Love…death…holes

Loving is difficult. It makes us vulnerable, and we’re not good at that. We want to be in control…because so much in life is out of our control.

But life without loving is also difficult. It isolates us…keeps us locked inside ourselves.

Both giving and receiving love is important. We sometimes love with conditions, but there are times when love is completely unconditional…and that often occurs with our pets.

Rascal

Rascal was a member of our family for about 12-1/2 years. He came to us already named–and we laughed about the fact that he often lived up to–or down to–his name. But he crept into our hearts. He knew when we were hurting, knew when someone needed a hug. He was independent–but willing to lay down that independence when someone in his pack needed him.

At his last checkup, we discovered that he had potential heart problems. We could have had more testing done–but even if we had found out for certain that there were problems, there wasn’t anything that could have been done at the time. So we knew we were looking down the road at the end of our time with him, but we thought it would still be a while.

That wasn’t to be, though.

Friday night he started having breathing problems–and Saturday morning at 7:00, he crossed the rainbow bridge.

I’ve been grateful that he was with us all night…and that he was snuggled up next to me when he took his last breath. He was not alone…he was with his pack.

But now there’s a hole. We keep looking, expecting to see him snuggled in his blanket on the couch…or sitting in the chair, watching and ready to bark at intruders who enter “his” space…or looking at us when we leave, waiting for us to say, “It’s okay, boy, we’ll be back in a little bit.”

The house feels empty.

I know the hole will fill…down the road. And I know we have lots and lots of memories of fun times with him. But we still feel the loss. He is not the first fur baby we have lost…just the most recent.

Loving is difficult. It makes us vulnerable. But, as Anatole France said, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. ” Without loving, without both giving and receiving unconditional love, we are not whole.

 

Advertisements

“Do you want to be healed?”

A number of years ago, I wrote a poem based on the incident in John 5:1-15–when Jesus encountered an invalid at the Pool of Bethsaida who had been waiting for thirty-eight years for someone to help him into the pool when the water was first stirred up (according to tradition, by an angel) so that he could be healed. I’ve found it interesting that Jesus’ first question to him was “Do you want to be healed?”

I thought of that this week, as I began reading a book that I’m going to be working through with my spiritual advisor – Healing Spiritual Wounds by Carol Howard Merritt. As I was spending some intentional quiet time after reading the first chapter, I started to do some journaling, a spiritual practice that has been effective for me.

To my surprise, the first thought that came to mind was the title of this post: “Do you want to be healed?”

If you’ve read my blog for very long, you know that I went through a very difficult dark night of the soul a few years ago…a dark night that lasted about three years. By the grace of God, I was able to come through it–and I have felt very much that significant healing took place.

But as I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that healing is not a one-time event or activity; it’s a journey.

My journey of healing actually began about forty years ago, when–due to some circumstances that had taken me to the end of my rope–I had several sessions of counseling that helped me uncover some areas of pain I had not even been aware of. My counselor helped me bring them to the light so that they could be healed.

So when I was trying to find a way through the dark night, the idea of counseling was not something I balked at. Instead, I recognized that–again–there were areas of woundedness that needed healing…that I could not heal on my own. My counselor at that time was a great help.

And so, as the time has gone on, I had thought that the wounds in my life had all been healed.

But then I borrowed this book from the library and–as I read through it–felt that it was one I needed to spend more time with. So I bought it…and now am beginning working through it.

So…do I want to be healed?

Sometimes that’s a difficult question to answer. Sometimes it feels easier to hang on to the hurts we’ve experienced; they’re comfortable, in an odd sort of way. And healing may require confrontation–with myself and with the past. It may cause me to discover things about my attitude that I don’t really want to know.

But life without healing isn’t really life.

So yes, I do want to be healed. It’s not necessarily an easy journey or process…it takes courage and trust. But yes, I do want to be healed–to be made whole…to live in the spirit of shalom.

The power of stories

Over the last couple of years, my spiritual advisor and I have been working with a book by Amy-Jill Levine–Short Stories by Jesus. It’s a look at the parables from a new perspective–or rather, from an old one. Levine takes us through a number of parables, helping the reader to hear them as Jesus’ listeners would have. Sometimes it’s been a challenge, because the way they have been shared or preached for many years has become so ingrained in us.

