Prairie View

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Sunday Wrap Up--June 20, 2021

The big news of the past few weeks in our family is that Shane and Dorcas are expecting a baby girl.  The wee one has four older brothers, so this is a much-anticipated prospect.  A sonogram last week showed a strong heartbeat, which was another cause for rejoicing.  This good news was especially welcome after some concerning possibilities showed up on the previous sonogram, at 20 weeks gestation.  

The biggest item of concern is that a large (7 cm) chorioangioma was discovered.  This is a non-malignant tumor of the placenta.  Sometimes babies suffer no ill effects when this condition is present, and sometimes it's fatal to the baby--depending on how large the tumor is and how "greedy" it gets for the available blood supply.  The only intervention the doctor has mentioned so far as a possibility is inducing labor if signs of distress show up.  Late in the pregnancy, this is not as grim a prospect as it would be now, of course.     

Many prayers are being offered on this baby's behalf.  Dorcas' transparency is inspiring, and she posted the good news and the concerns on Facebook with just the right tone of anticipation and vulnerability involved in the balancing act that the realities call for.  

For now, scans will be performed every two weeks.  During the third trimester, the interval will be reduced to one scan each week. That's a lot of trips to Wichita to see a specialist.

Sometime in the near future, the results will be available for a blood test for Down Syndrome.  This test was done since a few (two) characteristics consistent with Down Syndrome were observed on the first sonogram.   Laughing about this as I did is probably not considered a typical response--and I didn't laugh right away, but hear me out.

The two things noted as potential DS indicators are characteristics that my perfectly normal Asian husband also possesses.  He also possesses one more that's on the list, but this baby does not have that third one--or any of the other five non-Asian characteristics that appeared on the list I saw.  The specialist, however, was very firm in stating that "these are not Asian characteristics."  I'm thinking maybe she knows and maybe she doesn't. God knows, so we'll keep right on talking to Him about this--receiving the hope and peace that He gives.  His presence is guaranteed in any case. 

I realized very quickly that this baby will be welcomed and cherished with or without Down syndrome.  I also thought right away of a Facebook friend of mine who has several children with Down Syndrome, only one of them being homemade.  She's very convinced that Down Syndrome is a gift, and she truly delights in all of her children--four of whom were adopted with pre-existing handicaps.

*******************

Our eight-year-old granddaughter has volunteered as a test subject for one of the Covid vaccines for children.  She has received one injection.  Since it's a double-blind trial, neither those administering the vaccine or the one receiving it know whether she's getting a placebo or the real thing.  Collecting data through phone calls and blood draws are part of the trial process. 

Our son heard about the possibility of participating in the trial and thought it would be a wonderful thing for his children to have a part in it.  The children's mother wasn't so sure, so nothing was said to the children.  Then a  young friend spoke of it with great excitement because she already had plans to participate.  At that point, the oldest granddaughter begged to be able to join the trial "to help America."  After talking through how many needle sticks that meant (at which point the younger sister bowed out), and reminding her that it would not help just Americans, and securing an agreement that the daddy would be the one shouldering the responsibility of providing transportation, etc.  the deal was made.  Off they went to Newton several days later.  

It so happens that there's some hefty financial incentive for participation also.  I'm not sure that the granddaughter knows how this will be handled, but her parents have plans to tuck most of it away for her to access in the future.

*******************

My sister Lois is expecting her first two grandchildren in the near future--the children of Hans and Heidi.  Both of them are local, so we're all getting a chance to share in the excitement.  

*******************

Wheat harvest has been in full swing during the past week.  With one hot dry day after another, anyone who could escape equipment problems got a good shot at getting the "gold" into a bin.  There's a chance of rain tonight.  A very welcome cool-down is on the way as well.

******************

Today is the summer solstice.  I watched the sun go down tonight and noted the features on the horizon that lined up with the "sinking" spot.  I've done this throughout the year.  

I don't recall ever seeing the exact figure, but I estimate that if I were to stand facing straight west and point my right arm to the summer solstice sunset spot and my left arm to the winter solstice spot, my arms would be spread at something approximating a 90-degree angle--maybe less.  

*******************

I have some very striking tall red-leaved plants growing in my garden from seeds that I scattered last fall and this spring.  The seeds came from amaranth plants that were growing at the demonstration garden on the Hutchinson Community College campus last summer.  

At HCC the plants always reseeded very enthusiastically in the former Thomas Jefferson garden area.  In other words, the seeds originally had been acquired as part of a collection of seeds gathered from the gardens of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.  Sally, a Master Gardener, had nurtured the garden until that area became the cutting garden area.  Those annual red-leaved plants came back every year since then from seeds dropped the year before. 

Our daughter-in-law, Hilda, noticed the plants in my garden and observed how much they looked like the red "greens" they used to eat in Bangladesh.  There, they were called lalshak.  I knew that amaranth leaves could be cooked and used like spinach, so it seemed safe enough to try eating them.  Hilda took some home and prepared them as she was used to eating lalshak, and the whole family was delighted to taste this favorite familiar dish again.  Hiromi and I have eaten some since and liked it too.  

