Posts Tagged ‘healing

17
Mar
20

Before and After

Mustang restorationIt was over 20 years ago, but it was a period that still holds the title of “Absolute Worst Time of My Life.”

It was the time when my marriage of 23 years crashed and burned… one hundred percent due to my own immaturity and misanthropy.

It was the time when my struggling advertising and public relations business foundered and then finally ground to a halt.

It was the time when I seemed to be competing with myself to see if the next bad choice could somehow be worse than the last one.

It was the time when I succeeded in not only alienating my then wife, but also both of my sons.

It was a time when I was unable to see any hope or a way out and did not see how it was possible to sink any lower in terms of energy, self-esteem, or faith.

It was the time when I let go any shred of pretense of self-sufficiency, dropped to my knees in anguish, and cried out to God in utter despair.

It was also the time – I now see in retrospect – that my rebirth and redemption began in earnest.

The Bible tells us again and again that God has the desire and the power to redeem… anyone and any situation. Psalm 130:7 says, “O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.”

114 other verses spread across the Old and New Testaments repeat the same theme.

And yes, I believe this truth because I grant God’s Word supreme authority in my life. As we trace through the narrative of God’s activity in the world, we come across the theme of redemption over and over and over again… from the redemption of Noah and his family from the flood, to the redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt, to the redemption of the zealot Saul following the death of Jesus, and many others.

Heck, you might even start to believe that communicating the theme of REDEMPTION was one of the main reasons the Bible was written in the first place!

But I also believe in God’s power to redeem because I have experienced it! God redeemed my miserable husk of a life and used it for (I hope) something higher and better than chasing the next sensual gratification.

From my first-hand experience, I have learned that redemption doesn’t mean, “The bad chapter never happened.” Instead, it is God’s assurance that when we lean completely on God, abandoning our own claims to wisdom and nimble adaptability, God gazes on us with loving eyes and says, “I will take this wreckage and create something beautiful and life-giving from it.”

Sort of like the guy who pulled the old, burned-out Mustang off the scrap heap and restored it to better-than-mint condition.

I do not know where the current situation with the novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 is going to lead us. Our country seems to be taking dramatic steps to keep us from gathering in large crowds and spreading the disease at exponential rates. I mean, you know things are bad when major league sports franchises close down indefinitely.

Hopefully, these measures will keep us from overtaxing our healthcare systems, leading to tough decisions about who receives care, and who doesn’t.

As hopeful as I am though, I still fear things might get a lot worse before they show signs of getting better.

But wherever we end up three months… six months… or a year from now, I know one thing with absolute certainty. I know that God will continue to be in the redemption business.

I also know that God will – when we put our full trust in him – take the wreckage that is left behind and make something beautiful out of it.

Always has.

Always will.

19
Aug
19

Uncommonly Common

Alien invasionIf there is one thing we have proved conclusively in this country, it is that, contrary to the old saying, what’s good for the goose is NOT necessarily also good for the gander.

At least that’s what the gander seems to think.

Even a casual glance will tell you that here in 2019 these states of ours are anything but united.

Group A passionately defends their version of a “common-sense solution,” while Group B howls in protest, deeply offended. Group C is convinced that both A and B are “wacko nutjobs” and wants nothing to do with either.

Each of us has become adept at articulating the outcome that will be in MY best interest, but we have become clumsy and tongue-tied when it comes to nailing down a clear picture of what WE, together, might need.

What I am referring to, of course, is that ancient concept called “the common good.” A version of the common good was first articulated by the authors of the Magna Carta in June 1215 in Runnymede, England. This cornerstone document established the principle that everyone is subject to the law, even the king, and guaranteed the rights of individuals, the right to justice and the right to a fair trial.[1] The foundational principle of the Magna Carta holds that leaders of nations should devote themselves to pursuing a “good” that is held in common by all… regardless of political party or station in life.

What a concept!

