Wednesday, December 4, 2019

At the risk of sounding harsh . . .

Recently I was asked to pray for a young person who had been hospitalized for an apparent drug overdose.   When I heard that they had been released to go home I celebrated, of course.  I continued praying, because not dying is only the first part of getting well from a drug overdose.

I do not know this young person.  I have no idea whether they are a social user who got something they couldn’t handle, or an addict who was chasing a higher high.  That means I have no idea whether the overdose is likely to change the drug using behavior that resulted in a trip to the ICU.   

If they are a social user who will be “scared straight” by this experience, the hard part may be over.  They will need to continue physical recovery from whatever damage they did to their body.  Depending on what the drug was there might also be brain damage and if so, that damage may or may not be something they can overcome.  I’ve seen both outcomes.  
But if they are an addict, and their family thinks an overdose will make them stop, they may be sadly mistaken.  Because if they are an addict, an overdose may be no big deal, just another experience, nothing to get excited over.  It might mean that they decide to change drugs because the one that they overdosed on is dangerous for them.  It might mean they decide they just got a bad batch of whatever, or maybe their dealer cut it with something toxic, but surely that won’t happen again.  And to make sure it doesn’t happen again, they may even go so far as to find a new supplier. 

I realize this sounds harsh, but I am speaking from personal experience.  Whenever I overdosed - and it happened more than once - as soon as I was out of danger of dying I wanted more.  I made all those decisions I listed as possibilities, because the reality is that I am an addict, and an addict is going to use until they simply cannot use any more. Overdosing was never a reason to stop, only a reason to change some part of my using behavior.  An addict may switch drugs or methods of use or the people they use with, but an addict will continue to use until something makes them stop.  Too often that something is death. 

I stopped because I woke up one morning knowing I couldn’t live the way I was living any longer, and I didn’t want to die that day.  I couldn’t live with the soul sickness and the emptiness in my heart any longer.  I knew I had to change my life, right that minute.  And I was lucky enough to find the right treatment center to get me started on the journey that very day.

I blame my recovery on prayer.   I know that millions of people in 12 Step meetings and churches all over the world pray every single day for those addicts who still suffer the way I was suffering.  I firmly believe all that prayer drew me toward recovery and toward God.   It has been 30 years since that morning and I haven’t felt the need to use drugs or alcohol.  I have wanted to probably thousands of times, but I have not needed to the way I used to.    

So I will continue to pray for that young person and for all the others still using, and for all of their families.  I hope you will pray with me.  May God’s healing power touch them all.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

A Gratitude Prayer

Loving God,
I am grateful for all that you have done for me.
Not just for the amazing, daily bounty you pour out upon me,
food and shelter, friends and work, and Cats,
although I am filled with gratitude for all  those things.

But I am grateful for the many times and ways you showed me your love,
even though I didn’t see it.
even though I didn’t believe it.
even though I would have rejected it had I known it came from you.

For I was homeless, and you always provided a place for me to sleep
I was suicidal, and you sent a loving friend.
I repeatedly placed myself in harms way, and you keep me alive.
I was beaten and raped, and you gave me safe places to talk about that.
I was bullied and abused, and you let me forget until I needed to remember.
I was without faith, and you sent the faithful to teach me of your love.

And I am grateful, Lord, that you have embraced me all my life,
even when I turned away from you
even when I spoke of you and your people hatefully
even when I would have disbelieved . . .  if I could.
But I always believed in You, even when I believed wrongly
For you are the Lord, my God, creator of everything.

I am grateful that you have given me so many ways to share what I know about your love,
with people who believe, but may need to be reminded.
with people who grieve, and may wonder where you are.
with people who do not know you, but do know there is an empty space inside,  
like the one that I had.
That God sized hole in my heart.
Thank you, Lord, for filling my life with opportunity,
for filling my mind with understanding,
for filling my soul with your healing power,
and for filling that hole in my heart with your love.


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Open hearts, open minds, open doors?

My heart is broken.  On Sunday - two days ago - I lifted up our sisters and brothers in the United Methodist Church who were facing a hard decision, a decision that would probably split the denomination no matter which way it went.  Even knowing that, I really thought that the delegates voting would, as John Pavolitz says, err on the side of love.   But instead the vote went the other way.  The denomination voted to reject those members who are anything other than heterosexual cis-gendered persons.  No same sex marriages will be permitted.  No one may serve as clergy who identifies anywhere along the LGBTQI spectrum.  The church whose motto is “Open hearts, open minds, open doors” has chosen to reject some of God’s children.  Instead they have chosen to affirm that “The practice of Homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teaching.”

I know that my own denomination is not, and perhaps never will be, fully open and affirming.  But we are congregational.  Each Disciples congregation makes decisions about membership and leadership for itself.  We have no rulings coming down from on high telling us who we may or may not accept, who we may or may not marry, who we may or may not call as ministers.  

