Healing points

Acts 3:6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

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The story of the crippled beggar in Acts 3 is as historical as any we have from the era. There are those who deny the miraculous – usually until they need a miracle. And there are those assign such accounts to some hopefuls stuck in the first stage of grief – denial.  In other words, to them, the need for belief in miracle is a sign that one hasn’t accepted the reality of one’s suffering.

But that’s hardly the context of the story. There was no doubt that the man involved was crippled. He wasn’t expecting a miracle or asking for one, but only for money.  In a day when there was no social welfare, his disability relegated him to being a professional beggar for his subsistence. It was a low calling, and beggars were among the lowest caste in society. The same is largely true today.

So, when Peter and John told the man to walk and as he stood to his feet he was healed, it was more than a physical transformation to healthy legs. (As H. David Edwards once mused “he was asking for alms but received legs”). It was a raising of social standing, a redemption of soul and restoration of dignity to a human being long denigrated to shame.

When we encounter the crippled – and I widen the scope to include emotionally and mentally crippled – knowledge of the nature of transformation to health is vital if we are to use what we have been given to help. I hold as a given that miraculous healing powers are given in a similarly wide array of talents and gifts. That is to say, you who read this likely have gifts that perhaps you have never used. But that’s getting off subject.

I am by no means an expert healer. I don’t even know what that means. But I have learned that to really help people in all the ways this man was helped, there are some guidelines. Forewarning – some of this may sound unloving and uncaring. That’s because the ultimate health of someone is a strategic goal and tactics may in fact be confrontational and challenging:

  • Don’t decide to cripple yourself. Identifying with someone who is suffering establishes a connection to a degree. But adopting the attitudes and pathos of unhealth drags you down and leaves the person you want to help in the same straits where you found him/her. This is not a statement of considering yourself superior. Indeed, you will likely need help yourself if you haven’t already. But you must be true the goal of healing, not merely empathy.
  • Listen before you speak. It is an impersonal insult to classify someone by his/her maladies, even if they are easily categorized and treatment standardized to an extent. You are working with a human being who needs to be heard and understood. It’s required to establish trust.
  • RSVP “no thank you” to pity parties. A crippled person can become so attached to his/her role as victim that it is demanded that you buy into the lies they have told themselves about how they got to their current state. This tempers the “listen before you speak” directive just above. When someone tells their story, it is vital at some point to confront and correct their negativity. This may even cause them to shut down but that is better than letting the recitation of the reasons they got into and must remain in the broken state to define their very identity. Truly, self-pity is uniformly a trap to keep people down.
  • Silver and gold won’t often do anything but enable. To only throw material wealth into a life that is so broken only enables brokenness. Am I saying to not provide for someone’s needs? No. Only that someone who has never learned to balance a checkbook or understand priorities of where money should go is not going to learn by simply having money.
  • The healed should become healers. If there is restoration in a life, it is best to use that to invest in the lives of others. There is no better testimony to the cripple than “I have been there, done that, and here’s how I found my health”.

So yeah, all that. Peter and John saw instantaneous result from their action. That’s great when it happens. But you shouldn’t give up even though it takes time, prayer and sacrifice. You will see healing if you persist, even in your own life

The deafening expectations on a drone

I recently heard a friend express a mindset I know too well – that he was drowning in the expectations of others. I have been there. There was a time when I felt that I was even accountable to my dog. I don’t know or care if there is a clinical name for that state of mind. I only care that it’s wrong and that it’s healthy to get past that feeling.

It’s not that others can’t impose – they can and do. It’s not that we don’t truly have obligations to meet – we do. The problem is that we can sink into an existence that doing what is expected of us is all we are. We become beings whose only value is doing our jobs. Worse, those jobs only increase in number, have virtually no rewards and they never end.

This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The people and institutions in our lives enforce a thankless, workaholic drone existence. No, not the pilotless drone aircraft, the drone bee, who does nothing but work for the queen in service to the hive:

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I have found some ways out of this trap, but for sure it can still be a struggle, and one that depresses and steals joy. Here are some ideas:

  1. Celebrate. If you are like me, you work for and/or with people who rarely if ever give you a sense of completion, even when you are victorious. At least that’s how you see things and how you hear what they say. Every finished task is rewarded by a list of future expectations. In that situation, it’s not just advisable but required that you intentionally mark your accomplishments with times of relaxation, reflection and parties. I mean spend resources – time and money – to formally do it. You have done and/or built something beautiful.  It’s part of life’s rhythm to sit back and rejoice in that, enjoy it.  And if you don’t do that, your longing for closure and the accompanying “feel good” will plague you. I know this from experience.This includes celebrating the finished work of others. Because the joy is contagious whenever you do.
  2. Identify voices. If there are certain people who make it a habit of telling you only what you haven’t done, make sure you notice and give them a label – toxic. It’s not that you always get to separate yourself from these people, but you can certainly marginalize their impact on your life. It may be that you must pay attention to these people (e.g. this might be your boss). But the message of incessant shortcoming is not good to listen to; so learn to tune that part out.
  3. Turn down the volume of competing priorities. I have had times when urgency was all I heard. And I was not imagining it – it was all there was. So I developed a saying – “If everything is urgent, nothing is urgent” – that has served me well. Find the few people who can help you and get your priorities straight. If they can’t help you 1) make your own priorities by level of impact (list things by what you think can you do that would help the most) and 2) know they are not worthy to be advisers or authorities in your life.
  4. Ask for help. I was never accountable to my dog. It was just a job I had assumed that turned into drudgery at times. We didn’t even need a dog in the first place, though Alex gave me great joy also. But as for stuff like that, rotate the job with others or take the steps to just eliminate it from your life.
  5. Decide what really matters. Years ago, a wise friend in the Christian faith shared a verse from the Old Testament with me – Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Now I have determined I’m a mortal, so this pertains to me. The first two parts – act justly and love mercy – define attitudes and actions towards myself and others. Am I just with myself – really weighing what I’ve done and am doing against how things were before I did those things ? And do I love mercy – towards myself? Do I forgive myself, cut myself some slack and allow for myself to learn life’s lessons? The last part is about being humble; putting others first and letting myself be a small part of something much, much bigger.

    And these things apply to how I work with others. Acting justly and loving mercy gives them the same benefits I need.

    So if this is all that’s required of me – and I would posit it does – the urgency projected onto the drone are simply the wrong measuring stick for a life well lived.

It’s Christmas in 2 days. Let’s relax and celebrate. Because we need it.

Can we learn from Bruchko? Please?

We have just celebrated the American holiday of Thanksgiving.  Along with the general attitude of gratitude suggested by the holiday is a the history of least a single point-in-time harmony of Europeans and Native Americans.  The image of the two groups in fellowship, enjoying a share meal is seared into the minds of young American children from early age.  And it’s not that inaccurate:

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But it’s also not complete as a story.  Because the whole story mostly features the two group not getting along well at all.

Native Americans were misnamed “Indians” by the wave of southern European explorers who found themselves landing in the shores of the Americas. “America “ itself was a name bestowed upon the new world, after the explorer Amerigo Vespucci.

By most DNA and historical analysis, the tribal groups inhabiting the Americas at the time of the “discovery” by Europeans had migrated from eastern Asia thousands of years earlier. Their distinction as the earliest inhabitants establishes a context for what would follow, but their real origin makes the moniker “Native American” a bit less sticky.

Whoever or whatever existed in the American continents prior to their arrival would be more “native” than they. This does nothing to soften the horrible tale of brutality later practiced against them. I mention their origin only to note that their discovery and settlement of the same land traveling from the east had at least the same aspect of people movement as that of the discovery and settlement from the west by Europeans. And we’ll never know what else it had in common.

I have thought and hard about how the ensuing conflict between the two cultures could have been avoided or lessened. Aside from the Europeans sailing back and leaving the Americas and their residents alone – maybe establishing trade partnerships, say – there was going to be conflict. Consider:

  • The Europeans who came to the New World were discoverers and settlers. Negatively they could be called conquerors, though the European version of conqueror was quite different than these settlers. They were not diplomats or people sensitive to other cultures. There were traders for sure, and perhaps these were the most likely strike a harmonious balance with the indigenous people.
  • Cultures were going to clash. There were many difference, but the principle one causing conflict concerned land. Owning and permanently settling on land was a foreign concept to Native Americans. And restrictions of where could live, hunt, fish and farm were also foreign.
  • There was a profound technological advantage. There has been much said and written about the forgotten (or repressed) advances of the Native American people. In spite of this, the Europeans held a 800-1500 year advantage in development upon their arrival. I do not say that to say that made them better as a people group, though that’s exactly what they concluded. The racist attitudes created an atmosphere that squelched any move for reconciliation.

