Sunday, July 24, 2011

Genesis Ugliness

Babies fighting each other in the womb, selling birthrights for a quick meal, bizarre givings of women to men for marriage, plus plenty of lies, cheats, and basic bad behavior.

Is it any wonder that I’ve been doing my best to ignore the Genesis readings for the last few weeks?

Spending time with these stories in Genesis is not my idea of uplifting Christian preaching.

One can say that I at least tackled the worst one a few weeks ago: Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac.

And yet, in some ways, it is the easiest to preach because it’s point...however twisted in getting clear: traditionally the text demonstrates Abraham dedication and trusting of God.

I made the point in that sermon of suggesting that it would have been better for Abraham (and for us, his descendants), if he had told God that he could not do violence to his son. “Take me, if you want Lord: I am yours, but I cannot sacrifice him as you ask.” Real fidelity to God is not shown by hurting another. If Abraham had said no to God, ironically he would have better shown what it means to be made in God’s image.

So I was able to address the story’s point even as I challenged the way the story is classically understood. I believe that, in this way, I honored the text, even as I rejected part of its conclusion.

Genesis is, for the most part, NOT set up for short stories with concise points. It is a broad HISTORICAL FICTION: meant to use figures from the past to relate to situations and customs of the audience it was intended for.

So, on first encounter with our ancient stories, I think we must try and place them in the hearing of the people they were meant for, and then attempt to discern what they were trying to say.

As we do so, we might find ideas that are worthwhile in the story. But it also means that we have to wade into some ugly places of the past, and realize that the point of the story may include the advocating of something that is now unacceptable to us.

It is not only okay, but right to reject certain parts of Biblical stories as either being outdated, uninformed, or simply wrong.

For example, in this morning’s excerpt, we encounter incest, polygamy and women as property. These positions are unacceptable in our society for good reason.

Now, none of these are the point of the story: it is not attempting to advocate these positions. So it’s okay to suggest that there may be something of value still to be found for us today, so long as we also acknowledge its problems. Looking for the message in this story does not mean we have to accept the givens about how things were.

For this particular passage this morning, I have to start with this confession:

I cannot make this a good, uplifting, feel-good story. It isn’t one, and was never intended to be one. All I can do this morning is explain some of the “why’s”.

We have to start by going back a few paragraphs. Last week, we had Jacob’s vision of a ladder to heaven, and was awed by the power of God. This is the same Jacob who, to this point, had been a scoundrel, liar, and cheat. Jacob was in the process of fleeing his homeland so his older brother Esau would not kill him for stealing his birthright and his father’s blessing. After this encounter with God, it seems like he felt some remorse for what he had done: he made a vow to God, which included the hope that he would one day come to his father’s house in peace.

He continues on his journey. Where is he going? At his parents request, he is going to his mother’s brother’s house, Laban, so he can marry one of his daughters.

Jacob meets Rachel first, and learns she is Laban’s daughter. The text tells us that he is completely moved by her:

Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son; and she ran and told her father.

When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” And he stayed with him a month.” (Genesis 29:11-14)

This is all before this morning’s text: and it enlightens what is to come. Jacob breaks forth with a change to honesty, telling Laban of all that has transpired. Laban responds “surely you are my bone and my flesh!” On the surface, this is about genealogy. But in reality, Laban recognizes Jacob as a fellow schemer and rogue. After a month of observation, the uncle is primed to get the best of his nephew.

Laban says:

“Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” (Genesis 29:15)

Crafty Laban has quite a plan. He saw from the beginning that Jacob was infatuated with Rachel, and a month’s time would have confirmed it.

Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel....Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”
(Genesis 29:16 & 18)

This was, of course, in leu of simply taking her as his wife and leaving, striking out on their own. Laban agrees. Seven years pass, and Laban pulls off the great switch: lo and behold, Jacob has married Leah! When he protests, Laban replies:

“This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” (Genesis 29:26-27)

What a scam! He gets 14 years work out of Jacob on a technicality. And the great irony: what had Jacob been rebelling about, even in the womb? Being second born! His deception has come home to roost.