Our brothers and sisters in the United Methodist Church still have hard decisions ahead of them.  Will they accept this ruling or not? Will they stay in the denomination or will they go?  Will a new Open Church branch of the Methodist Church evolve out of this General Conference’s decision?  While they are grappling with these decisions, let us pray. 

And may it be known that our doors are open to any seeking a new home in Christ.  In our house, all are welcome, and all means ALL. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

I know better, but . . .

2018 was a hard year for me.  Nothing awful happened, mind you. It was just a hard year.   There was the back pain, which is better now after cortisone shots and cauterizing the nerves that were causing problems.  And there were all those “little” illnesses beginning around April - intestinal issues that I blamed on diet, painful bloating I blamed on stress, acid reflux from I had no idea what, nausea and cramps I blamed on stomach flu - that all just kept recurring, and I thought it was all different things.  And I was sick to death of being sick all the time.  But  apparently they are all symptoms of an h. pylori infection of the stomach, which is now being treated and will hopefully be better in about another 6 weeks.

But then there was that other stuff, those other symptoms that started small and increased as the months went by.  The tiredness that made me need daily naps, and often had me in bed for the night by 7 pm.  The lack of desire to clean my house, wash dishes, do laundry or even shower.  I did those things, but it was so much like work.  Lack of care about much of anything.  Lack of patience with other people.  Not wanting to be around humans much at all.  I often found it hard even to carry on a conversation.  I did most of the things I absolutely had to do, but anything I could avoid doing - a social event or a visit, for example - I would.  I knew, of course, what was wrong, but I didn’t want to admit it. 

You know, I know better.  I have done funerals for suicides, and have said that their depression killed them just as surely as a heart attack or cancer.  I know all the symptoms and I know I can’t just power through it, but you know I had to try.  I had to tell myself that if I was just strong enough I could beat this.  I kept thinking that I couldn’t be that bad, because I am happy.  I am happier living and working here than I have been in I can’t tell you how long.  How can I have depression and be this happy? 

I was spiraling out of control.  I stopped even going to events I really enjoy.  I jumped on people for no good reason.  I could hear myself saying all the wrong things, but it was like I couldn’t control my mouth or my emotions.  A member’s mother died, and I couldn’t bring myself even to call.  That is when I knew I couldn’t do this anymore.  

I talked to my Spiritual Director, honestly, about my depression.  We talked about medication and how it has helped me in the past.  I agreed to talk to my primary care physician about a prescription, and I did that.  Two weeks ago I began to take anti-depressant medication and I feel a bit better.    I have more energy.  I am happy to do my house chores.   It will take a while before all the other symptoms go away.  It will likely take much longer to make up to my congregation for a year and more of my impatience and neglect.  But I will try.  

After all, admitting I have a problem is the first step, right?  

Friday, November 9, 2018

Almost Vacation

Vacation begins in 60 hours!  Well, 54 hours really, ‘cause once I leave the church around noon on Sunday I’m pretty much done till I get back.

I am so excited about this vacation.  Three days on a private, directed retreat in the foothills just below Sequoia National Park.  Two days in a resort town on the Pacific Coast with a friend.  And two days at home, getting all the stuff done that doesn’t get done most of the time.   You know - stuff.  

And today is my day off.  So I’m trying to get all my vacation prep stuff done, and my usual day off stuff done, and maybe sneak in a nap or two.  Because I am exhausted, and I really need this vacation week.

But I might maybe have to preach tonight at an anniversary event at one of the churches in town.  Only if the scheduled preacher doesn’t show up.  But still, what if something happens and he can’t be there?  I need to have a sermon ready.  And I need to be there anyway, ‘cause unity and ‘cause folks from my church are singing.

And no, I cannot use a sermon I’ve already used some other place and time.  The thing about the Word of God is that it is particular to a time and a place and an audience.   I’ve seen people do that whole “just use one I use all the time” thing and it generally isn’t pretty.  Sometimes they forget to take out the parts that relate to the time and place they wrote it for.  Sometimes it is just a generic message that doesn’t really speak to the reality of these people in this moment.  A message written for a very (politically and theologically) liberal multi-ethnic congregation doesn’t fly in a moderate mostly white congregation or in a theologically conservative African American congregation.

Then there is the whole “what happened this week” stuff that cannot be ignored, even at an anniversary event.  There were young people shot and killed this week for no apparent reason.  People of color and especially women of color were elected in places where that has never happened before.  If the recount goes his way, an African American man might soon be the governor of Florida.  Florida!!!   (For y’all who don’t know Florida, this is a seriously big deal.).

