Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Who We Really Are

This post was written by a new friend, Ana Nelson Shaw. In it, she describes the role Prop 8 (and her own involvement in it) played in her own journey to becoming an ally to LGBT individuals, and strengthened her testimony to follow personal revelation and do what is right.

For Ana, as for many other straight Mormons, that means putting unconditional love--and her family--first.

Thank you, Ana.

Who We Really Are
How I learned about love and acceptance by failing to follow the Spirit and supporting Yes On 8

I’m the oldest of six children, born in Utah and brought up moving all over the country. Two of my three brothers are gay. Jake, almost four years younger than I, came out when he was fourteen via a very scary suicide attempt, born of his mistaken surety that his Mormon family would never accept him as a gay man. I am so grateful he survived. Tom, born when I was twelve, came out at seventeen, thankfully without such a terrifying risk to his life. I am grateful that the path Jake cut with so much difficulty made the going a bit easier for Tom. That’s grace, right there.

I am glad and grateful to be a sister to two brilliant, creative, resilient, strong gay guys who have helped me learn some vitally important things. This post explores the biggest lesson I’ve learned as their sister. Unfortunately, I learned it by really messing up when I was asked by LDS Church leaders to support the Yes on 8 campaign in California in 2008.

I thought for many years that my family was doing pretty well. My parents never disowned my brothers for being gay. We never cut off contact with each other. When Jake found his husband Dave, my family loved and welcomed him. Jake and Tom left the Church, and our third brother resigned, as well. This was a source of sadness to those of us who remained LDS, as we believed it had to be, but we who were in the Church didn’t see it affecting our relationships.

There were, however, tensions to which I was mostly oblivious - except when I really thought about them. I felt afraid for a long time that I would have to choose between the LDS Church and my brothers. Especially when I moved from Utah to California in 2003, I started to feel pretty sure that at some point there would be an anti-gay-marriage policy decision point, a re-visiting of what had happened in California in 2000 with Proposition 22. Our grandma, who lived in a Southern California retirement community, had done what her leaders asked her to do to promote the proposition. I knew how deeply hurt my brothers had been by her decision to participate. I also believed that if my church leaders ever asked me to do the same thing, I would have to do it. I dreaded that day.

In spring 2008, our dad let us all know about the faith transition he had been experiencing for several
years. It came as a giant surprise to me and required me to reevaluate everything I thought I knew about my family’s identity. It was tough. Because Dad would not be renewing his temple recommend after it expired that fall, my youngest sister decided to marry her boyfriend that summer so that Dad could be in the temple for her wedding. She was only eighteen, and her boyfriend (now husband) was several years older, and those in our family who had left the Church had serious concerns about her choice.

Based on this upheaval and on interactions on family communication vehicles like a Facebook group, battle lines seemed to be drawn: Those who were in the Church versus those who were out. Those who were in mourned the exits of those who were out. Those who were out wanted everybody out with them. Jake told me once that the Church was like a family member that had abused him his entire childhood. He felt incredibly betrayed that I would still welcome the originator of that abuse into my life. We saw things so differently. I learned that with my family, I could not even mention the events and connections that came with my church life - such a major feature of our growing up together - without getting a close-up view of the anger and pain felt by those who had left - sometimes directed right at me. Everybody’s feelings were raw. Every time we interacted with each other, we all hurt.

Then came the letter on a June Sunday. Everybody who was in the Church in California in 2008 remembers it. The First Presidency asked us to do all we could to further the “Yes On 8” cause. I struggled to hold myself together emotionally until I got home, and then I collapsed on my bed, crying and praying for some kind of guidance, some kind of help managing the conflicting demands of my family, my conscience, and my church. I don’t experience answers to my prayers all the time, but I had experienced them before that most miserable sabbath, and I experienced one then, lying on a tear-dampened pillow. “Your place is to teach love,” the Spirit said to me. I caught my breath and dried my eyes. That, I could do, I thought. That would be doing all that I could, which was exactly what the letter asked.

