My Left Knee – Episode Three

Back – way back, actually – in the late 1950’s, there was a television game show called “Who Do You Trust?” The contestants, a married couple, were given the category of the next question. The husband then decided whether he trusted himself or his spouse to answer the question correctly. (Given that the show aired almost 60 years ago, the condescending sexism of the premise didn’t appear to bother anyone associated with the program.)

angle_13469cIt feels like I have been playing my own version of “Who do you trust?” in the past week. Most of the time, I’ve felt like I’ve been making little or no progress in physical therapy. The exercises have been strenuous and painful; and my stamina doesn’t seem to have improved. Still, every time I’m at a PT session, the therapists have told me that I’m making excellent progress. They have said that I’m doing better than expected with both straightening and bending my knee (two of the key skills that PT works on). So… who do I trust? My perception, based on my degree of pain; or the therapists’ feedback, based on angles measured with some sort of protractor-type gizmo. Maybe because I liked their answer better, I decided to believe the therapists instead of my own experience. And probably not so surprisingly, once I decided to believe them, I could start to see evidence of progress.

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My first days at home were a full-time job just getting from morning to night. By the time I got dressed, fixed meals, did my PT exercises, and put  ice on my knee, the day was full. It was time to get some sleep and start all over again. By now, though, those things take less time, and I’m trying to decide what else I can do to fill my day. I mean, there are only so many hours of the Olympics I can watch during the day. I’m working on a knitting project or two, and looking at some of the “some day” projects that I can do around the house without a lot of standing or walking. It actually feels good, like the borders of my world are expanding a little bit. I know, or at least I keep reminding myself, that progress will come slowly and unevenly, and there will be many days when I will be impatient. But for now, I’m choosing to believe the experts and trust that I’m getting better.

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My Left Knee – Episode Two

One week ago today, I was sitting in my living room, going through the list of things I needed to bring with me to the hospital in the morning. My friend Meredith had come to spend the night and to be in charge of getting us to the hospital by 7AM. She asked me if I was nervous. I didn’t think so, but I also didn’t expect to sleep much.

When you’re on the edge of overload, it’s interesting to note what does capture your attention. For me on Monday morning, it was the fact that every single person who came into my pre-surgery room made a point to introduce themselves and tell me about their role on the surgery team, and to ask if I had questions. That was really reassuring. My friend and my bishop were there to pray me on my way; and the next thing I knew, I was waking up in room 4760.

The good news was that the surgery had gone well; the challenging news was that I was expected to be out of bed and sitting in a chair that same day. I laughed, which worked about as well as when Sarah tried laughing at God. The next day, I was introduced to my physical and occupational therapy teams, and I learned the names and functions of a variety of pain control meds. The next couple of days passed in a blur of therapy sessions and pills.  Every time I walked a few steps or did some exercise, the nurse or the therapist commented that I was doing really well. I admit that I didn’t feel it. The least movement sent stinging pain up and down my leg.

Finally it was time to go home. I admit that I was feeling uncertain about my ability to manage. While in the hospital, I was expected to call a nurse every time I wanted to move from chair to bed, or to go to the bathroom. And in the hour it took to drive home from the hospital, I would be able to navigate my two-story house on my own? I reminded myself that the hospital restrictions were as much about protecting them from lawsuits as about protecting me from injury; and off I went with my friends Karyn and Libby.

My “home base” is my favorite chair in the living room. (Some other day, I’ll write my testimonial about Ekornes Stressless chairs.) I’m surrounded by my walker, my electronic devices, my knitting, my water bottle, my grabber, my leg lifter, my gallery of pill bottles, an ice pack for my knee, and usually some snacks. For my first few days at home, I even slept in the chair.

For the first days at home, everything – I mean, everything – revolves around physical therapy. I schedule pain meds in advance of the session, so it will be easier to do the work in therapy. As soon as the session is done, I come home and spend time with ice on my knee. I practice the exercises I was given at therapy several times a day. It seems like every minute is spent either getting ready for therapy, in therapy, or recovering from therapy.

