Friday, August 24, 2012


I've got to give a shout out to my friend, Audrey Jordan, at Boston Rising (in Boston, of course) who taught me the term "drapetomania" two weeks ago while in Boston.  Drapetomania is an awful term that is used to describe a faux mental illness (not thought so faux by it's creator Samuel Cartwright) in 1851.  The mental illness he was trying to describe?  The state of mind that would cause people held in slavery to escape!  It's actually not that strange down through history to call something a mental illness that is really a sign of great health and well being.  A desire for freedom is not a sign of mental illness.  A commitment to act on that desire - is an act of maturity and faith.

I got interested in thinking about how the idea of drapetomania could also be used to capture the odd ways that followers of Jesus Christ see the world.  I got to thinking that if you are going to follow Jesus - it’s going to take the same type of commitment that it took someone held in slavery to risk her or his life to be free.  People are going to think you are crazy!  Jesus was trying to force the hand - or really - the mind of those who were listening - when he said things that appear in the Gospel of John like "munch my flesh."  Jesus seemed frustrated that people were following him because they thought his miracles were cool.  He feeds the 5000 and then people flock to him and he suggests that they are just there because their bellies are full.  I wonder if what he's saying is that the cool thing isn't feeding 5000 people with five loaves and two fish - feeding 5000 people with five loaves and two fish is pointing to the reality of a world that is overflowing with abundance.  But instead - all they are seeing is a cool trick - and missing the really spectacular way that God has created the world!  I wonder if he didn't feel the same about his teaching.  You can imagine that there would be folks, like his disciples, who liked repeating his most memorable teachings (like the Beatitudes, etc...) - but I wonder if he didn't tell parables because he was afraid that people were missing the point.  It wasn't the poetry of the words that he wanted them to like - but the discussions about the parables that could reveal that amazing world  Liking what he was teaching was not enough.  Living one's life as if "the meek shall inherit the earth" - is the challenge.  Seeing the world like he sees it - now that’s the ticket.

What Jesus seems to want for us - is for his life to be in our lives and his blood to run through our veins.  He wants us to look through our eyes and see a whole new world.  He wants us to see the world as he sees it - to see a poor hungry crowd and think - “what a party we are going to have.”  To see a man born blind and think - “what a great opportunity to see God’s presence and power.”  In John 4, he sees a woman at the well, a fallen woman - a woman thought of as sinful and he sees her as the first evangelist of his message!  That’s what he wants.  Such people who see the world like this might be considered drapetomaniacs.  I'd like to try.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Naming the Healing and the Healers

The last couple of months have brought me face to face with violence and sexual abuse and trauma in the lives of the people of our city.  It's been a stunning reminder of all that I don't know that goes on with the people of our congregation, with my neighbors, and with folks in the larger community and world around us.  

I thought of that time 15 years ago in my parish in South Bend where I dealt with two cases of domestic abuse in one weekend.  I went to a United Methodist Clergy meeting the next Monday.  I asked my colleagues how they handled such things.  There response was "it never comes up."  Last Sunday at Broadway Mari Evans spoke in worship about Shattering the Silence (you can hear her remarks here).

Mari challenged us to pay attention to one another.  She talked about finding out that her son had been sexually abused as a child by an adult female relative, two months before he died at age 58.  She has spoken about this publicly three times when I've been present.  Each time it has challenged me to really pay attention to what is going on in the lives of folks around me.

Above is a photograph of Dr. John Rich who a few of us from our parish visited a couple of years ago. When we visited with Dr. Rich (winner of the MacArthur Genius Grant for his healing work) he asked us two simple questions that were beautiful in their simplicity and that have stayed with us over the past couple of years.  First he asked "who are the healers?"  And second he asked us "how do you support the healers?"  

I thought of that over the last few weeks.  And one of the things I began to realize is that the healing is present in the midst of the disease, illness, brokenness, violation, pain, and evil.  That the healers are often the ones who have come through "many dangers, toils, and snares..."  

A friend of mine wrote me last week and shared a liturgy she was writing as a part of reaching for and recognizing the healing of God in her life.  I think of the passage from the Gospel of Mark that we read a few weeks ago in worship where Mark wrote that people were coming to Jesus "begging to touch the hem of his garment" - when we recognize in our lives that level of hunger and thirst for healing that this represents - then our eyes become open, I believe, to the healing that is there.

Today i write my liturgy of healing.

i begin with God.