But getting an answer through the Spirit was not the end of the conflict for me. In our ward in the Central Valley, a relatively conservative community, we were expected to counterbalance the liberal influence of the coastal cities. There was only the most nominal effort to keep Yes On 8 activities separate from church meetings. Bumper stickers were handed out at the home of members who lived across the street from the chapel, but sign-up sheets for phone banking and other activities made the rounds in Sunday School and third-hour meetings. Leaders presented supposed reasons to support the measure  in formal lessons. One prominent (and financially well-off) leader suggested that members contribute the cost of their last vacation.

Church was squirmy-uncomfortable all summer long. But we loved our ward. The members had become a family to us through some pretty tough times. So we weren’t among the California Mormons who took a break from church during the Prop 8 campaign. We didn’t even consider it. But I don’t think I realized how much the pressure at church was affecting me and my previous prompting and resolve to simply teach love.

My husband was as uncomfortable as I was with the whole Prop 8 campaign as I was, but at the time he believed he was simply obligated to obey Church leaders. He felt greater pressure than I did to give time and money - I at least had the refuge of serving in Young Women, where we didn’t really discuss the campaign. One day - I think it was in August - he came into the kitchen with a $100 check to Yes on 8.

“I’m going to turn this in unless you tell me not to,” he said, offering me an out that I didn’t even see. I remember only that I felt weary. Weary of the pressure at church, weary of the impossibility of harmony within my family. Weary from the other stresses in my life.

I believe what I said was, “Fine.”

My husband reminded me that the donation would become public information. And what I said was, “Let them see who we really are.”

So the donation went in. I gave my approval to a $100 check taking a stand against one brother’s family and another brother’s future family. I did it not out of conviction but out of exhaustion, and in a sort of flip-them-off, angry gesture. My husband was asking for a sign from me at that point to bolster his convictions, and I failed him, too. By rubber-stamping that donation I actually betrayed who I really was and what the Spirit of God had told me I needed to do. Maybe worst of all, I thought very little of it.

As everybody knows, Prop 8 passed. My brothers found our names on an online donor roll, and Jake cut off contact with my little family. (To be very clear, I don’t believe he was wrong to do so. People need to be safe from hurt, and I was not a safe person during and after Prop 8.) Tom expressed his hurt in a gentle but uncompromising way. I put my parents in the horrible position of not being able to have their children all together. I felt heartsick that my little brothers whom I loved, were not speaking to me - that my kids would lose touch with their uncles. I never dreamed that any members of my family would be estranged from each other. I hated it.

But I was very much in a fog. I didn’t see clearly why my decisions were wrong, and so I didn’t see any way to make things better. I think it’s possible that because I took myself out of harmony with what the Spirit tried to teach me, I lost touch for a while, at least on this topic. Talk about a stupor of thought!

More than a year later, after my husband and kids and I moved to another state, I began to pray about how to heal the rift between me and my brothers. Only then I remembered the prompting I’d had the Sunday the Prop 8 letter was read in sacrament meeting. I suddenly saw so clearly  that I had failed to follow the Spirit - I had let my exhaustion and anger and fear overcome what I knew was right, and I had stepped outside the role the Holy Spirit told me was mine. I had failed to teach about love.

I took a few months to think about this new way of looking at the events of 2008. I had picked up “Women, Food, and God,” by Geneen Roth, and the insight that hit me hardest from her writing was something like this: Wishing life were different is an affront to the life God has given you. It’s ingratitude. It’s miserable and unhealthy. From this root grew a new conviction that I can no longer say to my brothers, “I love you,” and then continue in my mind, “but I wish you weren’t gay,” or “I wish you were an active member of the Mormon church.” That wish invalidates the love. It insults all the wonderful things they are.

I’d thought I accepted my brothers before, because I didn’t openly reject them. Accepting is much more than that. Accepting is embracing without reservation or condition. Accepting is gratitude for life and people as God made them. Accepting is trusting our fellow humans to see clearly their own best paths in life and supporting who they are and what they do, not just in word but with our whole hearts. I came to see that if I could not offer that complete acceptance to my family, I was offering almost nothing. But if I could - if I could, I would be offering love like Christ’s love, love that heals and offers hope for joy and togetherness in this life and worlds to come. That would be opening up the whole reason for trying to be a Christian person.

