Come to the Quiet: Reclaiming Sabbath

The average American spends about 52 minutes a day without noise.  Fifty two minutes where there is no whir of the printer, kids calling, orders being taken, the background din of a workplace, bosses ordering you around, the radio or the blast of the TV. No noise at all. It is a rare commodity in our culture.

Chances are good that even if there is no noise, your head is filled with things that have to be done, stuff you can’t forget, stuff you wish you could forget, and what’s next on the calendar.  Absence of noise doesn’t necessarily mean quiet.

On top of it all there is just too much to do: working two or three jobs to make ends meet, trying to exercise, not eat McDonald’s or KFC every night for dinner, getting the kids where they need to go, cleaning the house and trying to get to bed before one in the morning.  And then there is the “To Do” list. 

Here’s a news flash; that “To Do” list is never going to be finished so you might as well take a few of those 52 minutes without sound and make them minutes of true quiet. A time to take care of your soul; it’s called Sabbath Time.

Sabbath Time is a break from it all.  Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you go out and join a church (though that certainly is an option).  Rather I am suggesting that you create at least a few minutes of Sabbath Time every day.  Even ten minutes can change your outlook on life. 

During Sabbath time you can recognize that even though it feels like you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, not everything in the world is your responsibility. It is a time to ponder something larger than yourself and the enormous burdens you carry every day.

It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you’ve thought about God, prayed or tried to figure what you believe and what you don’t believe.  God isn’t petty like that, despite some of the crap we learned in Sunday School or Catechism.

A good place to start Sabbath Time is to try just ten minutes. Engage your head and your heart with the words “God is.”

Wherever your pondering takes you is okay.  Any relationship needs to start with what is and not what you think it should be.  For some of us God is an SOB who didn’t answer our prayers when we prayed for someone to get well.  For others, God is a pissed off old white guy just waiting to zap you if you step out of line.  Most of us don’t start with an image of a wholly loving God.  Much of that is thanks to life experience and really bad theology when growing up.  If you never went to any kind of religious instruction after you were confirmed or baptized, your spiritual development may have stopped at about the seventh grade.    

Good news; you can start by claiming a few minutes of Sabbath Time every day to ponder who God is for you and who God might become for you at this moment in your life. 

Sabbath Time is the doorway through which most people pass on their way to a deeper more authentic faith.  It won’t change what is true about your life but it may help you notice things you’ve not noticed in a long time–things that bring a smile to your face.  A sunset, a flower, the pure laughter of a child, the list is endless. 

A spiritual director of mine from years ago gave me homework to “notice what I noticed” and write it down.  It was an exercise in paying attention to the beauty that existed in the world in the midst of the craziness.  

Most of us are hungry for something that makes sense in this troubled and troubling world.  These are scary times and life is complicated.  Sabbath Time won’t fix this, but it will make it bearable.    

Nikes, Knees and Narratives

Congratulations to Nike for being on the right side of history and supporting Colin Kaepernick.  Congratulations to Ford for joining them.  These are examples of powerful cultural and corporate icons using their renown to stand with a man who has been clear about his protest from the beginning. As an aside, people who are burning their Nikes are invited to donate them to Veterans Organizations–the same veterans about whom they claim to be so concerned.  I wonder if people will start burning their trucks.  Stay tuned.

Colin Kaepernick’s taking a knee has nothing to do with veterans, the national anthem or the flag. It is also not the first time sports players have knelt for the anthem. It happened in the 50’s to protest black lynching.  All the players were white.  Kaepernick’s taking a knee has to do with protesting unarmed black men being shot by white police officers.  It is about protesting the systemic racism that maintains black unemployment at a significantly higher rate than that of whites. It is about the rise of white supremacist groups and the lack of outrage by the dominant culture.  It is about the prejudice and assumptions that still live deep inside.   

