Sunday, January 29, 2012

Love One Another Through It

Mark 1:21-28
January 29, 2012

Ellie was angry.  She had young children and a husband who travelled for long periods of time.  Her father-in-law was living with them, and his physical ailments along with his emotional and verbal abusiveness was creating stress for the entire family.  Ellie was angry. 
She was so angry that one day when she’d had a particularly difficult exchange with her father-in-law, she ran downstairs to the laundry room and kicked a full laundry basket across the floor.  Hard. 
So hard in fact that she broke her toe.  She was embarrassed to be that angry, embarrassed that she’d lost control like that.  Humiliated that she’d actually caused harm to herself because she couldn’t deal with her anger.  And Ellie was never able to forget what happened because from that point on whenever the weather changed, her toe ached.  She was reminded over and over again of how powerful her anger was.  In her words, it was like being possessed.
Ellie shared this story at a women’s retreat I participated in when I was an Associate Pastor in Maryland.   Although I didn’t want to admit it to anyone then, I resonated with Ellie’s description of feeling possessed by anger.  I’d been that angry before.  So angry that I didn’t feel like I had control over what I said or did.  It’s as though the anger takes over your entire being.  I’d felt that way before I heard Ellie’s story and I’ve felt that way since.  Possessed by an emotion I feel I have no control over.  Possessed in a way that I do or say things I don’t mean and immediately wish that I could take back.
According to most of the commentators I’ve read in preparation for this sermon, I’m taking the wrong tack by starting with the idea of being possessed. The scholars I’ve consulted believe that the greater point in this passage from Mark is not that Jesus healed a man besieged by a demon, but that Jesus has a previously unseen, unheard of authority.  He possesses an authority that goes beyond even the scribes and Pharisees.  He teaches and interprets Scripture with authority, and through that authority he casts out a demon. 
It is the demon who recognizes Jesus for who he is.  The demon calls Jesus by the identifying title of Holy One of God.  The only other ones who know this so far are the readers.  Mark has made it clear to us who Jesus is, but the process of understanding for the people around Jesus takes the entire gospel and beyond. 
This is the first account of a healing by Jesus in Mark’s gospel.  And this healing is probably the kind that we’re least comfortable with in our Western, enlightened, scientific thinking.  It’s one thing for Jesus to heal someone who is physically ill, to bring that person into health and wholeness.  But talk of demon possession makes us uncomfortable doesn’t it?  It does me.  So much was blamed on demons.  People were irreparably harmed because it was believed they were possessed by demons.  There was no understanding of emotional or mental illness; it was all just pinned on demons.  But let’s face it even though we live in a scientific, enlightened age, what do we think of when hear the phrase demon possession?  Anyone?  Anyone?
I know what I think of.  I think of The Exorcist.  I’ve never even seen this movie, nor will I because I just don’t need to be that scared, but I know enough about it and have seen enough pertinent clips to get the gist of the movie.  So when I think of demon possession I still get a mental image of Linda Blair with her head spinning around.  And while The Exorcist may be the definitive demon possession movie, there are still plenty more being made.  Our culture seems to be fascinated by them as equally as we are repelled.
But I think it’s far more helpful for our purposes and for our understanding to see demons in a different way.  Dr. David Lose of writes about the demonic as that which opposes God, works against God, breaks down, rips apart, and destroys.  A demon is what keeps us separated from God and from one another.  If I am so possessed with anger that I say or do something that causes great harm, then that’s not working for God, is it?  Even if what I say or do harms myself. 
If I am possessed by greed or jealousy or despair or despondency then I am not about building up God’s children, am I?  I am not seeking to create or mend, but to rip apart and destroy. 
Thinking of this in light of our passage from I Corinthians, if I am so possessed by my own belief in what I know, or at least what I think I know, that I can actually cause harm to come to someone else, then I am not just puffed up, I am possessed. 
