Saturday, June 30, is our 57th wedding anniversary. It’s a bittersweet, reflective time!
Linda has reached the stage in her disease that she rarely acknowledges my presence. I’m not sure that she now knows who I am. After being married for 57 years, expressions of love and affection go largely unacknowledged.
Several times throughout the day, I stand or sit beside her bed, take her hand, caress her face and hair, and kiss her on the forehead or cheek. I feed her, brush her teeth, watch her sleep.
Often in the quiet of the early morning, I sit in silence beside her bed and wonder: Does it matter to her that I am here? Who am I to her now? What is going on in her mind? Why does my presence sometimes seem to agitate her? Why does she often say “quit” when she is touched?
Those are painful questions for which there are no clear answers. But I have come to this conclusion: When in doubt, love! I don’t always know how best to express that love, whether leaving her alone is sometimes the loving act. But withdrawing love is not an option.
It’s not because I promised 57 years ago that I would love her in “sickness and in health.” I don’t love her out of a sense of duty. Loving her brings joy, meaning, fulfillment to my own life. Neither do I consider her a “burden.” Just her being is a gift! I love her now as she is, as I loved her as the gorgeous and vibrant young woman I married.
There’s a mystery in all this! Linda continues to teach me a lot about life and what it means to love in this broken and confused/confusing world.
Political chaos, corruption in high and low places, mass shootings, normalized hate-filled rhetoric, disrespect for others, cruel separation of migrant children from families, scorn for the poor, widespread racism, arrogant nationalism, . . .! Feels like the nation has lost its mind!
And my own beloved denomination which I have served since my teenage years is tragically divided over homosexuality and threatens to split as we did over slavery in the nineteenth century. To do so, will damage our witness to God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ and simply mirror the brokenness in our nation. Feels like the church has lost its mission!
I don’t know the best way forward for our nation. Political parties have conflicting agendas and visions. Compromise and the common good are being sacrificed on the altar of personal power and partisan agendas. I know that we as citizens can’t withdraw from the process, even if we feel our vote and advocacy make no differences. Love demands that we stay engaged!
Neither do I know the best way forward for The United Methodist Church. Some caucus groups are drawing lines in the sand and maneuvering politically to win votes, all in the name of faithfulness to truth and doctrine. I realize that whatever is done will be rationalized as devotion to God and our Wesleyan tradition. But I think John Wesley had it right, “All schism is a failure to love!” At least, least us confess our failure to love!
I sometimes feel overwhelmed! Grief and loss are constant companions. So much is beyond my control. My life partner seldom knows me. The future looms ominous. Some problems seem unsolvable. The nation totters. The denomination falters. Doubts arise.
Yet, I am learning from a love honed over more than 57 years this practice: When in doubt, love!
So, I will continue to love Linda even if she doesn’t recognize me or acknowledge my presence.
I will stay engaged on behalf of justice, compassion, and hospitality in our land and love those whose political views are contrary to mine, even if it seems to make no visible difference.
And, I will continue to serve the church whatever institution emerges and whatever forms my service takes, even if I don’t see any results.
After all, love will win! God IS love! The pivotal victory has already been won in the Crucified and Risen Christ.
Amid personal suffering, political corruption and violence, and rigid religious threats, Jesus LOVED and prayed, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.”
When in doubt, we will love as Christ loves us!
Thank you for your faithfulness in the midst of pain, confusion, schism, doubt — the reality of our world and our families. Your openness in sharing all this helps to sustain the rest of us. Although I don’t know you well (I met you many years ago), I have a great respect for you. My wife, Sandy Hodge, respected you and appreciated you as a bishop willing to step outside of the usual “bishop-y” stuff and to be the person that you are. I trust her judgement always. My mother is 86 and in the latter stages of Alzheimers — and I’m sure that many people who read your words also have family members in this situation. Allowing us to hear your thoughts and struggles helps in some way to ground us in our own. With much appreciation, Mike Hodge
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Thank you, Mike! Your words mean a lot. Please give Sandy my regards.
Bishop, this is the hardest time I can remember since Vietnam War. My sadness and anger threaten to overwhelm me. Both at church and nation. Thank you for your words of wisdom and comfort. They help in this chaotic time.
