a couple thoughts on healing from life and surgery
plus where to find me and for the first time on The Corners - a special guest preacher!
Good morning, friends. I am recovering from “minor” surgery (doing well, no worries). I am struck by how vulnerable a thing it is to be in the hands of a surgical team - to have so many questions asked about your body, to be clothed in paper, stuck with needles, and wheeled into a very cold room filled with machines and lights and strangers in masks. Then to have your arm tingle for a few seconds before you entirely lose consciousness. To not be present in your body while it is cut open and things removed and then glued shut.
It takes awhile to return to your body. And when you do, you feel how wounded it is by its healing.
It has made me reflect on how vulnerable we are. How we are all clothed in paper. How we are at the mercy of others far more than we like to admit. How often we are not present to our bodies. How much healing is happening while all we can feel are the wounds.
When the blood comes back into places of frostbite, it hurts like hell. That’s what healing can feel like sometimes. We are so conditioned to think that if something hurts or is hard it means something is wrong. But that’s not always the case.
Life is loss.
And life is gift.
And I can be pretty bad at identifying which is which in the moment, so I am attempting at this point in my life to just wait and see.
Sending my love, Nadia.
ps- don’t get me wrong very grateful for my access to healthcare!
I Just wanted to share with you some upcoming events you may or may not be interested in, and to share with you the amazing sermon I heard yesterday that I hope you read or listen to!
Oct 26th 8a (Central) (on-line)
Krista Tippett and I will be having a conversation about forgiveness:
Oct 26th 6p (Central) (on-line)
I don’t wade much into electoral politics, but I have known the Democratic nominee for the US Senate seat in Kansas since 1995 and think he’s a pretty great guy - he also happens to be: the former mayor of Kansas City, Kansas, a fellow graduate of Iliff School of Theology, a 4th generation Kansan, a 3rd generation United Methodist Pastor and a someone who is uniquely qualified to speak about the separation of church and state here in the US. I look forward to having this conversation with Rev. Mark Holland. Join us!
Nov 19th, 7p (EST) Coral Gables, Fl
An evening with Nadia Bolz-Weber at Coral Gables United Church of Christ ← tickets available here. I’ll also be preaching the next day at the 11a service!
I didn’t preach yesterday, but I did have the pleasure of hearing one of my favorite preachers, Rev. Winnie Varghese (Rector, St Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta) when she preached this beautiful sermon at St John’s Cathedral in Denver. She has graciously allowed me to share it with you.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:
"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.'
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'
I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted." -Luke 18
(Sermon begins at 20:22)
We have just read, a Biblical status update at the temple.
Thank you, God, that I am not like other people.
My first thought was how I feel when reading about the entire British system of electing a Prime Minister. Thank God that’s not us.
Thank you, God, that I am not like other people might be the needlepoint we all need framed above our desks.
Individually and collectively, don’t we all do that? Are we not, all of us, inclined to notice what we get right?
Maybe it is ironic that the very things that are designed to help us to loosen our grip on our pride, can themselves become our sources of pride.
If only he were humble and modest like me
Or hard working and discerning
Or self sacrificing and persistent
Or sincere and compassionate
Or political and passionate
Or sober and struggling
Or an outsider and truth teller
If only, then we could walk cheerfully, side by side into God’s future, where I am already going.
A mirror held up to us all.
That our very sincere path contains within it a trap of alienation and judgment of one another.
We can so often take what is truly a virtue, even a hard won virtue for ourselves, and turn it into a comparison with others.
Social media is literally designed to do this to us.
One person’s sincere sharing of a delight, a joy, can easily become the focus of envy, or not believed, “this did not happen” is a very popular twitter response, or there is that randomly applied critique of the way things are, #privilege.
In our reading, how presumptuous to use that powerful sign of penitence, the beating of the chest, you tax collector. How dramatic, when he is doing work for which he should be penitent. You can’t be a part of the problem, then get points for repenting, or can you?
I’m sure you can hear, that even in attempting to name it, I am doing it.
Like a personalized, gilded hand mirror, put up in front of all of our faces.
Some clever person put this reading in for the height of election season.
Luke 18 begins with “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. “
There is a story of a judge who feared nothing, and a widow in need, and then this story.
That widow does not pray, but is persistent in her pleas for help to a judge who has no moral compass and it seems that out of annoyance, he grants her what she needs.
Persistence, we are told is a virtue.
And then this story, two guys walk into the temple.
Isn’t it good news that God hears you and me, whoever we are?
God hears us who havr not followed the check list,
or cannot imagine a way out of the compromises in our lives,
or aren’t sure how to budget a pledge for next year,
or are too anxious to do the brave things we know we should do,
who come to God as the ones God has told us how not to be
Isn’t it good news that God listens:
To our self satisfied, striving, and envy, and positioning
And to the sincerest laments of our hearts
And it seems that there is no requirement of anything at all to be heard
No baptism, no creeds, no affiliations, no ornaments
And, we know that in the life of prayer,
our most desperate prayers,
l am that tax collector,
grieved of everything it sounds like,
those times we know we need God to intervene because we cannot live with what has been done, is about to be done,
what we are doing,
when we need help
and the silence is endless
the life not finished ends
the cravings do not quiet
the fear does not disappear
the help does not come
Where is our little children loving God!
when we have been persisting;
when we cannot find justice or peace in our communities;
when understanding more just hurts more;
when the cycles of devastation and discrimination in our public life rise up again;
when disease comes with no way out?
In my mother’s home town there is a Syrian Orthodox cathedral church that has a desk to the side where you can order a service said for you a very small fee. When anything really tough comes up in our lives, my mother sends one of my cousins there to fill out the form and write down our names and pay the 2 rupees, so that prayers are said there. I always have a little list when I go there as well. It takes a lot of prayers to get to $1.
I can say prayers as well, I know that.
I can even dedicate the flowers.
I can light a candle.
But, I will confess to you, I feel better when I imagine my name as one of the many on those stacks of small paper, in a language I cannot read, in a pile on the altar while a stranger chants the service over them.
The sincerity of the strange task - calling out to God, there in the place where my family does that, people I barely know, who don’t really understand why our name has been sent this time. Isn’t there something about the truth there? That I too am a 2 rupee sinner, afraid, in need of grace, and very specifically some healing I cannot figure out how to generate.
Friends, God sees you and does not compare you to anyone else.
God is waiting with a handful of mercy to sprinkle on your head like so much confetti, the kind you will find in the carpet forever ---the biodegradable, pet safe kind.
Waiting, for you, and sees you distinctively, with no comparisons.
All is well.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in prison awaiting his execution for the failed, attempted assassination of Hitler,
Bonhoeffer with a life of delight and studiousness ahead of him, whom so many tried to save,
In imprisonment wrote this prayer that one community I was a part of used as our dismissal after services.
“Whatever this day may bring, thy name be praised” (Deitrich Bonhoeffer)
I suspect that at the heart of the parable we have today, is a life without the clear focus of a Bonhoeffer and the Nazi’s. Lives like ours.
Our Pharisee friend has the perceived freedom to do all of the right things without stepping into the crucible of the truest things. Somehow he has become oriented to a God who judges like him. A sassy, petty God, whose bite is to be feared. That is not the God Jesus tells us about in this story.
I invite you to join me in inviting the living God into the parts of your life that need some grace.
How fortunate we are to lay it all down, every last thing. Don’t overthink it. If you think you need some grace, you do. God waits for you. The teacher, the banker, the activist, the failure --there they are, along side you in this journey with saints and martyrs, refugees, prisoners, your political opponents, and those who are almost as correct as us.
Friends, God is like a wacky old parent who cannot forget that child who was so cruel --God, running down the path, to welcome you home.
-Rev. Winnie Varghese, Oct 23rd, St John’s Cathedral, Denver.
The realization of how fragile our bodies and our lives are came to me suddenly like a bolt of lightning a couple weeks ago when my SUV was broadsided by another car and my car rolled over onto its roof! Miraculously—thanks to a buckled seatbelt and air bags—I had only minor injuries. I am still trying to make sense of what happened—and what does it mean for me going forward.
That I too am a 2 rupee sinner, afraid, in need of grace...