Posts Tagged ‘healing’
t’s hard to move on from the Newtown discussion; the sadness of the horrific event is always going to be a part of Christmas 2012. But this morning I want to share a few words about our church that point to the hope and the promise that reside at the heart of Christmas, regardless of the evil.
PARTY PARTY! So Monday evening Rebekah and I hosted the First Presbyterian Church of Brandon staff Christmas party, along with their “significant others.” There are only three – including me – missing from the photograph.
Talk about your fun evening! We managed to squeeze in 26 places at three tables, and the spread of food was better than a feast.
We talked, we laughed, and then we gathered around the tree to participate in our traditional “Take a number then either unwrap a present or steal from someone else” gift exchange.
It’s impossible to guess ahead of time what the “hot” presents will be (massage-therapy stones? Home-made pre-lit converted wine-bottle/Christmas tree? Amazon gift code?). Regardless, the consequent shenanigans led to much – impossible to explain in 500-words or less – hilarity.
THE POINT: Anyway, the point of sharing this story is to talk about the phenomenal, positive, pervasive spirit of love and support and encouragement that animates our church staff.
I talk all the time about how wonderful our church is, and I’m not just spouting off because Rebekah is the pastor. What’s going on at First Presbyterian Church of Brandon is a real, verifiable phenomenon. But it’s impossible to talk about how awesome our church is without considering the following two factors:
- The leadership team
- The staff
Rebekah will tell anyone who wants to know that the most important element of her job is to love, train, equip and support the church leaders. Things like great preaching, phenomenal music, top-notch pastoral care, cutting edge Christian-education and other attributes are all important; but it’s a leadership culture built on love, trust, and mutual respect that defines the ministry here.
So Monday evening, when I looked out across our family room to see the church staff (Tim, Earl, Joyce, Mark, Don, Kelly, Andy, Steve, Kathy, Kevin, Debbie, Dylan, Kathy, Sue, Jimmie, Vanessa) plus their significant-others, I breathed a prayer of gratitude for the amazing group of people Rebekah gets to work with every day.
Nothing around here happens in isolation. It’s all built on relationships, and grounded in the inclusive, generous, directive love of God through Jesus.
HOPE and PROMISE: And that brings us back to the beginning, the pain and the horror of Newtown, Connecticut. This is why Jesus came. The world is a terribly broken place, and the purpose of the church is not to condemn, but to offer light, and life, and hope, and healing.
Christmas is the celebration of Hope and Promise.
I am so thankful to be part of a church community where the message is one of hope, promise, grace, love and reconciliation. And I am thankful beyond measure for the men and women who work every day to translate that promise into action, both our elders and the most excellent church staff.
One reason for the extra images is the fact that I “discovered” Instagram a couple of days ago (I’ll indicate which shots used that technique). Consequently I’m “shooting first and asking questions later” – even more than my usual paparazzi-esque tendencies. I’m still learning the ropes, but I’m pleased with the results so far.
This picture of my folks is my nod to “All Saints Day.” My mum and dad are two classic present day examples. The photo was taken on their back porch where we enjoyed tea, cookies and conversation yesterday afternoon.
HALLOWEEN: The busy evening of trick-or-treating may well have been due to the amazingly beautiful combination of clear skies and temperatures in the high 60′s. Kids literally swarmed the neighborhood.
Our first visitors were Micah and Liam Black, who were dressed as “Garbage-Guys.” They were well equipped with good-sized collection cans, but they weren’t the least bit interested in our trash.
Then, right after it got dark, the floodgates opened up.
FUNNY STORY: This year we handed out Skittles and bubble-gum. At the store the cashier said, “Ooo, Skittles, my favorite.” ”We hate them,” I retorted. ”So why do you buy them?” she asked. ”So we won’t eat them,” I explained. “Imagine what would happen if we had a boatload of Snickers, or Almond Joys in the house? It wouldn’t be pretty.”
None of the kids seemed to mind. One of our favorite groups included Bill and Pat Ogden’s grandkids. Check out the life-sized Barbie in a box! Nice work, Ogden clan!
