Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Scandal of God's Criminal Justice is Forgiveness (Brian E. Konkol)

The following homily was published with the Huffington Post on April 12, 2016, and is taken from a homily given in Christ Chapel, on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN) on April 11, 2016. 

The 2nd Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel holds a most horrific story, as it shares a section of Scripture that many not only detest, but simply wish did not exist. As this marginalized portion of the Christmas narrative reveals, when King Herod learns that a threat to his power was born in Bethlehem, he subsequently orders all male infants under the age of two in and around the area to be killed. This is, of course, a segment of the Christmas story that we so often suppress while cozy with our gifts around the Christmas tree. The vicious depiction is simply too agonizing, too awful, and too authentic. 

Shortly after Jesus was born, when King Herod devised his plan to commit genocide as a means to protect his empire, an angel in turn warns Joseph, who subsequently removes the infant Christ from danger. Tragically, countless others would not be so fortunate, and as a result, an incalculable amount of lives were so painfully taken so painfully early. This is one of the most gruesome portions of the entire Bible, and as we consider this dark massacre of holy innocents so brutally brought to light, there are numerous important lessons to consider, and as a result, many disturbing questions to ponder. One such question surrounds the scandal of God’s criminal justice. 

As we examine the nature of God’s criminal justice, we recognize that it is not difficult to be anguished, or even outraged, by what happened in this often ignored text from Matthew’s Gospel. The mass-murder of small children is beyond sickening. However, the source of our collective distress is not only the horrific sights and sounds of violence and terror, but deep down, through such dreadful disasters we also struggle with our common conceptions of a loving God. While we wonder where God is in the midst of such tragedies, and while others question why God does not (or perhaps cannot) prevent such bloodshed from taking place, we are ultimatley troubled with our basic and longstanding beliefs of where God’s love is placed in the unfolding aftermath. We wonder: What exactly is God’s justice in the context of such terrible catastrophe? Furthermore, the question that lies beneath such a question is whether or not there are any limits to God’s forgiveness. Which, in turn, leads us to consider if there is anything - or anyone - that is beyond the scope of God’s so-called amazing grace. Is there anything simply too awful, and is there anyone simply too evil, to receive God’s love? 
If we explore such existential inquiries through the lenses of the Risen Christ, we are quickly left with a bit of a prosecutorial problem. 

In our current day and age, as well as thousands of years ago, as people with a model of justice that is so often based upon “get back” and trying to even the so-called scale, we are presented with a spiritual and social puzzle that is by no means easily solved. For those of us that have caused great harm, God’s criminal justice does indeed look merciful and compassionate. However, for those of us that have survived great harm at the hands of others, God’s criminal justice often looks anything but just. Because, God’s criminal justice - which is modeled through Jesus’ death and resurrection - leaves the survivors of harm among us - in some ways - rather unsatisfied. While we have a God that seems to despise our human offenses, this God seems to honor the humanity of both the offended andthe offender, which in turn means that we are both comforted and confronted as we consider the exploits, not only of King Herod thousands of years ago, but of those in our current day and age that are responsible for great pain and terrible human suffering. 

We are disturbed with the details of such a scandalous Gospel, as God’s criminal justice, grounded in grace with a kenosis trajectory that resists retribution and moves us toward restoration, is far beyond our most common public policies and unimaginative personal practices. God’s criminal justice is about restoring community through radical hospitality, rather than dividing communities through retribution and brutality. 

On a personal note, a few years ago I volunteered at a high security juvenile detention facility, a rather intimidating and trying assignment, as the location housed young adults that made some very unfortunate, and yes, very violent choices. While the courts labeled these young and incarcerated people as criminals, and some even as monsters, I was given the opportunity to learn their names and stories. In doing so, I soon realized that with every offense, it is not difficult to see both offender and offended as victims. Among other things, what I learned was that, despite the common “tough on crime” claims to the contrary, the young people I met were beloved Children of God, who both created and experienced severe suffering. The opportunity to accompany those labeled as delinquent was an experience that - to this day - grounds and guides my understanding of who God is and what God does.