And there are wildfires - big, bad ones. Some of our town’s firefighters have gone to help with the one to our north.  One of my clergy colleagues in Paradise lost her home, as did most of her church’s members.  And their church is gone as well.  Still lots of people in danger to the north and the south.  Lots of praying happening.  Rain, please?  A deluge right on top of the fires would be nice.  And maybe, no wind?  Just until the fires are out and the people are safe. 

Tomorrow I have to be on the road by 5 am in order to get to my required Anti-racism training on time - it’s a 3 hour drive.  Three hours there, seven hours in training, three hours back, and up at 3 so I can prep for Sunday’s message and the Veteran’s Day prayer.  

And the Cats are conspiring to keep me from accomplishing anything.  Walking on the keyboard when I am trying to work.  “Helping” me make my bed.  Taking turns chasing each other off of my lap.

See, this is why I need vacation.  So that my spirit may be refreshed in the mountains and at the ocean enabling me to better serve the folks in my valley.  So that I can come back to all of this rested and renewed. So that I can face Thanksgiving and Advent and Longest Night and Christmas Eve with joy and anticipation instead of dread.  (And when did we start talking about this time of year as “the dreaded holiday season” anyway?  That’s just disturbing.)

So, it is almost vacation. But not quite.  Not yet.

Monday, October 29, 2018


Today I am writing about Love.

Or at least, I’m trying to write about Love.
Because the 4th Sunday of Advent is Love Sunday.
And I’m supposed to be writing the Candle Lighting reflection on Love.

But where is Love?
This week alone - 
14 Bombs were sent
11 Jews were shot dead in their Synagogue
2 Blacks were shot dead while grocery shopping

Sometimes it seems like all there is, is Hate.

I know different.
I know Love is real
I believe there are more loving people than hating people.

But Hate is loud and clamorous, red-faced with anger.
It grabs our attention with clashing cymbals and clanging gongs,
with screams and breaking glass
Hate excludes and rejects, pushing away anyone who is different

And Love sobs quietly in the corner,
weeping and grieving.
And then gets up, and goes out to where the pain is greatest.
Wordlessly embracing the bereaved, the injured, the forlorn.
Welcoming the outcast and the other,
encouraging the weak, seeking the lost.

Where is Love?

Love is where ever it is needed.
It is in Pittsburgh, PA and Jeffersontown, KY.
And Washington, DC and New York, NY.
In inner cities and suburbs 
in gated communities and homeless encampments
On mountain tops and valleys and shorelines,
in farmlands and deserts.

Where ever there are people.
Love is there.
To heal the hate, to soothe the anger.

Where ever caring happens.
Love is there.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

I love your hair!

In February I had my hair colored.   Not the usual “cover the grey and make it look natural” look appropriate to my age.  Not even the “Lucille Ball improbably red” look that is still popular all these decades after “I Love Lucie” went off the air.  Nope.  I had my hair colored purple. Bright purple.  Not all of it. Just the front fringe of my modified pixie cut, which sort of swoops over toward the left. (My left. Your right.).   In April I had a blue streak added in the middle of the purple.  I get it re-done about every 6 weeks, when the colors are fading.  

Everywhere I go I hear, “I LOVE your hair!”  I hear it from little girls and teenaged boys and women of all ages and men my own age.  I hear in every sort of place - restaurants and department stores and gas stations and church and just walking down the street and city council meetings.  If there are humans present, generally, I hear some stranger say, “I love your hair.”  The other day at Target I think I heard it 8 times - and I was in the store less than 30 minutes!

Every time I hear, “I love your hair,” I say, “Thank you.  I love it too.”  Sometimes that starts a conversation.  Little girls are sad because their school won’t let them wear purple hair.  Moms are happy to hear me tell their girls that purple hair is one of those things that has to wait till they get a little older.  Young women encourage me to dare to be different.  Women my age and older sometimes say they don’t have the courage to do anything so bold, and I tell them to go for it.  Do the daring thing, if they want to.  I am a preacher!  And my church is ok with it.  ‘Cause it’s my hair.  And, they say it suits me.

Dyeing my hair these colors is probably the single best thing I have done in my entire life for my self esteem.  I mean, one cannot go through a day listening to compliments from random  strangers without feeling good!  Because the compliments aren’t really about the color or the style - that’s all down to my barber, anyhow.  The compliments are about the courage to be a little different and daring, at my age.  The compliments recognize the self confidence it takes to pull this off.  My purple and blue hair says, “This makes me happy, and I choose to do the things that make me feel good about myself today.”  The compliments remind me of that. 

It should go without saying - but I’ll say it anyway - that I make a point of complimenting other people on their outfit, or hair, or the color of their shirt or whatever.  If my eyes tell my brain, “I like that,” then I make sure my mouth does the same thing.  Not that anyone needs my approval - but I know how good random compliments from total strangers feel.  And I do like to share that good feeling, helping others build their self esteem - loving my neighbor, as Jesus told us to do.