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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.