I have a dream…

In the United States, today is the day set apart for celebrating and honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s a good time to look at ourselves…to see where we’ve been (both as a country and individually)…to see where we are (again, both as a country and individually)…and to consider where we want to be (as a country and individually).

I remember the days of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s…

  • the hatred that was apparent on faces of individuals who did not want people of any other color than white sitting at lunch counters…
  • the taunting and harassing of young people–some young elementary students–who wanted access to the same quality of education as their white peers…
  • the awful pictures of peaceful protestors being sprayed with fire hoses and attacked by police dogs…
  • the murders of individuals who were helping others with their rights to vote…
  • the murders of innocent children in a church…

Looking back, I can think that we’ve come a long ways. And yet…today I see so many situations that make us less than our best vision…

  • far too many African-American individuals being killed in their interactions with police with no apparent consequences…
  • demonization of individuals fleeing oppression and violence…
  • language from the top echelons of our government that promotes separation and division among races and ethnicities…
  • marches that promote white superiority…
  • mass shootings..
  • an unwillingness to listen to scientists and their concerns for our planet…
  • a brand of “Christianity” that insists on its superiority over any other understanding of the Divine…

You probably have your own list of concerns.

And yet…I also see hope…

  • in an increasing diversity of representation (at least in some areas)…
  • in young people who are standing up and saying “enough is enough”…
  • a growing community of people from a variety of backgrounds who are finding common ground even as they acknowledge their diversity…

And so, on this day when we remember a man who said, “I have a dream…” and who called us all to join in making that dream a reality, I also want to remember another challenge:

mlk quote on darkness and light

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Living with an invisible illness…

This is a longer post than I usually write, but through the years these have been some things I’ve wanted to say. So…thanks for taking the time to read!

Everyone has issues they have to deal with. Everyone.

Sometimes they’re obvious—and often when they are, people are willing to give someone a break…to understand when they have to change plans or when something goes wrong.

But some of us live with invisible illnesses or invisible disabilities, and those are harder…for everyone.

Everyone’s life is different, but I’d like to just share some musings from my life with one of those invisible disabilities—multiple sclerosis (MS). I was diagnosed with it in 1976, so that’s a lot of years with it…and while I’ve been very fortunate (and blessed) in my life, there are some things that I would like to share.

I’ve been able to do most of what I want—at least in some fashion—for most of those years. But if I’ve gotten too tired, too stressed, or too hot, all my plans may end up going out the window. Not because I want them to, but because I simply can’t do what I’d originally planned. I know that those changes may impact others, and I’m sorry about that. But unfortunately it’s not something I can do anything about—not if I value my own health.

And that brings up another point…fatigue. I understand that everyone gets tired. But what I call “MS fatigue” is different. It’s difficult to describe, because it’s not something that can be taken care of by a nap or by a few nights of really good sleep. It may feel more like trying to walk through thick jello with 50-pound weights on my legs. Or it may feel like my eyelids have weights on them and I just cannot keep them open. That fatigue may last for several days (or longer) or it may disappear in a day or two…suddenly. I never know.

Part of my daily schedule since 1976 includes a nap. Not necessarily to take care of the fatigue, but to give my body a chance to rejuvenate on a regular basis. I can skip a nap one day—but if I do, I pay for it the next several days. I may sleep as little as 30 minutes…or my nap may go a couple of hours. It all depends on how hard I’ve been pushing myself. And because the nap is so important to my health, it makes retreats and day-long meetings challenging. My choices during them are usually either eat lunch or take a nap. The nap wins…always. Unfortunately that means that I miss the fellowship and visiting that often goes on—and that’s something I really miss. I’m always delighted when the schedule is designed so that there is some quiet time after lunch for everyone. Then I don’t feel left out or feel like the odd one.

I try to be vigilant about being around people who might be sick, because I can’t afford to have a fever. Even one degree triggers some of my problems with MS…so when I do get sick, it’s often a balancing act between letting a fever help burn away whatever germs are causing the illness and trying to keep my body from getting too hot and kicking in an MS exacerbation.

Speaking of sickness…there are a few comments I’ve heard far too often and that are not at all helpful. Please don’t insist that the regimen your aunt or a friend or someone else followed is the one I should also follow. Through the years I have had doctors that I trust and work with—and believe me, through the years I have asked about various “treatments” that someone has shared. My doctors have been willing to investigate alternative therapies along with conventional medicines—and I trust them.

If you are religious, please don’t tell me “I know if you have enough faith, you’ll be healed.” Of all the comments that can be made, I think that’s one of the cruelest. For someone who is already struggling, this comment places the “fault” for not being healed on their supposed lack of faith…and that is just another burden no one needs to carry. Just as an aside, while I still deal with MS symptoms and issues, I do believe that I’ve been healed—I just haven’t been cured. From my perspective, there are several different aspects of healing—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual—and while I would love a physical healing, in my case I have found the other aspects to be more important.

I am appreciative when you let me know that you will be remembering me in thoughts and prayers. But don’t insist on making a public “spectacle” of praying over me. That’s embarrassing…and, for me, has little to do with your concern for me.

Remember the rest of the family. While I’m the one dealing specifically with the illness, it affects the rest of the family as well.

And one last thing…I am more than my illness. I am still me—someone who loves my husband and kids and grandkids, music, books, dogs, life. So please…let me be me.

