Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

Reading is here.

During the Easter season we have readings from the Book of Acts. It is like one big adventure story. Fantastic escapes, growing churches, near drownings. This week is the story of Philip who has been successfully growing a church even though Paul is breathing down everyone's necks with threats of murder and imprisonment. But in this part of Acts, God has a different plan for Philip. Go to the wilderness road and find a man returning from Jerusalem who is trying to figure out the faith in the face of rejection by the religious leaders of his tradition. Next minute Philip is transported to the road to Gaza where he finds a powerful court official of Ethiopia who is reading Isaiah as he travels along in the chariot. Most likely accompanied by a large entourage to make him comfortable and protect him from bandits. Since he reads out loud (as all people did in those days) Philip can hear what he is studying. Though a powerful man in his own culture he does not stand on ceremony when this strange traveler shows up and says "may I help." The tradition says his name is Simeon Bachos. 

I have been looking at different artistic interpretations of the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch and wondering in good Godly Play fashion about what people hear and see in this story:


This one interests me because of the intimacy between Philip and Simeon. I know sometimes when discussing matters of deep spirituality - the conversation can evoke a closeness that one rarely encounters in most daily encounters. Their heads are so close that one is reminded of a newly married couple. The others in the painting are engrossed in their own tasks while the two share matters of the heart. (Icon mural in a monastery in Kosovo)


This modern icon is painted in the style of a traditional Coptic icon. I like that it tells the whole story from the Temple to the Baptism. I notice that Philip is walking on the water and wonder what that means. Since the Ethiopian Eunuch is an important saint in the church in Africa - this shows that powerfully to me. The hand of God with the 2 fingered blessing - shows that Christ is present and active in the story.


This is a close up from a modern icon by Ann Chapin. The rest of the scene is a wilderness of mountains and also has the hand of God coming from the sky above. To me this shows the rich garments of the Eunuch's station in life and Philip humbly offering his service. The Eunuch does not act out of power though he probably gets his earthly needs met easily with the snap of fingers. He is willing to stop an listen to this stranger. His poverty of knowledge overcomes whatever status might get in the way.


This is probably my favorite -- the driver is encouraging the horse to run along, Simeon the Eunuch is reading closely (with typical Coptic umbrella held over the scriptures), Philip is running to catch up - trying to fulfill his assignment from God. It is from an illustrated Book of Acts. This speaks to me of how often I think I have heard God say - go tell someone what you know. When really I should be listening and trying to catch up to where they are. The gaps of culture and language mean there will be a lot I don't know. And I will need the other's help to even share what we have together.

All of these ask the question - how to tell the Good News so that it is heard. The painting show me the relationships of class, culture, language, and all manner of difference. But never the less the call from God is to be faithful, whether in the big city or the wilderness road. One never knows where a time of revealing will occur - it may be me that needs the Good News from the other.

Thanks to all the participants in the EfM groups I co-mentor. Lots of great discussion in our Theological Reflection.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Lung update

The doctor has me on a different drug: OFEV (nintedanib). After 3 weeks - no big side effects. My blood is tested every two weeks. First test was normal. Another test this Friday. The hope is that it stops the progression of the fibrosis. It does not usually reverse it. It was approved a few months ago. In the mean time, I cough but don't feel ill and am able to do whatever I want to do. We walk at least 2 miles per day - mostly on the beach or downtown to get the mail. I call it the "nintendo" drug as pronouncing nintedanib is beyond me.

Friday, December 12, 2014

#breathe

The Anglican Communion Office has been asking people to post photos each of how they react to a word that they post for the day. On December 11 the word was #breathe. Immediately I connected with my favorite piece of calligraphy by Mary Anne Radmacher, then I connected with my current dealings with IPF (see previous posts) and the possibility that I might not be able to breathe easily in the future if the medications don't halt the progression. But even more current is the #icantbreathe protests
around the grand jury decision not to send the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death (all video-recorded) after hasseling him for allegedly selling cigarettes illegally. And now to the Torture Report - and the use of near-drowning as one of many terrible acts committed by the US.

Breathing is not something I ever thought about until I learned I might not be able to do it. The calligraphy mostly meant room for my spirit to find freedom of walking the beach in sun and storm. But now it is more than that - it is an embodied reality.

