November 13, 2005 Newsletter

Numerous non-profit organizations offer volunteer opportunities, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas when so many meals are prepared and delivered or served to the needy.  Let’s put aside our debates and divisions long enough to remember there is important work to be done!  If you want to be a laborer in the harvest, please contact your nearest homeless shelter or soup kitchen to volunteer.  In addition to preparing and serving meals, there are many ways you can help.  If you’re in the Knox County, Tennessee area and don’t already have a favorite organization where you can serve, please call Knox Area Rescue Ministries Volunteer Coordinator, Julie Harmon, at (865) 673-6540.  Even your smallest effort will help so many, and you will be so blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Unforgivable Sin

By: Rhonda Jones 

I was born four days before Halloween, and I was never crazy about my birthday occurring so close to that inauspicious day.  Although my birthday usually passed with little or no fanfare—not even as much as that reserved for All Hallowed’s Eve—it did, however, accomplish one thing.  It seemed to kick off the beginning of yet another holiday season.  My regular birthday dinner, comprised of Momma’s homemade fried chicken, mashed potatoes and biscuits, on the 27th, and Halloween candy on the 31st signaled the beginning of almost non-stop eating and family events through the end of the year.  After my birthday, Thanksgiving was just around the corner, at which point we were already discussing Christmas plans.  It’s a predictable rhythm in most middle class American families.  This year will be no exception for our family and, though I can’t believe it, my birthday and Halloween have already come and gone, and we now stare Thanksgiving in the face.

Thanksgiving, as we all know, commemorates the original Pilgrim celebration of the Fall harvest.  Thankful for survival and the gathering of crops for another winter, the settlers created this tradition as a day of reward for the laborers in the harvest.  Somehow, I don’t think they envisioned it becoming what we’ve made of it in these post-modern times.  The degree of gluttony to which we aspire with our feasts would have made the Pilgrims eyes bulge.  And the sight of hoards crowding the retailer’s holiday sales . . . well, let’s just say those who escaped to our shores for religious freedom might find it downright sinful.

I guess I’ve been thinking a lot about sin lately.  How could I not, given that someone recently asked me point blank, “Rhonda, do you know what the unforgivable sin is?”  It’s true, I’ve only been so dumbfounded that words escaped me a time or two, but this was certainly one of those times.

A question like that opens many different cans of worms.  First, to even believe there is such a thing as “sin”, I probably need to recognize some form of judge or law as the ultimate authority over all humanity.  Sometimes I wonder if we will ever agree on that point.  Even today the debate rages over the theories of evolution, intelligent design, creationism, etc.  School Boards struggle over how much to allow into the classroom in an attempt to explain the existence of man.  Opponents claim it’s a debate between science and religion.  I like to follow the KISS principle and keep it simple, so here is how I see it.  The various world religions are man’s best interpretation of the supernatural.  Since religion is only man’s best interpretation, the actual truth that man is trying to discern is out there . . . and it has a source from which it emanates.  Similarly, science is man’s best interpretation of the natural world.  And, once again, just as with religion, the actual truths man is attempting to discern emanate from a source.  (I mean, I don’t believe it was just coincidence that E=mc2.)  Consequently, that source of all the mysteries, natural and supernatural, that man continually seeks to understand has created this natural order governing what is and is not “sin”.  Even if I weren’t a Christian, this would make perfect sense to me.

In the late 6th century, St. Gregory the Great described in Greek monastic theology the seven capital vices or seven cardinal sins.  Eventually these gained notoriety in Dante’s Divine Comedy, where they were referred to as the seven deadly sins.  Listed in order of severity (worst sins listed last) they are: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth (laziness, idleness), wrath (anger, hate), envy (jealousy), and pride (vanity).  I have to admit, all seven of these hit pretty close to home for me.  Who amongst us doesn’t struggle with one or all seven of these?

As I proceed through my mid-life transition, going from a lengthy career into an uncertain future, I find I need to remind myself daily to be diligent in these areas.  I must at all costs avoid sloth and the wasting of my allotted time on this earth.  If I fail to fulfill my potential. . . fail to let my light shine in the world . . . would that be the unforgivable sin?

Moreover, is it possible to be guilty of sloth without also having committed some of the other seven sins too?  In addition to sloth, gluttony is also a sin of waste, for it wastes food and drink, either through an overindulgence or misplaced desire or by withholding it from the needy.

Ironically, that’s the very topic we were discussing—the needy—when I was asked to name the unforgivable sin.  I was sharing information about my volunteer work for the homeless at Knox Area Rescue Ministries.  The sudden jump in our conversation from my description of a new program to connect more volunteers with those served by the ministry to the discussion of unforgivable sin was confounding.  I had no elaborate response.

I know about the Ten Commandments, with a biggie on the list being to avoid blasphemy, but for the life of me I couldn’t recall one being anymore unforgivable than the other.  To be honest, I thought as long as you still had breath in your body anything was forgivable.  But as I looked into his serious face, it seemed I must have missed this important lesson somewhere along the way.

