Tag Archives: Humanity

Psalms

Read Psalm 137

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“My God, my God, why have You abandoned me? Why are You so far away when I groan for help?” (Psalms 22:1 NLT)

psalmsOne of the most profoundly beautiful, haunting, and human books in all the Bible is the book of Psalms. It is literally a collection of poems and/or songs that were written by people who were going through a widely varying range of emotions. Some are extremely happy and ecstatic. Some are extremely melancholy with a sense of foreboding loss. Some are filled with hopes, others are filled with fears. Some are an emotional mulatto rollercoaster ride that truly leave the reader hanging on every word for the duration of the ride.

Some of the Psalms are filled with love, and some are filled with bitter anger and hatred. One such Psalm, number 137, is written by a person who is grieving the loss of his or her homeland in the midst of exile. The smoke could still be seen arising on the horizon from Jerusalem. The former jewel city of Judah, was lying in ruins. Bodies of the dead men, women and children still lying up and down the streets, which were running with the blood of the innocent. The author of Psalm 137 is bitter, angry and wants justice. Correction: This psalmist wants vengeance!

I can relate with the psalmists because I, too, write poetry and I have written my own psalms in the past. Here is one such Psalm that I wrote during a time where I was going through a pretty rough situation:

My God! O, my God!
Help me to escape
This darkened, shadowy
Valley of peril and death.
I am not far away from
The edge of the cliff.
Destruction awaits me
And despair consumes me.

O, the melancholy kills me!
Sadness enslaves me!
Should I be angered by
This senseless betrayal?
Or should I embrace my fate
Like an outcast child
Who is abused and abandoned
By those closest him?

My Lord, You are also outcast.
My God, you have been rejected!
I should rejoice, and praise my God
As Jesus first instructed.
It is hard to endure the pain.
Help me, O LORD,
To remain humble and to be
Made righteous in your sight.

Help me, my God,
to go your way.
As long as I dwell South of Heaven,
I shall be your disciple.
You will never leave me,
Nor will you forsake me,
For you are always faithful!
You never abandon your children.

You never discourage
Nor do you tear down your beloved.
Your love is encompassing
And your forgiveness is endless!
You are always present
And you are full of compassion!
Give me strength,
And grant me wisdom.

Bless the fruits that I produce
For your Kingdom.
I only serve you, my God,
Only you, do I worship!
Your name is EL Shaddai;
You are everything I need.
Your name is EL-Roi;
You know my heart!

Your name is EL Haggadol;
Great is your glory!
Your name is EL Chayim;
I am your child!
Your name is Immanuel;
I know you are with me.
God knows my brokenness
And continues carrying me.

My God, my Lord,
My everlasting Father,
Do not pass me by
But give me sanctuary.
Hear my petition, my God!
I cry out to you.
Let not your disciple
Succumb to his enemies!

I don’t normally share my poetry; however, psalms are meant to be read or sung collectively by the people. They witness both to our brokenness as human beings and they also witness to the power of God in our lives. If God can walk the Psalmist of Psalm 137 through the horrific tragedy of the Babylonian Exile, then God can walk me through the situations I find myself in. If God walks me through my situations (and God does)…I who am an unworthy sinner…surely God walks you through yours too!

Not only do I challenge you to journey through the Psalms, I also challenge you to begin to share your psalms with others as well. You don’t have to be a talented poet or songwriter to share your psalms, and there is no rule that states psalms can only be written in words on paper. Your psalm is any expression that shows your faith journey and how God is working in your life. Show people that they are not alone. Show them that you, too, have periods of doubt, of despair, of hope, of happiness, of joy, of anger, and of every other human emotion. Take the mask off and show people that they are not alone and, then, be willing to walk with them as they share with you that you are not alone either. That is what the Psalms do for us, and that is what we are called to do for others as well! Make your life a living psalm.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” (Psalms 46:1 NLT)
PRAYER
Lord, I lift my psalms up to you. Make my life a living psalm, a witness to all. Amen.

Human Again

Read Daniel 4:8-33

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:49 NRSV)

BelleOne of my favorite Walt Disney films of all times is an animated film called, “Beauty and the Beast.” It is one of those rare stories that transcends its medium (e.g. animation) and reflects a truth and/or reality within its viewers. On the surface, the story is about a beautiful french peasant girl named Belle (whose name means beauty in French) who wants nothing more than to escape her present reality and live more than “this provincial life.”

Of course, based on the classic fairytale, we all know that Belle gets more than she bargained for. She finds herself locked up in a castle by a ferocious, hideous beast. Overtime, though, the Beast finds himself falling in love with Belle and, in turn, Belle finds herself falling in love with the Beast. It is, of course, that mutual love between them that will lift the curse on the beast and his castle, and will transform him from a beast into who he was created to be, a charming prince.

What I love about this tale is not so much the “happily ever after” end of it, but in the dark reality that leads up to the need for a “happily ever after.” In the Walt Disney version, each of the characters are shown to have inherent flaws. The prince, at the outset of the film, was cold-hearted and self-centered. When a beggar woman came to him to seek shelter from the cold, he rejected her because of her haggard appearance. Of course, that woman was really an enchantress and she cursed the prince, making his external appearnce match his internal self: a cold-hearted, fercious beast.