Beaten, Jacob agrees to Laban’s demands: he cannot escape that he is the younger brother, even in a far off land.

(This sets up the jealousy and scheming between sisters Leah and Rachel that is to come in the next section of the story.)

Jacob pays dearly before his early path of deception. Certainly those hearing this story would see that Jacob, on some level, deserves what he gets. They would marvel at the way things turned out.

And yet, surprise surprise, beyond this morning, as the Genesis account continues, the unexpected does happen and the younger brother is blessed: suggesting that the trials and tribulations one experiences after “coming clean” is worth the effort.

I’ll let you decide if you like this story or not: I can’t say that I do. Thankfully we need not like, or even agree with the point of our ancient stories: but I believe we will be better people by having honest struggles with the texts that have been passed down.


(Based on a sermon on Genesis 29:15-30 given at All Saints' Littleton on 7/24/2011)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wheat and Weeds Parable

“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love.”

---Albus Dumbledore

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30)

Again, we have a parable presented by Jesus. Moments later, we hear “what it means”, allegedly from Jesus himself. I illustrated in this story why the Gospel writers put their understanding of Jesus’ parables in the voice of Jesus, and expressed my skepticism that the master storyteller would immediately tell those who had just listened the one and only way that his story should be understood, thus stripping the parable of the need for any real thought.

If I was leading a group Bible study, I would spend some time discussing the parable before reading what the Gospel writer believes the story to mean. But since the lectionary puts it all together, I’ll do things in reverse:

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen! (Matthew 13:36-43)

In hearing the Gospel writer’s interpretation of the parable, it is good for us to remember two things:

  1. This comes out of Roman occupation and oppression: the putting to death of Christians and Jews, and what would be the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple
  2. There was a major conflict and break with temple leadership: each group blamed the other for the Romans crackdown.

It must have literally felt as if the early Christians were being choked by weeds from all sides. No wonder that they understood the parable in terms of “us vs. them”. Hearing that God will one day right this wrong and reward the righteous were the words needed to live each day, and to keep people from giving up all hope.

Now, we turn back to the parable:

  1. We are told that “good seed was sown” A reminder that creation was (and is) good.
  2. We are told that “an enemy” came and sowed weeds: a reminder that evil is real and in the world.

We assume that wheat and weeds represent two types of people: good people and bad people. This fits the early Christians understanding, as a persecuted people. However, if it is the only understanding, it means that this parable has no good news other than for one who is oppressed (and is useless to the majority of today’s Christians, except as a warning about abusing power). Isn’t it possible for there to be more meaning in this parable?

What if wheat and weeds were to be understood as two sides of everyone: the capability to do great good, and great evil---the ability to love, and the ability to hate, the ability for peace, and the ability for violence?

Understanding it this way leaves us with a choice.

We can decide that “the reapers” will discern each individual as to whether or not they are more like wheat or more like weeds, and will be dealt with accordingly. This leaves us with a fear-based view of the world: in the end you get judged good or evil, so beware. Sadly, most people with this view end up living their lives in a way that tries to avoid "doing something bad" at all costs (not a pretty way to live).

Or, we can decide that in the life to come--when the kingdom of God becomes a reality--our evil tendencies (which are gathered first) will be bound and burned, leaving only our goodness to be gathered by God. This leads us to a life-giving outlook on life in the world (and, in my opinion, is a much better understanding of things).

Now, the critical question of every parable is “so what”. What does this mean for the hearer: what are we called to do?

If we are what has been sown, then it is our hope and responsibility to grow in goodness. We are called to embrace our good possibilities, and to resist the things that harm each other and the world. Furthermore, we are called to primarily see the goodness found in others, instead of focusing on everyone’s mistakes and failures.

