Good Friday Passion — Being present to suffering

As a chaplain, we are trained to always listen for the emotion and spiritual pain.

Hearing the story of Jesus’ Passion this week, I listened especially closely for the emotions and spiritual pain of the story (John 18-19).

And what I heard, echoed what I so often hear in the hospital

Fear and aggression – Simon Peter, cutting off the ear of the guard taking Jesus.

Denial, as Simon Peter says “I wasn’t with him.” A denial rooted in fear, fear of what the truth may actually bring.

Feeling alone. If my kingdom was of this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But no one came to rescue Jesus. Isolation.

Suffering. Pain. Jesus felt a very physical pain as he was beaten and crucified.

Trying to make sense of what’s happening. Confusion. Is Jesus the king, or not?

And finally, loss. Goodbyes. Jesus leaving his friends, leaving his mother. The too familiar grief many of us know when we lose someone close to us, essential to us.

And maybe in some ways, sometimes, it’s harder to hear this passion, this suffering, knowing, as we are told that Jesus did, knowing what is going to happen. How do we open our hearts to the telling of this story, or even to those we accompany through their own suffering, through our own suffering, knowing the pain that lies ahead?

There is very little comfort in the telling of this story. The comfort will come, but not on this day. We are people of hope, but sometimes that hope is hard to see.

But there is a place where I find hope today

John 13:3 And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself…

Jesus knew where he came from, and knew where he was going.

So do we.

And there is more and more research that tells us that a sense of hope, a sense of being grounded in that promise or purpose, helps us go through hard times. And that being connected to others, as Jesus was to the One he came from, also helps us go through suffering.

Jesus knew that he came from God, and was going to God. Jesus knew who he was – the great I AM – or, as some scholars have suggested, “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE”**

So as we open our hearts to the suffering that is part of our journey of faith, part of the human experience, may we not lose sight of what I suspect also sustained Jesus. We come from God, and are going to God — I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE. And we can trust that God holds a future of love and hope, no matter what we are experiencing at any given moment.

We know where we come from, and we know where we are going. Thanks be to God.

(I gave this homily on Good Friday, March 30, 2018, at Providence Alaska Medical Center)

**Dennis Olson, Working Preacher, 2014  Commentary on Ex 3:1-15


Talking about Race in our families

When I was in my 20s, I was out shopping with a friend in Washington, D.C. As part of Lutheran Volunteer Corps, I was working at a post-residential treatment shelter for homeless women in recovery from substance abuse. But on that day, my day off, I was out with Sharon, one of my supervisors and mentors.

We walked into a boutique, and the saleswoman walked up to me — just me — and asked if she could help me. And I was floored — Sharon was the one with the income, the responsibility, the purchasing power. And Sharon was Black. That was my first experience clearly recognizing the unearned privilege I have in this world.

I spent three hours this morning in a group of about 15 people facilitating conversation about race and how we talk with kids about race and racism. And I walked away feeling encouraged. We shared stories, questions, concerns, ideas. And the conversation was lively and heartfelt.

This is a passion of mine, for lots of reasons. I work in a really diverse environment. There are people I love dearly in my family and community who have been and probably will continue to be deeply negatively impact by the racist structures that surround us. I’m part of a church system that is the whitest church in the country, and I want us to look more like the communities in which we exist.

So it encouraged me a lot to be in a group that was mostly, but not all Lutheran. Mostly, but not all white. Mostly, but not all straight. We were parents, teachers, grandparents, pastors, aunts and uncles, and most of all, people who care about the future of young people and our communities.

We talked about why “colorblindness” isn’t a helpful strategy for us or for kids — in her new book “Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America,” Jennifer Harvey notes that

Equality is an important aspiration. It is a value many of us long to implement. But it is a very abstract notion. When it’s used as a way to teach race it becomes an empty mantra. As I often say to my college students, ‘Yes, we’re all human, at our core. But have you ever met another human who had no race, no gender, no sex, no class, and so on?’ They always answer no. ‘That’s right,’ I respond, ‘the only way we show that we actually respect our shared humanity, is by taking people’s specific, diverse experiences of their humanity very seriously.’

We also talked about a lot of strategies … a great list of ideas we used came from here.

We plan to offer this again. Soon there will be an opportunity to be part of an online group reading Waking Up White: Finding Myself in the Story of Race.

But in the meantime, where do YOU think this conversation needs to go? What would you participate in? How can we further these conversations and growth toward a racially just community and world?

The Bible in 90 Days…

A couple of my friends committed this week to reading the entire Bible in 90 days, and I decided to join them.

I’ll be honest … I’ve never been very great at sticking with Bible reading plans, but I do like the idea of getting through the whole expanse of the Bible in three months.

We’ll see how it goes … I’m also trying to meditate daily, do exercises daily to heal from a hip injury, and get back to my guitar. So it’s a pretty sure thing that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. But at the moment, I’m enjoying the challenge.