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Now, Native Americans were not the only people treated poorly by the westward moving whites. Mexicans, Asians and Africans also received prejudice and brutal abuse.

So, beginning with King Phillip’s War, there would be conflicts between the peoples. The Europeans prevailed, supplanting their culture over the land. It is in the wake of that prevalence after conflict that we live today. It can also be said that the conflict is not over – there have been skirmishes that persist even today.

Native American population is thought to have decreased from 12 million to about 250 thousand by the end of the 19th century. Most of the decrease is attributed to disease, but loss of life due to conflict and relocation was awful.

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Saying that conflict was inevitable is not to say that cruelty or maltreatment was. The war had atrocities like many others, and after a point, neither side cared much about the culture or even survival of the other.

There have long been voices calling for restitution and restoration but I would hold that neither can occur without allowing Native American culture to dominate, at least provincially.  And yes, that means the war for cultural dominance is still with us.

I will assign value to advancement in technology for the benefit of people without it, divorced from its often-linked cultural domination. Some might call this culturally insensitive; I really just want the best for all people. I believe that the advancement of the human race through innovation and invention is a blessing for all humankind. And yes, not all technology is good or used well, of course. Like all people who are exposed to new things, we do well to be suspicious of the motives and practices of those introducing us to new things.

So how can Culture A be brought up to speed with the blessings of Culture B? And how can the differing elements of culture be reconciled?

I thought about this and one story came to mind.

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It was Bruchko – the story of Bruce Olson who sought out a reclusive tribe of Native South Americans in Venezuela – the Motilones – and not only brought them into the 20th century, but made them a political force to be reckoned with in the nations of Venezuela and Colombia. They kept their land and evolved their way of live mostly peaceably.

And please, if you assign him a stereotyped role as “missionary” you will miss a very important story of compassion and cultural sensitivity.

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How can this story help us today with Native Americans in the US? I don’t know, but I want to believe it can be done. Because it has been done.

The prison called “I can’t”

There are those reading this that don’t believe in God. And those who believe in God but are suspicious of anyone claiming a personal encounter or even communication with God. I acknowledge and grant you the right to believe what you will, but ask you to grant me the same. And to suspend your beliefs long enough to read this story because it might well be for you.

In the early 90s, God gave me a dream as I slept. I know it was God because of the nature of the dream and the communication afterwards.

It was an intense, vivid dream of a little boy. He was only 4 years old or so, just learning how to draw.

And he took all his best crayons, and with all the love and hope in his young heart, he drew a wonderful, beautiful picture of his house, his family and all the trees flowers all around. In the dream I wasn’t just watching him do this like someone looking over the shoulder of a child and saying “Isn’t that cute”.  No, I was feeling his emotions as he drew. And they were absolutely beautiful.

When he was done, he was so proud of it, and it was so much a part of his young creativity that he took it to his mother to show her.

He had no way of knowing, but it was bad timing and she was not in good health emotionally.

Out of her own pain and hurt, she took her son’s beautiful picture, ripped it up into little pieces and said “that’s a piece of garbage”

God let me enter his little heart to feel how it broke, absolutely devastated that something he thought was so beautiful could be cast off as ugly and shameful.

And I woke up in horror, devastated, and asked God – “Where is that boy now? You’ve GOT to tell me” Because it wasn’t just a dream. It was the story of someone’s life.

In my spirit, I heard God say “He’s in prison. A prison called “I can’t””

I told the dream to 2 groups of people shortly after that – at MCI Shirley to a group of inmates and at church. In both cases, multiple people came up later and said that little boy was them. If not verbatim, then thematically.

So I said 2 things to them:

  1. That drawing was VERY GOOD and you have vital gifts that you have put away in shame.
  2. You’ve been in a prison of lies but today you’re going free.

 

Of Tyrants and Thieves – Part 2

I need to pop Robin Hood’s balloon here. I like Little John and Friar Tuck. They’re great guys to have on your team.

And in the face of real oppression, the team is well-formed, -purposed and -led. But it’s only a story. Because

  1. Rich people can be very good people with vital talents. I mean they can be charitable and generous.  And if they lack those attributes then they are at least “good with money”.  Their profits are revenues that someone else once had, but so are monies that go to charity and welfare.  The thing is, they understand a good investment. And a bad one. They tend to be smart and creative. They are good strategists and tacticians.

