Tag Archives: grief

No words, AGAIN, just grief

I have to admit, I have been avoiding social media in the last couple of days. Other than post Birthday wishes to my friends, and a quick peek, I am not spending much time there. I could say that Lent began and it is part of my Lenten devotion to spend less time on social media and more time with God. That would not be true.

On Wednesday afternoon, as I was going over the service and putting last minute touches on my sermon the news flashed about another school shooting. This time in a high school in Parkland, Florida. I don’t need to post any links it is all over the news. Confronted with services starting soon, I was frozen and unable to figure out what to do. In odds with how I usually handle these things, I didn’t change my sermon. The tragedy was mentioned in the midst of the prayers.

I am immobilized by what seems to be a non-stop litany of mass shootings. I have several drafts over the last year of blog posts that never got finished because I couldn’t figure out what to say. There are so many blog writers that can articulate the grief and pain and anguish better than I can.

In November of 2017, I started a blog and this is what was saved in my drafts:  

Another mass shooting. ANOTHER MASS SHOOTING. This time in another church, a small church, 26 dead,, 20 injured. I don’t know what to say anymore.

I didn’t post last week about the attack in New York City where bicyclists and walkers were run down by a truck. What is left say? I find myself sick to my stomach, numb to the numbers and my mind blank as to how to respond.

There are no words. None that can speak to this insanity.

And then three months later, there are still no words. I have wandered around with tears in my eyes and what little I have glimpsed on social media sites hasn’t helped. The left and the right posted incredibly unhelpful memes pointing fingers. These tactics do not change hearts and minds and spirits or bring back one of those loved ones.

I want to rant and scream and point fingers and assign blame. Instead like Jeremiah, I am appalled and grief stricken over the platitudes and empty words of us all, myself included. In chapter 8, the prophet says:

My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
   my heart is sick. 
Hark, the cry of my poor people
   from far and wide in the land:
‘Is the Lord not in Zion?
   Is her King not in her?’
(‘Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
   with their foreign idols?’) 
‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
   and we are not saved.’ 
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
   I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. 


Is there no balm in Gilead?
   Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
   not been restored?

O that my head were a spring of water,
   and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
   for the slain of my poor people!

Or from the thirty first chapter of Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
   lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
   she refuses to be comforted for her children,
   because they are no more.

In Lent, in some denominations, Christians are marked with ashes. It is a reminder that we are fallible, sinful, prone to go our own way, prone to only look after our own interests to the exclusion of others, with a propensity for evil. We don’t like to admit to sin or at least to our sin being as “bad” as others.

In my Ash Wednesday sermon, I gave permission for people to not berate themselves, that instead of giving up chocolate or candy, to give up bitterness and anger and give it up to Jesus among other things. I am not berating myself, but I am confessing that I do not know how to address this kind of evil in the world. I am ill equipped to change hearts and minds and spirits and lives in a way that stands against the forces of evil and destruction and death that are so often made real in these mass shootings. I am an utter failure at encouraging and helping people be change agents in this world of violence and hatred.

What I can do is stand in God’s grace and love and be challenged to not give up, to believe that God is still active in this world and has not deserted us in the mess we have created. Thoughts and prayers are not enough to bridge the gaping canyon between so many people. Thoughts and prayers will not change the violence, the hatred, the bigotry. Thoughts and prayers will not heal the deep despair, pain and fear so many feel.

In verse 16 of Jeremiah 31:

Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
   and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,

and a promise of a new heart and covenant for a people in exile:

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.  (31: 33-34)

I will trust that God is challenging me, and perhaps you, to not turn away from what is happening, but face the evil in the world with power given through the goodness of God’s grace and love. If Lent teaches me anything, it is that I believe in a God who is embodied in Jesus. In Jesus, God confronts evil all the way to the cross. Jesus doesn’t shrink away, but stands against the powers of evil. Jesus proclaims a new way of livings and reminds me and us all that the kingdom of God is at hand.

Last year, Jan Richardson, a woman of great words and beautiful paintings wrote an Ash Wednesday blessing for the ashes. In it she writes, “did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?”

She finishes the blessing with these words

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

So I am remembering what God can do with the dust and ashes of my life. I am reminding myself that out of my confession of all that I am unable to accomplish and do, that God is already creating in me a new heart and writing the law of love within it. Out of the tears and grief and prayers of my heart and spirit, God is making sure to empower me out of my frozen state into a renewed commitment to the reign of peace, justice and love I have been promised in Christ. During this time of Lent, I will focus on the journey of Jesus. I will walk the long road to the cross filled with evil, betrayal, injustice and pain and believe that there is resurrection and new life yet to come.