Peace

Advent2

This Sunday we lit the Advent candle of peace.

That sounds a bit like an oxymoron in the society we are currently living in. We hear talk of wars…we see our environment being destroyed for short-term gains…we hear language that demonizes those who are different, whether that difference is due to race, ethnicity, gender, color, sexual identity or orientation, religion, politics, or any of the other myriad ways we can separate ourselves from each other. We see people dying for lack of basic needs while others have more than they could ever hope to spend in a lifetime.

So what peace are we talking about?

In English, “peace” is rather passive…an absence of conflict.

But I think the kind of peace being talked about when we light this Advent candle is more like the Hebrew word “shalom.” That means an absence of conflict, but it means so much more! It means healing…wholeness…reconciliation. It has to do with keeping promises…in our relationships with each other and with the Divine.

That’s not easy. It’s sometimes so much simpler to just sit back and wish for a time when there is no conflict.

But Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” A contemporary translation (The Message) says it this way: “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”

So lighting this second candle of Advent–the candle of peace–challenges us to do more than just sit back and wish. It commits us to modeling the kind of relationships we want for the world…keeping our promises…doing all we can to bring healing, wholeness, and reconciliation to a world in desperate need of those gifts.

Advent musings

As we are preparing to go into the season of Advent…and beginning our preparations for Christmas…I got to thinking about what we know about Jesus.

He was born into an occupied country—a country wracked by violence where one never knew from one day to the next whether they would be alive or dead…and where safety for the occupied community was really a mirage.

Besides the occupiers, his country was also torn by violence between competing groups who had very different opinions on how to deal with the governing authorities. Some wanted to just get along. Others wanted the invaders out—and were willing to use every method they knew to get them gone…along with those who had collaborated with them.

There was a large gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Some were secure in knowing they had a place to live, clothes to wear, and enough food to eat. Many, many more weren’t sure where their next meal would be coming from.

At various times, people fled their country. Some were running from the violence that surrounded them. Others were hoping somehow to find a better life. Jesus’ own family fled the violence and became refugees in another country.

As an adult, back in his own country, Jesus continued to face challenges. Violence, corruption in government and religion, fear, hatred of the other…

And yet…he did otherwise. He ate with corrupt religious leaders. He healed family members of the oppressors. He visited with those who were “other.” He talked about love…and challenged his followers to truly follow his example of all-embracing love, hope, and healing.

So this year…while I love my traditional and beautiful nativity scenes, I also want to look at ones that make me uncomfortable…that remind me that the One I will be celebrating did not live an easy life–and calls me to make sometimes difficult choices. I want to be reminded that when I look into the faces of “the other,” I am called to see the face of Jesus.

Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of when Jesus came 2000 years ago…and a time of preparation for when Jesus will come again…and I want to be reminded again and again of what he said–that when I bring ministry (food, water, shelter, affirmation) to any of God’s children, I am doing it to and for him.

See the source image

How long?

Another mass shooting….

Another round of thoughts and prayers….

Another series of “conversations” about whether or not changes in gun laws would have saved lives….

Another insistence that a “good guy” with a gun could have stopped the shooting…

Another time of red flags missed…

But people are still dead.

What should have been a time of peaceful worship…of celebration of the naming of a child…is destroyed in a rain of bullets and hate.

There will be more vigils….

And we will say “never again”….

But deep in our hearts we know it will happen again…because we are too in love with our guns to make any changes. Too in love with our ideas of “freedom” to work together to make our schools and places of worship safe for everyone. Too enamored with our freedom of speech to acknowledge that words of hatred and division have an impact.

How long?

And how many more will have to die?

How long…?

 

Shouldn’t church just be … church?

“Why does political ‘stuff’ have to get talked about at church? I come to church to hear God’s word; I can get enough of the other stuff the rest of the week. Shouldn’t church just be…well…church?”

That depends.

My father, who was a full-time minister in my faith tradition, had a saying that the responsibility of the church was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

I’m not sure we’re really accomplishing either of those responsibilities very well today.

There are a lot of hurting people who would like to find a place where they are accepted, loved, and told they are people of worth. Unfortunately, far too often when they step into a church, they are told that they have to change…that their lifestyle keeps them from being loved…that God hates who/what they are…and they leave feeling worse than when they come.

And those who are comfortable far too often find themselves able to nod in agreement when they hear words that confirm that their comfortable lifestyle is proof that God loves them and what they are doing meets with God’s approval.

Too often church means we close the doors on the world as it is and the rest of the week, making a nice, safe shelter for us and those we like and agree with.

But those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus need to take a closer look at this one we follow.

He started out his public ministry by quoting an older prophet (Isaiah 4:18-19 CEB):

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

When his followers asked him to teach them to pray, he included this as part of his prayer (Matthew 6:10 Good News Translation):

may your Kingdom come;
may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Both of those teachings sound to me like we have some major responsibility towards those we share this earth with.

And there’s an even clearer message. Many of us who claim to be followers of this Jesus may be surprised when we face him. Here’s what he said about that (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 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.”

So…should church just be…well…church? If that means that it calls us to care for our brothers and sisters, whether they are in our social circles or not…whether they are the same religion…whether they are the same color…sexual orientation…gender…race… whether we agree with their politics or not, then I’m for that kind of church!

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!