For what seemed like several minutes, but was probably only seconds, my mind raced through all the worst of the worst I could think of.  The Ten Commandments, of course, addressed killing, so for a moment I contemplated suicide.  No, I don’t mean I considered committing suicide, although at that moment I would have gone to great lengths to get out of that conversation.  I mean, I wondered if suicide was a worse sin, perhaps because a person extinguishes the one life they’ve been given.

It was exasperating.  How could I answer the question?  How could I possibly pick one and say this is the unforgivable sin?  How could anything be unforgivable?  How could I know?

Yet, the look on my interrogator’s face clearly communicated he was certain he knew and couldn’t wait to tell me.  “The unforgivable sin,” he pontificated, “is to disregard and refuse all the chances you're given in this life to accept the truth of salvation.”  Explaining from his Christian perspective he elaborated, “The Bible says God will send the Holy Ghost several times to work on a person’s heart and conscience.  The way it works,” he said to my amazement, “is the Holy Spirit sneaks up behind us and pecks us on the shoulder, so to speak.  And he may do that several times, but there comes a point where God has lost patience, and we have said ‘no’ for the last time, and he just doesn’t send the Holy Spirit anymore.”

If I thought I was dumbfounded by the initial question, I was even more dumbfounded by his answer.  I know my mouth must have been hanging open, as I struggled to process his point.  Did he really believe that some invisible ghost was going to walk up to someone living under a bridge and take care of his or her needs?  That sure was what his words communicated to me.  But worse than what his spoken words communicated was what his unspoken words screamed. “Those people are homeless because they have committed the unforgivable sin.  God has turned his back on them, and they are hopeless, and you need to stay away from them too!” 

I simply could not believe it.  How could anyone who had managed to live a relatively long and good life have it so incredibly wrong?  Like any great work of written art, the Bible is filled with parables, metaphors, analogies and visual images intended to teach and clarify its important lessons, in which case many passages cannot and must not be taken literally, but figuratively.  I don’t doubt that my discussion partner did read what he was describing to me, but he had totally misunderstood it.  As I continued to ponder this dilemma, I was reminded of a speaker I heard recently.

Addressing a local professional organization, of which I am a member, this business owner had concluded his description of the promotion and fundraising services offered by his company to non-profit’s such as ours, when he began to share something personal with the group.  Detailing the horror oxycontin addiction had unleashed on his wife—his child’s mother—he shared his multi-year fight to not only find her and try to help her, but also to lobby for improvements in a medical, pharmaceutical, and legal system that allows this terrible drug to be so readily available.

“Don’t give up.  Don’t ever give up!”  He admonished our group.  “No matter how hopeless it may seem, when you’re trying to help someone who’s under the hold of an addiction, you can’t give up.  You may be the only person who cares about them.  You are the only chance they have.  No matter how futile it may seem, don’t ever give up!” he concluded passionately with tears glistening in his eyes.  And in that speaker’s comments I find my only rebuttal to my misguided interrogator.

“You know what?” I smiled at him.  “You’re exactly right.  God does send his spirit to minister to people.  And do you know how he does that?” I paused. “He does it through me.  I’m the one who walks up behind them and pecks them on the shoulder to see what I can do for them.”  Now it was his turn to look confused.  I continued, “I’m not responsible for how they live their lives or what they do with what I give them.  I am not their judge.  I am only responsible for what I do.  I am commanded to love.”

That is how I feel.  That is what I believe.  I’m not supposed to ever stop trying to help.  And if I didn’t try to help in whatever way I felt moved . . . knowing how dire the consequences would be for those who stand in such desperate need . . . wouldn’t that be the unforgivable sin?

Let’s remember at Thanksgiving and the whole year through that there is work to be done.  Without labor and harvest, there can be no thanksgiving.  Laborers are needed for the harvest.  Will you help?

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“Lord, make me an instrument of they peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow Love.

Where there is injury, Pardon.

Where there is error, Truth.

Where there is discord, Harmony.

Where there is doubt, Faith.

Where there is despair, Hope.

Where there is darkness, Light.

Where there is sorrow, Joy.”

- - St. Francis of Assisi

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 "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."

- - Mother Teresa [Agnes Gonxha Beiaxhiu] (1910-1997)

Humanitarian, Nobel Peace Prize 1979

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 Do It Anyway

(Sign In Mother Teresa's Office)

 

People are unreasonable,

illogical, and self-centered,

 

LOVE THEM ANYWAY

 

If you do good, people will

accuse you of selfish,

ulterior motives,

 

DO GOOD ANYWAY

 

If you are successful, you win

false friends and true enemies,

 

SUCCEED ANYWAY

 

The good you do will

be forgotten tomorrow,

 

DO GOOD ANYWAY

 

Honesty and frankness

make you vulnerable,

 

BE HONEST AND FRANK ANYWAY

 

What you spent years building

may be destroyed overnight,

 

BUILD ANYWAY

 

People really need help but

may attack you if you help them,

 

HELP PEOPLE ANYWAY

 

Give the world the best you

have and you'll get kicked

in the teeth,

 

GIVE THE WORLD THE BEST YOU'VE GOT ANYWAY.