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Friday, February 28, 2020

Humpty Dumpty Integrity

In a lovely recent note from Louie's widow, Ernest, wrote to me, "The torch of information has been passed to you. Louie is rejoicing. You are the right woman for the task."

I hope always to be worthy of the task.

It's been about six weeks since I've written about Integrity USA. 

I’d love to say that things have gotten better. They have not. Decidedly. Not.

The last time I reported, it was just four days before the Stakeholder’s “election”. Those who were “elected” began serving just 27 days ago, on February 1st.

Let’s just say that it has been an “eventful” time. I’m going to give you some detail on the election as a good context for all the other . . . “events”.

In order to understand what has happened, it is helpful to have read “Through the Looking Glass” – especially the conversation Alice has with Humpty Dumpty.
“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”
It’s pretty clear that the newly declared president of Integrity, and especially its Treasurer, have determined themselves Master of Words. 
Let's begin with the so-called “election”. There was only one contested position – that of Chair of the Stakeholder’s Council. There had been a sole candidate for Vice-Chair of the Stakeholder’s Council but that person dropped out without explanation from him or the board.

Usually, an election means that someone’s name is on a ballot. It also means that there is usually more than one name on the ballot for a particular office. And Integrity’s bylaws, like many other organizations (including civic elections), provide a mandate for ‘write-in candidates’.

Well, to begin with, there was no name on the ballot for president of Integrity. Neither was there an opportunity for (a) write-in candidate(s). ("Any member may write in the names of candidates, ranked by order of preference, other than those named on the official ballot." (Article 4, Section 4, A).

However, one person had made it known that he had tossed his hat into the ring, but his name did not appear on the ballot. Put on your Humpty Dumpty hat because here’s where it gets curiouser and curiouser. 

The person who was nominated is a member of Integrity, of course. At least, by every definition, he was a member. As in, his dues are current, as in up to date.  The Treasurer, however, has been known to enjoy being “Lucy” in the well-known Charlie Brown football scene. 

You remember it: Lucy is holding the football, and, as Charlie Brown gets ready to punt the ball, at the very last moment, Lucy removes the ball and poor Charlie Brown ends up flat on his back. 

You may recall that the Treasurer has done this before. One member, a lawyer, had made a “Books and Records Demand”. This is standard corporate law. That member wanted to look over the corporate documents so that he might be able to discern:
(1) How many people are members of Integrity and 
(2) Get a handle on what might have happened to the almost $400 thousand dollars that remain unaccounted for in the budget.
After six weeks, the Treasurer wrote to the member to tell him that his “records show” that his $50 was a “donation” and not for “membership”. The Treasurer didn’t say it but that meant, effectively, that his “Books and Records Demand” could not be met because, well . . . See? . . . He was not a member. 

The member sent an email with a copy of the email he received from Integrity with the subject line which read: “Designation: New Membership Individual”. 

It mattered not. 

See also: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.” 

Apparently, “new membership individual” can also mean “donation.” It simply depends on who is the master of the word.

The member then asked for a refund. The Treasurer was happy to oblige but first, the member had to sign a form that acknowledged that he was not a member but a donor and provide his social security number. 

Yes, you read that correctly. The Treasurer asked for his social security number before he would refund his membership dues which had been deemed by Humpty Dumpty logic to have been a donation. Oh, and sign onto a lie about the intention of his membership dues.

Because of all of this, the nominee for president of Integrity, being no Charlie Brown and exercising an ounce of precaution, wrote to the Treasurer to confirm his membership. As expected, it took at least four requests to receive an answer.  Finally, the nominee sent a copy of his receipt which was clearly marked “membership individual”. 

That seemed to inspire the Treasurer to set up a new barrier to his nomination. No, he wrote, dues are not actually dues. See? Giving money to an organization is a donation, and, as anyone with half a brain and the ability to speak English can tell you, making a donation makes one a DONOR, not necessarily a member. 

So, the nominee was deemed ineligible to run for office, being a donor and not a member. Note: He most certainly did NOT "withdraw" his nomination. (See ENS article here.) Neither did he "decline the nomination." He was told he was not a member and thus ineligible to run for election.