 

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All Saints 2017

Each year I am moved by All Saints Sunday, which for many Protestants is celebrated on the first Sunday of November. Names are read, candles lit and we remember. This year at First United Methodist Church we lit thirty three candles for each member that had died since November 1, 2016. Thirty three….members, that does not include all the family members and friends and others that have died and affected our congregation. We light a thirty fourth candles to include all those others, plus those who have suffered pregnancy losses.

Here is the link to today’s worship service. The music was wonderful, the candles beautiful, just being together to remember powerful.

Every year as I light candles I remember ALL those saints who have gone before, those family members and friends whom I still miss. I will continue to pray for those currently walking the fresh valley of grief, those who are transitioning from this life to next. Life is good, but sometimes it is hard and filled with ups and downs.

On this day, I grateful for all the saints, for that great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us, and the comfort and grace of God that goes with us on journey.

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Back to blogging

It’s been a month since my last blog about the Great Plains  Annual Conference. Following conference I took a week for sermon planning and a week for vacation. Seemed fairly straight forward and well planned.

You know the saying, “the best laid plans….” It was a good two weeks, but as the week of my sermon planning time began, a neighbor and a friend died. It was unexpected in many ways, I had seen him the week before and I would never guessed I would be planning service within 10 days.

In my neighborhood, I am not the “pastor” particularly. Some of my neighbors attend church in other denominations than mine. Some of my neighbors do not. To be a “neighbor” is a wonderful thing as opposed to being whatever my “vocation” might be. Yet, it was a privilege and honor to be asked to preside at this man’s funeral. It was his request and so I sat with his daughters and we found a way to honor his life and spirit.

He had many  talents,  not the least  of which was gardening. He was meticulous in pulling weeds and keeping his flowers and his lawn beautiful. He was smart and funny. I will miss him.

During the time I was so blessed to become acquainted with his daughters, brilliant and funny and accomplished each in their own jobs and professions. I now have in my home, a few things in which to remember this wonderful and thoughtful human being. These past few weeks have reminded me again how precious life is and how each person plays a part and makes a difference in the lives of others.

As I begin my second year at First UMC, I am so grateful for those people who created this place for people all over Wichita to encounter the living spirit of God. I am blessed to continue in ministry with the gifted people in this community of faith. Life is precious and the call of Christ is to be a neighbor to every person we meet and to make a difference in lives of others. I am thankful my friend’s life and death and memory reminds me of this reality and call. I am graced to serve in this city and in this place and in this neighborhood. Life. Downtown.

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All Souls Day

Part of this post was written three years ago. Our culture doesn’t know much about Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Some of what is shared in the next three paragraphs are from that blog, but I end with some new thoughts about this early church tradition.

Today, in Western Christian tradition is All Souls Day.  It is the third day of the “triduum of Hallowmass.”  Who knew that Halloween was a holy day?  The first day of the three, All Hallows Eve, October 31, was a day when early Christians believed that some how the space between this life and the next life was thinner.  They would don “masks” to keep former souls from recognizing them.  Of course in North America this became “trick or treating” through costumes and pranks and the offering of treats.

The second day was All Saints Day, November 1, which remembers all martyrs and official saints of the church both known and unknown.  The third day, All Souls Day, November 2, remembers “all the faithful departed.”  In most protestant traditions, these days are lumped together and often celebrated on the first Sunday of November.  A google search will give multiple hits on these traditions.

I, being who I am, love this history and the layers that surround these practices both from the Christian tradition and other traditions.  What I love most, is the remembering and the giving thanks.  Often in the U.S.A. graves are visited on the last weekend in May.  I always tried to avoid focusing All Saints on that weekend, because it is also the first three day weekend of the summer and consequently loses some of the religious significance that the first Sunday of November can offer.

Remembering those who have gone before is holy, sacred and spiritual work.  The act of remembering is a blessing on those who take the time to laugh, to cry and to tell the story of those who have made a difference in their lives.  After thirty plus years of ministry, the list gets longer each year for me.  The spaces around those memories grow more tender as I remember, as I grieve and as I smile through tears and give thanks that I have been so blessed by so many.

The holiness of these moments become more sacred in the midst of a time of great anxiety and fear. Next week, will be an election which has been filled with bigotry, hatred, lies and ugliness from both sides. The fear mongering has been almost overwhelming. Many, myself included, will be glad when the election is over.

Add to that another horrible shooting in Des Moines where two police officers were ambushed, another black church is vandalized,  and where the deaths in Syria mount, is it any wonder that many are just tired and afraid. It is important in times like these, to remember the saints and souls and spirits who went before us. We are NOT living in the first period of time fraught with fear and anxiety.

