Happiness and Suffering

Happiness! We want to be happy, but suffering keeps intruding.

Thinking we can be happy by ignoring suffering

is like sinking into a spy novel

while the person sitting next to us,

whose arm is in a sling,

has spilled yogurt all over his shoes and he

can do nothing to clean it up.

We call for help and no one is answering.

Frustrated and impatient, we reluctantly

set aside the engrossing book, and look for someone

who will clean up the mess.

Embarrassed, our seat mate seeks to look away while

drawing his feet further under the chair so no one can see

the suffering of one whose best efforts have only led to

further his pain.

Someone puts some wet paper towels in our hand.

“I don’t get out much since my stroke. I find it

hard to walk and harder still to explain my needs. I have a

tear in my rotator cuff,” as he looks at his sling.

We hesitantly share that we are going through

physical therapy treatments and we have

challenges with neuropathy, making our walking

unsteady and fearful at times.

He looks at the towels. We ask, “May I?”

Could it be that our happiness has something to do

with connecting to our own suffering

and the suffering of one another?

Could it be that this is the healing the world needs?

(Original poem based on a story by Dr. Rachel Remen)

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

All Are Welcome

Though I may have been told that the 50’s was a wonderful time to be growing up, and though I may have believed that was true for a good portion of my life, I am aware that in my home town not all were welcome to be part of that “wonderful time.” I thought that my circle of white friends and family was typical of everyone’s family and friends everywhere, and that everybody had the same opportunities wherever you lived. That just was not true.

When I looked across the street from my 1st grade classroom there were houses where black people lived but those children did not attend my school. Why? Why couldn’t those people live in our neighborhood? There was a high school across the street from the church and school where my family and I attended, and the school had a student body that was mainly black. The high school that I went to was mainly white. Why? I heard stories about people who were gay or lesbian and my parents had a close friend who was gay, but he was not generally accepted by the church community. Why? My family, and many others, enjoyed the “wonderful times” of the 50’s in our town, and they did not want to disturb the peaceful character of our way of life by pointing out the places and ways that not everyone had the same opportunities that we had.

This past Sunday we sang the hymn, “All Are Welcome” by Marty Haugen. It is an emotionally moving hymn that opens the doors and includes all people in the life of the church. But as we sang the hymn I was aware that the church, our neighborhoods and families, and our government may still be wanting to live in a time in the past that truly did not and cannot now exist. Are all people welcome? Where are we still drawing lines that exclude and prevent others from being part of the community?

“Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,

a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.

Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;

here the love of Christ shall end divisions:

All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

 

Let us build a house where prophets speak, and words are strong and true,

where all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew.

Here the cross shall stand as witness and as symbol of God’s grace;

here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:

All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

 

Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard

and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.

Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace,

let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:

All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

 

O Spirit of welcome and vision, open our eyes and our arms to receive all the people who need to be welcomed into the life of our community and church these days. Grant our government leaders and our President the vision and the resolve to reflect your faith and love in the ways in which we interact with the nations of the world, and the ways in which we care for the needs of people, whomever and wherever they may be. You call us to be your prophets who speak your truth in the world that you love so much. Give us faith and courage to stand with you and with your people,  and inspire us to make clear your vision that “All are welcome in this place.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Trusting God in Tough Times

Why me, Lord? Why is this happening to our family, our loved ones, our neighbors, Lord? Why didn’t you step in, O God, and prevent this terrible tragedy from happening at all? Why do we/I feel so alone, like no one is listening, or like no one really cares about us/me anyway?

John Donne, 17th century poet and pastor of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, was deeply acquainted with grief because during his time of serving St. Paul’s there were three waves of the bubonic plague, the last of which killed 40,000 people. Donne was called upon to explain this terrible loss of life and give comfort to those who lost loved ones.

But Donne also came down with what was later diagnosed as spotted fever. For six weeks he lay at death’s door listening to the church bells tolling again and again for each new fatality of the plague. He wondered if he would be next. He wrote a series of meditations on suffering during this time, one of which reflects his own concern: “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Psalm 66 speaks to me out of a time of trouble, and maybe the psalmist was also asking the “Why” question:

“For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.

You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs;

You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water;

In this time of defeat, humiliation, testing and trials in tough times, who is the psalmist calling out for doing this to the people? It is God who brought the people to their knees. Why, God? The psalmist does not have an answer. Neither do we. All we know is that our faith is tested severely in tough times and we are tempted to turn away from God, to blame God and to distrust God’s love for us. Does God really care about us? Is God listening to our cries for help and healing? John Donne moved away from the “Why” question in the midst of his struggles with God to ask instead, “Will I trust God in my pain and weakness, or will I turn away in bitterness, anger and despair?

I know a number of people, including me, who have found ourselves using our fists to pound on God’s chest and ask,”Why didn’t you step in to prevent this tragedy from happening? Why this suffering? Why them, Lord? Why, Lord?” We are getting no satisfying answers. Do we continue to live in bitterness and anger at God, or do we seek to move forward with life, receiving the deliverance and healing that God also gives?