A few years ago, when I had hip replacement surgery, I could feel the progress of my healing day by day. That isn’t as true (for me, at least) with this knee replacement. It’s a much more winding path; two steps forward, one step back; and an occasional day when nothing works as planned.

Even with the pain, the special arrangements, the dependence on others for every little thing… underneath all of that is a strong sense of amazement and gratitude. Scripture says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and there is so much evidence of that all around us. Some have been given the minds of doctors, to see and understand how the body works, and how it fails. Some have been given the spirit of therapists, to know what exercises will help rebuild the body and to encourage when everything seems beyond reach. Some have been given the heart of a friend, to empathize, to encourage, to listen, to remind us that we’re not alone. For all of this, and for so much more, I say “thanks be to God.”

My Left Knee, Episode One

Knee pain

Actually, Episode 1 probably started a couple of years ago. One of the generous gifts from my family DNA is a tendency to arthritis in my joints.  I had a hip replacement three years ago, and a shoulder replacement a year after that. My left knee was starting to show signs of wanting to join the “bionic club” as well.

After two operations in two years, I really wanted a year without surgery. We kept the knee going with injections that provided relief for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. But over time, they were less and less effective; and it was finally time to replace the joint.

As soon as I mentioned that I would be having knee replacement surgery, I began to get advice. “Do the exercises. Don’t be afraid of the pain meds. The first couple of weeks will be brutal, but it will get better after that.” And over and over again, “Do the exercises.” The problem, they explained to me, is that it’s easy for knees to lose their flexibility as they heal. The exercises are designed to preserve the knee’s ability to bend easily as well as to straighten fully. So, “Do the exercises.”

Please excuse me. I’m off to do some exercises. To be continued in Episode Two.

 

A Lament

For the past weeks, I have been lamenting how thin is the veneer of civilized behavior in our society and in us as individuals. I feel as if I’m trapped in a Grade B horror movie at the scene where the attractive exterior of the villain melts, literally melts, away and the monster is revealed.
Who is the monster? We are Legion. It goes by names like racism, sexism, isolationism, and many more “isms” that speak of hate and play out in violence. Underneath it all, I believe, is fear. We are so deeply, sinfully, committed to KNOWING, we are so addicted to the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that we fear anything we do not know, do not understand, cannot tame with our minds. And so we try to tame it instead with words and weapons.
Today I am feeling inadequate to the work that is set before me in response to this evil. In the name of reading my context, waiting for the right moment, introducing change gradually, I am not as bold as I should be. I confess my failure to speak and act boldly when nothing short of bold speech and action is called for. I admire those who speak with louder passion and clearer words. I can Like or type a supportive comment, and sometimes I do. But all too often the audience for my outrage is composed of the dog and two cats who share my home.
Today I am reduced to nothing but prayer that Jesus will pass by and take pity on us for the demons that possess us. I’m praying that there will be nearby a spare herd of pigs and a river. Come, Lord Jesus.

 

Friday Five – Let There Be Light

Today’s Friday Five by Julie at RevGalBlogPals.org encourages us to find the things that bring light into our lives, even when it seems like there is darkness and danger all around us.

Mission Trip 1

One of the first big projects in my time at this congregation was to accompany a group of high-school youth on a mission trip to Montana. There were many moments of learning and service on that trip, and also moments of good fun and play. On the way from Wisconsin to Montana, we spent a night at a B&B ranch. This photo, taken just before sunset, was one of the moments that made me smile. The light bouncing off the clouds, and the joyful energy of the group – I smile whenever this photo pops up on my computer.

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Morning at Sugar Creek Bible Camp. Every summer, I spend a week at this camp with confirmation students. We spend a couple of hours each day together as a group, learning about the unique and special way that God has created each of us. The rest of the day, the students ride horses, paddle canoes, take part in Bible study, worship, and singing… lots of singing. This picture is from the balcony of one of the cabins where pastors stay. I love to sit there early in the morning and watch the morning light.