But when I have been willing to listen in new ways, there have been those “Aha!” moments–times when there are new insights…and understandings that have challenged what I thought I knew.

I’ve been reading the last story in preparation for our next meeting–the story about Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31). This one–at least at this point–hasn’t hit me with as many challenges to my understanding as previous ones have…but it has reminded me of the challenges I face as a follower of Jesus. Here’s a version of the story from the Complete Jewish Bible:

“Once there was a rich man who used to dress in the most expensive clothing and spent his days in magnificent luxury. At his gate had been laid a beggar named El‘azar who was covered with sores. He would have been glad to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table; but instead, even the dogs would come and lick his sores. In time the beggar died and was carried away by the angels to Avraham’s side; the rich man also died and was buried.

“In Sh’ol, where he was in torment, the rich man looked up and saw Avraham far away with El‘azar at his side. He called out, ‘Father Avraham, take pity on me, and send El‘azar just to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue, because I’m in agony in this fire!’ However, Avraham said, ‘Son, remember that when you were alive, you got the good things while he got the bad; but now he gets his consolation here, while you are the one in agony. Yet that isn’t all: between you and us a deep rift has been established, so that those who would like to pass from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house, where I have five brothers, to warn them; so that they may be spared having to come to this place of torment too.’ But Avraham said, ‘They have Moshe and the Prophets; they should listen to them.’ However, he said, ‘No, father Avraham, they need more. If someone from the dead goes to them, they’ll repent!’ But he replied, ‘If they won’t listen to Moshe and the Prophets, they won’t be convinced even if someone rises from the dead!’”

There are so many ways this story challenges us. It’s very easy to say that the rich man got what was coming to him–but if I delight in his eternal torment, then am I any better? And do I listen any better than he did to the way I should live?

It’s also easy to find reasons to explain why Lazarus ended up poor and hoping for help from the rich man…but the story doesn’t give any–and none are needed for the story to have impact.

I think this parable–and Levine’s “unpacking” of it–spoke so much to me today because of what I see happening in this country that I love. Safety nets for the poor and vulnerable are being dismantled…the prosperity gospel is widely praised and preached…and so many who claim to be Christian take actions that to me seem so incredibly un-Christian.

Levine suggests that

The parable ends with a cautionary note. Heed the commands to aid the poor and the sick and hungry, or you will eventually suffer worse poverty, greater pains, deeper hunger. Do not just contribute to the food drive, but invite the hungry into your home. Do not just put money in the collection plate, but use your resources to provide jobs and support for those in need. Do not treat the sick as burdens, but as beloved family members who deserve love and care. Know the names of the destitute; each has a story to tell….

[W]e do not need supernatural revelation to tell us that we have the poor with us. We do not even need the threats of eternal torture. If we cannot see the poor person at our gate–in the street, in the commercials that come into our homes, in the appeals made in sermons, in the newspapers–then we are lost.

Will we listen?

Can we talk?

I was challenged in a post on Facebook to begin a respectful dialogue about gun control and safety. I am willing to try just that. But first, a little background about me so you know where I am coming from.

As a young person, I enjoyed target shooting at my grandparents’ farm with a BB gun. But I have never owned a gun—nor wanted to. I do not want a gun in my home.

However, I have friends and family who carry, and I respect their right to do so. Some do it for self-protection, others for hunting. I have eaten some of the meat obtained by hunting, and I enjoy it. So I am not averse to guns being used that way.

I also have family and friends who have served in the military, and I respect their service. I have lost a grandson who was a Marine who died shortly after coming back from Iraq. It was not a gun-related death, but what he experienced in Iraq was—I believe—involved in the depression leading to a poor choice that led to his death.

I also acknowledge that there is a lot about guns that I do not know. Again, because I do not want to own a gun, I’ve not felt the need to learn all the ins and outs.

I’m also aware that regardless of what we do, there are going to be individuals who are going to find ways to get weapons. We’re not going to be able to stop that completely. But that does mean that we shouldn’t try?

