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Archive for August, 2016

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

— John: 14:1-2

Because I’m a former hospice chaplain and a night-shift hospital chaplain, this quote from a fascinating New Yorker Magazine profile* of a hospice nurse resonated with me:

    “Some hospice workers believe that working with the dying is the closest you can get on earth to the presence of God.”

I’ve often said I never feel closer to God than when I’m pastoring someone at the end of life. And I believe there is no greater privilege than to walk with a dying person and the loved ones.

PHOTOGRAPH BY EUGENE RICHARDS FOR THE NEW YORKER

photo by Eugene Richards for New Yorker Magazine)

It so happened happened that shortly after I read the aforementioned article last month, a friend of many years emailed me to inform me that her mom had died. She told me about her experience with hospice care, with which she and her family were pleased.

She told me that weeks and days before her mother died peacefully in her home, her mom told the family she was ready to “go home.”

As in home to God, which the family members didn’t understand at first. Not until a hospice chaplain explained that dying people often speak of going “home” in the spiritual sense. (*See note about a chaplain’s role at bottom.)

My friend’s mom was 83. My friend said she and the family had a hard time letting go, of course, initially resisting doctors’ suggestions they sign up for hospice visits in the home.

Letting go of anyone dying–even someone who’s had a long and good life–is as hard as it gets. But honoring the expressed desire to “go home” is a way of honoring the dying one’s personhood. It’s best to affirm the dying wish by saying something like, “We know you’re ready to go but we’ll miss you.”

There is a time to live and a time to die: the elderly at the end of life see that with such clarity they no longer have any fear of death, if they ever did. It’s typically some of the family survivors who can’t bear to hear mom or dad or some loved one speak of their own death.

It’s why so many keep their loved ones living on machines that provide artificial life, not real life, in resistance to “a time to die.”

With respects to Dylan Thomas, who was a great poet but no great shakes of a theologian, our bodies are made to "go gentle into that good night."

With respects to Dylan Thomas, who was a great poet but no great shakes of a theologian, our bodies are made to “go gentle into that good night.”

In the fascinating biography of David’s intense and fascinating life as told in the Old Testament Books of Samuel, there’s a story about the last days of King David’s loyal friend Barzillai.

Barzillai was a wealthy man from Gilead. He had shown King David hospitality and provided his army provisions in a time when few people dared to stand by David because of an uprising led by the king’s own son Absalom.

Now at the age of 80, Barzillai went with David to escort him over the Jordan River, where David would regain power and wage a national revival.

David said to his loyal friend at the riverside, “Come over with me, and I will provide for you in Jerusalem at my side.”

Here’s how that went according to scripture:

    “But Barzillai said to the king, ‘How many years have I still to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? . . . Why then should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? . . .

    Please let your servant return, so that I may die in my own town, near the graves of my father and my mother.” (See II Samuel 19:31-37)

Barzillai was at peace with his personal end times. He was plenty ready to return to his hometown in order to “go home” in the spiritual sense.

It’s hard to let go of our beloved parents and others as they near the end, but there comes a time when one is too spent to “rage against the dying of the light.”

And why rage against it anyway. I’ve always said that God brings us into the world with our kicking and screaming and adjusting our tiny eyes to the light. But God in God’s tender mercy takes us back home gently as the body steadily shuts down. As it does so, one has no more desire or need for food or water and pain dissipates into peace.

A natural death can be, and should be, a “good death”–a death in which one can naturally “go gentle into the good night” of perfect rest, perfect peace.
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*Note: In signing up for hospice care, patients or families are asked if they want “spiritual care visits” from a chaplain. Because chaplains provide “spiritual care” and not necessarily Christian care, a Christian chaplain sometimes visits people of other religions or no religion at all; the aim is to be a “listening, nonjudgmental presence” to someone in grief.

I’ve prayed many times with Jewish patients, Muslim and Buddhist and Hindu patients–even atheist patients who, when asked them if they wanted me to pray for them, often said, “I guess it can’t hurt anything.”)

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*(photo is from the aforementioned New Yorker Magazine profile of a hospice nurse. link here.)
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* And here are useful facts about hospice care in a time when growing numbers of people are reaching the ends of their lives.

