Sunday, July 26, 2020

How to Get Even the Right Way

Have you ever wanted to get even with someone? I mean, have you ever felt you were so wronged or betrayed that you actually imagined ways to turn the tables, to exact retribution, to shame the other and emerge victorious and triumphant?
I've been there. But I learned something through the years. It does not have to be that way and when I chose to set that kind of thinking and acting behind me I found a sense of peace and freedom that I will never surrender merely for a moment's satisfaction or self-justification. It's not worth it.

Proverbs 25.21-22 says:
21 If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;
    and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink;
22 for you will heap coals of fire on their heads,
    and the Lord will reward you.
It will be helpful, I think, to understand what the context was of the teaching and especially why Paul quoted it. If Paul was arguing for this moral conduct, then he was necessarily arguing against another. What was it?
Paul was writing to the single church in Rome, whose members were both Jewish expatriates and Roman former pagans. The morals Paul was teaching were Jewish morals, and so were the moral teachings of the other apostles – and in fact of Jesus himself. In fact, every one of Jesus' moral and ethical teachings are found in the Old Testament. Paul's instructions to church in Rome would have been familiar to its Jewish members, but not so much to the Roman members because the contrast between Roman ethics and Jewish ethics was stark.
Ancient Romans held that mercy, compassion and unmerited kindnesses to others were vices, not virtues. Roman parents beat their children for showing compassion or mercy to others, even their friends. To win, to prevail, to improve one’s standing even by trampling on others was admired and encouraged in the Roman world. When a Roman was wronged by another it was mandatory that he get even. Better yet, that he retaliated more harshly than he had been wronged.
The ancients’ social system was that of honor and shame. It is the oldest system of human behavior there is. An honor-shame system means that nothing is more important that where one believes he or she stands in society. One’s place on the totem pole is paramount because that social standing affects absolutely everything else. Honor-shame systems have been deeply embedded across the Middle East for thousands of years and still rule there, except in Israel.
An Iraqi explained what it meant this way:
Our sense of honor pervades everything we do. This isn’t the Western definition of honor, it’s more like Hispanic honor of machismo. Perception of manhood is vital and in fact it can be a matter of life and death. A man without honor gets no wife, often no work, and in Iraq he may be shunned or even killed by the own family depending on how grave the offense is. Defending honor is part of our cultural heritage. It is the focal point of everything we do and is jealously guarded. Honor means influence and power, our foremost concern. Less power means fewer contracts, less money, less food, angrier families. We must regain lost honor any way we can, even if it means violently attacking the ones who dishonored us.
This is the way that almost every society in the world was organized for thousands of years. Whether Japanese, Chinese, African, Norse, Southern European or Native American, honor – one’s standing in the order of human relationships – was of supreme importance.
Jesus preached consistently against honor codes and the sinful habits of pride they cause. Luke 14 tells of a day Jesus went to the house of a Pharisee leader to eat a meal on the Sabbath. He saw all the other guests jockeying to sit near the host, the place of honor. He told them that they were risking dishonor because someone more important might come in and kick them out.
“But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Across all human societies, people protect their status one way or another. Social climbing, power grabbing and the jealous guarding of one’s privileges or position are often paramount.
Jesus said no to all that: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” The one-upmanship games and mutual backscratching or back-stabbing ways of the world have no place in relationships founded upon Jesus’ teachings. After all, he ate with sinners and tax collectors, spoke in public to prostitutes and other low-lifes, and died strung up between two thieves.
Jesus emphasized rejecting worldly standards by his conclusion of the teaching:
He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, so that they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Alan Culpepper wrote, 
Those who live by kingdom standards and values now will not only bear witness to the kingdom but also will be rewarded in ‘the resurrection of the righteous.’ Righteousness, not social position or the esteem of others should be our goal.