In light of it all, God surely knows that we all make our share of mistakes, and we all have helped to create great harm. Despite our best of intentions, we all commit crimes against humanity, countless times, each and every day. But of course, unlike the far majority of those caught within the cruel cycles of the correctional system, the mistakes we make are often shielded by a swath of social institutions and fortified with unwritten communal codes. These associations and administrations protect us from both surveillance and prosecution, and in doing so, we are shielded from receiving the label of criminal that countless others not born into our privileged situations so sadly receive.

In all of this, it is not to say people should not be held accountable for their actions. That is not the point.

The point is that, ultimatley, who among us actually gets what they deserve in life? There are those that get more and others that get less. Which means that, just as we should hold others accountable for their actions, we should also hold ourselves accountable for the actions of others. We all ultimatley belong to each other, and our current system of grossly over-individualized prosecution and punishment is simply a means to relieve ourselves of community responsibility in general, and excuse ourselves from personal guilt in particular. This collective consciousness and shared responsibility, on our best of days, should prevent us from self-righteousness, even in those moments when we are tempted to join the crowd, grab our moral pitch-forks, and seek mob justice when crucifixion seems most convenient. 

When Jesus said to take up our crosses and follow him, it was not in order for us to nail others to the crosses we carry. This is the comfort and challenge of the Gospel, for God embraces the humanity in both offender and offended, as each of us is both offender and offended, thus we are called to resist the temptation of retribution and engage the process of restoration. Because, ultimatley, the scandal of God’s criminal justice is forgiveness.

The scandal of God’s criminal justice is forgiveness. 

It does not mean that we should accept all things, nor does it mean that we should forget all things. It does not mean that we should simply give out a free pass, nor does it mean that reparations should not be sought. Yet it all does mean that we are called to forgive as God first forgave us. Why? Because resentment is like drinking rat poison and expecting the rat to die, and forgiveness allows us to let go of our false hopes for a better past. In walking this way of the Risen Christ, the aim of God’s criminal justice is not to put offenders in chains, but to release us all of our own. 

We receive an example of such restoration from across the ocean in Zambia. In the Bemba tribe, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, they are placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. We can imagine the scene. In response to an injustice, all work ceases, and every man, every woman, and every child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then, each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, not to offer words of judgment or condemnation, but to recite the good things that the accused has done in their lifetime. Every life-giving experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted, and shared publically, for all to hear. Why? Because such affirmation is a reminder of who that person truly is. This ceremony often lasts for days, depending upon the severity of the offense, and at the end, when the circle is broken, a closing ritual occurs, and the accused is symbolically - and literally - restored, back into the fullness of the community.
This is how God’s criminal justice works. 

When we are at our worst, we are reminded that, at our core, with the Crucified and Risen Christ as our guide, we were created to be connected as community, which means, when the bonds are inevitably broken, the goal is to intentionally restore, repair, and to the best of our cooperative abilities, even resurrect. For as difficult as it may sound, accountability and absolution can join together, as justice and mercy are mutual partners in the grand dance of life in its fullness. Although reaching for such restoration may not quench our steadfast thirst for revenge, this is our path to sustainable peace, for it is the example we receive in Jesus, and our key to unlocking the beauty and freedom of God’s criminal justice. 

As people of God, both offenders and offended, the scandal, the beauty, and the freedom of God’s criminal justice is forgiveness. May we receive it, when the fingers of the community are pointed at us. May we share it, when our fingers are pointed at others. This day and always. Amen.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Conflict is Life and Listening is Living (Brian E. Konkol)

* The following text is taken from a homily given in Christ Chapel, on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN), on March 7, 2016. Please note that the below manuscript was written with the intention for it to be heard, not read, thus the various grammatical choices were made with an emphasis on the ear, not the eye. 

Conflict is an inescapable reality of being human.

One cannot be human without being in conflict, which means that every human community is – by definition – inescapably caught within a cyclical network of battles, struggles, wars, and disagreements. For us, conflict is life, and life is conflict.

But of course, many in our “Minnesota nice” cultural context did not get this memo. Or, perhaps got it but chose not to read it! Whatever the case, far too many among us seek to somehow escape the inevitable corollaries of conflict, and in doing so, we too often endure the precious moments of our lives trying to avoid the unavoidable and escape the inescapable.

Like trying to run away from the wind, it simply cannot be done.

Which means, instead of trying to run away from the powerful winds of conflict, the task of any community is to see its conflict not as some sort of shameful social stain, but as a collective opportunity, in order to harness conflict and use its renewable energy for the sake of creating something more just than that which existed before.