With these new insights about love and acceptance, and with my new understanding about my mistakes during Prop 8, I have begun - only begun - to rebuild relationships with my brothers. My husband has also reached out to apologize and express his deep regret about everything we did related to Prop 8. This is not a fast-moving process. Both of us consider our participation there among the biggest mistakes of our lives. I understand that humans learn from their mistakes, and the best way I can move forward from that mistake is to learn and do better. I can’t undo the hurt I  caused in California, and I can’t undo the abuse that Jake and Tom survived growing up in the Church. But I can try to fulfill the words I heard in my heart in 2008 - the calling to teach my brothers and sisters in the Church about love. Now, with Church leaders in Hawaii encouraging members to stand against marriage equality as the legislature there considers a new and inclusive marriage law, I believe it’s time for me to share. That’s why I’ve written this post.

To those in Hawaii feeling the doubts and struggles I felt in 2008, I hope with all my heart that your experience is different from mine. I want to remind you that you do not have to keep your heads down. You do not have to simply hear and obey. It is your divinely-given right and responsibility to pray about what your Heavenly Parents want you to do and to receive answers in personal revelation. Record the answers you receive so that you won’t forget them or let your best intentions be overwhelmed by negativity (as I did). Make a plan that will keep you in touch with your deepest convictions. Be aware of the pressures that might cause you to deviate from what you know is right, and avoid them if you can.

And please remember that “I love you, but,” is not the same as “I love you.”

Just love.

If we Mormons can grasp that, the walls will start to crumble. If we can just love without qualifications and without judgment, that’s when people outside the Church will see the reasons we want to stay members of the Church.

That’s letting them see who we really are.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

BYU Students Deliver LGBT Peers a Message of Hope--and Love

Last week members of BYU’s USGA (Understanding Same Gender Attraction) organization produced a video featuring LGBT BYU students talking openly about the struggle they face as gay Mormons. What’s profound here is the honesty with which these students talk about issues that we as Mormons don’t normally approach: depression and suicidal thoughts.

One vital way to keep LGBT Mormon youth from reaching this critical point is to help parents and extended communities recognize how their behavior affects LGBT youth. The Family Acceptance Project has produced the first LDS-based materials to help families and communities understand what helps gay kids, and what increases their risk for depression and suicide. These materials—which you can download free online—are the first faith-based suicide prevention resources to be named as a Best Practice by The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They artfully blend rigorous scientific research with the best parts of Mormon faith—the part that teaches us to love unconditionally, like our Savior loves.

It’s no secret that the LGBT youth suicide rate in Utah is well above the norm, and while talking openly about the isolation and other factors that contribute to those numbers is becoming a bit more common, what I like is the students have done a remarkable job of overshadowing the bleak times with a powerful message of hope. To hear this message from our peers is a big step, and an encouraging one.

I spoke with Adam White of USGA at BYU this weekend, and we talked in depth about the video. With his permission, I’m reposting part of that conversation.

Mitch: I think your video is a good one—and I admire the honesty of those who spoke. One of the most striking moments is one student’s candor about a disturbing lesson we’re all taught as gay Mormons: that being gay is a mortal experience and upon leaving this life, each of us is released from the bondage of being gay and is made straight. Like the student in the clip, many gay Mormons (including me) don’t find this to be comforting. In fact, I’ve heard from many who look at as the opposite: it’s almost an incentive to want to take their own lives.

Adam: I had never thought about that teaching in that way before, and I remember the first time I heard it, it perplexed me. It still does. I don’t know of any Mormon precedent or scriptural basis about our orientation disappearing in the afterlife—for gay people or straight. What’s troubling to me is we’re sending our youth that message often in the very moments they’re most vulnerable. I think it warps the way we see ourselves as gay Mormons to believe we’ll be someone else when we leave here. At its worst, it could very well leave depressed and suicidal gay Mormons with the message that is best to die.