I just finished Day 5, which means I’ve read all of Genesis and 15 chapters of Exodus … it’s hard to dwell deeply much on all that happens (and there are a lot of incredible stories in these first 65 chapters!!!).

But several things struck me.

— So many blessings given. I wonder what it would be like if we were more intentional about offering blessing? (One of my favorite compliments given me by a friend was that I seem like someone that would just naturally offer a blessing in the course of a hike, bike ride, etc.)

— Women don’t play a large role, but it makes it more noticeable when they DO — Zipporah saving Moses’ life. The Hebrew midwives Shiprah and Puah saving Hebrew baby boys. Hagar, long one of my favorite Biblical women. Tamar’s craftiness in finding a way to eventually bear her twins, Perez and Zerah.

— The reminder that “Israel” means “One who strives with God,” the new name given to Jacob after he spends the night wrestling with an angel (God), and also the name given the Hebrew people.

— There is a LOT of marrying going on between close relatives — cousins, aunt-nephew, half-siblings… nothing like those Biblical family values! Also, for a culture that really lifts up eldest sons, God sure seems to favor younger brothers — Abel, Jacob, Moses…

— The steady thread of being a foreigner: Abraham saying “I am a stranger and an alien residing among you” (Gen. 24:4), Moses “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land” (as he names his son “Gershon”) (Ex. 2:24), “There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you” (Ex. 12:49).

— The resilience shown in Joseph’s story — despite being sold into slavery by his brothers, apart from his family in a strange land for more than a decade (including years in prison), he says afterward to his brothers, “And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life … God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.” (Gen. 45:5, 7)

What do you think? Wanna join us? What are you noticing?

Reposting: Charlottesville and the Truth about America

This is a powerful essay by Kelly Brown Douglas, MDiv, PhD, Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, in light of last week’s events in Charlottesville.

I especially appreciated her reflection on how, as Mahatma Gandhi said, we must “be the change we want to see.”  She says that “Practically speaking this means that we should be people of sanctuary and witness. To be a sanctuary means that wherever we are present no one should feel diminished or unsafe because of who they are or are not … Proactive witness means, in the least, calling out racism, xenophobia and any other ism or bigotry for what it is, even when it masks itself in the ‘politically’ correct language of ‘greatness.’”

She also points out some important ways that U.S. history was founded with a “pervasive culture of whiteness.”

You can read the full essay here.

And, this essay is part of a great blog series from Lutheran Theological Seminary in Chicago called We Talk. We Listen: Conversations about Diversity. Don’t miss it!


A Breath of Fresh Air, Part 2

The image of breathing fresh air has captured my imagination lately.

In part, it’s because I’m doing the Clean Air Challenge in a few weeks (and, realized last night that it’s a week earlier than I had on my calendar … whoops!), and that’s all about breath and air. The Clean Air Challenge is a long bike ride (up to 100 miles … last year Erin and I rode 60. This year, due to injuries and stress and other factors, it will be less) out of Talkeetna that raises money for the American Lung Association, trying to make the world a better place for people with lung diseases — asthma, COPD, lung cancer, etc. People like me, and a lot of people I care about deeply.

But I also just got back from my second service trip to rural Guatemala, a small village in the highlands of Quiche.

One of the most fun things about visiting Esquipulas is getting to know the children, who are fascinated with us and the pictures we take on our smart phones. 

However, this time I noticed something different.

When I held this sweet baby, I noticed her cough.

Her sister also coughed.

These kids … I also heard coughing.

Kids cough. I was a Children’s Hospital Chaplain for over a decade, and I’ve been around a lot of kids coughing. And I finally get that when I get sick each January, and my cough lasts for 6-7 weeks, that’s likely got a lot to do with my asthma.

But where we were in Guatemala, there’s one doctor for about every 10,000 people. 

The infant mortality rate in this area is in the mid-twenties per 1,000 (compared to 5-6 deaths per 1,000 in Alaska). And the leading causes of death for kids under 5 years old are respiratory illnesses and gastrointestinal illnesses.

Again and again during this trip, I was grateful for the work of Medical Teams International, to get a clean-burning stove in the home of each family with children under the age of 2, replacing smoky open fires in homes. Still, it was sobering to realize with each cough that it could be so much more significant — even life-threatening — than what I think of here at home when I hear someone cough.

(*I also love that Medical Teams International does important work all over the world, including in Syria and South Sudan)

I’m a hospital chaplain. I watch people die because of respiratory illnesses. For a while, I probably knew a majority of people in Alaska with cystic fibrosis. And I think one of the scariest things I witness in our ER is how it feels for someone to not be able to breathe.

And so I’ll ride. And I’ll ask for your help, because a breath of clean air isn’t something we should take for granted. But it’s something I want us all to have.

You can join me in supporting the work of the American Lung Association here.