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He taught me the value of doing something with your own hands even though I rarely managed to get it just right.
He taught me how to debate with someone but still love them even though he was completely wrong all the time.
He taught me that respect, honor, and treating others the way I wish to be treated were crucial parts of living a good life.
Even though he’s been gone from my life for nearly as long as he was in it (dang, I’m old), I hear his voice nearly every time I open mine to talk to the kids.
I remember once on a band trip when I was feeling down, I went to find him. He usually left me alone on band trips to give me my space, but this time I sought him out. Seeing him in the stands that Saturday evening, I went and sat down beside him. He glanced at me but didn’t say anything. He just quietly placed his arm around my shoulders as we sat there watching the bands.
He took care of me and still teaches me how to care for others today.
Love you, dad. I often find myself wishing you were here so I could ask your advice . . . and then do the exact opposite.
On April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered what would be his final speech in Memphis, Tennessee to his friends, supporters, America, the world, and to history.
In this speech, he offered his interpretation of parable of The Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke 10: 25-37.
Here’s what Dr. King had to say about it:
One day a man came to Jesus and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus (That’s right), and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base. [Recording interrupted] Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from midair and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. (Yeah) And he talked about a certain man who fell among thieves. (Sure) You remember that a Levite (Sure) and a priest passed by on the other side; they didn’t stop to help him. Finally, a man of another race came by. (Yes sir) He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying this was the good man, this was the great man because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother.
Now, you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. (Yeah) At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that one who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony. (All right) And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather, to organize a Jericho Road Improvement Association. [Laughter] That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect. [Laughter]
But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road. (That’s right) I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. (Yeah) And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. (Yes) It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about twelve hundred miles, or rather, twelve hundred feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about twenty-two feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. (Yes) In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. (Go ahead) Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking (Yeah), and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. (Oh yeah) And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” (All right)
But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” That’s the question before you tonight. (Yes) Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job?” Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” (Yes) The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question. [Applause]
Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge, to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. (Amen)
As we consider our relationship with others, with our neighbors whom we know and don’t, with the strangers in our midst, with the strangers coming to our shores, the example of the Good Samaritan teaches us not to ask, “What will happen to us?” but rather to ask, “What will happen to them if we don’t?”
If you ask, what Dr. King would do, if you ask, what Jesus would do, I think the answer is clear.
When I take a step back
away from the mess of my desk with the precarious pile of bills
away from the house with the leaky tub
away from the bosses who seem determined to make education meaningless
away from the fears of what this country is becoming
When I take a step back
and watch them together
walking together, arm in arm—
I’m reminded of asking dad one day, when I was old enough to have learned of the complete nightmare that was the year of 1968,
“What were you thinking bringing me into that world?” and his reply,
“Well, your mom worried about it, but I thought you’d be okay.”
When I take a step back,
I remember, and
I believe he was right.
I am okay.
In fact, I’m far better than that.
So, thanks for your calm self-assurance, dad.
And your belief in the future.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
There is far more than holds us together than separates us.
We love our children.
We love our families.
We love our communities.
We care for strangers.
We care for the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, and those in need.
We believe that Freedom and Justice and Equality are far more than dead words of a past age. We believe these ideals are crucial to humans living and working together.
We believe that people matter, and that the ideas that people have matter.
We are not perfect, and frankly we never will be, but we believe that we are striving to form a more perfect Union than we had together yesterday. It’s the striving that matters.
We have to keep striving together.
The Blessings of Liberty are not dead. We will secure them for all of ourselves and our Posterity.
It is so ordained. It is so established.
We are the people of the United States of America.
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Leaves of Grass (1892)
Even as a child, even before I knew the name of the town, Huntsville was a place of dreams and acceptance.
Believe it or not, I was a kind of a loner as a kid. Growing up in the Deep South, loving books more than football was a bit of a barrier that was difficult to climb over. I didn’t get the passion over a sport that was, when I played it at least, the punishment you survived so you could go home and read the latest Star Trek novel.
