Monthly Archives: March 2013

It never stops hurting, it just hurts less

dad and i mowana

My dad and I at the campground I dug out at Camp Mowana, a few years before he got sick.

My dad and I the summer before he died, a few months after his brain surgery.

My dad and I the summer before he died, a few months after his brain surgery.

Ten years ago today (March 31) was the last time I would see my dad alive. The night before, he rallied for a movie night with me. I don’t remember what we watched; I think it was some kind of thriller. What I do remember is sitting there next to him, holding his hand. We knew his battle with cancer was almost over, he had come home to be in hospice care. There was nothing more that could be done. We just had to wait for death to come and take him away. I remember the sound of his labored breathing, his lungs filled with fluid. I remember his hands, still big and strong, wrapped around mine. I remember knowing how much I was loved. I sat there with him until the movie was over and he had fallen asleep.

The next day, the day that was 10 years ago today, I left my parent’s home in Cleveland to head back to Chicago. It was the start of the new semester, I had to at least pick up my books and talk to my professors. We didn’t know how long my dad would hang on. I explained to him that I had to go back to school to pick up some stuff, but I would be back really soon.

April 1, 2003, my mom said good-bye to my dad, and left for work. She didn’t even make it to her car before the nurse called her back in. After 19 months of fighting, 19 months of radiation, chemo, surgery, speech therapy, occupational therapy, he could fight no more. The ugly, octopus like tumor had taken over his brain. He let go.

I find it interesting he waited for us to leave. Some people wait until everyone is there, some, apparently, wait until everyone is gone.

I don’t remember getting the call. I picked up my books and came back home. Not that having them meant anything. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t even think. I’m amazed I made it home.

My dad’s death broke me. Weight after weight had piled up on my back and his death was the last ounce. I broke under the grief. Four friends and my father gone in a matter of 18 months. I was barely functional. I was blessed by the wonderful people who would come around and tried to pull me out of the seemingly bottomless pool of my grief, or who would come and sit in it with me for a while. The people who would go to Jimmy’s to grab a beer and a grilled cheese sandwich with me and talk about nothing important at all. I am forever thankful. I was also hurt by the dozens of people who only wanted to comfort me so that they could feel pastoral or satisfy some other personal need, the people who whispered about me, and the staff and faculty who ranged from  a few caring souls to many who were oblivious to the few who were so callous they argued with me about the afterlife and tried to make me retake the classes I missed for my dad’s funeral. Pastoral care classes, mind you. I had little patience or grace for the people who said things to me like, “Rejoice that your father is in heaven on the day of the Lord’s resurrection!” Rejoice? Yeah, that’s how I felt. Like rejoicing. I don’t think I could even imagine what rejoicing felt like. Just because I love Jesus doesn’t mean I’m stoked that my dad has gone to hang out with him. I’d much rather have my dad here.

It still hurts. I miss my dad almost every day, but the tears only come sometimes. Like his birthday, holidays, the anniversary of his death, and when I think too long about how much I wish he and my husband could have met. They would have really liked each other.

My dad had a killer sense of humor. Many of my favorite memories involve dinner table performances of Monty Python sketches or recitations of scenes from Ghostbusters. We tried to convince my mom that his headstone should say, “I came, I saw, I kicked it’s ass.” She wasn’t having it. He and I used to go and chase spotlights we saw in the sky. He loved to go to this really good record store near my town to find me music I’d like. He got so excited when he would find some obscure CD I’d asked for. He loved classical music. He introduced me to Beethoven and PDQ Bach. I don’t remember listening to kids music, I remember listening to Pete Seeger and Simon and Garfunkel. Oh, and Prairie Home Companion. He had a beautiful singing voice. When he would sing a solo from the choir loft at church, everyone’s heads would turn. He also introduced me to good beer, and I really wish he was still around to know that I have gained an appreciation for whiskey. He hated messes, particularly my messy obsession with putting ketchup on nearly everything. And my room. Oh, my room. He was incredibly smart, well read and interested in the world. I loved watching the news with he and my mom. Most of all, he loved me. He would do anything for me. He never missed a concert or a play, even with his crazy work schedule. He supported me when I dropped out of college. He gave really good hugs. And I miss him like crazy. Especially today.

He managed to play the worst April Fool’s joke ever. There’s a part of me that wonder’s if he didn’t hold out for April 1. Like, he couldn’t make it until the next Friday the 13th or Halloween, so April Fool’s would have to do. That just sounds like something he would have done.