The psalmist continues, ” . . . yet you have brought us out to a spacious place . . . But truly God has listened, he has given heed to my prayer. Blessed be God because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.” This same God against whom we struggle and cry out at times, is also our Deliverer and Rescuer.

We cry out to God in our grief, our failures, our fears for ourselves and our loved ones. We cannot live long in bitterness and despair. These are not healthy for us. God, who is our Deliverer and Rescuer gives us the Holy Spirit to connect us to the love of God in Jesus Christ. God has not left us alone or orphaned. God promises to be there for us and with us no matter what life may bring to us. Even though we cannot see that at the time, God is in the midst of our pain and tragedy to weep with us and to hold us close. We are embraced by God’s never-ending love for us, especially in those times when we may feel so alone.

I like to think of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, as our companion, the one who breaks bread with us. It is Christ’s resurrection from death and despair, from defeat and humiliation, that is our promised future.

Could God have stepped in and prevented some tragedy from happening? I believe that God can do that, but I have no explanation for why God does not do that in many cases. I also understand that life just steps in and accidents and tragedies happen. It is in those moments of deep sorrow that faith keeps holding on to God who is holding on to us. In the face of the most horrific and fearful places of our lives, there God is most active and present for us. God never leaves us or forsakes us, and God is our constant companion so that we can move forward with our lives, being a blessing to many others and sharing the hope and the love of God that are in us.

We may not reach this point for some time. I believe that God understands that. But God never gives up in delivering and rescuing us. Faith keeps on trusting that God is holding on to us in tough times.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Abundant

Why can’t everyone have an abundant life? Why does it seem to be reserved for a few? I wonder, as I walk into the court house, pausing for the guard to tell me to raise my arms as he passes a wand all around me to make sure I am not carrying a weapon. I see a line of people, mostly black, but some white and some of mixed races, for whom this may be a common place to have to spend some time waiting with a loved one, or waiting to appear before the judge, or waiting to talk with a public defender lawyer.

This is not a common place for me. I will be able to leave later on and return home. I wonder if this should be a common place for anyone. Why are there those of us who seem to miss out on the abundant life, the life of having enough, a life of dignity where, we may not have spacious houses and people who stand up when we come into the room, but who have enough to live and enjoy family and loved ones, and who have meaningful and fulfilling work as we are able and need to? Why are there some of us who can’t live in certain parts of the city, or who have to wonder if there will be enough food for the next meal, or who don’t have electricity or running water, or who have to wonder if they will be stopped by the police just because they may look suspicious, or who are unable to have a living wage?

I wonder what Jesus meant when he said that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. What does it mean to have abundance or “enough” in our lives? There are many who seem to have much more than others. Seeing the people in that line I was aware that many of them looked at me, a white male, as a person of abundance and privilege while they were not.  I suppose each of us would answer that question differently depending partly on what we already may have in life. What if everyone had enough?

Is Jesus calling us to a life of having enough so that we can appreciate family and people who care for us no matter what happens, each day, each dollar, each meal, each person in our lives as “enough”? In other words, are we to receive each person, our money, our jobs, forgiveness, life and everything else as a gift from God? This may not mean that we have to stifle our ambition or creativity, but that we are blessed in our lives to share and to be able to see that others benefit from what has come to us so that we all can live the abundant life that Christ comes to give to us.

As I was walking with my friend to the parking garage to get back into the car and head back home, I was thinking about that abundant life. Could it be that Jesus’ reference to abundance may have something more to do with God’s mercy that continues to overflow, like a water hose left on allowing the water to flow over the sides of the watering can, or the water that keeps pouring over the sides of the glass. That mercy never ends and always needs to be shared. God’s mercy is what we really need isn’t it? God’s mercy is more abundant than justice in a court room. Maybe that is what we long for and what we receive in Christ, overflowing, exceeding even what we hoped. Abundant!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wounded

I sit in this locked room along with my brothers and sisters,

wondering about the future; who will come for me?

Will I be next? Is there any hope for me?

 

The wounds I feel are oft too deep

to be shared, the bleeding too apparent

to be kept to myself, but the fears too pervasive

and painful to afflict those I love.

I hold on to my wounds, covering them

over so no one will know. Not even God can enter the

locked doors of my fearful heart, or so I reason.

 

I have so many questions, doubts, fears, secrets, grudges.

My failures are many, my betrayals and regrets, countless.

Deep down in the caverns of my mind and heart

I long for someone to touch my wounds,

to caress them and embrace them, and in so doing

to embrace and caress me as I cry to be known

and loved, forgiven and made whole, drawn into a

community of those who can care for me; a people

whose wounds I also can caress and embrace.

 

I am more than a name, more than a Facebook page,

more complex and complicated than my fears and my doubts.

I come to you because I want to know if what you promise

is true; if all your pain and torture and death are really

for me. Or will you reject me and all my wounds, and run to

save yourself? I need to see you, to hear you, to touch your wounds

so that I may believe in someone

stronger than my wounds; someone who can heal my broken life.

