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A feast of sinners and saints

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Posted: Thursday, November 8, 2012 4:00 pm

I am not sure when you will be reading this, but chances are good that you have already voted, or it could be that the votes have been counted and the election is over. Regardless of the outcome I am pretty certain of two things. First, whichever candidate won, whether you voted that way or not, is likely not nearly as bad as his or her opponent told you. No matter what has been written by those who frequently write letters to the editor, no elected official is loosing a lot of sleep trying to design ways to destroy the country. The second thing I am pretty certain about is that whichever candidate won, whether you voted that way or not, is likely not a savior either.

This is not a great new revelation: the Psalmist cautioned about putting “faith in princes” and after ancient Israel pleaded to have a king in order to be a real nation, they found out that kings sometimes, perhaps even frequently, get it all wrong.

We get ourselves so wrapped up in Halloween sometimes that we tend to forget that it is the night before All Saints Day. One of the things Luther got right was that all of us are an inextricable mix of saint and sinner. Not a blended recipe, but fully both; a weird bit of ecclesiastical math where one plus one still equals one. We have the capacity to love fully and unconditionally while at the same time we can be remarkably destructive.

Thirty years ago I was a “fresh out.” Armed with a new diploma and certificate of ordination, I headed to an elderly, working class parish in southern Indiana to find out how very little I had learned in four years of seminary.

We had only been in the parsonage for a few weeks when I heard a blood-curdling scream from my wife. She had left the shower wrapped in a towel and headed to the kitchen to put the coffee on. Dooley was standing at the patio door holding up two freshly killed rabbits. Welcome, pastor. Coming to the back door just seemed more neighborly.

Dooley was a big man, a retired ironworker who spoke with great pride of working on the bridge over the Ohio River. He was a generally friendly sort but most certainly had some coarse edges. He had given up drinking but puffed through three packs of Lucky Strikes per day that he kept rolled up in the sleeves of his rather ample T-shirts.

The rabbits were a gift, and he even had some suggestions on how to make a right fine stew of them. He was big on suggestions. When I re-roofed the parsonage about a year later (something else they didn’t teach me in seminary), he was there every morning, smoking away and letting me know how he would do it if he could still climb a ladder.

He was also quick with some of the most horrifyingly racist jokes I have ever endured. Dooley was a mix of saint and sinner; capable of great kindness and terrible destruction, and when I told him he had to stop telling me those kinds of jokes it drove a wedge between us that never left. Calling him on it was the right thing to do, but it reminded me that I too, have the capacity to be destructive. I told him the stew tasted like chicken, even though we gave the rabbits a decent burial in the backyard.


• Steve Hammer is the pastor at Esperanza Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills.

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