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Tony Rath, a world-renowned Belizean photographer, shared this video on FB today, featuring work he did for a CNN travel program a few years ago.

The scenic Hummingbird Highway featured in the vid has a lot of interesting stops along the way, like St. Herman’s Cave at the Blue Hole National Park.

Nice place for some chilling in the bush.

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(“I’m Jesus and I approved this message.”)

This meme featuring a quote from that gentle, ever-quotable saint and spiritual writer Henri Nouwen was making the rounds on Facebook when I checked into FB this morning.14089094_1790025761282394_3469644006481416509_n

This is why I cringe when someone says Jesus was, or would be, a conservative or a Republican or a tea partier–or a Democrat or liberal or even a socialist.

Liberals want to paint Jesus and the early Christians as socialists all about sharing the wealth, while conservatives want to paint him as a conservative who blessed the use of the sword and tax cuts.

Both of which are ludicrous notions based on New Testament cherry picking.

First of all, Jesus would be, and Jesus is, nothing today except Jesus–the Jesus who condemned the power-mongers and rulers of his time on earth and condemned them harshly.

I dare say there’s not a politician or candidate alive that our Lord wouldn’t harshly condemn if he dropped into the political arena today.

Nouwen was so right, as usual. Jesus isn’t about conquest or ideology or domination–and certainly he wouldn’t bless America’s current politics of personal destruction.

Jesus is about love and it in all of love’s many dynamic manifestations.

Love is not necessarily about being Mr. Nice and I don’t think Jesus, the Lord of Truth, would play nice in anybody’s political camp.

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Young Democrats of Texas (top) are  joining forces with Young Republicans to aid flood victims.

Young Democrats of Texas (top) are joining forces with Young Republicans to aid flood victims.

Down in Texas, Young Democrats and Young Republicans are laying aside political differences to aid flood victims in Louisiana. (See the story here.)

This is the kind of political story that makes you go “Wow!”–in a good way.

It raised a couple of thoughts when I read it.

1. This is a story of young adults acting like adults, which adults don’t seem much inclined to act anymore when it comes to politics.

It’s a hopeful sign for the future that these young people are fellow Americans (and Texans!) first.

2. The thought occurred to me that disasters bring out the mettle in people. Too bad it takes catastrophic events for Americans to come together, to love one another, to help one another.

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Here’s an exclusive sneak preview of the Clinton-Trump debate.

Have some popcorn and a belly washer and enjoy.

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Miracle Assignment (Noon Wine)

“Miracle Assignment”

fresh-mown hay
windless air
drying air
grazing air
straw air
protein air
earthing air

* * *

clouds passing
Holsteins lazing
pond juice sipping
eyes popping
lips puffing
noses flaring
flies abounding
tails twitching

* * *

doe crouching
high alerting
ear twitching
joints bending
body quivering
legs darting
* * *

beaching air
playtime air
distant air
salting air
breezing air
healthing air
splashing air
children’s air

* * *

silver circle
lunar looming
arching
arcing
inching
silver mooning

* * *

miracle sky
starring
twinkling
dusting
pulsing
romancing
winking

* * *

sea wave
foaming
steaming
calming
falling
landing
backing

* * *

Pasture rolling
greening
bugging
earthing
nurturing
gracing

10429480_746885132044209_1464777952658539887_n

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The scene at a shelter in Louisiana, where people have a real disaster to cope with.

The scene at a shelter in Louisiana, where people have a real disaster to cope with.

I’ll swear, this is the media’s worst hour.

We have a Katrina-like disaster in Louisiana, and yet we’re getting a fraction of the coverage Katrina rightfully received.

I go to the (non-) news this morning to find that the media is obsessing on the latest in the loud clown’s campaign–the latest being “another big shakeup!” in the people running his disastrous excuse of a run for president.

And then there’s the perennial obsession with you-know-who’s emails. (I’m tired of their very names at this point.)

Long before I ever get to the 24-hour non-news channels I go to a lot of online news sources every day. I’ve had to scroll way down every day lately to find any coverage about Louisiana below all the meaningless presidential horse race stats showing who’s winning and who’s losing.

As if any of it is going to be remembered on Election Day three months from now–three months being an eternity in politics.

Three months from now, folks in Louisiana will still be coping with their pain and loss.

