April 2018

Monday, August 26, 2013

She Had a Dream

Before Sunday’s church service, Deborah, who would preach a sermon titled "She Had a Dream", gathered a small group of untalented actors to act out Luke 13: 10-17. She needed four parts and at first there were just three people who offered to play the narrator, Jesus, and the self-righteous head of the synagogue. We needed some one to play an old woman in great pain, but none of us volunteered for that part.

In the Narthex, we sighted Tom, who is like Mikey and will do anything, and called him over. As he walked towards us, Ann said that she would be the old lady in pain and Tom could be Jesus. She thought that would be more convincing.

When Tom reached us, we told him, “Tom, we need you to be Jesus.”

“Okay,” said Tom.

Our friend Pea commented later that the ease in finding someone to play Jesus and the difficulty in finding an old woman in pain shows that people would rather be Jesus than an old woman who has been in pain for 18 years as we weren’t acting out the crucifixion part.

In the service, we “acted out” the scripture reading, the story of Jesus healing an old woman on a Sabbath and the self-righteous head of the synagogue criticizing him for doing this work on the day of rest. (That was me being critical. I’d like to think we weren’t type cast.)

When the narrator said that the old woman had been in pain for 18 years, three year-old Calvin shouted out, “Wow! Eighteen years!” Yes, Calvin was paying attention. That’s a long time to be in pain.

Ann borrowed my cane and hunched as if with severe osteoporosis. She approached Tom, who played Jesus. When Jesus “healed” her, a typically quiet Ann rose up, threw her arms into the air and shouted “Praise God!”

The congregation seemed to exhale and laughed heartily. Ann had been convincing in her part, and several told us afterward that when she stood hunched at first, they had thought, “Oh no! What has happened to Ann?”

In Preacher Deborah’s sermon on the subject, Deborah compared this old woman in pain to so many in our world who have suffered: people living in wars, friends in El Salvador, so many people in too many prisons in the U.S., too many African-Americans—and so many others—not yet living Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream.

Just as on the Sabbath Jesus healed a woman who had suffered too long, Preacher Deborah pointed out that there has been too much suffering for too long, and we should allay pain as soon as possible with all the power we have. Like Jesus, we should not wait to be asked: we should notice the pain and take the initiative to do something about it.

Preacher Deborah’s sermon was the right call to action on the 50th anniversary of the August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

Preacher Deborah asked, “Will we now see those still bent over around us?”

I looked around the congregation and thought of those among us who are bent over, something that Robbie Sherman’s Children’s Sermon emphasized for me.

Robbie told the children that Jesus called us to pay attention to those who hurt, like old women who are bent over, people with crossed eyes, people who are not very smart, and others in pain.

Because Ann played the old woman and we both remember the pain of her mother’s severe osteoporosis, Robbie seemed to be speaking of Ann as a woman in pain. Because my eyes are crossed (from nerve damage during brain surgery), Robbie seemed to be speaking of me, too.

Our friend Pea was the next person on our pew, but Pea’s super smart, so I don’t think Robbie was talking about Pea when she was talking about someone not being smart, but the parallels on our pew made the story much more real for me.

We were not learning about the old woman allegorically, as a person in pain who is only a symbol of all people in pain: we were called to notice real individuals.

During the prayers of the people, Will reminded us of our friend Lori’s pain that is very real. Will is the head of Lori’s care team, a team that helps Lori access the service and other church events because Lori has advanced cerebral palsy, and as a person in a wheelchair who communicates with difficulty by responding to two choices by looking left or right, she needs help.

I know that sometimes Lori experiences physical and emotional pain; so do Ann and Pea and I; our friend Kathy’s husband would have surgery that day for a second cancer; so much pain; the list goes on, and I don’t even know everyone who’s on it. And that’s just in our church.

There is also the pain of poverty and addiction, of discrimination and prison, of alienation and illness. The list does go on.

How do we as a church invite people into a loving community, and how do we stay in and go out as healers, not as people to judge or condescend, but to help ease our pain and the pain of so many in our world?

Perhaps this is what the prophet Micah was saying when he wrote, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy 
and to walk humbly with your God.”

Walk humbly. Don’t just sit there. Walk.

I felt a lot of hope about this walking as I read my niece Isabella’s most recent draft of a college entrance essay. Isabella wrote about a mentor from Ecuador and a Latina child in Harlem and the humble gift of speaking Spanish as a way to connect with people of different backgrounds, and of less power, than she has.

Isabella reminds me of another inspiration, Clarita, who grew up in our church and connected so beautifully with children in a small town in El Salvador. Clarita has now graduated from college with a degree in International Relations, has worked in Central American communities, and Tanzania, and now works in Laos.

Clarita speaks Spanish, Swahili, and Laotian, so her passion for connecting with people has led her to learn new languages, as Isabella is just beginning to do. These young women, too, have a dream.

And I dream, too. For years I dreamed that I would make a difference in our education system, especially for poor children, children of color, and children who are immigrants or children of immigrants. But since brain tumors made my work in schools less effective, I have been trying to find my new way in the world.

I’m seeking my new dream now. What is my dream? I’m not sure. I’m seeking to discover a new dream.

My church, too, seeks a new dream. It was on the forefront of the GLBTQ Civil Rights movement before there was a movement. It has been performing gay and lesbian marriages since 1975. (I think I have that right.)

We are a congregation committed to healing, what we call reconciliation. A fair number of people in the church are GLBTQ, and we have—or at least I have—been surprised by what seems to be a sea change of civil rights and even church inclusion for GLBTQ people.

In fact, at the annual Pride Parade in Seattle, there are now so many churches represented that perhaps we seem a little dull to younger people who have not experienced the kind of oppression and discrimination that was common just a few years ago.

With so much progress, many in our church are asking, “If we’re indeed (in deed) a church about radical love and social justice, what is our work now?” There’s much work to do. There’s no doubt about that. But how do we focus so that we can make a difference in our world? I think many of us are asking this now.

And in her sermon Deborah reminded me that it’s time to dream and to walk humbly with our God. Thanks for your sermon, Deborah. We need to find our dream, and though for me the vision is still blurry, perhaps you and the old woman are pointing the way.

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