Illusionary Violence

Shortly after the shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, I received an email asking if we, as a parish, are prepared if something like this were ever to happen.  Now first, I’m not sure anything can prepare you for something like this, other than possibly a sniper attack in a war zone or consistent trauma in your life; but secondly, I’m not convinced I want to be prepared for something like that.  I can certainly understand, from a logical and rational point of view, but it also feels, as someone who is supposed to trust deeply in this higher being we call God, that it’s giving into fear, which is antithetical to the consistent message of Jesus in the gospel proclaimed every Sunday not to fear.

Safety and Security may be the two greatest illusions we hold onto and quickly buy into when we react to horrific acts like this.  Our immediate response is more guns or at times, build walls, anything that’s going to give us the false sense of security that we desire to make us feel safe.  We pad ourselves in whatever way possible, building a fortress in order to appeal to what our eyes can see, “I’m safe now”, but deep down, in the unseen, the heart of the matter continues to exist.  It never quite strikes at the deepest fear we cling to, which is death, but in those moments our automatic response is to consume more of what we know rather than sit with the unknown reality that all who are hurting are left with in their lives.  The consistent underlying message when giving into fear is that I will do everything possible to avoid what really could have been me.  It very well could have been me or anyone else sitting in that church on Sunday or a movie theater or a classroom or at a concert or whatever the next setting will be, knowing full well that there, unfortunately, will be another, and each time it is me.

More often than I’d like, including less than a month ago, I have written on this blog the continuous struggle with violence that we witness and perpetrate in our lives.  Violence goes beyond the horrific acts of gun violence as well as other means that we have all too often witnessed in this country, a consistent reminder that there’s a problem.  More often than not, though, we’ve bought into the culture of violence, through our words and actions.  These men, and yes, it is consistently men as well, are a mere microcosm of the deeper issue that continues to spread throughout the country.  We consume it daily through news outlets and social media and many times spread it ourselves.  We consume it in our conversations, in our gossip, in our lack of respect for human life and all creation.  The simple reaction to our problems is to blame and invoke violence against the other, feeding into the death of the soul of a nation, bankrupted of any moral standing, putting guns, walls, drugs, things, before the very dignity of the very person that is most impacted.

Now I’m not one to necessarily always buy into the understanding that we are all divided.  Unfortunately, division sells and sells big.  Fear is such a deeply rooted reality in our hearts and souls that we appear attracted to it and drawn into it consistently, quickly buying into any fix as to take away the eternal pain of separation while building up a false narrative of the kingdom.  Our problem, as consumers, is that over time we’re lulled into believing it all, even if we know deep down that things aren’t right.  In our own infatuation of the illusion of safety and security we will find a way to cling to anything that is known and certain, often to avoid the fear that only continues to grow exponentially, leaving us in a frenzy.  It happens in us as individuals but collectively as a country as well, mindful that that illusion was shattered in this country after the events of 9/11.  Since then, violence has spiraled, divisions have been set in place, even if they are illusions, extremes have positioned themselves, all feeding into this fear while the rest of the world watches and waits, looking from a place a part from us, understanding our hurt and pain in a way we know not and seem to refuse to look at and consistently find ways to avoid.  We have grown a part from ourselves and each other, now leaving us with more violence than our hearts are often able to bear.

I honestly cannot imagine what it was like in that church on Sunday and maybe I don’t want to either.  My guess is it started like any other Sunday, people catching up with one another, asking about family and friends who may be sick, the small chit-chat that happens on a typical Sunday morning.  There were no thoughts of feeling unsafe, no thoughts of what separates and divides people.  They were a community that gathered under a common purpose and with God at the forefront.  In an instant, lives were changed forever and many eternally.  It wasn’t long after that the predicted responses would begin and hurting lives would once again be turned into politics and more violence, separating and dividing.  We hear about guns don’t kill people, good people need guns, if the government makes any changes they’ll take away all our guns, as we know best, it’s all or nothing, benefiting corporations, feeding a consumer culture rooted in fear, safety and security.  We react and lives are left shattered in the process.