Those who went before us lived through wars and rumors of war, violence, hatred and natural disasters. The early Christians were persecuted and wondered if the end of the world was coming. In these days, we are hearing the same from both parties. Neither is speaking the whole truth. These elections and difficulties are part and parcel of being part of this world. The saints that have gone on before us, understood that whatever occurs day in and day out is not the kingdom of God. The reign God continues to challenge all of us “saints” to live lives of faith, of hope, of love and justice.

We keep eyes and hearts and spirits focused on the promise that the time is coming when we will experience something new and wonderous. In the meantime, we lean into each other for strength, and trust God’s Spirit to help us believe and God will make all things new in God’s own time.

And so, remembering I am “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) , these saints and souls of God, I am graced to serve.

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All Saints Day

Each year, I am profoundly moved by All Saints Day. Perhaps some of it has to do with the fact I have been a pastor more than three decades. The list of “saints” whom I have buried, or have loved and lost gets longer each year. Time is precious because I realize it is not a given or is not promised.

A couple of weeks ago, I was stunned by the sudden death of a colleague. A. Mark Conard has been a part of the annual conference I have served since I began ministry. Mark had a droll funny sense of humor, a depth of knowledge of United Methodist history and doctrine and loved the church with a passion unsurpassed by many. I served on the General/Jursidictional Conference delegation with home 3 times. He was an early adapter of social media and on Sunday, October 16, he posted on my Facebook wall about the sermon I had preached. I wasn’t even out of worship yet! Two days later he died.


In the service celebrating his life, all I stated above and more was shared. I still can not quite comprehend that he is gone. I will miss him, his smile, his posts, his sense of humor and his ability to lower the tension in a room by just the right words. 

Another friend, Ben Murray, took his life over Labor Day weekend. Ben was an amazing chef. It was from Ben I learned that good food is not expensive food, necessarily. Good food, was food that used the best ingredients available, cooked to bring out the essential nature of those ingredients. It was Ben, who invited me to “guest chef” at his restaurant, me, with no culinary training. It was Ben, who when a disc exploded in my back, drove to my home and as I lay flat on my back in a twin bed in the dining room, cooked me a four course dinner, beginning with a lobster entree and a lovely steak entree. 

I believe Mark and Ben, like many others I have loved and appreciated, are part of what the book of Hebrews calls the great cloud of witnesses. His memory, their memories are a blessing. I believe that, I truly do.

The problem, of course, is that I miss them. I miss those who have meant so much to me. I miss my grandmother Nana, and grandfather Big Bob, my step-father Pep, my mom. I miss my friends and mentors through the years: Charlie Harrison, Jack Porter, Porrteus Latimer, George Gardner. Bill Shuyler, Les Hankins, Forrest Robinson, Paul Matthaei, and a host of others with whom I have life and laughter. I miss them.

“I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true. Who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. And one was a doctor and one was a queen and one was a shepherdess on the green, they were all of them saints of God and I mean, God helping to be one too….They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still. The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will. You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains or in shops, or at teas; for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”  Lyrics by Lesbia Scott

I sing a song of the saints of God. On this All Saints Day, I am truly grateful for those who have gone before me, for those I have loved and laughed with and for their unique and unrepeatable spirits. Their lives have not been forgotten and their lights continue to shine through all of us who have known them and who continue to live out the values they held dear. I sing not only their song, I pray that I might be one, a saint, too.

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Weeping Day and Night

My newsfeed has been filled with sadness, anger and grief this morning. Many have been more articulate than I can be over what has happened in the last few days, and when you add the last few weeks it is overwhelming. Yesterday, I was trying to make sense of two more police related shootings of African American men: Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and then Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

Since I know many police officers and retired officers, I also know they put their lives on the line every day and never know what each day will bring. I also know that African Americans live in deep fear everyday and in the last couple of years those fears have been made public. Reality isn’t just what the dominant culture says it is, because the dominant culture is protected. As a woman, I have different experiences and fears, but it isn’t that I will be shot because my skin is the wrong color. Or pulled over because I might look like I don’t belong.

As I went to bed last night, there was a news flash that there was a shooting at a peaceful protest in Dallas, Texas. I made a comment among some friends, but I didn’t stay up to find out what was going on. This morning the number of police officers that were killed staggered me. Five police officers were killed and seven were injured as well as two civilians. What little is known  at this time is that the shooter that is dead wanted to kill police officers, particularly white officers.

I am soul-sick. There have been so many posts, by so many people I know that give voice to this grief, and pain, and yes, anger. Fingers will be pointed, blame assigned and hours of talking heads will dissect what has happened and is happening. Those voices will feed our own sense of rightness and judgement as to why these things occur, but it won’t change anything.