One has to wonder though; in this age of runaway individuation is it even possible to speak about pursuing something so all-encompassing as a “common good”?

Last year former Clinton secretary of labor Robert Reich wrote a book called The Common Good in which he said, “What binds us as Americans is not birth or ethnicity but a commitment to fundamental ideals and principles: respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions, toleration of our differences and belief in equal political rights and equal opportunity.”

These ideals and principles, Reich says, are not political, at least not in the partisan sense; to affirm them is not to take sides in debates between Democrats and Republicans.

I am sure that people of varying political stripes can easily agree that things like safety, health, shelter, education, and freedom are all social goods worth pursuing. But what happens when two of these goods conflict with each other? Or when there are two or three or 500 different ideas of how to attain one of these highly desirable ends?

It might be that the real obstacle to rallying around a common good is that it will likely require each of us to sacrifice something. And as our current climate shows us, Americans are not terribly good at – or even very willing to – sacrifice.

When Jesus taught his disciples the words of what we now call The Lord’s Prayer, he included the line, “… thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That phrase helps us see that God’s kingdom is that place where the common good is the watchword of every citizen and where people understand that none of us is well until all of us are well.

Sometimes I confess to feeling as if we are moving further and further away from that vision instead of coming closer. When one nation says, “America first!” and another says, “Italy first!” and another says, “India first!” I can’t help but wonder if we are, in fact, pronouncing the death sentence to any consideration of the common good.

The way Hollywood dramatizes one solution to this issue is by having earth invaded by vicious, city-stomping aliens. As our collective future is suddenly thrown into dire jeopardy, everyone lays down his or her partisan flag and bands together to save the planet!

Maybe it won’t come to that.

Maybe there will be an invasion by the Holy Spirit instead.

[1]The Independent, Feb. 2, 2015

30
Apr
19

“The Day my Mother Went Crazy”

woman-praying-black-white-sad-sized.630w.tn_I grew up in one of those small towns where everyone knew everything about everyone else.

And so it was no surprise that we all heard some version of the story of the day Mrs. Stanfield (not her real name) had what we called back in the day, “a nervous breakdown.”

One April afternoon, just after school had been dismissed, Mrs. Stanfield snapped. She began screaming horrible things at her children, threatening them with violence, and then threw them all out of the house.

Literally.

As a long time member of the United Methodist Church and an ordained United Methodist pastor, I now feel I have firsthand knowledge of how Mrs. Stanfield’s children felt that day.

These days I feel as if my mother-in-Christ – the United Methodist Church – has suffered a similar kind of nervous breakdown.

On February 26 of this year, under the dome of the Edward Jones Center in St. Louis, Missouri, MUM (Mother United Methodist) lost her marbles completely. That day I felt exactly like my mother had thrown me out of her house, yelling, “NEVER COME BACK HERE AGAIN!”

February 26 was the day the group of global delegates to the special called session of the General Conference voted 438 to 384 to adopt the so-called Traditional Plan… a plan that strengthens the church’s stance of exclusion toward LGBTQ+ people.

I held out hope that MUM would regain her senses… that the church’s Judicial Council would meet and rule that this plan violated not only the denomination’s Book of Discipline but also the spirit of grace on which the church was founded.

And then we would all wake up and realize it was all a bad dream and it was time to get back to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

But that didn’t happen. Yes, the Judicial Council did meet. Yes, they did find certain parts of the Traditional Plan (and the plan of disaffiliation that went along with it) unconstitutional. But in a decision announced just last week, we learned that the very worst parts of the Traditional Plan remain untouched.

The difficult truth I now have to face is that my mother – the United Methodist Church – is officially bigoted and homophobic.

Other people in the community now look at our family with caring, yet pitying eyes… unsure of what to say or how to relate to us.

MUM used to be so different. It was at her knee that I learned all about the guiding principle of grace.

