“Always Go to the Funeral”

The sermon on Palm Sunday (April 13, 2014) at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church was called “Always Go to the Funeral.”   I remember thinking, “Okay Mark (Ramsey), what does going to a funeral have to do with Palm Sunday?” I decided to go with it anyway for he often comes up with thought provoking titles.1538667_719948604693465_2194630115622714483_n[1]

He began by telling a story about the English poet John Milton. Milton tried to write a poem about the suffering of Jesus but all he could talk about was how HE felt about the suffering of Jesus so he gave up. Mark then outlined three reasons why it’s so difficult to be in the presence of anyone who suffers. I related to the first reason.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve told folks who know about my brain injury that I probably won’t remember their name. Often they say “I know how you feel because…” and then they launch into a long story about their own difficulty with remembering names. The problem is, they probably do not forget someone’s name after knowing them for a number of years which happens to me all the time.

It happened just his morning when I took my high intensity water aerobics class at the YMCA. A man whom I know at GCPC came for the first time and I wanted to introduce him to class members. The problem was, I couldn’t remember his name. I’ve learned how to hide my name recall issues but I’ve decided when it is appropriate, to ask their name. The first time I did this, the person was a little taken aback. He wasn’t rude (thank heavens!) and because of my honestly, he learned a little bit about some of the challenges of brain injury.

Mark pointed out that the only people Jesus knew who didn’t abandon him that last week was the women. When Jesus was crucified, his acquaintances, “including women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” (Luke 23:49) The women were the first people to visit him at the tomb. (Matthew 24:1, 2) I believe the reason for this was the women knew what it was like to suffer. The women knew what it was like to be separated from society. The women knew what it was like to have no power. (Yes, while it is MUCH better in our day, we still have a long way to go!)

The title for the sermon comes from a story told by Deirdre Sullivan and her philosophy to always go to the funeral. She wrote, “…I think a personal philosophy of going to funerals … means I have to do the right thing when I really, really don’t feel like it…I’m talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. In going to funerals, I’ve come to believe that while I wait to make a grand, heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life’s inevitable occasional calamity.”

In his sermon Mark said, “Sharing in life’s occasional calamity is what the church is supposed to be about. Isn’t that where the promises of God get their strongest test and their most prominent work out?” While this is true, during this Holy Week I want to celebrate all the folks who have brain injuries and how much you mean to me. I also want to celebrate what we mean to each other for unless you have been through it, you can’t really know what it is like.

I’m looking forward to attending the Institute on Theology and Disability this year. It’s a place where folks with disabilities are given a voice. We’re taken seriously whether we have had theological training or not. Many of us have suffered and in suffering, the Holy is found. So I am going to the funeral this week. I hope you’ll join me.

 

Being a mind reader

In his book A Lenten Hobo Honeymoon, Ed Hays tells a story about a traveler in the Missouri Ozarks who stopped at a general store, in front of which a hound dog sat howling its head off. The traveler asked a man standing outside the store, “Why’s that hound dog howling so much?” He replied, “Cause he’s a’ sitting on a thistle.” The traveler asked, “Well, why doesn’t he just sit somewhere else?” “Well, friend, “the man said, “its cause he’d rather howl.”

Sometimes I think I would rather howl then accept my life for what it is. I can’t seem to stop looking at other folks lives and wanting there’s instead of mine. I look at people younger than me and I think, “If only I had done that, I would be so much happier.” I tend to moan and groan instead of accepting and living with what I have. Hays refers to Lent as a soul garden. “In the garden of your soul, are the trees rich with fruit or are they barren?” Lent is a time to think about how my garden is growing.

utne articleIn the Jan-Feb. issue of Utne Reader there is an article by Robert Straus called “Mind over Misery.” In it, Strauss tells about Stanford psychiatrist David Burns and his book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. I haven’t read it but Straus calls it, “one of the most successful psychotherapy books ever written … and 50,000 therapists have attended his training programs over the past 35 years.

What interested me was his emphasis on thought patterns or what therapists call “cognitive distortions.” I use all three distortions listed so I’ve decided to change my hobo map (see 3/18/14 “A Lenten Goal”) to work on these distortions. They are: 1. catastrophizing – expecting only the worst to happen. 2) Emotional reasoning – believing, for example, that if we feel stupid, then we must be stupid. 3) Mind reading – assuming that what we imagine other people are thinking is what they actually think. It probably isn’t realistic for me to work on all three, but the third one in particular seems possible.

I already had a little bit of practice when I swam laps at the pool this afternoon. I cannot use my hand yet since it still hurts so all I can do us practice my kick. The man who gave me swim lessons back in July told me not to use the flippers when I kick since it is cheating. However, my kick is still pretty weak so I end up moving very slowly without using them. One of the life guards also told me the same thing but she understood why I get frustrated and use them anyway.

This afternoon my swim teacher kept walking through the pool area and saw me cheating. I kept thinking, “Oh, he thinks I’m a terrible person because I’m cheating!” I kept asking myself, “Why does it matter what he thinks? I’m using the flippers because it is easier to kick with them and I haven’t swum laps since December so I need to get myself back in shape.” I also realized that he has a whole lot of things to think about and he’s probably not even thinking about me at all.