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I love the colors of the sky at sunset. I can imagine God sitting with a giant set of watercolor paints and splashing the sky with every color imaginable, and colors that go well beyond our imaginations. The subtle shifting of light and color as day fades to night is endlessly fascinating to me. I can feel my entire body slow down and find its own calm.

Light of a different sort. Daily, I am humbled by the unconditional love of these three. Russell, Liza, and Sadie are so generous with their affection – purring, snuggling, entertaining me with their antics. They are so much more generous with me than I deserve. Even on the days I work so many hours that I barely see them, their welcome is warm and wonderful.

One of the ideas that constantly draws me in is the expansiveness of God’s love. In every way, God’s love goes well beyond anything that I can even imagine. I find reminders of that idea all over scripture. It starts with light, and it spreads into all aspects of life.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not understand it.
(John 1:5)

Where can I go from your spirit? If I ascend into heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and travel to the farthest limits of the sea, even there, your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”  even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
(Psalm 139:8-12)

The peace of God, that confounds all human understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:7)

There is indeed light that is bigger, more pervasive, and more mysterious, than we can ever imagine. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Sermon – July 10, 2016

Gospel: Luke 10:25-37

25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”   29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”neighbor_10407c.jpg 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

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Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

We are never told the name of the traveler who was attacked and beaten and left for dead in today’s Gospel. If this story were set in today’s news headlines, he could have been named Alton Sterling, or Philando Castile, or Brent Thompson, or Michael Krol, or Patrick Zamarripa, or Lorne Ahrens, or Michael Smith.

As this terror-filled, violent week continued, as we watched the shooting of each of these children of God, as we saw the violence streamed on television and social media over and over, we collectively held our breath, wondering if there would be still more. As author Brené Brown described her own reactions:

“I woke up this morning looking for someone to blame. Someone to hate. Someone who I could make the single target of my fear about the officers killed in Dallas and the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.”

We want there to be a villain; we want to be able to blame someone. We want to hear people talk about privilege and racism, and believe that they’re not talking about us. We want to hear God say that our murmured prayers as we pass by on the other side of the road are enough. We want to remind the world that “I don’t even know any black people; I can’t possibly be racist.”

canstockphoto28104926But this time, the parable bites a little. This time, we hear news anchors explain over and over again what it means to be part of a group that doesn’t have to worry about things that Black people worry about. This time, we see the video clips of parents teaching even the youngest of their children a list of rules to follow when they get stopped by the police for a broken taillight. This time, the awareness creeps into our brains that we don’t have to memorize rules, that even if we didn’t do all those things, we would not be killed.

This time, the descriptions of the two who passed by on the other side of the road seems to fit us uncomfortably well.

Just as the lawyer who asked Jesus how much he had to do, or perhaps how little he could get away with doing, just like that lawyer, we want our actions to be enough. We hear the phrase Black Lives Matter, and we respond All Lives Matter, as if both could not be true at the same time. But then we remember the cartoon that was going around social media this week, showing two houses sitting next to each other, one of them on fire.

We remember seeing one cartoon figure saying All Lives Matter, just like All Houses Matter, as he uses a hose to aim water at the house that is not burning. His neighbor replies: I agree, all houses do matter; but at the moment the one that’s on fire should get more attention. And we remember the rest of the conversation: “But by saying that a burning house needs attention, aren’t you saying that all other houses don’t matter?”  “No.” “My house isn’t on fire, but there is some dry rot. Shouldn’t that be fixed?”  “It should, but the fire is very urgent.” “Let’s say that I put out the fire in my neighbor’s house, and then my house catches fire. Aren’t I entitled to water then?” “Yes, of course. But that’s not the one on fire right now.”

And we begin to realize that perhaps we have spent all of our energy protecting ourselves, even when we’re not in danger, and we have not acted to help our neighbor whose danger is very real. And we wonder… could that be why Jesus told this parable in the first place?

As we hear this parable set against the backdrop of violence and killing, we hear parts of it with new ears. Jesus didn’t say Go and say a little prayer as you pass by on the other side of the road. Instead he said Go and do likewise. Go and get your hands dirty. Go and put yourself in the middle of the muck in the spots were people are hurting. Go and speak up when you hear a joke that makes fun of someone because of their race. Go and help your neighbor, even if you think they don’t deserve it.