God is not interested in where we put our place tag on the tables of life. “Instead, God looks to see that we have practiced the generosity and inclusiveness of the kingdom in our daily social relationships.” The old order offers merely the temporary reward of social position. The new order brings the eternal reward of God’s favor.
So what does it mean to pour heaping coals upon the head of one’s enemy? For a long time I thought Paul meant that when I return kindness for another’s hostility, the other person couldn’t stand being treated kindly instead of meanly and would burn with resentment. But Paul can’t mean that because in Romans 12.9 he says, “Love must be sincere.” We cannot sincerely, lovingly gloat over causing others to seethe with indignation at us -- even if they are jerks!
Let’s take a look at Psalm 140[1], which begins,
Deliver me, O Lord, from evildoers;
    protect me from those who are violent,
2 who plan evil things in their minds
    and stir up wars continually.
Then in verses 9-10 we read this:
Those who surround me lift up their heads;
    let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them!
10 Let burning coals fall on them!
    Let them be flung into pits, no more to rise!
Pretty rough stuff! The psalmist is using the image of burning coals falling upon his enemies to symbolize the judgment of God upon the wicked.
Now, here is Paul in Romans 12.
Dear ones, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The coals symbolize the judgment of God in both Proverbs and Romans. I think Paul is telling us that the commandments of God to treat one another with kindness do not depend on how others treat us. Everyone is liable to a judgment of God, so we must control our own passions first lest burning coals fall on us as well.
The teaching is a Jewish one, so I asked my friend, Israeli Rabbi Daniel Jackson, for an interpretation. He sent back that we are not dealing merely with human enemies here. We are also set upon by temptation to sin. Daniel wrote, “The intention of Proverbs 25 is to direct our attention to ourselves to control our passions, to ensure that in all our ways, we are reminded that we are to be Holy in all our actions and relations.” He wrote:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him bread, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” Honor him; treat him with Holiness. … We are dealing with the Evil Inclination and its cravings. If your evil inclination is hungry and wants you to sate it with “sins”, then feed it the Bread of Torah [The Word of God, the Scriptures-DS]; if it is thirsty, sate it from the Eternal Spring of the Divine.
Then, you are putting coals on its head, which is to say, you have begun the refining process of separating out the dross from the silver.
"Submit yourselves to God," wrote the apostle James. "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4.7). The most persistent and cleverest enemy we have is the temptations to abandon righteousness as a way of life and holiness as our goal. The way to resist and overcome is to choose godliness over ungodliness and feed the Bread of Life to our inclinations to evil and wrong-doing.
When our enemies are hungry and we feed them, when they are thirsty and we give them something to drink, we have done our duty to God and one another. The others might continue in ungodly hostility, but we have done all that we can do. Retribution, if any, is up to God, not us. Our calling to live as, and lead others to become, disciples of Jesus Christ, does not change.

A friend of mine once told me that he dreamed of standing before Jesus after Christ had come again in glory. He said he was prepared to recite the creeds, offer personal confessions of faith, confess his sins, and prostrate himself before the Lord.
But it did not go like that. Instead, Jesus sat down next to him and said, “People live their lives as if they think I will ask them these questions on judgment day:
“Did you get everything in life that you thought you thought you were entitled to?
“Did you get even with the people who did you wrong?
“Were you worried about what other people thought of you?
“Did you hold on to grudges and imagine ways to hit back?
“Did you treat other people based on what they could do for you later?
“Tell, me, is that how you lived your life?”
My friend said that in his dream he had no reply but was filled with remorse. Then Jesus said, “Here is what I really want to know:
“Did my light shine through you in the way you lived?
“Did you forgive the people who did you wrong, even seventy times seven times?
“Were you worried about what I thought of you more than what other people thought of you?
“Did you pray for your enemies and do good to those who did you wrong?
“Did you treat other people on the basis that my love for them was as great as my love for you?
“Tell me, is that how you lived your life?”
I think that’s a pretty tough final exam, but one we need to make sure we pass.
21 If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink; 22 for you will heap coals of fire on their heads, and the Lord will reward you.
Which is to say, offer them the bread of life and the living water of God. Offer them Christ. It really is so simple as that.


Friday, July 24, 2020

Monday, July 20, 2020

The Robber, the Priest, and the good Samaritan

Luke 10:25-37 (a modern  version)

A lawyer stood up to put Jesus on the spot. “Teacher,” he asked, “what do I have to do to have eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

He answered: ““You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“You are absolutely right,” Jesus replied. “Do that and you will live.”

But the lawyer wanted to impress others, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was walking down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was mugged by robbers. They stripped him naked, beat him up and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed him by on the other side of the road. A Temple administrator who came to the place and saw him, also passed him by on the other side.

