Words hurt…or heal

I’ve been thinking a lot about words recently…about words and the impact they can have on us.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the wars the United States has been involved in–or whose parents or grandparents told us about them–can remember the ugly names we used to describe our enemies.

Those words were designed to dehumanize those we were fighting…to keep us from seeing them as human beings like us…with families who loved them…who had similar dreams and hopes as we did. And it succeeded–far beyond the war(s). Many of those words were used to describe people from those countries well beyond the end of the “official” war.

The United States is not the only country that did this. Others did as well. The example that had one of the most horrific results was Nazi Germany–with its description of “the other” (handicapped, Jews, Roma) as “vermin,” “mongrels,” “subhuman.”

The sad thing is that we see much of that being repeated today. People fleeing violence and poverty are being described by the current administration as “criminals” and “rapists” who are “infesting” the United States. The truth is that less than 1% of those seeking asylum are people we might fear. The rest are families or individuals who are trying to find a safe place–and who want to build better lives for themselves and their families.

I’m reminded of a book I loved by Robert Heinlein–Methuselah’s Children. It was the story of a particularly long-lived group of families…people who lived long enough that they became resented by those who lived “normal” lifespans. At one point in the book, as the families are gathering to try to find a safe place, Lazarus Long (the patriarch of the family) is watching and reading the news–and shows how subtle use of language is separating them from everyone else and demonizing them…making them “less than” and also someone to fear.

Yet words also have the power to heal and to bring us together. We have to be intentional to do this…to use words that include “the other”…to call out those words that are intended to divide us and foment hate.

It’s our choice. It’s easy to join the mobs that call out for separation…for dehumanizing and fearing those who are different. It’s more difficult to stand for those who have been marginalized…to delight in diversity rather than fear it.

But one brings death…the other brings life.

Building bridges

bridge building

There’s a story my dad used to use in some of his sermons. It goes something like this:

A young man was on a hike when he came to a gorge. There seemed to be no way across and he was going to have to turn around to find another way. But then he heard noises and went to investigate. He found an old man, busy building a bridge across the gorge. He laughed and commented to the old man, “Old man, what are you doing that for? You’ll be too old to cross the bridge by the time you get it finished.” Without missing a beat, the old man said, “I’m not building it for myself. I’m building it for those who come after me.”

I’ve thought a lot about that recently.

There are so many chasms and gorges between us. We seem to delight in finding ways to separate ourselves from each other!

And I’ve been seeing my ministry as trying to build bridges.

Sometimes that’s felt like an impossible task. Sometimes I’ve wondered if there’s any use…or if those bridges will ever be used.

But then this story from my father came to mind…and it gives me strength to go back to the task.

Some may not choose to ever cross the bridge I build. Some may not even think that I’m trying to build bridges. Some may delight in trying to tear the bridges down.

But that doesn’t change my call to ministry.

It’s not easy to build bridges. Sometimes it means biting my tongue on things I would like to say. Often it means being misunderstood–by people on both sides of the divide.

But if none of us try to build bridges, then the divisions will only get bigger and bigger and more difficult to bring back together.

Not all the bridge building comes from my side of the divide. There are people on the other side also trying to bridge the gap. If we can find each other–and work towards each other–then there is still hope.

“[We] build too many walls and not enough bridges.” – Joseph Fort Newton

May we start understanding the importance of tearing down walls–and then using that material to start building bridges.

Easter Monday prayer

Risen God–
We have just celebrated a day of new life…new hope…
of love…unconditional love.

And yet…
around us we see hate…
fear of “the other”
that says it is fair and right
to murder and destroy.

The risen Christ
says that life conquers death…
that love conquers hate.

Give us strength
to live that way…
to be living examples…
to bring comfort to those who mourn…
and peace to a war-torn world.

Help us be Easter people.
Amen.

Easter blessings

Easter cartoon

I saw this cartoon on Facebook and thought it was a fun way to think about Easter. For those of you who may not be familiar with Schrodinger, he was an Austrian physicist who created a hypothetical thought experiment. It involved placing a living cat into a chamber with a hammer, a vial of acid, and a small amount of a radioactive substance. If there was any decay of the radioactive substance, a relay mechanism will trip the hammer which will break the vial of acid and cause the cat to die. The observer doesn’t know whether that decay has happened and so doesn’t know whether the cat is alive or dead…so, the cat is both alive and dead until someone looks in the box.

So…what about Jesus? Dead or alive? or dead and alive? or …?

We know he died. And we also know he is alive–whether that is a physical life, a spiritual life, or life in us. And so that’s why I am amused at this cartoon…I hope you are, too.

But regardless…I wish you Easter blessings of peace and joy…and hope!

Paris is no longer burning…response?

