“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.


Unity IN diversity…

Unity…diversity. Those two words seem to be complete opposites, and putting them together an oxymoron. In fact, if we were to try, most of us would probably try something like “diversity in unity.” That version might make at least some sense…

But to reverse them? to say “Unity in diversity”? How is that possible?

I’ve been thinking about that because of a class I just recently taught…and because one of the emphases in my faith tradition is just that: “Unity in diversity.”

So what does that mean to me? It’s difficult..but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

If we separate the two words, my thoughts might go something like this:

  • Unity – working towards the same goal; being whole.
  • Diversity – being different

And when I look at those ideas, it’s kind of challenging to see how they might go together.

But there are other aspects to their definitions, according to Merriam-Webster:

  • Unity –  a totality of related parts; an entity that is a complex or systematic whole
  • Diversity – composed of different elements

When I look at those ideas, then the concept of “unity in diversity” becomes much more possible and makes more sense.

We–as a society/church/group–can be unified when we recognize that we are part of a complex system, made up of related parts. But all the parts make one. Diversity recognizes that multiplicity of those related parts.

And when we put that together as a concept of “unity in diversity,” I can acknowledge our differences in background, life experiences, understandings, and even beliefs…but at the same time recognize that there is something as the foundation of that diversity that makes us a whole.

Hard to understand? You bet!

Hard to live? Oh yeah!

There are times when it seems impossible to achieve agreement, but at those times, we need to commit to ongoing dialogue–to really work at listening to each other and not talk past each other. And at those times, it is important for us to acknowledge that our inability to agree on issues that affect each others’ lives is hurtful–both to humanity and to all of creation.

But it can happen…it can be lived, if we allow the Divine to work within us.


A place at the table…

“For everyone born, a place at the table…”

That’s a line from a hymn by Shirley Erena Murray that’s become one of my favorites. There are some challenging lines in it as well, because it calls us to consider how we interact with each other as have connect in so many ways.

The hymn is a call for justice for all…for clean water and health–those things that ought to be available to all people. A call for equality…a call for the right to live without fear…to be able to speak out and be heard. Most of all, it’s a call for building communities of “justice and joy, compassion and peace.”

do believe there’s a place at the table for all people. But–and this is an important “but”–I do not believe there is a place at the table for theologies of exclusion, discrimination, hate…

All are welcome at my table–and I do mean all. I welcome those whose perspectives I agree with as well as those I disagree with. I enjoy learning from those whose understandings are different. In the process, I may even change my own mind! At the very least, I become more clear in my own mind what I believe and why.

But while all people are welcome at my table, all theologies and political beliefs/policies are not. Theologies and policies that tell people they are somehow “less than” and not welcome because of their race, sex, gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender attraction, country of origin are not welcome. If you hold to one of those theologies or political beliefs, you are still welcome–as long as you allow others a place at the table as well.

In 2007, scripture was brought to my faith tradition:

Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God’s shalom, invites all people to come and receive divine peace in the midst of the difficult questions and struggles of life. Follow Christ in the way that leads to God’s peace and discover the blessings of all of the dimensions of salvation.

Generously share the invitation, ministries, and sacraments through which people can encounter the Living Christ who heals and reconciles through redemptive relationships in sacred community. The restoring of persons to healthy or righteous relationships with God, others, themselves, and the earth is at the heart of the purpose of your journey as a people of faith.

You are called to create pathways in the world for peace in Christ to be relationally and culturally incarnate. The hope of Zion is realized when the vision of Christ is embodied in communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness.

Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace.

There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.

There is a place at the table for all who wish to work together to create a community of “justice and joy, compassion and peace.”

A prayer for peace

How long, O God? How long before we realize that each life is of worth? that the world we inhabit is incredibly diverse and beautiful? that we are not just consumers but are called to be stewards?

Forgive us, God.

We have looked for ways to divide into groups that call others “less than.” We have said that some lives are not as important as others. We have ignored the beautiful diversity you have created in humankind.

Forgive us, God.

