquet of grace—is that very recognition.  The wedding host names us friend.  We are wanted and desired, flaws and all, but we must wear the flaws.  The pretension that we receive God’s grace while others don’t, and worse yet that we are deserving of it while others aren’t, is the wrong garment.  The only robe for us is the joy that sings in gratitude, even when off key, for a love that invites everyone, even an old warthog like me.

________________________

[i] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/443791-whenever-i-m-asked-why-southern-writers-particularly-have-a-penchant

Giving Everything to God

At the parish I served in Roanoke, Virginia—St. John’s—we had a partnership with the Virginia Tech Medical School, which is also located in Roanoke.  At the end of each spring semester, med school faculty and first-year medical students gathered in St. John’s memorial garden, and together we interred in sacred ground the cremated remains of those who had donated their bodies to medical education.  It was a lovely service, planned by the medical school students with minimal guidance from me.  Doctors-in-training treated the ashes of the cadavers with reverence.  Students and faculty of varied faiths prayed, side-by-side.

The identities of the cremated donors were unknown to those of us gathered in the garden and are unknown still.  The only thing we knew about them was that, at the end of their mortal lives, they determined to give the entirety of themselves so that young medical students could train.  Virginia Tech doctors settle in the finest hospitals all over the country.  Who knows, someday you may find yourself being stitched up in the emergency room, the attending physician’s skill with needle and thread first having been formed by the sacrifice of a man or woman interred in the St. John’s garden.

suturing

But that’s all we knew.  We weren’t aware of the donors’ family backgrounds, their professions, their religious faith, or their loves and passions.  For a long time, that troubled and preoccupied me.  I wanted to know those people.  I want to know how they made the decision to give of themselves so radically.

In today’s reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, we hear what some scholars believe to be the oldest passage in the entire New Testament.  St. Paul has likely heard it elsewhere—he may even have written it himself—and in his conversation with the Philippians he determines to quote it.  It is a hymn about Jesus, and it goes like this:

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

It has been said that the most awesome, most incomprehensible truths are best conveyed through music, and this hymn—which was likely originally set to a chant—certainly fits that bill.  In just a few lines, it captures the very essence of Christian belief, that which makes Christianity stunningly different from all other religious faiths.  That essence is this:

God—the God, the one who crafts the galaxies, and creates quantum physics, and gives the azaleas bloom, and fills a baby’s lung with that first breath—that God emptied Godself in the person of Jesus, living among us as one who experienced the basest, the worst that humanity can do to humanity.  After creating a universe in which human life is possible; after giving breath to that very life; in Jesus, God chose to give of himself completely to us, without reserve.

Sand from hand

How we make sense of this is what keeps theologians from joining the ranks of the unemployed.  But the fact of this truth has given, and still gives the deepest comfort to people of faith.  Every day, its realization changes people.  As the hymn in Philippians continues, “Therefore…at the name of Jesus every knee should bend…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Not because of God’s majesty, and not because of God’s power, but because God emptied Godself of these things for us, because God preferred to know us as we are rather than sit remotely on a throne in highest heaven, we know Jesus is God Incarnate and not some pretender.  We praise Jesus as Lord, as the one who has claim to our hearts and our lives.

That is the “therefore” of St. Paul’s hymn.  In fact, he prefaces the hymn today with the exhortation, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

In other words, Paul is challenging the Christians in Philippi.  He’s saying, “This is who God is.  You want to know how much God’s heart yearns for you?  You want to know how desperately God loves you?  You want to know what God gives you?  The answer is everything.

And how do we respond to that?  How do we return that grace, that love?  By letting our hearts and minds be like Jesus.  By emptying ourselves.  By giving God the all of us.  By giving God everything.”

I’ll never know the identities of those people we interred in the St. John’s memorial garden.  But I think I know something about them.  I suspect that their final act was a sacrament, a representative symbol, of the way they lived their lives.  In the end, they gave away everything: the eyes that had gazed upon their children, the hearts that had loved, the arms that had embraced.  Whether or not they claimed the Christian faith, I suspect they’d have understood Paul’s hymn to the Philippians.  Paul adds today, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”  Indeed.  At the last, the people in that memorial garden gave everything.  I’d wager they did the same at the first.  I suspect they lived as they died, giving the all of who they were in life for the interest of others, in recognition of the profound grace in their lives.

