Prayer of Justice

I am part of a weekly study/discussion group. We close each session with the following prayer, the author of which is anonymous:
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Grant us, Lord God, a vision of your world as your love would have it:

  • a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor;
  • a world where the riches of creation are shared, and everyone can enjoy them;
  • a world where different races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect;
  • a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love.

Give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

“She’s Been Loved to Life”

Clasping hands 2Linda entered Bethany, the memory care facility, in May 2015. It was a painful decision for us.  The subsequent eighteen months were the most excruciating I have experienced as she declined cognitively and physically.

By April 2016, she had lost 20 pounds and was becoming increasingly frail. After extensive medical evaluation, Linda was approved for hospice care.

She remained in Bethany for another six months. Confusion, fear, disorientation increased. She was gradually forgetting how to eat and walk. Her weight loss continued.

She was unable to perform minimal personal care, which made her ineligible for “assisted living.” She had to either be transferred to skilled nursing or taken home with full-time care.

I wanted her home! I asked the nurse practitioner for a prognosis of time remaining. Understandably, she was reluctant to project a time. But she said, “Perhaps six months to a year.”

It is now October 2018, thirty months since Linda was admitted to hospice care.  Although she can no longer walk and is confined to the bed and dependent for her personal care, she is more peaceful and less fearful.

“I would never have thought that she would still be with us!”  The nurse practitioner said with amazement during a recent visit.

As I stroked Linda’s hair and caressed her forehead, a pleasant smile and twinkle in the eyes appeared.

The usually stoic nurse said with evident emotion, “She’s been loved to life!”

Tearfully I responded. “We are determined to provide three things for her–physical and emotional safety, appropriate comfort, and the assurance that she is loved just as she is.”

“It’s obvious that she has all three. I just wish everybody could have what Linda has,” remarked the experienced and compassionate nurse.

I feel enormously blessed that Linda and I are both surrounded by love, and it is love that gives us life.

We are blessed with two daughters who love their mother with the unselfish love they received from her; and their families, including our grandchildren, share that love.

We have the help of caregivers to whom caring for Linda is a sacred vocation.

A couple from church bring a meal each Thursday, simply because they care.

A neighbor couple drop in almost every day to lend support.

I, too, wish everyone could have what we experience! Is that not what God desires for the human family–safety from unnecessary danger, comfort amid loss, and unconditional love and care?

We all need to be “loved to life!” Isn’t that why the church exists?

 

Prayer for Deliverance from Perils of Privilege

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O Jesus, you did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Rather you emptied yourself in humble, self-giving love to and for the world.

How desperately we need your presence among us in these troubled and anxious times! Our nation and church are locked in tribal, partisan  battles for dominance and power, each side claiming “truth” and “right” and determined to prevail at all cost.

Burst our bubbles of privilege which blind us to the hurts of others and cause us to exploit you in our own pursuit of power and privilege.  Deliver us from the perils of our privileges

  • wealth that cuts us off from the poor
  • positions of power that blind us to the suffering of the powerless
  • education which discounts the wisdom of the uneducated
  • prestige which presumes entitlement
  • health that leads to insensitivity toward the frail
  • religious convictions that leave no room for mystery

Create in us, O God, the mind that was in Christ Jesus–

  • a sympathetic mind that feels the pain of the violated and wounded
  • a humble mind, emptied of arrogance and boasting
  • a generous mind, filled with love and goodwill toward all
  • a courageous mind, willing to challenge injustice and cruelty in high and low places
  • a searching mind, embracing mystery and wonder and awe
  • a hopeful mind, trusting in the triumph of justice, compassion, goodness.

In the name and spirit of the One who is the Mind of God in human flesh, Jesus the Christ. Amen

Principalities and Powers of Sin and Death on Display

The principalities and powers of sin and death were clearly on ugly display before the world in yesterday’s Senate hearing. Will the exposure lead to repentance?

  • turning away from protecting the privileges of the privileged and toward solidarity with the vulnerable and violated;
  • away from the love of power and toward the power of love;
  • away from bombastic bullying and toward compassionate conversation;
  • away from tribal partisanship and toward justice for the common good.

It may be difficult to believe in the moment, but God has already won the decisive victory! Compassion, justice, and peace will win!

Let us live now in the light of God’s victory already won by engaging “the powers” at the ballot box, in our congregations and neighborhoods,  and in solidarity with and advocacy on behalf of the violated and vulnerable.

 

 

How We See Others Matters

Stanley Hauerwas, (here) my friend and colleague at Duke, writes this about Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, a community of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (here):

“. . . where I see an enemy to be defeated, he [Vanier] sees a wound that needs to be healed. That’s a big difference.”

Indeed, it is a big difference!

What if we were to consider ourselves and others as bearers of common wounds that need healing, rather than as adversaries to be defeated or competitors to be outdone?

What if we were to see the hurt beneath others’ anger, rather than as aggressors meriting our retaliation?

What if we were to view every person as a potential means of grace to us, rather than as an object of our correction or  charity or evangelization?

What if we were to approach those with whom we disagree as mutual explorers of the ineffable mystery we call GOD, rather than as misguided dupes in need of our superior insight?

What if we were to consider every person as a beloved child of God with infinite worth and dignity, rather than as an object of our desire or a means to our ends?

What if we were to see “the other” through the eyes of Christ, rather than through the lenses of partisan politics, racial prejudices,  and national borders?

The lens through which we view others really matters!

Who I Fear Most

We hear a lot about the role of fear amid current cultural, political, and religious wars. Pundits theorize that we tend to vote our fears, hoping someone will defend us against all threats and make us safe and secure.

“Fear of the other” dominates–those of different race, ethnicity, socio-economic class, sexual orientation, political ideology, religion, nationality. . . .!

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I have an uneasy feeling that the person I fear the most is not “the other!”

The person I fear the most is myself! 

Maybe what I am most afraid of in the other is projection of my own woundedness, my own inadequacies, my own insecurities, my own prejudices,  my own  sinfulness.

Stanley Hauerwas put it pointedly:

“The fear that dominates our lives is not in the first instance the fear of an enemy, unless it is acknowledged that each of us is the enemy, but rather the fear that is the source of violence is the fear that makes us unwilling to acknowledge the wounded character of our lives.”

Overcoming my fear of the other requires that I honestly, humbly, and courageously confront my own woundedness. Projecting fear onto others only compounds its destructiveness.

God, grant me the courage to face the fear of myself in the light of Your Grace; and  may Your Love heal my wounds and cast out my fear! Amen.

“Anyone Who Comes to the Table Becomes Family”

Linda has a marvelous team of caregivers! With the exception of one substitute, they are members of the same family–grandmother,  two daughters, and a granddaughter. They lovingly, efficiently, and faithfully care for Linda around the clock, seven days each week.

I marvel at their skill, patience, and attentiveness. They can change the bed with Linda in it! Linda’s resistance and agitation never rattles them. Her slightest sounds and movements get their attention.

They treat Linda with utmost respect and dignity.  They have learned her unique mannerisms and sounds. She’s treated as a person with a story rather than as patient with symptoms. It is not uncommon for me to overhear one of them say, “I love you, Miss Linda.”

To them, “family” means more than biological relatives. That’s evident in their annual cookout.   Each year they have a huge cookout and invite all who wish to come.

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The event began a few years ago as a way of expressing appreciation to their neighbors who had helped them during a difficult time.  It has evolved into a joyful celebration of and for community.

Here is some of the food prepared this year: 16 racks of barbequed ribs, a roasted pig, 4 cases of chicken, two cases of turkey wings, several boxes of hot dogs, 10 gallons of baked beans,  10 gallons of green beans, 10 coconut pies, 10 sweet potato pies, 10 pecan pies, 2 sheet cakes that would feed a hundred people, dozens of cupcakes, scores of deviled eggs, and more! What a feast!

As many as 150 people show up! Black, brown, and white! Rowdy kids and frail elderly! Married and single! Gay and straight! Religious and non-religious! Educated and uneducated! Employed and unemployed! Parolees and police officers! Strangers and familiar neighbors! A motley gathering of diverse humanity!

“Anyone who comes to the table becomes family,” said the host. “It don’t matter who they are; they’re welcome!”

Now, as we pastors say, “That’ll preach!”

Caring for one another and all of God’s children seems to be in the DNA of this family! I know little about their religious affiliation and their understanding of religious doctrines.

