Practice Makes Presence
Welcome to Practice Makes Presence!
A Journey filled with candor and compassion
Podcast and Blog of Matt Sandoval
I was randomly assigned to read a total bummer today as part of the church’s legionary schedule. The day’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures is 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a. It is the conclusion of the story of David and Bathsheba. The story is known well enough to be a cross-cultural anecdote thousands of years later. David and Bathsheba is the story of a ruler’s complete misuse of power, the abuse of a woman, and the disgrace and murder of a soldier who, up to that point, had only shown bravery and loyalty to that king.
In the power of myth, a story like this speaks past its own context. It is a total bummer to read because the actions of the ruler bring destruction to many innocent people just as that leader sits enthroned in his self-righteousness. Yet, with the destruction of a marriage and a soldier’s life appearing to evade detection, the prophet Nathan is sent. You see, what has been covered up has been seen, and it is displeasing. Very displeasing.
“But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD, and the LORD sent Nathan to David.”
I imagine Nathan was afraid of this type of confrontation. Who dares to speak against the Lord’s anointed? Some religious leaders, more in love with power than the truth, will tell you never to speak back to a leader. Who dares to accuse a great person of a terrible wrong? Who dares to speak truth to power? I imagine that Nathan could have just let “Kings be Kings.” But he didn’t. Prophets take risks, but their confidence comes from the truth and the good of the Kingdom - not from the approval of their kings.
“Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
Nathan breaks the ice with a story of a wealthy man who needs to care for a guest and steals a poor man’s only lamb. This angers David. He swears that the man will pay and pay dearly. His righteousness is deluded because he thinks Nathan is telling a story and not giving an analogy. David’s anger is an example of reaction formation. His decisiveness to punish is an attempt to reduce the anxiety of his scrambled, inconsistent, and thoroughly selfish leadership ethic. With such power and such a perspective, evil thrives.
“Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.”
Nathan’s message connects with crystal clear clarity. David end’s the passage with “I have sinned against the LORD.” The Second reading for the day from Psalm 51 is related to this episode. The Psalm is said to be a prayer of David’s for mercy, for confession, and for a new and clean heart.
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; *
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness *
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, *
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you only have I sinned *
and done what is evil in your sight.
5 And so you are justified when you speak *
and upright in your judgment.
6 Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, *
a sinner from my mother's womb.
7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me, *
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.
8 Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; *
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.
9 Make me hear of joy and gladness, *
that the body you have broken may rejoice.
10 Hide your face from my sins *
and blot out all my iniquities.
11 Create in me a clean heart, O God, *
and renew a right spirit within me.
12 Cast me not away from your presence *
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
13 Give me the joy of your saving help again *
And sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
Today, Psalm 51 is a popular worship song called “Create in Me in a Clean Heart.” I cannot read it without hearing the tune. I also cannot read it without feeling sadness because of the truth it speaks about the ongoing human experience. Hierarchy and rulers may be inevitable facts of civilization, but they need not be evil. They need not abuse the powerless. They need not be beyond rebuke. But when they are, even the God-ordained leaders and hierarchies cannot cover up their misuse of power. Something is watching. Always watching.
Prophets exist to speak the truth to power, even when it terrifies them. But at the moment’s when truth and justice meet reaction formation, the Leader’s true heart cannot be covered up. Will they confess and seek mercy? Will they restore the wrong delivered? Will they prevent future misuses of power? Or will they continue cloak themselves in self-righteousness and continue to damage those that they are supposed to protect?
I read a total bummer today in 2 Samuel and Psalm 51. Despite reconciliation and forgiveness, abuse of power has its consequences. David, King of Israel, wasn’t the first time something like this occurred, and it won’t be the last.
May all who hold power know that what is covered up is still seen.
May we all make space in hearts and mind to hear the prophets who are sent to speak truth to power.
May the confrontations with the truth restore leadership to its God-ordained purpose of justice.
May this ancient story stop being so very familiar to us all.
I like the Star Wars myth, but it's only a like, not a love and it's certainly not an obsession. I feel the need to see the new movies but not anytime near their release date. In fact, I saw The Last Jedi last week, almost after a month after its release. In the meantime, I absorbed some of the reviews of the movie, many of which were critical of the new tone taken toward the Jedi myth. I grinned twice in my seat at two comments/scenes that I am sure threw gasoline on the fire of the hearts of super fans.