But is that all we are called to do in this story?

One of the brilliant things about good parables is that just as there are multiple truths, there are multiple possibilities as for what should be done. Finding them often hinges on ability to rethink who we are in the parable.

In addition to being what is sown, I believe we also called to be the ones caring for what has been sown.

We are the workers tending the garden. It is not our responsibility to be ripping up weeds: evaluating people of their worth to God, deciding if they are good or evil. Instead, we are called to nurture the seedlings by tending to their needs and providing the environment for healthy growth.

It only takes a short look at the world to see how critical one’s environment is towards influencing decision making and behavior. When people get treated like weeds, and see themselves as such, it’s not hard to explain a great deal of their actions.

In this parable, God challenges us all to be invested in each other: treating all as “good seed”. To see, understand, and act on our charge to help everyone grow in love and goodness.

Thanks be to God.

(Based on a sermon given at All Saints’ Littleton on July 17, 2011)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two

The movie series comes to an end this week. They have done a great job balancing being faithful to the books while making changes to make it work as a movie.

I have already written on Part One, and will be interested in seeing how they have continued to change and cut from the thousand page book.

Balancing the action with the overall themes of the series will be the movie’s greatest challenge. I have a few thoughts that I want to mention:

I have wondered for a while if they will do the Snape part justice: devoting enough time to Harry’s hatred of Snape and where things end. Now, I’m wondering if the movie might do too much. The book uses flashback so we can see Snape’s secrets, and I’m certain the film will as well. But the book never gives Harry and Snape a moment together where they see deeper into each other. Will they give Harry and Snape extra material? Will they have an enlightened conversation with each other? Will they, “see eye to eye” and not just each others eyes? After all, the sixth movie added a scene in the tower with Snape motioning Harry to keep quiet while he “takes care of things.” I would not be surprised if the movie adds a bit here, but I’m not sure it will be a good idea. After all, it’s only in the epilogue of the final book where we truly see Harry’s growth in overcoming his hatred for Snape.

I am thinking the house-elf/wizard growth is lost. I would not be surprised if we don’t even see Kreacher again, and I’ll actually be angry if we see “transformation” in him without a change in attitude by Harry. I just watched Part One again, and I’m dismayed at how easily they could have added a few lines into the scene with Kreacher to honor the book’s point of how, in Dumbledore’s words:

“Kreacher is what he has been made by wizards....Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike....We wizards have mistreated and abused our fellows for too long, and we are now reaping our reward.” (HP & The Order of Phoenix)

I’m also wondering why in the world Wormtail is still alive. The movie chose to keep him around...for what purpose? Will we even see him again?

Finally, this movie is, after all, called “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” While the movie has used the Hallows to move the plot, it has, so far, ignored the questions of power that the Hallows represent (other than in the very creative fashion of telling the story of the three brothers). We’ve missed the chance for Harry, Ron & Hermione to choose not to try and get the Elder Wand before Voldemort. There is still hope, in perhaps the learning about Dumbledore’s past, that Harry can wrestle with the temptation of obtaining power to make a stand vs. standing up with one’s own power.

Can’t wait for the release!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Let Everybody Listen

(A sermon on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 preached at All Saints' Littleton on 7/10/2011)

There’s no getting around this truth: Jesus’ words are controversial, on so many levels.

First off, there are the arguments as to what he really said and didn’t say. You may remember that numerous times I have said that having four Gospels is such a blessing for the church, because we have four very different portraits of who Jesus is: and it is only by combining them that we can answer the ultimate Jesus question “Who do you say that I am.” The problem with four Gospels, however, is you have four different versions of what Jesus said, and they often come into conflict with each other. Furthermore, there is a blurry line as to where Jesus’ words end, and the point of view of the writer emerges.

Then, there are the words themselves. Some of Jesus most controversial words were told in parables, like what we just heard. Parables go against the grain. They are stories that are upsetting because they fly in the face of accepted thought. Parables point us to deeper possibilities of truth and understanding. Jesus’ parables were especially dangerous because they confronted conventional wisdom.