We have trashed and misused your creation. We have exploited the earth’s resources, and we have hunted some species to extinction.

Forgive us, God.

We have decided that because we are humans, we can do anything we want–and we have ignored your call to be stewards of all you have given us. We have instead consumed to excess, leaving some with nothing while others have far more than they need.

Forgive us, God.

Remind us that we are dependent on each other–that what hurts one will ultimately harm all. Help us realize that we must be stewards or we will none of us survive.

We–all of us…humans, animals, our world, our planet…all of us yearn for the time when all the world will live in peace. Give us the courage to work to make it so.


I am not immortal

When I was younger–much younger–life seemed to stretch before me forever. Oh, I knew there would come an end…sometime. But that seemed so far in the future that I didn’t really worry about it.

Now, though, things are different. I know that I have fewer years before me than those behind me.

That really came into focus with the word that someone I went to high school with…whose wedding I played for…whose family has attended my congregation…had a massive heart attack and died last night. He was my age.

And now, even though I am not worried about death, I do wonder. Just how many years do I have left? and how am I going to use them?

I had so many plans…so many dreams. Some of them I’ve accomplished. Some have been left by the wayside as I realized they weren’t really what I wanted after all. But there are still some left unfulfilled–and still desired.

Yet life intervenes. It’s not all bad when that happens. Sometimes it helps us realize that some dreams need to be released in order to allow room for others to grow.

But I am still coming to grips with the realization that I am not immortal. The future that seemed to stretch so far ahead when I was younger has now shrunk. I still don’t see the end of the road, but I know it’s coming.

So what am I going to do with the time that’s left?

Sure, I can make my bucket list…and check off the items as I accomplish them.

But the important things on my list are these two items:

  • that the people I love know that I have loved them and continue to love them…
  • that I have done what I can to make the world a better place for everyone.


Taking a stand

I’ve been thinking recently about several people: Dietrich Boenhoeffer, Irina Sendler, Oskar Schindler, Corrie ten Boom, Immaculee Ilibagiza…ordinary people who made extraordinary decisions that changed not only their lives but the lives of many others as well.

Were they perfect people? No. They were like us–they had flaws. But when they saw something wrong, they made decisions to do something about it. Would I have done what they did? I don’t know…

They all lived during extremely difficult times…times when many others hunkered down to protect themselves. Why didn’t they?

They’re not particularly household names. Many have probably never heard of at least some of them.

Dietrich Boenhoeffer was a German pastor during World War II. He saw the glorification of Hitler and the rise of the Nazi party as a danger to the Christian church–and preached loudly and strongly against the church’s cooperation with the Nazis. To counter the nazification of the German church, he started a movement that ultimately became known as the Confessing Church. He had opportunities to live safely abroad, but he felt that his calling was to be with his people…to lead them in opposition to what he saw as fundamentally evil. He eventually became involved underground activities against the Nazis, culminating in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler…a decision that led to his capture, internment in a concentration camp, and ultimate death at the age of 41. Do I agree with everything he said and did? No. I think that some of his theology was flawed–but at the same time, he saw the danger in the church becoming an arm of the government and did what he felt necessary to try to bring the church back to its mission.

Irena Sendler was a young Polish nurse and social worker. Hallmark made a movie of her story–The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler. When the Nazis came to power, she began doing what she could to help isolated Jews–offering food and shelter. But when the Warsaw Ghetto was created, she saw the future for Poland’s Jews–a dark future–and began doing what she could to change that. She (and others) began smuggling children out of the ghetto, finding them safe places to live until they could hopefully be reunited with their parents…a hope that could not be realized. She was eventually captured and tortured–her legs and feet fractured–but she did not give up names of her compatriots. Although she was sentenced to be shot, she was rescued and remained hidden until the war was over. At a time when the Nazis were creating hatred and division–creating propaganda that called the Poles to see their Jewish neighbors as “other” and “less than,” Irena saw them as people who needed help.

