removed, ask for a copy
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Visit the sick, and you will heal yourself.
The ill person may be a Sufi master,
And your kindness will be repaid in wisdom.
Even if the sick person is your enemy,
You will still benefit,
For kindness has the power to transform
Sworn enemies into firm friends.
And if there is no healing of bad feeling,
There certainly will be less ill will,
Because kindness is the greatest of all balms.
(Rumi, of course)
I spend a significant chunk of my time each week in hospitals. Some of the people I visit are going to die soon and know it, some don’t know they are dying or are denying it, and some are like the rest of us- dying eventually but stopping for a moment to have a baby, get a knee replaced, or unclog some arteries.
I always touch when I’m visiting there, much more than I do with a healthy person on the street or in the office. Hands, cheeks, shoulders, and a kiss on the forehead- I want the person in the bed to remember that not all touches are demands to roll over, expose the vein in your right arm, or a dreamy prelude to “Wake up!” I’m human, though, and sometimes it’s hard to touch, and especially to kiss, but the other person is human, too, so touching always wins.
There are also times when I want to cry, and a few times with those who know they are dying, and who know that I know, that I’ve gone ahead and wept. Why be falsely brave? These are persons who have affected me as a person, and not only as a pastor, and I will miss them. There are some points, with some people, when I must say “screw the professionalism,” and simply be me. I think it’s probably better to be leaving knowing beyond any possible doubt that you are loved and will be missed, than not.
Sometimes people show me sutures, wounds, and rashes that I don’t want to see. I guess they think preachers have a supernatural ability to not be aghast at some sights, so I steel myself for those potential moments. Only once did I purposefully foil the possibility: when I sensed one young first-time mother was about to show me her episiotomy, I rushed to the head of her bed where that would have been impossible.
I have learned much, so much though, from those who know they will not leave that bed they are in alive. Almost always, there is acceptance, and that acceptance is not always dependent on the intensity of their spirituality, or the complexities of their belief in an after-life. It has much more to do with “the things of the earth, growing strangely dim.” Regrets, guilt, hope, wishes- all of those things we who are healthy and sure we have unlimited days ahead of us in which to suffer or realize, become liberatingly irrelevant. Masks fall. The past and the future become the abstractions they actually are. Serenity moves in.
It is one of the greatest moments in another’s life, and to be able to witness that time of what may be never-before-realized freedom is a gift. In the end, again- for most people- death is not fearsome enemy they had spent their lives, to one degree or another, fearing. Sister Death, St.Francis called her; she is a vital and necessary part of Life.
“If [he] is elected he will
destroy Christianity and
prostitutes will preside in the
sanctuaries now devoted to
the worship of God.”
The campaign of John Adams, on the candidacy of Thomas Jefferson, 1800
Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you. 1Peter 3:15
About my faith:
1. God is. I can’t even begin to describe God, let alone define God. Anything I say about God must fit inside my mind, and the one thing I can say with authority and absolute assurance: God is bigger than my mind. (Psalm 139: 7-18)
2. I can’t see God. I can only see where God is passing through. (Exodus 33:23) Thus, I see God’s methodologies and systems much more often than I see God’s direct interventions. Those methodologies include breath-taking scenes like Mt.Ranier, an ocean storm, and a baby’s cooing and laughing. But they also include the chaotic explosions of stars, the ripping apart of a live songbirds by hawks, the chomping down on innocent baby turtles by sharks, and tsunamis. And flu. And asteroids. And sunshine. And magenta, and minor 7th chords.
3. I can live within the rhythms and harmonies of God, or I can choose not to. (Genesis 3:13) Those rhythms and harmonies are in place and operating- they have been for a long time. In fact, my body (and yours) are examples of Life evolving to fit within that “music” of God. If I walk wherever I go, the chances are excellent that I will live a longer and healthier life than if I periodically and frequently put myself into a quarter inch thick metal cage and go hurling down the highway at speeds much faster than my body was meant, by God, to move.
4. Savvy? If you can’t follow this so far, that’s OK; many can’t. I believe, along with the writers of Genesis, Psalms, and the Revelation that the only way I can even begin to talk intelligently about God is through metaphor. God is like a king (Psalm 103:19). God resembles a mother hen (Matthew 23:37). But God is neither. But God kind of is- youknowwhatI’msayin’? Our human, finite language about divine and infinite concepts is inadequate- always has been and always will be. So we may not understand each other when we talk about God; or we might. I think it’s always better to give each other the benefit of the doubt, instead of going to war over exactly what God is or what happens to us when we die.