I miss you, dad. I always will. But, I am beginning to think that isn’t such a bad thing.

 

My mom read this and let me know 2 things. 1) she didn’t actually leave for work, as I had thought, he just thought she had because she said goodbye and went out the door. 2) On the day my dad died, my dog, Rocky, managed to escape and ran through the streets of Hyde Park. I was FREAKING OUT. A good friend of mine put out a call to help find him and one of the LSTC housing staff found him not far from my apartment, eating some Chinese food someone had thrown on the ground. Darn good thing that dog was such a scavenger.

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Loving the calluses, the warts, and the dirt

feetwashing

“Washing of the Feet” by John August Swanson
http://www.JohnAugustSwanson.com

A sermon on John 13: 1 – 35

Reading this passage from the gospel of John, I am left with an overwhelming feeling of calming, tender love.

Jesus knows he is going to die soon. The hour has come. Later, there will be bargaining, there will be tears and there will be pain. But in this moment, with his closest friends, there is only love.

This passage is flush with love. It is overflowing with love, which is only fitting as Jesus overflowed, overflows, is overflowing with love. Tender, warm love.

In the first verse: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” This statement is right before the statement that Judas was going to betray Jesus, but it doesn’t say, “and so Jesus didn’t love him.” That qualifier isn’t there. There is only love. Even for the one who would bring about his death, there is only love.

I wonder how Jesus can be so calm, so focused on those around him, so in the moment. Then I read, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God…” He knew. He didn’t think, he didn’t suspect, he didn’t have an inkling. He knew intimately, deeply, tenderly that he had come from God and was going to God, that the salvation of all of us, of his friends, his family, you and of me depended on him.

He knew that he had come from God and was going to God.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Know that God is God. Know that you come from God and you will return from God. Suspend disbelief. Suspend doubt. Know that you come from God and you will return to God. Breathe it in. Breathe in the love of God.

While you are breathing, think about a part of you that is broken, that is worn, that is tired. Think about a part of you that might smell funny, that is dirty – a part of you that you think is ugly. Think about a part of you that is sorely neglected, but does a lot of work for you. Now think of that part of you being cradled in love, caressed by compassion, cleansed of its dirt and smell. Think of your brokenness being touched, being loved.

Breathe in the love of God. Breathe out your pain, your isolation, your brokenness. Let it go. Give it to God.

This is what Jesus did for his disciples. He touched their dirtiest parts and made them clean. He touched their rough edges, their wounds, their calluses. This is what Jesus does for us – he touches the places that we are embarrassed to show, the things we want to keep hidden and loves them. This is what Jesus asks us to do for one another. This is the example Jesus left for us, it was a part of his last will and testament, a new commandment.

Love one another, just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

If we ever wonder what this kind of love means, what this kind of love looks like in action, it looks like the washing of feet. Not only the pretty, well manicured feet, but the mangled feet, the stinky feet, the molding feet. Dancers feet. Fungal feet. Feet that are decaying because they are regularly trapped in waterlogged socks. Not the scrubbing of these feet, but the gentle washing of the feet.  A loving of the feet. Of those feet. The love we are asked to give to one another is the kind of love that is willing to accept our neighbors ugliest parts, the kind of love that is active, physical, that involves movement and tenderness and makes the other – your neighbor, friend, or enemy – feel clean, feel accepted and feel cherished. Tenderly. Without reservation, without pulling back, without recoil or aversion. Because this is how God loves us. This is how Jesus touches us. This is how the Holy Spirit moves us.

So in the name of Jesus Christ, the one who died so that we might have life, show the world that we are his disciples.

Love one another.

Love one another.

Love one another,

as he loved his disciples

as he loves us.


The woman at the well and the “Welfare Queen”

A Lenten sermon on John 4:1-42

The Samaritan Woman at the Well by He Qi. from http://www.heqigallery.com/

The Samaritan Woman at the Well by He Qi. from http://www.heqigallery.com/

What do we know about the woman at the well? She is a Samaritan, a religion that is very similar to and yet different from Judaism. Each one is the one true people of the one God. Their scriptures are similar, their laws are similar, but their Gods live in different places. We know that she is thirsty. We know that she is honest, and unafraid to question others. We also know that she has been married to five men and that the man she lives with now is not her husband. This is what we know.