  2. Poor people can be very bad people. Regardless of income, they can be just as greedy and oppressive as those “over them” in authority and resource. Despite romanticizing Robin Hood, thieves are generally not heroes. They are thieves. In practice, they steal from their own more than from the wealthy.

Now this is no defense or advocacy of leaving the poor impoverished. Poverty is a terrible problem; an ancient scourge on humanity. And its persistence across the generations humbles all who would hope to address it. As Jesus said, referring to the objection of some to a poor woman pouring expensive perfume over him:

Matthew 26:11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.

But the Robin Hood solution will not work. As I wrote above, it’s a lousy projection – the patterns are contrived.  Also, the poor in Nottingham remained poor even after Robin had returned their money. Because that’s often (not always) what happens when poor people – really almost any people – get one-time deposits of money.

So these are brief principles to move towards more effectively fixing things. They have implied action in public policy and yes .. political action. I won’t engage in the nasty banter of the latter here.  Just posit some ideas.

  • Help the wealthy own the problem. I did not say “Make” but “Help”. As in provide an incentive for. The opposite of greed is not deprivation but generosity. One thing we can “make” is to make generosity attractive and in vogue. That would help these best-in-the world problem solvers and investors find ways of developing the human potential of poor people. The trouble is that the rich are not trusted to do anything but make themselves richer. That’s a mistake and a misjudgment. Bill Gates is a good example. He will always be rich, and he stands to gain from some of his investments in human capital. But so what? The guy is trying to cure malaria. Let taxes be paid by hiring and training the jobless. And by investing in civic and human infrastructure in poor communities. Borrow from the Incan mita system, allowing taxes to be paid via service. It can be done; we just have to want to do it. And stop the worthless class warfare.

  • Change entitlements. I did not say “Eliminate”. The poor need help, but Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty made poverty worse, the jury is in. Avoid the right’s equation of all aid being handouts (= irresponsibility). But also the left’s sacred cow of assuaging guilt by spending money. Neither is helpful. Aid needs accountable focus.  The physical operation of the system is archaic.  Waste and fraud need elimination by doing away with paper transfers like stamps and physical vouchers. A single card could be used to provide benefits, say. Tracking and strongly encouraging/promoting life-progress should be a component of any benefit provided. People who can work must work. Slant towards making benefits conditional using the strategic like education and job-skill attainment. Of course there are people who do and can not progress, but that is a particular class of benefit. Clean up and streamline government agencies administering such benefits. Open up competition to such agencies in the private (or faith) sector, if necessary, to make them efficient and diligent where need be. Some of this has been and is being done; do it all the more.

  • Let Friar Tuck help. Bar none, the most efficient and effective charities are both faith-based and Christian. I make no apologies for the plug. And I advance the conviction that “faith-based” is neither a negative term nor one laden with any toxicity. The Salvation Army already receives government funding, for example and they preach the gospel. Values-based exclusion of the contribution of faith groups to helping the poor is ignorant. It shows the projection of other stories (than Robin Hood) onto the landscape. Inaccurate and unfair. And values are ALWAYS being advanced when aid is given; it’s only a matter of whose.  Indeed, Robin Hood was a friend of Friar Tuck for a reason – it even legitimized his work.

  • Involve the people. I mean all the people, not just those in “government”. Class-ism is as bad or worse a problem as poverty, since it destroys a nation. Anti-immigrant people need to know an immigrant family. Anti-poor need to know one that’s impoverished. Anti-rich need to have spend time with those who own yachts (plural) without money on the conversation agenda.

Sherwood Forest is pretty but not a good place to stay warm and dry. And though we may find evil tyrants and heroic thieves, there’s a whole lot more people who really care out there.

I don’t just believe that, I’ve seen it. Psalm 112 is recommended reading.

“Saving Mr. Banks” and traumatic echo – hunger for a happier ending

I’m probably going to own Saving Mr. Banks, the story-behind-the-story of Walt Disney’s making of the movie based on her story Mary Poppins.

Using the old but effective present-to-past flashback technique, the story of author P.L. Travers‘ (née Helen Lyndon Goff) childhood is projected into the story of her masterpiece.   Disney had promised his family that he would make the story into a movie and doing so proved an adventure of persuasion to the point of sacrifice.  But the film was made.

The interplay of the songwriting brothers Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman and Travers was very well portrayed, with their liberties with the story and the songs being written presented very tenuously, and withdrawn at the first whim of Travers’ objection.  But by the end, Travers was delighting in the joy of the compositions and the fit into her story.