I’ve got to tell you, I may not be a fan of Halloween, and I’m especially disturbed by the cult of “violence-as-entertainment” that goes on in the movies and at theme-park events such as “Howl-O-Scream,” but I really did enjoy the feeling of community that pervaded our neighborhood yesterday evening.
COMMUNITY! Last night I sensed that, in an era dominated by political polarization, factionalism, mutual condemnation, and religious “I’m right and you’re wrong-ism,” the people on the street simply want to celebrate the experience of positive community.
Wake up, America! Let’s remember that we’re all in this together. It not only takes a village to raise a child, but it takes people (C’mon people now, Smile on your brother…) to heal a nation.
C’mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try and love one another right now (Youngbloods, 1969)
They kept on asking Jesus about the woman. Finally, he stood up and said, “If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw the first stone at her!” Once again he bent over and began writing on the ground. The people left one by one, beginning with the oldest. Finally, Jesus and the woman were there alone.
Jesus stood up and asked her, “Where is everyone? Isn’t there anyone left to accuse you?” ”No sir,” the woman answered. Then Jesus told her, “I am not going to accuse you either. You may go now, but don’t sin anymore.”
Once again Jesus spoke to the people. This time he said, “I am the light for the world! Follow me, and you won’t be walking in the dark. You will have the light that gives life.” John 8:4-11
I love this story about Jesus because his point is simple. “Listen, you’ve been walking in the dark. If you follow me then you will have the light that gives life.”
Yesterday – in my ongoing commitment to walk more deliberately in the light – I headed down to Bradenton again to visit with my brother, Geoff. It’s always good to see one another, but the best part is our ongoing conversation. Let me explain what we’ve been doing.
Back before Christmas we launched this series of interviews. In a nutshell the process is about me getting at the heart of Geoff’s story.
I’ve been able to use my background as a journalist to ask good questions, and then the deliberate nature of the interview format has set the stage for an unusual level of candor and self-analysis. The resulting conversations have been, quite simply, remarkable; priceless.
SO WHAT: The question, as you can guess, is becoming, “What do I do with this story?”
How do I process such heart-level communication and work it into either a Q&A, or a book, or a series of articles? And what is it about? I mean, really? What is the single, consistent, filter through which the narrative is all poured? Is there a particular lens through which I’m viewing my brother, or through which he is viewing the world?
I’ll write more about what that lens turns out to be in another post. But for today, here’s the important idea. Listening to someone’s story will change you. I think we all know this intuitively, and I suspect that this is one reason so many of us fail to listen well – either on purpose or subconsciously. We know that an authentic story is powerful. So, consequently, we often try our best not to listen, because we are afraid of change.
I’ll share one nugget of story-powered truth for now. Any more would be too much for a short blog post!
REAL RELATIONSHIPS: Our conversation drifted into the nature of relationships, and how the friendships we have with other people help to shape us.
We talked about how important it is for each one of us to have people in our lives who really know us. And we talked about how – sometimes – circumstances make it difficult for that to happen (and that was often true in our relationship, as brothers). Sometimes the self we present to others is inauthentic or contrived… or the person the world thinks we are is not the real deal… or we are unable to share our own heart and hopes and longings… or we try to live into dreams that are not – and cannot be – our own.
The bottom line here is that when a person does not, or cannot, or is not allowed to actually live as their authentic self… then that person in effect has no real relationships.
APPLICATION: Some of our conversation covered personal history, and some of it was more generalized. But taking time to talk about relationships – and how easy it is for us to avoid them – gave me pause. How often do I push people away – even unconsciously – because I have created such a narrow space in which we can relate to one-another in honesty?
Here’s the thing. None of us will ever grow, or evolve, or change, or experience redemption, or heal because we are first compelled to be exactly the person someone else thinks we should be (or our understanding of that ideal) before they are willing to know us.
Real relationships are based on authenticity and integrity. First we build an honest relationship, and then we’re able to grow together – BOTH OF US – from there.