If you are wondering about this and why the name of the one nominee for the office of president did not appear on the ballot, I encourage you to send your question to:
IntegrityUSA c/o Humpty Dumpty.
5678 Great Wall
King's Horses and Men Landing, TX.
Oh, you might also ask about the newest distinction in determining your membership status. Oh, you hadn't heard? Let me tell you about that. See also: curiouser and curiouser.

Apparently, it’s not just whether or not you have paid dues vs. made a donation. You must also state that you meet the required definition in the by-laws, (Article 1, section 1); to wit: “Membership in Integrity shall be open to all persons who support the purposes of the organization as set forth in the Preamble and who pay the prescribed dues.”

If you agree that you meet the criteria then you are a member. Unless, of course, the Office of Humpty Dumpty determines that you are not. In that event, a communiqué is immediately dispatched to Lucy and she readies herself for her task of making the latest Charlie Brown stand-in embarrass him/herself again. 

Since there was not an actual election for president, can we assume that what we have is an ‘unPresident’? I suspect the Office of Humpty Dumpty might have an opinion or two on that. 

Oh, but wait! There’s more! I’ll not bore you with all the details but here are the highlights – or, more accurately, lowlights:

1. "POTENTIAL" MEMBERSHIP The Treasurer has reported that there are over 200 “potential” members and of those, 100 are “potential” life members (having ‘donated’ $1,000 or more). The “potential” apparently rests with the person themselves. 

The Treasurer explained that those who have paid membership dues “determine” for themselves if they meet the definition of the bylaws. 

Except, as we have seen, they don’t actually. Humpty Dumpty determines whether or not someone is a “donor” or a “member”.

So, if they don’t know how many actual life members there are who are eligible to vote in a special election, did we actually have an election? How do we accomplish changes to the bylaws which require 10% of the membership to concur? How will we know how many ballots to send out in the next general election? I guess we’ll have to ask the Queen.
No, no!' said the Queen. 'Sentence first - verdict afterwards.'
'Stuff and nonsense!' said Alice loudly. 'The idea of having the sentence first!'
'Hold your tongue!' said the Queen, turning purple.
'I won't!' said Alice."
'Off with her head!' the Queen shouted at the top of her voice."
2. STAKEHOLDER'S CHAIR The new Chair of the Stakeholder’s Council (who, OBTW, won against the incumbent by ONE vote!!) has asked for a list of the membership because, in his new position of responsibility and in the spirit of rebuilding Integrity, he is the logical person to begin reaching out to the members – potential or actual.

That request has been repeatedly declined. It should be noted, however, that a person who is not a member of the board and whose membership has apparently been self-determined and approved by the board, was given the membership list along with everyone’s email so they could be sent a survey. 

Except, oopsie, not every member received an e-blast email with the survey. That may have to do with whether or not they are "potential" or "actual" members or donors. Apparently, the Office of Humpty Dumpty had to be consulted on a case-by-case basis.

That was over a month ago. No results yet. Which is probably a good thing because, in my estimation, the questions were written in such a way as to elicit the answers the board wants to hear. 

There was a very small space for comments. I’m betting solid money that, when and if we finally do get a report of the survey, we don’t hear anything about the comments.

However, if you've not heard from the Chair of the Stakeholder's Council, well, you know why.

3. LOUIE'S REQUIEM was an amazing service. The highest compliment I heard - several times - was: "That was sooOOoo Louie. I was privileged to be part of the Liturgy Team and I only had to raise my voice twice. (That's a joke. It's also true. If you know me, you know both are possible.)

UPDATE: Here's a copy of the service bulletin. It really is a glorious service.

I've asked for a copy of the brilliant eulogy provided by former Integrity President and one of Louie's best friends, Kim Byham. I'll post it as soon as I receive it because not only is it heartwarming and wonderful but it tells so much of our history I don't want us to lose.

UPDATE: Here's a copy of Kim's Eulogy

People came from all over the country. It was an incredible collection of cognoscenti and illuminati of The Episcopal Church in general and the General Convention in particular. There were also representatives from Claiming the Blessing, the Chicago Consultation, and Beyond Inclusion - the organizations which were created specifically to bring "all the sacraments to all the baptized" to The Episcopal Church. (No, it wasn't just Integrity. More on this in another blog).

Folks from UBE (Union of Black Episcopalians), The Urban Caucus, The Episcopal Peace Fellowship, The Episcopal Network for Economic Justice and other members of The Consultation were also present and well represented.