The Occupant inflamed people by claiming it was disrespectful to the military and the flag.  If you want people to go ballistic, mess with the military, the flag or the national anthem. What is missing is that no one is listening to Kaepernick himself.  It is an example of the arrogance of the dominant culture taking a person or a people’s truth and reshaping it in ways that support the dominant culture.  This is history repeating itself.  We have all been taught the false narratives and believe them to be true.  The voices of the marginalized are missing.      

The dominant culture taught us that the pilgrims and the Indians were the best of friends, when in truth our forbearers committed genocide against many Native Nations, eradicating them completely.  Native Americans are our hosts on their land, but we were never taught that. The narrative of their experience of colonization has been hijacked into some BS story about the first Thanksgiving and how the settlers had to “subdue” the “Indians.”  Native children were separated from their families and their tribes (history repeats itself again) and placed in residential schools where the goal was to “kill the Indian in the child.”

The dominant culture teaches us that racism is a thing of the past. The Civil Rights movement supposedly “fixed it;” meanwhile, a black man was shot in his own home when an off duty police officer entered it by mistake. In another town a white woman called the police because a black man was barbequing in his back yard.  Racism, in some way, is alive and well and living deep in the hearts of most of us. Have you ever locked your car door because you saw a black youth coming toward you while you were stopped at a traffic light?  Racism lives.

The dominant culture hijacked “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter” and in so doing minimized the disproportionate number of blacks who are killed by whites.  “All Lives Matter” is a way of denying that racism still exists and white privilege is real. Well-meaning people of faith proudly put “All Lives Matter” signs on church lawn. Thinking they were doing the right thing, they did not realize how they participated in the hijacked narrative.

Hijacking the truths of people’s own experience is nothing new. The rhetoric of the dominant culture has long squashed the people and their truths and in so doing has kept them marginalized.

Jesus constantly called out the dominant culture and its exploitation of the poor.  The imperial government of Rome was in collusion with the Temple leaders of the time to extort exorbitant taxes from people who were barely surviving. The rich became richer and the poor became poorer (history repeats itself).

Money, the economy, justice and politics were Jesus’ primary topics.  He talked about them more than anything else.  When people say religion and politics don’t mix I wonder what Bible they are reading. Jesus was all about faith and politics, all about drawing the marginalized into mainstream society through just actions and a just economy.

When I ask myself, “what would Jesus do?” I believe Jesus would take a knee beside Colin Kaepernick with a hand on his shoulder.    

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Forgiveness and the Roman Catholic Church: Too Soon

When Pope Francis stood before a crowd in Ireland, he asked for forgiveness from the faithful.  He readily acknowledged the wrong of it all, the damage done to victims and he is to be commended for this.  However, it’s way too soon to ask for forgiveness.

Forgiveness is relational. It is facilitated by an experience of justice-making and redress for wrongs done. Repentance begins the process. The Greek word for repentance is “metanoia” meaning “to get a new heart,” but it is not enough to repent in private prayer. Authentic repentance is signaled by changed behavior and ceasing to do what caused the pain or injustice.  Such changed behavior is an act of restoration for those who have been wronged. It opens the door for forgiveness to happen.  Forgiveness cannot be commanded or forced. Pope Francis asked for forgiveness but there is an absence of public, visible acts of repentance. It makes forgiveness sound like asking for a free pass. There has been plenty of time to change behavior, to show the fruits of repentance.

The Roman Catholic Church has known about the problem of priests molesting children since the 1950’s. It was then that Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, the founder of the Servants of the Paracletes in New Mexico, recommended that pedophile priests not be returned to parish ministry.

Fr. Fitzgerald’s recommendation went unheeded because the church hierarchy disagreed with his treatment methods.  Since then, multiple dioceses and countries have had their own scandals and lawsuits for damage done by priests. At least 27 countries, including the US, have settled with victim/survivors as a result of litigation.  Of course, the number of cases that come to litigation is miniscule compared to the number of actual abuse cases. 

None of these litigious exposures has brought significant or lasting change in how the Roman Catholic Church deals with sexually abusive and violent priests. The only thing that has happened in these passed decades is that the Roman Catholic Church has spent three billion dollars keeping survivors quiet.  Institutional change is in the realm of the not yet.