And that’s where Huntsville came into play. My mom and dad decided one Saturday morning when we were visiting my Nanny in Opelika that we would take the drive up to Huntsville to visit the Space and Rocket Center. Yes, we were mere inches from Toomer’s Corner, and I honestly didn’t know it existed. I loved going to Auburn though since the Auburn Mall had a Waldenbooks. Having grown up in a town that barely had a library, the tiny (by today’s standards) Waldenbooks could absorb me all day for every day of our visits.
And so I prepared over the three hour drive to Huntsville by re-reading Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I wanted to go into space.
Space, for me, represented a place of dreams, a place where people worked together toward a common goal. A place where everyone’s skill set was crucial because usually you were one of a extremely small crew, and survival depended on being able to work together.
Space embodied the dream of being worthwhile, which was something I struggled with as a kid who didn’t fit in.
And in Huntsville, I was able to climb into the capsule that had taken people up there. I’m certain that the Mercury Capsule in Huntsville that I kept running to the back of the line to climb into again and again was just a mock-up, but it really did not matter. When I was reclined in the seat, I was in space.
And all was right.
Today, the boy climbed into that capsule. And all was right.
I didn’t prompt him; he wanted to. And then he, and Woody, flipped over, put his feet up in the air, closed his eyes, and dreamed.
I don’t know what he dreamed about. My boy, as a result of his being on the Autism Spectrum, doesn’t talk much. He doesn’t share his dreams with me often. But he did specifically, and repeatedly request this week, to go to “The US Space and Rocket Center to see the rockets, please.” So to see the rockets we went. Because when my boy goes to the trouble of asking for something, we try and get it for him.
And while he didn’t tell me what his dreams were, kneeling there, thinking about just how amazing humanity is when we work together, I thought about some of my dreams for my boy.
Like most parents, I dreamed of all the wonders of this world that I would get to share with my boy. All the books he would love. All the Lego Space Ships we would build. All the movies we would see. All the footballs we would toss (yeah, I became a bit more normal as I grew up).
But then his diagnosis interfered. And I spent a long time being angry that autism was screwing up my plans.
Until something weird started happening. The boy and I went to movies, and he liked them. We would read books and enjoy them. We would play with our amazing Star Trek technology that I could only dream of as a kid together.
And he would reach over to take my hand while he was crying from laughing so hard at a movie scene he watched over and over, just as I used to do.
And I realized that life was far, far better than my dreams could have imagined.
While I was looking at him today, sitting in a seat that was at least quite similar to the one that I climbed into when I was basically his age, I realized that my dreams have changed.
I’m not as angry at autism as I once was. It hasn’t taken nearly as much as it has given.
And so while walking among monuments to what humanity can achieve when we work together, I realized that my primary dream today isn’t to rid the world of autism. Don’t get me wrong: if there were something we could give him to make communication easier for him, I would absolutely consider it.
But that isn’t the main thing I wish for today.
Instead, I wish to make our world a place where even the most severely autistic boy or girl is seen as a gift to humanity rather than a burden because of the wonderful gifts that they bring to our lives.
The gift to completely live in the moment even when that moment calls for going to the carwash on a rainy day.
The gift to dance alone in the grass.
The gift to unconsciously laugh harder at three words in a movie the 50th time you watch them than you did the first time cause sometimes things just get funnier.
The gift to empathize with complete strangers.
The gift to realize that a toy can be the best of friends.
We don’t need space to teach us that we absolutely need one another, and all our one anothers to survive. Our sordid lives are sufficient to that task.
While we may never find a cure for autism, we can change our world so that even those who cannot speak can contribute their verse to this powerful play.
You know, there’s been a lot said of late by people who disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage yesterday that people who support the decision are condemning those who don’t and claiming that they don’t love others.
It is not my intention in celebrating the decision to condemn anyone. There is, in my opinion, too much condemnation in this world as there is.
(For the record, I do not believe that being a homosexual is a sin, but we’ll save that discussion for another day.)
The response, from those who oppose the decision, goes something like this:
I have many friends who are gay and I love and respect them, they know I love them but don’t agree with their lifestyle. I am offended when it is implied that I do not love because I oppose gay marriage.
Usually after a claim of this nature, someone will response:
That’s right! We’re commanded to love the sinner but not the sin. That’s what Jesus did!
And with a single cliché, everyone goes away happy that they have done their duty towards others by letting them know that they’re wrong.
