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An open letter to Mark Osler

Mark Osler is a Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas, and with the income he earns he describes himself as relatively affluent. He contributed an article to the Huffington Post this week, entitled Jesus Loves Me, But I'm Not Sure He Likes Me So Much.

In this article, which cannot be taken seriously, Osler complains that in his state of affluence, such as it is, it is hard for him to consider himself a legitimate follower of Jesus. The article begins:

"Christianity is a hard faith for a relatively affluent law professor. While Jesus may love me, a plain reading of the gospels doesn't convince me that he likes me very much.

"He had hard words for the teachers of law in his own time, and it all might apply to me: 'You tithe mint, dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith... You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.'

"He is right, of course. We teachers are often stingy with what we have, and too often favor doctrine over deeper truths, which are much harder to teach. We teach the rules of professional responsibility, but not so much the principles of a just life, or the difficult value of mercy. I know that I make that mistake too often.

"Even away from work, I'm not looking like one of Christ's favorites. He is pretty clear about who is blessed, after all: those who mourn, the meek, the persecuted and reviled. I suffer none of that. Nor am I among the poor who Christ protects, the ones who will be rich in heaven. I'm a comfortable, straight, white guy from Edina, Minnesota. I am one of those Jesus would tell to sell all that he has and give it to the poor."

Osler, a college professor, does not bother to look up his quotes. The phrase from Jesus--a very famous one--says "strain AT a gnat" not "strain OUT." This is a serious error but I will be content with pointing it out in order to move on to my point.

Osler goes on to say:

"This lack of affirmation runs counter to the dominant ethos of the Christian faith in America, where Christ's message is construed to honor rather than condemn those in the pews. We go to church to be comforted, not confronted, and that may the central failing of our faith today. In some quarters, it seems like Christian virtue is defined by what we are not, rather than what we are. Some churches see themselves as virtuous because they are willing to condemn homosexuality. Others congratulate themselves for not being homophobes. But who is clothing the naked? Feeding the hungry? Visiting those in prison?"

So here begins my reply to Osler's "complaint." Professor, apparently you do not attend a church that makes it a practice to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, or else they do (which is more likely) and you don't know about it. Either way, you ought to find out; it might give you food for thought on changing churches or getting involved.

And why, professor, are you NOT engaged in something constructive yourself? A law professor would be welcome in a low-security prison, giving counsel or even teaching classes to inmates who have a sense or urgency about their sentences. Even a cursory glance at the prison statistics would give you some impetus to get involved.

If anyone in my audience has seen the documentary, "Witch Hunt" produced by Sean Penn, the central figures in it were people who spent years in prison but were not guilty of anything! They were railroaded into court after false charges of child abuse were made against them by overzealous school officials. Professor Osler's interest could have made quite a difference in the time they served.

More than a hundred people come to my church, the Episcopal Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Tucson, every single day. They are hoping to find some food for themselves or their families. St. Michael's has a food pantry, as does every Episcopal church in Tucson as well as a large number of other denominations. We are helping to clean up the mess in the House of Representatives.

But Osler has more:

"In truth, Christ condemned us all. It is impossible to honestly read the gospels and see an affirmation of any of us. The Christian message is one of aspiration, not affirmation -- it challenges us to be different and better and unusual. Real Christians are, by modern standards, freaks. They choose to be poor, or to sacrifice themselves for others, or they refuse to resist an evildoer. I don't meet that standard. Neither do most of my Christian friends."

Really? Hasn't Osler ever met a Jesuit priest, or heard of the Nuns on the Bus? Jesus condemns ALL OF US? I don't think so; he has set the standard high, but there are many, many people who try for their entire adult lives to live up to it. Osler probably doesn't know former President Jimmy Carter, but he ought to be familiar with his activities in housing and fair elections.

The climax of Osler's article is this:

"Many years ago, I made one lap around the country -- driving from east to west, and north to south and back again. Every Sunday, I made a point to go to church at least once, in whatever place I found myself. I visited big churches and small, black churches and white, orthodox and unconventional. Some places greeted me warmly, while others didn't notice me at all. I went to churches in storefronts and others in cathedrals. In every church, I heard the same message, though: 'God approves of what we are doing and who we are.' I began to listen for messages of affirmation, and always heard it.

"It doesn't seem that Jesus would deliver that same message -- he certainly didn't to the people of his own time. Perhaps our current debate should not only be about churches affirming gay men and lesbians, but also about the over-abundance of affirming everyone else."

What does Osler expect? Would he have been pleased to hear that God does NOT approve of us as we are? What hope is there for us, then?

Just as a parent is very proud of their toddler's first steps, God approves of our faltering efforts to be good Christians. But just so, a parent is never satisfied until he sees a free, graceful stride in their grown child. Anyone who would think that God did not approve of Mother Theresa is a person who is simply being oppositional.

I have noticed this everywhere. People who do not want to believe will not believe no matter what evidence is presented. Hey, I have President Barack Obama's long-form birth certificate on a coffee mug, but nothing makes any impression on the Republicans who have Obama Derangement Syndrome. I happen to have a copy of my high-school transcript, but a fire in the school office destroyed records years ago, and now the school itself has been torn down. Anyone who wants to deny that I legitimately graduated from high school could ignore my transcript and diploma and simply say that they are falsified.

So Professor Osler, just what is it that is keeping you from giving to the poor? You could take a tiny pittance of your affluent salary and give it to UNICEF or World Vision or Child Fund or any other reputable organization. Didn't Alyssa Milano make an impression you when she implored you to give to UNICEF because children are dying without our help? You could also take pity on innocent animals and give twenty dollars or so to the Humane Society or the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals every month without bankrupting yourself.

What--you don't think that giving money is good enough? Money talks, and it says "life" to children who will die today without the contributions that people all over the world are making to children's aid. And what is keeping you out of shelters or prisons to volunteer or work pro bono? I don't see it from down here in Tucson. Let's see, it would be about $35 to sponsor a child, followed by about twenty for an animal organization, then perhaps another twenty to support veterans or wounded warriors. That comes to $75.00 a month, more or less, to make the difference between life and death, between abuse and care, between need and support for human beings, children and animals. I'll bet you could afford it; I can.

This poor-little-rich-boy story does not belong on the Huffington Post. Professor Osler's shallow victim mindset is the result of not thinking through the things he is complaining about. If President Obama can make time to visit shelters, then a college professor can do it as well. Get away from your desk, professor, and at least write a few checks. Then take an afternoon out of your office and get involved with the world.

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