Possession grips us in other ways.  Think about those who are addicted – whether it’s to drugs or alcohol, food or something else.  There’s a line in a Tim McGraw song that says, “This is for the lost junkie who spends all his hard-earned money on something that he hates.”  That’s a description of possession. 
And none of us are immune from possession, from being gripped by something that feels much larger than us, more powerful than us.  Let’s remember where Jesus encounters this demon possessed man.  In the synagogue.  The man was in church, listening to the preaching and the teaching.  When Jesus speaks with his authority, the authority as the Holy One of God, the demon recognizes him.  The demon sees Jesus for who he truly is.  The demon calls out to him.  And Jesus, with authority, with the power of his word alone – not a ritual, not a rite, the power of his word alone – casts out the demon. 
Yet it’s also in the church where demons can be cast out.  I am not speaking of ritual or rite.  I’m not speaking of exorcism in the classic understanding of that.  But we too have authority given to us by Jesus.  It’s not the same kind of authority in the sense that we can command a demon to leave someone through word alone.  But we have the authority to love one another.  We have the command to love one another.  And love, in the way that God loves us through Jesus, is powerful.  That’s the kind of power that Jesus wielded.  He wielded love.
One of the best movies I’ve seen in the last five years or so is Lars and the Real Girl.  It’s the story of a young man named Lars Lindstrom.  Lars is possessed by the demon of fear.  He is so gripped by anxiety that he cannot bear to be touched or to touch someone else.  At the beginning of the movie no one realizes this, not even Lars’ brother and sister-in-law.  She is constantly trying to engage him, to bring him out of his shell. 
But Lars is also lonely and in desperate need of human contact, so the way he solves this is by ordering a doll.  A life size, anatomically correct doll.  Her name is Bianca.  Lars brings her to dinner with his brother and sister-in-law.  He creates a past life for her.  She was a missionary.  She is suffering from some unknown ailments.  Of course, Lars family is completely shocked by the fact that Lars thinks Bianca is a real girl and they maneuver him to their doctor. 
The doctor is a kind and wise woman who realizes that Lars is suffering from a delusion that’s helping him deal with a reality he otherwise can’t face.  She doesn’t prescribe something for him.  She doesn’t recommend that he be committed to a hospital.  She doesn’t even question Lars about Bianca being real.  She accepts his delusion.  If Bianca is real to Lars then Bianca will be real to her.  And she tells Lars that she wants him to bring Bianca to see her once a week for some blood work, and while Bianca is being treated she and Lars will talk. 
The doctor also tells Lars’ family to accept the delusion, to go along with it until Lars is ready to let it go himself.  So they agree.  What they do next completely overwhelmed me when I watched it.  They went to their church.   They told the board – the equivalent of our session – what was happening and asked them to play along too.  The people on the board agreed.  They were nervous, taken aback to be sure.  But they went along with it. 
Bianca was welcomed at church.  She was welcomed at parties.  She even got elected to the school board.  And it wasn’t because anybody loved Bianca.  It was because they loved Lars.  They loved him through it.  They used the authority of love that was given to them to love Lars.  They loved him through the fears and the anxiety that possessed him, until they no longer did.  They loved him through it.
I know that it’s not that simple.  We are possessed by demons that cannot always be cured by love alone.  But love is our starting point.  Love is the authority and the power that we have been given.  Jesus commanded the unclean spirit, the demon, to leave the man it possessed.  And it did because Jesus spoke with the authority of the Holy One of God.  What do we know of God through Jesus?  We know love.  It seems to me that if we’re going to be possessed, let us be possessed by love.  Let us love one another through whatever demons grip our lives.  Let us love one another through it, just as God loves us.  Amen.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Compelling Call