I have no answer even though it seems like I write about this so regularly anymore.  I’m not sure there really are answers when we don’t even know the right questions to ask.  Conversations are directed from backstage, inciting fear, and without even thinking, we give into it so quickly, again, believing what we are told and so often afraid to go to the depths of our own being to evaluate what’s most important to us.  We will never have the safety and security that we think or believe we should have.  It’s a mere illusion and an illusion that is fed by a consumer culture.  More than anything, we need to learn to have a patient trust in the slow workings of God in our lives. 

There is so much healing that needs to happen in our lives, not just the hundreds whose lives have been shattered by traumatic violence that goes beyond the city, but each of us who find blaming the other individual or group for our problems, throwing tantrums in trying to get our way.  Not only do we need healing but we need to grow up and accept responsibility for ourselves and each other.  We do this not by continuously buying into these illusions that feed our own fears, but in learning to embrace the paradox and mystery of life and death.  Our lives are not comprised of only half the mystery, the half we like while living in fear of the other.  Rather, with each passing breath in every given moment a gift is being given to live, but at the same time to let go and trust in the unseen power of God.  For all who have faced such trauma and are reeling in the grief of loss while they still cling to life, it’s all they have, and quite frankly, it’s all any of us really have.

Advertisements

\ ˈem-pə-thē \

If you were to look up the word, empathy, in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, you’d find the following:

The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also :the capacity for this”

From time to time I make the mistake of going to comment sections of articles and posts that I happen to be reading.  It doesn’t take long for me to realize that I’ve made a mistake by doing it and yet I do it anyway.  Maybe there’s a part of me that hopes it has changed, that somehow since the last time I made this mistake that the world got a little better and more understanding.  Needless to say it didn’t go so well and was reminiscent of times past.

The one thing I could never quite understand is how people can lash out at others that they don’t even know, complete strangers going after one another because of opposing viewpoints but never making any effort to get to the heart of their own anger and why this is all coming up inside themselves. When I can’t be sensitive to another’s feelings, thoughts, and experience, I simply then project it all onto them, making them the embodiment of the demon that lies within myself, becoming enemies rather than seeking understanding of a person’s view; and that’s all it is, a view.  I’ve been the victim of it myself and I’m sure the projector at times in my life.  It’s a sign of just how unaware we are as a culture and society when we don’t take responsibility for our own baggage and prefer to share the wealth with others.

When it comes to pain and suffering we are often the worst.  We have to look tough, stoic, to others and the world.  It can explain a great deal of the opioid epidemic that has arisen in this country and our constant need to be medicated and numbed.  That pain has been taken advantage of by advertisers, politicians, and drug manufacturers alike, all of whom have benefited from our inability to deal with pain.  Dealing with our own pain, rather than numbing it, is the only answer to the epidemic but also our inability to empathize with others and to understand another person’s experience which is often different from my own.  Pain has a way of sucking us in and yet projecting outward, seemingly that we stand at the center of the world and carry the measuring stick of judgment of all life’s challenges, experiences, and pains, even if I’ve never actually experienced it myself, all in the name of defense of some one or some thing.

As a culture and society we have distanced ourselves from pain and suffering (the cross) so much that we no longer know how to handle it, embrace it, enter into it, feel it.  It’s as if we walk into the ICU of a dying patient or into a funeral home to mourn with a family and we become so uncomfortable that all we know how to do is make trite statements, hollow at best, because of the fear of going to where we hurt and in those very moments, to realize that that person is also me.  The pain of sitting with the uncomfortableness is too overwhelming in those moments that we have to do something with it.  We just can’t bring ourselves to do it and so we project it all outward, onto each other, onto the country, other countries, and to the world.  Heck, for that matter, there are plenty of examples of it in Scripture that, more often than not, we do it to God as well.  It has given us distorted images of each other and the Creator and there are examples of it everywhere, often including our own lives.  Again, if we’re willing to take a step back, become self-aware, and see what I too am doing to the other and this world.  There’s no wiping our hands entirely clean if we’re willing to take responsibility for our own undealt with pain.

It’s probably the easiest way to understand the gospels and Jesus’ own encounter with the Pharisees and other leaders of that time.  They had such venom towards him, mainly because he challenged their way of thinking and understanding of the other.  All they could do is try to divide and conquer, and in the end, they believe they won. They believe, in the short term, they have won the battle with Jesus once he is crucified, a projection of their own disdain for God and human life and the suffering one endures.  It was and is inevitable in the case of Jesus that hatred would appear to be his demise.  Hate, anger, unfinished hurt, always thinks short term in order to protect itself from deeper pain but always fails to see the big picture, avoiding it at all cost.

We see it in war, violence, resentment, hatred, bigotry, racism, disdain, blame, all rooted in this deep fear of our own pain, separating us from the other in isolating fashion.  Little do we know that when we make decisions and choices from such destructive tension, life becomes much more about survival that living life fully.  It’s as if we’re drowning in our own pain and all we can do is cling rather than to take the hand of someone who may look different, live differently, have a different experience of my own, simply because I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I may have been wrong.  When life is about winning and losing we, without a doubt, always lose even if it feels like a short-term win, protecting myself once more while gasping for air until the next attack, the next exposure of my short-coming, my imperfection, my shadow, my own pain that has taken hold of my life.

We have a lot to do in our society, a lot of work in dealing with the deep-seated pain that we continue to hold onto, clouding all our decisions and choices for the future, while at the same time blaming the future for all our problems.  We’re leaving that very future one hell of a mess to clean up if we soon don’t learn to stop, quiet ourselves, and sit in that ICU, sitting with the dying patient, and learn to die with them.  Pain and suffering has so much to teach us and is often the key to living a fuller life when we no longer dance around it but rather jump in, head first, rather than sharing it with the world.  In times when we retreat, isolate, and believe it’s about us first, we can only begin to understand such action when we’ve been there ourselves, wallowing in our own pain and suffering, feeling it’s the only way for us to survive.  I can empathize with that because I’ve been there myself.  It feels like it’s the only answer to the loneliness experienced when we suffer.  The capacity to empathize with the other, the nation, all suffering everywhere, the world, can only come when we’ve done our own work and continue to do our work in life, creating the necessary space in our lives for someone and something more than ourselves.  It’s the task at hand if we are to move forward for the way forward is through.

Looking Without Seeing

I Sam 16: 1, 6-7, 10-13; Eph 5: 8-14; John 9: 1-41

Helen Keller, who, of course, was not just blind but also deaf had to overcome the obstacle of thinking that she was somehow deficient because of her limitation in hearing and seeing. Many of us have to do the same thing in different capacities over the course of our lives. She goes onto become a great writer as well as activist and humanitarian, despite what she originally saw as a limitation. In the end, she had commented that there was something even worse than being blind and that was having sight and yet still unable to see. How many times has that function of sight really limited us as well, where we have sight and yet still unable to see.

It’s what Jesus is confronting in today’s gospel with the man born blind who sits on the side of the road, a beggar, as John tells us. Mixed up, though, in this story are all these other conflicts that are important to recognize because they will carry through now until Good Friday, and quite frankly, some even beyond that. Of course, there’s the Pharisees. We’re accustomed to that squabble after hearing it week in and week out. They are the legalists. They see everything through the lens of right and wrong, good and bad, sin and not, and in the end, judge and label everyone according to it. In many ways they end up dehumanizing people and strip them of their dignity because of some standard that they hold that pretty much no one else can match, certainly not a man born blind who is a beggar. Quite honestly, they wouldn’t have the time of day for such a person.

The other squabble is with “the Jews”. We hear that language often in John’s gospel which seems rather odd being that they were all Jewish. Why would they need to be singled out when it encompassed the majority? In today’s language, in these passages they really are the insiders. They view everyone as either insider or outsider and have total disregard for everyone who isn’t part of the in crowd. They grow resentful with Jesus and understand that he’s a Jew like them on some level, but also see him as an outsider and look for every possible way as labeling him as such. They too would have no time for the one they label beggar because he’s not one of them. Ironically, Jesus spends much of his time with them and tries to restore them to their place in the community while restoring their dignity.

There is one other conflict though in this passage and that’s the parents of the blind man. It would seem rather odd, I’d think, for a parent to turn their back on their son, despite his circumstances in life. They deny having anything to do with him regaining his sight because, as John tells us, of fear. Fear holds them back from claiming their own faithfulness to Jesus. As Jews they too would have been with the in crowd and want that sense of belonging. Are they willing to risk it to step out and trust their son in the healing Jesus has brought to his life. It doesn’t seem so.

All that said, the blind man, who happens to be a beggar, has no bearing on the life of the community. He’s an outsider. He’s obviously done something grave that he’s been punished in this way. He’s a nobody and no one wants anything to do with him, except, of course, Jesus. He quickly goes from being a nobody into the one who has the spotlight shining upon him in the middle of all these conflicts that are ensuing. But it takes him time as well. He doesn’t quickly come to an understanding of what has taken place in his life or who this Jesus guy is either. The gospel writer reminds us that he first sees him as a man, then a prophet, then as Lord who has transformed his very life and existence. What he had seen as an obstacle becomes the source of grace in his life.

The same in true for Paul who we hear from in today’s second reading from Ephesians. He uses the image of light and darkness. He had to physically become blind in order to see, knowing his own conversion story. He was a Pharisee as well as an insider and so ingrained in that thinking that he couldn’t see anyone else beyond that limitation. For Paul, if you weren’t an insider, the way he had determined, then there was no place for you. God literally blinds him, even though spiritually he already was, and pushes him to sit in that blindness before he can gain sight and begin to see the other as not someone separate from but one with and not much different than himself. Using his language of today, Paul, and us, are often forced into the darkness of our own lives before God can somehow begin to do something with us. We all have blindspots and darkness as long as we are on this earth, but we also like to avoid them and deny they’re there. The blind man today, along with Jesus, begins to expose those blindspots and yet, they still cannot see as God sees.

It’s where young Samuel is led in today’s first reading. He has no intention on heading to Jesse to anoint a new king. He thought all along that it would be Saul and now fears for his life thinking Saul is going to take his life because of the turn of events. Yet, he goes to Jesse, but once there is still trapped in his own way of seeing. He looks for power, for strength, for someone who can overturn the enemies. This is who he thought should be the next king, but, of course, God has different plans. The writer tells us that Samuel, and for that matter, each of us, see by appearance but God sees the heart. There it is. God knows our story and sees the deepest longings of our hearts.

Our sight has so many limitations. We become blinded by what we see and in turn, label and judge. We see color. We see economic advantages. We see what we don’t have. We see lifestyles that we become envious of. We see people that bring things upon themselves. We see what we wish we had and don’t. We see biases. We see insiders and outsiders. We see, so often the sin of the other and ourselves. It’s hard, as Helen Keller pointed out, to have sight and yet see. The Gospel challenges us to be thrown into the story as the blind man and ask ourselves where we are on our own journey of faith. We all have these conflicts alive within us, the pharisee, the Jew, and even the parental voices that remain, that often hold us back from becoming who we really are in life. When we no longer see them as obstacle but as a source of grace, we’re changed forever. We make the journey of the blind man, of seeing Jesus as man, as prophet, and eventually, as our Lord. We pray for the awareness and acceptance of our own blindspots that prevent us from seeing, not by appearance, but as we heard today, of the heart, as God see us. Like Helen Keller, if we surrender ourselves to the change, transformation, conversation that we are being called to in life, what we have seen simply as limitation opens the door to possibility. I was blind but now I see.

Humbling Connectedness

Sirach 3: 17-18, 20, 28-29; Hebrews 12: 18-19, 22-24; Luke 14: 1, 7-14

I don’t need to tell you that Jesus has this tendency to create tension wherever he goes. It’s as if conflict follows him into all these different situations. Today is no different. He stands, as the writer of Hebrews tells us today, the Mediator, between these two opposing realities.

There’s first the reality of the Pharisees. They are the center of religious power and a power that often went far beyond religion. They saw themselves in many ways as gods and the keeper of the law. Here he is in the leading Pharisees house on the Sabbath so naturally there’s going to be tension. He heals a guy which already counts as a strike against him and then begins to observe the actions of the Pharisees, who, on many levels, are oblivious to what’s going on and how their actions appear and speak to others.

Then there’s this other reality that he presents to them through the telling of parables and who should be invited to dinner. It’s the poor, the crippled, the lame, and every other outcast of society. It’s the people that have been ostracized by the pharisees for one reason or another. Yet, they are the ones that Mediator raises up in humility. So what makes their reality so unique? I’m not saying everyone because they too are human but the difference often comes in this deep connectedness that they have that goes beyond the community that they’ve been ostracized from, a deeper connection with what is bigger than themselves. They’ve had to learn because of their lives to have faith and put trust in the One that is bigger than themselves, as opposed to the pharisees whom often saw themselves as the ones that are bigger than the other.

All of this is the realities that Jesus steps into as Mediator and tries to find another way, a third way as it is often called, to bring together these opposing opposites. But we know not only from the time of Jesus but our own time as well that it just doesn’t seem to happen. When the people in authority and who hold the power are put into such a position they don’t want to budge. The buckle down and try to hold onto their power, which isn’t even real in the first place. Jesus brings up fear and uncomfortableness in their lives and of course becomes the scapegoat for their fear and uncomfortableness. He is a threat not only to them but to the system, the institution that they represent, and they become self-serving. It’s no longer about the people who are in touch with this deeper reality, it’s about holding on and trying to save something that isn’t real in the first place.

Now we know how it turns out. Eventually these systems even today must die. They know longer have the purpose they once had but that requires all of us to change. The pharisees isn’t just these guys back in the time of Jesus but they are me and they are you. We don’t like things to change but when the system no longer serves the most vulnerable and becomes self-serving, it’s lost it’s purpose. Like them, there is that part of us that wants to hold onto it. It’s the critic in ourselves that will do everything to prevent change and to try to sabotage anything new. When we don’t, we have what we have today, this sense of disconnectedness that exists between the ruling class, as it is with the pharisees, and become blinded by their own behavior, and what’s most importation, this deeper connection that we hold, this inherent dignity that comes from the Eternal Mediator that tries to reconcile these parts of ourselves to makes us whole, as individuals, community, city, and even country.

None of us can deny that the systems are broken in our Church and government. They may have had their place in a time but not anymore. Heck, even a few weeks ago Jesus threw the family institution into the mix as well. All of it is a voice crying out to be heard that is being ignored. Those in power want to continue to keep others at bay, to keep that disconnectedness, creating the violence we see in our own lives and beyond. The readings, though, today speak of humility. Humility is when we become aware of how we have allowed the pharisee in ourselves to lead us and disconnect us from our own humanity and the One bigger than ourselves. It’s is a dying to self and giving up that self for a greater good for the people, especially the most vulnerable. If we don’t take care of those that have been ostracized we have truly lost our way. We pray today for that humility in our lives, in our city, and certainly in this nation.

Pride has quite the way of taking hold of our lives and not wanting to let go, blinding us to those being called to the banquet as Jesus speaks of today. We have become so blinded by that in our own country and our hold to nationalism and other pharisaical ways that we become attached to in our lives. We pray for that humility to be able to sit with the tension in our own lives and to meet the Eternal Mediator in the heart of it all, calling us to let go and to connect with our deeper identity, our inherent dignity in Christ.

Hoping for a Little More Purple

Well thank God that election cycle is over! For whatever reason, it seems that it gets uglier and uglier as time goes on in my life, leaving more disillusioned and disinterested in the whole process, wondering if change can ever come about. I wholeheartedly believe, again, for whatever reason, when it comes to politics and religion, so many tend to try to push us towards the extremes in both. All too often the two, religion and politics, have even become more and more intertwined, so often feeding on our weakness rather than finding ways to build the Kingdom and seek conversion as we are commanded to do as Christians. Politics, if we are honest with ourselves, tends to dictate our morality much more than religion, again, so often feeding off of one another, leaving us bitter, resentful, and quite frankly, judgmental of the other.

I am convinced, though, in light of my own insanity that I call life, that I really am more purple than I am red or blue, and I thank God everyday for that. All too often we have allowed the extremes within ourselves to react to one another and against one another, demonizing the other and having total disregard for what seems and I perceive as the complete opposite of what I believe. Let’s be honest, it’s easy for all of us to get caught up the craziness of it all. We want our candidates to win, deep down, because that’s the party we associate with, at times, even when they’re not the best candidate. We even believe some of the negative ads that are presented to us about the other candidate; unfortunately, allowing that to linger beyond election night, blinding us to the possibility that maybe this woman or man are the more qualified and have good intentions, at least at the moment of entry into office.

But when all is said and done, who wins, wins and that’s the way it is, whether we like it or not. I do believe, for all intensive purposes, my life won’t change a great deal by who wins or loses. I don’t like gridlock, incompetence, and being easily bought by lobbyists and money. There are real problems within the system, both politics and religion. All I hope for, now that it’s over, for at least a few days, is that we can move somewhere to the middle and learn to build bridges rather than walls. Yeah, I know it’s a bit cliche, but it has become the truth and the lived reality of these larger than life systems that we are a part of and yet distance ourselves from because we don’t want to admit that it’s me and you. We like to win and we are quite content watching the other lose.

But at this moment, the day after and the dust begins to settle, people begin to lick their wounds, strategy begins to talked about, how will all this work with new people, and all the rest that the pundits want to tell us about, I’m just hoping for one thing, and that’s for a little more purple in our lives. No, not the Baltimore Ravens purple, but the purple that comes from reconciliation. The purple that comes from building bridges between blues and reds. The purple that comes from communication and putting aside egos. The purple that comes from standing up and being honest with ourselves and people, even if it doesn’t sell papers. The purple that comes from not selling out for money and selfish interests but rather seeking the common good. The purple that comes from respecting the dignity of all people, even those that think differently or wear the opposing color and not be quick to judge and demonize. The purple that comes with accepting that at times others and myself will tell you what we think you want to hear to get what we want; seeing myself in the other.

If we can all agree on anything, and where that bridge can begin to be built, is that we’re tired of what we have seen and must begin to learn to trust the unseen and what lies beyond red and blue and see that I’m just as purple as the next and somehow are challenged each day to reconcile the extreme conservative and liberal within myself, making me whole and a much better change getter because it’s not about walls but rather bridges between what we hold onto so tightly, that red and blue within each of us. Somewhere in the middle of me and you, purple is waiting to break free, both in politics and religion.

Can We Weep With Them?

There have been two stories that had touched me deeply over these past few days, neither one related in anyway. The first is that of 80 year old Donald Sterling, now banned for life from the National Basketball Association and that of Clayton Lockett, probably less familiar to most, but was the recipient of a botched execution this week in Oklahoma. Neither related, neither person condoned for their behavior and actions, but both, as we sometimes forget, human beings themselves.

There aren’t many that will weep for these two men. If anything, Donald Sterling has been run through the ringer, mostly for his racist remarks but also very much for his relation to women and how he views them. I caught myself earlier this week listening to a story on the news about him and they were joking about him and this young woman. She simply provides the sex and he provides all the material goods this woman would ever need. The story continued about the rather grotesque image of him in the paper and all started to laugh. And I started to laugh. And I caught myself. This wasn’t a time for laughter, but rather weeping, and weeping hard. Why, you ask? Who hasn’t been in his place? No, maybe not on such a grand scale as Mr. Sterling, but who hasn’t had a racist thought at one point in their life, maybe not towards a person of a different color, but someone who is gay, someone who is Latino, someone who is in a lower socio-economic class than myself, a woman or a man, someone who, for whatever reason, I deemed less than myself in order to make myself look better. And I wept. Who hasn’t done it?

It takes a great deal of work on oneself to begin to move beyond such judgmental thoughts and to begin to accept and love that the person over there is really me. In that moment I prayed that when I reached his age I wasn’t still holding thoughts like that that weigh me down. I prayed that by his age I would no longer objectify men and women because of my own insecurities. I prayed that I wouldn’t have to kill another rather than confront my own prejudices, my own judgments, my own insecurities in life, because I know I have them, just like everyone else; but I also know they say more of me than the other. Have we not done to him what he had done to another? And I wept. Who hasn’t done it? Or maybe harder yet, who hasn’t been the recipient of it in one way or another?

Then there’s Clayton Lockett. My heart broke when I heard this story, not only because of the horrific crime he had committed, but to see that he too ended up dying in the same way the woman did that he had killed. A botched execution, rushed to take his life, witnesses leaving the room as they watched him struggle to breath, ending with a heart attack that consumed his life. Justice, some cried! But not really. There’s nothing just in taking another life nor for taking the life of someone who has taken a life. Life in prison, beyond the cell, a prison this man created for himself and within himself, failing to see life as gift, failing to see the dignity not only of this woman’s life but of his own. And I wept. He may have even wanted to die at this point; death was nothing to fear when you reach such extremes. I think I’d want to if I were in his place, locked behind layers of security and confinement, without human touch and care; a death he seemed to endure from the moment he arrived on death row. In the hearing of that story, yes, even hundreds of miles away, a part of me died as well, with him, the pain of violence and brokeness, stripped of dignity. And tears filled my eyes in prayer.

No, they aren’t related in anyway, but humans nonetheless, brothers, who we suffer with and seek to allow those parts of us to die in order that life may follow. Oh how painful it is to watch and even more so to endure. Can we take the time and weep with these two and the countless others that walk the same path? Can we take the time and walk in their shoes for just a moment and rather than laugh and crucify, weep? Can we take the time and feel the pain of their family and friends who now carry the burden with them, tainted by the weight of death, of one’s ego and one’s life? Can we weep for a broken humanity in which we are not immune, but rather participate? Can we weep at our own wounds that become the catalyst of hurting others? Can we weep with these men who are them but also us?

Reflections from the Vineyard

Image

I spent this weekend helping facilitate a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat for post-abortive women and men.  Here are a few reflections from the weekend as well as the homily from our closing Mass for the weekend.

Homily for Sunday’s Closing Mass

The readings this weekend provide much opportunity as we close out this retreat to reflect upon and put ourselves into the story of the man born blind as we hear in John’s Gospel. The one striking thing about Jesus, different from the rest, is that he doesn’t buy into the blame or shame game that everyone around him tries to inflict upon the other and him. Somehow someone is to blame for the blindness of this guy, he’s now healed, and now someone must pay for this healing; he is no longer there for the others, the crowd, to inflict their own pain, guilt and shame onto and are left to look at themselves, if they are at all capable. Yet, Jesus wants nothing to do with it all he wants is to give the guy what his heart desires…healing and a restoring of his dignity as a human person; that’s it! The blame game is where the Pharisees take it and even the guys parents try to inflict their own pain onto others, never seeing that this guy’s not a blind guy but rather a guy who happened to be born blind, and their is a difference. All too often we identify ourselves in that way…many men and women have identified themselves by the abortion that they have had like many of you, and yet, this weekend has been simply about what Jesus does to the man born blind; he heals and he restores lost dignity. As a matter of fact, a good way to know if you are on the road to recovery or healing is when you no longer have to blame others, not even yourself. If everything is still everyone else’s fault and to blame and somehow you live with that victim mentality, as we have seen, we must first realize and accept that everyone out there is also us and when hurt we have a tendency to take on everyone else’s pain as our own, leading us further into the darkness that Paul speaks of in today’s second reading. The past two days we have said, “Enough.” I will no longer allow myself to be identified in that way and I can finally begin to embrace who I really am…a sinner in need of healing, going to the One who offers it freely, restores me to my dignity as a human being, and yes, finally, embrace that I truly am a daughter and a son of God.

Day One: As the stories begin to unfold before you, it’s hard not to well up in tears as you recognize and relate to the pain that so many people carry with them throughout their lives. How many have felt abandoned by their mothers and fathers, left to an ongoing search for love and acceptance elsewhere or forced to make grown-up decisions long before brains and hearts are even capable because of a choice. The bottom line so often is, “do nothing to disgrace the family.” It doesn’t matter how much pain you will have to carry throughout life, this unshattered persona, that we leave the world wanting to see and believe doesn’t actually exist, often does more harm than good. So often in this experience it is then transferred even onto Holy Mother Church…do nothing to disgrace, and unfortunately onto the ever-judging God who we think and have come to believe can never understand the pain that we hold onto. It’s my pain and that pain gives me identity and the safety that hasn’t existed in my life. We don’t quite notice until we are far gone that all that protection of the persona leads to greater isolation and a deep-seeded shame that prevents us from ever hearing the tender voice of God calling us out of darkness into His own wonderful light. That tender voice is so often drowned out by loud screams which we learn will only shut up when they are fed, leaving them wanting more and more until we begin to believe that the darkness is the light, that somehow I have to accept that this is just the way it is and I need to move on with my life, even if it is an endless cycle of poverty within our souls. Ah, the great lie that we tell ourselves into believing that no one else will ever understand, not even God can forgive me for how I have disgraced the family and the Church by my sin. Yet, it is by trusting that tender voice that tries to separate itself from the screams, always calling us home and never leaving us, that we begin to see and experience the perfect Parent in God, who holds the light and the dark of our lives, and only in this God can the weapons of judgment and self-hatred be transformed into the gift of His grace, love, and forgiveness. What inevitably follows is the greatest gift we can offer the world, a voice, a tender voice that now speaks through the woundedness of our lives in leading others to life.

Day Two: I happened to overhear someone say today that there is no greater burden than trying to be me. I thought to myself that there were probably no truer words spoken, that when we feel we need to try to be me and typically something or someone that I am not, there is a huge burden placed on our shoulders to try to continue to live up to a persona that is what we have been led to believe over the course of our lives as to who we really are only to find out at some point that all that work was only to get me to the point that it’s a part of who I am but not who and whose I really am. Whether we like it or not, good or ill, we are all a product of the relationships that we grew up with, being family and friends, who have helped us to create an illusion, a “blind spot” per se that gave us the space needed to defend ourselves from hurt. I’ve seen over and over again on these weekends how that blind spot is so often what we have found difficult with our own parents, that somehow they were never quite who we wanted or needed them to be and instead of entering relationships that follow in love, we go in search of that “perfection” that we never quite found in those authority figures, whether in our spouses or in the Church, rather than accepting that that’s them in us, whether a critical parent voice or a voice that tells you that you’re never quite good enough, they are a part of who we are and when we reach midlife and we still believe that that’s who we really are, then those words really are true that who I am is more a burden than a life well lived, or for that matter, fully lived. It is amazing how much we can live in denial of our make-up and as we speak of all these other people in our lives, we really speak of us, our illusions, our blind spots, which, often only after a breakdown in life, a near death experience, years of carrying grief after loss and so on can we ever begin to say, “I can’t settle for that anymore. My life has to be about so much more.” And only by the grace of God and good mirrors in our lives can the veneer finally begin to be broken and we can see who and whose we are, sons and daughters of God.

Day Three: Healing the Tabernacle–We all hold pain in different parts of our body. There may be nothing more humbling than as when we pray our final living scripture when someone asks for continuing healing of their womb. We never quite know the story behind someone’s pain until we have the opportunity to listen and have the space within us, free of judgment, to ask another to tell their story and the pain that they have held onto for years, due in part to choices that have been made or even when someone strips us of our dignity and forces themselves onto and within us, leaving us scarred for what seems like an eternity. One person dubbed it, the “lost decade” of their life. That’s how it so often feels, numb to everything and our bodies seem like dead weight, a storage bin for waste, so it feels in that lost time, until it can be restored and healed. All the effort that is made into making sure the tabernacles that house the Body of Christ in our churches is made with the most precious of metals, adorned with light, locked to protect, and yet, the tabernacle we live with daily isn’t given it’s proper place. We are told that it’s not important, we are convinced it’s never good enough, we abuse it and so often treat it with little regard, as if somehow it’s something we are stuck with in this life. Yet, I think of the Christ, lying in a manger. I think of Christ, forming in the womb of Mary. Is not this tabernacle we call our body, just as, if not even more, valuable than the golden palace? We all carry pain and shame differently in our body and through our body so often due to harm and trauma we have endured. We believe in the resurrection of the body…there it is and today God wants to heal the tabernacle that has experienced that trauma, heal the tabernacle that has given birth, heal the tabernacle that we call our body, and heal the tabernacle of this body gathered here today in His name. Where is it that pain is held in your body? Ask God to send healing graces to where you most hurt and have been hurt, seeking out resurrection of the body today.