What I do know is this: They embody Christlike love and their lavish table and generous hospitality are visible signs and foretastes of the kingdom of God.

Is this not what the church is called to be? Have we not been made one family? Is that not what we celebrate at The Lord’s Table?

God grant that the church would open wide its doors and announce to the world: “Anyone who comes to the Table becomes family!”

 

 

Prayer for Those Who Have Too Much

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Abundant and generous God: your goodness is beyond measure; your power knows no limits except that which you impose; your bounty includes all that exists; your truth exceeds our comprehension; and your beauty is inexhaustible. We stand in awe before your inexhaustible greatness.

We acknowledge your provision for us and your preferential presence with those to have too little–the poor, the oppressed, the powerless, the vulnerable, the sick.

We pray today for those who seem to have too much, and thereby suffer from spiritual, moral, and ethical poverty:

  • those with so much wealth that they are blind to the plight of the poor
  • those with so much power that they exploit the powerless
  • those with so much health that they think they are invincible
  • those with so much intelligence that they lack wisdom
  • those with so much prestige that they lack humility
  • those with so much religion that they fail to be good
  • those with so much hate that they no longer love

Forgive us, merciful God, for assuming we are god and failing to live as though life is a gracious gift. You call us to be faithful stewards of your gifts and to welcome ALL to your table of abundance.

Grant us the mind that was in Christ Jesus–the humble mind, devoted to loving, seeking, and serving those who have too little. Remind us again that without self-giving love, we have nothing. Amen.

 

Let’s Remove Stigma from Dementia

 ” Dealing with early stage Alzheimer’s, I’ve found the hardest part is the stigma that comes with it. Friends don’t come around as often. Is this true?????,” wrote a friend.

care-97984_1280“Don’t tell anybody! I don’t want anyone to know,” pleaded Linda when in 2009 we received word that she has Frontotemperal Dementia (FTD).

“They’ll treat me differently. They will think I’m crazy,” she added.

Studies indicate that people fear dementia more than they fear cancer, and even death itself.

When asked what they fear the most, the answers vary: loss of control, loss of identity, “being a burden,” not remembering family, being treated differently, what other people will think.

A societal problem undergirds those fears, and it’s the stigma associated with the disease. Our hyper-cognitive, capacity-reliant  society diminishes the personhood and worth of people with cognitive impairments.

Even the word “dementia” contributes to the stigma. It literally means “loss of mind” and the dictionary lists the following among the synonyms: ”madness,” “insanity,” “derangement,” ”lunacy.”

Dementia is an umbrella term that covers multiple diseases that affect cognitive functioning, with Alzheimer’s disease comprising between sixty to eighty percent. Indeed, changes in the brain contribute to the diseases.

But dementia is more than a brain disease. Dementia is a social-relational disease; and the stigma society attributes to people with cognitive impairment contributes to its destructive consequences.

Stigmatizing people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia may be more damaging than the pathology at work in the brain. Stigma contributes to isolation and diminished sense of self-worth.

There should be no more stigma associated with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia than with heart disease, diabetes, or any other disease. As with other diseases, those causing cognitive impairment are no respecter of persons’ class, education, race, prestige, or reputation.

All of us can contribute immeasurably to diminishing the suffering of those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. We can help remove the stigma!

Whatever our infirmities or frailties, we are ALL beloved children of God with inherent worth and dignity, and worthy of respect, relationships, and belonging.

Communion at Bethany

Yesterday, we celebrated Holy Communion at Bethany, the memory care facility. The mystery of the Sacrament is magnified when celebrated among people with dementia.

Two long-time, non-verbal residents who seldom respond when approached, eagerly received the elements for the first time during the three years I have served as chaplain. The look in their eyes communicated beyond words: “This is the bread of life!”

Being assisted by my neighbor and friend, Dale Sessions, is a special means of grace. Dale is an American Baptist clergy who is in mid-stage of his Alzheimer’s disease. He now lives totally in the present moment and his once extensive vocabulary has been reduced to very few words.

Dale and Communion

Dale’s very presence is a form of ministry; and the cup of salvation being held in his hands is a visible reminder that God’s salvation comes to and through the vulnerable and powerless among us.