We do not know her age. We do not know her upbringing. We do not know if she has children. We do not know what circumstances led to her having five husbands. Were her husbands warriors? Were they sickly? Was she married to a man who died before she could conceive, leaving her to his brother? Did this happen more than once? Who is the man with whom she lives now? We don’t know.

And yet… and yet so often when we hear this story, we write her story for her. More often than not, the story is of a promiscuous woman, wise to the ways of the world. She is called a harlot, a prostitute. Without knowing any of the details of her story, we have decided who she is. A story has been created for her based on very little information – and she has been judged according to this story (in which she has no say). The story is often told that Jesus talked to a prostitute, a woman of ill-repute – when those words aren’t there. Not in the English, and not in the Greek.

But isn’t that the way? Isn’t that what we do to each other all the time? We don’t know the facts, but we don’t like living in a world of gray. We don’t want to take the time to find out the person’s story, so we decide who people are before we get to know them. Before we hear their story. How often have people made up their minds about us without knowing our story? How often have we done this to others?

Thinking on this, I was reminded of the oft repeated story of the Welfare Queen. You know how this goes: woman (usually a woman of color) who has baby after baby just to keep that welfare check coming. The woman who does drugs and sells herself to pay for the drugs and yet gets food stamps on our dime. The woman who could work but just doesn’t want to, who drives a Cadillac, who is fleecing the good taxpayers of this great nation. We have all heard this story. We have internalized it. We make judgments about recipients of public assistance based on this story we have heard. We make judgments of the poor, we make judgments on women of color, all based on a story one woman in Chicago.

And yet the facts don’t bare this story out. The reality is that 75% of welfare recipients have one or two children. Most public assistance today requires you either have a job or are looking for a job. The programs states have enacted to test those who get public assistance for drugs have proven fruitless – people who are on welfare aren’t testing positive for drugs. But so many have made up their minds. People who are on public assistance must be lazy, they are on drugs, they keep having kids to get more benefits. The story lives on. We keep on judging – with few facts at hand, we make up people’s stories for them, and apply it broadly, often without even realizing it.  Until or unless we have been there ourselves.

When Jesus came to the woman at the well, he didn’t see a prostitute or a promiscuous woman. He didn’t see her only as a member of a different faith. He saw beyond her marital history. He saw a woman who had been through some pain. He saw a child of God.  He didn’t create a story for her — he talked to her. He got her to talk about her life. At that well, Jesus saw a woman who was thirsty for the water of life, and he offered her a drink. He offered to quench her thirst. No qualifications, no explanations. He offered her life.

What do we see when we see someone different than us? What kind of stories do we make up for those around us? What assumptions do we make? What prejudices do we allow to inform our opinions about people we don’t even know. What presumptions are we carrying with us?

We do not create these narratives out of thin air. We have experiences or have heard of others experiences and these stories create the framework for the stories we then create about others. We know people who have been married five times because that was his or her choice, because he was promiscuous or she had no respect for marriage. So it makes some sense to us that the woman at the well would be cut from the same cloth.

Here’s one problem with that: do we really know why someone has been married five times, or for that matter, why people are promiscuous? Sure, some people may just not be wired for marriage or may have some giant moral flaw. Others may have been abused, may feel empty, may be searching for completion in the love of people. We don’t know. Some people do actually abuse the system. Others may be trapped there as a result of upbringing, lack of education, lack of resources, mental illness, or who knows what else. We don’t know.

So, how do we stop? How do we release ourselves from the prisons of pre-made narratives into relationships that could profoundly change our lives? How do we let go of the urge to put others in boxes so quickly?

What if the woman at the well had decided that Jesus was just another guy hitting on her and had walked away?

Jesus shows us the way. He shows us the way in everything he does. In the way he approaches the woman at the well. In his invitation to Zacchaeus. In his defense of the woman about to be stoned. He approaches every person he encounters with the knowledge that each person is a beloved child of God. Just think of how that orientation might change your everyday life. Think of how it might feel to let go of the judging of others, to let go of the constant judging of ourselves, to trust in others’ good intentions and let go of the fear of being taken advantage of or lied to. To just go with it. To love others in this way is to accept the water of life that Christ offers. To drink the water is to be changed and to experience life eternal right here, right now. This is grace. This is God’s gift to us. Amen


Jonah and God’s womb

During Lent, I have been preaching on the ways God takes our brokenness and makes us beautiful and useful in spite of, or because of, our brokenness. This week’s reading was the story of Jonah.