The faithful remnant of Claiming the Blessing
I counted three former National Integrity Presidents and several former chapter Presidents and convenors and former board members in attendance. 

There were zero - zip, zilch, none, nada, bupkus - current Integrity board members present. 

The date, time and place of the service were announced in early December. 

The current leader of Integrity attends school in NYC. It is a $4.90 round trip ride on the PATH train from NYC to Newark and a 25-minute walk from Penn Station to the church. 

I'll just leave that right there. 

I did see a young member of Integrity introduce himself to a former Integrity board president who was sitting at table with two other people.  In response, this person rolled his eyes and looked away. To which the young man gracefully said, "I see there are a lot of people in this room." And walked away.

I'll just leave that right there, too, but you know St. Louie of Newark was beaming at that young man.

4.. FACEBOOK So, I'm no longer a member of Integrity's FB page. Here's how it went down: 

Someone on the board posted something under the name "IntegrityUSA". No identity. Just "IntegrityUSA". It appeared to be another attempt at "censorship by noise" - posting things that had nothing to do with anything LGBTQ or Episcopalian or Christian but meant to push down other posts that were disturbing to those in power.

I asked about the nature of the post. The mother of one of the board members asked me (and I quote directly) "please explain what you mean. It sounds racist, but I don't want to make assumptions." 

It's racist to question if the nature of the post was appropriate to post on an Integrity Facebook page? 

Well, ultimately, it didn't matter. Apparently, whoever was "IntegrityUSA" for the day felt free to make assumptions and promptly removed me as a member of that FB page even before I could respond.  (I'm thinking it had to be the son of the mother who raised the issue of racism. I understand she does that all the time on her FB page. Some say it's part of her understanding of her vocation.)

I'm sure they meant to silence me. I'm even more certain they never meant it to happen, but I've been able to use my voice on this blog to much greater effect than that Facebook page.  My blogs on the Integrity mess (there have been two, this is the third) have each been read over 3,000 times. That's way, way, way more than the readers on the Integrity FB page.
Which, OBTW, is now "offline". Thanks, board member's mom!

If you haven’t already noticed, the Integrity USA Facebook page has been suspended. Or, something. Here’s the 24 February announcement:
Integrity USA Facebook group will be going offline. The momentary pause creates an opportunity for building digital enhancements. To connect with Integrity visit the Facebook page:
Join Integrity, Inc. email list to receive updates:…/r5xvp…/integrityeblast
"Digital enhancements," eh? Well, alrighty then. 

The thing of it is that apparently, board members can (and do) post and they have allowed SOME selective comments, but mostly, it’s blatant censorship. 

Yes. Censorship. From the leadership of a Christian justice organization for LGBTQ+ people. 

To be honest, it was really the only choice they had. The President of Integrity has been caught lying - multiple times - publicly about that which is easily disputed and provable. (We have screenshots)

It was just so foolish.

When he wasn't flat out lying, he was behaving at the level of a 6th grader. 

Whenever someone would challenge him on one of his lies, he would post a YouTube sound of a  'gong'. 

You know, like the old Gong Show, where they 'gonged' someone off the stage.

He has also personally "blocked" certain other members who have challenged or publicly disagreed with something he has said or a position he has taken. 

That includes the new Chair of the Stakeholder's Council. But, not me. Yet.

Just take that in: He has personally blocked a member of the board which he leads. 

I am not making this up.  

Some of the dust-up had to do with his unfamiliarity with the culture and language of The Episcopal Church (Three years ago, he was an active member of a Unitarian Church.) 

When someone is invited to "speak" at a mainline denominational church, especially for a funeral, it usually means they are going to give a eulogy or pay tribute. It's a distinct honor. When someone is a "reader," it means they are going to read a lesson from Hebrew scripture or the Epistles. 

Also an honor, to be sure. Big difference, however. Very different expectations of the tasks and associated honor. 

It seems a silly thing, and on many levels, it is, but when told of the difference, he just dug his heels in further. The "gong" meme in response just told everyone exactly what we were dealing with here.

The thing that is most revealing about the ethos of this board is that, despite the expressed wishes of the family to memorialize Louie by contributing to two of Louie's Scholarships, one at EDS@Union and one at The Oasis, the leadership determined yet another way. 