Until the Roman Catholic Church takes decisive action to change the monolithic secretive structure of the institution, it is inappropriate to ask for forgiveness.  It is a slap in the face to those who have had no redress for the wounds inflicted upon them by abusive priests and the institutional evil and collusion at every level of the Roman Catholic Church.

Here are a few suggestions for decisive action that would demonstrate that the Roman Catholic Church is truly repentant, and that would open the door for forgiveness from the faithful:

  • Fire and defrock all bishops and hierarchical leaders who have knowingly colluded in shielding abusive priests from accountability.
  • Make clear disclosure to all parishes and institutions where abusive priests served. Stop using euphemisms and say what happened. Call rape, rape.  Call fondling, fondling.
  • Immediately defrock all priests, whether convicted in a court of law or not, who have abused children. Stop hiding behind the statute of limitations.
  • Use outside non-clerical personnel to investigate allegations of abuse. Priests investigating priests is clearly a failed strategy.
  • State decisively that sexually abusive behavior and homosexuality are completely unrelated. Require education about the clinical nature of pedophilia and other paraphilias and silence misinformed critics. They are confusing the issue.
  • Require every diocese to have an advisory group comprised solely of survivors of abuse by priests. Listen carefully to their truths and their suggestions.  They are among the faithful of the church and their witness is important.

When these things are firmly in process, then the faithful can be asked for forgiveness.  Until then there is plenty of other work to do.  This latest disclosure from the diocese of Pennsylvania is another opportunity to do the right thing.  Let’s hope they don’t miss it.

A Word to Those Abused by Priests, You Are Not Forgotten

You have survived the most profound abuse and betrayal.  Your inner strength, tenacity and courage bring you to this day. 

What you have done to survive is not for others to judge.  Perhaps you medicated the pain with drugs or alcohol.  Perhaps you cut yourself to relieve the pain.  Perhaps you experimented sexually to try and understand what happened to you.  None of this is for others to judge.  Please be gentle with yourself.  You did what you needed to do to survive, even if you didn’t fully understand why.  As you heal and grow stronger in broken places you can, if you choose, make different decisions about how to handle the pain. 

Healing and wholeness are possible.  Be faithful to your own process and where it takes you.  Find companions who understand and don’t judge.  There is a community of survivors out there who can support you, who are on their own path to healing. 

Know that what happened to you was not your fault.  You were vulnerable and abusers look for vulnerable children.  It is as simple and horrific as that.  Perhaps there was trouble at home.  Maybe you were different in some way and bullied by others.  There are many things that make children vulnerable.  You came across the path of an abuser who saw your vulnerabilities as an opportunity.  That is not your fault.  You were a child.  You did nothing to ask for the abuse and there was nothing you could do to stop it.  Perhaps you tried; told another adult or your family and they didn’t believe you.  That isn’t your fault either. 

This crisis in the church has nothing to do with homosexuality.  Any religious leader who says this furthers the abuse.  The abuse in the Roman Catholic Church is solely the responsibility of abusive priests and the leaders who colluded to protect them.  The priests who abused did so because they were abusers, not because of their sexual orientation.  Perhaps they were gay.  It is irrelevant. 

Sometimes, however, abuse by priests makes for confused sexual identity in survivors.  Perhaps you thought you were gay, perhaps you are gay. It has nothing to do with the abuse.  You are who you were created to be.  Abuse did not cause or create your sexual orientation.  You can be gay, transgender, cisgender, bisexual or any other sexual identity and still be Christian.  God does not discriminate. 

It is okay to be angry.  Righteous rage is a holy thing.  To be angry at an institution and its leaders who spoke of a loving God, and committed horrific abuse against you and so many others is a wholly appropriate response.  Righteous rage will serve you well as you heal.

The abuse was not God’s will. God is always on the side of those who are wounded, abused and broken.  That the institutional church is always on the side of the perpetrator is not to be confused with how God acts and who God is.  God’s presence is not confined by any institution.  God’s grace and love is not mediated by any individual or agency.    