Despite what many Midwestern cultural proclivities may promise, conflict in and of itself is neither positive or negative, but every conflcit is indeed an opportunity to directly create something new – and yes, even create something better. Which means, instead of trying to run away from the winds of conflict, we are called to faithfully walk through them, and in service to the common good, even learn to journey with them.

Whether it is the psychological and spiritual struggles that sit deep in our own minds and souls… Whether it is the friend, sibling, or parent that you no longer speak with… Whether it is the poison of partisan politics, the cowardly combustibility of social media, questions surrounding whose lives really matter, or any amount of confusion surrounding the details of collegiate policy… Time does not heal all wounds.

I disagree with Hallmark! Time does not heal all wounds. Which means, every community conflcit presents an opportunity to either weaken or strengthen a community, and thus, offers an important set of choices for the community. And while there are multitude of multi-faceted steps involved in transforming conflict, an important point to make is from our short yet substantial reading for this day, Isaiah 55:3, which explains, “…listen, that you may live”.

Listen, that you may live. 

The Book of Isaiah is, in many ways, a narrative about the realities of conflict, as it accounts for a number of complex confrontations, such as, the defeat of King Uzziah’s coalition, the Syro-Ephraimite skirmish, the struggle between Assyria and Judah, as well as Hezekiah’s rebellion against Senacherib. The prophet Isaiah, while living through this period of extended dispute, served as a minister to the Judean court, and in doing so communicated an important message that rings true to this day: “Listen, that you may live.”

Listen, that you may live.

How simple, and yet how timeless, profound, important, and yes, incredibly difficult.

Listen, that you may live.

Thousands of years after the book of Isaiah was first written, we now live in the so-called “Age of Communication”. With mobile phones, texts, tweets, snap chats, and a whole host of other emerging technological methods, there is a great deal of mass communication taking place in our midst. However, while there is a great quantity of communication, one is forced to consider what is the quality of such communication? Because, the question is: How much listening can there actually be when there is so much chatter that clouds our collective consciousness? As Henry David Thoreau once remarked, “It takes two to speak the truth, one to speak and another to hear”.

Like the old philosophical question of whether or not a fallen tree makes a sound if no one is around the forest to hear it, in our day and age, we must wonder: If everyone is speaking, yet no one is actually listening, is anyone actually saying anything? If everyone wishes to exercise their freedom of speech yet no one wants to embrace the equally important responsibility to listen, then what do we have? Is there any space to actually speak the truth? What are we left with?

I suppose it is like a (very bad!) joke that was told to me a few hours before my wedding, when a friend said to me: Well…

During the first year of marriage, you will speak and she will listen.
During the second year, she will speak and you will listen.
During the third year, you both with speak and the neighbors will listen.

(Who doesn’t love wedding humor!)

In the midst of our so-called age of mass communication, the 55th Chapter of Isaiah reminds us that, to live, we must be able to listen. And this is especially important during situations of heightened conflict, as listening allows us to understand diverse views, listening allows us to connect with others, and ultimatley, listening allows us to release our minds and journey through the all-important process of conflict transformation. Because ultimatley, listening is the golden key that opens the door to authentic human relationships, which is why genuine listening needs to be practiced each and every day, so we can not only hear each other, but we can listen to what is being said, and even notice what is not being said.

But of course, the fact of the matter is that we are – quite frankly – terrible listeners! We are! We are, for the most part, terrible listeners, and it is not too difficult to see why, because we simply do not value listening! And because we do not value listening, we do not teach the art of listening! It’s true!

The fact of the matter is that, while countless courses and workshops - and yes, numerous college classes – are offered in order to develop the skills associated with speech, very few people intentionally learn how to listen, and the results are absolutely staggering.  

For example, according to “The Listening Center”:

About 75 percent [of the time we are supposed to be listening] we are forgetful, pre-occupied, or not paying attention…

75% of the time! Which means:

Immediately after we hear someone speak, we remember about half of what they have said. And just a few hours later, we remember only about 10 to 20 percent.