5. Thank God for Jesus! I can follow Jesus- he had feet, hands, and a brain like me. He did real things and said I (and you) would be able to even greater things than he did! (John 14:12) I like Jesus so much that I resent those who have turned him into a set of doctrines to be obeyed instead of a son of God to be followed. I don’t like it when the doctrine-lovers take words like those in Matthew 5 and turn them into a set of rules that justify human greed, human ego, and human proclivities toward violence. In fact, I love Jesus– even though “love” is a many-splendored word; i.e., I don’t ‘love’ Jesus in the same way as Benny Hinn and Pat Robertson would probably say they love Jesus. So let me just say, I really, really like Jesus. And- you know what? I think Jesus would say the same thing to me. (But he is a really strange guy, because he’d probably say the same thing to Benny and Pat, too. And Osama, and Kim Jong-il.) Following my metaphors?
6. I can read about Jesus in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, AND in the gospels of wildflower fields, ocean shorelines, and your eyes. Call me a pantheist, a humanist, or a pagan- I don’t care. Jesus doesn’t lead me (or anyone) into definitions and theological arguments. He leads us to the “least of these.” (Matthew 25: 34-35) So, you’ll have to pardon me if I am prone to spend more time and lend a more attentive ear to those who are actively following Jesus out to the ragged edges of life rather than just talking (on and on) about him from the comfort of their easy chairs. The gospels of actual Jesus followers’ are thicker, and far more interesting. (By the way, you can also, if you are an ancient Greek, call me an atheist- I do NOT believe in Jupiter. But there were sure some cool stories told about him!)
7. Last point. Go ahead, test me. Vote for McCain. See if I stop loving you.
If you are looking for more information about the candidates’ positions on various issues; if you are waiting to see a copy of Obama’s birth certificate or McCain’s health records before you decide; if you still- STILL!- are among that surprising percentage of adults who don’t yet know who they will vote for for president, then I have a suggestion for you:
Ask your children who they are voting for. Then vote tomorrow at your Early Voting location for whichever candidate they name.
It’s that simple.
Your kids, my kids, the neighbor’s kids, and their children and grandchildren are the ones who will be saddled with the bills we older people have racked up over the last 30 years with our drunken sailor spending and they should be the ones who get the biggest say in who the next president will be.
Don’t try to play the “older and wiser” card, either. We’ve already dug $60,000 deep into the pockets of every man, woman, and child in the country. Babies born today have the albatross of our older generation’s greed around their necks the moment they breathe their first breath of globally warmed air. Drive those newborns home over roads and bridges that are desperately in need of repair, lay them down in cribs bought with plastic I.O.U.’s, turn on the lights whose wicks reach all the way to Venezuela, take videos of their first moments in their first bank-owned ARMed home with cameras hammered together in China, hope they are not awakened later by the sounds of police sirens as War on Drugs suspect #82,987,000 is being chased, lean down, give them a kiss, and whisper, “Get ready to pay.”
O.K., the baby may not be able to give you an answer to your inquiry about voting yet. But he/she will wish they’d been able to about 25 years from now! Of course, by then, you’ll have your eyes on retirement and can look forward to that young man or woman keeping the Social Security checks headed your way, all the while also having to pay for the wars your generation fought, the subsidies your generation paid to tobacco farmers, the perks your generation poured out on the congresspersons and Wall Street C.E.O.s 0f 2008, and the all of the interest on top of interest that has been accruing since your country couldn’t afford all that crap even back then, and were borrowing money from everyone to buy it all in the first place!
Really. Ask your teenager, ask your college freshman, ask the sixth grader who lives next door. None of them are as afflicted with the cultural baggage you (we) are. None of them has the economic glory days of the 80’s and 90’s in their memories. Some of them will probably even be facing down the wartime enemy as you (we) have defined that enemy to be. Their vision is a whole lot clearer than yours and mine! That may be hard for some of my fellow middle-agers to swallow, but..it’s true. (Most truth is hard to swallow, come to think about it; maybe that’s why we have swallowed so little of it during most of our tax-paying, tax-spending adult lives.)
Vote for the person the young ones are voting for, or that they would be voting for if they could. You (we) owe it to them. God knows they owe US.
After discovering that Obama is the anti-christ, I’ve decided to switch my support.
Turns out that Barrack Hussein Obama even has an inverted pentagram- a symbol of Satan- shaved into the back of head! I know it’s hard to believe, but IT’S ON THE INTERNET! So it must be true!
I know, I know..Obama said he was a Christian in a Chicago Sun Times interview in January of 2007, but read the article closely. He says that being a Christian is “complicated” and that he “didn’t grow up in a particular faith tradition.” Which gives me reason to doubt his public affirmation, in his 20s,at the Trinity United Church of Christ that he had chosen to make Jesus his Savior. Real Christians KNOW that a public, confessional walk down the aisle at church means nothing compared to saying the right words, going through the right motions, and having the right bumper stickers!
