Missing table fellowship…

I wasn’t sure whether to title this post “Missing table fellowship” or “Sometimes I feel isolated”…either would have been an appropriate title.

So what do I mean by that?

Many of you know that I have lived with MS (multiple sclerosis) since 1976. It’s gone mostly pretty well–at least since the first five years. Because of the vagaries of this auto-immune disease, there is some unpredictability to my life. I’ve learned to live with that.

But there’s one change MS has made to my experiences that creates that sense of loss. The one constant in my schedule is a daily nap. Sometimes it’s as short as 30 minutes; other times it’s as long as a couple of hours. There’s no specific time I have to take it–but I usually do it around noon. That’s what sometimes makes me feel isolated.

When I go to retreats or other all-day events, the schedule is often very full, with meetings leading right up to lunch and beginning again shortly after lunch. So my choices are (a) to forgo my nap…which really isn’t a choice, because if I do skip the nap, I suffer the consequences the next day, or (b) skip lunch in order to take my nap. Obviously, my choice is (b).

But that means that I miss table fellowship. It’s more than just sitting around the table, eating. It’s the visiting, the sharing, the continued development of community.

The people that I attend these events with are always very nice and very welcoming…but I often feel a little bit on the outside because I’ve missed that time of fellowship. (And when I fill out surveys afterwards, I usually mention that concern.)

There have been some events that I’ve attended where the schedule is wonderful! There is time set apart after lunch for everybody to spend some quiet time however they choose…napping, meditating, walking… At those events, I feel fully a part of the community, and I am very appreciative of the sensitivity of the schedulers.

I’m not casting blame on anyone. We’ve traditionally filled our schedules full, trying to get the “most bang for the bucks” when we pull a group of people together for these types of events. Sometimes, when I’ve mentioned my need for some time for a nap, the schedule has been arranged to allow that–not just for me, but for others who might find it useful as well.

I’m wondering if maybe it’s time that we consider that a period of intentional quiet time should be an important part of a scheduled event. I may use it for a nap (and so might others)…some might use it as an opportunity for meditating, walking, processing the events/information of the morning…

Maybe the Spanish custom of a siesta after lunch is something we should consider more seriously!

Advertisements

Romanticizing our history…

For the last fifteen years or so, I have enjoyed going out to the Kansas City Renaissance Festival. There have been wonderful shows of all types…fun visiting with “royalty”…and I have a number of friends who perform out there.

I also enjoy medieval murder mysteries…plays (think Lion in Winter) and TV shows (think Merlin).

It is fun…but it’s also not real. It’s a romanticized view of a very real history.

When we think about living “back then,” I would imagine that most of us dream of being a king or queen, prince or princess—or at the very least, a member of nobility. Who would choose to be a peasant?!

But do we think about what it was really like? The challenges and concerns a king might have had…of maintaining a wealthy façade…fears of being poisoned…fighting frequent wars. Or the challenges and concerns of a queen…being “sold” in marriage…possibly dying in childbirth. Those concerns (and others) aren’t part of our romanticized history.

Sometimes it’s just fun to “play” history. But sometimes doing that has very real—and lasting—impacts. We forget what really happened and ignore the damage that the real history caused (and may still be causing).

We romanticize our religious history, and by so doing, we continue to believe that those whose beliefs we support were always in the right…and those whose beliefs are different from ours were (and are) heretics who don’t deserve the same rights we have.

Even in our own specific faith traditions, romanticizing our history keeps us from really understanding how that tradition developed and keeps us from letting it grow.

We also often romanticize our own country’s history at times and do that to our peril. When we are not honest about past behavior, we ignore its continuing impacts…the breakup of families…the feeling of race superiority…the genocide of indigenous peoples…

Romanticizing history can be an enjoyable amusement. But it’s not a healthy way to live in a real world.

I am not your enemy

When did the mere fact that I disagree with you make you decide that I am your enemy?