God of love and light
I ask for liberation
Freedom to live in and celebrate

God of Resurrection
On the night Jesus prayed in the Garden
He cried out to you

I cry out to you
Forgive my sin of self denial
Forgive my sin of grasping
clinging, holding on
to pain in place of peace
of physical pleasure
in place of whole life-living-love

Like Jesus, I have asked that
You take this cup from my lips
It remains

I am the woman with the issue of blood
I seek only to touch the hem of the garmet
i seek only to be healed
God, I seek healing.

There is a pain-a shadow-that
from age 6 has haunted me
though I bear no physical scars
my heart and soul still aches
for a way to feel whole
having been broken

i give the brokeness to you Dear God
I give the pain, the shame, the self-doubt
feelings of nothingness-victimization-to you

i release myself to the faith that I hold dear
I ask that you will grant this simple prayer
that I be
to know/show/share
love in all of it's facets
free from the pain of the past
free to welcome and experience joy in the present
free to welcome and experience joy in the future

On the promise of the cross, I come to you
believing in the promise of resurrection

We name the healing - when we invite those who have suffered and are suffering to name their own healing - their own desire for it.  We support the healers when we share it with others.  That's where the healing begins to multiply - because we can see it at work.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Riddle Me This

This week I was listening to a podcast of a Tavis Smiley Show (you can see it here).  It is an interview with the heart experts and authors of Heart 411, Dr. Steven Nissen and Dr. Marc Gallinov.  During the interview these words were spoken (at the 4:16 mark for those who are impatient) "...[A]ctually...poverty and health are interrelated.  Poor people tend to have worse diets, because the availability of these inexpensive foods is a major driver of why they are so popular..."  In other words (or actually the same words - lack of money leads to unhealthy choices).  The authors and the interviewer went on to talk about a variety of topics - myths about heart healthy activities (like taking an aspirin a day), good things to do to maintain good heart health, and how universal health care would be helpful (or not).  I liked the interview and I learned a few things along the way.  But I came away stymied by the fact that despite an interview that touched on a variety of subjects none of the people there either asked or attempted an answer to the question that since poverty and health are interrelated what might some answers look like that might reduce the number of people in poverty (and this, of course, according to their studies, would reduce the number of people with health problems and thus reduce the strain and cost on our health care system).  I posed this question to a friend of mine in the health care profession this afternoon and asked him why no one seems to be talking about possible solutions to that question.  His answer I think was entirely accurate.  He said "people think its too complex."  It reminded me of my correspondence with the editor of the Indianapolis Star who wrote to me in response to my question about why they would mention in articles that income level was the single biggest indicator of educational achievement, but that when they offered possible solutions to the education crisis none of the answers offered had anything to do with finding ways to change the number of people in poverty.  The editor responded to my query in exactly the way my friend had "it's too complex."  So - is such a question - of whether levels of complexity should get in the way of a newspaper's role in the community - out of bounds?  Isn't the response of both the health care system and the newspaper (two pretty large public institutions) a little bit like one going to the doctor and the doctor saying "Yes, you have lung cancer, but that's too complex for us to work on - so we're going to put a cast on your arm (even though your arm isn't broken) because we know how to do that and it's simpler."  While that is a more simple solution it is also obviously foolish.  So why is it not considered foolish to avoid the difficult question of how to work to see that there are fewer people in poverty as at least one of the solutions to the health and education issues of our society?

This blog is named after an imaginary theologian named "Franz Bibfeldt" who was created by the real theologian Martin Marty when he was in seminary to see if his teachers could spot a fake!  The issue that this raises for me today is whether there are any real educators and real journalists who are wrestling with the answers to the variety of questions we are faced with, including the complexity of our economic life, or whether imaginary ones need to arrive on the scene and offer some solutions.  I don't care where it comes from - but I'd like to see more thought going into difficult problems than we seem to have these days.

I'd like to think that communities of faith could be helpful to this.  In my own tradition, John Wesley wrote books on health and thought a lot about that.  Unfortunately these days the best congregations often do is provide a health fair to the members of their congregation (and sometimes beyond) or hire a parish nurse to run some classes.  Wesley was both one of the thought leaders of his day on health as well as one of the leading health experimenters.  Perhaps a return to that part of our heritage would be a boon both to our congregations and to the nation.  Jesus spent a lot of time with sick folks, and he was often frustrated at the inability of the disciples to do much in regards to the sick.  I imagine he feels about the same towards his disciples these days.  But let's not quit trying.  And let's not settle for the easy answers.  Let's talk with one another - and push one another on the very real and very difficult challenges that lie before us.  No matter what happens, I bet we'll all be richer for it.