And then it’s always a better story – DEREK
After we left the Church of the Resurrection we enjoyed our last Middle-Eastern lunch – the classic combo of “falafel” and strong coffee. Then Rebekah and I continued all the way down the Via Dolorosa to “The Pool of Bethesda.” People from our church (First Presbyterian Church of Brandon) are going to laugh when I say this, but: “That’s Rebekah’s favorite Bible story.” (She has, at last count, around 25 scriptures in her “Top Five”)
The Pool of Bethesda is the place where Jesus challenged the paralyzed man regarding his willingness to live life in all of its fullness. Jesus asked a hard question; he knew the man needed to be healed, but only the man himself could make the determination to allow the miracle to take place.
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesdaand which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” – (John 5)
There’s a beautiful church at the location (they tend to build churches on top of everything here and – frankly – it gets a little tiresome when there are a thousand better ways – archeologically – to develop these places and respect the integrity of history at the same time). Fortunately this church was dedicated to the mother of the Virgin Mary and the structure leaves the pool complex well enough alone.
Ritual cleansing was part of the Jewish practice of worship. You didn’t just show up to worship God, there had to be deliberate preparation. It is an idea, frankly, that has merit. Jesus lived in a culture where God dwelled in “The Holy of Holies,” and God was not appraoched by anyone other than the High Priest, and he only went in once a year. Our guide told us that a rope would have been tied around the priest’s ankle, so that – if he was struck dead in the presence of The Almighty – he could be pulled out without anyone else placing themselves at risk.
And so, when Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be made well, and why he hadn’t made his way to the water in almost four decades, Jesus was also asking if the man wanted to be spiritually whole, and if he had any intention of living the kind of life-charged life God intends for his children.
TOMB: Then, having left Bethesda, we made our way to The Garden Tomb. The Garden Tomb makes no claims to be the exact location, but it is a legitimate ancient burial site, and offers a clear idea of what such a place – owned by someone like Joseph of Arimathea – would have looked like.
Consequently the place has presence, an intuitive sense of peace and focus, not only at the end of a long day, but at the conclusion of a trip that was wonderful even as it left us spent. I felt, quite literally, the rest of Jesus. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
BREAD and WINE: We made our way to a quiet area and shared a simple service of communion as a group. Across the garden, as we were taking the bread and the wine, we could hear an African tour singing with such passion and such belief.
We joined in, quietly, carrying the words like a corporate prayer that united us all, believers from every tribe and nation declaring Jesus in every tongue and with one voice, that God gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father... (Philippians 2)
It was our last stop on this life-chareged, life-challenging tour. We returned to the hotel, ate dinner, packed, and made our way to the airport at Tel Aviv where we boarded our Jumbo jet close to 1:00 in the morning…
But our hearts and minds were still at the tomb. An empty tomb, mind. And how do we know that? We know the tomb is empty because Jesus lives in us, here and now. Jesus lives through us. And we live because of Jesus. Not “live” as in breathing; but “live” as in life-charged.
It’s what I’m writing about; it’s the pulse of this blog; it’s the filter through which I pour all of my experience.
Tomorrow I’ll put the wraps on this Amazing Journey. But stay with me, please – because we’re only just beginning to tell the story - DEREK
This is what the LORD says: “I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, and the mountain of the LORD Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.” – Zechariah 8:3
Our group arrived in Jerusalem at just the right time. We followed Moses from Egypt, through Sinai and to the Promised Land; then we walked with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. The thrust of the biblical narrative brings everything to a head in Jerusalem.
After Jerusalem, the New Testament suggests, the rest of the story is pretty much up to us. But we have to be willing to go to Jerusalem first. It was imperative for Jesus; it was pivotal for us.
We were tired, no surprise. So Rebekah and I were beyond grateful that our room for the next three nights turned out to be a significant upgrade. We got off the elevator, rolled our luggage to the appropriate room number, and then were a little confused to find the words “The Brown Suite” by the elegant entrance.
Rebekah went in first. This is our actual dialogue:
- Rebekah: “Derek… I think there’s been a mix-up.”