And why is this? For starters, according to a recent study, the average attention span for North Americans in this so-called age of communication is now about eight seconds. Eight seconds! This basically puts us just a bit lower than goldfish! Goldfish! Isn’t this amazing! In the so-called age of communication our attention spans are lower than goldfish. And in times if conflcit, when anger, resentment, and distrust gets added into the mix, it makes matters even worse – and our communities end up looking like a fishbowl filled with angry and distracted goldfish!

(Now imagine that for a moment)!

You and I are both well aware that, in times of conflict, many of us do not listen with the intent to understand, but with the intent to reply. And so, as we consider the various conflicts taking place in our community, perhaps we should recognize that communication is not simply about letting your voice be heard, but it is also about having the confidence, strength, and amazing grace to actually receive the voices of others. And in doing so, see the face of God in others, assume the best of others, and embody the Good News alongside others.

In this chapel, as people who seek to listen to God and believe that God actually listens to us, we recognize that there is no greater gift than to give someone your full, undivided, and genuine attention. This is the gift God gives to us. This is the gift we are called to offer each other. As Paul Tillich once said, “The first duty of love is to listen”. And so, for us to love our neighbors as Jesus’ proclaimed, and in order to transform the conflicts in our midst, perhaps we start not with preaching or professing, but with listening and understanding. As the world renowned cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, once said “music happens between the notes”, which leads us to believe that communication is actually what happens between the words.

And so, as we seek the life in its fullness that God so graciously offers, we affirm that to listen is to live, and to live is to listen. As the grand song of life is still being written and played, and not a single one of us knows exactly what the next note may hold.

So the time is upon us to place less value of mass communication and more value upon real communication, and in doing so, practice the freedom of speech, but also cherish the responsibility to listen. For in such ways we will stop trying to run away from the wind, but instead see the Spirit of God within it, to welcome it, embrace it, and journey alongside it.

People of God. People of Life.

Listen, so you may live. Listen, so you may live. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

When Good is Not Common (Brian E. Konkol)

* The following text is taken from a sermon given in Christ Chapel, on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN), on February 14, 2016, for the First Sunday in the Season of Lent. Please note that the below manuscript was written with the intention for it to be heard, not read, thus the various grammatical choices were made with an emphasis on the ear, not the eye.

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” And Cain replied, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said to Cain, “What have you done? 

This brief exchange from 4th Chapter of Genesis is both expansive in meaning and brimming with complexity, as it features fundamental elements of the human experience, such as pride, anger, jealousy, fear, and of course, the causes and consequences of violence and death. As a result, one could elaborate upon various aspects of this profound text from the first book of Scripture. 
Today we focus on that which may be the most profound portion of the Genesis creation narrative, verses eight through ten, and more specifically, verse nine, when immediately after Cain murders his brother Abel, God strategically and rather shrewdly interrogates Cain in an attempt to explore the details of the crime that just occurred.

Where is your brother?, God asks Cain.

And Cain’s response to his inquisitive God is one that continues to drive deep into the core of what it means to be most fully human, and in doing so, such a statement serves as a mirror by which we examine our ethical, spiritual, political, and even educational selves. 

“Am I my Brother’s Keeper”?, Cain responds.

Am I my Brother’s Keeper? Perhaps, the defining question found within the arc of Scripture. Am I my brother’s keeper? A question that inevitably forces us to consider many other questions, such as: What is our responsibility to and for each other? How do we live alongside people with whom we do not agree? How do we care about (and for) each other when the world is filled with fear and violence, and how do we make conscious decisions to cooperate when we have increasing access to the increasingly deadly tools by which we can act upon our fears?

How do we resist the tragic temptations of relativism and extremism? And more specifically, as scholars and students in and of this place, grounded at an institution of so-called higher education: If civilization is indeed in “a race between education and catastrophe” as H.G. Wells professed, then how might education possibly equip faithful citizens to respond to the world’s most pressing challenges during such complex and challenging times?

Am I my brother’s keeper? Am I my sister’s keeper? Are we our community’s keeper? Are we called to care about anyone or anything outside of ourselves?

As we consider such questions, the Lord responds to us in ways similar to the response given to Cain in Genesis 4: “What have you done?” 

What have you done?

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”, we ask God? And God responds, “What have you done?” 
What have you done?

During this Season of Lent, in which we examine the complexities and consequences of our brokenness, and when we question whether or not we are each other’s keeper, I do wonder how many times per day God asks this of us?