I think it's remarkable that Thomas Jefferson and Bangladesh are meeting in my Kansas garden.

********************

 Grant and Clarissa's house is teeming with the activity of six little "Prettyman" boys.  Clare and her sister Tara each have three boys, and Tara is here for a visit from Washington state.

********************

My sister-in-law Judy has a brother Mark who is battling Covid in Costa Rica.  He has been hospitalized with Covid pneumonia.  

*********************

A group of local bikers are headed west now, with the culmination of the trip occurring at the top of Pikes Peak.  This is happening in lieu of the annual Bike Across Kansas that was canceled for the second year in a row.  

I might worry less about this trip if I didn't know about Hiromi's niece's experience with a run up Pike's Peak.  She collapsed partway up, despite being a very experienced runner who has run double marathons.  With a medical crew providing oxygen, she limped along a little farther till she reached the point where she would be provided a ride to the bottom.  Otherwise, she would have needed to walk down, and she couldn't think of doing that.  

Starting out in triple digit temps was surely not much fun.

**********************

Carol, Shari, and Braden are headed to Greece to work in a refugee camp for several weeks.  Braden's parents and siblings will be going to Pennsylvania where Arlyn plans to teach during summer term at Faith Builders.

***********************

Lil Nisly is suffering from some paralysis on one side of her face, resulting in the normal eye-blinking reflex going on vacation.  This dehydrates her cornea and calls for various interventions at different times.  Eye drops applied at frequent intervals, lying down with eyes closed, and at night taping the eye shut are measures I've heard about.  

*******************

Many of the situations that I've mentioned are prayer concerns.  Thank you for joining in this prayer effort.  




Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Respectful Patience

In an email, I recently lamented something that still causes me some unease:  regrettable results of weighing in publicly on controversial matters.  I'm trying to sort this out, so please bear with me while I record some of the bits and pieces that occur to me.  My email correspondent, who is far younger than I, commiserates on this lamentable point, noting that he often experiences something similar.

Sometimes I get a "lecture" that I think is designed to pull all the controversial elements of an issue into a well-stacked load that can ride grandly down the middle of the road in the bed of a powerful, conservatively-styled, but new-looking pickup.  The problem with this is that I feel misunderstood when this happens--since the summary being presented does not look substantially different from my position.  So what's the point of the comment?  I'm trying to figure out what part of the mess* is mine to deal with.  

I'll begin by noting that the effort to lecture me often comes from people a number of decades younger that I am.  Why do they feel the need to lecture me?  Perhaps more germane to my inquiry is the question of why I am particularly annoyed when young people lecture me?  The email writer identified Millennials as the group that annoys him.  They are younger than he is.  I don't have a name for the demographic from whom I am hearing lectures.  Is everyone annoyed when lectured by someone younger? 

Maybe my annoyance stems from being perceived as having not taken the time or possessing the wisdom to think through various aspects of a matter before I weigh in.  While I can't vouch for my wisdom, I can certainly vouch for having taken plenty of time--normally at least.  I am reflexively indecisive at the beginning of considering an idea.  I am also relentlessly restless until something solid emerges from considering a matter.  On the way to resolution, I prune off and throw on the compost pile many details that I'm pretty sure will prove to be "unfruitful" when the ingathering can finally begin.  This discarding of details reveals a limitation I deal with.  My mind simply does not retain no-longer-needed details very well.  

Why do people assume that the "load" they're presenting as the summary of all the relevant considerations looks different from my load--from which I have unpacked only one box to put on display?  The fact that I haven't bothered to reiterate all of the details, that is, unpack all the boxes, doesn't mean that I have failed to consider them.  It may just mean that I'm trying not to be too long-winded.   

By and large, these are people who know me very well.  Why don't they let my input stand on its own merits?  Several possibilities occur to me.  Maybe they haven't really been paying attention in the past, and truly don't know enough to trust me.  Maybe they feel a need to be heard.  Maybe in some back-handed way they're trying to affirm me. Maybe they're working so hard to tiptoe around possible offenses that they don't really voice the disagreement they're feeling with me.  Could it be that a woman's word should always be topped with a man's word?  

Maybe the main issue on all sides is respectful patience.  I need to be patient with younger people.  Younger people need to be respectful toward me.  My patience needs to be laced with respect.  Their respect also calls for patience.  Both of us should be claiming the need for respectful patience as "my part of the mess.

*A term I remember from Leadership Reno county classes.

*****************

The meme below which I saw on Facebook recently (and Joel helped me find again) also speaks to one of the reasons that I am sometimes annoyed by lectures of the kind I referred to above.  Think about it.




Saturday, June 05, 2021

Ruminations on Pentecost

I've been preparing to teach the first of four Sunday School lessons on the topic of "Pentecost."  The word itself is a reference to the time during which the Old Testament feast of Pentecost was to be observed--fifty days after the Passover Feast.  Pentecost was the middle one of the three feasts that all Israelite males were required to attend.  Others besides the men were invited also.  The ones specifically mentioned are sons and daughters, male and female servants, Levites (the priestly tribe), foreigners, widows, and the fatherless.  It was to be a time of rejoicing, offering sacrifices, and a time of bringing freewill offerings in proportion to the blessings that God had given. 