So this Lent as I ask, “How is my garden growing?” I’m going to try and get rid of some weeds. The first week is “mind reading.” This will be a tough one for me but it is a good one.

Do you do any work in the garden called Lent? How do you celebrate the journey towards Easter? I would love to hear your ideas.

A Lenten Goal

When I started using Hay’s book, “A Lenten Hobo Honeymoon” as a reflection book for Lent, in it was a piece of paper with my “Lenten Hobo map” from a previous year. Hays suggest one keep a list of goals for the season. Many of the suggested categories, such as “Fasting & Penances” and “Almsgiving”, were Catholic orientated but I still was able to select some goals.

As I looked at that map I was reminded how I seem to pick the same goals every year. For example I always want to work with my prayer life. I ask myself, “Here I am again trying to grow in the same area as last year. Won’t I ever learn?” However, I realize I’m always on a journey and probably will want to grow in similar areas each year and this is okay.

One of my areas for growth this year (and last year as well) is my tendency to worry about what people think of me. “So-and-so thinks I’m not very smart,” or “She thinks my singing vibrato is too wide.” A big one for me is, “He thinks I need to be working.” A therapist once asked me why it matters. They don’t live in my body and haven’t had my experiences so if they really have a concern, they can ask. Plus, they’re probably not even thinking about me at all!

Y poolYesterday while swimming at the Y, I had the opportunity to work on this goal. I had the entire lane to myself which isn’t always the case. Often I swim on one side while someone else swims on the other. If I have a lane completely alone, I try to do the kick I use for the breast stroke since it is pretty easy to use more than half a lane for it and I don’t like accidently kicking someone.

However yesterday I didn’t do this. Since I cannot use my right hand to swim right now because I’m still strengthening it from my December hand surgery, I am working only on my kicks. Another member asked if she could join me in my lane but she didn’t want to swim by the wall. I realized trying to do the frog kick by the wall would be impossible without slamming my leg into it so I hesitated before saying, “Do you think you could use another lane right now?” I could tell she was mad at me and she muttered something under her breath before walking to another lane.

I felt TERRIBLE. I know how hard it is to ask someone to join their lane and I hate doing it but I’ve learned that part of swimming laps at the Y means sharing the lane. In fact someone once told me “no” and I was a little perturbed. So of course I spent swimming my remaining laps worrying about what she thought of me.

When I got out of the pool, I had an opportunity to talk with her. She’s someone I see and talk to regularly at the Y so it was important to me. It turns out; she was having a horrible day. Her car broke down that week so she was borrowing one. Plus, her mother had fallen and was in the hospital. Apparently the mother had always taken care of her father which made her inability to do so, a real issue. She was stressed out, hadn’t been to the pool in days, and the first person she asked about sharing a lane didn’t want to share. She even told me she had said, “f*** you” under her breath which of course I hadn’t heard.

I’m so glad I spoke to her. It’s true. People usually do have too much on their mind to even think about me. Hopefully, as Lent continues I’ll realize this BEFORE I begin my worrying.

Hobo in the Wilderness

IMG_20140312_163307_684March 5 was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and I spent the day in bed with a horrible sore throat. In fact I was sick several days last week which was frustrating since Lent is my favorite time of the year. I had decided not to use one of Ed Hays’ devotional guides which I use every year. However, after attending Circle of Mercy on Sunday evening, I changed my mind. The worship service contained so many wilderness references and I saw a connection with the idea of journey present in Hays devotionals, so I pulled out one of his books, “The Hobo Honeymoon” to use this year.

For “Fat Tuesday” he writes, “While both the idea of a honeymoon and of being a hobo might seem inappropriate for the holy season of Lent, remember the words of the great patriarch Moses, who proudly declared, ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and we were traveling vagabonds and vagrants who found our way to Egypt and lived there as aliens’ (Deuteronomy 26:5). Your spiritual ancestors were hobos, so rejoice in your proud heritage of traveling vagabonds as you begin these forty days.”
I’m not keen on the Honeymoon idea but I do like the concept of a wanderer. Hays points out that wanderers were put into three classes: tramps, bums and hobos. A hobo was a migratory laborer who took on various odd jobs. During Lent, one becomes a Lenten pilgrim on a road of reform and renewal.

At Circle of Mercy this past Sunday, Nancy Sehested preached on the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11. I especially like that she used Clarence Jordan’s adaption of the passage. Instead of calling the devil, “the tempter” Jordan calls him, “the confuser.” She suggests the “tempter” moved in at the point of Jesus’ strength. “Jesus was tempted to do good. Make bread. Lead the Temple. Lead the nations.” Using Jordan’s description of the confuser she continued, “The confuser knows where we are strongest. That’s why it is so confusing. We are tempted not so much to do bad things. We are tempted to do good things with bad intent.”

While I know it isn’t exactly the same, her sermon pushed me to think about how my strengths have gotten confused. It seems I’m so aware of my weaknesses, I don’t even see my strengths. The Confuser encourages me to believe I don’t have any strengths for I often see only my weaknesses. A while ago, a therapist suggested I make a list of my losses as well as a list of words which describe the essence of who I am. Looking back on it, I see it is really a list of my strengths and weaknesses.