“What have you done, my people?”

Violence? Warfare? Death? Racism? Sexism? Homophobia?

“What have you done to this good world that I created?”

Inequality? Individualism? Religious violence in God’s name?

“What have you done?”

Poverty? Climate Change? Inequitable access to health care and suitable education?

What have you done?

Selfishness? Greed? Putting profits before people?

“What have you done?”

What have we done? What have we done?

I suppose the ways in which we increasingly put “self” as a prefix to an increasing amount of our words mirrors the ways in which we continually put ourselves at the center of the world. In doing so, we care less and less about others that we live alongside in this world. And like Cain, who took the life of his brother Abel, we so often do the same. 

When we turn our attention away from each other, we do the same. When we justify our direct and indirect back-stabbing of each other, we do the same. When we passively and aggressively gossip and spread lies about each other, we do the same.

Like Cain, each day we take life away from other people, and God looks down upon us, and asks, “What have you done”? And like Cain, we are left like restless wanderers, toiling in the fields of life, wondering when and how God might possibly be with us.

This all, of course, does not sound like Good News. But it is good to hear such news.
Because, at a time when religiosity in North America gradually turns to the prosperity gospel and moralistic therapeutic deism, the Season of Lent waters a small seed of truth within a large field of mass deception. Because, instead of merely celebrating human greatness in a post-Enlightenment milieu, during this Season of Lent we point toward an ever-present and ever-problematic reality that we too often refuse to admit, which is the reality that:

The world, and we humans that inhabit it, are thoroughly messed up. 

The story of Cain and Abel points it out to us, and our daily actions remind us of it: The world, and we humans that inhabit it, are thoroughly messed up. 

In the face of our common calls to self-accredited importance and infallibility, during these forty days leading to Good Friday we repeatedly learn that we in the human community are “captive to sin” and “we cannot save ourselves.” Which means, despite what the latest self-help book or motivational conference may promise and peddle, we claim the inconvenient truth that, like toddlers in a playground, when left to our own devices and desires we ultimately succumb to the self, harm others, plunder the planet, and (eventually) self-destruct.

Because, quite simply, the world, and we humans that inhabit it, are thoroughly messed up. And the reason for it, is that we have messed it all up.

For us to hear of humankind depicted in such sobering ways is a shock to our system, as such statements of human limitation are by no means easy to hear or enjoyable to comprehend. As a result, the topic of “repentance”, in which we seek “a change of mind” in response to our moral confines, is also tempting to ignore and avoid altogether. Because, as 21st century North Americans who so often receive a participation medal for nearly everything we do, we hate to hear of our human failures, let alone engage in human repentance, as the subject of actually confessing our sins messes with our big heads, and in doing so, effectively dampens the good vibrations we treasure from our culture of affirmation constipation. 

But of course, to be mindful of our brokenness is only one side of a more complex and complete theological coin. In other words, we do make dirty mistakes, but we ourselves are not dirt! Thank God! We are sinners indeed, but we are also saints that are freed, thus even in our fallen state we possess qualities of being created in the Image of God, which means, we are both confronted by the law and comforted by the Gospel. As Martin Luther described, we are simul justus et peccator, thus fully justified by the grace of God, and in turn, set free for completeness and wholeness, regardless of what we have done or left undone. Which means, we do not, because we cannot, earn God’s favor as both Cain and Abel tried to do, yet we receive God’s love through Jesus Christ, whether we like it or not, fully and in abundance, because of God’s grace, sola gratia.

This amazing grace of God is all free gift, thus we need not endure this earthly life trying to earn divine fire insurance for the afterlife (as far too many Christians are motivated to do). Which in turn means that, despite our brokenness, we never lose our dignity in God’s eyes, as we are beloved for what God made us to be, not for what we have too often made of ourselves. In other words, what makes our story different from that of Cain and Abel, is that for us, we no longer see the need to earn God’s love through such feeble attempts at sacrifice, for God already is fully present through the sacrifices of Jesus, and in this story of Good News, God has stepped into the center of it all, and not only says to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as you wish to be loved yourself, but Jesus also shows us the way.