God help the great state of Louisiana–she’s drowning in flood waters and presidential trash.

And she needs your help and here’s one link for that.
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*This just in to (Non-)News Central: 80,000 in California have evacuated their homes due to a wildfire. And in Milwaukee news, such as it is, the usual shouters are shouting down.

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“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

— John 15:12-13

Baton Rouge Advocate photo by Bill Feig

Baton Rouge Advocate photo by Bill Feig

Back when New York City was reeling from 9-11, a journalist asked that gentle Presbyterian preacher and children’s TV icon Fred Rogers what parents could say to their children about the disaster.

Mr. Rogers didn’t hesitate.

“Tell the children to keep their eyes on the helpers,” he advised.

May God be with the people suffering in Louisiana, and all those first responders and volunteers and neighbors and all who are risking and sacrificing and pitching in to help one another, loving their neighbors as themselves.

Baton Rouge Advocate photo by Patrick Dennis.

Baton Rouge Advocate photo by Patrick Dennis.

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Update on Hurricane Earl . . .

An aerial view of San Ignacio's landmark "low bridge,"  which has survived many floods and hurricanes but was no match for Earl. More than half of it washed ashore.

An aerial view of San Ignacio’s landmark “low bridge,” which survived countless floods and hurricanes but was no match for Hurricane Earl a week ago. More than half the bridge got blown and washed away.

Belize is recovering remarkably well considering the damage that Hurricane Earl did last week.

A ground view of what's left of the bridge. Bottom left shows what's left of the wooden walkway that scores of pedestrians and bike riders crossed every day between San Ignacio and neighboring Santa Elena.

A ground view of what’s left of the bridge. Bottom left shows what’s left of the wooden walkway that scores of pedestrians and bike riders crossed every day between San Ignacio and neighboring Santa Elena.

Here in San Ignacio and its twin city Santa Elena, in far-western mainland BZ, life is pretty much back to normal for most people and business owners. The best news is that the most of the market and street vendors are back in business, though many of the farmers who provide for them are hurting.

The worst thing here in the twin cities–divided by the usually calm and oh-so-scenic Macal River, is that the old wooden “low bridge” was pretty much destroyed–half of it literally washed and blew ashore.

The sturdy old bridge has been rendered impassable God knows how many times from hurricanes and frequent floods, but it always stayed in place. Earl managed to wipe it out, along with the bridge’s pedestrian walkway and railing. It’s going to require some serious rebuilding.

Being the old tree-hugger and river rat that I am, I’m genuinely saddened that Earl knocked down some stately old shade trees–dozens of them–that gave the low-bridge “dip” leading into town so much natural charm. Many days I used to throw down a beach towel on the banks of the river with a book under some great shade trees that are now being chopped into firewood.

I'm going to miss the shade trees that used to line the shore of the Macal River and made San Ignacio such a scenic little city.

I’m going to miss the shade trees that used to line the shore of the Macal River and made San Ignacio such a scenic little city.

Fortunately, the old iron “high bridge” a short way up the Macal River* is so sturdy as to be windproof and so high as to be flood-proof. If it weren’t, this town and the highway leading to so many western towns and villages and into Guatemala would be inaccessible.

Out on the country’s world-famous islands Ambergris Caye (San Pedro) and Caye Caulker, Earl did $10 million in damage. But the islanders are resilient: most of the resorts and tourist-related businesses are already back and starting to go strong!
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(*Tourists love the Macal for the great canoeing and tubing, and so do I, btw.)

* * *

Speaking of San Pedro . . .

File this under old news but now relevant news thanks to the Olympics.

Simone Biles–the perky young star of America’s all-star gymnastics team in the Olympics–has Belizean roots. She comes to Belize often and was last here last summer for her brother’s wedding at San Pedro.

More on that story at this link. . . .

Olympian star Simone Biles, who was adopted and raised by a family  in Spring, Texas , outside Houston, has Belizean roots. Shown here hamming it up with boys on Belize's famous San Pedro resort town.

Olympian star Simone Biles, who was adopted and raised by a family in Spring, Texas , outside Houston, has Belizean roots. Shown here hamming it up with servers at a popular, resort hotel and restaurant San Pedro, BZ’s most popular tourist town.