Campbell-Jonah-and-the-whale-1471

I almost feel like this preaches itself. Try to run away from God, God will find you. God will keep you safe. And then God will ask you, again. Try as you might, you cannot escape God.

And oh, how we try. We spend much of our lives vacillating between running away from God and running towards God, with the occasional yelling at God and resting in God’s arms mixed in for good measure.

When we heard this story in Sunday School and as we have gone throughout life, Jonah is often presented as a terrible, whiny wimp. We’re kind of taught to not like him, because (I assume) we are supposed to not want to be like him.

But what is a more familiar story to us than the running away from God, finding that it was a bad idea, and trying to jump ship once we realize where our turning from God has gotten us?

Now, the particulars of Jonah’s story are a bit different from most of ours. I would venture to guess that few of us have ever been called to go to a city and tell them that they have angered God and they will be destroyed. This is a huge, complicated, dangerous, embarrassing, uncomfortable, life-threatening thing God is asking. Cities, one would imagine, do not respond well to being told they are in for some almighty destruction. I would imagine that Jonah knew that there was a very real possibility that what God was calling him to do could end in death.

God has never, at least not so clearly, asked me to do something that might end in my death. What God asks of me involves change. Radical change. Which might as well be death – in fact, it is a little death. The dying of who I was and the birth of who I am in Christ. God asks this of me all the time. Sometimes, I’m game. Sometimes, not so much.

Then there’s how clearly Jonah heard God’s command. The scripture doesn’t tell us how Jonah heard God so clearly. Would that we should be so lucky. Often I find myself wondering if that is God talking, my own fears, needs and desires, or just plain old indigestion. In modern society, with all of the noise around us, it can be difficult to discern what is God’s voice speaking to us and what is the voice in our heads, fed by our fears and our wounds. This is one of the reasons it is good to have scripture and community. Those two tools can help us discern if it is God’s voice or our own we are hearing.

Unfortunately for us, when we consult scripture and our community of faith, it often becomes clear that the voice that is asking us to do the hard stuff is the voice of God. The voice that is asking us to consume less and give more, that voice that is asking us to radically love people we’d rather not let into our lives, the voice that asks us to see God in everything around us, that voice that is calling us to walk a path that is very different from the one we are on and also very different from what is expected of us by society, our families and even ourselves. That is usually the voice of God.

Then, we get to decide what we’re going to do about what we have heard, felt, seen or experienced God calling us to do. When it is too hard, too inconvenient (I’m just not ready for that in my life now, God), to weird, too different, we often turn and run, walk, skip or crawl in the other direction.

What’s when the storm begins. Things get messy in a way that we can’t handle on our own. Those around us wonder what is going on. Sometimes, the storm is small, barely perceivable to those around us. Other times, it is clear to everyone we know that we are walking towards (or in) a world of hurt. They ask us what is up, or we figure it out ourselves. This storm is a result of not listening to God, so we jump ship. We change course. And we find ourselves in a dark place and we pray.

Somehow, there is a crack of light in the darkness. Grace shines through. We realize that God is there. We realize that dark place that seemed scary and awful is where God is meeting us. That fish’s belly, that dark place we are in, is a womb, a place in which we can rest and be fed by God’s love. A place where we can heal. God catches us when we fall, when we jump overboard, when we abandon the ship of our terrible ideas. And God holds us, carrying us through the stormy sea. When we are safe, when we have passed through the storm, we are reborn, ready to face the world, ready to answer God’s call (because we have seen and clearly remember what happens when we don’t).

Jonah’s brokenness is our brokenness – our desire to do our own thing rather than God’s, our very human desire to try to avoid pain and suffering that, more often than not, lands us in pain and suffering. Jonah’s  healing comes to him in the darkest of places. God protects Jonah from the storm, feeds Jonah while he heals through a time of prayer and then has Jonah spit out, back into life, but into a new life. A life ready to follow the call of God. At least until the next time he decided the call is too hard. Then for Jonah, as for us, the cycle begins anew. Running from God and running to God, being lost and being found, always running through the cycle. The cycle has one truth. God is always there, waiting for us to jump ship, guiding us through the storm, giving us new life in him. On dry land. Outside of the belly of the fish.

 

Amen.