“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.


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.


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?

Am I a Christian?

For many years, the easy answer would have been “Of course!”

Now…I find myself wondering just how to answer that question in a way that most accurately reflects my thinking. And it’s difficult.

First of all, let me be clear on one thing. I am a follower of the One called Jesus the Christ. I’m not a perfect follower…and I struggle sometimes with where I sense Jesus calling me to be and what I sense myself being called to do. But I have found in him the best example of the love of the Divine…the way to live with integrity…and the one who challenges me to do the best I can to create a world where diversity is welcomed, where people are seen as individuals and not classes to be demonized, where the worth of all people is seen as paramount–even those who seek to destroy me.

But a Christian? It depends on what you mean by that, especially in today’s political climate.

Many people I see being described as “Christian” hold values and attitudes that I find diametrically opposed to the one whose name they claim. If being a Christian means supporting policies that tear families apart with no empathy…or swallowing values in order to be close to the seats of power…or believing that one skin color is superior to all others…or that the poor deserve no safety net…that the rich are somehow supremely blessed by God and deserve everything they have–and everyone else be damned…that those whose gender or sexual expression is different from my own understanding makes them worthy of being killed…then no, I am not a Christian.

The term “Christian” began as an epithet. Then it became a positive descriptive title…and today, for many, it has again become an epithet. I would like to reclaim its positive values, but I am afraid that is going to take many, many years.

But again, am I a Christian? There’s a wonderful portion in the Gospel of Matthew that–in many ways–gives my answer. But for now…I think I’m more comfortable using an earlier description used by those who followed this path…”followers of the Way”…the way described in the passage below (Matthew 25:31-45 The Message).

“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

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.’

“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: 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.’”



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.


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.

Light in the darkness

Although I’m not a fan of winter cold, I do like the month of December because of all the beautiful Christmas lights that are up. They provide colorful light in the winter darkness.

But then the Christmas season ends–and the lights come down.

The darkness then seems so much stronger. I wonder sometimes just how long it will last…and how long it will be before we see the light again.

It always comes. The darkness cannot conquer the light.

But even more than that, I am reminded of my responsibility to be a bringer of light into the darkness that is part of my world. At times it seems as though the darkness will never end…and at times it seems to be getting stronger and stronger.

But darkness cannot conquer light.

I loved the Harry Potter books and movies. They were a reminder of the constant battle between darkness and light–and the hope that light would eventually triumph (which it did). Sometimes the situation seemed hopeless…and what seemed to be light actually was darkness and vice versa. But, as J.K. Rowling said, “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

So who are we?

The winter months give us a choice. We can increase the darkness…or we can be the light that shines in it.

As this new year starts, I am reminded of something that Martin Luther King said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

May we be the light and love that drive out darkness and hate.