The interval of fifty days is reminiscent of the Year of Jubilee, a special observance which was to take place after seven 7-year cycles of labor and rest (six years of labor and production, followed by one year of sabbath rest).  In the fiftieth year, debts were forgiven, slaves were set free, land was restored to its original owners, and the land rested (no planting or harvesting occurred).

On the first day after the death and resurrection of Jesus, a momentous event occurred on the Day of Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had promised, visibly appeared and the church was inaugurated, made up of an energized, empowered group of Christ-followers.

Pentecost apparently was celebrated on the first day of the week.  We know this because Passover was always a Sabbath celebration, occurring on the seventh day.  Observance of the Sabbath itself was in response to God's command.  Here are the words from Scripture:


By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so, on the seventh day he rested from all his work.   And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.   (Genesis 2:2-3)

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.   Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.   On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.   For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.   Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.   (Exodus 20:8-11)

Something clicked with me this morning as I was studying.  I have often wondered, usually in passing, about how it is that the keeping of the sabbath (the seventh day as a day of rest) is the only one of the Ten Commandments that is not regularly observed among Christians.  The explanation I've heard is that Christians shifted from seventh-day observance to first-day observance after the resurrection--because Jesus came back to life on the first day of the week.  Gradually this became the gathering day for Christians.  The "rest" part of the Old Testament Sabbath was incorporated into the first-day observance for believers--not always successfully, as it turns out.  Today I'm wondering why people ever tried to combine rest, worship, and gathering all in one day.  I'm thinking of what might be gained if we moved toward restoring the seventh day as a day of rest, and kept the functions of worship and gathering as First Day activities.

I know why this seems impossible--because most of the people in most of our households are absent from their homes during the other five days of the week, for most of their waking hours.  If any work is to be accomplished at home, Saturday seems to be the only day for that to happen.  So we've made Saturdays as full of work as any other day.  Our Sundays may be only slightly less busy, with leaving home for gatherings a prominent feature of the day.  This is a different kind of hard work, but in some ways, no less taxing than physical labor.

What if, in our homes, our schools, and our businesses, we shifted to a four-day work week?  In other words, the work-at-home day could happen every week on Friday.  This would leave Saturday for rest, and Sunday for worship.  I believe the work hours during the first four days of the week might need to be extended, but I suspect that some efficiencies would be gained by less time spent "starting and stopping"  and going to and from our work and school places. 

While I'm on a roll, I'll add here that I have often wished that people who live at our latitude could somehow give more recognition in our schedules to the fact that daylight hours vary enormously throughout the year.  Basically, I believe that God gave us daylight for work, and night for rest.  

The Sabbath for the Jews begins on Friday evening at sundown.  This means that far more rest occurs during the "short day/long night" portion of the year than otherwise. Anyone involved in agriculture knows that crop production requires many hours of hard work, so it's fortunate that the days are long during this period.  In other words, far more work could occur during the long day/short night portion of the year than otherwise.

I don't have any illusions about being able to figure this out now, for everyone, for all time.  Nevertheless, I long to see at least small steps being taken toward a more sustainable way of ordering our lives.  Perhaps there's no better time than now, having just come through the most major societal disruption of routine in our lifetime.  

What if a reordering of our routines turns out to be one of the most durable blessings of our time in "the wilderness?"  What if labor, rest, and worship could be restored to balance on our watch?  I can think of no better prospect for looking back on the pandemic with gratitude rather than lament.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Two Big Fears

I seem to suffer from twin maladies.  Both can be paralyzing, and overcoming them is a struggle.  One fear is that I don't know enough about something to write about it credibly, effectively, and helpfully. The obvious remedy for this is to keep on learning a while longer before I write about it.  The other problem appears after I've spent enough time learning that I feel I have something to say.  When I do so, the subsequent fear is that I am now too uncurious and resistant to learning more on that topic.  Stuck in a rut.  Closed-minded.  Lacking a growth mindset.  Removed from reality.  Smug and over-confident.  

The most scary and vulnerable way of writing I know of is to document the learning process in writing.  This means asking the questions before you know the answers.  You express your unease before you've figured out whether it's justified or not.  You probably don't have any improvement to suggest for whatever you're questioning.  For all the world to see, you are revealing your ignorance and lack of insight by writing.

I know of nothing better than to keep learning and listening, but most of all, to stay tuned to the inner promptings of God's spirit within.  When I recognize that, I will be able to write as needed.    