Which leads me to think about how God's spirit (ruach-breath) moved over the still creation (see the Bible - Genesis Chapter 1-2) and began the stirring that led to all that has been, is and will be. That Spirit became embodied in Christ and died a terrible death. What resurrection can come from all the ways I encounter the word "breathe"this day?

What new life can come from the death of Eric Garner? Can the US repent of its sins of its history - from the genocide of native peoples to slavery to racism and other forms of keeping power? I wonder.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

On Ferguson

From Benjamin Watson, football player with the New Orleans Saints:

At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:
I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.
I’M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.
I’M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I’m a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a “threat” to those who don’t know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.
I’M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.
I’M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.
I’M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.
I’M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I’ve seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.
I’M CONFUSED, because I don’t know why it’s so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don’t know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.
I’M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take “our” side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it’s us against them. Sometimes I’m just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that’s not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That’s not right.
I’M HOPELESS, because I’ve lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I’m not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.
I’M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it’s a beautiful thing.
I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.
-Benjamin Watson
Resources for churches to talk about racism and Ferguson are here.

Some questions:

Conversation Starters for elementary school children:
  1. In Ferguson Missouri, some churches are staying open all night for people who are scared. I wonder how God can help us when we are scared. What do you do when you are scared? Who are the people you can turn to when you are scared?
     
  2. A lot of people are sad because a young man died. They are sad because they say this shows that our communities aren’t acting fairly and equally to all people. Jesus talked about a different kind of community, shaped by love. I wonder what a community looks like where people are treated equally? I wonder what a community based on equality and full of Jesus’ love would look like? (Consider letting children draw a picture, build with blocks, create a drama/play, write a poem, or create a news story about a community that was operated out of love and equality).
     
  3. We are starting a time of hope as we look toward Christmas. We all hope for Christmas presents, but what else do we hope for? A lot of people hope that one day, people of every skin color are treated with the same love. Do you hope for this? How can we pray for this? (You can invite the children to make cards and posters of love for those in the community of Ferguson, send them to a local church to the messages get passed along.)
Conversation Starters for Youth:
  1. Many of the leaders in Ferguson are young people. High School students have been standing out in the streets and going to trainings to learn how to keep their fellow protestors peaceful. How do you see youth leading in your community? How do youth keep important discussions alive and point a way forward?
     
  2. The Presiding Bishop, in her message about Ferguson after the Grand Jury Decision, said that “the racism in this nation is part of our foundation.” How do you see racism present in your community? Do people treat one another as created in the image of God? What do you do to counter racism and other ways people are excluded?
     
  3. "Stay awake." The first Sunday of Advent centers around the message of being watchful. #StayWoke is currently trending on social media in response to Ferguson. Voices are calling us to #staywoke to the realities of racism, to the suffering in our communities. How could your church help your community to #staywoke? How do we avoid putting this important conversation to bed?
Conversation Starters for Adults:
  1. Isaiah says “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” in the first reading of Advent. How can we expect Christ to come in the midst of conflict? Where do you see signs that the Spirit is moving in the midst of what is happening in Ferguson?
     
  2. We often use the word “sanctuary” to describe a place in a church building. Some churches in St. Louis are serving as literal sanctuaries, where all who need a break from the violence of the streets are given water, medical attention, and a place to rest.  How does your church serve as a sanctuary? How do you give rest and protection to those who need it?
     
  3. The Very Rev. Mike Kinman, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis has compared the young women and men protesting in the streets of Ferguson to John the Baptist. What is the prophetic possibility in the midst of this conflict? To what new vision of community are we being called? 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Presiding Bishop John Hines

My icon of what church should be:

Former Presiding Bishop John Hines speaks about the Episcopal Church's response to injustice and inequality. The interview is conducted by Mr. Hugh Downs for the Episcopal Television Network. This is an excerpt from a documentary with a working title of "Justice is the Corporate Face of Love" produced by The Rev. Charles A Sumners, Jr.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

UPDATE: lung stuff

I saw the doctor Thursday and he has a new med for me to try OFEV (nintedanib). Does a similar thing - stops or slows familial IPF. (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis) but works differently so hopefully my liver will like it. They check my blood every 2 weeks to be sure that all systems are go. More about the drug here. I call it the nintendo drug because of its name!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Domination system or reign of God: what is "it" in this parable?

Wondering about the Landowner and his slaves and who joined the exploitation and who did not?