(Spoiler time) When Yoda appeared to Luke, he gave advice and then took part in arson. Yoda's intent was to counsel the emotionally conflicted Luke about his vocation as a Jedi and his sense of calling. This part of myth has always been very appealing to me. Luke's story arc is where the conscious mimicry of Joseph Campbell's hero's journey comes through clearly in the series. After observing Luke's tension, the wise and enlightened Yoda opines something like "we are what we grow out of." Following this, Luke finds the sacred Jedi scrolls set ablaze and finds that Yoda's response is laughter at Luke's shock and sorrow. Yoda knows that Luke has appointed himself as the protector and even preserver of his lineage. A task Yoda willingly allows to go up in smoke. Yoda's final counsel is that the force and the Jedi will always be, even without texts and even without the temple. Cue: star wars fundamentalist anger!
What if we burned our sacred text? Dogmas have a nasty habit of becoming self-referencing castles where the drawbridge is permanently up, leaving only the truly devout (if not slightly reckless) to climb its walls to gain entry. In my experience, the elevation of text to mythical status has done this in my own spiritual experience. Faith, for many, has become an exercise in rational proofs of ancient texts. This type of belief bears its membership card, marking out those who belong to the spiritual club and those who are lost. The club sounds infallible, inerrant, and solely authoritative.
Yesterday, I attended the memorial service of a man who volunteered in my youth group when I was a teenager. The church we all attended was a very traditional Baptist church. In the 80s/90s devotion could easily be measured by the size of your leather bound bible. In reflection, some of the types who waved it around the most opened it the least (at least in public). Part of me doesn’t blame them. That book is hard to understand. It is not even one book, but its entries are the bridge between two different faith communities and dozens of geographies (none of them modern western democracies) and was written in three different languages. What is available is what was preserved, the library is fascinating in its brutal honestly about human nature, divine nature, and transformational possibilities.
Also Yesterday, I dropped into my daughter's church youth group where I am considering volunteering. The topic was decision making, and when asked by the leader if they use the Bible in their decision making, most of the students answered "no." I don't blame them either; it's hard to get direct advice about current scenarios that writers of the bible couldn't even imagine. In the discussion, there were a few students adamant that all of life's answers could be found in the book. Other students pushed back with a multitude of "what if's" that made their decision making difficult. How should we answer these sincere questions?
I feel an affinity for Luke; I too prefer to have the temples and wholly protected scared texts. After all, Bible reading and study is required for spiritual growth, or is it? Yoda's laugh at Luke's horror at seeing the Jedi text books demonstrates something modern Christians miss. The fruit of spirit does not include reading comprehension. The threat of what faith would be or could be if we lost access to our sacred text can tell us something powerful about our assumptions. Instead of a Cosmic Christ who's fellow triune partner is the present spirit, we instead elevate cosmic literacy and cosmic textual infallibility and end up appointing ourselves the dogmatic fundamentalist, just like Luke Skywalker.
At this point, some of my dear friends reading may think I have lost respect for sacred texts. Nothing is further from the truth. Instead, we live in a time with unique advantages - widespread literacy and education, quality media production, and the network of scholarship that regularly contributes to our understanding of ancient texts and religious groups. All of these were lacking in the early church. Somehow and someway this teaching was preserved by storytelling and letter writing during a time of widespread illiteracy and massive difficulties in replicating and protecting texts.
With the flames burning high, Yoda laughs and encourages Luke by telling him that the force and the Jedi don't need the temples or the texts. They have always been and will still be - all without his help. If it scares you to lose your sacred text, consider that for eighteen centuries most Christians had access to only portions of Bible books, fewer could read them, and still, its influence (even when negative) spread all over the world.
At the close of the youth group, I was asked to tell youth how I approach life decision's with the bible. I could have said to them that I have a BA in Biblical Studies, 20 hours of New Testament Greek, am a seminary dropout and I still read all I can on historical Jesus scholarship. I could have told them I spent the Christmas break reading NT Wrights 736 page book on the historical issues regarding the New Testament's claim of Jesus' resurrection. Instead, I told them there are many answers in our sacred texts, the time given to look for them is not spent in vain, but to remember that they all come from one example. The example of incarnate wisdom, compassion, and love whose very presence deployed wine at a wedding party, zapped the sick with healing, and restored the dignity of humans that society had branded as garbage.