No healing,
    only grief;
        my heart is broken.[e]
Listen to the weeping of my people
        all across the land:
    “Isn’t the Lord in Zion?
        Is her king no longer there?”

Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then have my people
    not been restored to health?

If only my head were a spring of water,
    and my eyes a fountain of tears,
I would weep day and night
    for the wounds of my people.

These verses, from Jeremiah 8: 18-19 21-22; 9:1 come at a time of great unrest and grief and violence. Jeremiah had a way of speaking truth that made him terribly unpopular. He was clear what God required which was justice, love and righteousness. These words are so often used because they articulate a deep longing for that time when we are not bombarded and consumed by a world so filled with hatred, war, anger, injustice and violence. Where is the balm that will comfort us and the physician who will heal us?

Right now in our country, the hatred and the violence is welling up and destroying any sense of what is good and right and just. Our fears are causing us to be hateful and mean-spirited and cruel. We judge persons by the color the skin, their sexual orientation, their religious and ethnic affiliations, their age, their culture, their social class. Then we post ugly memes on social media, send out false and horrible e-mails with little truth attached and surround ourselves with people who agree with us so we do not have to confront our own demons and dare I say it, sins.

I am grieving. I am praying for our eyes to be opened to our own sin and brokenness and how complacent we are to those injustices given to those who are different from us. I am praying that our ears will be opened to the cry of those powerless and afraid that we might respond with love and compassion. I am praying that our hearts will be opened to the Love and Light of God, that it might root out the darkness and ugliness and hatefulness that resides there. I am praying that God’s grace will haunt me until I am unwilling to be silent when I need to speak words of hope and justice and that I am willing to love all people as I have been loved.

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Horror and Violence part nth degree

How long? How long will our newsfeeds be filled with horror, terror and senseless violence? Whether it is focused on one individual, or dozens or hundreds…how long?

This theme has resonated with me the last few years. It never, ever seems to go away. Whether it was the shooting of Doctor George Tiller in 2009 when I blogged June 1 or Congresswomen Gabrielle Gifford, which I reblogged the post on January 9, 2011. Or when I posted about the senseless death of Tanya Tandoc just over a year ago, or when I posted about the violence in Paris, Beirut and other places for Advent 2015, it never seems to end.

I never posted, but preached a sermon on the tragedy at Sandy Hook, in December 2012. Words seem inadequate in the face of such evil and such horror and terror. Last night in Orlando, Florida, a gunman opened fire in the Pulse Club.  Fifty, FIFTY people died and fifty three were injured. The headlines noted it was a “gay” club and as I write this, the gunman had allegedly pledged allegiance to ISIS. President Obama has stated it was an act of terror and a hate crime.

I am tired of hearing that more guns will prevent this, or that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” People do kill people with guns and bombs and knives and other weapons. I gunman with 2 guns wreaked this havoc. I will probably never understand why registration, background checks and limiting semi automatic weapons is a problem. I am not in any way saying that guns should be illegal, I just do not understand why having limits on those kind of guns is a problem, or why have permits or requiring training is somehow an issue of individual rights.

There are regulations that limit all our freedoms, that is how we live in a free society. The constitution and bill of rights were never meant for chaos and anarchy. There are limits to freedom of speech (you can’t yell fire in a theatre, for example) or religion (last I checked human sacrifice is not protected). Sensible restrictions make “sense.” I know it won’t solve all problems or that people, particularly those bent on violence won’t get around them, but it might make it harder.

On top of my great grief and sadness is an attack on my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Right now, the belittling and angry rhetoric is heart breaking to me. My own denomination almost split and came to literal blows over full inclusion. My own denomination chose not to pass a resolution on bullying because it was too controversial. I mean who defines bullying anyway?

As a pastor, I understand deep theological and philosophical differences. I can actually acknowledge and appreciate views different from my own. My deep sadness has to do with the language used to condemn others, particularly those who are bullied often from the time they are young. Often, we as the church, heap more blame and judgement upon those most vulnerable.

So fifty are dead, fifty three wounded, most part of the LGBTQ community. How will we as the church respond? Will we withhold our compassion and our outrage because the issues around sexuality are so “controversial?” When Sandy Hook happened, our moral outrage was muted and we spoke with compassion, but did not one thing to change a country where children can murdered at school. In my heart, we lost our moral compass when the deaths of children were not enough for us to look collectively at our romance with gun violence.

So how many more mass shootings of vulnerable people will it take? How many more deaths? For my own confession, I have found myself not as moved as I used to be, because almost every week we have another shooting. They all get blurred into the general news. It takes fifty for me to pay attention again. I know this post is written to quickly to allow for logical thought and progression yet, Lord in your mercy, hear my prayer. Help me be a voice for change, for love, for understanding and for the path of peace.

 

 

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