There is something very troubling to me about today's Gospel, Matthew 25:14-30. This well known parable is often preached in conjunction with stewardship campaigns and seems to confirm all our U.S. cultural myths about how to get ahead and that you can make if it you just invest wisely. How can these be the words of Jesus, who says sell everything and follow me. Does he suddenly, so near the cross, change his mind about how to live a life of faith? Is this the same person who says if you have 2 cloaks give one away? Instead of giving one away he seems to be saying - if you have 2 sell one at a profit and buy more so you can sell more at a profit? Makes me wonder (as they say in Godly Play).

I am just home from convention for the Diocese of Wyoming where we had a long respectful but painful debate about social responsibility in investing, especially as it regards companies that profit from the Israeli/Palestine conflict. Both pro and con had equally passionately held beliefs about the church's relationship with money and investing in "good" companies and "evil" companies.

I wonder if we are all buying into at the domination system of oppression and oppressors regardless of our strongly held beliefs about how to invest wisely. Are the landowner and his slaves all caught in this same system. Are any of the characters acting out of holiness? Is the landowner God? Or are the slaves who invest wisely being holy? In Jesus' world all profit was made by those who had more taking and getting more and those who had less were left to scramble for a daily piece of bread for their families. How can this parable be Good News of the One who preached about everyone getting paid the same wage no matter when they started to work? Who says - it is not just the strong and privileged who will get the most because they are called to work first but also the weakest and least likely who will receive as well.

Thursday of our convention we heard a presentation about the work done by the churches in Salem OR to help keep people in poverty and without shelter to keep it together day to day. They work to support people to find shelter, work, clothing, food, personal hygiene products, safe places. Hundreds of people are served - many who are working but whose wages do not pay the rent, health care, or for enough food. It is an amazing ministry, but I went away thinking why in this country are all these people suffering like this? Why can we raise millions of dollars in a lottery and not be able to pay people to live decently?

Which brings me back to Jesus and this parable. Interest is earned by profits taken on other people's work. But the parable seems to be more a judgment on the whole system that leaves one person out in the darkness with gnashing of teeth. Has the parable become adrift from something more Jesus is saying? He is at the end of his days, he has given away everything and soon his life. Surely he is not giving investment advice?

Leaves me wondering. What do you think?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hooray for the Scottish Episcopal Church

The Revd Kelvin Holdsworth writes on the connection between our two Episcopal Churches - Scotland and the U.S. at his blog.


Thank you Thank you. That point in the Eucharist is the most important for me as a priest - I feel like I am standing in the center of time -- all of time before us and all of time after us flowing through those of us gathered at that moment.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Update 2.1

After being off the drug for a week I feel so much better. My energy and appetite are back. I know the long term consequences of not having any medication for IPF but looking at the positives. Feeling great, no more encounters with my "study director" and her patronizing ways are all good. Also she was the world's worst phlebotomist -- broke through the vein every time! See the doc next week. Now back to the fun of life.

Thanks to Barbi Tinder for the photo.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Not such good news: lung update #2

Well-- discovered that I am part of the few who can't take pirfenidone. 3 in a thousand have a liver reaction-- so that is what my blood tests showed today. A disappointing development as currently it is the only drug that stops the progression of the fibrosis.  Taking it in for now - see my pulmonologist in a couple of weeks to hear from him. My brother and mother had it and lived a long time and died of something else - so will think on that prognosis rather than worse things. Definitely puts life in the "live for the present moment" category.  Prayers appreciated. But refer to the post on why I might not be talking a lot about it. (2 back).  Thanks for the support - I can feel that.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Lung update

Update on the lungs: I saw the lung doc yesterday and he is putting me on pirfenidone -- a new med that stops the progression of the fibrosis. It is still in trials here in the US but used in Japan and Europe with good results.  Thanks for all the prayers and good thoughts. I feel as ever -- well.




Pirfenidone2DACS.svg

"Pirfenidone2DACS" by Fuse809 (talk) - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why I have not told you about my health

After a year of thinking that my cough was allergies and not getting much change using anti-allergy meds I decided to have it checked out. My primary care doctor agreed and sent me to get an x-ray. When it was compared to a previous one – it was off to the pulmonologist. In the 1990s I had a condition called B.O.O.P. / along with polymyocitis. So there was some thought that I was having a recurrence of that. But also pulmonary fibrosis runs in my family so that was another thought along with much more dire and imminently more terminal things.