You are a beloved child of God.  There is nothing that has happened to change that.  There is nothing that can happen to change that.  There is nothing you have done to change that. There is nothing you can do to change that.  It is the immutable truth of your birth.  To claim God’s love for you is your birth right.

Whether or not you ever return to church is your choice.  It is not for others to judge.  The way will become clear as you are faithful to your healing process.  Do what is right for you.

My prayer is that you will find people to companion you in the healing journey, to be with you in the hurt and rage and deep grief of it all.  My prayer is that you will come to know in your very bones that you are made in Holy Image, that you are God’s beloved child, that healing and wholeness are possible.

Here are a few resources:  Survivor Network of Those Abused by Priests, (check out their recommended reading page) Bishop Accountability

                                                            Rev. Patricia Liberty, Theirreverentreverend.blog,   

The Pennsylvania Dioceses: Saddened and Sickened But Not Surprised

This week the grand jury in Pennsylvania released a staggering 800 page indictment on the history of clergy sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. Read report here It includes all but two dioceses, which are the subject of other grand jury indictments.

I wish I could say I am surprised, but I am not.  I wish I could say I am not sickened, but I am.  I wish I could say I am not sad, but I am.  This is one of the sickest things I have ever read in my life. I have worked in the field of clergy sexual abuse for over twenty five years and dealt with over one thousand cases of abuse in just about every religious tradition, so I have some traction in the arena of what is sick.  This is beyond the pale.

The women and men of the grand jury are to be commended for their thoroughness, tenacity and courage to speak the truth.  They reviewed over a half million pages of documents tracing the history of clergy sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church of Pennsylvania.  They make it clear that there are many other cases that are not documented and many other priests who are not named.  Some of these survivors and abusers are lost to the history of collusion that is the hallmark of the Roman Catholic Church.

Sadly, the Roman Catholic Church is not the only religious institution with a history of collusion. I have worked in every major Protestant denomination, the major Jewish traditions, Buddhist communities, Muslim communities and more.  What religious traditions across the board share is a desire to avoid scandal, blame victims and shield clergy from being held accountable for their behavior. While there is some progress in some areas it is too little too late.  Institutional religion across traditions still has a huge problem and their progress in addressing it is glacial at best.

What differentiates the Roman Catholic Church from other religious communities is that victims in other traditions are often vulnerable adult women and men who seek out their clergy for advice, counsel and spiritual support. While there are children who are abused, the statistics suggest the preponderance of victims are abused as adults.

It confuses people because there is the assumption that two adults are, by definition, consenting.  What is not taken into account is that the pastor/priest/rabbi/imam has a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interests of the community members who seek them out for assistance.  True consent is contingent on both parties having relatively equal power and resources.  Clergy, by definition, have more power and resources than their congregants or their congregants would not seek them out for help.

Beyond that, there is a sacred duty to shield the vulnerabilities of community members and aid them in the development and growth of their faith.  This is true regardless of the religious tradition.  The role of clergy carries sacred trust.

Sadly, there is another similarity that saddens and sickens me: the collusion of religious institutions regardless of their faith tradition.  It is an embodiment of institutional evil at its most profound level.

The ones who are left with all the pain, confusion, shame and self-blame are the victim/survivors. The damage done to those abused by clergy cannot be overestimated.  The rates of suicide, alcoholism and substance abuse are astronomical.  They often have difficulty with intimate relationships, confusion about sexual identity and deep spiritual wounds, all of which are often suffered in silence.

That said, survivors of clergy sexual abuse are also some of the most faithful, courageous and tenacious women and men I have ever met.  As they do their healing work they will no longer be stonewalled by religious institutions or blamed for what was never their fault.   Whatever progress religious institutions have made in dealing with this crisis is thanks to survivors who have the courage to speak their truth.