For today, I will simply list some of the topics that for me currently fit into the "most scary and vulnerable way of writing" category.  While I have already made a stab at some of them previously, I hope to come back to some or all of them eventually.  In the meantime, if you have ideas or resources to share on any of these topics--or other topics that fit into this category for you, please feel free to do so, by whatever means seems good to you:  a face to face conversation, a phone call (620-567-2123)--leave a message if no answer, text (620-931-0815), a comment here, a Facebook message, or email (miriam@iwashige.com).  My favorite way to respond is by email, so if you contact me by another means, please leave me an email address where I can respond--unless that is problematic for you.  As I have time and opportunity, I may add to the list or insert links that seem relevant.  

1.  Deconstruction--used in the sense of re-examining matters of faith.

2.  Responsibility for "owning" the past sins of people groups of which we are a part.

3.  Institutions at critical inflection points--appropriate responses.

4.  Dealing with deep disappointment with or a sense of betrayal from those who were trusted friends or leaders in the past.  

5.  Handicaps or diagnoses of serious illness--vigorous efforts to correct the problems or willingness to embrace difficult realities without seeking recourse.

6.  Housing--traditional construction with its enormous debt load or alternative ways of building and funding.

7.  Health--benefiting from various branches of healing arts and sciences--built on the foundation of recognizing and utilizing the Lord's provision.

8.  Dealing with both abusers and victims redemptively and legally.

9.  Categorizations of personality or characteristics (such as the Enneagram):  useful for growth or excuses for bad choices or bad behavior?

10.  Scripture-informed (and accurately interpreted) gender roles.

11.  Ritual and spontaneity in church gatherings.  Related ideas: Tradition and innovation.

12.  Media:  How to know what to trust.  How to use it well personally.

13.  First things in the kingdom of God:  Maintaining strong faith communities or engaging in efforts at extension of it in far-flung locations. Strong personal faith is assumed in both contexts.  

14.  Ageing:  Being realistic about limitations without using them as excuses for bad behavior, laziness, or imposing guilt on others. How the church and/or the family should function in relation to the elderly.

15.  Being practical/being artful.  Both are good.  Can both be pursued to excess?  

16.  View of Scripture:  Honoring and understanding it.  Distinguishing rightly whether a literal interpretation and application are called for.  

17.  Education.  Making homeschooling work.  Correcting deficiencies in the classroom school model.  Pursuing higher education.  

18.  Being in the world but not of it.  Politics and science are two areas in which I especially feel the need for clarity on how this Christian imperative looks.  I'm familiar with a sense of homelessness.  

19.  Mental health.  How is it related to trauma, physical health, spiritual health, personal responsibility?  What remedies should be pursued when it is lacking?

20. Incompetence.  When it seems intractable in ourselves, what can be done? 

21.  Grief.  Relation to mental health.

22. Repentance.  Relation to mental health.

23.  Distressing circumstances.  Removing yourself from them or staying in hopes of making things better for everyone.

24.  Tenets of faith that can be construed to look ridiculous in light of commonly understood current values.



Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Paul: What a Character!

Yesterday I taught our Sunday School class.  It was only the second time that we have had "normal" Sunday School classes since the spring of 2020.  I was filling in for the regular teacher Rhoda Y.  The lesson was a study of Acts 27:37-Acts 28:10.  As is often the case, we had to leave many interesting aspects of the lesson undiscussed because there simply wasn't enough time to cover them all.  Another possibility, of course, is that we spent too much time on discussing the wrong things.  If I hadn't committed the time to the Lord ahead of class time, and if I hadn't tried to allow the Lord to direct "in the moment" I would be plagued with lots of second-guessing about what happened or didn't happen in class. I will use this space to hold forth a little longer on the lesson.

The account in this passage is of a time when Paul was on a voyage from modern-day Turkey to Rome.  He was a prisoner being transferred for the purpose of appearing before the Roman emperor, Caesar, to whom Paul had appealed.  Others on board included the ship's crew, other prisoners besides Paul, soldiers and a Centurion over the soldiers and the prisoners, and at least one other passenger, Luke, who was a physician.  He was Paul's Christian companion and the recorder of events that eventually became the book in the Bible called The Acts of the Apostles.  There were either 76 or 276 people on board.  Some scholars believe that the 276 number is a copying or translation error, and the correct number is actually 76.  

The voyage was beset with difficulty and danger, mostly because of storms involving high winds, often in the wrong direction to keep a sailing vessel on course to its destination in Rome.  Part of the intrigue is Paul's role in the events on the sea.  He had no position of authority, and no apparent skills as a sailor.  He may, in fact, have been physically confined or in chains during the trip.  Nevertheless, he eventually became the de facto leader for everyone on board, guiding them to safety during a shipwreck.  How it happened is a fascinating study in leadership, and learning about it is a faith strengthening experience.  Paul had all he needed to serve others in a way that honored God, even though in a sense he had "nothing.," not even his freedom.  En route, everyone came to understand that Paul was hearing from a powerful God, and it was to everyone's advantage to take seriously what Paul told them.  Paul was accurately conveying to his shipmates what God said, and they came to understand that Paul's words were wise words that must be honored.  Everyone's safety was tied to Paul's safety, and Paul's safety was tied to his hearing from and believing God.