And real Christians support the president! Real Christians know the right people to vote for, and the right people to shun. Real Christians belong to the Center for Moral Clarity or Focus on the Family or the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated, who understand what Obama really stands for:
Real Christians are concerned about witchcraft in Alaska and Africa. Real Christians know that God’s creatures and resources were put here by God himself for humans to exploit, kill, and use in whatever ways they see fit to use them!
So, I apologize to anyone I’ve led astray. I’ve seen the Light! I’m voting for candidates anointed by God this time- people with special insight and vision. No more namby-pamby
Sermon on the Mount stuff for me!!
Rev. Arnold Conrad of the Evangelical Free Church, praying Friday at a McCain campaign appearance in Iowa:
“I would also pray, Lord, that your reputation is involved in all that happens between now and November, because there are millions of people around this world praying to their god — whether it is Hindu, Buddha, Allah — that [Obama] wins, for a variety of reasons,”
“And Lord, I pray that you will guard your own reputation, because they’re going to think that their god is bigger than you if that happens. So I pray that you will step forward and honor your own name with all that happens between now and Election Day,” he added.
To their credit, the McCain campaign almost immediately distanced themselves from the pastor’s remarks.
God needs to be made aware that his reputation is at stake?!?
Aside from the profound religious ignorance Rev. Conrad reveals- Hindu and Buddha are not the names of gods- his “prayer” also reveals the blasphemous practice of so many religious people who believe they have God in a box. These are the religionists who believe they know exactly who God is, what God should be doing, and how God should be doing it. They are engaged in the very seductive, easily fallen into psychological practice of projection.
Karl Wolfe, Ph.D., defines the phenomena this way: “Psychological projection is the phenomenon whereby one projects one’s own thoughts, motivations, desires, feelings..onto someone else.” In the negative, for instance, an overweight person might be prone to point out to others the slovenly, bad eating habits of other heavy people. In the case of people like Rev. Conrad, projecting onto God one’s own selfish desires or personal preferences, is the ultimate example of this very human defense mechanism.
Thus,we hear militant Muslims speaking for Allah as they defend their support for terroristic activities: “Blessings upon he who acts for the sake of Allah and went on raids for His sake.” (Dr. Ibraham Maadi, here). We also hear with great frequency, such pontifications from Rev. Pat Robertson, like this one, spoken after the school board in Dover, PA, was voted out of office for mandating the teaching of Intelligent Design: “I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected him from your city. And don’t wonder why he hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I’m not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that’s the case, don’t ask for his help because he might not be there.”
These, unfortunately, are not isolated quotes. Most of us tend, unthinkingly, to project our own desires,wants,needs, and definitions onto others, including God. But to do so, without sometimes painful self-examination, is wrong. We lessen God by doing so; we make God conform to our own political, cultural, and social biases. And, in the case of religious leaders, such personal projections are easily mistaken by those who trust such leaders for spiritual guidance, as actual pronouncements of God.
I wonder if Rev. Conrad (or Dr. Maadi, or Rev. Robertson) would be willing to pray as Jesus did, “..nonetheless, not my will, but yours be done.” Actually, I think I already know the answer, at least in Rev. Conrad’s case: if Obama wins the presidential election, he will probably blame Satan. Satan is every unthinking projectionist’s fall guy for things that happen outside the boundaries that have been constructed for God to operate within. Unlike Jesus, they are unable to accept God’s will as such, when it goes against their projected hopes.
“This takes me to the other side of the fence..”
That was Cameron’s* reaction to eating BBQ sliced beef and red beans for the first time in seven years. Cameron is 60, and a long-time inmate of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Five days ago, I didn’t know him at all. Today, I can’t get him out of my mind.
The Fence is four foot coils of razor wire, attached to the top and the bottom of two parallel sets of 16 foot chain link barriers, in between which there is a 10 foot wide dog track. To even get to The Fence from where we were eating BBQ , involves a hundred yard walk through a no-man’s land overseen by guards in towers with rifles, the entrance and exit of two locked sally ports, and another long walk over caged and gated sidewalks and past numerous prison officers, with radios and handcuffs hanging from their belts and immediate access to in-prison, highly-trained SWAT teams, with weapons. At each of the sally ports, visitors must note the posted signs: “ No Hostages Beyond This Point!” That means that those rifles will be aimed, if necessary, should the occasion ever arise, through hostages.
In other words, getting to the other side of The Fence is pretty much an impossible thing to do if one is a maximum security inmate of the TDCJ.
Unless he is eating BBQ and red beans.
