Kinds of Sinners


Heather King has written another fantastic post outlining the homily she would like to hear someday:


“To be a follower of Christ is to participate in the victory of love over fear. And just on the off-chance we’ve veered from our place at the back of the church with the tax collector, folks, we’re not “following the rules” so we can look good in the eyes of our also-following-the-rules fellow church-goers. Come ON, my brothers and sisters! Those people were the PHARISEES! Those were the people who killed, and who continue to kill, Christ! Catholicism is not a country club whose members we vet to ensure we’re in the “right” company! The very thought should turn our stomachs!

Here’s how you know your life in Christ is bearing fruit:

In spite of your own suffering, loneliness, and pain, you’re welcoming. You’re warm. You’re kind (or you’re at least shooting for those things, and not just toward the people who can “do” something for you, but everyone). You’re in immediate, intimate contact with a few active drunks, someone who’s headed into or has just emerged from a psych ward, an incarcerated felon or two, several porn addicts, a young girl who’s pregnant out of wedlock, several women who have had abortions and are in silent, excruciating mourning, at least one stripper, several people in desperately unhappy marriages, about to be evicted from their apartments, or dying, a minimum-wage worker or two, at least three people who are certifiably insane, at least one U.S. Army chaplain and one peace activist (even better if they’re both priests and the latter is in solitary confinement in a federal prison), several homeless people (the more the better) and a whole TON of gay people, transgender folks, and sex and love addicts of all stripes…

If that’s not part of your circle–in my case, that IS my circle–you’re not getting out enough. If you aren’t sharing your struggles and heart with that circle, at the very least in prayer, something is wrong. Because those are the people Christ hung out with. Because “those people” are us: the people, the only people, suffering, struggling humans. Because if we’re going to be inviting people to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience, we sure as hell better be inviting each other into our homes, our tables, our hemorrhaging, conflicted hearts.

Please read the whole thing and the post that led up to it.

Yes, I think. Yes, this is how it should be.

And yet, clearly, by these rubrics, I am not getting out enough. Something is wrong with my life.

I live in a small town in Indiana. There are no strip clubs in this town. There may be a few meth dens down by the river, but could I, should I go there, with my six kids, who like it or not, a permanently wed to my side? I do know some drunks,  and I may know some porn addicts, or people in unhappy marriages, though those are things people in this town are very unlikely to share or wear on their sleeve. And how far would I have to travel to find a transgendered person? At least forty miles.

My life offers me many, many opportunities however to break bread with rule followers, the old lady who counts the silverware in the Parish Hall after every soup supper, the man who swears by all that is holy that homosexuality is the sin that cries out to Heaven for vengeance, and that even the angels cannot bear to look upon that sin.

I’m more likely to encounter a nun who has been appointed Administrator of a small barely thriving Parish than I am to encounter a Military Chaplain, or an incarcerated Peace Activist. And the Nun I encounter will probably feel overworked, and disappointed that she had to remove the kneelers in the Sanctuary twenty years ago, only to have to replace them again in 2006. This nun, like many of the headstrong individuals in the country, finds obedience very challenging. She follows the rules, but only after much deliberation. She doesn’t like asking parishioners for money, and the parishioners don’t like giving it, especially if it’s for “pageantry” like the installation banquet for a new Archbishop.

I know there’s room in my life for more “going out,” to meet people who suffer from the particular kinds of sin that Heather outlines, but I also think it might be helpful to specify that this community of reluctant rule followers, tightwads, and judgmental people, myself included, just happens to be my own dysfunctional family. As Tolstoy says, “All unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.”

Perhaps it’s dangerous to pick out the particular “kinds” of sinners that Jesus found preferable.

In Heather’s own words: “Catholicism is not a country club whose members we vet to ensure we’re in the “right” company! The very thought should turn our stomachs! ”

Broken people come in all shapes and sizes. I hope, for my own sake, that even the Pharisees might share in Christ’s mercy and compassion.

About Elizabeth Duffy
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  • Melanie B

    Yes. I find myself troubled by Heather’s list. Those are the people she’s been called to be with. That’s her gift. But she’s single not a mom of five or six kids. Now I agree that if those people come within my orbit I should welcome them as Christ did. But I like what you say here about welcoming broken people if all shapes and sizes.

    • Elizabeth Duffy

      I love Heather’s list, and I do long for the kind of life she describes. I have spent several years now feeling “Cut off” from such a mission field, feeling that yes, something is wrong with my life, because I have not borne that kind of fruit, or been able to cultivate those kinds of relationships.

      It’s me and the old ladies in swim aerobics, me and the old ladies at Mass, me and the old ladies at the grocery. And then, also, the kids, everywhere I go, one or six go with me. I want to have the kind of heart that she has, but it has been my realization that I’m going to have to have it for THESE people, not because they’re safer and preferable to THOSE people, but because they’re the people God has put in my path. Has my path been narrow? Yes, in recent years. Often very similar to a cloistered nun.

