"I know your deeds: you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead."
Kenneth L. Samuel
Upon entering the village, the sojourner asked the gatekeeper for directions to the place of restoration.
"My soul is weary," she said, "and I need to find the place where I can divest myself of power struggles and find strength in the acknowledgement of my weaknesses. I need to find the place where I can be honest about my need to be forgiven, and my need to forgive others, and my need to forgive myself. I want to find the place that is defined by its compassion for everyone and that genuinely seeks to include the outcasts."
The gatekeeper responded: "Go down this road two blocks and turn left. The place you're looking for will be right in front of you."
"Thank you," said the sojourner. "Is that the Village Church?"
"No" said the gatekeeper. "That's the Village Bar." "The Village Church is a whole different kind of place from what you just described."
How many misleading signs do we accept every day?
The sign of the cross on the church lawn, behind which there is no community whose main business and central focus is love. "Department of Justice" signs, behind which resources for criminal rehabilitation have been abandoned in favor of feeding the prison industrial complex for profit. "Board of Education" signs, behind which professional job security is often given a greater priority than quality education for students. "Office of Public Safety" signs, behind which criminal behavior is prosecuted but the economic and psychological causes of criminal behavior are never addressed. The sign that says "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," in a land where deep divides of race, gender, class and sexual orientation are historically and systemically entrenched.
It's really up to each of us to work to ensure that the signs and symbols that announce us truly reflect the deeds and content that define us. Signs are only significant if they don't mislead us.
Dear God, please give us the impetus and the energy today to make our substance more consistent with our signs. In Your Name, Amen.
Kenneth L. Samuel is Pastor of Victory for the World Church, Stone Mountain, Georgia.