Earlier, Paul had advised that travel should be suspended for several months because the season for favorable sailing had almost passed.  Paul's advice was ignored, and very soon hurricane-force winds struck, and almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong.  Desperation drove the crew to literally try to hold the ship together with ropes passed under the hull, to toss overboard all the rigging associated with a sailing vessel, to jettison the cargo, to first take on board the lifeboat and then to set it adrift when some sailors tried to use it to escape (Paul warned that if this happened, the rest could not be saved).  For a time, they dragged some of the anchors, while being driven along by the wind and then they finally cut them away entirely, so the ship could be beached as close as possible to the shore.  At the very end they threw all the grain the ship was carrying overboard.  In a last flare of drama on the sea, if the centurion had not intervened, all the prisoners would have been killed by the soldiers just as the ship was about to run aground--because the soldiers knew that their lives would have been required if any prisoners had escaped.  

Paul's first recorded action after the storm began amuses me.  He tells everyone essentially that "if you had listened to me, we wouldn't all be in this mess."  How's that for diplomacy?   I don't remember anyone recommending that people should exercise leadership by beginning with "I told you so." I've personally been warned against doing such things.  Yet, this was obviously exactly what Paul needed to say and do.  If he had taken the friendly relationship-building route, I doubt that the need for listening to Paul would have sunk in as it did this way. Paul had said that there would be danger and loss if they sailed.  In the middle of experiencing the predicted danger and loss, no one could argue against Paul's wisdom.  I believe this prepared them to follow Paul's lead in the coming days as the storm raged on for weeks. 

Paul continued by telling everyone that a supernatural being had visited him the night before and reassured him that he would reach  Rome safely, and that no loss of life would occur for anyone on the ship.  Nevertheless,  the storm continued unabated.

Days later, Paul said that everyone should eat something to give them strength, and led them in thanking God before breaking bread himself and eating it.  Some commentators believe that this was in fact a ceremonial act of remembering the broken body of Jesus.  At any rate, there could be no doubt that Paul was mediating God's presence in a demonstration that God was real and that he was involved in the events on board the ship.  Everyone ate and prepared to try to run the ship aground on the shore of a nearby island.  Not all went as planned, since they ran aground on a sand bar that lurked out of sight between the ship and the shore, but either by swimming or by riding in on planks from the broken ship, everyone reached shore safely.  

The next possible crisis was averted when they found the islanders friendly and helpful instead of unwelcoming and even murderous.  I'm sure that the fire they built for the benefit of the wet and wind-lashed  voyagers was ever-so-welcome (the temperature may have been around 50 degrees).  The fireside was the scene of more drama.  A snakebite on Paul's hand, with the poison having no ill effect at all sent the islanders into a flurry of interpreting the event according to their animistic religious ideas.  At first they were sure that Paul must be a murderer who was being punished by the gods.  Then they decided that Paul must be a god himself because of his protection from the venom. 

I love the glimpse of Paul's servant heart that we see in his setting about to help gather fuel for the fire.  Unknown to him a snake was hiding in the brush he had gathered.  This incident and others that are recorded about their time on the ship and on the island reveal that Paul acted entirely spontaneously.  He was certainly not on a healing campaign, engaged in a prophecy ministry, or on a mission to work miracles.  He was a prisoner, after all, who had no agency except that which God Himself had bestowed on him by saving and empowering him.  Yet, healing, prophecy, and miracles all took place.  They were embedded in humble acts of service to others and obedience to God during terrifying and helpless circumstances.  No genius planning or organizing could have orchestrated more effective demonstrations of God's power than the ones that came out of this chaos and these disasters.

Publius, the chief on the island, welcomed the shipwrecked men to his estate and fed and housed them for three days.  Paul prayed for Publius' father, who apparently suffered from Malta Fever, a disease contracted from the goats on the island.  A vaccine for it was developed centuries later, in 1887.  Instant healing cut short the usual four-month duration of illness, and better yet, delivered the ill man from the prospect of up to four years of illness.  Many other healings followed during their three months on the island, although it's likely that they were not all instantaneous.  Remember that Luke was a doctor.  Perhaps he helped treat the sick.  The clue that the healings may not all have been the same is that a different Greek word is used to speak of Publius' father's healing than is used for the other islanders.  The takeaway for me here is that it is always God who heals--sometimes through miracles, and sometimes through the wisdom He gives people who are willing to cooperate with God in bringing about healing.  Paul and Luke and those who developed a vaccine in 1887 all had a role in addressing the needs of those who contracted Malta Fever.  

In the last few months I've spent a lot of time thinking about Paul's personality, character, and, most of all, his peerless stature as a missionary, teacher, preacher, and follower of Jesus.  He was obviously a flawed individual.  We get glimpses of some of this at several points in the book of Acts and in his writings. He was no stranger to struggle and sorrow and fractured relationships. I think it's likely that the 14 years he spent in obscurity between his conversion and his ministry were key to his later usefulness.  I suspect that a shortcut would have rendered Paul's ministry powerless and ineffective. Readying this flawed individual for the Lord's work took a long time.