Sometimes it seems I spend a lot of time in the wilderness. I wonder, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t things ever be settled and consistent? Why do I spend so much time here?” Nancy pointed out Jesus never escaped the wilderness for it was always with him. This Lent, I’m going to be a Lenten hobo in the wilderness.

Nancy calls wilderness a gift. “It is a doorway into living out of a deeper truth. If we can stay in the pain, the emptiness, the confusion long enough, then maybe we can recognize that the only recognition we need is from God. Wilderness is a time to allow the pain to teach us.” I want to learn how Jesus lived in his wanderings as I journey this year towards Easter.

Vocabulary Lessons

Feb 17
Mark Ramsey and Kristy Farber are doing a sermon series on the Psalms this Lent. Perhaps it’s where I am in my life now but I can really relate to the sermons. On Feb. 17, Mark preached about Psalm 137. I’ve always hated this Psalm especially verse 9 which reads “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!”

In the sermon, Mark suggested that “we need help with our faith language. And into this pressing need, the Bible offers us …the Psalms.” I think at times, we don’t know anything about a faith language – I know I don’t. For example, lately I’ve been really angry. I’m sick of dealing with this TBI and all of its effects. I’m tired of becoming overstimulated during a conversation and having to leave the room to “rest-my-brain.” I’m sick of having to plan for everything since I don’t “think well on my feet.”

I don’t know what took me so long to discover that one way I can deal with my fury, is to swim sprints. When I swim laps as fast as I can, pounding the water as I go, I think about everything I’m mad about. It’s like having a temper tantrum in the pool. I love it because I always feel so much better afterwards. Now I have to figure out how to put a pool in our basement so I can swim sprints anytime! This is truly my faith language.

The Psalmist wrote about throwing “little ones” against a rock which was a temper tantrum of sorts as well. How do we express our anger? I know folks who express it in unhealthy ways that hurt themselves and others. An activist I know expresses it by demonstrating against the injustices in our world. Musicians and other artists use their art for this purpose. I used to fiercely play my violin which helped immensely. Now I’ve discovered I can also do this as I sing.

As Mark suggests, we can hear God’s voice of hope and promise only if we express ourselves fully. This is what I’m trying to do but it is hard. Too often, we’re required – or we think we are required- to “pretend” as we live in our world. We hide our true feelings because we’re afraid of what folks might think.

I love the way this Psalm begins: “By the rivers of Babylon- there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.” It is important for us to weep sometimes. Only then will we be free.

Examining my Garden

Here is a part of the reflection from the Hobo Honeymoon by Ed Hays for this past Sunday. Good words for me to remember.

“Jesus’ parable today answers the question, ‘What is the world’s oldest profession that is today’s most popular hobby?’ As you may have guessed, the correct answer is being a gardener! The profession of gardening goes all the way back to the beginning, when God the Gardener created the first garden in Eden. God, who loves cooperative ministry, shared that holy work by making Adam and Eve partners in gardening.”

“Heaven’s garden name is paradise, which comes from the Persian word for the enclosed royal gardens of their kings. Gardens and religions were early partners; Egyptian temples were surrounded by gardens, and the Chinese had their sacred grove-gardens. Even the mini-gardens of potted plants in ancients Greece became small shrines in honor of Adonis, the god of growing plants. In the northern hemisphere, since the Lenten season and the spring season accompany one another, the thoughts of many turn to their gardens and yards during Lent.”

“On other levels, gardening is one of the primary works of Lent; it’s at the heart of your hobo journey of return to the Garden of Eden. As we saw early in the book, the hobo may have originated with the hoe-boys, the sons of farmers who left the farm and were on the road in search of work. These hoe-boys were not bums or tramps and would work hard at any odd job, including digging up a spring garden plot.”

“Lenten hoe-girls and hoe-boys, how does your soul garden grow” In the garden of your souls, are the trees rich with fruit or are they barren? The tradition of Lenten ‘gardening” is centuries long, rich in its heritage as a springtime retreat. While recent reforms of the season have been very positive, even a causal look at the daily involvement many of us have given to Lent tells a pitiable story……Today’s garden of lent is overgrown with the weeds of overwork at our jobs, full social calendars and other secular activities, busy school events, demanding sport practices and games to attend, or even the endless round of evening TV.” (He wrote this before the internet)

“Examine your soul garden today for any weeds that need to be hoed out so that good plants can grow and bear a rich harvest. This Sunday, take time to lovingly examine your inner life, especially your prayer trees and alm trees. Make sure they aren’t barren and sickly from neglect.”

Having a TBI is a real challenge at times and I’m examining my soul garden today. Unlike many other TBI survivors it is invisible so I’m trying to figure out when to talk about it and when not. It’s a struggle because I see some of my “call” as educating folks about TBI. I’ve discovered that often folks underestimate my abilities when they know I have a disability. This is true for many of us who have a disability. I will spend a great deal of time in meditation and prayer this Lent as I examine my soul garden.

Do you have any special things you are doing this Lent? I would love to hear about them if you do.