God forbid they should give to any seminary except the one their former Stakeholder's Council Chair served as a trustee (Except, of course, that the President is presently a student at EDS@Union. I know, right? Go figure.). And, God forbid they should contribute anything to another LGBTQ+ organization like The Oasis. 

Instead, they have donated $1,000 to start a scholarship fund at a local college in Georgia. The President mentioned this in one of his comments. I haven't seen a formal announcement of it. There's been no mention of how to make a contribution. No invitation to do so.

I don't know how much more money they will see contributed to what I'm sure is meant to be a start-up fund, or what $1,000 will buy nowadays at college. It's just so small and petty and mean-spirited that it makes me embarrassed for what Integrity has become.

Oh, and I'll just say this one last thing. After Louie's funeral, there was a festive Southern repast in the Parish Hall: fried chicken, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, green beans, sweet tay, etc. 

The buzz from every corner of the room was "Well, as far as I'm concerned That was the FINAL Integrity Eucharist." To which I could only respond. "Amen". 

Let's just hope that between now and July 2021, when General Convention gathers in Baltimore, those in power in Integrity will understand that, while there remains lots of work to do at the local level, the work of Integrity is done. 

Has been for a number of years. Had a chance to jump-start into new life but the then-president focused his energies on writing a weekly column in the Friday Flash e-newlsetter which just pontificated and then scolded us for not healing our prejudices as he had.

Call it something - anything - else, but the brand name of Integrity has been - and continues to be -so tarnished as to be an embarrassment. 

Call it what they announced it would be at General Convention 2018: The Episcopal Rainbow.

The then-president *Gwen Fry might have been onto something when she said that the newer generation of LGBTQ+ people (present behavior to the contrary) weren't connected to Integrity - the name or the organization and its history - and that it didn't hold the same significance for them.

Maybe that's true. If so, let's let Integrity go with our gratitude and thanksgiving. Let's celebrate past victories and progress. And, let's start something new. Let's have a fresh, clean start for a new chapter of activism and pastoral care for LGBTQ+ Episcopalians.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.
Integrity has had a great fall. Let's save what we can of the good pieces and start something new, something that can shed the now cumbersome bylaws which were written for a national organization and be freed to assist people on the local level; something that can capture the vision and spirit of a new generation the way the original vocation Louie Crew Clay helped LGBTQ+ people connect with each other to work together to achieve what they couldn't as individuals.

All the king's horses and all the king's' men are not able to put Integrity together again. 

Time to grieve that loss. Time to move on.

PS: If you'd like to join an uncensored, transparent conversation about all things Integrity on Facebook, please join us at Integrity USA in Exile

NOTE: Michael Hopkins left this note on my FB page where I posted a link to this blog.

Well said, Elizabeth, and my name should be included on the list of former presidents who think it's time to close the door and move on. Michael Hopkins
Micahel joins former Integrity Presidents Ellen Barrett, Fred Ellis and Susan Russell in calling for Integrity to close and move on. 

To contribute to the Louie Crew Clay Scholarship at EDS@Union, click here and make a note about the scholarship in the comments. 

To contribute to the Louie Crew Clay Scholarship at The Oasis, click here

For a copy of the Service Bulletin for Louie's Requiem: chick here.  

For a copy of Kim Byham's Eulogy for Louie's Requiem: click here

Resources and Background Information:

ENS Article: Integrity’s new president elected unopposed as former presidents call for group’s dissolution

ENS Article: Integrity president resigns amid mounting criticism. 

ENS Article: Facing financial struggles and board resignation, Integrity apologies for lack of transparency.  

Juicy Ecumenism Article:  "Integrity renamed The Episcopal Rainbow"

Anglican Mainstream: "Integrity renamed The Episcopal Rainbow"

*The Consultation Interview with Gwen Fry.

*Q: Can you tell me about the process that led to the decision to change Integrity’s name to the Episcopal Rainbow?

A: Well, we did that in consultation with Louie Crew Clay. (NOTE: But, not with any of the membership of Integrity) And, he fully supported that. We thought that perhaps it was time to change our branding. Change our image a little bit because we were moving forward with a very new way to be the organization. So, we did that. We talked about it. We thought that, in changing back to the grassroots movement, our new logo and name would be more appealing to a wider demographic of people in the Episcopal Church. That’s what we’re looking for. We want everyone to feel like we are there for them and support them.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Ashes: Keep 'em or wipe 'em off?