The fire at Notre Dame is out and we are beginning to see pictures of the damage…which, while horrific, is not as severe as everyone feared. Some of the significant works of art and relics were saved, and the main organ appears to have survived. The smaller organ may not have been as fortunate, but that is yet to be determined. And it appears that what is left of the cathedral is structurally sound.

Praise God for the firefighters who battled for hours, sometimes risking their lives, to save as much as possible of the cultural, artistic, and spiritual symbol.

And I am grateful for the many people who have stepped up to donate for the rebuilding of Notre Dame.

But it also makes me wonder.

What is it about this building that has caused such an outpouring of financial support?

What about the many other needs? These are just a few:

  • The black churches in Georgia that were burned because of white nationalism?
  • The people of Puerto Rico who are still struggling to recover from their last hurricane?
  • The people of Flint, many of whom still do not have clean water?
  • The immigrants who are trying to find a better life for their families, but who instead have often found their families torn apart and still have not been reunited?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t help Notre Dame. But if Notre Dame calls us to worship Christ, then that call is to

  • feed the hungry.
  • visit the sick and those in prison.
  • clothe the naked.
  • take in the stranger.

Buildings are important symbols…but they are just that. If their meaning is of value, then we need to live out what they call us to.

Paris is burning

The first time I ever heard those three words was in a slightly different order (Is Paris Burning?) when I picked up a book about Hitler’s determination to destroy the city during World War II. The city survived–and has flourished.

But today…

Notre Dame Cathedral

Today, the city…and the world…is in mourning. The beautiful historic symbol of faith and France–Notre Dame–is in flames, even as I type this. The spire has fallen, the roof has collapsed, evacuations are being ordered because of fears that the walls may collapse outward…

A building that has stood for 600 years as a testament to the power of faith…that has touched many with the art and music that has come from it…that has survived multiple wars and bombings…is now being lost to us.

It is ironic that the fire is occurring during Holy Week. Perhaps it is an irony that can cause those of us who claim Christianity to better understand the feelings of those early apostles during the first Holy Week.

Yesterday was a day of celebration…the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Towards the end of the week, the faithful will be being reminded of the dark days when it seemed that everything Jesus stood for was lost…that there was no future. I am sure that is how many are feeling right now as they watch the flames.

And yet…something new arose from the ashes of that first Holy Week. And that same faith can continue to cause us to hope that something new will arise from these ashes. It’s far too early to know what that might be…but faith does not die because a building is lost.

Faith is a trust…a belief…in something that cannot be seen. It is more than hope. It is more than buildings. And so, even as we mourn this loss–just as the disciples mourned the death of Jesus–we trust that a new day will dawn…that something new will arise from the ashes.

Shingles suck!

No, not the kind of shingles you put on your house. The kind that is a second version of chickenpox–and generally shows up as a band of blisters on your waist.

A couple of weeks ago I went to my doctor for my yearly wellness exam. I had had the original shingles shot several years ago, but she suggested I look at getting the new version, since they’ve apparently discovered that the earlier one tends to degrade over time. The new shot is difficult to find, so I was going to need to call pharmacies to see who might have it available.

That was on a Tuesday. By Sunday night I was in the emergency room with pain so severe I couldn’t find any kind of comfortable position. After an IV of pain medication and a CAT scan, I was eventually sent home with the probable diagnosis of a kidney stone. Yay!

I had a follow-up with my doctor the next Tuesday. As she was checking things out–and saying that the kidney stone diagnosis didn’t make sense with the symptoms I was having–she lifted my top…and found the rash. Shingles!

Okay, I knew there were challenges with shingles, but she was going to put me on an anti-viral and some pain meds…so I figured I’d still be able to take part in my denomination’s conference the next week. I had committed to playing the piano and organ for several events during the week, and my doctor had told me I’d be non-contagious by then.

Things didn’t work out that way. I was in enough pain that I eventually decided I needed to back out of my commitments and give time for replacements to be found. I didn’t want to–I haven’t missed being involved in a conference for 50+ years (earlier they were held every 2 years, currently every 3). But I didn’t want to wait until the last moment either.

I’m glad I did. I’ve spent the week of conference lounging on the sofa or in bed…napping…trying to distract myself with reading or coloring…and sharing in the conference through the webstreaming that has been available. There is no way that I would have been able to honor my commitments.

The rash is well on its way to clearing up. The sensitivity to touch is still pretty intense–and the pain is currently bearable…most of the time. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t be in the small percentage that has post-shingles pain…and I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that this doesn’t trigger an exacerbation of my MS.

Asking for help is not easy for me–but I’ve been blessed by the folks who have stepped up to cover for me. And I’ve been blessed by those who have been supporting me in prayers and warm thoughts from a variety of backgrounds.

So yeah, shingles suck…but there have been blessings through it all as well.