“First Words”
Mark 1:14-20
January 22, 2012

            An email changed my life. 
            Think about that for a minute and we’ll come back to it.
            Tomorrow a good friend of mine starts a strict diet.  He’ll be eating six small meals each day.  Five of those meals will come from the specific diet program, and one meal will be the one that he prepares.  Each meal will be perfectly portioned controlled with limited calories but lots of nutrients.  He will be restricted from certain foods while he’s on the diet, but that won’t last forever.  It’s a tough diet, but my friend will be tougher.  He’s ready to do this, not just to lose weight but to get healthy.  You’ve probably all seen the news about Paula Deen’s Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis.  Well my friend doesn’t want to deal with those kinds of health issues, so he’s starting this journey of weight loss. 
As I said it’s a tough diet.  I know that for a fact, because I’ve done it.  In the year before I discerned my call to come to Shawnee, I lost 75 pounds on this meal program.  My friend has watched this and asked me to walk with him on his own journey, just like another good friend of mine walked my journey with me.
How did I get started on this weight loss path?  An email.  That’s the email that changed my life. 
I was sitting on my bed feeling miserable, depressed and desperate.  I was skimming through my emails on my laptop when I saw a new one.  It was from a friend and fellow parent writing that she had lost a lot of weight on a specific program and was now working as a health coach.  If I was interested or knew anyone else who might be in finding out more, let her know.
Usually I’m skeptical about things like this.  But this time felt different.  Before I fully thought about what I was doing, I wrote back, “Tell me more.”
And she did tell me more.  Thank goodness.
Like I said, that email literally changed my life.  I see it now as a call in some sense.  It was a call to health, and like other kinds of calls, it came out of the blue.  I wasn’t expecting it.  I didn’t go looking for it.  It came to me and I knew that it was time to do something.
It was time.
Essentially these are the first words of Jesus in Mark’s gospel.  It’s time.  According to Mark, he says it a little more eloquently.  “The time is fulfilled.”  But I think the meaning is the same.  It is time.
John the Baptizer has been arrested, literally in the Greek, delivered up.  Jesus is now in Galilee and he is proclaiming the message, “That the time is fulfilled.  The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news.”  Those are his first words.  It’s time.  A new reality is upon us and that is the reality of God’s kingdom, God’s domain.  Change your minds, change your hearts from your old ways of thinking, being and doing, and answer this call to believe in the good news.
And with those first words he then turns to some fishermen he encounters while walking by the Sea of Galilee.  Simon and his brother Andrew were casting their nets and Jesus calls to them.  “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  Immediately, they drop their nets and follow Jesus. 
A little further along, Jesus sees two more fishermen, James and his brother John, sons of Zebedee, in the boat with their dad mending nets.  Jesus calls them too, and their response is the same.  Immediately, they leave their work and their father and the hired men sitting in the boat, and follow Jesus. 
First words.  First call.  First disciples. 
There has been lots of speculation as to why the disciples answered Jesus’ call so quickly,  so immediately as Mark reiterates.  One theory is that they knew of Jesus or even knew Jesus before this time.  Just because Mark doesn’t write about preaching events in other places around the Galilee neighborhood doesn’t mean that they didn’t happen.  Word of Jesus could have been spreading.  According to this theory Jesus was already gaining notoriety and fame, so when he called the disciples, they’d heard about him previously.  To the outside observer it might look like the disciples just dropped everything and followed a stranger, but in reality they already knew Jesus or at least knew of him.
Or maybe they’d never heard of Jesus before, but they didn’t like fishing.  They were in it because it was the family business and it was expected of them, but they didn’t like it.  It was hot, tedious work that sometimes yielded enormous catches while other times they couldn’t catch anything.  It was literally a case of feast or famine.  So when this man came along and offered them a chance to do something else, something different, they jumped at it and followed him.
Perhaps it was a combination of both.  They knew Jesus and they didn’t like fishing.  Or maybe it was neither.  I’m not convinced that knowing the reason they followed as they did is all that important or serves our understanding.  What I do believe is important to know is that something about Jesus’ call compelled them.  Whatever it was, it was compelling.  And they responded.  They followed.
It compelled them to defy family expectations, cultural expectations, reason, common sense, sound judgment.  Something about Jesus’ call compelled them to leave behind everything and everyone they knew, all that was familiar, and follow this itinerant preacher. 
I doubt that a call like this was a commonplace event then.  David Lose, preacher and professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, wrote in his weekly preaching column this past week that what makes it hard for all of us as hearers of this story, is that we admire what the disciples did, but we’re not so sure that we could do the same.  But in saying that, he went on to admit that for a lot of us pastors we kinda, sorta feel like we do get it because we’ve already done it.  I think he’s right.  As pastors we do think we relate to the call story of the disciples. 
I dropped everything and went to seminary.  I left everything and moved from New York to Iowa and Iowa to Oklahoma. 
Which is true technically, but I left one home and went to a new one.  I left one paycheck and went to a new one.  Our pension plans and bank accounts switched.  This is a little different than dropping everything, leaving everything isn’t it?  As pastors we may follow new calls, but our needs for security are the same as anyone else’s. 
And although it could be argued that the disciples’ lives were far simpler than ours, their need for security and familiarity was probably no different than ours.  They had families.  Responsibilities.  Obligations.  They still followed. 
Before we feel as though we’ll never live up to the disciples’ example of radical following, we need to remember something else about the disciples – especially in Mark’s accounting of them.  They didn’t get it.  They failed.  They were right there with Jesus and they couldn’t grasp what he was trying to tell them.  They couldn’t fully accept that when Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God that he was referring to a state of being, a new reality, not just a place somewhere else.  The disciples failed Jesus.  They turned away from him.  They protected their own skins.  They ran away afraid.  They just didn’t get it.  They may have answered the call, but they couldn’t fully follow it. 
The disciples were not perfect in their following.  Nor are we. Yet this is where I think that grace intersects with our human experience.  We too receive a first call, hear Jesus’s first words.  And then through grace we hear them again.  We receive a second call, a third and so on.  It’s never too late to answer Jesus’ call to follow.  It’s never too late to make a decision that can radically change the course of our lives. 
In a few minutes when we install our new officers, we are lifting up the fact that these followers said “yes.”  In officer training this past week, I asked each officer to think about why he or she said “yes” to the call to serve.  I ask that of all of us.  Why did we say, “yes?”  And how does our “yes” manifest itself in our lives? 
In one way or another, the fact that we are all here, gives witness to our yes.  It gives witness to the fact, that even though we are frail and flawed human beings, we still say “yes” to the call of Jesus.  “Yes” to the proclamation that the time has come, the kingdom is in our midst, our reality has changed, our hearts and minds are changed as well and we can answer Jesus’ call to follow as immediately as those first disciples.  This is grace.  This is good news. 
Let all God’s children say, “Amen!”