Ash Wednesday - February 26, 2020

Christ Episcopal Church - Milford, DE

So, which is it? Do we listen to Joel or do we pay attention to Jesus?

Joel shouts: Blow the trumpet in Zion; / sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Sanctify a fast / call a solemn assembly

Or, as the words to that old song goes: “Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and everyone knows, everyone goes, to Brother Love’s Show.’

But, Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your piety before others. 
Don’t sound the trumpet before you.
Go to your room and shut the door and pray in secret.”

So, which is it? A big show or quiet, secret piety?

Here’s the perennial question of Ash Wednesday: What do you do with the ashes on your forehead? Do you keep them on or wipe them off?

If you keep them on your forehead, are you in violation of what Jesus is saying? 

Given what Jesus is saying, why does the church impose ashes on people’s foreheads, anyway?

It won’t disappoint some of you to know that I’m going to answer those questions with a story.

One of my dearest friends and colleagues in The Episcopal Church was a man named Lane Dennison. Lane was one of the finest preachers in this church. He was also an author and a wonderful storyteller. 

Oh, and he played saxophone in a jazz band. Now, he plays the sax in a jazz band in heaven. 

I miss him all the time.

One year, he and his band were invited to play at the famous NY Jazz Club known as Birdland. He couldn’t believe it. This was a fabulous opportunity. How could this have happened? And then, he looked again at the date.

The first night of the band’s performance was Ash Wednesday.

Suddenly, it made sense. It didn’t matter. It was THE BIRDLAND. Of course, they would go.

Lane and his band members took the subway to midtown Manhattan for rehearsal. Birdland is on W 44th St. So they decided to stop off at the noonday Ash Wednesday mass at St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church on W 46th Street. 

The church is also known as Smokey Mary’s for its High Anglo-Catholic style. (It’s also known as “the last virgin on  46th Street,” but that’s another story for another time.)

Every member of the band got a huge, black smudge of ashes on their forehead.  As they walked out of the church doors and down into Times Square, they engaged in a discussion of the perennial question of the day: “What do you do with the ashes on your forehead? Do you keep them on or wipe them off?”

Now, if any of you have been to Times Square in New York, you know that there is a small tribe of people who roam the streets there. Some of us call them "The Wild People of Times Square."

Just as Lane and his band got to Times Square one of the Wild Men came up to them, looked at the smudges of ashes on their foreheads and started yelling to the crowd: “Do you SEEwhat they have there? DO YOU SEE IT? Look everybody! Do you SEE those ASHES on their FOREHEADS?”

As a small crowd stopped to look, he asked, 


As Lane tells the story, for a few minutes, something close to another miracle happened on 42nd Street. There was actually a few moments silence on Times Square. 

That was quickly broken by the Wild Man of Times Square who began to yell at the top of his voice:




And, just as quickly as he had appeared, the Wild Man of Times Square disappeared. 

But, he had answered the question. Lane and his band decided they would leave the ashes on their foreheads.

Why? Because, they decided that, for them, that’s the whole point of the journey called Lent which we are about to take. We’re all human. That means we’re all going to die. Because our time on this earth is finite, limited. God is unlimited. Infinite. We are mortal. God is immortal.

Ash Wednesday begins a 40-day walking pilgrimage into the fullness of what it means to be human. That is important because we believe that an essential part of God came to earth and became human.

We believe Jesus was fully divine and fully human.

Because Jesus was fully human, he lived fully and died the shameful death of a criminal, on a cross.

But, he died so that we would know the promise of life eternal.

The ashes remind us that we are going to die. Wearing the ashes sends the message that we know we are going to die but because of that cross we wear, we are also promised the mystery of life eternal.   

So, although we die, behold, we live! (See 2 Corinthians 5:20B-6:10)

It’s important that you get the message of that mystery. What you do with it, however, is up to you. You’ll not find any Ash Wednesday police force, checking to see if you have your ashes prominently displayed or if you’ve wiped them off.

It is important to remember something else Joel said, “Rend your hearts, not your garments.”

Lent is an inward journey, deep into the heart of what it means to be human. It’s a season to wander around and explore the boundaries of what it means to be fully human. Finite. Mortal. With limits and a limited time to accomplish what it is that you were placed here to do. 

As my grandmother would say, at some point you realize that you have fewer years ahead of you than you do behind you.