"Jesus loves me this I know for Bible tells me so" works when you can read and your advantages allow for to own a personal copy. And when your place in the history of this world presents other challenges, the ancient spirit force (you knew that I would use the force didn't you) of wisdom, love, and power will do what it has always done, even without the help of books and our buildings. Ironically, I know this because it's in the sacred text. Others may come to know it if I can read it, ponder it, let it change me and force me to become a contemporary example of THE ancient example. The story opens hearts and minds not when we protect it, but when we tell it, in words and action. Now that's a myth where I can plunge my heart and mind.
I remember laughing at the great 90s Saturday Night Live Skit where the two talk show hosts were so paralyzed by their need to be politically correct, that their dialogue became stretched thin and to the point of absurdity. Instead of Christmas carols, they sang holiday carols with language generic enough to mean almost nothing to anyone listening. This awkward comprise of language was played for laughs but many don’t find the humor in this type of cultural compromise. Some have even called the dialogue of the skit a representation of the so-called "War on Christmas."
In the last 24 hours the northern hemisphere has emerged from its longest night and its shortest day. Hundreds of years ago, when your livelihood depended on agriculture, and there was never a chance to head to the supermarket after work for fresh food, the return of the sun was a very welcome sign. How welcome was the sign? One worthy of a massive party (more like debauchery). Eventually, cultural pressure combined the solstice with the Christian observance of the birth of Jesus. This newly merged tradition was observed three days after the solstice. The goal was to contain the solstice party and make it a spiritual event that was more palatable to those who saw a threat in the debauchery holiday.
Today, December 22, the sun is starting our annual process of shortening the night, which has both literal and metaphorical meaning every year. For a desert dweller like me, the temperature dip of winter is offsetting and for many, the season is physically and emotionally depressing. The celebration of solstice recognizes the beginning of the end of the long nights, and its linkage to Christmas joins the expectation of more natural sun with emergence of another spiritually son, notably in just three days (as in the gospel stories).
As our days begin to lengthen, the advent and Christmas calendar implore us to find all of the contemporary areas of darkness and bring light to each of them. I believe that if the message of this season was one of offering the light of truth, justice, compassion, mercy, and hope there wouldn't need to be a discussion about the cultural disappearance of Christmas. Instead, there is ample proof for those with reservations, suspicions, and hostility about that the Christmas holiday has little to do with the end of darkness, literal or metaphorical. Sadly, there are too many heartbreaking and convicting examples that they can provide. There has been much harm done in the name of Christ, in defense of Christmas, and in defense of other professing Christians. These experiences need a solstice of the soul as well.
Tonight will be shorter than the last, and each day that follows will grow in warmth and brightness. Each day's new light is an example of the metaphor of the Gospel of John. In John, Jesus is the light of the world, not the "right" of the world. There are too many examples of where the right words about Christmas and Christ have created the same kind of paralyzed banter as the Saturday Night Live skit. We may speak all we want about values, but if the audience can only see, feel, and experience darkness, then we are perpetually at the solstice and never to arrive at Christmas. The energy spent on the "right" ways to talk about Christmas is better spent finding the means to extinguish the very real darkness that many live in spiritually, physically, and emotionally.
Happy solstice! Now, let us share the light where it is needed most. May the light of each day lengthen through our spirit driven action, may each person inhabit less darkness through our love, and may the light of the world shine without the distortion of our hypocritical words. May we all declare one last war, a war not on Christmas, but on darkness! That is what sun/son is for, after all.
I have heard that one of the most often repeated commands in the Bible is a version of the phrase "Do not be afraid." I have also never heard those words at a moment of personal fear and been able to appreciate them. In fact, I am so good at fear that I actually struggle with fear of strong emotions in general. I would like to propose we reinvent our fear language. Even though fear is a basic biological impulse designed to protect our safety, its daily presence erodes our enjoyment of life. My friends, what should we make of fear?