When the Boston clergy sexual abuse crisis was unearthed in 2002 people believed it was the harbinger of grand reform and change in the church.  Sadly, that has not proved to be the case.  Institutional evil and collusion proved, once again, to be stronger and more pervasive.  Whether the crisis in Pennsylvania is a portent of change remains to be seen.  I wish I were more optimistic than I am. 

As long as religious institutions have career “politicians” who are climbing the ecclesiastical ladder, as long as there is a stronger energy for avoiding scandal, as long as there is deep faith crisis that puts everything ahead of justice for those who are injured, as long as institutional identity comes before the identity of being a faith community, nothing will change.  It is one thing institutions across religious traditions have in common with the Roman Catholic Church. 

Chipping away at these monolithic religious structures begins with listening to victims and not blaming them. It is high time religious institutions listened to the witness of those abused at the hands of their leaders.  If churches compensated victims to support their healing, rather than spending billions of dollars on lawyers, the church would be on the right track. It is high time religious leaders stop siding with abusive clergy at the expense of those who come forward to call institutions to accountability.  It is high time survivors received the thanks and gratitude of religious institutions for their willingness to speak truth to power and keep on speaking until someone listens. 

 

To Tell the Old, Old Story

It’s always the same story; pastor engages in inappropriate sexual behavior, women report it to the church, the church doesn’t believe the women, and the women are further traumatized. More women come forward and church leaders think there may be something to it. They hire a lawyer to investigate; the lawyer pronounces there is no problem. The pastor may or may not resign and it is business as usual.  More women come forward and the church realizes they have a problem. The staff and board resign. Problem solved.

Willow Creek Church, the fifth largest megachurch in the United States witnessed the resignation of their pastoral staff and board in the aftermath of allegations against former pastor Bill Hybels (who resigned a few months ago).

It proves what those of us who have worked in this field have known for the last 25 years; churches cannot investigate their own complaints, the women are rarely believed and lawyers are the worst people to conduct an investigation because their job is to keep the church from being sued.

 However, the damage is far more pernicious than a fleeting public scandal. Abuse by pastors inflicts lasting pain and trauma on both the survivors and the congregation.  Betrayal by a trusted religious leader is a betrayal by one who represents God and speaks of love and grace.  But when someone comes forward with an abuse allegation they are the last ones to receive love and grace. They are initially not believed and once they are believed they are blamed equally (if not more) for the “affair” and sent on their way. They are alienated from their communities and left on their own to carry the pain and blame for what is not their fault.

It is important to name the behavior accurately; it is not an affair.  It is a serious misuse of the authority of the pastoral office and a misuse of power in a pastoral relationship.  An affair is what happens between two people of equal power who both choose to enter into a sexual relationship.  A larger than life figure like Bill Hybels has far more power than the women he chased or the women who may have come on to him. It doesn’t matter who came on to whom. The one with the most power, the pastor, is responsible for setting and maintaining an appropriate boundary for the relationship. Any pastor who invites a woman to his hotel room for a drink is heading into ethical quicksand.

The staff and board resigning does not solve the problem, though it helps.  They need a specially trained interim to come and help them heal, teach them a language that accurately names what happened and hire a consultant whose specialty is misconduct and abuse. 

Most importantly, they need a pastoral advocate to set up shop in the church and hear the witness of others who have not yet come forward.  This behavior does not happen in a vacuum.  There are others. There is evidence that Hybels’ behavior goes back more than twenty-five years.

This week Willow Creek Church hosts the Global Leadership Conference. It is a gathering of evangelical leaders looking for ways to revitalize the church and spread the good news of the gospel.  They have an opportunity to address the crisis of leadership in their own community and stand in solidarity with women who have the courage to come forward to speak their truth.  They need to listen to the women. 

However, chances are good they will go about business as usual, minimize the problem, blame the women and miss an important opportunity to demonstrate the healing power of the gospel and restorative justice.      

This is the beginning and not the end of their process.  It’s never too late to do the right thing.  Let’s hope they start now.

Check out the book recommendations for this week. Click here  and Click here  Check out our new Facebook page! Be sure to like our page and forward to your friends!  Your comments and questions are welcome. 