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Illustration by Karl-Raphael Blanchard for The Nation magazine.

This powerful illustration of the iconic figure of Jesus embracing Rio is by Karl-Raphael Blanchard for The Nation magazine.

I thoroughly and very thoroughly enjoy the Olympics and all its glorious, feel-good pageantry.

I love the inspiring stories about determined athletes from great nations and obscure corners of the world.

I take to the agony that moves me to feel someone’s pain and disappointment, and the ecstasy that makes me want to leap out of my chair with joy.

This year’s Olympics inspires us all, all the more, with the inclusion of The Refugee Team! (Link down below.)

It’s all a powerful and wonderful spectacle.

And yet . . . . .

I hate to be the spoil-sport by calling your attention to how the poor and powerless people in the Olympiad’s host cities get trampled on by the rich and powerful.

Dave Zirrin, a sports writer for The Nation magazine and author of Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, The Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy, summed up the dark side of the Olympics when he wrote this recently:

    “It’s easy to rattle off bullet points about the problems besetting Rio: the 77,000 people displaced and counting; the 85,000 members of the security forces patrolling the streets (double the number for the 2012 London Olympics); the estimated $11.9 billion being spent while the Brazilian economy is in a state of violent contraction, which has led to crippling budget cuts in education, health care, and community services. . . .

    “We need to understand that Rio’s ‘state of public calamity’ is an extreme version of what happens when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) comes a-calling. We have seen this corruption in city after city that has hosted the games, particularly since 9/11, as spiraling security costs and out-of-control budgets have become central to the games themselves.

    “The names of recent Olympic host cities–Athens, Beijing, London, Sochi–are more likely to conjure images of heavily armed troops; abandoned, rotted-out Olympic stadiums; and multibillion-dollar price tags than anything that happened on the field of play.”


    (See links at bottom.)

Ouch. Reality bites.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S.A., Christian leaders are straining at gnats trying to defend and justify political candidates and leaders who can’t be defended.

I wonder what a Christian response to greed, corruption and injustice would look like if Christians responded like Christians to greed, corruption and injustice in the world.

* * *

Imagine the sea change if the world’s massive Christian community came up with an Olympian plan for lifting up the poor and powerless rather than being complicit in running over them. (Complicit, that is, by so many Christians and their leaders and their churches being either too scared or too timid to speak up for social justice; or complicit by being stuck in theology that’s all about personal salvation that’s all about me rather than the both-and theology of personal and social salvation.)

Imagine if the powerless victims of crushing poverty and social injustice in places like Rio received a fraction of the news attention year-round that the Olympics in all its feel-good glory will get for a mere two weeks.

The Olympics will get enormous TV ratings and news coverage for two weeks before billion-dollar buildings that enriched the rich are abandoned and masses of poor people are left to struggle and pay the price for their protests after the cameras have moved back to America’s utterly corrupt political landscape.

* * *

If Christians in America alone were as vocal in being prophetic fighters for justice and fair play for the poor in America and God’s world as they are in squabbling over some nonexistent “war on Christianity” or “war on Christmas,” the kingdom of God would take a giant leap for the advancement of God and humankind.

The war waged against the poor and powerless in the world never ceases, and how much outrage do you hear about that war from TV pundits or, for that matter, from pulpits?

The poor, oppressed and powerless always and inevitably pay the price for corruption.

* * *

Mind you, I don’t say all this for the sake of laying a hard-biting guilt trip on anybody. Wallowing in guilt is not conducive to “the life more abundant” of which Jesus spoke.

By all means let’s enjoy the Olympics and Brazil’s Big Party and celebrate the hard work and spirit of athletes who wow us with their gifts and graces.

But by all means let’s not let grass and weeds grow on the Christlike path to justice. Let’s pray for the poor and oppressed and pray for courage to speak truth to power.

In working out our salvation “with fear and loathing” let’s remember “the the invisible people” who are always paying the price for greed and corruption in a broken world forever in need of the fulfillment of God’s will for mercy, justice and reconciliation.

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* Go here the full article by Dave Zirrin.

Here’s a link to his new book about Olympic corruption in Brazil and elsewhere.

And on a happier note . . . a link about The Refugee Team.

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