Two images have been floating in my mind the last few days: one that of Muammar Qaddafi’s bloody corpse being dragged through the streets; the other a tall man leaning into a microphone and telling the story of his life. One the image of violence and violent revenge; the other a story of courage and compassion.
You all know the story of Muammar Qaddafi—the dictator who ruled Libya with a cruel and iron hand for over forty years. I imagine this week you have seen pictures of or read about his violent death and its gruesome aftermath. The dehumanizing culmination of years of dehumanizing rule. As I read accounts both of his end and of his life and as I looked at the pictures of his death and of its aftermath, I found myself wondering about the contagion of evil and brutality—the way one person’s brutality can taint the lives of those who come within his sway.
But there’s another kind of contagion as well—the contagion of the way of holiness, the kind of contagion you see in the lives of holy people and in the wake of those who try to walk the way of holiness. That’s what I saw at work in our diocesan convention this week. Let me tell you the story of Thom Andrewz telling his story.
Perhaps some of you know Thom Andrewz. He’s a member of St. Michael’s and a member of the Vestry. He’s also the founder of The Phoenix Community, a group that provides pastoral care to the LGBT community in the Diocese of the Rio Grande. On Friday, as a way of introducing the Phoenix Community to our diocesan convention, Thom told his story.
Clearly he was nervous. On Thursday night he talked rather hopefully about the Rapture coming conveniently at 10:44 a.m. just before he was scheduled to talk. Apparently, the Rapture didn’t come—or at least it didn’t come to Clovis—for at 10:45 on Friday morning, Thom was standing before the microphone and telling his story—a story of a long committed and loving partnership, a story of holidays spent with his partner’s family, a story of laughter, affection and trust. And, ultimately, a story of betrayal. Thom returned home from his partner’s funeral to discover the house they shared stripped of everything—his partner’s family took all that Thom and his partner had except for the house. Everything—the mementos accumulated over a life together, the furniture, the pictures. Everything. Thom was left with nothing but his grief and the house that had his name on the deed.
Out of those ashes something was born. First a new relationship to God and to a community of faith—St. Michael’s. And then something else—a calling to provide pastoral care to others in the LGBT community. Finally a new ministry in our diocese—The Phoenix Community.
You can imagine the people at the convention were spell bound. You could hear a pin drop as Thom told his story. But the story Thom was telling does not end with Thom stepping away from the mike. In the breaks that followed, the story continued with people coming up to Thom and telling their stories or stories about their children. People asking Thom to come and speak to their congregations.1 And, I imagine, people like me are telling Thom’s story as a way of telling a part of God’s story. The contagion of holiness at work.
Deep into the story of the Exodus, deep into the book of Leviticus, God tells Moses, “Speak to all the congregation of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” I imagine generations upon generations of people have heard those words and wondered, “How can that be—how can I, how can we, be holy as God is holy?” I suspect that those who walked with Jesus had grown up on those words and had wondered about that kind of holiness—the kind the holiness that God lives and the kind of holiness to which God calls God’s people.
Holy. It’s such a big thing. How can mere mortals—people like you and me and Thom and the people of Israel—be holy. It boggles the mind.
But I wonder—I wonder if God is calling people not into a state of being but rather a way of living. A way of living into holiness. One that calls people to live justly—showing compassion to those whom others overlook. One that calls us to create a just society in which the most marginalized are neither ignored nor neglected nor abused. One that links love of neighbor to love for justice.
When I last lived in California, one of the major issues facing the people of California was Proposition 8—a proposition banning same sex marriage. At the time, a video circulated on U-Tube. It was called, “Prop 8-The Musical”. The video shows a group of people arguing about the Bible and homosexuality.
When asked if the Bible says, “‘These people are an abomination,” the person playing Jesus responds, “Well, it says the exact same thing about this shrimp cocktail.” He then continues, “You know, the Bible says a lot of interesting things…like you can stone your wife or sell your daughter into slavery.”
Someone in the crowd says, “Well, we ignore those verses.”
The Jesus character responds, “Well then, it seems to me you pick and choose; and if you pick and choose, why not choose love instead of hate?”2
“Choose love” says God to Moses. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Choose love” Jesus says to those within earshot. “Love God and your neighbor as yourself.”
Love. That’s seeking justice. That’s living with compassion. That’s the way of holiness. God says to us, “Be holy as I am holy.” Remember—it’s contagious.
1Story told with the permission of Thom Andrewz.
2Carl Gregg, http://www.patheos.com/community/carlgregg/2011/10/14/“why-not-choose-love-picking-and-choosing-scripture-as-a-twenty-first-century-christian”-a-progressive-christian-lectionary-commentary-for-oct-23-2011/