Rape Culture: No Justice in the Courts or Anywhere Else

The grandson of former Virginia governor John Dalton received five years probation and no jail time in his rape trial in Charlottesville last week.  Stephen Dalton Baril’s felony rape and felony sodomy charges were reduced to misdemeanor sexual battery and felony unlawful wounding as part of his Alford plea. Alford Plea defined 

The plea agreement was hailed as a victory by deputy commonwealth attorney Areshini Pather. She thanked the victim for her courage and said she hoped the plea agreement would help bring closure.

What planet is this woman from?  In whose feeble brain does this plea deal encourage healing or “closure”?  This is a deal that benefits the rapist and the rapist alone.  He escapes any accountability and does not have to register as a sex offender.  Five years probation is the equivalent of getting off scott-free.  He is able to continue raping and violating women with no consequence (unless he is charged again).

The victim was able to speak to Baril in court and said, in part, “You raped me whether you want to deal with that or not, it is the truth.”  While there is power in facing her attacker and speaking the truth, his accountability ended there. The young woman agreed to the deal to avoid the re-traumatization of a trial.   Let’s be clear; agreeing to the deal is not the same as getting justice.  There is no justice in this for her. Rape trials are notoriously difficult for survivors of sexual trauma. The conviction rates are pathetically low.

The compromise dodges a larger truth.  It communicates that the experience of women who are sexually violated is of no consequence and that wealthy, connected, and (usually) white rapists with better lawyers and better resources will prevail.  Justice is not blind when it comes to sexual violence against women; it unequivocally favors the perpetrator.

This is a clear example of Rape Culture which is a complex social phenomenon that accepts sexual violence towards women, LGBTQ and non-gender conforming individuals as normative and part of life, despite protestations to the contrary. Further, it excuses men and normalizes their behavior. As one man said to me not long ago, “Hey, it happens”.  It doesn’t just “happen”.  Men choose to rape women. Period.

Rape Culture allows both women and men to blame the victim. Commonly heard comments are: “Well, she was drunk, what did she expect?” “Look at how she was dressed.” “What did she expect walking home alone at that hour?” Read common victim blaming statements

In no other instance is a victim blamed as vehemently as women are blamed for their own rapes.  If only we spent as much time talking about rapists as we do talking about women who are raped.

Traditional interpretation of scripture is a powerful reinforcement of cultural norms of violence against women.  The patriarchal interpretation of scripture adds a “pseudo-holy” interpretation that further blames victims and normalizes violent behavior. 

For example, everyone knows the story of Adam and Eve. In the story Eve is portrayed as tempting Adam into eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It reinforces that women are responsible for the behavior of men.  Nothing in the story indicates that Adam’s moral agency was compromised; he could have said no as easily as he said yes.  Yet we have blamed Eve for centuries.

Cherry-picking favorite scripture out of context is another way patriarchal interpretation undergirds Rape Culture. Perhaps most famously, “Wives be subject to your husbands“(Ephesians 5:22) Read Ephesians 5 here is quoted out of context as a way of underscoring male domination in marital relationships.  The larger context, usually ignored, is: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives be subject to your husbands, husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This is hardly a message supporting male domination. 

There are accounts of rape in the bible; Tamar and Dinah are two cases in point. In Genesis 34 Read Genesis 34 here Dinah is raped by Schechem, but the rape is covered over by Shechem who said he was “in love” with Dinah and wanted to marry her.  A marriage proposal does not undo the trauma of rape. Rightly, Dinah’s brothers did not trust Schechem and they shielded her from him. In commentaries the rape is obliterated by the complex story that unfolds after it. 

In 2 Samuel 13: 1-22,Read Here Tamar, daughter of David, sister of Absalom, is raped by her half- brother Amnon. Tamar pleaded with him not to violate her, but he did and continued to shame her by sending her away from his house.  Absalom guessed the cause of her despair and took her into his house.  She was not heard from again; she withered away in her brother’s house. There was no justice for Tamar.