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Letter to My Kindergarten Teacher

I wrote the following piece for a Diversity Sunday Worship a few years ago.  I'm republishing it in honor of Dr. King's birthday.  This was published previously on the Northeast Iowa Writer's Workshop site.

Dear Mrs. Von Winbush,

            It has been over 30 years since I first walked into your Kindergarten class.  It’s been well over 30 years since I came to school on the second day, got lost and walked the halls calling, “Mrs. Von Winbush, where are you?”  And you popped your head out of the door saying, “I’m right here, Amy.”

            It has been over 30 years since you sparked my love of learning and knowledge.  My love of schooling has waxed and waned, but never my love of learning.  I have you to thank for that.

            I did not know that our class was a small part of history until I was old enough to study history. At five, I did not understand that you were the first African American teacher in my elementary school.  I didn’t understand that the schools in Nashville, Tennessee were finally integrating.  I would not have been able to comprehend the barriers you were overcoming or the walls you were breaking down.  I only knew that I loved you, and what I saw reflected in your beautiful eyes was acceptance, care and delight.

            You were one of the first people who taught me, just by being you, that love does not comply with restrictions, boundaries or social conventions.  I’m sure I was an astute enough child to realize that there were differences in our skin colors, and that you didn’t look like most of the people I knew at the time, but I loved you more because of it.

            Thank you, Mrs Von Winbush.  Thank you for giving me a bold start in life.  Thank you for setting me on a path of acceptance.  Just my memory of you has helped me to resist the prejudice and intolerance and hatred I’ve seen in so many places since our time together.  I struggle to live up to the lessons you taught me, but I will be forever grateful that I started my education – in and out of the classroom – with you.