The strangeness of each of the accounts in the Christian sacred text leads me to think that the real issue behind our fear is something going on just below the surface. It is important to note the verb in "Do not be afraid" is "be" rather than the word "feel". The difference is regularly overlooked, but vital. Take a look at some of the accounts of individuals "being afraid", you'll find them running, hiding, collapsing, mute, catastrophizing, blaming others, etc. These are the same things that happen when we give away our sense of being and where we have been overcome by our darkest feelings.
Most of the commands to not be afraid come with a reason. When the truth is revealed, it's usually a unique combination of radical change and surprise. Let's reflect on that cause and effect relationship. The divine reassurance is provided exactly because the situation actually is terrifying. Why else would there be a need to give an explanation? It is senseless and even cruel to dismiss the fearful experiences of others, and even more cruel to do it to ourselves.
I suggest we make room for the feelings of fear, recognize its sense of alarm, and open our awareness to its source. We can make room by first recognizing the feelings present in our body. These feelings are the pit in our stomach, the quickening of our heart beat, and the sudden urge to fight or take flight. It takes real courage to sit (and only sit) and acknowledge these feelings in real time. As we make this our practice, something amazing happens - we can learn that our feelings are temporary. When we become a witness to their rise and fall, much like bobbing on the water from the safety of a boat, we allow temporary fear to switch places with a permanent peace that is laying just below our emotional surface. This is how we can "not be afraid" while still recognizing that our old annoying friend named fear has come for a visit.
Feeling fear without being afraid also means developing an awareness of true threat versus perceived threat. We cannot rid ourselves of fear, it is our body's alarm system and its warning can save our lives. For most, there have only be a few "life or death" fear inducing moments in life. The rest of these moments however, are often threats to our ego, despair over our lack of control, and frustration coming from our resistance to circumstances. Giving in and responding to these perceived threats can also fit the definition of "being" afraid.
When our sense of being has given over to fear, we have a choice. Living in constant reactivity to every ego slight or need for control does nothing more than induce more fear. A better choice looks like the process of accepting fear, re-framing our situation, and pursuing a new direction in real time (maybe this is what working out salvation with "fear and trembling" means). These choices will not remove fear from your life, and you wouldn't want that any more than having non-functioning fire alarms in your home. However, It will help you remember that there are real alarms and fake ones. The fakes ones are much more prevalent. Even as the alarms sound from time to time, it's possible to feel fear but not permanently overcome by it. When you doubt this check out some of my favorite fear encounters in the Bible:
Exodus 14:13 A time God followers feared that they were being led to their death by God
Deuteronomy 7:18 For the faithful and forgetful, a reminder to the same group who had already lived through the Exodus 14:13 incident
Proverbs 3:24 For the times the quiet of the night is what keeps you from sleep
Psalms 23:4 For the time it's your memory of God's previous acts that keep you alive
Matthew 1:20 For the time when one door shuts and another door doesn't open because God is removing the roof of the reality of your existence
Matthew 10:31 For the times we think we are invisible, inconsequential, and unimportant to God
Matthew 17:7 When you realize you had all the right facts but in all the wrong order
Matthew 28:5 A surprise reminder of God's opinion of nightmares like tombstones and mortal failure
Mark 4:40-41; 6:50 A surprise reminder of how God and nature relate
Luke 1:13 When a man named "Yahweh remembers" learns what the name means
Luke 2:!0 When good news became the victory of God
I imagine that being a Christian is mainly an expressive language that communicates about loving God and about being loved by God. Growing in my faith has become an understanding that loving God means loving what God loves. Generations of prophets, the voices in the wilderness of Israel's history, and the human face of God encountered in Jesus, make it clear that God is both love and justice. Those that have lost either are soon to recognize they are longing for both, for they are two sides of the same coin.
God is not ignorance, repression, suppression, or oppression of love and justice. In the trials and chaos of life, our obstacles are the void created by the absence of love and justice. Over and over, love and justice are God's words and actions breaking into the void. When the void is overcome with the truth which becomes evident as caring, compassion, comfort and the restoration of the dignity of all. When love pretends to be our motivation without a commitment to justice, our result is selfishness. When our sense of justice has lost its source in love then our result is self-righteousness. God is neither selfish nor self-righteous, and living with both is to enter the void.