Kairos Prison Ministry is a four day event in which approximately 40 men from the “free world” spend 10-12 hours per day with 42 men who are incarcerated. It is a Christian ministry, and is supported by 30 (or so) women and men outside the prison in a central location who are preparing two hot meals to be brought in each of those days to the 82 men inside. All of that food is the kind of food- fresh, tasty, and unlimited- that the inmates will never otherwise enjoy while they are incarcerated. It is eaten in utter and profound silence, not by rule, but in awe. It is prepared with love, and eaten piled high with the condiments of memories- “other side of The Fence” memories.
The food is but one aspect of our (the various volunteers) attempt to demonstrate to these imprisoned men the reality of Jesus-love. Live music, active ears, open hearts, and whatever semblances of freedom that we can give the men within the confines of a prison gym setting, are our other offerings. But the food (supplemented between meals by several thousand dozen homemade cookies), is the primary gate to everything else. You’ve heard me say before that the most important part of the gospel for many people is a hamburger. Participation in the Kairos Ministry over the past 14 years is where I formed that foundational Truth of my own ministry. I see it confirmed all the time.
Jesus said, when he stood up for the first time in his hometown of Nazareth to announce the new turn his life had taken, that he had come to “proclaim liberty to the captives, to set prisoners free.” He was reading from the Isaiah scroll which described “The Day of the Lord,” and he said that day had come. That day is both present now, and always coming; that’s what motivates those of us involved in this ministry. We don’t go inside with master keys or literal escape plans. We go inside to demonstrate that prisons can come in all shapes and forms, that captivity is an epidemic human affliction, and that the commonalities which bind us as humans are far more important than the superficialities that we allow to separate us.
Cameron was four years old when his father died. His mother, a drunk, put Cameron and his sister in a series of Texas orphanages, during those times when she didn’t have a boyfriend to semi-support the family. Cameron and his sister hustled rent and food money during those times, beginning when Cameron was 4 and his sister was 6, by picking up bottles on the streets for the 2 cent deposits, by repackaging yesterday’s donuts found in dumpsters and selling them on the street, and by picking up dropped bananas from unloading banana boats and selling them for 3 cents each to those who didn’t want a stale donut!
No mother, no dad, no home. His first time in jail was soon after he joined the Army, and drugs and drinking greased the path for a number of subsequent prison terms. He makes no excuses for his life, though. He regrets his choices, but didn’t even have the ability for much of his life to know that other choices could be made! Hustling at 4 years old for rent and beer money for mom caused a prison to be built for Cameron long before the one he now resides within.
Cameron’s was one of 42 such stories which had the opportunity to be told this weekend, often for the first time. Those stories were not listened to in judgment, nor in some kind of tsk-tsking false sympathy. They were simply listened to and accepted. In return, though, the storytellers were able to see, hear, and feel a response most of them had never before experienced: “I love you, anyway.”
Those words don’t have to be spoken, though sometimes they are. They can be written, perhaps in one of many letters the inmates are given by team volunteers and others during the weekend. Those words can be heard in the lines of a song or the sounds of a blues harp or guitar. They can be felt in the sincerely welcoming, looking-at-you-in-the-eye embrace of a guy who could be out on a boat this weekend but instead has chosen to sit beside you in a prison gym. Those words- “I love you, anyway”- can be seen in the tears which inevitably and often gather in the corners of the eyes of those who are listening.
And they can be tasted in BBQ and red beans. They can enable someone who will never again be able to literally be there, to be on the other side of The Fence, forever.
The most important part of a Kairos weekend is that the volunteers go home. They leave. Many will be back for periodic visits, but the inmates are now able to live within a community of other inmates who have shared their four day experience. Racial divisions, age, faith, gang, and experiential separations, have begun to fade in the Light of human commonality. They have shared laughter, tears, food, time, respect, song, prayer, and natural human empathy in ways that are potentially life-changing.
As those things are for the volunteers who have gone home now, too. This is not a one-way ministry! Our hearts have been broken, too, and are re-forming this day in new and better ways. Part of us lives on the “other side” of that Fence, too, even as we continue to go about our lives in our so-called free world. That’s the Affliction of being Jesus followers. But that is also the flat-out, never-ending, wouldn’t-trade-it-for-anything Joy.
(Some of you who read The First Morning know that it was during a Kairos weekend in 1994 that I decided to become a preacher. I saw Jesus- alive- that weekend in the simple acts of one of the prisoner-helpers in a way that I had never before witnessed, in a church or anywhere else . I figured then that I might be able to tell about Jesus in that way to other people, too, and for 13 years now, that has remained as my main goal.
I’ll write that story again here soon. For you, but mainly for me. It was green beans that put me on the other side of that Fence, and I need periodically to remind myself of that fact.)