Amy Busse Perkins
The 1970 -71 Kindergarten Class of Burton Elementary School
Nashville, Tennessee

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Courage to Listen, Risking Response

“A Rare Word”
I Samuel 3:1-20
January 15, 2012

            My grandmother, who was quite deaf by the time she died, absolutely refused to get a hearing aid.  She had a terrible time trying to carry on a conversation because she couldn’t hear.  She also used to watch television with the volume so high I would have to leave the room before my head exploded.  None of us, not her children nor her grandchildren, could convince her to even ask her doctor about a hearing aid.  Why?  Because over fifty years ago another doctor told her not to let anyone mess around with her ears.  He said there was nothing that anyone could do to make her ears better and hear more.  That was that.
            She held onto that one bit of advice like a dog to a bone.  Our arguments about how far medical technology had come and the advances in hearing aids and other devices were to no avail.  So Gramma spent approximately the last forty years of her life asking people to repeat themselves and turning up the television.  She couldn’t hear.
            Thinking about hearing reminds me of a woman who I sat next to at a potluck years ago in New York state.  She confessed to those of us sitting around her that she had just been fitted for a hearing aid.  She confided in us that her hearing had been getting bad for a while but she had put off having her hearing tested because she was afraid.  Afraid of the implications.  Afraid she would have to wear a hearing aid.  She was afraid of how that would make her feel – and look.  And she was embarrassed.  Embarrassed at not being able to hear, embarrassed at needing to wear a hearing aid in the first place.  But when she finally went to the doctor and actually tried a hearing aid she was astounded at the difference.  Suddenly she could hear all sorts of things.  She told us that she started wondering what she’s possibly missed over the years because she couldn’t hear.  She wondered if people had tried to talk to her about something and she had ignored them – not deliberately or intentionally, but because she couldn’t hear what they were trying to say.  She confessed that she was no longer embarrassed at having to wear a hearing aid she was just embarrassed that she had waited so long to get one.  The awkwardness of wearing one was trivial compared to being able to hear – really hear for the first time in a long time.
            This conversation with this woman was enlightening.  I wonder how sensitive and sympathetic I’ve been toward others who can’t hear.  How will I feel at the possibility of having to wear a hearing aid? Will I be fearful and nervous and embarrassed?  Will I live in fear like my grandmother or will I take the risk that woman took?
            I also wondered about the other kinds of hearing disabilities out there.  My grandmother did have a legitimate hearing problem, but she also had what my parents called selective hearing.  Being a parent, I realize that this problem is not only for the elderly.  A lot of times Gramma heard what she wanted to hear.  She would miss most of the everyday conversation happening right around her, but if mom and dad were trying to talk privately about a situation or a problem with one of us kids or with someone else in the family, she’d call out, “What was that about Amy?  What’s wrong?  What’s happened?”
            Probably all of us have selective hearing to a certain extent.  What we want to hear comes through louder and clearer than whatever it is we don’t want to hear.  I think this is a tendency of human nature.  Our instinct may be to filter out what doesn’t sound as good or pleasant or happy or appealing.
            There’s another aspect to hearing – listening.  Listening is a different animal and it doesn’t come as naturally to some of us as hearing does.  We hear a barrage, a cacophony of sounds everyday.  We carry on conversations and go about our daily duties and work, but do we always listen to the people around us?
            Into this hearing and listening comes Samuel.  As an infant Samuel was dedicated to the Lord.  A few years later he was brought to the temple to live as part of a promise made and kept by his mother Hannah.  Samuel grew up in the temple.  He learned from Eli and under Eli’s tutelage he served the Lord.
            At the beginning of this story Samuel and Eli are both sleeping.  Nothing unusual about that, it is nighttime.  But then Samuel hears a voice calling his name.  “Samuel.  Samuel.”
            Samuel thinks Eli is calling him.  Who else could it be?  So he gets up and runs to Eli.  But it wasn’t Eli.  Eli tells him to go back to bed.  Three times Samuel hears the voice and three times he runs to Eli.  Samuel hears the voice, but he doesn’t recognize the owner of the voice and he doesn’t know how to listen.
            Samuel wasn’t prepared to recognize the voice of the Lord, because it was an unlikely voice to hear.  The first verse of our passage tells us that the word of the Lord was rare in those days.  Visions were not widespread.  It took Eli’s perception to realize that the voice Samuel was hearing was actually the Lord’s.  And it took Eli’s instruction before Samuel knew how to listen to God’s voice and respond.
            We could have ended the story here.  The option was there in the lectionary.  But it really is just the beginning of the story.  The actual message that the Lord had for Samuel was a harsh one to be delivered to Eli, Samuel’s spiritual mentor and teacher.  As one commentator I listened to quipped, the message Samuel had to deliver was essentially, “Tell your boss he’s fired.”  The message of the Lord to Eli was a message of judgment.  The priesthood, which Eli and his sons were direct descendants of had become corrupt and fat with its own sense of power and authority.  Eli himself was not corrupt but his sons were.