When we look at the stories from the sacred scripture we see example after example of our responsibilities toward one another. If you were to ask Malachi and James what the definition of pure religion is, you will find particular instructions that represent universal values. You will not find the moralizing and rationalization that defends the prevailing oppression of the day, whether it be the harsh realities of imperial dominance, economic injustice, or patriarchy. As John Dominic Crossan points out, to a patriarchal society love and justice require that we care for the widow and orphan (and much more), in a tribal society they provide for the resident alien (like Ruth), and in a market society they provide aid to the poor, sick, and hungry. Since the time of Jesus, progress has been made and also lost on all fronts, in a dizzying yin and yang of human development.
I grew up in a tradition that emphasized the birth and the death of Jesus. Even the most famous creeds make these two events preeminent in their assessment of his purpose and vocation. The gap between birth and death, however, was often minimized or not discussed at all. The result is the same void we encounter when we lose sight of the love and justice. This is to me the greatest tragedy of current Christian practice and worship. In our effort to categorize, philosophize, and proselytize we have reduced the holy art work of a lifestyle love and justice into a mechanical expression of self-serving ideals.
This error can and must be undone and it starts with encountering, once again, the human face of God on earth. The face that demonstrated love and justice by walking toward things labeled "unclean", by eating with and creating relationship with "sinners", by defying gender roles and demonstrating that many society's structures are often built for the powerful few, who exploit the many, and are blamed on God. Instead, the human face of God is the one who is waiting as a father to the prodigal and the older son, who is sitting and waiting for the shame ridden woman to visit the well, and who is ready to offer a parable to a self-righteous Pharisee who mentally judges the tearful embrace of Jesus by a sinner.
To love God is to love what God loves which is to act in a way that restores and protects the innate dignity of all beings, cares for the sick and hungry, comforts in the reality of pain and death, and loves so thoroughly that it provokes the embrace of the sinner. This is what you find between his birth and death. If you can read this, you are still between those two events, too. May you fill your days with the same ethic of compassion known by the names of love and justice.
30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.”
In the past weeks, I have been part of multiple discussions on finding common ground with others during this time of social division. I am not shy in pronouncing and working toward my own personal ethic of compassion and love. However, I should be more shy about discussing how well I follow through. It’s been too easy to simply brand the other side of any argument as unloving. I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of this accusation, as many of you.
This saying of Jesus is perhaps quoted as much by other faith groups as it is by Christians. It’s easy to stay on love and forget the self. It’s also very common to start with the first half and see your intentions became a train wreck by the time you read “as yourself “. It seems to me that many who draw the ire of others are indeed following this saying without even trying. How is it so easy to be so disparaging, hostile, and angry? Because you hate yourself. You live in regret, remorse, denial, and never ending self judgement. You can’t help acting with such malice toward others because it’s how you treat yourself moment by moment. A living hell on earth.
How shall we cope with those where we find angry disagreement? First, by seeing them as people who may be hostile because they live in self hate. They may be unloving to their neighbor just as they are to themselves. This type of seeing is the start of the compassion in this saying of Jesus. It works because it revives our humanity. You simply can’t love another until you’ve made the peace treaty with your own inner self war which then creates the foundation for acceptance. Maybe then we can strive toward social progress and to peace with our neighbors.
Recently, we took on the endeavor to provide more instruction and an opportunity for discussion with our "tween" and our teen regarding the Bible. We have decided to start with Luke’s gospel for a couple of reasons. Starting in the gospels allows us to tip our toes into the Old Testament often, while providing an examination of the teachings and mission of Jesus, all the while connecting this emerging narrative to the early church via the book of Acts (Luke wrote these books as a series). What follows are brief snapshots of our discussion and observations that have the most timely relevance to our current events.
Luke Chapter 1
Luke chapter 2 tells the Birth story of Jesus which means the whole first chapter was used to lay some important groundwork. We learn of a priest who is named “Yahweh remembers” who gets the shock of his life on the luckiest day of his life. He is drawn from among thousands of priests to enter the temple on Israel’s behalf and when does, the Angel Gabriel appears and announces that his barren wife will soon conceive a son who will be a messenger for the coming messiah.