Paul was extremely intense, both before and after conversion.  He was unnaturally fearless ("I know that bonds await me,"  but he kept right on going "there" to preach).  He suffered from an unnamed "thorn in the flesh" from which he longed for deliverance--deliverance which never came.  He was blunt to the point of committing social faux pas in the process.  Paul is described as being weak in bodily presence, but his eloquent and powerful words still move us. Paul apparently either never married or for some other reason had no wife during the years of his ministry. 

Not  everything that we know about Paul fits this idea, but is it unreasonable to suggest that Paul may have suffered from something like Asperger's Syndrome, in today's parlance?  Speculations like this probably have limited value, and I recognize that what I'm suggesting is just that--speculation.  I believe, however, that there's enough merit in the possibility that examining it could point us toward hope for others who have similar differences, challenges, and abilities and disabilities.    At the very least, it could help us persist through what might seem like a very long, lonely time of living in obscurity--for ourselves and for those we love.  God can use anyone for his glorious purposes, as long as the lessons of humble servanthood have been learned.  Fourteen years is a long time--except when considered in the light of eternity.  

Paul's ministry was cut short by martyrdom.  He worked long enough and faithfully enough, however, that when he faced impending death he could not only note that what he looked forward to was far better than what he was leaving behind, but also to  rejoice in having helped prepare many others for their eternal reward.  "I have finished my course.  I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day.  And not to me only, but unto all them also who love his appearing."  (from memory--may have minor errors.)

Thank you God for preserving Paul's story and words for us.  This is a precious gift.


  

 




Friday, March 12, 2021

Funeral Day Reflections

I just returned from the funeral of Sue Nisly who was 62.  I am always thoughtful after a funeral, and today is no exception.  Sometimes I feel that I know a person better after they’re deceased than I ever knew them in life.  In Sue’s case, I realize that I never knew the extent of her outstanding support of and care for the needy–which others can hardly finish talking about.  I understand why I didn’t know: because I was too blessed to have suffered the plight of being marginalized because of bad choices or crushing life circumstances or having been vulnerable because of ill health.   Sue was busy tending to the needs of people who needed her help more than I did. 

Even so, she noticed some of the fraught conversations that I’ve been involved in on social media, and quietly offered affirmation to me via private messages.  For that I am profoundly grateful. My sister and I both remember having gotten a phone call from Sue when we faced a cancer diagnosis.  That too was welcome.

Not many of us will die more than 30 years after the first of three cancer diagnoses, and having a liver transplant that provided a new lease on life nine? years ago. She had many surgeries, some of them orthopedic.  Mayo Clinic was her “home” for many months at various times.  

Our middle son, Shane spent more time in Cliff and Sue’s home than anyone else in our family.  He was nearly the same age as their younger son, Jadon, who lives now in Europe.  Shane helped sing today at the funeral.  

Isaac Peters’ meditation was comforting and inspiring–possibly more so than anything I’ve ever heard at a funeral.  He spoke from John 17:24, making applications from that Scripture that I’ve never considered before.  Beulah (Cliff’s sister) has become the de facto family writer of tributes.  As one of the younger ones of 15 siblings in Cliff’s family (and the one who was her mother’s caretaker till she died at the age of 100), Beulah has stayed connected closely enough with everyone to be able to speak for the family when a death occurs.  She shared a tribute, which was something of a compilation of many people’s memories. Justin, the older son, gave his tribute in the form of recollections about the things he embraces now that he learned from his mother’s instruction and example.  He lives in India.

Sue’s obituary in the local newspaper contained these words: “Sue deeply believed in protecting the vulnerable, the elderly, and the ill, so the family requests that all who attend [the funeral] honor her wishes by wearing a mask and observing social distancing.”  I cried when I read this. Sue finally got a chance to "tell" everyone what no one should have needed to tell anyone–that Christian people care best for others by taking appropriate precautions when failure to do so endangers others.  I can’t imagine more effective circumstances for conveying this message.  I see it as a special grace from God to her and to her family for providing this great opportunity in a time of great loss.  

Every public entrance at the Pleasantview Activity Center where the funeral was held had a reminder of what was expected.  I didn’t see any non-mask wearers today.  To be fair, I saw only a small fraction of the faces of those who were present.  

The distance-seating part didn’t really happen much that I saw, although there were enough chairs set up to accommodate that, and the rows were appropriately spaced for that.  I personally found distance seating convenient, however, since I was simply pointed toward a row where some were already seated.  I selected the third chair away from the last person seated in that row. The person following me did something similar.  I presume that many others either didn’t think about or didn’t care to exercise that option. Obviously, if Iva, who followed me, had not left a gap between us, my efforts to honor the family’s wishes would have been stymied too.  

Today’s funeral service was the first time I’ve been in a group gathering of this size where I knew that no one had been given explicit or implicit “pardon” for non-mask-wearing by some intermediate authority during a time and place where mask wearing is government-mandated for the populace.  Under these circumstances, today any non-mask-wearer would have been immediately outed for acting solely on their own volition–and in violation of the explicit request of a grieving family acting in support of general official guidance, while trying to honor the dying wishes of a beloved ally for the vulnerable.  This is perhaps one of the most clarifying situations imaginable.