I need you to be there in the depths of my pain

to give me hope again, to breathe a new Spirit into me,

to fill me with peace deep in my being,

to set me free from this locked room of fear.

 

Could it be that you do love me, forgive me, heal me?

Could it be that your forgiving love unlocks the doors of

my life so that I can let go of all that keeps me bound?

Could it be that you have touched my wounds and,

I am not berated or condemned, but forgiven and made whole?

Could it be that we can now caress and embrace

one another’s wounds?

Could it be that this is the Peace you give to me and to all of us?

“My Lord and my God!”

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Saturday and Sunday World

It was Saturday, the day before Easter. I answered the phone and was horrified to find out that  a good friend and classmate from high school and college died. My appointment book says that we are meeting for breakfast, as we have been each month, on Thursday of next week. I knew he was ill, and we regularly talked about his treatment schedule, but I never thought that death was imminent.

It was Saturday, the day after the first Good Friday. Jesus had died and was buried. But even those closest to Jesus wondered whether Saturday would ever end. Saturday is the day of fear, abandonment, death, loneliness, despair. Saturday is that time in-between. It is a time of faith and trust when we are not sure what the future holds for us and we may wonder whether we can trust God to lead us into Sunday. “Nobody knew how long Saturday would last” writes Dr. Walter Brueggemann in “A Way Other Than Our Own.”

Sometimes it may seem as though we are trapped in Saturday. We know, like the disciple Thomas, the struggles to believe at times. We see the evidence of Saturday where people of power put their faith in weapons and bombs to reach their fear-filled goals.We see Saturday in the death and destruction in Syria and South Sudan. We are aware of the threats of war coming from North Korea, the food and water needs throughout the world, the plight of refugees and immigrants seeking new life, the ongoing challenges of ISIS, our continuing battle with racism and violence in our communities, and people of various religions, races and cultures becoming more intolerant of one another. We also know our fears of death and the sadness we feel at the death of loved ones and friends.

Easter promises us that Saturday will end, that the reign of death and the reign of the abuse of power have been defeated. Sunday brings the dawn of hope and new life. Christ has defeated the reign of death and fear. We are set free from all that imprisons us, and the stone is rolled away so that we may emerge from darkness to the light of God’s reign of love. We don’t need to live in fear. We are freed to work to bring an end to racism and the rule of power, and to be bold witnesses of Christ’s compassion and care for all God’s people.

God has not forgotten or abandoned us. Easter has meaning for us now, not just for eternal life. Easter is the Good News in the midst of darkness, our failures and losses, our struggles to believe. Christ leads us from death to life again. We live as people of hope in the midst of our troubled world where Saturday still reigns. We are God’s Easter people who still live in both a Saturday and a Sunday world, and we keep on looking toward the dawn of new life.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Special Week

For many people this week may be an enigma, a puzzle. Holy Week? What does it mean? How can we sort it all out? Can’t we just slide into Easter? Why is this week so important?

Maybe this story can help us. Rev. Ronald Rolheiser, in his book “Sacred Fire”, writes that a woman had ten children, each of whom she loved deeply. One of her daughters did not return her love and was alienated from her mother and the rest of the family. Whenever the family gathered for meals at the table, this daughter was absent. The woman wanted so much to have the whole family gathered together and she wanted more than anything to have her daughter return to the family table. She continued to invite her daughter to come, to return to a relationship with her and the rest of her children, but the daughter would not. Finally the woman sent her son to do whatever he could to draw this child of hers back to the family table, and in a miraculous way the daughter did come back to the family. The family was whole again, and the table full of her children rejoiced that their sister had returned. The woman was overjoyed, withdrew her modest savings from the bank, and gave a lavish party to celebrate the great grace that her family was whole again.

Maybe we could see that this week is devoted to God seeking to draw the family of God’s people to the table again. Many wish to remain apart and choose to stay to themselves but God keeps on sending messages through other people to keep on inviting all to the table of God’s love. Still many refuse to come.

Then God sends God’s Son to be the Word of God who comes to invite everyone to the table. God wants all people to be welcome at God’s family table. But this love that subverts the world’s way cannot be tolerated for long and we needed to get rid of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. The three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, are for that purpose. Jesus dies and is buried, and the powers that be in the world think that Jesus is locked away forever.

“Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:4-8)

So in this Holy Week we wait, we watch, we become introspective and search our own hearts and minds. Have we alienated and excluded ourselves from God’s table and God’s family? Have we ignored God’s invitation to be in relationship with God and with others? Have we turned away from God’s ways of welcome and invitation to all to come to the table of God’s love?

As we walk through this week following Jesus, there is a Promise that gives us hope and life. We are set free from the old ways of exclusion and fear. Maybe we are being turned around to see a new way to live and love in this world, and to give thanks for the gifts that each of us bring to the table. Holy Week holds the Promise of grace and love for us all. That love can change the whole world and draw us all together. We look forward to the lavish surprise party that awaits us on Sunday.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment