the truth will make you odd

Last night Heather told me that more people have been speaking against me, to her, apparently to protect her, warn her. Good people. Respected in the community. Hearing that made me feel very helpless and low. I cried. She kissed me. She loves me anyway.

Some scripture passages that came to mind this morning:

Be not far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is none to help.
Many bulls encompass me...

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax,
it is melted within my breast;

I will tell of thy name to my brethren;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee:
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
all you children of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you children of Israel!

For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted;
and he has not hid his face from them,
but has heard, when they cried to him.
(from Psalm 22)

Then Jesus' words:
His brothers said to him, "Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples may see the works you are doing. For no man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world." For even his brothers did not believe in him.

Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil." (Jn 7.3-7)

"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household....

"So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul....

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

"He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it." (from Mt 10)

I think that last passage is important because it's for Jesus' followers. Warnings, promises, about what to expect if we try to walk in his footsteps, draw close to him and be like him, in the midst of the world.

Looking back at an old journal I smiled and found comfort in these:

"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." --Flannery O'Connor

Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.

'Tis the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,--you're straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.

--Emily Dickinson

I remember quoting that poem to Heather, and she knew it by heart too.

The community discussion group Monday night will be sharing things we have written. I plan to read this story, inspired by something the pastor here said several weeks back:

Robin Hood

As the ushers approached him with the offering baskets, he gently raised his hands over them and closed his eyes. "Lord, you have blessed us. We thank you for all you have given to supply for our every need. And now we offer back this small portion." He squeezed his eyes shut tighter as the emotion rose in his voice. "We liberate this money for your work, Lord. Caesar says it is his, and puts his mark on it, but we say it's yours now. We set these resources free for your use, God. Here and now, and where and when ever we can, we take what is Caesar's and give it to you, God. Please bless it. Make it fruitful, Lord. In your name we pray. Amen." From the people a low amen rumbled in reply.

After the service, a young woman approached him. Robin. He had watched her grow up in his church and was proud of the intelligent and passionate woman she had become. She hadn't been around much over the past few years, because of college and other summer trips and projects. But today she was back. And her young, beautiful face was beaming.

"Thank you," she said, grasping his hand warmly. "Your prayer over the offering meant a lot to me." He smiled and nodded. "It's nice to be back here," she went on, "I don't go to church much at college. There's just no good churches there, not like here. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks. You're an inspiration." Then she ran off, before he could ask her how school was going. A fleeting moment. But moments like this one were what kept him going.

She must have just been home for the weekend, because he didn't see Robin again for weeks. Then he got a letter from her. It was actually just a short thank you note, with a copy of a letter she had sent to the IRS. When she'd filed her taxes, she had included this letter explaining that she believed the government's spending was unjust and that its taxation was simply extortion. She would not pay. But Robin had carefully figured out what her taxes were, and told the IRS she would donate that amount to a Christian charity. She had even used the phrase "take what is Caesar's and give it to God." The IRS must have loved that. Her note to him thanked him for inspiring and encouraging her; she hoped to see him again soon.

He suddenly felt a little sick. Robin could go to prison for this. He had to do something. So he quickly pulled out some paper and wrote to her, telling her she shouldn't have taken his words so literally, and he wished she had talked to him before taking such a drastic and risky step. He wondered if there was still time to correct it. It was a rushed note, not as well-composed as he would have liked, but he sent it off immediately.

Robin's reply came back just as quickly. "I'm disappointed," she wrote. "Didn't you mean what you said? Are you taking it all back now? What's 'Caesar's money' if not taxes? And you know it's used for wars and propaganda and supporting dirty governments and dictators whenever it suits our 'national interests.' How can we keep paying for that, instead of giving that money for God's purposes? Don't tell me all you said about that was just words. You've been a big influence on me. You're not like those other preachers. Please don't back out on me now." It was signed, "With admiration and hope, Robin." He didn't write back to her.

But her words haunted him. Wasn't she right? And didn't "take what is Caesar's and give it to God" lead directly to what she had done? But it troubled him. And it wasn't just her rebelliousness or the danger of prosecution. There was something else.

When Jesus had spoken of Caesar and God, he recalled, it had been in response to a question about taxes. But Jesus' answer hadn't called for tax resistance. He knew the passage well, but opened to it again. "Jesus said to them, 'Show me a coin. Whose likeness and inscription is on it?' They said, 'Caesar's.' He said to them, 'Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.'" Reading this again, he noticed that Jesus hadn't even had a coin then. He frowned and closed the book.

Over the next few months, he began to hear rumors about Robin. But he tried not to listen. Until the Sunday her parents requested prayer because Robin had been arrested.

He visited them several times during the week that followed and learned that Robin had been suspected of some kind of embezzling. But the charges were dropped within a few days and she was released, apparently due to lack of evidence. Her parents were still terribly worried, though. They asked if he would visit her.

When she answered the door, the first thing he noticed was that her young face seemed hardened. But she smiled when she saw him. "Pastor! Come in!"

And when he asked her what had happened, she hid nothing. "I found a way to use the computer to tap into some corporate accounts and divert some resources," she said. Then added with a grin, "For God's work." He stared at her, expressionless. "But that's... theft." She laughed. "Sure. But how do you think they got that money? Fair and honest business practices? These big companies get control of a market and then force costs down and prices up. So they pay less and less to their workers and we pay more and more for the product. It has nothing to do with what the thing's worth. It's simply stealing. Legal, systematic theft."

"Well, maybe," he faltered, "but that doesn't make it right to..." "C'mon Pastor," she interrupted, her dark eyes burning. "There's only two ways to get what's Caesar's. Either obey Caesar and get paid off for your service, or use Caesar's methods to take Caesar's wealth. And there's no way I'm gonna be Caesar's paid lackey."

He didn't know what to say and couldn't meet her eyes. She continued, "Look, it's okay. I'm very good; they can't get anything on me. And the money's all going for good work. God's work. Your church gets a large cut too, y'know..." He looked up sharply. "Wait a minute. I didn't know... we can't accept that. Especially now that I know how..." Suddenly she was on her feet. "What? I go through all this, risking it all to liberate these resources, and now you're saying you don't want it? What about 'take what is Caesar's and give it to God'? That's exactly what I'm doing, what you preached--and you're going to turn your back on me now?" He couldn't think. He heard himself murmur, "I don't know..."

Robin stepped towards him, powerful, demanding, "You have to choose, Pastor. Do you want what is Caesar's? Yes or no?"