      And I think Heather is saying that WE are the broken ones–that there is no THOSE people–which is an excellent admonishment. But it means that THOSE pharisees are also us.

      • Owen

        “And I think Heather is saying that WE are the broken ones–that there is no THOSE people–which is an excellent admonishment. But it means that THOSE pharisees are also us.”

        This is the core of that post, I agree. Ironically and unfortunately it is the missed message when we make her post an HER and ME issue.

  • Mary Emily

    Well, I know 3 or 4 people on the list — my kids do go to public school. And the hubster decided that we don’t fit in at the wealthy, white Catholic church (with lovely music) that’s 30 minutes away. So we go to the mostly non-English speaking, very poor (with tambourines! tambourines! God help me…) Catholic parish. But I do have mostly white, college educated mommies for my best friends…guess I better spend more time at the liquor store so I can “get out more.”

  • Nancy

    I think we’re supposed to be looking hard at our own sphere of influence — the unique circle of people God has placed in our lives — and seeing the pain and misery and distance from God, right where we’ve been planted. After all, Jesus didn’t go out looking for meth addicts — broken people sought Him out for healing. We are supposed to have such Love on offer that broken people seek Him out in us, whether that means a lonely mom of a wayward kid at school (whom no one else will talk to), or whether that means a woman on my block whose husband has had an affair, or just another “regular” mom at our church who longs for connection with other women. The point is that we are supposed to be Christ-ians (which I’ve heard means “little Christs”) who woo people to the Father because we pour out His love in our daily lives. Pretty big assignment . . .

  • Owen

    Heather’s post ended up on my blog post today as well along with a post from Melanie Bettinelli I also pursue a personal application of the idea of “spiritual poverty” though I go, I think, in a somewhat different direction – or if not different then like a strophe in a Hebrew psalm, noting a nuance on the same idea in the next verse down. And, King has been a long time favourite writer of mine as are you, Betty.

  • Caroline M.

    Wow, I was really convicted by just the quote from Heather. We also need to remember the quote by Mother Theresa: “Find your own Calcutta.” We each have our own Calcuttas if we’re willing to be open to them. That said, I live in D.C., where all the people she mentioned do live. I am OK with chatting with the homeless, but some of the folks she mentioned would be a huge stretch from my comfort zone. I think most Christians could find folks around them who are hurting and in need, and who may push them from their comfort zones.

  • Kristen inDallas

    The thing about wide vs narrow paths. If we’re aiming for God, the width of the path doesn’t really matter. Speaking as someone who has a lot of “those kind of friends” in my circle, I would love the opportunity to pat myself on the back for being so open. BUT… I know the truth is I didn’t do anything special to earn those friends, I’m not any kinder, I’m not more patient or gracious, or any less judgemental than the folks in the front pews. I know the people I know because I prefer the wide path, I often wander out into the weeds and there they are. When I’m lucky, we help eachother get a little closer to the cultivated part of the path. And i’m not always lucky…
    Really the only difference I can tell between the wide path and the narrow path are the number of scars you collect along the way. I’ve been known to celebrate my scars… but the ability to keep your eyes on the prize and stick to the straight and narrow path, well… that seems worth celebrating too. On my own spiritual journey I can tell you I’ve needed both types of sinners – the folks out in the weeds to round up those of us who are miserably lost… but also enough folks on the straight path to remind us that the cuts are self-inflicted.
    I’d also wager that the folks in the front pew… you have no idea how big your circles really are. If you’re busy looking towards Christ, you may not notice how many people (convicts, adicts and tax collectors included) are looking towards you. How many total strangers read this blog, for example?

  • Melody

    Hello, Betty. Longtime lurker here. I love your writing and Heather King’s also.
    I think the takeaway from King’s “homily” is to really see the people around you, to be aware of their humanity, with all of their wounds and be prepared to help. Be generous enough to help and be open. Find the leper in your community and go kiss them like Saint Francis (though I think that story was more about Francis breaking out of his fear than the poor bewildered leper needing a smooch).
    I really like your takeaway from Heather that there are no “those” people. But some people do feel marginalized, sometimes it is easily detected and sometimes it is not. People in the categories she mentions often feel that they would be shunned by religious people, sometimes they even feel like they deserve to be shunned. I think anyone who is on the periphery of our given communities are the ones we are being exhorted to pay special attention to, that we should treat the most tenderly.

  • Heather King

    Betty, thanks so much for the shout-out: I swear you good folks at Patheos drive half my traffic…
    the point of the post is simply that the mark of the follower of Christ is charity. Wishing a happy and fruitful Easter to all.

  • Heather King

    Oh, and a sense of humor helps, too!

  • Jes

    I just pity the poor homeless meth addict, faced with a nice middle aged middle class lady bearing down on them, determined to do good…..