“But a Samaritan, of all people, was traveling and as he came where the man was; and when he saw him, he felt sorry for him. He went to him and gave him first aid, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.

“The next day he gave the innkeeper two days” rent. “Look after him,” he said. “When I come back, I’ll make up the difference for any extra costs you may have.”

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who got mugged by the robbers?”

The lawyer replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do that sort of thing yourself.”


The Robber

They never learn, do they? So many travelers get robbed and mugged along this road that everyone should know not to travel it alone. It’s a perfect road for us robbers. It twists and turns; it’s narrow and steep in many places. People can’t get away easily. There are a lot of places for me to hide, waiting for the next nitwit to come along.

Here comes one now. If he’s dumb enough to travel alone, he deserves what I’m gonna give him. Look at him! Upstanding fellow, isn’t he? Well, dressed, well groomed. A real pillar of the community, I’ll bet – yeah, respected member of synagogue, pays his taxes, reads the Scriptures on holy days, kids are just perfect – I’ve seen men like him before. Pretty wife, no doubt – too bad she’s not with him today!

He’s loaded, that’s for sure.

This is the sort of man who made me the way I am, you know. So what I’m going to do to him is fair. Oh, no one sat me down one day and said, look, young man, what you need to do is be a cutthroat. That decision was mine, I admit that. When I was seven my father was killed in an accident, and people like this guy – he’s looking around cautiously now, but it’s too late – people like this guy didn’t give my family any help. We were poor, and we were told in ways subtle and blunt that everything that happened to us was our own fault.

One of the well-to-do men of our town told us that God had simply structured society in a certain way. Those who were righteous and moral were blessed by God with money, property, and standing in the community. Of course, you could tell someone was righteous by the heft of his wallet or the size of his house. Question: Why is this man prosperous? Because he is righteous and moral. Second question: How do you know he is righteous and moral? Because he is prosperous.

Yeah, right.

So I learned that we were poor because we were sinners. You could tell we were sinners because we were poor. After a while, I believed it. Others sure did; they made certain assumptions about us. Strange men would come into town as they traveled and hit the tavern. They’d ask where a guy could find a little “companionship” around here. And the innkeeper would name a woman or three, including my mom. But my mother never rented herself to men. Never! She made her living doing menial labor – hauling water, cutting wood, feeding livestock. Never did she prostitute herself! There were a few prostitutes in the town, sad women with no future. My mother sometimes took pity on them because she lived a hard life, too. They were the only other persons we shared our meager food with. When the self-proclaimed righteous men of the town saw my mom they would cross the street to avoid passing near her..

The first man I mugged was one of the strangers who propositioned my mother. After my mom sent him packing, I followed. I was fifteen and furious. I’d had all I was going to take. The man went down an alley and I followed with hate in my heart. Before he knew what had happened, I clobbered him over the head with a thick stake. He collapsed. I hit him hard across the face and kicked him in the gut. I took his wallet. Then I knelt and put my knee on his throat. I told him, “If you ever bother my mother again, I’ll kill you!”

The money came in handy. I didn’t tell my mother where I got it and she didn’t ask. Afterward, one mugging followed another, until here I am on the Jerusalem road, with my mother long dead. Why do I keep doing what I’m doing? Because I don’t know how to do anything else. And because I’ll never forgive men like this guy coming down the road for what they put my mother through. I’m no longer mad, but I will continue to get even. All those righteous people think I was born a sinner, so a sinner is what they’ll get – and they’ll get it good and hard.

They say there is a fellow going around now who has a new teaching. Jesus is his name. I hear Jesus says to do good to those who do evil to you. (Ha!) They say he heals the sick and shares bread with outcasts and sinners, even prostitutes and tax collectors. (I never mug tax collectors – you know, professional courtesy.) Whoever this Jesus guy is, he’s sure not a righteous man because he rubs elbows with the wrong crowd. Maybe he’s someone like me, from the wrong side of the tracks. The rumor is that his father wasn’t really his father.

“Love your neighbor” is what they say he teaches. I know who my neighbor is. It’s Eleazar here beside me, an expert with a knife. Someone like me, that’s my neighbor. Someone I can trust because they know if they betray me I’ll get even. But this Jesus, from all accounts, would want me to believe that this fat-wallet guy coming down the road is my neighbor, too. No way, no way! I would never mug my neighbor. But this guy is dead meat. Get ready, boys – neighbors – he’s almost here! One, two, three – Get him!