            They had blasphemed against the Lord in word and in deed over and over again.  Eli knew what his sons were up to, yet he did nothing to stop them.  So Eli and his family, he and his sons together, would soon be shaken up and torn down in order to make way for a new beginning.  For the priesthood and for Israel.  Eli accepts this message with resignation and faith.  He turned over any vested interest he had for himself, his sons, his family line and he rested them in God’s hands.  His response was, “It is the Lord, let him do what seems good to him.”
            The message delivered to Samuel was probably not what either of them wanted to hear, but they did hear it.  Samuel found the courage to tell it.  Eli found the courage to hear it. He listened and he accepted the outcome, knowing that all things are ultimately in God’s hands.
            The story goes on to say that as Samuel grew up, the Lord was continually with him.  From this first experience with God’s call, all of Israel came to know Samuel as a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.  And trustworthy prophets were needed because the times they lived in were difficult and trying for this young nation.
            At that time the Philistines were becoming more and more threatening.  The priesthood was corrupt and exploitative and there was increasing pressure to name a king to lead them.  This was something that was not part of God’s original blueprint for the chosen people.
            So in those trying times, in those difficult days when the word of the Lord was a rare word – an unlikely voice – the unlikely ears of an unlikely candidate picked up on the sound.  A young apprentice, too young to even recognize that it was God who called his name, heard that rare, unlikely voice. 
            So what is this story trying to tell us?  Sometimes when that unlikely voice is heard it can be tough to discern.  It is hard to distinguish between the voice of the Lord and all of the other voices and sounds and noises going on all around us, the general din so many of us live in and with.
            We may not hear this voice directly.  It comes to us through other human voices.  It seems to me that one point the story makes is that our ability to listen is tied to our community.  Just as Samuel needed Eli to help him recognize and respond to God’s call, we need others of faith to help us hear God’s word.  We need this time of worship together, as a community, to hear God’s word, to recognize it, to act upon it.  Samuel needed help and so do we.  Our community is our hearing aid when it comes to recognizing the rare word that is God’s call.
            This story also reminds us that that God’s word to us isn’t necessarily one we want to hear.  I think I shouldn’t be too eager to catch that deep voice calling me in the night because sometimes the word from God is a word of judgment.  It is a word that demands difficult choices, difficult response.
            Certainly no one understood that better than the man whose birth, life and death we celebrate and honor tomorrow.  It was 1955 and Martin Luther King Jr. was only 26 years old when he answered the call to spearhead the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.  The boycott lasted almost a full year and essentially served as the touchstone of the Civil Rights Movement.  As I understand it, King was not absent from the Civil Rights discussion before that initial call.  But I do know that he went to Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery hoping to serve God and God’s people and finish his doctorate.  He wasn’t seeking fame.  He wasn’t seeking recognition.  I don’t know that he foresaw the events that would unfold.  But when that rare word came, he understood it, he listened, and he answered in the context of a community who needed someone with the courage to respond.
I was too young to understand or even be aware of his assassination in Memphis in 1967.  But I was an heir of the outcome of his life and work.  Thanks to him and all of the women and men who walked beside him, I went to school with other children of almost every race and color and didn’t know until I was much older that there had ever been a time when that was different or forbidden.
            King heard God’s voice speaking to him, calling him and he brought those words to our nation. But let’s be brutally honest here.  Eli accepted the word of judgment that Samuel delivered against his family with more humility and grace than ever happened in the Civil Rights Movement.  It is far too easy to paint a rosy picture of that time and of how beloved Dr. King was by the general populace.  He wasn’t.  He was one of the most hated men in America.  I say this as one who grew up in and loves the South -- white America, in the South and around the country, did not go gently into the idea of civil rights for every American.  And in the spirit of honesty, although that battle has advanced tremendously, it’s still being fought today on a variety of different fronts.  But just as that rare word was perceived and heard and acted on by Dr. King and those who followed him, it’s still being heard and perceived in our midst as well.
            That rare word of God was heard in a community of faith.  And we recognize that rare word in our communities of faith as well.  It is in community that we learn to discern God’s word, to hear and listen for that rare, that precious word.  And it’s okay to admit that we all need a little help hearing.  We all need the aid of others to hear and recognize and respond to God’s word for each of us. 
            So in this community, let us remember that we are each other’s hearing aids.  Let us remember that we are here to support and console and love each other.  And we are in this community to find and give each other the courage to hear and respond to that rare word.  What are we being called to do?  How is that rare word manifesting itself in our lives?  In Shawnee?  In this sanctuary? How can we help one another take the risk of hearing that rare word? 
Let all God’s children say, “Amen!”