This morning’s Gospel has two parts: Jesus first tells the story to the crowd, and then moments later retreats to a private area where he reveals its meaning. Taken at face value, Jesus tells and then immediately explains his story, so the mystery is stripped from the parable.

But would Jesus have really done this? Would the master storyteller immediately tell those who had just listened the one and only way that his story should be understood?

The parable itself was told by Jesus, that I feel certain. The explanation, however, is up for debate. After all, I imagine that there was intense discussion over what it really meant.

And to illustrate this, I wish to share with you: what might have happened...

Once upon a time, many years ago, four men gathered together. I don’t know their names, no one really knows for sure, but for the sake of argument, I’ll call them Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They had been charged by their communities to set down in writing the accounts of the life of Jesus. The stories of Jesus were alive and well, upon the hearts of many men and women, but there existed no written word that could be preserved for the generations to come.

Mark had written a first attempt at recalling everything he had heard and remembered about Jesus. The other men were helping him revise his work. On this particular day, they had reached the parable of the sower. In case you were wondering, it sounded nearly identical to what we heard this morning.

“Well,” said Mark, with a hint of worry in his voice, “What do you think?”

There was some silence. Then John spoke. “Well, the parable itself is just right. I remember it very well. What I don’t remember is Jesus explaining this parable. Did I sleep through that part?”

Mark smiled. “No, you’re right. However, we’re writing these stories down so people will know Jesus, AND will know what we, the Christian Movement, believe. We have to be unified and we have to be consistent. So we need to include what Jesus ACTUALLY MEANT with each story, and then we need show how it relates to our community.

Luke frowned. “That’s a problem. We talked and argued all the time about these stories. We’d come up with things and Jesus would agree or disagree with many of our ideas, but he never came out and said ‘This is actually what I mean!’ Do you remember Jesus explaining this story?

“Umm…no,” Mark admitted. “Of course, I didn’t take any notes. I think Mary was the only one writing stuff down.”

“She was, and I have her outline,” Luke said while waving a big parchment with the letter “Q” at the top, “but there’s no help here. There’s only the parable.”

“Look,” says Matthew, “I don’t see what the problem is. We heard this parable, and it’s easy to understand. Jesus’ words of God were the seed that was sown. The mission of Jesus fell on a lot of deaf ears. Lots of the seed was sown in vain. But even with the waste, there is some harvest. We should be confident that God’s work is being done. Some of our words will reach people. There is always some seed that grows and produces grain.”

“Okay,” agrees Mark. “But not everyone will interpret it this way. I want to have Jesus explain the parable so that there is one clear understanding. This will clarify what we believe and speak to the current problems that we are facing today.”

Luke is now nodding. “This will address the many pitfalls on the road of discipleship. Yet if we really hear and understand God’s word, we will bear fruit. The ‘fruit’ can then be seen specifically as the people that are won to Christianity by our preaching and teaching. We will reach whom we are supposed to reach."

John clearly disagreed. “You three are wrong,” he said. “The parable Jesus tells the crowd is dangerous, even if you try to explain what he meant. I will certainly NOT include it in my accounts of Jesus. If we say that the seed is the Word of God, and that it was just carelessly thrown around, we give the wrong message. After all, nobody farms that way: it’s wasteful! If I was sowing this field, I wouldn’t just throw the seed everywhere without taking care of it. I would use the best soil, the perfect blend of nutrients and water, and careful weeding to produce the perfect yield. No seed would go wasted.”

Suddenly, a new voice spoke. “Fortunately for the world, John, you are not God.”

The four men turned around. “Oh, Mary, come in. How long have you been there?”