So…having said that, I do have some questions that I’d like to pose to try to start a dialogue. These are serious questions—ones I think could be a basis for bipartisan discussion about what I see as common sense changes that could be made. If you are willing, I’d really like to hear your responses.

  1. When is the right time to have a discussion about gun policy? It seems that whenever there is a shooting, there is a cry that that is not the appropriate time…that the focus should be on the victims and their families. I don’t disagree with that—but as time passes, when a discussion is suggested, there always seems to be another reason as to why the time is inappropriate.
  2. What can we do to prevent the mentally ill from purchasing guns? (And a corollary to that—how do we get more help for those who are mentally ill?)
  3. Should we bar gun purchases by people on federal no-fly or watch lists?
  4. Why shouldn’t we require background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows?
  5. We require training and education before a person can drive a car. Shouldn’t we do the same thing before a person can carry a gun?
  6. Why shouldn’t we require a permit (which, I would assume, would involve training) before allowing concealed carry?
  7. If we’re going to try to solve at least some aspects of gun violence, why is the government not permitted to gather information on shootings? Isn’t this a serious health crisis?

There are other questions I have as well—questions that I know I would disagree with family and friends about. But I hope that these six could at least begin a discussion. Far too many children have lost their lives to accidental shootings…far too many families have lost loved ones to mass shootings. I don’t want to wake up to the news of yet another one.

Welcome the stranger…

Last night I sat in on a wonderful evening of story-telling from members of (and about) my faith tradition. Some of the stories were funny…some were more somber.

My faith tradition was birthed in the United States, but it did not have an easy birth or childhood. We were “different”…we challenged the status quo…and we became refugees. We were driven from place to place, and our founder was ultimately murdered. In many ways, it’s a wonder that we survived.

But the story that caught my attention last night was of one of those times of wandering. We were forcibly driven out of our homes in winter. We lost most of our earthly possessions–and many families did not know where their fathers were…or even if they were still alive. The journey was a difficult one. Sometimes we were able to find shelter–even if it was dirty and smelly; sometimes we were denied even that. Ultimately we found people who cared…people who saw us not as “other” but as human beings in need. We found a city of 1500 who were willing to take in 5000 refugees who had nothing. We found a temporary home while we regrouped so that we could go on.

As I listened to that story, I thought about the parallels with today…with my parents’ generation and my own.

In the 1930s there were people fleeing and looking for a place of shelter. They were people who had lost everything and who were afraid for their lives–and the lives of their children. Some found shelter, but many did not and perished.

Credit Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Today there are many fleeing and looking for safe places for themselves and their children. Some have found shelter–but many are still looking.

Yes, they are “other”…they are different.

But I am part of a country that has grown from the contributions of immigrants and refugees. I am part of a faith tradition that was welcomed as refugees. I am also part of a bigger faith tradition whose story includes both being welcomed as a stranger–and then being challenged to do the same to others. My people were welcomed…and I grew up believing this poem by Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Compassion…to suffer with…

Sometimes there are almost no words to say. But I have to try.

Yesterday I was shocked and appalled at the current administration’s budget. But I was even more appalled to hear the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, describe it as “compassionate.” Compassionate?!?

This proposed budget includes a huge increase in defense spending–with corresponding cuts to (1) climate change research, (2) foreign aid, (3) public broadcasting, (4) national institutes of health, (5) meals on wheels, and (6) after-school programs…among others. The reasons? They don’t believe in the science that has been widely accepted around the world–and, in the case of Meals on Wheels and after-school programs, they don’t see any demonstrable benefits from them.

Really?

First of all, for many of the kids (and families) who depend on the after-school programs, they provide a safe place, food, and a place where they can get help with schoolwork. Those aren’t demonstrable benefits?

And Meals on Wheels provides nutritional meals for folks who may be on the border of having to choose between food and other necessities…folks who may not be able to get out…as well as providing a way for someone to check up on them to ensure they haven’t fallen (or worse). Those aren’t demonstrable benefits?

I said yesterday that I believe that the GOP and I use different dictionaries to find the definition of compassion. The dictionaries I use indicate that the word comes from the mid-14th century, from Latin words that mean “to suffer with.” I do not see much suffering with those who are poor…hungry…in need.