The history of interpretation of the bible is a history of power and control; the “real” meaning always supports purposes determined by ecclesial, socio-political, ethical, nationalistic, or other such concerns.

Thanks to feminist biblical scholarship, these verses are being examined in a new light that validates the experience of women. There is no pseudo-holy interpretation of scripture that supports or validates violence against women. 

Looking at the bible as a whole is the task. It alone will provide a firm theological foundation to undo centuries of patriarchal interpretation that has done untold damage to generations of women who have been blamed and shamed for the violence done to them.  Amplifying women’s voices through careful exploration of the texts is an important thread in unraveling Rape Culture.

 

See book of the week recommendation here

Showing Up; Giving the Gift of Presenced

This essay originally aired on Rhode Island Public Radio as part of their “This I Believe” series.

I believe showing up is one of the most important things we do in life.  Woody Allen says it is half of success.  I say it lies close to the heart of what it means to be human.

Sometimes it’s easy to show up. I look forward to time with friends, University of Rhode Island basketball games and seeing my marina family in the summer.

It’s harder to show up when someone I love has the rug pulled out from under their life and they land hard. I am at the age when some of my friends are facing serious health issues. Other friends are facing the death of a spouse or the end of their 35 year marriage. My grandmother was right when she told me growing old isn’t for sissies. It seems there is no end to the ways those I love end up in unimaginable emotional, spiritual, mental and physical pain.  And it is then I most need to show up.

Showing up means I willingly enter the land of no answers, few words and the ever present possibility that I will stick my foot in my mouth and say something really dumb. I show up with my bare face hanging out and try hard to trust that this is enough, even if I do open my mouth just long enough to change feet. Sometimes I bring a meatloaf.

I believe showing up means being present, listening without judgment or advice and letting the silences sit between us like the love that connects us.  It means shouldering some of the burden of what can’t be fixed.  It means sharing the loneliness and powerlessness that comes when life unravels at the seam.

Showing up means opening myself to their pain and willingly going where it leads them; this is not easy for me. Like many people, l live under the illusion that I am in control of a lot of things.  In truth my only control is over things like whether to have chicken or fish for dinner or to do laundry today or when I run out of socks. 

Yet, I believe in showing up even with all my fears and anxieties. I believe there is value in showing up with my own broken heart and my own powerlessness. I believe there is healing in the silence and going together into the land of no answers.  It is one of the best gifts we can give to one another.  And, from time to time maybe a meatloaf.

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Living With Chronic Illness: What I Wish People Knew

One hundred and fifty million Americans live with chronic illness.  One hundred million Americans live with more than one chronic illness. The number is on the rise, with immune disorders leading the statistic. I am among their number. Here are a few things I wish people knew.

Chronic illnesses are more than the sum of their parts.  There is a weird math to chronic illness; one plus one equals at least three. 

Chronic fatigue often accompanies chronic illness.  It is not the kind of fatigue that goes away with a nap or a good night’s sleep. It is a fatigue that clings like a second skin.  Diseases sap strength. Having to cancel plans at (almost) the last minute is common, and going beyond personal limits has consequences.

Most chronically ill people are not independently wealthy. Money is a constant worry.  The ever changing health care scenario creates worry about drug coverage and being able to see specialists who may not be in one’s insurance network. Potential cuts to benefits raise questions about meeting regular expenses. As the Occupant and his cronies try to raid Social Security and Medicare, there are many questions and concerns.

Depression is very much a part of chronic illness. It is chronic and deep. While it does wax and wane it is never fully gone. Depression is not a sadness that one can snap out of. It is not quelled by happy experiences or good times.  It is a chemical consequence of living with chronic diseases and is itself a chronic disease.

Brain fog is a real part of chronic illness.  Multiple medications are often part of chronic illness. How these medications interact with each other is often not known.  The result is an inability to concentrate on conversations, books, movies etc. What days will be brain fog days is not predictable. 