The point of this essay, however, is not my medical history but my reaction to once again having something serious going on and my unwillingness to tell people. At first I did not even tell my husband that I was going to have it checked out. He is a retired doctor so had already been thinking about telling me to get it checked out so was relieved to hear that I was getting a chest x-ray when I told him I was getting it checked.

Once I got the results that said I needed more tests, I still did not want the news to go beyond him but decided that I should tell our adult children so they did not get a big surprise. They hate it when we don’t tell them what is going on with us.  Then I told my priest who is also my colleague – since we work together and she is a great support. I decided that it would be good to talk it over with my spiritual director who helps me sort out what I am feeling and how I am reacting. But beyond that – I still did not want to tell anyone.

As I wondered about my reticence, I reflected on the last time I was really sick and the reactions I encountered. So beyond wanting to stay in denial by not talking and not wanting to cause others to worry there were three reactions that I wanted to avoid.

Pity: that “look” people give you that says “oh you poor pathetic sick person” as if one’s whole identity is being sick and you have lost your essential person-ness. Maybe this is asking too much of others. It could be that others just are expressing the feelings they are having and not really putting me in the “sick person” box. It may be that in our family we tend to do grim humor instead. We use humor to get through scary stuff. We know the seriousness so really don’t need that reinforced or reflected back. As an example, I was telling a friend about trying to fix the church’s sprinkler system and being up to my elbows in water when I saw what could have been a live wire in the water. My friend replied “well that would have solved all your problems.” I laughed and laughed and continue to laugh when I remember her comment.


Avoidance: people begin to draw away. This does not always happen physically, since you do have encounters with one another, but happens a lot emotionally. For me, as an extrovert, it is sort of like being dead before one is really dead. I think it comes from the other's not wanting to think about one's own mortality. When I am around people who are really sick and it could be terminal – I do feel like fleeing. I understand the reaction but it is hard to experience from the person who is sick point of view. When I had my previous serious illness – it revealed who would hang in there with me and who would not. The church, sad to say, failed miserably in this one. Though I was a seminarian in process to get ordained and had been super active in the diocese for years, I received no calls from my bishop or clergy. Only one church friend checked in with me regularly and friends who are not Christian kept up our relationship.

Questions: wanting the gory details and endless questions about what I did to “get sick.” This is probably the hardest thing to deal with because not only do I not want to talk about it all the time but also I do not need to add guilt to the mix. Questions like: “Do you think there was too much stress in your life?” Did you have a healthy diet?” etc. There are causes for some things and illness may be the consequence of something one does (like smoking - which I never took up - dodging that bullet), but mostly things happen because we live in mortal bodies that are subject to all sorts of conditions and will eventually die from something. Hearing questions like these may give me one more layer of anxiety that I really don’t need. I think it also comes from the hope that if one has not engaged in those behaviors or habits – one will not get whatever terrible thing the other has. It is sort of like holding up a cross to keep vampires away.  The questioners are trying to discover if they are vulnerable to the same thing.

All three of these reactions often come from caring but the way they are experienced by the person with an illness is not always helpful. In the end the person feels like an object in someone else’s life drama. I would suggest that you ask what is helpful and try to understand if I react badly to any of the above actions.  I realize this is a bind for my friends – you want to reach out and I don’t want you to withdraw in fear of doing the wrong thing. The best for me is for you to stay a pal and not worry too much about doing it right.

Upon letting this “marinate” for a few days:
As I reflect on the above I think there is an undercurrent of fear and anger in myself that evokes my reaction to your reaction, anger at having to deal with possible outcomes and fear of loss of abilities. I try not to project into the future what will happen and I try to live day by day – making necessary plans but living now. I don’t say “why me” – I know we all deal with our own stuff. I also try not to compare my stuff to yours – which is worse or better. And I like to stay in denial occasionally!

My husband and kids are a great source of support. They know me well enough to let me come to my own decisions. I also appreciate my brother, my priest, my spiritual director and good friends who listen and wait for me to hear myself. My priest and my spiritual director are very good at asking an occasional question that makes me go deeper but not all the time. And often my friends' and family’s grim humor is a catalyst for facing the days and nights of whatever happens. These are clarifying days – that help me live in the moment which all any of us have but sometimes need reminding.