Mary sat down. “Long enough to hear John’s brilliant plan on improving how God works in the world. I’m sure, John, that your garden would be nice and ordered with all of the deserving people in it. But God throws seed everywhere without expectations. No specific return is projected. There are no boundaries and no specially prepared ground. The rain falls where it falls and the sun shines where it shines, and lots of stuff sprouts up without thinning or weeding. And when it’s time for the harvest, everything is harvested, and God rejoices no matter how large or small the number. And that may sound impractical and foolish to you, John, but that is how generous God is.”

Mark, Luke, and Matthew appeared to enjoy seeing John put in his place. For his part, John looked like he wanted to be somewhere else.

“Way to go Mary!” “Well done!” “That’s telling him!”

But Mary was not finished. “Oh yes, you three, I bet I can guess what you all came up with. A nice explanation to take heart in the fact that while your preaching falls on deaf ears, that some people do hear and are converted to your right answers.” The room grew silent. “That’s a fine explanation when you see yourself as a teacher and the rest of the world as your students.”

“What happens when your fruit looks different from you? What happens when the person produced is not an intellectual teacher? You may want your converts to stand and sit, but what happens when they want to wave and clap their hands?”

“And what if the good fruit produced is the devoted Jew, the faithful son or daughter of Ishmael, or the pagan who is a good and just neighbor? The grain that is produced in this parable does not all look the same, and you are arrogant to think otherwise!”

There were shocked expressions on the four men’s faces.

Mark finally got the nerve to speak. “So you don’t agree with my interpretation of the parable?”

“It’s ONE interpretation Mark, and it will speak to a certain type of person. But the original parable has the ability to do so much more. It speaks to all sorts of people. A Pharisee, a leper, a Jew, and a Gentile can all hear this story and be touched in different and profound ways. The parable challenges people where they are, and invites them to new, wonderful ideas. Trust God…take heart …God works even when we can’t grasp what is going on. This is the power of the parable. No single group of people owns the parable. Ownership is shared by all.”

Luke looked pained. “But what about the Christian community? Didn’t Jesus tell us to go make Christians out of everyone?”

Mary shook her head. “Luke, ‘Christian’ was an unknown word to Jesus. We call ourselves Christians because of the way we’ve come to identify with Jesus. It is a description that we now use to describe ourselves. But Jesus called us to be FAITHFUL to God’s creation, which is far more reaching and inclusive of the world.”

“Jesus tells us to love God with everything we are; to love our neighbors and ourselves the same way. And Jesus practiced that. He cared for all, and He was especially gracious and loving of the people whom society discarded. Jesus was critical of people who insisted that everyone had to behave in the “proper” way. Jesus was calling the Pharisees not to abandon their religion, but to return their focus to loving God and caring for people. You’re heading down the road of the Pharisees if you insist that everyone must think like you!”

John looked angry. “So you don’t think we should be sharing our faith.”

Mary sighed. “Of course we are called to share our faith. Jesus not only taught this…he practiced it. But let’s be clear why we share our faith. We share our stories because God has engaged each and every one of us in a special way. We all have had moments of laughter, sadness, joy, and love. These moments have shaped who we are, and have forever changed us. We share ourselves because there is power, healing, and grace in each of our stories.”

“But sharing is about giving and receiving, and our stories will be received in different ways by different people. We also must be careful to spend more time listening to others than talking ourselves.”

The four men looked tired and frustrated.

“Look,” Mary concluded. “We can all write accounts of Jesus’ life. We can all pick and choose what we want to include: we have that luxury because we are the first to write these things down. The events live in our personal memories. But how will it read hundreds, even thousands of years from now? I am confident that Jesus’ example will stand the test of time. I am less confident of our words. We may not want the future generations to be tied to our single interpretation. What makes sense in our present world may lead to disaster in the future. We want our descendants to keep open minds: to live in the words and examples of Jesus."

"Well, 'Let anyone with ears listen.' Trust those words. Tell the story, and let the people of God hear for themselves."

Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dogs of Chiang Mai, Thailand

My trip to Thailand was amazing. Thank God for digital cameras: I only have to worry about buying an additional memory card, instead of all the film I am using!

I found myself taking pictures of the many dogs that roamed around Chiang Mai. Most were either "street" or "temple" dogs (although likely many come and go), but almost all were well fed and gentle around people.

These are a few of my favorite photos.

The whole album can be seen on my Facebook page.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Light and Easy

(A sermon on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 given at All Saints' Episcopal Littleton on July 3rd, 2011)

This morning’s Gospel is a good illustration of a preaching/teaching trap.

What I’m referring to is the tendency of the preacher when, upon finding a memorable, positive, sound-byte part of a text, to immediately focus on it and then quickly move the congregation towards real life applications. The draw of doing so is easily understood: having a text that needs little explanation allows for more time on developing the important “so what it mean for me” question. The part I’m referring to is:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest...For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The assumption that we are likely to make concerning this text is that it’s a comparison between the way of Jesus and the way of the law. Jesus’ “yoke” is considered easy and his burden light when compared to following a bunch of laws.

The savvy fundamentalist preacher would now shout out, “It’s easy: All you got to do is be saved”, and the door would be opened to direct the sermon wherever one wanted.

Not only am I not certain that this conclusion works within the context of the actual passage, but I additionally feel obligated to discuss the idea of Jesus’ way being “easy” and of “light burden”. My observations suggest otherwise. We are called to an incredible amount of work that is costly: loving your enemies, striving for justice, wrestling with doubt, questioning assumptions...this is not easy at all! It can bring us into conflict with even those closest to us, and constantly challenges our routines. Living faithfully is hard work, and not without grief and pain.

I believe that in truth, today’s passage focuses on why people struggled with the implications of Jesus’ message.

Jesus starts out with a negative comparison: the children danced, but we failed to rejoice, and when they wailed, we did not morn.

Jesus uses this to illustrate the reactions to John the Baptist and himself.

John came solemnly declaring to prepare and repent, but people dismissed his call by focusing on his strange behaviors of not eating and drinking. “Crazy”, they called him.

Jesus comes and, as he says earlier in the chapter, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

But people do take offense: not directly criticizing his work, but instead point to his eating and drinking as proof that he’s of questionable character.

Despite being the virtual opposite of John, both get called degrading names.

Talk about an example of “Same-same, but different!”

It’s disturbing to realize how often this happens in our society today. When the news is something someone doesn’t want to hear, the easiest way to dismiss the message is to disparage the messenger.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Upon returning to the familiar words, I am struck that this is not really a comparison between following the law or following Jesus. It is also not a declaration that the way itself is easy, without hard work. Instead, the words suggest that the spirit of our approach to God and life matters.

If it is not marked by both passion and compassion, it becomes a burden on our soul: a never ending exercise in futility. Even what is right becomes wrong. But if our heart is light and forgiving, gentle while passionate, the feel of the work will not be burden. In other words, our soul will indeed be cared for.

I am reminded of a story concerning a woman working in her garden on the outer edge of town. Along comes a man down the road, and asks her, “What kind of people live in this town?”

The woman replies, “What kind of people lived in the town where you just left?”

"Terrible! Bitter, dishonest, unhappy complaining people who only cared about themselves. I’m so glad to leave them behind."

The gardner shook her head. “I’m sorry to say that you will likely find the same people here in this town.”

“Unbelievable!”, exclaimed the man. "I guess I’ll go somewhere else.”

“Good luck with that,” sighed the woman.

Sometime later, another man walked by on the road, and asked the same woman, “What kind of people live in this town?”

The woman replies, “What kind of people lived in the town where you just left?”

“Wonderful. Thoughtful and kind people. Even in our differences and our conflicts, we managed to hear and care for one another. I hated to leave.”

The gardner extended her hand and smiled. “Don’t worry: I’m pleased to say that is about how you’ll find folks here.”

Thanks be to God.