We here do claim the Christian faith, explicitly, every week.  Today, St. Paul sings to us the truth at the center of that faith.  In Christ, God has given everything to us.  We are to give everything back.  But how do we begin?  In a culture that rebels against this very notion, that immediately seeks to rationalize it away, that instills the mantra “me first” from every quarter, what first step can we take?

This is, in the end, what stewardship is all about.  It is the first step, the way that we begin to orient our entire lives to God’s priorities rather than our own.  Stewardship is the sacramental way—the outward and visible symbol—by which we begin to allow our hearts and minds to be formed like those of Christ.  Biblically, stewardship is not just giving something back to God, it is giving the first and best back to God, what the Bible calls the “first fruits” of our labor.  When we encounter the grace and freedom of giving to God the first and best of us, we soon discover that giving God the remainder—following the Way of Jesus with our entire lives—becomes infinitely easier.

first fruits

Here, at the beginning of our Every Member Canvass, I pledge to do this, and I pray you will, too.  To the instruments of the Church, I will give back to God in 2018 ten percent of my income.  Before I consider anything else in my budget for next year, I will give to God the first fruits.  My prayer is that this emptying will, slowly but surely, help me to realize the Lord of my life: the one who created the galaxies, who gives the azaleas bloom, who puts breath in my children’s lungs, and who beyond all of that gave everything to me in God’s incarnate Son.  It is my prayer for all of us, and in our Every Member Canvass I pray you’ll join me.

Seventy times seven: Is Jesus asking us to be doormats?

“Peter came and said to Jesus, ‘Lord… how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”  Some translations say, “Seventy times seven,” which would mean we must forgive a transgressor four hundred-ninety times.

At first blush, that degree of forgiveness seems gratuitous to me, and unrealistic.  It reminds me of an old married couple I once had as parishioners (not here, of course).  He did something really stupid in the marriage, and she let him have it.  The hammer came down mightily.  He apologized from the bottom of his heart, and they reconciled.  However, from time to time over the years to come, she would dredge up the old wound and throw it back at him again and again.  “Sweetheart,” he finally asked, “Why do you keep bringing that up?  I though you said your policy was to forgive and forget.”

“It is,” she replied, “I just want you always to remember that I’ve forgiven and forgotten!”[i]

In seriousness, people do hurtful and sometimes horrible things to one another, and often the emotional and psychological effects are far worse than anything tangible.  In our cultural history, easy forgiveness has often served as license to allow bad acts to continue.  For centuries, abused wives were encouraged to forgive their husbands and return to the home where abuse was sure to recur.  Even in less severe circumstances, gratuitous forgiveness seems like acquiescence.  Forgive you once, shame on you; forgive you twice, shame on me; forgive you seventy-seven times, and I’m just a doormat.  This implication is exacerbated further when we realize that nowhere in today’s passage from Matthew does Jesus say that repentance by the transgressor is required before forgiveness is granted.  So, what do we make of Jesus’ counsel today?

Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry

Regular attendees of the Dean’s Book Club know that my favorite author, living or dead, is Wendell Berry.  I’ve read every word of his prolific fiction, all of which takes place in the small town of Port William, Kentucky.  Berry’s novels and short stories involve the same cast of characters, interrelated families over the course of generations, who are characterized by virtue and vice, success and failure, sin and forgiveness.

In the short story “Pray without ceasing,”[ii] Margaret Feltner tells her grandson Andy the story of his great-grandfather’s (her father-in-law’s) murder in 1912.  His name was Ben Feltner, and he was good.  Fifty-three years before the telling, Ben had been approached for help by his friend, Thad Coulter.  Thad was in a bad way, and he showed up to request Ben’s aid after drowning his problems in alcohol and self-reproach for days.  Ben wanted to help Thad, but he told Thad that Thad must first sober up.  Thad took this as rejection, and in his drunken anger and wild despair, he took a gun and killed Ben.  Thad murdered his friend.

The reactions to Ben’s murder by those in town range from rage to sorrow.  There is talk of a mob who will mete out its own brand of justice against Thad Coulter.  But Ben’s family refuses to seek out retribution.

At that point in the telling of the story Margaret Feltner pauses, and then she says, “Thad Coulter was not a bad man.  I believed that then, and I believe now that he was not a bad man.  But we are all as little children.  Some know it and some don’t.”

Pray Without Ceasing

Though Andy may believe her, he can’t yet reconcile his family’s attitude toward their patriarch’s murderer a half-century ago.  And so, his grandmother looks at him silently for a long time.  She wants Andy to go deeper than his felt animosity, not to deny the truth of it, but to approach it with a perspective infinitely broader than his own.  “For she had much to ask of me,” Andy says.  And then Margaret Feltner speaks.  She says,  “People sometimes talk of God’s love as if it’s a pleasant thing.  But it is terrible, in a way.  Think of all it includes.  It included Thad Coulter, drunk and mean and foolish, before he killed [Ben] Feltner, and it included him afterwards…If God loves the ones we can’t, then finally maybe we can.”

That is one reason we forgive, and forgive, and forgive: Because we are all but children, in the end.  We all think, and do, and repeat things that are bitter, and coarse, and foolish, and mean (in the older sense of that word).  And, thank God, even so we are loved by God with a love that runs deeper than the very worst we can do.  The love of God includes Thad Coulter, the drunk who killed his only friend.  The love of God includes those who have harmed us, the ones we cannot bring ourselves to love.  And because God loves them, one day, with hearts that forgive, perhaps we can finally bring ourselves to love them, too.

But what of the things I said earlier?  Does forgiving with abandon mean that we also forget?  Does forgiveness serve as tacit acceptance or license to repeat an offense?  Does forgiveness mean that we become the doormat?  No, it does not.  Forgiving an embezzler does not mean giving him the keys to the vault.  Forgiving an abuser does not mean—should never mean—entering back into the context of abuse.  Forgiving a criminal does not negate the prison sentence that is the consequence of the crime.

Paul Young says, “Forgiveness is not about forgetting…It is about letting go of another person’s throat.”[iii]  Consider that image.  In the end, the virtue of forgiveness does not primarily accrue to the recipient.  It is about release for the one who has been harmed.  “Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver,” Paul Young says, “to release you from something that will eat you alive, that will destroy your joy and ability to love fully and openly.”[iv]

Poison

Drinking poison and hoping the other person dies…

 

That is the other reason we forgive.  It is an act of empowerment, of claiming our wholeness over our woundedness.  It was Emmet Fox who first offered a version of the sentiment that withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.[v]  We all know those—we may be those—who have clung viciously to a grudge, daily nursed old wounds, and kept a metaphorical iron grip around the other’s throat.  And we have observed the ultimate result.  In the short term, holding onto pain and resentment toward the one who has wronged us may feel like power, but in the end it corrodes and imprisons us, as well as those in this life who depend upon us.  A life lived through the prism of unforgiven hurts becomes a bitter life.  But when we forgive—when we let go of the other person’s throat—we become free.  Though we will always be people marked by the wrongs we have endured—even the resurrected Jesus bore his scars, after all—we will not be consumed by them.

And so, in the end Jesus the Christ calls upon us to forgive because our forgiveness, or lack thereof, has consequences for us.  Forgiveness is about who we will become and what we will bequeath.  Seventy times seven, Jesus says, so that we are released from bondage, so that we can love fully and know joy.

__________________________________

[i] An adapted internet joke.

[ii] Berry, Wendell.  “Pray without ceasing,” in That Distant Land, 38-76.

[iii] Young, William P.  The Shack, 224.

[iv] Ibid, 225.

[v] https://www.quora.com/Who-said-the-phrase-Holding-a-grudge-is-like-drinking-poison-and-waiting-for-the-other-person-to-die