Mitch: But the video also stresses something I’ve said for a long time: the importance of our own individual relationship with our Savior. I know from experience that our Savior is our constant companion—he know us personally and walks right beside us in this life, if we let Him. Your video sends a great message to gay Mormons to remind them of that fact. And I’d take it a step further and remind them that despite messages about our worth here or eternally, or any other message that damages our understanding of ourselves in the eyes of our Savior, that relationship belongs solely to us. It is as deep and meaningful as we choose to make it. We have not only the personal power to build that relationship, but the right to do so—whether or not we’re active inside the Mormon faith.

Adam: I agree! At the center of our Gospel is Christ—and our personal relationship with Him. This is one of the most powerful messages for me personally—if we think about the atonement and that Christ knows what it’s like to be LGBT—the stigma, the isolation, the rejection. This message alone brings hope to many who feel like no one understands what they’re going through. But our Savior does—he’s lived it personally. Knowing that our older brother has walked this before us, so he can not only empathize but help, I think there is so much hope here. When we remember what our Savior has experienced, we find healing, we find compassion—sometimes when it feels impossible to find that from any human. The hope of our Savior was at the center of our minds as we made this video.

Mitch: One of the questions I always get is people wondering how I reconcile standing for the LGBT community and still being Mormon. What do you say when you hear that question?

Adam: Well, I know from personal experience it’s difficult to be in that space between two communities that have been at odds for very powerful reasons on both sides. And at the same time, I recognize and respect my identity, and I also love my faith. I believe in the potential we have as Mormons to do good in this world, to be compassionate, and to be examples of our Savior. Being a gay Mormon and seeing the other side of our faith—those who have been cast out for simply being who they are—that’s hard to watch. To see Mormonism, which has been so good to me, actually do harm to people that I know and love has deeply affected me. Because I recognize our potential as a religion to do better, I don’t think I’ll ever walk away. But I also fully recognize the gifts our Father has given to us as LGBT people, and I firmly believe once we embrace our gay brothers and sisters their strength will add to our own, and as a whole we’ll be much closer to Zion.

Mitch: One of the things I grapple with is gay Mormon youth who live outside the country. It seems in the past few months alone I’ve gotten dozens of emails and messages from gay Mormons in their teens or early twenties, and they feel especially isolated. It hurts my heart to hear their stories—and quite frankly, I fear for some of them. When they’re in the states, it’s easier for me to help find others near them, but when they’re in the Philippines, China, or South and Central America our options are so much more limited in terms of the kind of support we can offer them. What would you say to them?

Adam: Wow…the first thing I would do is to let them know I recognize how difficult it is to be in that situation. My heart goes out to them—and I fully understand how hopeless it might seem. I’ve been blessed personally; even at BYU I have a community of support. But I would remind my gay Mormon brothers and sisters outside the country that our Savior loves them, exactly as they are—despite what others might say. And I would say to them that these videos were made for them. Your brothers and sisters here in America and at BYU—we know you’re out there. We love you. We want you to stay with us—we need you. So does your Savior.

Mitch: I’ve gone on record to say that historically we haven’t done a very good job in the way we treat and understand the LGBT community as Mormons. The same is true of LGBT people within our own ranks. I think we fall far short of where our Savior wants us to be. That’s one of the things I’ve worked to change over the past few years—kind of holding up a mirror to my Mormon fellows, and allowed them to see the reality of some of their behavior. Some of them haven’t really liked what they’ve seen. What would be your ultimate dream when it comes to LGBT people inside the Church?

Adam: I’m still kind of forming that dream, I think. But a good place to start would be complete open-door inclusivity for gay Mormons—the kind of inclusivity that Christ stood for and taught. I think it would be great to one day have gay couples at church with their own families, in our meetings and our activities, and have no one even think twice about it. I think we need to recognize that the way LGBT people struggle within their faith comes from a place of love. Meaning, they aren’t just upstarts who are trying to be inconvenient. These are children of our Father who deeply love this religion and want to stay precisely because of their profound love of our Savior, and of the gospel.