The Priest

Well, I see the robbers got another one. Beat him to a pulp and stripped him naked. Must be the Adoniah gang. They say that’s their trademark, stripping their victim and beating him half dead. Of course, this poor man’s money is long gone. That would be the first thing they took.

He looks dead. Maybe he’s only half dead. It’s hard to say. What do I do here? If I stop, maybe the muggers will get me. I’m late to Jericho. If I stop, I’ll be even more late. My priestly business takes priority here. I mean, what would become of the order of our religion if all the clergy let themselves be delayed just because someone was in need? It would be chaos! The righteous people have certain expectations, and one of them is that their clergy will take care of clergy business. Anyone can stop and tend to this fellow, and someone will be along in a moment, surely. I have priestly business in Jericho, and only I can do that, not just anyone. So if I stop here, then my work won’t get done and the people will be disappointed and angry.

But if I pass on by, some folks will think I should have stopped. What about that? I know – I’ll claim that our religious Law forbids me to touch a corpse because it would make me religiously unclean. (That man is dead, isn’t he? Yes, he must be.) And one thing a priest must never be is religiously unclean, everyone agrees with that. Of course, not being experts in religious law they won’t know that caring for an abandoned corpse does not make someone unclean, even a priest. So I could bury this fellow – yes, I am quite certain he really is dead – I could cover this fellow without violating religious law at all. But that will just be my little secret. I’ll even cross to the other side of the road to make it more convincing. I must make my meeting.

The meeting is important. The subject is a radical man going around teaching and preaching, Jesus of Nazareth. He’s certainly not a good Jew. He socializes with sinners and outcasts and even eats with them. It is very upsetting. We have tried to convince Jesus not to befriend sinners and be more reserved like his cousin was, John the Baptist. You know what he said? “John the Baptist didn’t eat or drink with the wrong crowd, and you said he was in league with the devil. Now I, Jesus, eat and drink with them, and you accuse me of being a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of thieves and other sinners. Get a grip!”

Speaking of the Law, surely Jesus knows that our accusation is a veiled threat. I mean, Jesus doesn’t follow the law, but he sure does know the Scriptures forward and backward. Too bad they don’t mean anything to him. I am sure he caught the reference to Deuteronomy 21, verse 18, that requires gluttons and drunkards to be stoned to death.

We’ve put Jesus on notice to be more selective in acknowledging someone as his neighbor or face the consequences. No thieves and prostitutes and other sinners allowed!

I can’t understand why anyone would listen to Jesus, but thousands do. Personally, I like the guy, but his religious ideas are wacky. They are a threat to the system.

I’ll bet if Jesus was walking with me he’d stop and take care of this poor fellow here. That’s exactly the problem. He just won’t tend to business. He’s always being distracted by do-goodism. Heal this fellow, comfort that widow, feed that child, all without distinction. Love your neighbor, he says, and he’s right, of course. That’s in the law, no arguing about it. Too bad Jesus doesn’t understand who his neighbors really are.


The Samaritan

I’ve got to get out of this place if it’s the last thing I ever do. And if I stay in this country much longer, it will be the last thing I ever do. I hate Jews as much as they hate us Samaritans. I’ve had a couple of close calls already. I really think if I stay longer, my luck will run out. Someone will kill me. And he will get a medal for it! No one will be interested in the murder but the Romans. Come to think of it, they won’t be interested, either. My sons will have to avenge me.

Let me just get through Jericho! Then I’m up the Jordan River and I’m home free.

Is that a dead man? Yes, another victim of the criminals along this road. More evidence of Jewish depravity, that they let such crime go on. No, he’s not dead; he just moved. They’ve stripped him bare. It’s not obvious he’s Jewish with his clothes gone, since his robe would identify his tribe. Oh, he’s Jewish for sure; what else would he be?

Man, they sure worked him over! Poor guy. I hope somebody helps him out. Not me, no sir. I’m not stopping for this Jewish scum.


Maybe I should turn back and just give him a drink of water. I wish I hadn't gone so far past him. It’s uphill to go back. It’s getting late. I need to keep going. But I’ll run back and give him a drink of water, then go on. That won’t take long.