Six months later, the Angel visits Mary and tells her that she will conceive a child and that she should call him Jesus. We are told she is a virgin, which in greek is the word parthenos which was used both to indicate youth and sexual experience, and that this pregnancy will be overshadowed by “the power of the Most High”. Historians and scientist have much to say about whether this virgin birth actually occurred. To summarize for our discussion, it is important to realize in first century Judaism held a worldview that did not separate the world into categories like nature and supernature but instead, held that God was in nature, worked within nature, and recreates via nature (these are also major themes in the teaching of Jesus). The same modern audiences that recoil at a virgin birth seem to give a pass to Elizabeth becoming pregnant, even though she was well past her childbearing years (I suspect this is because we see this in modern life quite often). The combination of these two stories tell us that if the divine force is part of the universe and not removed from it, and if this God force shows a present concern for nature’s health and direction then these two significantly distinct human births make it very clear that nature is itself a mediator of God’s work. Even now, human birth as common as is, is still regarding with simultaneously mystical, miraculous and scientific wonder.
Modern advances in medicine readily provide the type of healing that would have been viewed as miraculous in the first century. Perhaps a miracle is more of a statement of our expectation than it is about any defiance of scientific rigor. It seems unnecessarily bold (maybe to the level of suggesting a birth via a virgin) to assert that scientific knowledge has already discovered all of the observable and repeatable patterns of our universe. This should help us set our minds and hearts toward the type of breakthrough this story speaks of regarding nature. Nature is good, God is present within it, and is still at work within it to restore its goodness wherever and whenever it has been distorted by human shortsightedness and greed.
A wry smile comes my face as I read that of the three people first mentioned by Luke, two are women. One of the women has carried the social disgrace of a barren womb for decades and the other is a girl young enough to believe her age (and likely her gender) is a burden to being used for an important purpose, especially one requiring a visit by an Angel. Yet, these felt barriers, as self destructive as they may be, are the very messengers of this divine work that intends to restore to all what has been lost. Human suffering takes many forms and this story briefly introduces the particular pain caused by your own biology in Elizabeth’s barrenness and the pain caused by culture in Mary’s surprise that despite her age she had “found favor.” It seems that even when our body fails us and our world is hostile, God sees these conditions as the opportunity to reverse the course of our world but by working directly inside of it and by working inside of us. With this realization, Mary adds in verse 38, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Here am I, servant of the Lord, indeed!
There has been a lot of talk lately about power, supremacy, and division. Tensions are high in the United States and opinions are as diverse as the people who make up the country. I certainly have my inclinations and feel the pressure that demands action. But, what action? What will actually help our situation?
In the New Testament book of Galatians the author, Paul describes his first encounter with his former enemies as “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” This is the reaction of the first audience of a transformed Paul. In our modern world, it is tempting to take all spiritual or religious tales and label them as an irrelevant fantasy. However, regardless of your faith tradition (or lack thereof) Paul’s experience points to a powerful experience of reversal. What causes this?
It seems that falling off of your horse will do this to you. As the story goes, Saul (soon to be renamed Paul) had a vision and encountered the force he thought he was serving only to find out that had been leading the opposition. The book of Acts does not tell us whether it was a “high horse,” but we are told he falls to the ground and the effect was powerful. Imagine the moment when you realize all of your life’s work is counterproductive, harmful, and disgraceful. How does he recover?
Blindness and solitude will do this to you. We are told that for days he lost sight and for at least three years he was mentored in the desert of Arabia. The unpacking of a wasted life is done by listening and depending on a close group of people that will demonstrate an important balance between love and justice. Many would have demanded justice toward Paul since he had been part of groups who murdered others with whom he disagreed. But this story demonstrates how love is the foundation of justice. How can this be today?
Justice that restores entire societies and communities but it’s love that restores a human being. Regardless of our history, our suffering, and our personal inclinations the restoration of our whole society depends on our ability to make amends with our brothers and sisters. Sometimes “love your enemies” and “love your neighbor” are different labels for the same thing. When hate and separation are the tools of the trade, it’s someone in deep pain doing the work. When we see a complete reversal it is our duty to meet their change with acceptance. Love and justice are the tools of unification yesterday, today, and tomorrow.