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Ken, your essay reminded me immediately of certain lines from Psalm 46, one of my favorite Psalms, speaking of his own day as a day like the chaos before the Creation:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the Sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
The LORD of (the armies of the angels) is with us;
the God is Jacob is our refuge.
Bishop Ken, The transparency, vulnerability and depth with which you share your head and heart are a gift that cannot be measured. Thank you friend. my voice joins a large chorus of gratitude to God for you and Linda.
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Thank you, my friend!
Thank you Bishop. You have been an inspiritation me over the years. I appreciate you for your stance on issues that are not popular. I am torn by what is happening in our church. Love is the only way forward. Bless you and Linda, you are in our prayers and thoughts.
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Your words are beautiful and so is your love for your beloved Linda. We lost mom, Sue, early Wednesday morning and we are celebrating her 93 blessed years and the force she was in the lives of many. She too lived in a dementia world and we grabbed each lucid moment we could. I remember how you helped us say goodbye to Daddy and now they are together again.
Love and hugs to you both and thank you for the amazing part you played in mom’s and our lives!
Vicki Tull Eleazer
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Thank you Ken. I feel so discouraged and often ready to give up. About our country. About our Earth. About our United Methodist Church. Your words help me to keep on going, keep on loving. Instead of throwing in the towel and just assuming that what I do or believe or am doesn’t make any difference. Love will win.
If we can allow ourselves to be fully loved by God, and then, to love one another, that is all we need. It will be difficult to let go of the politics, and the worry about whom we are pleasing or whom we are not, but we must decide what is the right thing to do . . . and do it. Sounds simple. It is not. Be faithful and brave.
It was such a blessing to know Linda in her healthful days.
My thoughts and prayers reach out to you and Linda. May God grant you peace and comfort each new day.
Thank you for faithful leadership with debatable issues. Regarding human sexuality, I have often ended
discussions by saying to people,”Why does scripture list John, as the disciple Jesus loved?”
May God bless and guide you each new day, Frances Alguire
Bishop Carder, I knew you at LTSS, I’m not sure you know me. I have great respect for you, mostly by way of learning about your integrity from my UMC colleagues and my observations of your character.
My mother has just been provisionally diagnosed with AD, early stage. She is nearly 86 now. I fear for her future, especially since I live 4+ hours away. But your words help me and remind me that I have only to love her through whatever comes.
I also am pushed to despair over the things that are happening in the world these days, but I also find hope in the knowledge that God is God and we aren’t, isn’t that wonderful! Greed and the human search for power seem to have taken over, but just looking at history tells me that it doesn’t prevail for long. I still believe in the power of love. And I see how people of all ages have decided to stand up for the powerless among us and to live into the call of Christ to challenge the powers with love. It is hard to see so much that is good seem to get thrown to the side, but I trust that God is working, somehow, even in that.
peace and blessings to you in this difficult time.
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Thank you, Susan, for your kind and thoughtful words. I grieve with you both for the diagnosis of your mother and for what is happening in our country. Although AD does bring loss, it does not destroy the person we love or our love for her/him. There are many profound experiences of joy and deep connection. Love does endure! Please let me know if there are ways I can be supportive of you. I take comfort in God’s pivotal victory in the Crucifixion/Resurrection. God will win! Justice will prevail! We do not lose heart! Blessings and peace to you amid the grief and turmoil!
Dear Bishop, as I prepare my heart and mind to preach this morning, I will also continue to love in my doubts. I will love my church members and personal friends and close relatives who differ vastly from me on many political and theological and ethical issues. For, as you so wisely say, Love Wins, for God is Love! I send my prayers for you and your precious wife and I thank you that 20 years ago when my doubts overwhelmed me to the point of leaving the ministry you wrote me a LOVING letter which I cherish. So even in my doubts your love and example won me back to Jesus. You are one of my favorite human beings and theologians and I will always have the deepest admiration and appreciation for you dear Bishop. God continues to use you to inspire hundreds and hundreds of people and I am so grateful to you and God to be one of them.
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