She is the one who carefully instructed me to see complex issues from a “both/and” instead of “either/or” perspective. (“It’s not EITHER the heart or the head, but both,” she said. ”It’s not EITHER social holiness or personal holiness, but both. It’s not science or faith, but both.”)

Her heart was always so big and open… eternally reaching out in creative, loving ways to the very people everyone else had turned their backs on.

She taught us her unique, four-fold approach for discerning truth.

But then… one day something happened to MUM… something that caused some internal spring to snap, resulting in this historic fit of absurd behavior.

Yes, of course, I still love her, but my mother has become utterly unrecognizable to me. I seriously doubt her father, John Wesley, would even recognize her in her current state.

Like Mrs. Stanfield back in my hometown, I suspect MUM’s breakdown has been brewing inside her for a long time. Years and years of accumulated stress finally reached the boiling point until… POW!

Those of us in this family are now faced with the difficult decision of what to do with MUM. There is no question that we will continue to love her because that’s what families do.

And yet it is also understandable that some of us will also choose to take this moment to walk away from her, believing her illness to be irreversible. It will be a difficult decision, but no one will condemn them for making it.

Those who choose to stay with her will be in for a long and painful journey. They will need to make sure she gets the kind of professional help she needs. They need to be ready to face the very real possibility that she will never recover.

Regardless of which way anyone chooses to respond, it is a good time to remember that we serve a Risen Savior…

 

… not a flawed and failing institution.

29
Jan
19

You Belong

ice-cream-bikeThree doors down from the house I grew up in lived a family named the Thompsons.

There was Mr. Thompson, Mrs. Thompson (that was back in the time when kids didn’t know adults’ first names) and their three sons.

If you were one of the kids who got invited to hang out at the Thompson house, you knew you had really MADE IT.

You see, the Thompson family was in the ice cream business. They maintained a fleet of those big three-wheeled bicycles that carried a big freezer in the middle and a line of jingly, chimey bells on the handlebar (see photo). And if you DID get invited to hang out at the Thompsons, you knew it meant unfettered access to free Creamsicles, Fudgesicles, Bomb Pops, ice cream sandwiches, and all manner of frozen confections.

And yes, I am proud to say that I was a regular guest at Chez Thompson. That is, right up until the day when I committed the cardinal sin of actually ASKING them if I could have a Fudgesicle. You see, Thompson house protocol dictated that while ice cream might be offered, it was never REQUESTED.

It was a moment that provided me with one of my earliest memories of how it feels to BELONG… and then – in the twinkling of an eye – to NOT belong anymore.

And although it would be a stretch to credit this insight to my experience with the Thompsons, it amazes me to this day how much of my life has been a search to BELONG.

People much smarter than me have recognized the need to BELONG as a universal human longing.

We want to feel a sense of belonging in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in formal and informal groups of every kind.

But I don’t know… do you think it’s possible to overemphasize belonging? Can we concentrate so much effort on where we “fit in” that we start to make belonging an end in itself?

History is replete with examples of the damage that is done when we start putting a lot of energy into trying to figure out who belongs and who doesn’t.

Taking a quick inventory of my own belonging, I have discovered that I am part of an uncomfortable number of DOMINANCE groups. Here is what I mean by that: I am white… I am male… I am a Baby Boomer… I am American… I am middle class… I am Christian… I am college-educated… I am straight… I am married… I am a homeowner… I am able-bodied and of (mostly) sound mind… I am an oldest child.

I could go on, but you get the point. If there is a group that has been granted privilege and position in today’s world, I belong to it. And for most of those groups I just listed, I did absolutely nothing to qualify for entrance.

I just showed up.

Which is why I just want to take a moment to appreciate the courage of people who – for one reason or another – often find themselves on the outside looking in.

 

I have never personally experienced having doors slammed in my face because of my skin color or my gender or my religion or my nationality or my sexual preference or my physical ableness. I cannot imagine the ongoing pain of regularly hearing – directly or indirectly – “Sorry… you just don’t belong here.”

