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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


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!


What do you know about the war on women?

I deeply appreciate this powerful reflection by Francisco Herrera on “The War on Women” … and now I have another book to read.

A common maxim in our country is that before you can change, you have to acknowledge that there is a problem. In this week’s post, as part of Women’s History Month, return author Francisco Herrera speaks honestly and vulnerably about the moment that he realized that he personally wasn’t doing enough to fight sexism and […]

via The War on Women – Francisco Herrera — We Talk. We Listen.

Guatemalan joy

I think what I want to remember most about this last week in Guatemala was all the laughter, and the smiles.

At Parque Cerro de la Cruz, Antigua, Guatemala

Unselfconscious, genuine laughter, in all kinds of circumstances.

I love that I caught Candelaria in this moment of laughter, holding her sweet daughter Gabriela.

I loved that while we were hauling aluminum gutters from the church to the bus, a group of mothers and daughters and I smiled at each other and giggled, with them pointing and laughing and shyly looking away … it didn’t matter whether we spoke English, Spanish or Pokomchi. The laughter was universal. 

And our team recalled several times that during our first water system installation, when we had to figure out how to make the gutters and PVC pipe slope down into the water tank that was in fact at a higher level than the house, the response of the masons working with us wasn’t frustration, wasn’t anger, wasn’t blaming or giving up. They laughed, and tried different things, listened to others’ ideas, and kept working. Ingenuity won the day, with the help of laughter. The solution? Raising the roof.

I still can’t wrap my head around the poverty we witnessed. Can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a place with no water source — no well or stream or lake or community water system. What it would be like to live on $2 a day or less. To have the experience of the death of a child — or children — be more common than not. 

But the laughter is a sign of resilience, and a sign of hope. I see it at the hospital too, sitting with a family after a death, sharing stories, and unfathomably laughing. Not in denial or with bitterness, but because the human spirit is strong, and perhaps inclined toward joy.

And so I want to remember the laughter. Of teammates who began as strangers and ended up as friends. Gladis, whose laugh is like a bubbling stream, tumbling over itself. Romeo, whose laugh is somewhere between a giggle and a chuckle, and an utterly genuine sound. Edy, whose laugh is gentle and kind and makes me smile. Trying to describe laughter to Isaias at dinner, when we couldn’t remember the word in Spanish (it’s “reirse,” to laugh) … until he started laughing.

I want to remember that, and so much more about this journey. The laughter is a good place to start.

Returning to Guatemala

In just three days, I leave for Guatemala.

I have vivid memories of my trip to Esquipulas, Chicaman last year, the intensity of poverty, the beauty of the people, all that I learned about prioritizing relationships, and a painful clarity about how much I have and take for granted.

Twelve of us spent the week helping install latrines and handwashing stations in Esquipulas, because the leading causes of death in children ages 0-5 are diarrhea (41%) and acute respiratory infection (25.3%). Providence Health International (PHI) is committed to ensuring that each home with children under five will have a sanitary latrine and clean-burning stove, and every mother will have access to health education and support. That each family will have access to clean water.

Some other facts about Chicaman: 

–Chicaman is made up of 71 communities, with a population of 35,000

–There is one doctor for every 10,726 people.

–The rate of chronic malnutrition under 24 months of age is 66%

–Almost 88% of the population lives in poverty (less than $2 a day) and 67% lives in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 per day).

It’s easy to go on a trip like this and be struck by how important it is to help, to want to offer as much as we can in the way of time and resources. But it was more important that we build relationships.

We witnessed powerful examples of the importance of relationships. PHI and Medical Teams International (MTI), our community partner, are committed to partnering with families — each family that was to receive a latrine was to dig a deep hole before we arrived. However, we came to Esquipulas the week after Easter. The majority of the village is Catholic, and the father of one family was also the deacon of the church, responsible for the community’s extensive Easter celebrations. When we arrived he was still finishing digging his hole.

However, we had seen him earlier that morning. Across the way, when we’d been installing a latrine for another family, this man was present, helping his neighbor, and putting his neighbor’s needs ahead of his own. And when the time came, his neighbors reciprocated.

I couldn’t help but think in “my” world, I would have said “Gosh, I’d really like to help you, but I’ve been really busy and I need to make sure I get my hole dug before the team arrives.” But that’s not how it works in Guatemala. And that sense of community, that valuing of relationship — they are the better for it, and I’m aware of what I lack.

Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, known as the “Father of Liberation Theology,” in talking about the “preferential option for the poor,” says that “It is good to specify that the preferential option for the poor, if it aims at the promotion of justice, equally implies friendship with the poor and among the poor. Without friendship there is neither authentic solidarity or a true sharing. In fact, it is a commitment to specific people.” (P. 157, In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, edited by Michael Griffin and Jannie Weiss Block).

Gutierrez also says that “There is no true commitment to solidarity with the poor if one sees them merely as people passively waiting for help. Respecting their status as those who control their own destiny in an indispensable condition for genuine solidarity.” (P. 156)

Next week I’ll be returning to Esquipulas, this time co-leading a group of Providence Alaska caregivers (14 of us, altogether). Again, we will partner with Medical Teams International, this time helping with a water collection project.

I know that this trip will be about far more than water. My heart will stretch. And ache. And love. 

I can’t wait to share the stories with you.

If you’d like to support this work, you can do that by clicking here, through Providence Health International. We can only do this together.