Mitch: I couldn’t agree more. And I think that’s why gay Mormons belong most of all.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

God's Strategy


Special guest post by my good friend and one of our Stake High Councimen, Matt Mosman. I've posted some of his writing here before, and like earlier talks, this one doesn't disappoint. 

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! 


Good morning, brothers and sisters.  Always a pleasure to see so many of my friends here in the El Camino Ward. 

A few months ago one of our other high councilmen, Rob Hansen, cornered me after a meeting and said, “I’ve got your talks figured out.”  He proceeded to tell me that his observation is that I always take the assigned topic and draw the slimmest analogy to whatever it is I wanted to talk about, but in the end I always talk about whatever I feel like.

Rob is exactly right.  I’ve been doing that for years, I’m afraid, and he caught me.  So today I’m going to do this differently: I’m going to dispense with the analogy, I’m going to beg forgiveness of the stake presidency, and I’m going to talk about what I want to talk about.  I have something that’s been on my mind.

A couple of months ago I was in a ward in another state and overheard a conversation going on in the hallway of the church.  Some men and women were discussing what they thought should be done about a gay man who had started coming back to church.

The conversation was all about rules: what he could do, what he couldn’t.  It then turned for a while into the members’ own interactions with him: what if one of them was assigned to home teach him?  What if he invited them over to dinner?  What if he has a partner?  What then?

This particular issue is one I’ve been thinking about for years.  When I was called to the high council, I was called to serve in the Bay Ward up in the city.  That ward’s rolls are full to the brim with mostly inactive gay men and women, and it was my specific job to work on how we could minister to them.

If we want to talk about that hallway conversation, we could definitely take this talk in the direction of “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”  For sure we could talk about that, and we all know that every one of us had better drop the rocks in our hands if we’re going to talk about that.  But that’s not where I’m going.  I want to take this in a different direction, just a little bit.  I want to talk about rules.  I want to talk about the Good Samaritan.

I think that those people in that church hallway were asking the same question that the lawyer asked Jesus in Luke Chapter 10: “Who is my neighbor?” 

Happily, this means that Jesus gave them a fairly direct answer.  Here is what is says:

And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

The priest and Levite both know better.  They work in the temple; they would know that Leviticus 19:34 says that if you see a stranger in need, you do whatever it takes to meet his need.  Exodus chapter 23:4-5 says if you find even your enemy's donkey astray, you make sure you rescue the man's donkey, let alone the man.  The priest would have taught this; the Levite surely would have known it.  They would surely have known the sayings of the prophet Micah, who said on behalf of God, "He has told you, O man, what is good.  What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?"  Both the priest and the Levite would have known all of that.
But they also knew some rules.  The stranger might have been dead, and it is forbidden for someone who serves in the temple to touch a dead body.  If either of them did, he would have to undergo a lengthy purification ritual.  The man sure looked dead -- Jesus said that the thieves had left him half-dead, and it could have been hours since then.  The priest and Levite knew the rules, and they kept the rules.  And in this instance, the rules meant more to them than compassion did.  They did not see the injured man as their neighbor; they saw him as a problem.
And now the story has its twist.  In verse 33:
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was:
If we know anything of Jewish/Samaritan relations, this is likely to be the worst possible thing to
happen to the injured man.  We assume the injured man is a Jew because this is Israel and a certain man in Israel would be a Jew -- so there lies this Jewish man.  And now into the story comes a Samaritan.  The assumption is that the Samaritan is not going to be any help at all, because the Samaritans and the Jews held each other in the most bitter contempt. 
Samaritans were of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, and some claimed to be Levites.  After the Northern Kingdom was taken captive in the Babylonian Exile, Samaritans remained in the land, which was then taken over by Gentiles.  These Ephraimites and Manassehites who remained in the land intermarried with the Gentiles, for which they were despised and hated by their cousins because they had “sold their birthright” and (in the eyes of the Jews) polluted the pure strain of God's chosen people.  
How much were they despised?  When Israel, led by Nehemiah, came back from Babylonian captivity, they wanted to rebuild the wall.  The Samaritans showed up.  In Ezra Chapter 4, the Samaritans who showed up were referred to as “the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin,” but they still offered to help.  They went to Zerubbabel, and said, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God, as you do.”  They want to reconnect with their Jewish roots, and rejoin the family.
But Zerubbabel and Jeshua said, “Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves will build.”  The bitterness was that deep.  So the Samaritans then turned to be their enemies, all the time the Jews are trying to build the wall, Samaritans try to prevent them from doing it, led by a man named Sanballat. 
Eventually the Samaritans built their own temple, on Mount Gerizim.  And in 128 B.C., a hundred and twenty-eight years before Jesus' birth, Jews from Jerusalem went and destroyed the Mount Gerizim temple and killed some of the Samaritans.
The animosity was profound.  Whenever a Jew traveled from north to south, or south to north, by far the easiest way would be to go through Samaria.  They never did -- they went around Samaria.  Nobody went through Samaria.  They wouldn't put the dirt of Samaria on their shoes, the hatred ran so deep.
And it cut both ways: a Samaritan was no more eager to interact with a Jew than a Jew was with a Samaritan.  This is important: the Samaritan has his own rules.  He’s not supposed to do what we all know he’s about to do.
and when he saw him, he had compassion on him...
This is where the Samaritan takes center stage in the story.  And here comes the main point: he puts aside all the rules and regulations and thinks of the big picture.  Samaritans are religious: the Samaritan religion claims to be the true Judaism.  So he must experience some of the same issues that the priest and Levite did:  He’s asking himself what the rules are, but he takes it just a little farther and asks himself, “Ultimately, what is the point of my religion?  What is the goal?  What is God trying to make of me?”
In my work we would say that he’s focused on the strategy and not the tactics.  Strategy is what executives think about: what are we trying to do as a business?  Who are we?  Tactics are the day-to-day activities that ideally are supposed to support the strategy.  But sometimes they don’t, and we have to watch that.  That’s really been my job as an executive in various businesses: to make sure that I’m keeping an eye on the big picture, and to ensure that the things that people are doing every day are keeping us on that path.
I hope you understand what I mean here.  I’m not saying that you don’t want to keep the rules, that you don’t want to follow the commandments.  That’s absolutely not what I’m trying to say.
But I also think that if you think of the scriptures as a rulebook, you are missing the entire point of religion.  God is trying to make something of you and me, and it’s worth asking ourselves, all the time, what He is trying to do.  It has something to do with kindness.  It has a lot to do with losing the temptation to judge others.  It is almost certainly about you and me learning to express love without putting conditions on that love.
Notice how the Samaritan loves.  His lack of conditions on that love is breathtaking, and the more you think about it, the more breath it takes away. 
First of all, he saw him, and he felt compassion.  This is where it all begins, something in his heart just goes out to the man, the way our hearts should ache for those who suffer around us -- a sadness, a grief, a sympathy, a driving need to rescue and recover the man. 