But here’s the thing, the phrase, “love the sinner but hate the sin” is not actually a commandment. It isn’t actually even Biblical.
The source of that cliché is probably St. Augustine who wrote in 424ce, “Cum dilectione hominum et audio vitiorum” which is typically translated as, “With love for humanity and hatred of sins.” In 1929, Gandhi restated this idea as “hate the sin and not the sinner.”
The phrase does not actually appear in the Bible.
But surely the idea shows up in the Bible even if it isn’t said that way, right?
Let’s take a look at that. Would Jesus have actually hated the sin but not the sinner?
There are, in the Gospels, basically three incidents where Jesus directly interacts with “sinners.”
The first shows Jesus healing the paralytic, and when doing so, he said to him “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” (This story is found in Matthew 9:2-8, Mark 2:5-17, and Luke 5:17-26.) In each passage, Jesus sees the injured man, approaches him, says, “your sins are forgiven,” and then heals the man.
In none of the versions of these stories is the paralytic man asked to confess his sins. Jesus simply forgave, and then immediately when the Pharisees began to condemn Jesus for blasphemy, he healed the man.
There is no discussion of how horrible the sin was. There was no discussion of not approving of the person’s lifestyle. Jesus seemed to go out of his way to avoid drawing attention to the man’s lifestyle in any way.
In a second incident that appears in Luke 7:36-50, Jesus is invited to dinner at with a Pharisee when a woman enters caring an alabaster jar of ointment which she then broke and anointed his feet and dried them with her hair. This is a similar story to Jesus’ anointment for burial by Mary in John 12.
When this woman did this, the Pharisee asked why Jesus would let this sinner touch him? Jesus responded, “I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
Jesus then, again, turned to her and said without preamble or requirement, “your sins are forgiven.” They were forgiven by an act of love, nothing else.
The final incident is the woman caught in adultery who was being brought out to be stoned in John 8:1-11.
After writing in the dirt and telling the mob, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
After they had left, he approaches the woman and asks, “Has no one condemned you?” When she said, “no one, sir,” he responded, “then neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more.”
Thus, at no point did Jesus discuss or express his “hatred for the sin.” The sin was not relevant. At all.
His entire focus was on loving the person who was in front of him. The person was all that mattered. What the person did or did not do was irrelevant.
So, no, Jesus did not hate the sin, not the sinner. He loved the sinner, and that love changed everything for the sinner. There was no condemnation. There wasn’t even a discussion like we might, unadvisedly have with a child where we ask, “do you know what you did wrong?”
There was just love. Nothing else.
And that’s what we’re actually commanded to do. No where does scripture tell us to hate the sin of others.
If I really want to hate sin, the sin I should hate is just my own. Not others (Matthew 7:1-5). If I do that, then I will truly understand how to love others because I’ll realize that I too am a sinner. There’s no difference between me and anyone else. God sees us all as the object of God’s love; God forgives us all (Romans 5:6-8).
The cliché “hate the sin not the sinner” needs to be retired from our lexicon. It’s a meaningless phrase used to absolve myself when I, sinfully, condemn others’ sin rather than seek forgiveness for my own.
The only commandments that Jesus gave us were, “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:28-34).
We’re not commanded to hate anything not even sin.
You know, I’ve been a Christian since I was saved as a 9 years old at Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Statesboro, Georgia. 35 years is a long time, and much has happen during that time. But there are many things that haven’t happened over that period.
Not even once.
Not once in those 35 years have I needed government protection to follow the example that Jesus gave to me of feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, giving clothing to the naked, or visiting and taking care of those who were sick or imprisoned.
Not once in those 35 years have I needed legal protection to show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness or self-control towards others.
Not once in those 35 years has my religious liberty to love God and love my neighbor as myself ever been threatened.
Not once in those 35 years have I ever been persecuted for treating others the way I wish to be treated.
Not once in those 35 years has anyone ever tried to stop me from loving people the way that I have been loved.
I must be truly weird, I guess, but in my experience, no one has ever tried to stop me from living like Jesus lived.
Those who are actually trying to live a religious life don’t need governmental protections to do it. True religious liberty is not given by government fiat. It comes from remembering that religion, at its heart, is love. And nothing more.