Lent is the time to consider your life and to consider what God created you to do with the time you have been given with that one, precious life.  And, it's a time to ask what’s standing in your way of becoming all that you are and all God intended you to be.

Lent is a time to journey deep into to mystery that JRR Tolkien wrote in The Lord of the Rings, a riddle first given in the letter left for Frodo by Gandalf, so he would recognize Aragorn.

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”                                          

It’s an important journey, this riddle of our lives. 

Because, the Wild Man of Times Square was right.

We’re all going to die. And, we’re promised life eternal. 

So, whether you listen to Joel or Jesus, or a bit of them both, the question remains yours to answer: 

What are you going to do about the ashes on your forehead? And, why?   

And, with those questions, your Lenten journey will begin.


Sunday, February 16, 2020

Murder Adultery Divorce Lying

Epiphany VI - February 16, 2020

St. Martin in the Field Episcopal Church, Selbyville, DE

This passage from St. Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 5:21-37) is part of what is known as The Hard Sayings of Jesus. No surprise there, right?

Jesus is on the Mount, just outside of Capernaum. Capernaum is on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, where Simon Peter lived, along with Andrew, James, John, and Matthew. 

Jesus was born in Bethlehem and lived in the small, mountainous hamlet of Nazareth. As an adult, he lived in Capernaum where he began his public ministry. He seems to have mostly stayed with Peter and his family, in a home right next to the Synagogue.

The Sermon on the Mount, of course, is what we know as The Beatitudes. 

“Blessed are those who morn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”

Jesus continues to turn things upside down and fill people with hope about this life and the next, but suddenly, his words take a sharper turn.

Now, Jesus is talking about difficult things – murder and adultery, divorce and lying - hard things. He raises the bar on all of them, saying that what you consider in your mind is every bit as bad as whether or not you actually commit the act.

Have you ever been angry with someone? Well, says Jesus, you will still be liable to judgment. If you insult them or slander them or call them names, it is just as bad as if you did murder.

And adultery? Well, we all know that former President Jimmy Carter even admitted that he had lusted after other women and was guilty of committing “adultery in his heart,” just as Jesus said. 

Or, as one of my married friends once said after I admonished her for admiring a handsome man walking by, "Just because I'm on a diet doesn't mean I can't look at the menu."

Indeed, Jesus says if your eye wanders or your hand does something it ought not, you should pluck out your eye or cut off the offending hand.

Jesus also had something to say about divorce – and remarrying someone who was divorced. Vows made on earth are vows made in heaven and your earthly certificate doesn’t matter a hill of beans to the heavenly court of judgment.

Even lying doesn’t escape the judgment of God, says Jesus. You don’t need to swear an oath. Your word is your bond. Just let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no.

So, how many here have passed this test?

Let me be the first to say that I have failed on all four counts. I’ve been angry and thrown around a few insults. I have lusted in my heart. I have been divorced and remarried. And, I have not always kept my word.

Guess I’ll be seeing some of you in hell.

As one of my favorite monks once said to me about this passage, “Don’t worry, my dear. We’ll be so busy shaking so many hands with so many of our friends we won’t even know we’re burning.”

So, is that it? Is simply being human enough to get us into hell? Is there any hope of getting into heaven? Why in heaven’s name is Jesus setting such impossible standards that he knows we can’t possibly keep? Why does he seem to offer such hope in the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount and then snatch it away again with this ‘hard sayings’?

Well, I have some ideas about that.  I think it has to do with another piece of wisdom he once gave.

I think it has to do with “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” And, “Judgment belongs to God.”

Let me explain: 

There’s a very wise teaching that holds that “we see in others what we hate in ourselves.” 

In a landmark study at the The University of Alberta in Canada, some people were told that they were angry. When asked to assess another person as angry or not, the participants who were told that they were high in anger were more likely to view the other person as angry.
These results were replicated using dishonesty. That is, when participants were told they were dishonest, they rated other people as more dishonest. Furthermore, participants who rated other people as dishonest were least likely to rate themselves as dishonest (compared to people who were told they were dishonest who were not given a chance to rate others' honesty).

Put differently, when people were lead to believe they had a negative trait, they were more likely to see this negative trait in others. In doing so, they were less likely to think they had the trait themselves. 

In other words, by seeing the other person negatively on a trait, people came to have a higher regard for themselves on that trait.