His court ended up cursed with him. While they had nothing directly to do with prince’s wicked actions, they were cursed as well. Perhaps some were undeserving of the curse but, as is often the case, they suffered the consquences of the sins and evil of someone else. Some of them were cursed to be transormed into the objects that represented their daily duties. For instnace, the maid became a feather duster, the head master the staff and spokesman for the prince, became a clock. The womanizing servant Lumiere became a candelabra. In essence, the very castle that objectified its subjects, and saw people as a means to an end, became doomed to be objects as well.

Moving beyond the prince, the other characters are imprisoned by their flaws too. Gaston is imrisoned by his own vanity and pride. LeFou, Gaston’s sidekick, is imprisoned by his desire to have status by virtue of his association with Gaston. The townspeople are imprisoned by their fears and ignorance. Maurice, Belle’s father, is imprisoned by is preoccupation with his inventions, allowing them to take precedence over his time with his daughter. Finally, Belle is imprisoned by her desire to have more than what she currently has. She doesn’t want to be stuck living the simple life, with simple people, settled down in a family that keeps her from exploring the world.

In the Broadway play, as the Beast and Belle start to fall in love, there is a musical number that the enchanted objects (e.g. Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, Chip, Cogsworth, etc.) begin to sing entitled, “Human Again.” Seeing that the Beast and Belle have begun to understand what actually means to selflessly love, there is hope that the kingdom can be restored back to being “human again.” The heart of this song has an important message for us all. If we are to be truly human again, if we are to be as we were created to be, we will be consumed by selfless, unconditional love. In the meantime, we are only shadows (some of us even beastly shadows) of our true selves.

While not everyone will learn what it means to be love, those who do will be restored to their true humanity. Jesus Christ showed us what it means to be truly human, and what we need to do in order to be truly human again. Our challenge is for us to study Jesus teachings and examples one what it means to be love, and to begin to allow Christ, through the Holy Spirit, to perfect us in being truly human again. Let’s not  just admire Christ, but begin to live and love like him.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Like a real human does, I’ll be all that I was on that glorious morn when we’re fin’lly reborn, and we’re all of us human again!” – Alan Menken and Tim Rice, “Human Again”, Beauty and the Beast

PRAYER
Lord, free me from everything that is keeping me from being truly human. Amen.

Priesthood

Read 1 Peter 2:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And You have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:10)

empathy-1It is always hard dealing with the changes and the challenges that life throws our way. Just when everything seems to settle, the smoke clears, and life seems to be going the way we expect it, that is the moment another catastrophe or unexpected tragedy hits us. In the midst of that, we are left behind scratching our heads, beating our chests, and crying out to God for an answers as to WHY these things happen.

Of course, there is no answer to the question, “why”, that would ever satisfy us in moments of tragedy, loss and grief. Honestly, even if there was a REALLY good reason as to why, it would do us no good in removing the pain we feel. The fact of the matter is that we spend our lives building relationships, growing to love and care for people and, in the midst of that, time flies by and life happens. Before we know it the people we love, the homes we have made, and the lives we have built seem to come crashing down all around us with little or notice whatsoever.

As a person who has served as a youth pastor, a senior pastor, and a chaplain in a Continuing Care Retirement Community, I have seen people I have grown to love and deeply respect go through tough illnesses, life-altering/life-threatening accidents, and terminal diseases. I have sat with youth who are suffering depression, whose parents are going through divorce and a host of other issues. On the one hand, it is what I do and I am thankful to God that I get to serve in such a capacity as I know it means the world to those who are in need of pastoral presence and prayer.

With that said, pastors and chaplains are human too, and we also find ourselves struggling to process the tragedies, the trials, the loss, and the grief that life throws our way, even when we are simultaneously offering our support and presence to others who are going through the same exact process. What’s more, as a human being, I have had my share of losses that are not connected with my vocation. I have lost family members I was close to, I have lost friends, and I have lost my own self-identity at points. I have struggled through illnesses of my own, I have suffered depression, and I have had my share of life-threatening accidents that, one day, I may very well suffer more consequences from.

It is in that very human experience that we have ALL been given a tremendous gift and a tremendous responsibility. As humans, we are are able to relate with others as result of our own personal experiences. We are able to be there for others because we can understand what they are going through, even when our own circumstances don’t match theirs entirely. It is in our humanity, that we have been given the power to relate and to empathize with people.

I recently was shown a YouTube video that nicely sums up the difference between Sympathy and Empathy. Sympathy is feeling sorry for people from a distance. We keep that distance to prevent ourselves from being in the darkness, the loss, the grief, the suffering with the people we are sympathizing with. Empathy on the other hand, is being present with people in the midst of their despair, joining them in that despair and shouldering that despair with them so that they do not suffer alone.

This is certainly what pastors, myself included, do in our ministries; however, this is not a roll that is specific only to pastors and clergy but a roll that all people are called to partake in. God, in Jesus Christ, suffered in all the ways common to the human experience, empathizes with us, and helps us to shoulder the things we are struggling with. So to, God calls us all to minister to one another in order that no one suffers alone. The Gospel, and the Bible as a whole, witness to the priesthood of all believers. We are all ordained by God to minister to one another and, in that ministry, we are to be a people of empathy, not sympathy.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The priest is not made. One must be born a priest; must inherit [the] office. I refer to the new birth—the birth of water and the Spirit. Thus all Christians [are] priests, children of God and co-heirs with Christ the Most High Priest. – Rev. Martin Luther

PRAYER
Lord, put in my heart your compassion and your empathy so that I may share in the suffering of others as I bear witness to your presence in their lives and in their struggles. Amen.