I don’t know how real the story of Travers’ childhood being superimposed into Mary Poppins is.  I do care, but I care more about the power of redemption afforded by it.

In Saving Mr. Banks Travers’ father, Travers Goff, struggled as a worker at a bank and struggled worse with alcohol, slipping into depression and dying when she was still a girl in Australia.  He was unhappy with seemingly everything except being her father.  And she knew his love, but was tortured by his destruction.  The character of Mr. Banks is seen as an obvious portrayal of her father and his pain in trying to be a professional banker is a key target of the “ministry” of Mary Poppins in the story.

The echo is loud and clear.

I recommend watching the movie; I intend to again and again.

A repeating pattern in my ministry and personal life is the echoes of past trauma that keep getting replayed and replayed.  I believe it’s universal, though clearly some have a worse problem here than others.

I’ve sought for a reason that I (and others) do this.  I believe it’s because I want to “get it right” this time; I want the story to have a happy ending.  Of course it does not, at least in my memory, recalling the trauma or shame or pain of the past.

But Walt Disney pulls off a good ending for Travers.  The scene where she sings along with Lets Go Fly A Kite is a view of real healing.

There is redemption.  There is a different ending.  And we can have it today.

Stories abound with endings like this; we love them because we need them.  One I love is the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis.  The analogous scene of redemption in that story happens after Joseph’s father, Jacob, has died and his brothers now fear for their lives because of the horrible way they treated Joseph, selling him into slavery years ago.  But he says this and their is deep healing:

Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

So for me, the challenge is to see good being accomplished in the evil intentions, words and deeds of people and even in circumstances I consider painful.  That”s how to resolve traumatic echo.  And it’s seen in God’s good purpose which is thankfully not thwarted by anything.

Payments, Gifts and Grace

Forced to my attention is a distinction that I believe must be made in the transfer of funds and services, especially when there is a church involved and scripture has an authoritative role.

Payments

If I hire you or you hire me, the hired person does work s/he would not normally do.  That person is compensated.  We call it a pay.  It’s a commercial exchange, with negotiated expectations by both parties.

Likewise, when I take that pay and go to the store and purchase some asparagus, I will dole out some of that money in payment for those vegetables.

It’s not mysterious, we all know what a payment is.

And adults come to know that life has many payments, obligations to be met by working for a living and making a decent wage.  Again, not mysterious.

Gifts

Unlike payments, gifts are one-way.  They are simply presented without any expectation or intention of receiving anything in return.

If gifts are given with such expectations then they are payments.

Now, gifts can be given in reciprocation, but they remain gifts.  That is, if I give my friend a new tennis racket and then he gives me a new winter jacket those can both be gifts if they were given freely without expecting anything in return.  And if he didn’t play tennis and I lived near the equator, our gifts would be of questionable value and our motives extra-questionable.

People get very confused with gift-giving conventions and expectations of returns for their gifts.  And they get hurt.  And they hurt others.  All because of confusion about what was a gift and what was a payment.

Now, of course there are traditions of gift-giving where gifts are expected but even at those times, the nature and expense of such gifts is at the volition of the giver.

Furthermore, a gift can be given over a long period of times, or multiple times, and still be a gift.

I’m not so sure we all know what gifts are.

Grace

Grace, when applied to exchange, is a gift used to make a payment.  That is, there is an obligation to pay that someone cannot meet, usually because of lack of resources or even bankruptcy.  And another steps in and gives that needed resource to make the payment.  It can also be forgiveness of a debt where that forgiveness is a gift.

It is important to note that there is no way to earn grace, thus making it a payment.  It is unmerited; a free gift of the one with the means of payment.

Now, in this case the cynical would accurately observe that when grace is extended like this, it can breed irresponsibility.  That is, the recipient can grow to depend upon it and never develop a work ethic to make life’s payments.  And the result is a sense of entitlement that demands such gifts.  The needy end state of the recipient is clearly worse when accompanied with attitude like that.

So, it can be seen that accompanying grace should be some instruction or coaching to keep the recipient from becoming lethargic or worse.  This does not make the gift a payment (paid back by the recipient going to school, say) but is in fact a further gift of wisdom and knowledge to actually transform the one in need to someone who can, in the future, also be a giver of grace.

Gospel-wise, God sent Jesus to pay a payment which I could not pay.  He did so on the cross.  That’s grace.  And becoming a disciple of Christ (albeit slowly sometimes) transforms me into a grace giver as well.