I have not attacked you; in fact, I still like you personally. I believed that we had the same goals–of making this world a safe one for everyone…of valuing the worth of all people–that the differences we had was in how to go about accomplishing those goals.

Yet somehow those disagreements have made you decide that we are no longer friends but rather that I am your enemy.

When I have asked for the places you have gotten your information, I have been asking so that I can compare it with the information I have. I believe that in many cases the truth we are both seeking is probably somewhere in the middle–and by comparing our information sources, we would both have a better understanding of what each other is hearing.

When I have asked questions about why you believe the way you do, it has been because I have wanted to try to understand your perspective.

When I have asked for specifics about why you feel the way you do, again, it is because I want to understand. There have been times when we have been involved in the same discussions and you have complained about being attacked…attacks that I have not seen. When I have asked for specific incidents or posts, it’s not because I am looking for a “gotcha”; it’s because I genuinely am trying to see what it is I’ve missed.

When I do or say what I believe I am called to do or say because I follow Jesus, I’m not attacking you. He called me to stand with the marginalized, the oppressed…those on the outside of society. When I agreed to become a minister in his name, I took on that commitment. That doesn’t mean that I am saying that everything you are doing is wrong. It simply means that I am following his call to me.

And yet somehow all of that has made me your enemy. You have decided that because I seem liberal in my political beliefs, I am your enemy. You have decided that I am not interested in your perspective…that I am demanding that everything be “my way or the highway.”

That’s wrong.

I want to find ways for us to work together. I know we’re not always going to agree, and I’m okay with that. But if we have the same goals–of making this world a better world–isn’t it possible for us to find ways to accomplish that together?

You are not my enemy. Please don’t make me yours.

“I know exactly how you feel…”

No, you don’t.

I appreciate that you are trying to express empathy with my situation, but unless you have walked in my shoes you really don’t know exactly how I feel.

Yes, sometimes you work so long and so hard that you get really tired. I get that. But the kind of tiredness that can be relieved by a good night’s sleep isn’t the same as the MS exhaustion I have to deal with sometimes…the kind that makes it impossible to keep my eyes open for a second longer…the kind that leaves me so drained that I can’t deal with anything or anybody…the kind that turns my brain to absolute mush and makes it impossible for me to string words together in a coherent fashion.

I understand that if you’ve pushed yourself on a hike or a bike ride that your legs ache. I sometimes wish that’s all mine did. But sometimes it feels like my legs are encased in 3-4″ of concrete that I have to haul every time I try to take a step.

Do you know what it feels like to have your hands feel like 25-lb weights at the end of your arms? and not be sure you can control them enough to hold onto something?

When you get a fever–even a little one–it’s not a big deal for most people. But for me…I have to be careful and try to nip a fever in the bud. Otherwise, even a 1-degree fever can bring on a flareup and throw a complete monkey wrench in any plans I have.

I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had to deal with pain or vision problems with my MS, like some have.

But the issues I have had to deal with have impacted my life…my plans…my family in ways that you can’t really understand until and unless you’ve actually lived it.

I appreciate your empathy and your attempts to understand. But please…don’t tell me that you know exactly how I feel. You don’t.

RIP John McCain

A great man died yesterday. Yes, a great man…and I do not say that lightly.

I did not always agree with John McCain, but I respected him. I felt that he was a man of integrity who made his decisions based on his principles. Did I think they were always the right ones? No. Did I think he was perfect and never made mistakes? No.

But when he made mistakes, he acknowledged them. He apologized.

And he worked to find common ground, even with those he disagreed with.

When he was a POW in Vietnam, he had the opportunity to be released early, but he refused to take it, because he knew it would be used as a propaganda tool to demoralize those he was imprisoned with. He paid for it–dearly.

When he was running against Barak Obama, he had the opportunity to attack him in response to a question he was asked. Instead, he did something out of the ordinary in a political fight–he acknowledged that they had major disagreements, but defended Obama and his integrity, calling him “a decent person and a family man.”