The fact that in today’s funeral setting some things can be apparent to onlookers that might remain mercifully fuzzy otherwise is perhaps not the most important clarification.  I’m hopeful that the needful role of leaders in protecting the vulnerable was obvious today.  Without a position of leadership, Sue and her surviving family exercised leadership by showing us what leadership that is protective of the vulnerable can look like.  They did not circumvent others with positional authority to do this.  

I’m also hopeful that the lack of "goodwill toward men" often apparent in a robust defense of individual freedom (while rejecting virus mitigation measures) is highlighted as well, particularly for those making such a defense.  

Finally, I’m hopeful that push back against good advice from the government and scientists is seen for the fear-based, anti-intellectual  response that it is.  Too much of this is woven into the fabric of “Anabaptist Exceptionalism.” The notion that “those laws” don’t apply to us has provided cover for too many selfish actions, during the pandemic and at other times.  

None of us who have been grieving and praying about the disappointments and losses connected with the pandemic wanted clarification by way of the death of one dear to us. Some of us may not have wanted clarification at all.  Having been granted it unsolicited, however, is better than to have missed it entirely. I hope we all can receive such clarifying gifts with grace and gratitude. Sue would approve.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Speak No Ill of the Dead

In the wake of Rush Limbaugh's death, people of certain sensibilities cite the adage in the title as the explanation for remaining silent.  Some are no doubt silent because they don't have the gall to speak highly of someone who specialized in being obnoxious, recognizing the cognitive dissonance of lauding such a character while ostensibly rejecting the traits in themselves and in those to whom they serve as role models .  Others who experienced the acid burns of Limbaugh's caustic words feel paralyzed by the rush of emotions that surface when they think of Limbaugh.  They have much to say, but feel no freedom to say it because they can't go against the obligation to avoid speaking ill of the dead.  

As most of my readers know, Limbaugh had a long and lucrative career (he earned 85 million dollars in at least one year) in the broadcast world, first in radio.  His stints in radio were typically short, and he was fired from multiple radio jobs. Later he transitioned to TV, and gained fame when he worked for Fox News.  His manner was crass and bombastic.  His career took off after the Fairness Doctrine expired in 1987 (which required that all publicly aired opinions be balanced with air time for opposing opinions), and he became a darling of those with conservative political persuasions.  Unfettered by the earlier restraints on what could be legally flung into the airwaves, Limbaugh became increasingly radical and increasingly popular. 

Many Christians had already become deeply invested in Limbaugh's fear-based views and rhetoric (which sadly are too often stoked also in Christian circles*), and they followed him willingly as the radicalization took place.  He focused on grievance and served as a spokesman for all those who felt aggrieved by the circumstances of their lives, particularly those who felt wronged by "them."  "Them" included mainstream media, Democrats and other liberals, feminists, and minorities.  Those to be feared included some on the "them" list, but "Socialists" were added.  Limbaugh was unarguably a kingpin in fostering the dissension and division that serves as the most prominent feature in the current American political scene. David French wrote perhaps the most nuanced assessment of Limbaugh's influence here.

I've pondered the prohibitive injunction in the adage on occasions previous to Limbaugh's death, and often wondered where it came from, or if the "command" has any validity.  This time I actually did some minimal research and learned that the origins of the maxim are as ancient as the Greek civilization of Sparta.  A philosopher from there apparently first uttered these words in Greek.  Most significantly, I learned that there is no direct evidence in Scripture that the adage constitutes an obligation.  

Jesus certainly was speaking ill of the dead when he said in Luke 11:47 and 48 that the ancestors of those he was speaking to had killed the prophets.  In the context in which he said this, he was pronouncing woes on members of his audience, who were putting on a show of righteousness.  They were religious leaders.  Apparently they had built tombs as if to honor prophets, but Jesus points out the irony of this, since they were at the same time continuing in the tradition of their murderous forefathers.  Jesus does not mince words in drawing a straight line between the objectionable behavior of the forefathers and that of the Scribes and Pharisees in the audience.  In both timeframes, Jesus saw behavior that called for public denunciation. Although other parts of Scripture mention speaking ill of others in a negative light, Jesus' example nevertheless offers us guidance for how we speak of the dead.  

In the passage cited, Jesus was trying to reach the hearts of members of his audience.  It seems that in order to do that, he knew that it would be necessary for them to acknowledge their own sins.  Otherwise they had no need to accept what he offered them: a new life, full of meaning and hope.  Speaking ill of the dead was an attention-arresting way for Jesus to bring home the truth of the heart condition of his listeners. A desire to accomplish that same result in listeners may at times justify speaking ill of the dead in our time.