- Me: “Is there something wrong with our room?”
- Rebekah: “The opposite. Come take a look. They gave us a suite by mistake!”
So I followed her in and checked the place out. Sure enough, we had a luxurious suite with a sitting room, an office area and a palatial bath. There was a box of chocolates on the desk and a presentation gift basket of “Dead Sea Minerals” products.
- Rebekah: “What if someone finds out they goofed and they kick us out? We have to keep this quiet.”
- Me: “Quick, let’s eat the chocolates!”
The next day a beautiful arrangement of flowers showed up. Later, when I tried to pay for Internet access I was rebuffed with, “Room 542? Let me see… No charge at all, sir.” Talk about a serendipity. All I’ve got to say is – along with the business class ride on Egypt Air – it’s a good thing Rebekah and I don’t buy into the whole slippery slope of “God’s favor” theology. This would have pretty much launched us over the edge!
WESTERN WALL: Just one “Old City” story for today. Tomorrow we’ll visit Bethlehem and talk about Palestine.
Some of you may remember my trip to Assisi in November. It’s one of those “Thin Places” (Check out “A Thin Place Named Assisi”). I lit a candle in Assisi for my brother, Geoff, and brought back a carving of St. Francis for him. Well, as I walked down to the “Wailing Wall” I thought about the gravitas the place holds as a place of prayer, and my brother came to mind.
The Western Wall is an especially holy place for the Jewish community because it’s a part of the structure – stone upon stone – from the Temple before Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70. This is as close to the ancient “Holy of Holies” as 21st Century Judaism can come.
Holy, Holy, Holy: So I approached the Western Wall with reverence, and I did the following three things:
- I wrote a simple prayer on behalf of my brother, rolled it up, and located it carefully in the wall.
- I borrowed a yamaka - יאַרמלקע - and prayed for Geoff with my hand on the wall, over the prayer.
- I placed my own hat over the yamaka and “borrowed” the yamaka permanently, so that I could give it to my brother along with the story.
Just like Assisi, this was a powerful moment. There is something special about these direct, physical connections to the eternal. Like the woman in the crowd who touched the hem of the garment Jesus was wearing, I too have been connected to grace.
It is the story of faith; it is the story of hope; it is the Greatest Story Ever Told.
Peace… Promise… and healing – DEREK
PS: You can visit my facebook page (friend me) to see a set of photographs to go with this story…
Breakfast in Rome comprised café-Americano, yoghurt, granola, bread, local cheeses, salami and cappuccino. Yes, it’s going to be a cappuccino kind of a week.
It has been another bright, clear day full with spectacular views. We arrived at Assisi by way of Orte, enjoyed a late lunch, and then walked through the Basilica and down to the tomb of St Francis.
SPIRITUAL MOMENT: Last week my brother (Geoff) and I spent some time talking about “Thin Places.” It’s the idea, drawn from Celtic mythology, that the physical and the spiritual realms are separated by a membrane, and that – at certain times or places – the membrane is stretched so thin that communication (or even passage) between the two is more possible.
It’s as if time and eternity… heaven and earth… the sacred and the mundane… are not so much separate as they are out of synch with one another, a condition that requires but the slightest of shifts to remedy. It’s a point of view that resonates both with my reason and my experience.
We talked about thin places in our own spiritual histories, and it was a great conversation. “I understand that Assisi is a thin place for many people,” I said. “That’s right,” Geoff concurred, “I’d very much love a visit some time, but I just don’t see that happening.”
LIGHT A CANDLE: A few days ago Geoff called, and he asked me to light a candle at Assisi and to pray for him. Right now he’s engaged in a serious struggle with liver cancer – and of course we’re praying anyway. But some extra time dedicated to talking with God at one of the world’s foremost thin places was a great idea. Then, the day before I left the States, my friend Al from California told me about two spots on his liver and I promised to light a candle for him too.
