Saturday, February 23, 2008

Time with One of My Religious Mentors

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful seminar with one of my favorite Episcopal clergypersons and writers, Barbara Crafton, held at my childhood church in Lynchburg, Virginia. For those who may not have heard of her before, Barbara was at one time rector and/or on staff at several churches in Manhattan, and served as a chaplain at Ground Zero in the immediate aftermath of the 9-11 attacks. In recent years, she has been the creative force behind the Geranium Farm, her home and the source of countless daily meditations, devotionals, books, and inspiration for millions of readers.

The conference she was leading was entitled "Loving Your Enemy" and was a discussion of how we can begin the healing process for the hurt resulting from our hatred of others, and how we not only can learn to forgive those people but can -- in our mind and heart -- once again make them a part of humanity. I was pleased at the turnout for the main day of the conference (nearly 80 people), and heard that the cocktail reception and talk she gave on the evening before were even more well-attended.

She divided her talk into three parts, and rather than try and reconstruct everything that was said I would like instead post some notes that I took and hope that they'll generate some discussion here.

Part I - Why do we have enemies?

  • Main reason is because they are different from us.
  • Difference is a morally neutral concept, but we make it moral.
  • One of the biggest points of debate today is the issue of immigration -- and who are the primary enemies of immgrants? The children of other immigrants.
  • The world is full of annoying people -- why does any one in particular touch your heart the way he or she does?
  • We have a need to keep people who are different from us at a distance, and when we do encounter them we get angry because we see how much of us is in them, and how much of them is in us.
Part II - How does God take the grounds for unity and actually create unity?

  • The way to that world of unity is through prayer.
  • Prayer is small, but tough.
  • What is prayer was in fact a petition to a sort of obedient genie? Would your enemy really be safe in your hands if you prayed to this being? Would your prayer for that person really be a curse?
  • When we pray, there's something in us that is sure we'd better make our prayers sound like the King James version of the Bible, or Rite I in the Book of Common Prayer.
  • When you pray blessings on your enemy, your really don't mean it -- but it's not a conscious decision that you're making.
  • Don't use prayer to curse someone, and don't lie when you pray and make up things that you think God wants to hear.
  • You don't have to make up a bunch of Sunday school platitudes for someone you can't stand.
  • The first thing to do to approach a place of reconciliation with your enemy is simply to say his name.
  • When you think of your enemy and feel the blood start pumping and your heart start racing, you're having an allergic reaction to that enemy.
  • Whenever you pray, say the name of your enemy; in so doing, you're introducing tiny bits of your enemy into a system that has become allergic to him.
  • If you do this consistently over a period of days, weeks, months, and years, you'll notice that things are getting better -- that the swelling in your soul caused by this person is starting to go down.
  • There's no shame in being unable to forgive or unite, because your soul is swollen.
  • You have to trust that God knows better than you what to do; when you introduce the name of your enemy into your prayers, God will take it from there.
  • There is no level for a crime that makes it unforgiveable; we are either all forgiveable or all unforgiveable.
  • Praying for your enemy means that they ultimately reenter the human race as far as you are concerned; this prayer changes you and it changes the person for whom you are praying.
Part III - If you're talking all the time, how can God get a word in edgewise?

  • Let God do the heavy lifting; one of our fears is that He won't -- and what we fear most is that he can't.
  • When you're praying for yourself, don't say your own name; instead, use an image of yourself and put yourself at a distance. Picture yourself as a child, for instance, wearing the favorite clothes from childhood.
  • Praying for someone opens a path between you and them; the more you pray, the more trodden that path.
  • When you pray for the fallen, you are also joined in prayer with the enemy.
  • Pray for your enemy first; unless your enemy is acknowledged and faced, it will sabotage the spiritual person you want to be.
  • The primordial definition of sin is putting ourselves in God's place.
One of the most amazing comments of the morning was made by a gentleman in the audience, who said that the goal should be "To allow ourselves to be known as God is known, and to know as God knows."

The entire event was outstanding and very moving, and concluded with a Eucharist in the sanctuary where I and several other folks read the lessons and the prayers and then we all received communion while standing in a circle around the altar.

I would encourage you to go to Barbara's website, find her books, and see what she has to say. I guarantee it will impact you in ways you can't imagine or for which you are prepared.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Repeated Post, but Well Worth It

In the two years that I've been doing this blog, I've never recycled a post; I figure once I've said something, there's no point going back. However, today I was reminded of a post I put up way back in August of 2006 after hearing the song "I Can Only Imagine," by Mercy Me. I definitely think it's worth sharing again, because the sentiment it expresses -- unlike much of what I say on this blog -- IS worth going back to time and again.

I put it up today in honor of my friends who are struggling with illness, with stress, with looming changes in their lives, and with any other adversity that may be tagging along on their journeys.
"Love Doesn't Get Much Stronger Than This"

While trying to decide what to write about today -- our trip to Williamsburg this past weekend, the latest exploits of my daughter, prattling on about life in Washington -- I received an e-mail from my wife which follows. I don't think anything on earth could be a more powerful demonstration of love. Once reading the message, which is a recent article by Rick Reilly in Sports Illustrated, be sure to click the video link that follows -- and if it doesn't bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your heart, I don't know what will.

"Strongest Dad in the World" [From Sports Illustrated, By Rick Reilly]

Eighty-five times he's pushed his disabled son, Rick, 26.2 miles in marathons. Eight times he's not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a wheelchair but also towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming and pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars--all in the same day.

This love story began in Winchester, Mass., 43 years ago, when Rick was strangled by the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs.

"He'll be a vegetable the rest of his life;'' Dick says doctors told him and his wife, Judy, when Rick was nine months old. "Put him in an institution.''

But the Hoyts weren't buying it. They noticed the way Rick's eyes followed them around the room. When Rick was 11 they took him to the engineering department at Tufts University and asked if there was anything to help the boy communicate. "No way,'' Dick says he was told. "There's nothing going on in his brain.''

"Tell him a joke,'' Dick countered. They did. Rick laughed. Turns out a lot was going on in his brain.

Rigged up with a computer that allowed him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his head, Rick was finally able to communicate. First words? "Go Bruins!'' And after a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and the school organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, "Dad, I want to do that.''

Yeah, right. How was Dick, a self-described "porker'' who never ran more than a mile at a time, going to push his son five miles? Still, he tried. "Then it was me who was handicapped,'' Dick says. "I was sore for two weeks.''

That day changed Rick's life. "Dad,'' he typed, "when we were running, it felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!''

And that sentence changed Dick's life. He became obsessed with giving Rick that feeling as often as he could.

Now they've done 212 triathlons, including four grueling 15-hour Ironmans in Hawaii.

This year, at ages 65 and 43, Dick and Rick finished their 24th Boston Marathon, in 5,083rd place out of more than 20,000 starters.

"No question about it,'' Rick types. "My dad is the Father of the Century.''

Rick, who has his own apartment (he gets home care) and works in Boston, and Dick, retired from the military and living in Holland, Mass., always find ways to be together. They give speeches around the country and compete in some backbreaking race every weekend, including this Father's Day.

That night, Rick will buy his dad dinner, but the thing he really wants to give him is a gift he can never buy.

"The thing I'd most like,'' Rick types, "is that my dad sit in the chair and I push him once.''

Friday, February 15, 2008

Comedy Break

One of the greatest Conway-Korman skits ever -- any scene where they can't keep it together is a classic!