Friday, January 13, 2012

I Know

           My friend Chris called me the other day.  This isn’t anything out of the ordinary.  We often call each other just to say “hi,” and check in with each other’s lives.  Actually Chris doesn’t generally say “hi.”  She normally begins our conversations with “Hola chica.”  I don’t know why she starts this way, but I like it. 

            But this is beside the point.  The point is that Chris called the other day to check in.  She is currently jumping through hoops to achieve standing in an organization she works for.  That’s fine.  We all have hoops to jump through in one way or another.  And when it’s for something we really want – and Chris really wants this – then it makes those hoops, perhaps not joyful, but more tolerable to jump through. 
            So she was telling me about the hoops, which are cleverly disguised as classes.  She has to take one class on a subject for three Saturdays, seven hours per Saturday, for a total of 21 hours.  This isn’t such a big deal to her, but she wasn’t happy that she found out she had a ton (there are other words I could use here that would more adequately express this amount, but they might not sound so nice on a blog) of prep work to complete before her first class.  It wasn’t the work or the amount of it that bothered her, it was the short notice she received.  In less than a week she had to read 100 pages of a book that had yet to be ordered, write a reflection paper based on specific questions and prepare a presentation to give to the class.  Chris being Chris, she got it all done.  No hemming.  No hawing.  No procrastination.  She did it.

            But it occurred to me as she was relating these events that this class was basically a 21 hour version of a class she already took for a semester when she was earning her Master’s degree from a renowned Ivy League university.  So I said, “Uh.  But wait?  Didn’t you take this class in school?  At a renowned Ivy League university?  Why do you have to repeat it?  Shouldn’t that count?”  And Chris’s response was a resigned “I know.”  In fact she said that a lot during our conversation.  I would state what should have been patently obvious, and she would say, “I know.” 

            To an outsider this might seem like a pointless conversation.  Yet in the context of a friendship, I think it’s helpful, necessary even, to have someone in our lives who’s willing to state what should be obvious to everyone else if only they would just pay attention already.  I think it’s important to have someone else give us the opportunity to say, “I know.” 

            I can only guess that this was helpful to Chris (although I did have her approve this blog before I published it, so if you’re reading this, it was).  On the other side of this coin, there have been countless times when I’ve called her and she’s done the same for me.  She’s stated what I know to be true and given me permission to say, “I know.”  And yes, it was and is helpful.

            It seems to me we all need friends who are willing to state truths.  Sometimes they’re hard truths that we have to hear when we are in complete and utter denial.  Chris has been this kind of friend to me.  But we also need friends who are willing to state our truth, obvious as that truth should be, out loud.  We need friends who will be outraged or insulted or just plain irritated along with us.  It’s advocacy in a way.  It reminds us that we’re not alone. We’re not crazy.  Someone else gets it.  Someone else knows that we know.  Chris does this for me too.  I will continue to be that kind of friend to her.  And so on. I can also state unequivocally that I’m blessed to have a lot of other friends in my life who show me this kind of love as well.  You know who you are. 

            So keep jumping through the hoops Chris.  Some of them will not make sense, but I trust that the outcome will be well worth it.  If your talents and skills are finally recognized, then there is no doubt.  Go ahead.  You can say it.  “I know.”