Ah, the water is making him come around. Maybe a sip of wine will help now that he is more alert. One of his eyes is so swollen he can’t see with it, but he sees me with the other eye. Okay, I’ll let him take a good look at me. When he sees I am Samaritan he’ll push me away. I bet he’d literally rather die than accept aid from a Samaritan. Uh, uh, see there? His jaw has dropped. He knows what I am. Okay, Jew, I’m outta here. I’m just as disgusted as you are. What was I thinking?

“Thank you,” he said to me. I turned away from my donkey and faced him again. “You're welcome,” I said.

“You are Samaritan, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

He said, “Sometimes I saw others go by, even a priest, but no one stopped but you.” I nodded. Then he said the most surprising thing: “God bless you for stopping.” I would have bet my last shekel I would never hear that from a Jew!

He moaned in pain. He was cut and badly banged up. “Shall I bandage your wounds?” I asked.

“You would do this for me, Samaritan?” he asked rather incredulously.

I could hardly believe it myself. “Yes,” I said.

“Don’t you need to move on?” he asked. “Samaria is still a long way off.”

I said, “Do you want to be bandaged or not?”

I could see his turmoil. Samaritans and Jews had been mortal enemies for generations. He was more unclean from me touching him than from being beaten and stripped naked. But the pain overcame his objections. “Yes, please,” he finally said, and he added, “I am called Jacob.”

“I am Samuel,” I answered. I poured oil on his cuts and bruises and wrapped them in clean cloth. I offered him a robe to wear. “You will look like a Samaritan for awhile,” I acknowledged, “so if you refuse to wear it, I’ll understand.” But he took the robe and I helped him put it on.

“Can you walk?” I asked him. We tried to stand him up but he couldn’t. “Onto the donkey,” I ordered. He made a weak attempt at humor: “A Jew on a Samaritan donkey. The first person we meet will say you have a stupid jackass with you, but your donkey is nice.” I laughed. Then he laughed. Then we both laughed long and loud, although he had to stop because the thieves had kicked his ribs so hard. But it was funny – a Samaritan man on the Jerusalem road leading a donkey with a battered Jewish man riding it. No playwright could ever have dreamed it up.

We did get some strange stares along the road but there were no incidents. By and by the road leveled out. There was an inn ahead, so I stopped and rented a room for the both of us. I bought supper for him and he seemed better. But that night his pain got worse and he got a fever. He was in and out of consciousness and mostly incoherent. I stayed up most of the night placing cloths soaked with cool water on his forehead and changing the bandages on his wounds.

The next morning I was exhausted. I had a real dilemma. I really did need to get on. I wished I had asked him where his family lived. I went to the innkeeper and told him what had happened. He nodded his head; I was not the first to tell him such a story. I told him, “My friend is named Jacob. He is a neighbor of mine. Here is two day’s rent for the room. I’ll be back by that time, and I’ll pay whatever extra it costs you.”

“Okay,” he agreed.

When I returned Jacob was much better. The innkeeper refused additional payment, telling me, “A neighbor of yours is a neighbor of mine.” We all parted company and I returned home.

My brother was indignant when I told him the tale. “I can’t believe you showed a Jew mercy!” he exclaimed. “They’re outside our circle!”

I reminded my brother that the Jews and we Samaritans had a common religious heritage and both used the first five books of the Scriptures. Leviticus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

“Oh,” he retorted, ‘so now a Jew lying in a ditch is my neighbor!”

I said, “Maybe anyone who needs mercy is our neighbor. You should try it sometime.”

"‘Critical Theory’ Is A Disastrous, Unbiblical Worldview"

Monday, July 6, 2020

The Official American Hymn Glorifying War

I am a retired Army combat-arms officer and I agree with Laurence M. Vance: "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is blasphemous (at best) and has no place being sung in Christian worship services. It is found in The United Methodist Hymnal but let us pray it will be excised when(ever) the next hymnal is published.