There is good news and hard news and more good news for us this week. The good news is: the violence and bloodshed this week is not the way that God wants things to be. God’s desire for us and for all of God’s children is that those who suffer are lifted up and those who are hurting are cared for. The hard news for us is that God has appointed us to step into the middle of the pain and injustice and be God’s presence. And not just a passive presence, but God sends us to act, to leave our comfort zones behind, and to walk right into the middle of the hurt.

But there is still more good news for us. Even as we bid farewell to our comfort zones, we are not alone. Instead, we walk in Jesus’s promise that “I will be with you, to the end of the age.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Unholy Week

Earlier today, some friends of mine, a bus full of people who used to be my neighbors, traveled to their state capitol to present a proposal. The state was considering a bill to expand the capacity of the prison system in the state, and my friends represented a community in which a prison site had closed several years ago, eliminating jobs and weakening the economy of the community.

Their proposal was to use the existing building and reopen it, bringing back a number of jobs (apparently at union salaries, though I’m not familiar with all of the details of the bill). My friends were prevented from presenting their information at the hearing, because a protest disrupted the session. The protesters were standing against any expansion of the prison system, because (as they believe and statistics bear out) sentencing falls disproportionately on people of color. Instead, they were (as best I could tell) advocating for investment in education, early childhood development, and other programs that could, over time, reduce the need for prison cells.

I understand at least parts of the positions of both groups. It is sad evidence of broken systems in our society that we need as many prisons as we do. And I have some serious questions about privately owned facilities. It is also true that prison sentences fall more heavily on those who have been given the least opportunity to begin with. On the other hand, I also understand my friends’ desire to have a new employment opportunity in their community. I love the people and communities of rural America; it’s why I have intentionally served in rural ministry since I graduated from seminary. And I definitely wish that my friends had been able to present their proposal without interruption.

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Protestors disrupt hearing

 

But the thing that horrified me the most was the rhetoric of the people commenting on the Facebook thread where there was a film clip of the last few minutes of the protest (see the news clip above). As I read several of the comment threads, I was sickened by the vast number of comments that were rude and insulting to anyone who held a different opinion. And the reliance on stereotypes and generalizations instead of nuanced thinking nearly made me cry.  At one point, I decided to count the number of times someone (regardless of their position on the issues) used the word “they” to characterize a whole group of people in a negative way. The word “they” was applied to protesters, to residents of the community with the prison facility, to all people of color, to all Democrats, to all Republicans, to all prisoners, and there were probably a few more over-generalizations that I missed.  I gave up counting after I reached 100 occasions of over-generalization. I don’t imagine that any of those groups is comprised of people who all have identical histories, identical beliefs, identical priorities. And it makes me sad that anyone would seem to think that “they” can all be painted with the same brush.

I know and respect people with whom I am likely to  disagree deeply on any number of issues. And it hurts me when some of those very people say that I cannot possibly care about the lives of rural Americans because I do not support Donald Trump or Scott Walker. In the middle of Holy Week, this degree of pride in intolerance is especially tragic. Perhaps my friends think their venom was worthwhile, because the vote eventually went their way, at least for this round.  If there is any truth to that, it would make me even sadder.

I wonder what it would take for people who disagree to stop calling each other vile names, or – could it ever be -maybe listen to the needs and hurts that motivate the other person’s thinking.

There’s a Christian song in which these words are attributed to God: “I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts for me alone.” Maybe God needs to do it again. Maybe God already has done it, by continuing to love us even after we have done our absolute worst, to God and to one another.

In this Holy Week, Lord, wake us up to our own self-centeredness and give us eyes to see our neighbors as children of God, just as we are. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

[A NOTE ABOUT COMMENTS: Comments are always welcome. You may agree or disagree; but I ask you to do it with civility and respect. I would love it if you tried to point out something of value in the other person’s argument, even though you might not agree with their conclusion. Any comments that are rude, profane, or demeaning may be deleted.]