He was not always liked, because he chose his positions based on what he believed was right, not simply on party politics.

We will miss him. Not because he did everything we wanted him to, but because he challenged us to be the best we can be. He called us to work to find common ground rather than division. I’m reminded of a quote by Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird that could be McCain’s epitaph: “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

Thank you for your service, Senator. Rest in peace.

Where is our empathy?

Recently a school was closed for two days because of threats made against a transgender student…a child who is 12 years old. I could have understood if–maybe–if the threats had come from other students. That’s an age when being different seems to bring out the worst in us. But these threats came from parents…from those who are supposed to set the example.

As we learn more about how our brains work, about the connections between mind and body, about how our bodies are put together…there is increasing scientific knowledge available to help us understand issues of sexual and gender identities. We can help kids become who they really are–but only if we’re willing to listen and learn ourselves.

What if we actually listened? What if we set our fears aside for a little bit? What if we put our learned prejudices aside? our tendencies to try to apply information from 2000 years ago to today, ignoring all the information we’ve learned about our world, our bodies, ourselves?

I’m not suggesting that scripture isn’t relevant. It is. But the Bible isn’t a science textbook. It’s a record of communities doing their best to understand their world and the Divine. It’s a book that calls us to be open…to be willing to reach out to the marginalized, the hurting, the dispossessed.

That includes kids who are struggling with the differences they sense between who their brain tells them they are and what their body shows.

We may not understand it all, and that’s okay. There’s still a lot for us to learn.

But those of us who are adults have to set the example for our kids.

We can teach them empathy…compassion…willingness to try to understand another.

Or we can teach them fear and hate for “the other.”

I cannot imagine what life is like for that 12-year-old girl…or for the many other children (and adults) who struggle with gender dysphoria.

It’s not a disease. The disease is in us, when we see a 12-year-old child and call her a “half-formed maggot” or “it” or suggest attacking her with “a good sharp knife.”

How do we see?

That question–how do we see?–could be answered in a variety of ways. But it was triggered by a short incident in a book I read…a video I saw…and a picture I saw.

First…in a book titled Wounds Are Where Light Enters, Walter Wangerin, Jr., the author, tells of an incident that involved his adopted African-American son when he was a small child. He was good friends with a neighbor girl, but one day the girl’s mother said that they couldn’t play together any more. Wangerin and his wife thought it was because their son played rougher than his friend did–but that wasn’t the case. It was because he was black. Wangerin, the family’s pastor, went to visit and talk to the mother, who greeted him warmly and then began commiserating about how difficult life was for black children, especially boys…and that she wasn’t surprised they turned to alcohol and crime. Wangerin was nonplussed and asked if she didn’t see that her attitude was one of the things that made it so difficult for them. Why had she cut him off? Her response was simple. “No…black and white don’t marry.”

She didn’t see a little boy who only wanted to play with his friend. She didn’t see a child…she saw color.

Second…a video came up on my Facebook newsfeed about a 66-year-old man who was colorblind. He was given the gift of Enchroma glasses, which allowed him to see color for the first time in his life. It was incredible to watch him see the world in a new way…overwhelming but absolutely joyful.

Image may contain: one or more peopleAnd then third…a picture I saw tonight. I have no words to describe the heartbreak I felt when I saw the picture this little girl who lives in an orphanage drew…a picture of her mother, and then she took off her shoes, and curled up on her mother’s chest.

How do we see? What do we see?

Do we only see what’s on the outside? Or are we willing to look beyond the obvious? to see the inside?

We can put “force fields” around ourselves so that we protect ourselves…because to see the inside requires us to be vulnerable, and that can be frightening. It calls us to be advocates for change…

My faith tradition talks about enduring principles, and some of them call me to see the world differently:

  • Worth of all people
  • Pursuit of peace
  • Unity in diversity
  • Blessings of community

So, how do we see? What do we see?

Are we willing to open our eyes…to see the world in new ways? I hope so.