Earlier studies had shown that when our self-esteem is threatened (like when we are told we are unattractive) we are more likely to degrade others. 

If you tell a person – especially a young person or a child – enough times that they are dumb or incapable, they begin to believe it.  

These studies have been done for years, but I suspect Jesus knew all this about the human condition way back when, before there was even a discipline known as psychology. 

It seems to me that Jesus is leveling the judgment field. Don’t judge a murderer if you have known murderous anger in your heart. And, don’t judge someone who has committed adultery if you have lusted after another. 

Don’t judge someone who is divorced because they have broken a vow. And live your life so righteously that you don’t have to swear on a stack of bibles so that others will believe you. 

Live your life so that people know that your ‘yes’ is yes and your ‘no’ is no. 

To see in others what we hate in ourselves is very human. We do it all the time. It’s part of what we call ‘projection’. 

One of my favorite authors is a woman named Anne Lamott. She takes this human trait to another level when she says, “You can be quite certain that you have created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

So, let me tell you a story told to me by one of my colleagues. My priest friend knew, in his heart of hearts, that he had a complicated relationship with alcohol. At least, that’s the way he expressed it. 

Another person would say he was an alcoholic. He would not say that, of course. Other people were alcoholics. Like, his father. Not him. They were weak, he thought. Deficient. Not him. He was strong. He could drink great quantities of alcohol, he said, without embarrassing himself.

He used to keep his empty beer and wine and hard liquor bottles in the basement of his city rectory, hidden under some tarps, until recycling day. Then, he would bring them out to the curb late at night. Sometimes, he would put them in with his neighbors’ recyclables, which was easy to do in the city. 

He didn’t want to be judged, you know, the way he judged others.

Everyone knew about “Father” and his drinking but no one said anything because, well, he was “Father”. And, everyone also knew what Father thought about alcoholics. How he thought 12-step programs were a waste of time. He thought alcoholism was a moral weakness, a character flaw.

Some people believed that Father might be right. Maybe it was a moral weakness. After all, he seemed fine. Wasn’t he? He was a priest. He should know. And, God would judge the alcoholic.

Then came the night of the snowstorm – a real Nor’easter hit the City. The wind was howling and the snow was wet and heavy and piling up fast. Father had already gone to bed when there came a knock at the rectory door. This happened quite often in his city church and rectory. 

Very often, it was one of the drunks in the neighborhood. He always sent them away. But, tonight was different. Even Father found compassion in his heart for this drunk caught in the middle of a Nor’easter.

He got the man some clean, warm clothing and let him sleep in one of the small guest rooms. As he was checking on the man before he, himself, went to bed, the man had a question for him. 

“Would you hear my confession, Father?” asked the man. 

“Of course,” answered the priest, trying to rise above his disdain for the man who vaguely reminded him of his father.

The man confessed that he was an alcoholic.

“Well, that’s obvious,” said Father, his voice dripping with disdain. 

“It’s a terrible disease. I’ve been battling this most of my life,” he continued, “I know God will forgive me, I just hope my family will, eventually.”

Maybe it was the late hour. Maybe he was just tired, but Father said he heard himself say, “Well, what makes you think God will forgive you?” 

As the words came out of his mouth, he regretted it and apologized. 

The man looked stung but said, “Oh, it’s okay, I understand.”

“No you don’t,” said my friend, “I know better. I’m a priest.”

And, the man looked at him, straight in the eye, and said, “So am I.”

In that moment, my friend said that he came face to face with his own hypocrisy. 

He thought his position as a priest protected him from alcoholism. 

He thought it made him better than others. 

What he saw in others – and judged them harshly for – was what he hated most in himself.

It’s a sobering story, isn’t it? On every level. 

Next time you find yourself judging someone, try to suspend judgment and, instead, ask yourself what that person touches in you.

As my friend, Howard, often says, "Some people use scripture to determine what love is, but Jesus uses love to determine what scripture says."

We all have choices in life. Indeed, one of the choices for readings for today is from Sirach (15:15-20), which I think sums up the lesson of today’s Gospel. I’ll close with part of it (15-17) here:

If you choose, you can keep the commandments,
and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.
God has placed before you fire and water;
stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.
Before each person are life and death,
and whichever one chooses will be given.

Or, as Jesus teaches in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.”  

And, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”