So I made a donation, and I picked out two candles, and I prayed. I found a quiet location in one of the old wooden pews in the very place where Francis of Assisi himself had enjoyed the same kind of chats with the very same God, and I talked with God for a few minutes about Geoff, and about Al. I even tipped forward – ever so gently – on to my banged up knees for a moment or two. And God and I discussed the need that Geoff and Al both have for healing.
It was a legitimate spiritual connection, and I was acutely aware of the presence of God. Not just God, but God listening. And then the moment passed.
MASS: Assisi is a wonderful walking town. We put in several miles and then swung by the Church of St. Francis again on the way back to the hotel. There in the outer courtyard several hundred people had gathered for mass. We paused to watch for a few minutes, just peripheral participants in the simple celebration of God.
It felt fitting – as if all those people were co-conspirators in the prayers I had offered earlier in the afternoon.
The folk in the square were pilgrims to this place (Assisi is second only to St. Peter’s in Rome in popularity for Catholics). I guess I was a pilgrim too today, even if I am still only a pilgrim-in-progress.
Regardless, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God heard my prayers. And, for today, that was enough - DEREK
It has been absolutely awesome to be back in our home church again! The atmosphere in worship at First Presbyterian is so affirming, and encouraging and (I believe this is the word for the whole experience) GENUINE….
I know it’s easy to quote songs instead of actually writing, but this old chorus jumped into my mind when thinking about Sundays at fpcBrandon, “There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place; and I know that it’s the Spirit of the Lord. There are sweet expressions on each face; and I know that it’s the presence of the Lord…”
But it’s not the syrupy kind of sweetness. It’s the love kind of sweetness. Maybe the song would be more representative of my experience if it read, “There’s a genuine love that fills this place; and I know that it’s the love that comes from God. I see peace and healing in each face; and I know that it’s the present grace of God…”
Yay Monday! I’ve said before how Sunday with my church family makes Monday not only possible but – in truth – a life-charged blessing. Well double the effect of that principle when there’s a small-group gathering Sunday evening. During the summer our POGs group (Parents of Grads) meet more informally and in homes rather than at church. Yesterday evening we swarmed the Dales’ new home again, did the usual covered dish, and caught up with joys and needs.
There are 19 of us (18 at the Dale’s yesterday) and that number represents eleven family units and 24 children. Plus we’re beginning to add some grandchildren (just a trickle right now but you know that’s going to change!).
One family in our group is dealing with some gut-wrenching hurt that is quite literally too much to carry on their own. Small groups provide the opportunity to – physically and spiritually – be there for one-another.
I already had a partial “heads-up” about what was going on when the evening began, so I started our conversation with this short story from my week: The day I found out about the situation I immediately prayed for my friends and their son. In doing so I felt an unusual surge of connectivity with the Spirit – so I prayed through and then beyond the standard, “God bless so-and-so.”
My prayer quickly evolved into a more intimate interaction that worked its way into both my conscious self and much deeper places I cannot calibrate. After that it didn’t seem right to leave my friends’ daughter out of the conversation so I prayed for her too.
Naturally, I thought about the fact that all the members of my small group have children, and the Spirit led my prayers through every family in the circle.
- I prayed for the men, specifically and by name;
- I prayed for their wives in the same manner;
- I prayed for each of the children in my friends’ families, and I surprised myself by remembering all of their names and life circumstances easily.
- I prayed – with care and with different emphases depending on the individual on my heart in each moment – for ten married couples, one single person, and 24 young-adult children.
I make a point of spending time in prayer each and every morning; it’s how I start my day. Typically I’ve already been in some level of conversation with God before Scout and I even set out on our walk. But the experience is never rote or repetitive and I’m open to the direction God wants to take. This time my prayer became a deep, serious conversation that lasted 45 minutes and affected everything else about the balance of my day.
Sharing my story set off a chain-reaction of similar testimonies to how God has been working in and through our lives this summer. And by the time our friends were ready to share their burden with the entire group we did so in the context of a shared faith story that was – already – the Present Grace of God.
That’s life with my church family here in my home-town. Where:
- All the men are good
- All the women are full of grace
- And all of the children are (loved) above average.