Chronic grief is part of chronic illness.  The losses that go with illness are too many to list and they surface at unexpected times.  The losses are not grieved once and put away, but return again and again as the limits of new life are accepted. The world gets smaller and a lot of things are lost along the way.   

Chronically ill people often don’t look sick.  It’s a mixed blessing. This means it’s easy for people to dismiss the chronic pain, exhaustion and brain fog that goes with chronic illness. On the other hand, passing for some semblance of normal from time to time is a plus.   

These diseases will not go away.  There is no magic potion to restore the health known in the past.  That said; there are unexpected gifts and graces…it’s not all bad. Taking fewer things for granted and learning to be grateful for every day top the list. Learning to be present to the moment, even when the moment is hard is an ongoing process, and it brings its own unique insights.

There is no question that my life has not turned out as I planned. After four years of figuring it out, I can honestly say it’s okay.  Sure, I miss my old life but my new life is pretty good.  This is not some Polly-Anna BS.  It is the hard won fruit of honest emotional and spiritual work, the companionship of a small group who hold me together when I am falling apart, and the graciousness of God whose presence affirms my worth even when I feel worthless.

Chronic illness comes like a thief in the night and takes a lot.  I am learning that beyond the profession by which I largely defined myself, there are other realities that add richness to life. I continue to reinvent myself and while the new me is far from improved, it’s okay.

If you live with chronic illness or are a caregiver for someone with chronic illness, what are the things you wish people knew?

Leave a comment. And be sure to check the new music and book suggestions!

 

The Place of Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness in the Social Order

The treasonous, treacherous Occupant is busy walking back statements he made on July 16, 2018 that cast dispersion on the US Intelligence community. He also makes lots of people question his loyalty to the US.  All the while congress and his cabinet can’t call this despot to accountability, because their loyalty to party is greater than their loyalty to country.  They continue their ruthless agenda of aligning with the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and the needy.

This behavior is evil.  This is not a word I use easily or readily. The Miriam Webster dictionary defines evil as “morally reprehensible, dishonorable, depraved, corrupt, malevolent, immoral, vicious and malicious.”  When the sum total of this administration’s actions is taken into account all the descriptions of evil are met.

The Occupant has set a low bar for human interaction.  It allows the hate that is always lurking under the surface to rise unchecked.  There is an increase in hate groups, hate speech and a rise of anti-immigrant sentiment. The abandonment of socially acceptable speech permits individuals to judge groups of people, make fun of them and dispose of all the filters for compassionate social discourse.

These behaviors are invited from below the surface where they languish when a commitment to decency and compassion is the norm.  The Occupant normalizes behavior that should never be normalized. Our decency is fast disappearing.

In Matthew 23:13-26 Jesus articulated three qualities from his Jewish heritage that are necessary for a sustainable society:

  • Justice is the conviction that everyone is entitled, by their presence in the community, to a viable and secure life. Injustice permits the strong to confiscate what the vulnerable have.
  • Mercy is the capacity for active empathy and solidarity with those in need. A lack of such solidarity permits one to treat vulnerable neighbors according to one’s own desire (or prejudice of fear).
  • Faithfulness is the practice of reliable companionship with neighbors. Faithlessness is to live as if one had no such obligation (summarized from Gift and Task by Walter Brueggemann, page 235).

We who claim the name and the path of Jesus do well to consider his imperatives for the social order.  It is ours to challenge the rising tide of bigotry and hatred.  It is ours to look at our own privilege and choose the side of the dispossessed, downtrodden and poor.  It is ours to speak because remaining silent is to always side with the oppressor.

Martin Niemoller, a German Lutheran pastor, penned these words in 1946:

When the Nazis came for the communists,

I remained silent;

I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,

I remained silent;

I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,

I did not speak out;

I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,

I remained silent;

I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me,

There was no one left to speak out.

Following Jesus means joining Jesus in the move toward loving one another in words, in actions of compassion, justice, mercy and faithfulness. A thousand Mexican children are counting on us. Refugees from around the world are counting on us. Our country and our world are depending on us to not be silent.