And I am reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 25:

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited….

Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.

 

The indomitable human spirit

I’ve been enjoying watching the 2016 Olympics. Yes, I know there are problems–sometimes very serious ones–that can be found related to the games…from the cost of creating the site to some of the training methods used. But there are also some wonderful stories of the indomitable human spirit. These are some that have impressed me.

  1. The “Final Five”…Not only have each of them been wonderful performers themselves, it’s been clear that they really like and support each other. They have been genuinely delighted when someone on their team has done well–and genuine in their hugs when someone has had a problem with a routine.
  2. Aly Raisman…To watch Aly Raisman come back come back from disappointment four years ago, determined to show that she is one of the best in the world was exciting…and her parents were as much fun to watch as she was! It was easy to sympathize with their concern and nervousness for their daughter, but they way in which they showed it made each of us wonder how we would react in the same situation.
  3. Laurie Hernandez…She just bounces! She looks like she is having so much fun in her routines.
  4. Simone Biles…Who can ignore Simone her?! Her gymnastic ability is incredible–I can’t imagine bouncing as high in the air as she does. But the support of her grandparents (now her parents) through the years is special as well. I can’t imagine the pain of seeing your child lose custody of their children–much less making the decision to adopt them yourselves. But it says a lot about the special relationship they have.
  5. Ellie Downie…Her fall during her floor routine for the all-around qualifying was horrendous! I’m sure that everyone–including her sister–who saw it was scared for her and wondered what the prognosis was. But then to see her come back and insist on doing two vaults so that the team could qualify…and then to see her later do a wonderful repeat of the floor routine was wonderful.
  6. Kohei Uchimura and Oleg Verniaiev…Gymnastic decisions are often close, but the men’s all-around came down to the final performer on the final routine–and a decision of .99 point. Both competitors did wonderful routines and you sometimes wish that there didn’t have to be a winner and everyone else.
  7. 2016 Refugee Team…For the first time the Olympics acknowledged that the world is not a wonderful, peaceful place. Ten athletes are competing under the flag of the Olympics, highlighting the problems of refugees around the world. Just staying alive for some of these refugees makes them gold medal winners, even if they don’t win at the Olympics.
  8. Michael Phelps…Does anything else need to be said? I was delighted to see him come back in a better place than he was after the 2012 Olympics, and to see him delight not only in his own successes but also in the team success.
  9. Joseph Schooling…Each athlete has a hero they look up to. For this young man it was Michael Phelps. I cannot imagine how he felt when he beat Phelps out for a gold in the butterfly.
  10. Katie Ledecky…Does anything else need to be said about her? She absolutely blew everyone else away in the 400-meter freestyle…and she looks like she’s having so much fun as well.
  11. Simone Manuel…This young swimmer tied for gold with the 16-year-old Canadian Penny Oleksiak in the 100-meter freestyle, with both of them breaking the world record in the process. She is the first African-American to win an individual event in Olympic swimming–and the background to her win informed me of some of our racist swimming history, history I had not been aware of because it had not impacted me.
  12. Mo Farah…Who? Not a runner I had ever heard anything about, but his run in the 10,000-meter race was incredible to watch. He started at the back of the pack…took a fall on the second lap…and yet came back to win.
  13. Keri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross…I used to enjoy playing volleyball at church camps, but these two women take it to a whole different level! They are so athletic and manage to pull off almost impossible saves!
  14. Ibtihaj Muhammad…When I was in college I took a class in fencing. I haven’t fenced since, but I remember what a challenge the sport is. At a time when so much hatred has been expressed against Muslims, I am pleased to see a Muslim woman representing the United States.
  15. Adilende Cornelissen…I’ve always loved horses. I don’t understand much about the sport of dressage, but I do know that it requires a close connection between the rider and the horse. Cornelissen was the reigning silver medalist, but when her horse became ill, she put his needs to recover over her own desires to win.

I know there are undoubtedly many more–and will be more before the Olympics are over.

Perhaps one of the major values of the Olympic games is to remind us of the importance of the opportunity to do one’s best…the importance of teamwork…the indomitable human spirit.