As a pastor, I can console you with the reassurance that every person matters equally in the eyes of God. I can show you the places in the Bible where God tells the Israelites to welcome the alien and the stranger, or where Jesus goes out of his way to include people that everyone else turns their backs on.

Because it’s all true.

But I can’t help wondering if that reassurance helps at all.

Dear God, please grant these your comfort. Help them know the warmth of your loving embrace. Fortify them for the days ahead and let them experience the wideness of your welcome.

And maybe, while you’re at it, break open the hearts of the privileged just a little wider.

AMEN.

24
Jan
19

Tree of Light

christmas treeYes, it’s true.

Today is January 24 and our Christmas tree is still up.

Fully decorated and lighted.

Know what else?

It will probably be up for another two days.

Every other scrap of indoor and outdoor Christmas décor has been carefully returned to its off-season storage place… waiting patiently for next year’s winter pageant.

But somehow we felt the need to hang on to the tree… for just a little while longer.

It might be because it has been a rougher-than-usual winter this year.

Part of that roughness is because it is snowier and colder here this year than the past six years combined. The childlike wonder with which I once greeted a snowstorm evaporated about the time I stopped celebrating school’s cancellation for a SNOW DAY.

For the past week, we have also been trying to cope with a sudden and heartbreaking end to the professional football season here in our hometown. I mean, sure… in the grand scheme of things, it is a trifling concern. But sometimes football fans forget to focus on “the grand scheme of things.”

I suspect there might be another reason we feel the need to hang on to the lights and shiny ornaments a little longer than usual.

I suspect it might have something to do with a shadow that fell onto our house about four months ago; a shadow that first showed up on a routine CAT scan that led to nine weeks of chemotherapy, a major surgery, and nine more weeks of chemotherapy; a shadow that caused both silent and out loud tears to be shed, but which also brought forth amazing outpourings of prayer, love, support, and hope.

So yes, we still kind of feel the need to have the tree here to twinkle and blink and light up the room.

But we are just about ready to pack it up and then try and see if we can find another source of light and joy.

I think I just might have an idea…

20
Oct
18

Our unwelcome, uninvited visitor

uninvited visitorWe received the official word on the morning of September 21.

That was the day we found out that most of our attention and energy, for now, will focus on dealing with my wife’s cancer diagnosis.

It was the last thing either of us was prepared – or wanted – to hear from her doctor.

But there it was; unavoidably real… clinically stark… terrifying.

At first, it was like an explosion that knocked us both off of our feet.

It left us dazed, reeling, and with an intense ringing in our ears. For several minutes we just stumbled around the house blindly, saying, “Wait… what?” to each other.

Many of you have been on the receiving end of this exact hammer blow and know all too well what a game-changer this news really is.

Somewhere in your brain, you know that very soon there will be a mad flurry of activity. Phone calls will be made, research will be done, appointments will be set, references will be checked, schedules will be changed, tests will be run, and prayers will be said.

But right now, it is just the two of you and this 800-pound gorilla that appeared out of nowhere and took a crap in the middle of your living room.

It is all a little too much to process, and so you choose not to do what you really can’t.

But there, in the middle of all of the smoke and wreckage and feces, you look around and notice a few things.

And you start to wonder;

  • Was it purely coincidence that years earlier I had served alongside a pastor whose spouse just happens to be one of the pre-eminent gynecological oncologists in this area… someone whose name came up repeatedly when discussing specialists to see?

  • Was it purely by chance that three weeks earlier I made an appointment to meet with my counselor that very morning at 11:00 a.m.?

  • Was it total happenstance that we had tickets to go with our friends to the Billy Joel concert the exact same night as this diagnosis?

In another stage of my faith life, I might have said that the only acceptable evidence that God had actually intervened in a frightening, life-threatening situation was when people saw an unexpected and miraculous reversal of that situation.