In the words of Benjamin Elijah Mays, Jesus reveals that “The love of God and the love of humanity are indeed one love”. Which in turn means the ways in which we love God are revealed in the ways in which we love our neighbors as ourselves. Which also means, in the world of here and now, the means by which we live out this one love and affirm our responsibility to each other is by serving the common good as our collective vocation, alongside each other.

Like a Trinity of ministry: Love of God, Love of others, love of ourselves. Three in One. One love expressed threefold in service to the common good. And this is what the story of Cain and Abel directs us to consider: Despite our human brokenness and capacity to cause great harm to one another, we are called to One Love in service to the common good, by the Triune God who expresses one love for us.

One Love in service to the common good.

Now, what is the common good? For starters, the common good is a notion that originated many years ago in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. More recently, the contemporary ethicist, John Rawls, defined the common good as "certain general conditions that are...equally to everyone's advantage". Furthermore, the Catholic social teaching tradition, which has a long history of seeking to define and promote the common good, defines it as "the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment”. In light of such thoughts, the common good includes a range of social systems, institutions, and environments that benefit the good of all people. Which means, the common good can be summarized with the classic African proverb that I love to repeat whenever possible: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” 

From a Lutheran perspective, the commitment of serving the common good is a collective vocation that derives primarily from Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, an all-encompassing social ethic that continues to inspire reconciliation, transformation and empowerment to this day. Of course, this “great commandment” is by no means exclusive to Lutherans or even Christians, but such a command is indeed authentic to Christians in general and Lutherans in particular. Which means, similar to the message found in the parable of the Good Samaritan - we are called to embrace people of various faith and philosophical traditions as an expression of Jesus’ love. Therefore, serving the common good as our collective vocation is a way for us to be “each other’s keeper”, as an effective way to find common ground, which in turn offers valuable opportunities for creative alliances above and across the various divisions of society, all for the sake of “life in its fullness” among the global community.

So what does this all mean? What it means is that, yes, we are each other’s keeper, despite the various times that God wonders what it is that we have done to each other. We are called to care for each other because God in Christ shows us that we belong to each other! Which in turn means that we are called to our collective vocation as being in service to the common good with and for each other. And there is no better time to offer such a gift to the world! There is no better time!

As a growing number of people in North America and beyond feel politically, religiously, and intellectually homeless within the raging and toxic battles among various extremes, an opportunity has emerged, and we are called by God during this Season of Lent to explore how we can be a gift to the world, rather that throwing more oil on the fire that continues to divide our world. By engaging ethical issues, building peace, inspiring justice, exploring faith, developing as leaders, empowering others for service, fostering your own knowledge and wisdom and sparking it in others, transforming conflict, honoring human worth, and celebrating the diversity and unity of community, all of us, in response to the ways in which God seeks a common good with us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we can develop a strong and sustained embrace of vocation in service to the common good. 

But of course, this all is not easy. If the story of Cain and Abel reminds us of anything, it is that we not only possess the capacity for great good, but we also possess the capacity to commit great harm, even against those who are closest to us. But the story of Cain and Abel also reminds us that an open acknowledgement of our limits allows us to receive the grace and peace to be taken far beyond them.

As Parker Palmer so brilliantly articulates in his book, “Let Your Life Speak”:

Our lives are not only about our strengths and virtues; they are also about our liabilities and our limits, our trespasses and our shadow. An inevitable though often ignored dimension of the quest for 'wholeness' is that we must embrace what we dislike or find shameful about ourselves as well as what we are confident and proud of.

Yes, we must embrace what we dislike or even find shameful about ourselves, as well as what we are confident and proud of. As this is the Good News, that God accepts us as we are, but does not leave us as we are. And while captive to sin, we are set free by grace through faith. 
And so, during this Season of Lent and beyond, for us to “let our lives speak” in service to the common good, we all are invited into an assessment of who we actually are: 

Both greedy and giving. Both beautiful and brutal. Both excluded and embraced, and regardless of our finest efforts, both captive and free.

In all of our diversity and distinctiveness, we are human beings trying to create a world just a little bit less messed-up than the one we were given. And through such humble and bold faithfulness we recognize the presence of God’s grace in its abundance, we are liberated to live and to learn, and through such a solid foundation we collectively pursue wisdom and justice wherever the path leads, for the good of all people, and of the whole person.

Are we each other’s keeper? Yes indeed, with the help of God.

May this all be so, this day in always. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen.