...self care is never a selfish act- it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.

Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

David and Goliath Challenges Conventional Wisdom

See the Sixty Minutes piece here.
In Malcolm Gladwell's newest volume, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, (2013), we learn to take a second look at weaknesses and bad fortune, because hidden in them may come remarkable resiliency and strength. Go beyond the conventional reading of history to see the surprise ending of a David, who used nimbleness, superior sight and "artillery" skills to overcome the half blind and weighted down infantry man,  Goliath. 

If anything, the book is a fascinating read of how troubled childhoods do not dictate failure, but rather, can give the wisdom to persist in difficult situations throughout life. The misfit often finds their place because of a number of obstacles along the way. 

Out of dire circumstances can arise amazingly gifted people, chiefly because they are used to adversity and see it for what it is. Thus, terrible circumstances growing up forged in a pioneer of better childhood Leukemia treatment a willingness to test his young patients, even if it meant that they endure painful shin biopsies of bone marrow. Used to being alone in a fight, many peers called him "murderer" for adding to the misery of his patients.

Another theme of the book is that the strong are not as strong as you think and the weak are not as weak as you think. It's the same reason why raw power is not the only predictor of who ends up winning the war. During WWII, when London was bombed night upon night, predictions arose that within a few weeks, the entire population along with its government would be thrown into chaos. But that's not what happened. Many Londoners who survived were products of "remote misses," and these experiences created more courage and resolve- not less. It would have been better for Germany not to have bombed London at all, the author concludes.  

Gladwell makes the case for the inverted U curve when trying to "fix" things that are broken sociologically. Taking any measure to extreme, you end up not helping the situation. Thus, a classroom size of 25 is better than 35 or 40, but if you go down too low below the teens, the same educational strategies become less and less effective the smaller the classroom size. With criminal justice, the same is true. A moderate use of power is more effective than none at all, but it also is more effective than ruthless crackdowns where stealing a slice of pizza is treated the same as armed robbery. The "three strikes" rule in California is an example that went too far and it could not discriminate the severity of the crime. Thus, three strikes has been modified.   

Most people would say it's better to go to an Ivy League institution than to go to your back-up school. However, the question that really needs to be asked is "Do I want to be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond?" In many ways, those who attend a state school, for example, are no worse off, and may have a better chance of being published in a prestigious journal as a grad student. Where being published is a stepping stone to teaching and career, you would have to be the creme de la creme in an Ivy League institution (the big fish) to have a chance.    

A sociologist at heart, Gladwell explains the practical implications of such terms as relative deprivation and legitimacy of power. As a gifted journalist, his writing is the product of bringing together interviews into solid biographical sketches- the stories of people overcoming what looks like insurmountable odds. He tells the stories with drama and suspense. 

The why of adversity? The book doesn't take us to theodicy a la Job, however, we should be well cautioned not to equate any difficulty with God's dishing something up for us just so we can experience the remote miss. It's life, not God, that happens to us. Finding God in the circumstances is a different matter.

But that's a path that Gladwell cannot, or doesn't, take. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Hear Jesus' Words at the Table (2)

It's amazing that Jesus would say to any one of us
 "even in Israel, I haven't found faith like this."
But they are spoken to us each time
God gathers us at the Table of our Lord.
 We are not worthy that you should receive us, but give your word and we shall be healed, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
 Service of Word and Table V,
UMBOW, 2012, p. 51

These words from the Confession and Pardon above are right out of Luke 7:7. They are words from the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant, and believed Jesus could do it long distance. This would have probably put Jesus far above any faith healer in that time as most healers needed to touch the sick person.

The words of Jesus from the passage are contained in Luke 7:9-10: When Jesus heard these words, he was impressed with the centurion. He turned to the crowd following him and said, "I tell you, even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this."  When the centurion’s friends returned to his house, they found the servant restored to health.

Like the Canaanite Woman of Matthew 15, the Gentile official is an outsider to the blessings of Israel. And the Romans, who ended up destroying Jerusalem in 70 A.D., would no doubt be considered the truest of enemies in Jesus' time. Now, Luke writes about a centurion who has amazing faith, a former enemy of God has been made a friend. More than that, Jesus lays on him the tag- "no greater faith in all of Israel." When Jesus mentions all of Israel, we assume he's including the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the Prophets and Priests, the Kings and Judges. Wow!

How is that a centurion's faith equals that of any and all insiders, those born into the blessings? Because the outsider's experience is very different from the legacy folks. Church members and pastors who have been apart of the same faith community for even a few years can periodically go out of their way to visit a church they have never seen before. You are then equipped to see your home church and your guests very differently.

Newcomers notice things that we, in our routine, really miss. How is it that God's grace is amazing "the hour I first believed," but, when can it ever stop being amazing? When we start believing that we are entitled to it. That we earn our blessings. And the longer we hang out in a church, the more likely we are to believe that our tenure as members translates into some kind of privilege others don't have.

But, we are all one in Christ, because we are all born of one Spirit, given gifts from the same God and for the same purpose. We are all the servant who needs healing. In Holy Communion, I shouldn't be surprised if God will whisper in my ear the name of someone I have stupidly alienated or another who has hurt me, probably unwittingly. It's by faith that I receive any and all healing God has for me.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hear Jesus' Words at the Table (1)

What would mean for us to hear Jesus whispering "You have great faith,"
every time we receive Holy Communion 
From there, Jesus went to the regions of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from those territories came out and shouted, “Show me mercy, Son of David. My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.” But he didn’t respond to her at all. His disciples came and urged him, “Send her away; she keeps shouting out after us.” Jesus replied, “I’ve been sent only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.” But she knelt before him and said, “Lord, help me.” He replied, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their masters’ table.” Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith. It will be just as you wish.” And right then her daughter was healed. Matt.15: 22-28 (CEB) 

We are not worthy so much as to gather the crumbs under thy table... Prayer of Humble Access. United Methodist Book of Worship p. 49

The story of Jesus' encounter with the Canaanite woman is referenced in The Service of Word and Table IV. The old liturgy actually diverges from the story from Matthew. Because the wit and courage of this unnamed woman, Jesus actually learns something new about his ministry, ends up commending her faith, and grants her petition, the intercessory- healing of her daughter.

In essence, Jesus pronounces her worthy to do more than eat the crumbs fallen from his table! In healing her daughter, Jesus breaks the generational trauma of being a Canaanite and the powerlessness of being a woman and daughter. Because Jesus heals by his word and the faith of a third party, this episode brings to mind the healing of the Centurion's servant, from which more Table words are drawn.

The story of the Canaanites is cited in Native American theology as a parallel to the annihilation of an indigenous people and their culture, whose symbols and story are pushed far to the margins. The Canaanites are first mentioned in Genesis as their land is covenanted by Yahweh to Abraham and his descendants. According to the story, descendants of the Canaanites must have still been present, at least symbolically, in Jesus' ministry. Their gods and culture was enemy to ancient Israel. How can this foreigner - a woman- be recipient of God's grace?

This event is witnessing that, along with a daughter's demon possession, generations of trauma and panic is healed in the ministry of Jesus Christ. Psychotherapists who treat panic disorders and PTSD will describe the disease like a demon possession, where fear of panic keeps us from freely choosing our possibilities. We become almost sub- human and far less than "in God's image." 

As much I admire the story, there are days when I feel worthless- or "unworthy" of God's attention and healing. Perhaps that "worm" theology is reinforced again and again in the old Methodist Prayer of Humble Access, I don't know. But, in the end, "worm theology" often leads us away from true humility and honesty, transparency, and authenticity about who we are, and where we really need healing.

No, we cannot forget -or change- the past. But we can choose to be healed by the opportunities and gifts God brings into our lives, all our lives. For example, we can forgive and let go of settling the score- even though we cannot change what happened.  We can choose to see others who wronged us with compassion for their own  struggles and demons.

Maybe we can instead focus on the words of Jesus, "You have great faith." Because there's nothing about history we can change, we might as well work for what is possible, and what is life- giving, here and now.

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Having been in ordained ministry in the UMC for 34 years, I've experienced the truth that although, clergy are frequently present for others, no one can offer what they don't have.That's why if you're a clergy person, you need someone who will listen to you. Not the random next closest person available, but rather someone like a spiritual director, a therapist, a peer who can be fully present to you. I hope the links and posts you find here will give you ideas, humor, hope and encouragement. Scott Endress

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If you want a formula for making the best of the less-than-perfect and making the most of what you have been given, then begin to compare your lot to what you were before you were born, and it will empower you with wonder every time. John Claypool

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