Groaning

1236495_612074532147540_620308212_nThis picture was on the front of the worship bulletin at GCPC on Sunday August 25, with the following quotation by Richard Rohr: “The people who know God well – the mystics, the hermits, those who risk everything to find God – always meet a lover, not a dictator. God is never found to be an abusive father or a tyrannical mother, but always a lover who is more than we dared hope for. How different than the ‘account manager’ that most people seem to worship.”

The service fit together well for me especially the picture and the quotation. The picture reminded me how hard life can be for some folks. Sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way we expect as probably the woman with the child knew all too well.

In his sermon Mark spoke about how Jeremiah groaned about his life just as we groan about ours. It seems so many difficult things happen to us and it’s hard not to groan about them. I know I grown a lot about my brain injury. You would think by now I would be finished groaning. After all, I know my limitations and can deal with them. My groaning is better now I believe this is okay as long as I don’t groan too often around friends because it can be tiresome.

I do groan a lot in my prayers though. I know God can take it and as time goes on, I get clarity about my journey. I’m glad Mark made the following comment in his sermon. “You’ve probably figured out by now that there is no snappy ending to this sermon nor to Jeremiah.” Sometimes life is hard and that’s okay. Sometimes we need to groan a little in order to move on.

I loved the choir anthem which was based on an African American Spiritual called “Give Me Jesus.” The melody touched something deep inside of me. The words are “In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus. You can have all this world, give me Jesus. And when I feel afraid, give me Jesus. And when the trumpet sounds, give me Jesus.” It loses something without hearing the music for some of it sounded a little like a grown.

In the challenges of my life and when I’m groaning, I need Jesus.

Death

I went to the Psalms today because I knew I’d be able to find one that would help me with my current mood.  Two friends recently died and I’m trying to deal with my emotions.   I’ve learned if I don’t express them in some way they become buried inside which hurts only me.

I found just what I needed in Psalm 44.  It’s a lament after Israel suffers a humiliating defeat.  The Psalmist seems to blame God for all that happened and I don’t believe these deaths are God’s fault but the feelings expressed are similar to my own.  Psalm 44:23 yells at God to “wake up!  We’re lying in the dirt and we need your help.  Arise and come to our help!”  (The Inclusive Bible)

Why did my friends die at such a young age?  I don’t know the answer but I do know, I’m mad.

Mike Vosberg-Casey

I met Mike Vosberg-Casey at the Open Door Community.  He never held a regular paying job but instead used his life doing unpaid activities such as serving folks who were homeless and spending time in prison for crossing the line at what was formerly called the School of Americas in Georgia.  He married a death penalty lawyer and was a stay-at-home dad.  He died a month ago from colon cancer at the age of 39.  He spent his life honestly serving others and he didn’t care what folks thought.  He listened to his friends’ council but he knew God’s voice was the only voice that mattered.

My other friend who died was Bill Thompson (see Nov. 9, 2012)Bill Thompson
I served on a team who supported him as he went from living homeless to having an apartment.  He had a marvelous sense of humor and in him I saw someone who never gave up no matter what life brought him.  He died last week at age 57 from a rare form of Parkinson’s.  It is so unfair because he was just getting his life back together.

Psalm 46 helps me here.  “God is our refuge and our strength, who from of old has helped us in our distress.”  Although I don’t understand my friends’ deaths, God is my refuge and will give me strength and wisdom to learn from their lives.  Like Mike, I want to stop caring what folks think of me as I do what I hear God calling me to do. As he believed, this is all that matters. Like Bill, I hope I have a sense of humor around my challenges as he did with his many struggles.  I never want to give up even if I get an illness like Parkinson’s and have to move into a nursing home because I can no longer take care of myself as he did.

Life is too short and precious for me to live any other way.

Adam’s Way

NouwenWhen I was in Toronto, I went on a field trip to visit the L’Arche community where Henri Nouwen spent the last decade of his life.  He wrote a book called Adam: God’s Beloved about his experience working as Adam’s assistant.   L’Arche communities are all across the world now.

These communities began when Jean Vanier started the movement and communites are all across the world now.  They are places where core members – people who have mental disabilities – live with their assistants sharing life together.  It’s very different from a group home because, to quote Nouwen, “L’Arche is all about placing the weakest and most vulnerable persons in the center and looking for their unique gifts.”  As Nouwen discovered, doing this allows people to look inside themselves and see their own vulnerabilities which folks often hide.

