Beautiful Young Women


There was a priest of a certain parish who had a habit of stopping to talk to beautiful young women. He would approach them in the streets and strike up conversations with them. Sometimes he would even visit them in their homes. Some of the members of the parish began to be concerned by this behavior and worried that it was reflecting badly on them. Finally, they alerted the bishop who decided it was his duty to correct the priest. 

One afternoon the bishop paid a visit to the priest in his home. After some polite talk, the bishop finally addressed the issue he had come to discuss. 

“I don’t know how else to say this,” the bishop began, “but I’ve heard some troubling reports that you may have become lax in your vows.”

“I’m not sure to what you’re referring,” said the priest, somewhat taken aback.

“Well, I’ve heard reports that you’ve been consorting with beautiful young women, and it has given the appearance of impropriety. I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to stop this behavior for the good of yourself and the good of your parish. A man of the cloth must be beyond reproach.”

The priest bowed his head and said, “Of course I will respect your wishes, your Excellence, but if I may: I thought it far better to talk to beautiful young women while thinking of God than to talk to God while thinking of  beautiful young women.”

The Bible is clear that those of us who are leaders in the church are held to a higher standard. This is appropriate and just. But as this humorous parable reminds us, the perception isn’t always the reality. As God tells Samuel, “The LORD does not see what people see; they judge the outward appearance but He judges the heart.” Jesus was critical of religious leaders who focused on shining and polishing the outside of the cup while the inside was full of dirt and grime. He often risked the reputation of a drunk and a glutton to spend time with disreputable people who he wanted to show love and grace to. Disciples are called to follow this example. The heart we present to God is far more important than the appearance we present to the world. 

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The King and the Maiden


Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents.

And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in a poor village in his kingdom. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist-no one dared resist him. But would she love him?

She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know for sure? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.

The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend to her. Clothed as a beggar, he approached her cottage with a worn cloak fluttering loose about him. This was not just a disguise – the king took on a totally new identity – He had renounced his throne to declare his love and to win hers.

This, perhaps the most beautiful of Søren Kierkegaard’s parables (I kept his wording intact), is a profound illustration of the greatest Christian mystery: that God would give up all His holy splendor and don flesh and bone– that He would forsake His crown for a cross. The answer is “love.” As disciples, we are called to imitate this same love and humility. As the apostle Paul wrote in the second chapter of Phillippians: “Therefore in your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Acts 2:38


Returning from Bible study one evening, an elderly woman was surprised to find a burglar in her living room holding a burlap sack filled with her belongings. Not knowing what else to do, the woman recalled the Bible verse they had been discussing earlier at Church. It was Acts 2:38 which says: “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so your sins will be forgiven.” So she called out to the burglar, “Acts 2:38!”

The burglar looked up startled with wide eyes. Feeling that she had struck a nerve, the woman repeated, louder and more forcefully this time, “Acts 2:38!”

The man’s hands began to shake and he dropped the sack at his feet, slowly backing toward the door. By this point the woman could tell that she had really convicted the burglar so, emboldened, she cried out at the top of her voice, “Acts 2:38!”

With that, the burglar ran out the door and jumped into his getaway car without touching the ground the whole way. “Drive! Drive!” He yelled to his partner as soon as he was in the vehicle. As they peeled off, the partner saw that the burglar was white as a ghost.

“What in the world happened in there?” he asked.

“I’m never working this street again. I thought I was alone in that house then suddenly there was this crazy old broad in the living room screaming at me that she had an axe and two .38s!”

Some of the funniest jokes are based on miscommunication. When the speaker is saying one thing but the hearer is picking up something else, hilarity can ensue. Abbot and Costello made a career of this kind of humor. But it is important to ask ourselves whether we are fundamentally miscommunicating with the world around us. Those of us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus have been called to share the good news of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness and yet that good news is often translated into bad news by the hearer. We’re miscommunicating. Often we blame this on the hearer. We deride them and say they are rejecting the truth when really the fault lies with us. We’ve run them off instead of letting them in. Jesus came into this world not to condemn the world but to save it through Himself. God loved the world so much that he gave his only son. This is the Gospel. Everything else is noise in the way of good news.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Body

The human body doesn’t consist of just one part. It has many parts. If the foot suddenly said, “Because I’m not a hand, I’m not part of the body anymore.” That wouldn’t change a thing. The foot would still be part of the body. If the ear spoke up and said, “Because I’m not an eye, I’m not part of this body,” it would still go on being part of the body. If the whole body were one giant eyeball, how would it hear anything? If the whole body was just a big ear, how would it smell? 

God, in His wisdom, designed each part of the body for a purpose and put each part in its proper place. If the body was made up of just one part, it wouldn’t be a body. The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Neither can the head say to the feet, “I’ll get along just fine without you!” Quite the opposite. It seems the most important body parts are also the most vulnerable and the parts which we think of as being less respectable, we take great care to clothe with respect. What’s more, the more respectable members of our body go about naked. God designed the body this way so it can take care of itself. The strong parts protect the weak parts and the respectable parts cover the not so respectable parts. This brings harmony to the human body and each part cares for the other. If one part suffers, every part suffers. If one part is honored, the whole body rejoices.

The church is the body of Christ and each person is one of the parts. Though we have many different gifts and purposes, we are all united by our love for Christ and our love for one another.