And so verse 34 says, "He came to him."  He doesn’t call up to him, ask him how he’s doing.  He goes to where the man is.  He evaluates him and gives careful attention to what's going to be required for his rescue and recovery.  He discovers that the man is alive, but has some wounds -- in Greek word is trauma. 
And so it says that after he came to him he bandaged up his wounds, and there is a lot of information there.  The scripture says that the man is naked, so whatever the Samaritan used for bandages came out of his own bag.  He used his own clothing.  You can picture that he starts tearing up his own clothes -- if not the ones he was wearing, then perhaps extras that he carried in his travel bag -- and he starts bandaging the man up. 
The scripture tells us that in the process of binding the wounds the Samaritan also pours in oil and wine.  Wine was used because of its fermentation as an antiseptic, and the oil would soothe and soften the damaged tissue.  The Samaritan wasn’t wandering around with a medicine bag.  He carried wine with him to drink on a long journey, and oil to cook with.  The Samaritan is divesting himself of his own clothing, and he's divesting himself of his own provisions. 
After doing his best to handle the man’s wounds, the Samaritan drapes the injured man over the back of his donkey and takes him to an inn, walking beside his living transportation, holding the man on to make sure he doesn't come off. 
After a time -- we don’t know how long, but it couldn’t have been around the block --, the Samaritan gets him to an inn.  This wasn’t Jerusalem; this was somewhere on a dangerous road between Jerusalem and Jericho.  An inn in a place like that would have been a meager place at best.  I wouldn’t suspect that the innkeeper was an honest man, though I guess he might have been.  Most weren’t.  But there was no choice here; the Samaritan needed to find a place to offer this man some rest and care, so he no doubt took whatever he could get.
And then the scripture says wonderfully, "And took care of him."  Having negotiated the place to stay, the Samaritan took the man in, put him down to rest, continued to work with him with his bandages, continued working with his wounds, provided food, sleep, comfort, water, cleansing.  And he did it all night.
How do we know that?  Well, because it says so in verse 35, "And on the next day..."  He stayed with him all night.  He set his whole agenda aside.  He gave up his own clothes, his own supplies, his own time.  This is amazing for a stranger who was his worst enemy.  And he stayed all night by his bed, making sure he was cared for.
And that wasn't all: in verse 35 it says, "On the next day he took out two pence and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him.'" Wanting to go on his journey the Samaritan now puts him in the care of an innkeeper, and gives the innkeeper two pence.  I spent a long time wondering, how much is two pence in those days?  So I looked it up and did a little math.  Sources from that day suggest that the cost of a night at a low-end inn in those days would have been about 1/32 of a pence.  So he gave him enough for something like two months worth of room and board.  Even if I’m wrong about it being meager and it’s a better place, the Samaritan left the innkeeper with somewhere between a month and two months worth of room and board for the injured man.
The story goes even further when the Samaritan says to the innkeeper in verse 35, "Take care of him and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you."  Now he has exposed himself to serious extortion.  Unbelievably, he's left an open account. 
The whole story is remarkable -- even more than we thought at first, isn’t it?  He stops.  He tears up his own clothes to use for bandages.  He uses his own provisions to speed healing, and then he pays for two months’ stay and leaves a blank check with the inn. 
There are two points to this story, I think:  First, that here is an example of boundary-less concern.  There was no end to what he would do, and there was not a moment’s concern for who this poor stranger was.  Didn’t matter that he was a Jew.  He could have been rich, poor, a good guy, or a bad one.  None of it mattered.  There was no holding back of his desire to bless.  It depended on nothing.
Second, and here is the point I’m trying to make: He let the principles, the big-picture things, rule over the little rules and regulations about how he was supposed to interact with Jews. 
So now go back with me to that hallway conversation: what is the answer to those who wonder whether they should accept the dinner invitation?  I’ve tried to figure out what their point is: are they trying to express their disapproval?  Is the condemnation of our brothers and sisters a gospel principle?  Is that what Jesus was trying to teach us?  Is that part of God’s strategy for you and me: that we become really good at expressing our disapproval of others?
It’s worth noting a couple of things about Jesus: first, that the primary thing that people in his day criticized him for, is that he hung out with the wrong crowd.  A prophet, they said, would find a better class of people for friends.  But Jesus was never very concerned about how things looked to others: he saw goodness in fishermen and tax collectors.
Second, it’s worth noting that Jesus really reserved His criticism for people like the Pharisees and Saducees who all shared the same trait: they became so wrapped up in following all the rules that they forgot to pay attention to whether or not they were becoming good people.
Brothers and Sisters: I know that this is the kind of talk that can be taken all wrong.  But you’re smart folks, and you’ll figure out how to take it correctly.  God has a strategy, a big picture, for you and for me -- and we should keep that always in the forefront of our minds.
So, do you take that dinner invitation?  Do you home teach without judgment and with real love?  Of course you do.  God’s strategy, His big picture for you and for me, asks us to open our arms wide to welcome, and our hearts all the way without reservation.
I leave these thoughts with you in the name of Jesus.  Amen.