This Institute has pushed me to look at the term “disability” again.  The Americans with Disabilities Act defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities….”  I must say, I’ve been pretty ridged about this definition and have argued against the idea that everyone has a disability.

In fact I felt a jolt inside when Jeremy Schipper, one of the presenters at the Institute, made a similar comment. Schipper is Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Temple University, Pennsylvania, and an affiliated faculty member of the Institute on Disabilities there, made a statement implying all of us have disabilities  “Wait a minute!  Don’t try to co-opt the term!”  However, I learned later he has a disability himself.  Whenever I discover someone who has a disability who seems to be doing greater things than I, I feel inadequate.  There is so much I can’t do and want to do, because of my TBI.

I realize this is the dilemma for many of us who value what we can do rather than who we are.  I was confronted with this back in the 90’s by one of my neuropsychologists.  It is still a growing edge for me and probably always will be.

For Nouwen, living at Daybreak pushed him to see himself as “God’s beloved son.”  He wrote that even though he had left the university with its prestige, he still had satisfaction and admiration knowing that he was “helping the poor.”  However this was taken away from him when he had to leave Daybreak to struggle internally with his demons.

From the little he wrote about the experience, it sounds like it was a mighty struggle.  He didn’t want to be like Adam.  He didn’t want to be vulnerable and needy.  Somewhere, though, he “recognized that Adam’s way, the way of radical vulnerability, was also the way of Jesus.”

I think the word “vulnerability” can sometimes be used interchangeability with “honesty.” Many folks have said to me they appreciate my vulnerability but the truth is, I’m just being honest.  People tend to think, perhaps rightly at times, that being honest about what we can or cannot do will cause us to lose our jobs or our loved ones. Most people who have a disability do not have this luxury.

This is one thing I believe folks with disabilities can teach others.  We all have our vulnerabilities – some might call them disabilities – and the way of Jesus (Adam’s way) is to be radically vulnerable.  All of us need to strive to follow this way.

 

Think about your own disabilities.  Where are you vulnerable?  How can you strive for Jesus’ way?  I encourage you to share your thoughts here in the comment section.

 

 

Journey

These past few weeks have been an interesting part of my journey. I went to the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability in Toronto, Canada. I was nervous about going for two reasons. First, I had never used my passport before and second, I felt I would be out-of-my element in participating. I was nervous but doing civil disobedience in Raleigh a couple of weeks before, had given me courage to do anything.

I’m still processing it and probably will be doing so for a long time. For this reason, I won’t be writing much about it at this time other than to say, it was an incredible experience and I so look forward to attending the next one. Theology and disability is a growing movement and it was so wonderful to be around others across the world involved in it. My interest has been ignited and I hope to continue with this.

I’m so very tired of hearing brain injury survivors say, “God allowed this to happen to me for a reason.” I feel I’ve gained some knowledge and contacts, so I’ll be able to think more deeply about brain injury and theology. I really did push myself by going and it is clear I still need time to recuperate from it. However, I do know that given enough time, my body will be back to normal. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll even do some writing about theology and brain injury for not much has been written about it.

I do want to say one thing about this Institute, though. I stayed at the Chestnut Conference Center at the University of Toronto. It was a dorm for the university which made for a rather interesting stay. Some of the dorm rooms are rented out for conference participants and other visitors to stay in while visiting Toronto. Michael flew up to be with me at the end of the conference so we stayed a couple of days beyond the Institute.

On our last night there, we were both exhausted and tried to get a good night’s sleep before traveling back home. I had a direct flight there but our flight home meant going to Boston and changing planes. At about 6 AM, the fire alarm went off. We were on the 19th floor and neither one of us wanted to leave our beds for a fire alarm – Michael in particular. Finally, it became clear that it wasn’t a false alarm and we had no choice but to walk down the 19 floors to get outside. I couldn’t help thinking about 9.11 as we walked down each flight.

dorm

Here is a picture Michael took of the Chestnut Center after we evacuated that night. I couldn’t handle the stimulation of the crowd so we found a quiet place away from it. I had grabbed my earplugs (I have no idea why I thought to do this) and put them in to “rest my brain.” The fire trucks came but after a while, we were given the sign to go back in. We thought it would be faster just to walk the 19 floors back up then wait for everyone to crowd in the elevators so that’s what we did. It’s funny but we were the only ones who walked back up. At least we got our exercise!