Killed in action soldiers of the Battle of Antietam, near Dunker Church. Why do churches sing a hymn that celebrates wholesale killing and destruction and calls them holy and good?
Read the whole article for a detailed, line-by-line explanation why this "hymn" is best described as a satanic perversion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Here is the conclusion:
The “Battle Hymn of the Republic” ought to be parodied, satirized, and lampooned. It has nothing to do with God or Christianity. It is not a Christian hymn. It does not belong in a Christian hymnbook. It should not be sung in any Christian church — Northern or Southern. It should not be on the lips of any Christian — Yankee or Southerner. It is partisan political paean to bogus history and faulty theology. For much too long Christians have sung this “hymn” with religious fervor while remaining in ignorance as to its history and theology. For much too long pastors and song leaders have included this “hymn” in church services without stopping to consider whether it is an appropriate song for a Christian worship service. Disparaging the singing of this song has nothing to do with being a Confederate sympathizer, or being unpatriotic or anti-Lincoln, but it has everything to do with exercising biblical discernment. Traditions are hard to break, and especially religious ones, but the singing of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” is one that must go.
And the sooner the better.

Friday, July 3, 2020

God and Hamilton

I refer not only to the musical - which was released as a movie today by Disney Plus - but also to a book Kevin Cloud, who is a pastor, church planter, and author. He earned an M.Div. from Nazarene Theological Seminary. He has planted four successful churches in the Kansas City area and currently serves as the director of spiritual life at the Culture House, an arts conservatory in Olathe, Kansas. His site is

With his permission, I am publishing his article as an intro to his book.


The musical Hamilton resonates with me more than any piece of art I have ever experienced, primarily because it teems with the most important themes of my life. Engaging these themes of grace, shame, forgiveness, and surrender through Hamilton’s story encourages, inspires, and transforms me. But above all other themes, Hamilton’s story resonates with me because, ultimately, it tells a story that I desperately need to experience–a story of redemption.

When I take an honest assessment of my life, I see brokenness everywhere. I live with mixed motives, impure thoughts, and selfish actions. When I look at the world around me, more so today than ever, it appears to be constantly assaulted by the forces of brokenness. Death, terrorism, poverty, and divisiveness seem to win the day. My own life, and the world that we all live in, both share an acute desperation for redemption.

Hamilton moves people because it reminds us of this possibility. Interestingly, Hamilton is not the driving force behind this redemption, but rather his loving, faithful, and determined wife, Eliza. She takes the brokenness from his life and makes it beautiful.

The greatest source of pain and brokenness in Hamilton’s life originated from his status as an orphan, 
a reality that haunted him throughout his life. Hamilton, like most orphans, surely grew up feeling abandoned, unwanted, and unloved, hounded by loneliness and inadequacy.

I read an article written by an orphan named David, who experienced a deep sense of abandonment and rejection, feelings he struggled with into his late fifties. Another girl whose parents died wrote that orphans grow up rarely feeling special or loved. They wear secondhand clothes, play with used toys, and rarely celebrate their birthdays. Many orphans don’t even know the date of their birthday.
I can imagine heartbreaking conversations where Hamilton shared his pain and suffering from being an orphan with Eliza. I can also imagine Eliza, as any loving spouse would, feeling a deep sense of empathy about Hamilton’s struggles as an orphan. Hamilton’s brokenness must have become her brokenness, as she carried his burden with her husband. After Hamilton’s death, and after she healed from her grief, Eliza took that hurt, suffering, and brokenness, and gave everything she could to redeem it, to make it new.

After Alexander died, grief overwhelmed Eliza. In his biography of Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow writes, “For Eliza Hamilton, the collapse of her world was total, overwhelming, and remorseless. Within three years, she had had to cope with four close deaths: her eldest son, her sister Peggy, her mother, and her husband, not to mention the mental breakdown of her eldest daughter.” Chernow shares that immediately after the death of Hamilton, Eliza invited Gouverneur Morris, a close family friend, into the room, then “burst into tears, told him he was the best friend her husband had, begged him to join her in prayers for her own death, and then to be a father for her children.”
Eliza, in this moment, found herself completely overwhelmed by brokenness and death. She couldn’t even begin to imagine redemption. But in time, God would give her faith to see the possibility of redemption out of the brokenness. Eventually, she would take Hamilton’s broken pieces and make them beautiful.

Eliza slowly recovered from her grief, finding solace in her faith in God. “Suffering from the ‘irreparable loss of a most amiable and affectionate husband,’ she prayed for ‘the mercies of the divine being in whose dispensations’ all Christians should acquiesce,” writes Chernow. Her faith helped her to recover from the devastating loss and begin to imagine a new life.