For example,

  • The sea instantly becoming dry land…
  • The blind person suddenly regaining her sight…
  • The wheelchair-bound paraplegic jumping up and dancing for joy…
  • Cancerous tumors miraculously vanishing.

But age and experience have taught me that there are a whole host of other ways God intervenes in our lives… actively sending a continuous stream of little alerts to us, each designed to say, “I’m here. I’ve got you. You will never be alone for one second as you go through this… even during those times when you feel like you are.”

I know that lots of you have faced news like this in your lives and somehow found the means to cope with it. I take great strength from your examples… even the times when you just had to, “Fake it ‘til you make it.”

I think I’ll be doing that a lot.

But it is also greatly reassuring to know that the One who made me and made my wife is right here with us, holding our hand and guiding us through.

“For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear,
I will help you.’”

– Isaiah 41:13, NRSV

17
Sep
18

How Much is Enough?

PerpetratorsHow much is enough?

In many ways the answer to that question depends on what we’re talking about, doesn’t it?

Asking how much money is enough, for example, might lead us to a very different answer than asking how much health or freedom or cuteness is enough.

Today I am asking specifically about penance… as in “How much penance is enough?”

My question is prompted by an August 28 story in the New York Times about the re-emergence of the comedian Louis C.K. less than nine months after he admitted to a wide variety of sexual misconduct allegations.

As you might expect, there were a LOT of people quoted in that article that did not think nine months was long enough for him to be out of circulation. In fact, a fellow comedian named Sarah Lazarus put the whole thing into a great perspective when she said, “I’m still on the same shampoo bottle as when louis ck’s time out started.”

I don’t really have a good answer to the “how much is enough” question, but I will not hesitate to declare my opinion that nine months seems WAY too short a time of banishment for the kind of stuff Mr. C.K. is reported to have done.

So are we going to start seeing Matt Lauer or Kevin Spacey or Charlie Rose pop up again on our TV screens after their respective timeouts have expired?

Harvey Weinstein? It’s probably safe to say he is gone for good.

And so, not only am I completely without answers to the “how much penance is enough?” question, I am not even sure I know which yardstick we should use to measure it with!

For example, should we measure by the “equivalency of pain inflicted” yardstick? In other words, should each of these perpetrators stay locked in their dungeons until they have experienced the same amount of pain that they caused their victims?

Some believe that is the right approach. If so, nine months of exile doesn’t even BEGIN to scratch the surface of inflicted pain, based on statements from several of C.K.’s victims.

Should we perhaps use the “level of remorse” yardstick? So when the “Remorse-O-Meter” we’ve hooked up to these guys reaches a certain level, we cut them loose?

Then there is the rehabilitation yardstick to consider. I have heard stories about mandated sensitivity training for Weinstein, but what about any of those other wrongdoers? And does it make sense to send them back out there once they receive their certificate of completion?

Or should we just never, ever have to see any of them in public ever again?

Admittedly, this is not a close parallel, but I have known people in the ministry who have committed some fairly serious transgressions. In each case there was an assessment of the “damage done,” and a path to recovery prescribed for them.

Because of the severity of their transgressions, a few of those pastors never did return to ministry. But for others, there was never less than a two-year absence.

Yes, the perspective of faith advocates for the forgiveness for sinners. In my own life I can vividly recall times when I have hurt others, messed up, and made horrible mistakes, and then experienced the grace of a loving God who took pity on me and said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11, NRSV).

But I also know that forgiveness is not for you or me to extend… unless we were the ones victimized. If you were not damaged by Louis C.K., Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, or Harvey Weinstein (or others), YOU do not get to forgive them.

That’s God’s job.

In the same way, the “how much penance is enough” question is not for me or you to decide. It is strictly in the hands of the only ONE who can read the heart and mind of the transgressor.

So maybe instead of worrying about the penance or the rehabilitation of those who inflicted the damage, let’s worry instead about the healing of those who were hurt.

And leave the rest to God.




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