Oskar Schindler has become known to us through the movie Schindler’s List. He wasn’t a particularly nice person–an opportunist and a rather shady businessman. But something got to him, and he ended up being an unlikely rescuer of Jews, using them as factory workers in various situations…giving them the opportunity to survive. I don’t know that I would have liked him. I know I would not have liked some of his activities…and yet, somehow he was touched and instead of simply feathering his own nest, he used his connections to save some who were seen as “other” and “less than.”

Corrie ten Boom was the unmarried daughter of a Dutch watch maker, a member of the Dutch Reformed Church whose story can be found in The Hiding Place. When the persecution of Jews started, she and her family started hiding them, because she saw that persecution as injustice and as an affront to God. She and her family believed in a principle that also guides my faith tradition–the worth of all people. Their actions ultimately resulted in the imprisonment of Corrie and her sister Bessie in a concentration camp, where Bessie died. Other family members also died as a result of their actions. After she was freed from Ravensbruck, she began traveling to countries that had been impacted by the war, trying to bring reconciliation and healing. She found herself coming face to face with her own biases when a former guard asked for her forgiveness–and she was only able to do that through the grace of God. In many ways, I like her…but could I lived through what she did with the trust and confidence in God that she had? I don’t know.

Immaculee Ilibagiza is definitely not someone most of us have heard of…because she lives in a part of the world that is outside most of what we are familiar with. She was 23 years old when the Rwandan genocide began. People who had been friends and neighbors began to see each other as sub-human and turned on each other in a murderous spree that lasted months. Immaculee was sheltered by a local pastor, along with seven other women. They lived in a 3×4-foot bathroom for three months, hearing the murders going on…hearing neighbors on the hunt for people they wanted to kill. When she was finally able to come out, she discovered that most of her family had been killed…many of them by a man who had been in their home as a friend. When he was tried and found guilty, she was given the opportunity to respond to him–and she chose to respond with forgiveness. She tells her story in Left to Tell…but I wonder…how? How does one find the strength to forgive someone who has killed your whole family? Could I have done that?

I have been fortunate in that I have spent most of my life living in safety. I have not had to worry about how others have seen me…I have not had to worry about family members being killed. I have not been looked at as “less than”…

And yet I’m living in a time and situation where that is true for many people. So what is my responsibility? How/when do I take a stand? I consider myself an ordinary person as did these people. Yet their faith called them to what could be seen as extraordinary decisions and they could not be silent in the face of injustice and cruelty…in the face of some being seen as “less than”…so how can I?




Ugly American

Back in the late 1950s/early 1960s, a book titled The Ugly American became famous (and, in some quarters,infamous). It was an unflinching look at how Americans were often perceived throughout the world…and it was not pretty.

While not true of all Americans, nevertheless, it was true that far too many Americans working or traveling abroad came across as loud, obnoxious know-it-alls who were convinced that they were God’s gift to the world and had no need to listen to/learn about/be aware of any other culture’s history, beliefs, or perspectives. In practice, what this often meant was that rather than listening to what people said they needed, Americans rode in on their white horses with a predetermined set of policies to be implemented, regardless.

It has taken us 50+ years to move past that stereotype…and less than a year to slide back into it.

We now have a leader who has used shameful and obscene language towards those who are brothers and sisters in other lands. He has celebrated those who believe that the mere color of their skin makes them better than others of different skin tones. He has lied–and then lied again to cover up the original lies. He has bullied other world leaders…and refused to work with them in any way to help our planet. He has denied policies that were put in place to protect those who are vulnerable.

It would be bad enough if if were just him. But he has made it acceptable to be cruel to others…to be divisive…to bully.

The America he wants to create is not the America I want to live in. I have no desire to be one of the ugly Americans portrayed in that book–and being recreated in today’s culture.

The America I want to create is memorialized on the Statue of Liberty:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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!”
I hope and pray that it doesn’t take us another 50+ years to understand what we have done to ourselves and our relationships in the world with our embrace of the ugly American stereotype…and that we will be able to again live the promise of Lady Liberty.