The Apostle Paul had a gift for the use of parable. His letters, written in the 1st century, to newly formed Christian churches, contain some of the most vivid illustrations in the entire Christian tradition. The fruits of the spirit, the armor of God, running to win the prize… these are all metaphors that shape our thinking to this day. Perhaps Paul’s most memorable parable is “the body of Christ.” It’s a startling image when you think about it. Paul is rejecting the notion that unity is found in uniformity. Writing to a church torn apart by divisions, he is reminding them that it is their diversity which makes them strong. We often lose sight of this when we prize certain kinds of talent over others and make vices of the weaknesses that are not our own. No single one of us can be Christ in the world by ourselves. It is only when each part works together that He is made present.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Not Waving but Drowning

NOT WAVING BUT DROWNING

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Stevie Smith

According to Thoreau, “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.” I don’t know if this is true, but I do know too many people in my own life who appear happy on the outside but on the inside are violently struggling to keep their head above the water. We all have been shocked at marriages that looked perfectly happy seemingly fall apart over night, suddenly discovered that a friend or neighbor had a drug problem that they had managed to conceal for years, or been saddened to hear of the sudden suicide of someone everyone described as “always happy.” In all these cases, we look back and ask: How did we miss this? All the signs were there. How did we not know? The truth is that we see people every day without truly seeing them. Far too many people feel alone in their suffering because their pleas for help go unrecognized. They are not waving but drowning. As disciples walking in the way of Jesus, we are called to be sources of healing and forgiveness- vessels of compassion. We cannot do this if we do not take the time to see the struggles of others. We cannot rescue the hurt and lost if we simply wave back at them on our way to something else.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Cliff


A man was traveling along a treacherous  mountain path when a tiger suddenly leapt from the bushes. He was so startled that he lost his footing and began to tumble down the side of a steep cliff. As luck would have it, a climber had left some rope fastened to a tree at the top and the the man was able to grab hold of it halfway down the cliff. Looking up, he saw the tiger waiting for him at the top,  gnawing on the rope. Looking down, the man saw jagged rocks sticking out of a violent river. The man realized his situation was hopeless until he looked forward and saw, growing out of the side of the mountain, fresh strawberries. They were juicy and ripe so he reached out and grabbed them.  They were the sweetest strawberries the man had tasted in his entire life. 

This Buddhist parable demonstrates the importance of living in the moment. We cannot change our past and our future, this side of the veil, is certain. But if we pay attention to the moments we are in, there is so much beauty and wonder to be had. Buddhist call this “mindfulness.” When the Apostle Paul famously instructed the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing,” I doubt he meant that they should spend their entire lives on their knees speaking to God (though, there are way worse ways to spend a life). I think Paul was telling us that we need to be constantly mindful of God’s presence throughout the day. We spend so much time distracted by guilt and worry that we often miss what God is doing right here and now. In the last months of his life, musician, Warren Zevon, knew he was going to die soon of his terminal cancer. When David Letterman asked what he had learned from the experience that he wanted to pass on, he simply said, “Enjoy every sandwich.” May we not be so preoccupied with our circumstances that we forget to see and appreciate the blessings God has in store for us every day. It would be a shame to miss all those wonderful strawberries.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…


There’s Nothing to be Afraid Of


Solomon Rosenberg tells this story from his time in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. He, his wife, his two sons, and his mother were all arrested and relocated to a labor camp. The rules were simple: As long as you could do your work, you were permitted to live. When you became too weak to do your work, then you were exterminated. The conditions were harsh and inhumane. The prisoners were given little to eat and the weak among them began to waste away until the inevitable day when they could no longer work and they were taken to the gas chambers.

Rosenberg watched his mother and father being marched off to their deaths when they became too weak. He knew that his youngest son, David, would be next because David had always been a frail child. Every evening when Rosenberg came back into the barracks after his hours of labor, he would search for the faces of his family. When he found them, they would huddle together, embrace one another, and thank God for another day of life. But each day, David looked just a little bit more frail and Solomon always feared the next day would be the day he was taken away.

One day Rosenberg came back and couldn’t find his family. He stormed through the barracks in a panic until he finally discovered his oldest son, Joshua, in a corner, huddled and weeping. 

“Josh,” he said, “tell me it’s not true.” 

Joshua looked up and said, “It is true, Poppa. Today David was not strong enough to do his work, so they came for him.”

“But where is your mother?” asked Mr. Rosenberg, “She is still strong enough to work!”

“Oh Poppa,” he exclaimed. “When they came for David, he was afraid and he was crying. Momma said, ‘There is nothing to be afraid of, David,’ and she pulled him close and held him. Then she took his hand and went with him so he wouldn’t have to be alone.”

Human beings are capable of unspeakable cruelty. But as this true story from one of the darkest times in human history shows us: we are also capable of unspeakable love. I always struggle with sharing holocaust stories. Part of me feels as though they are not my stories to tell. In some sense, sharing any parable from a faith not my own could be seen as an act of cultural appropriation but, at the same time, I truly believe stories are meant to be told. I believe Mr. Rosenberg meant for the story of his son and his wife’s sacrifice to be told as well. The meaning of the word compassion is to “suffer with.” This is what a mother cannot help but do for her own children and what both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament claim is true of God. We cannot break the dark and brutal cycle of history until we learn to see others sufferings as our own. The way of self-sacrificial love calls us to take one another by the hand and refuse to let them face the dark alone. When we do this we, ourselves, are candles shining in the night. 

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…