Hamilton himself had encouraged her to remember her faith before his death. In his letter he wrote the night before his duel with Aaron Burr, he reminded Eliza, “The consolations of religion, my beloved, can alone support you and these you have a right to enjoy. Fly to the bosom of your God and be comforted. With my last idea, I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world.”
As Eliza slowly recovered from her grief, she discovered a new calling. She partnered with a small group of women to found the first private orphanage in New York City. Her Hamilton had suffered as an orphan his entire life; now she would work to alleviate the suffering of others who faced the same struggle.

Orphans during this era faced a brutal reality, with no good options available to them. Many orphans lived on the streets in gangs, fighting a daily battle to survive. The tenement housing district was grossly overpopulated and overrun with abhorrent living conditions. Almshouses or indentured servitude provided shelter and food for a life of hard labor and a loss of freedom, but oftentimes created structures that abused vulnerable children.

For twenty-seven years, Eliza worked tirelessly, providing orphans a hopeful alternative. Chernow writes, “She oversaw every aspect of the orphanage work. She raised money, leased properties, visited almshouses, investigated complaints, and solicited donations of coal, shoes, and Bibles.” Eliza believed that God himself had given her this calling, “My maker has pointed out this duty to me and has given me the ability and inclination to perform it.”

The work challenged her greatly and oftentimes operated dangerously low on resources. Eliza once committed to never turning away a child, whether they possessed a dime in the treasury or not. In 1813, the orphanage account fell to $60 while caring for the needs of ninety children. Yet despite these ongoing challenges, Eliza believed in God’s provision and faithfully continued her work. In doing so, she offered redemption to these children who otherwise faced a hopeless existence.
The end of Miranda’s musical beautifully illustrates Eliza redeeming Hamilton’s brokenness. The scene captures one of the most powerful artistic representations of redemption I’ve ever witnessed. The final song features Eliza singing about the different ways she honored her husband’s legacy. She considered the orphanage her crowning achievement in this pursuit. She sings about how she helped hundreds of orphans in the city, and how she sees her husband in each child that she serves. The musical ends with a brilliant white spotlight shining on Eliza as she smiles, her face radiating joy as the theatre fades to black.

The way we become agents of redemption here and now is simple but hard: we love. Eliza made Hamilton’s brokenness beautiful for hundreds of orphans by loving them in tangible ways. She threw herself into this work out of her love for her husband, and her love of God. Chernow writes, “Perhaps nothing expressed her affection for Hamilton more tenderly than her efforts on behalf of orphans. . . . Surely some extra dimension of religious fervor had entered into Eliza’s feelings toward her husband because of his boyhood.”

The work she pioneered continues to this day. The organization Eliza created more than two hundred years ago still exists, now called Graham Windham. The people of Graham Windham continue to live out Eliza’s legacy, tirelessly working on behalf of poor children and families in New York City. The families they serve live in New York City’s most severely distressed neighborhoods, ninety-five percent of whom live at or below the poverty line.

Jess Dannhauser, the current president and CEO of Graham Windham, sees their work as a continuation of Eliza’s legacy. Experiencing the musical Hamilton moved him deeply. “When Eliza sings that she sees Alexander in the eyes of these orphans, I see that as her saying these kids have great potential inside of them. That spirit is what animates our work today.”

Kimberly Hardy Watson, Graham Windham’s chief operating officer, agrees: “I find myself often wondering, what would Eliza think about what we are doing today? If she and the other cofounders had a clear understanding of what they endeavored for children, are we keeping to that promise? Are we being good stewards of that vision?” More than two hundred years after Eliza initiated this project, the brokenness continues to be made beautiful.

The cast of Hamilton participates in the work of Graham Windham. Some of the cast members participate as pen pals with children from Graham Windham. Phillipa Soo and Morgan Marcell created “The Eliza Project,” with a mission to “use the arts as a means of expression, as an outlet for personal experience, and to uplift the creative spirit.” Soo recruits other cast members to join her in teaching kids at Graham Windham acting, dance, and rap. These actors continue to tell Eliza’s story of redemption, not only on the stage, but also in their tangible acts of love for these children.

Adapted from God and Hamilton. Copyright © 2018 by Kevin Cloud. Published by Deep River Books, Sisters, Oregon. Used by Permission. 

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