I don't believe, as some do, that prayers for a person after their death accomplish improvements in their fate. The good thing that is left to those who remain after a death is to turn to God in their bereavement.  A heart turned toward God in humility always invites exposure of the sin that lurks there.  In the presence of a loving, forgiving God, this is not a disastrous process because the remedy shows up right along with the crushing weight of the problem.  Whatever a person feels after Rush Limbaugh's death, the answer always is to turn to God with the emotion.

One of the articles I read after Limbaugh's death was written in 2009 and quoted a cleric who had officiated at many funerals.  In one particularly challenging case, he had heard nothing good from anyone about the deceased. He decided that the best way to handle the situation was to address it directly.  So he began by saying something this: 'Let's be honest, he could be a pretty cantankerous so-and-so.'  He reported that an almost palpable sense of relief swept over the audience at these words.  He interpreted the response as affirmation that being honest about the unpleasant realities associated with the life of a deceased person can be a step in the process of healing for those who have been wronged.  

I've seen such honesty demonstrated by others, and engaged in it myself at times.  I've been challenged for my own actions, and tried to learn from it.  I'm not sure that I've learned what my challengers believe was necessary:  Don't say anything bad about a person who has died.  Really?

In general, my words have been very mild--like saying privately "Life just got a lot simpler for _________________ [survivors]."  Publicly I have said something like "He wasn't perfect, but he was a good man."  Of course, the first phrase in the public expression is not strictly necessary, since everyone already knows this mildly-stated negative thing.  It may not be fair, since the person being spoken of can't defend himself.  It certainly is not socially expedient (largely because of the ingrained notion in the adage).  But to forbid saying any negative thing of the dead?  I don't think so.  Doing so can help others see you as a trustworthy person, since you're obviously not OK with maintaining pretenses.  If you go overboard with the bad report, you risk being seen as mean-spirited and vindictive instead of being trustworthy--and you may, in fact, be such.  This isn't OK either.  Here is an article written by someone who avoids falling into this trap on the occasion of Limbaugh's death, managing in the same article to point to an inspiring contrast instead.

I think the story of the cleric above illustrates perfectly why sometimes saying something negative about the dead is actually a way to introduce a healing element into the realm of possibility for those who have been wronged by a deceased person.  Picture with me a situation where a parent has repeatedly been an embarrassment to his children because of his adversarial and mean-spirited public behavior.  Acknowledging at least the difficulty that this person's behavior caused others could be enormously affirming to those who suffered in silence for decades.  Being seen is a powerful encouragement to anyone who has felt like their suffering was invisible for too long.  It could cast all those associated with the hurtful individual in an admirable light (look at what they became in spite of those formidable odds).  Beyond that, I believe that being truthful about even unpleasant realities is the only way we ourselves can learn something valuable from another's life.  

I've seen the hazard of pretending that bad things never happened.  This charade subjects its "players" to a lifetime of repeated avoidance maneuvers.  Otherwise, the pain comes flooding back.  It may surface in forbidding others to speak of anything related to the hurtful behavior or the one who inflicted it.  Staying away from such forbidden subjects then becomes the burden of everyone else who desires to maintain a good relationship with the one who was wronged.  This too is damaging behavior--not redemptive in any discernible way. 

One other prominent feature of Limbaugh's rhetoric which resonated with evangelicals was patriarchy. This article connects that thread of his ideas with James Dobson and Tim LaHaye.  I can think of other names I'd add to such a list.  The writer of the article sees patriarchy in a  toxic light.  I believe it can also be a benevolent force, but agree that it has sometimes not been practiced that way in Christian circles.  In Limbaugh's iteration of patriarchy, masculine toxicity apparently prevailed.  The environment he inhabited treated women as sex objects.  He married a succession of four women, punctuated by three divorces.  

Nothing I might think of to say about Rush Limbaugh is the final verdict about who he was.  I heard one defender say that he spoke recently of having a personal relationship with Jesus. I hope that is true, and I'm sure that other good things could well be said of him.  My goal is to say only what I believe to be true and which could potentially serve "for our learning."  I hope we gain resolve to avoid stoking fear, vilifying "others," being dishonest about a person's legacy, or promoting toxic masculinity.  These would be worthwhile reasons for reflection on Limbaugh's life and death.  

Being exhaustive would be impossible, and the effort would be exhausting.  I do know that there are no gaps in knowledge about Rush Limbaugh for the Final Judge of all the earth.  He is for sure not constrained by any obligation to "speak no ill of the dead." Even if we can't hope to get everything right, Rush Limbaugh will be rightly judged.  Whether or not we are OK with speaking ill of the dead or whether we learn anything at all in thinking about him, I hope we can all agree on that.  

*************************  

*I'm reading a wonderful book right now that brings home the idea that Christians often traffic in fear-based responses to life.  This tendency makes them ripe for exploitation by others who are not fearful primarily of the judgement of God, but fearful of things like loss of control over their own lives, loss of personal wealth,  loss of political power, loss of public favor, increased restrictions on behavior, increasingly limited choices, etc.  The book was written by someone who teaches at the same university where my brother Caleb has taught for many years--Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, PA.  Believe Me:  The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump by John Fea.  Fea is himself an evangelical and a historian.