Lazarus

Posted in Uncategorized on April 3, 2017 by thecrossingchicago

I wonder how long the pause was.  I can see Jesus gulping as he held his breath waiting to see what would happen.  From that moment when he said, “Lazarus!  Come out!” to the point when Lazarus appeared in the doorway of the dark tomb must have felt like an eternity.  I’d like to say that Jesus knew that Lazarus would come out, but I’m more convinced that he didn’t.

For Jesus, it was personal.  He loved Lazarus and his family and Mary and Martha both pointed out that had Jesus come right away when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he wouldn’t have died.

The text says that Jesus felt angry.  He must have been angry with himself for not coming sooner and for the stench that was coming out of the tomb.  So, with clenched fists he cried into the darkness, “Come out!”  It was a plea that he desperately needed answered.  Jesus could call out all he wanted, but it was Lazarus’s choice if he was going to comply.

I don’t think we really consider Lazarus much in this narrative.  What must it have been like for him?  Being at peace in the sweet embrace of death and hearing this voice coming to him through the ether.  Was he angry for being disturbed?  Did he ask himself what good it would do to rise up?  I can imagine how he may have dreaded the bright sun in his eyes and the discomfort that would follow.  It’s likely that he even wondered if he would regret his decision to leave his solace and go back to the mundane and sometimes painful reality of existence.  What he was thinking, though, we will never know because Lazarus remains silent throughout the ordeal.

Jesus wept.  For him it was personal.  I wept.  For me it was personal, too.  We pleaded and begged my grandma to come out of her tomb and allow herself to live.  No matter how much we told her that she was ruining her life and ours, she still chose the bottle over our version of stability.  A couple of forced shots at rehab didn’t do the trick.

I wept.  That Mother’s Day in 1996 when I was driving past her house, I had a strange feeling.  Something inside told me that I needed to stop in and say good bye.  I was leaving the next day to fly to Utah and see my dad for the first time in 12 years.  So, when I went in and bid her farewell, finding her on the floor next to the fireplace (she couldn’t barely move by then and I would have to carry her to the bathroom), she asked me where I was going and her sister replied that I was going to Utah to see my dad.

“Nope,” I thought to myself.  “That’s not what I mean at all.  I’m telling you good bye.”

That night when I came home I was surprised to find that the house was dark and nobody was home.  The red light from the answering machine intermittently lit up the shadowy living room and I pushed the play button.

“Brandyn, I’m sorry to hear about your grandma,” the voice said.  So was I.  We didn’t have cell phones back then, so I had no idea that my mother had gone to tell her mom Happy Mother’s Day and found her dead on the floor where I had left her.  I wept.  It was personal.

As we read stories from the Bible (especially the NT), we subconsciously insert ourselves into the story.  In the story of Lazarus and Jesus, I had cast myself in the role of Jesus calling my grandma out of her tomb and back into the light of day.  Little did I know, I was actually Lazarus.  It was me in the tomb and Jesus was calling me out.  I didn’t realize that I had allowed her addiction to put me in the throes of a feeble attempt at control as I lied on my pall and let the stone be rolled over the door.  Just like it was Lazarus’s choice to come out of the tomb or not, it was my grandma’s choice to seek help for her addiction and my choice to let go.  I could no more control her than I could anybody else and I had to give up on that futile endeavor, thereby allowing myself to live.

It seems blasphemous to say that Jesus didn’t know if Lazarus would appear in that doorway or not.  We naturally want to believe that Jesus can make anything happen.  But when we look at the story of Ezekiel in the Valley of the Dry Bones, God asks him, “Mortal, will these dry bones live?”  Ezekiel replies, “You know, Lord.”  But God didn’t know.  He was telling Ezekiel and Israel that it was their choice whether they live or remain lifeless as the blanket of complacency was pulled up over their head.

Maybe Jesus didn’t know what the outcome would be and for some that may play with their sense of hope.  I think the hope comes after the decision, though.  When Lazarus appeared in that doorway and stepped out into the daylight, it was then that Jesus told the bystanders to unwrap him.  He didn’t tell them to go in and drag him out.  He didn’t go in himself and pull him up.  He let the choice remain with Lazarus, but when Lazarus made his decision, Jesus was right there with the community to give him the strength he needed to make it the best life possible.

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To Life and All Its Tragic Beauty

Posted in Uncategorized on December 13, 2016 by thecrossingchicago

o-eric-schmitt-matzen-570Last night, I read an article about Eric Schmitt-Matzen whose long white beard and large frame makes him a shoo-in for playing Santa.  Eric received a call from a nurse at the local hospital saying that a terminally ill five year-old boy was not doing well and had a last wish to see Santa.  So, he went to the hospital and granted the boy’s wish.  After a brief discussion about going to heaven, the boy died in his arms.  I couldn’t help but weep in hearing this story.

 

Having the boy die in his arms understandably made a wreck of Eric.  He had so many mixed emotions about holding this young child’s lifeless body in his arms that it wreaked havoc on him.  Even four years as an Army Ranger could not prepare him for this event.  I can certainly relate from holding the body of a three year-old in my arms after he drowned.

 

When I was working as a hospice chaplain, I would often kneel at the bedside of dying patients and hold their hands and pray with them.  Many times, the patient was not coherent because of the amounts of morphine they had to take to ease their pain and family would be gathered at the bedside keeping vigil.  I can recall one particular time especially when I was holding a patient’s hand and had my other hand on his chest as I gave him a blessing and said prayers with the family.  At some point I noticed that I wasn’t feeling the slow and belabored rise and fall of his chest and I opened one eye to look at him.  I noticed the rest of the family was looking at me and then back to the patient.

 

I was mortified.  I was sure this family would hate me for the rest of their lives and blame me for letting their dad, grandpa, husband die.  I was at a loss for words and trying to think of something to say quickly when his daughter said through silent tears: “That was beautiful.  I can’t think of a more peaceful way to go.  That’s exactly what he wanted.”  I let out a sigh of relief over the lump in my throat and quietly thanked God.  I would have six more similar experiences in my time in hospice and came not to see them as horrific experiences, but instead as things of beauty.

 

I hope that Eric can, and maybe he already has, come to see that young boy’s passing in his arms as the precious thing that it was.  Yes, it was terribly unfortunate that the little boy had to die so young and it was incredibly sad, but if he had to go, I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted to go any other way.
Whether we have the heavy, yet great honor of shepherding someone through their transition from life to the arms of God, or observe any other event that could be seen as trying, it would serve us well to look for the beauty in it.  Life isn’t easy and neither is death, but there is always a mysterious element of grace that sits right within the border of tragedy and harmony –  if only we have eyes to see it.

Posted in Uncategorized on November 16, 2016 by thecrossingchicago

repdemI was recently reading an article in the Christian Century about Paul’s preaching methods and visit to Athens when he encountered an idol dedicated to an unknown god.  Paul was invited to go to the Areopagus and speak and had his hackles up about all of the idols he had seen when he decided to change his approach.  Instead of criticizing the Athenians for their idolatry, he commended them on being “religious people” and looked for the common thread that connected him and them.

The author of the article, Anna Carter Florence, had these astute words to say about this event and about ourselves when we are in a situation where we have assumptions and preconceived notions about those around us:

If Paul hadn’t been paying close attention, he would have sailed right past it; if he hadn’t been examining the idols with interest, he would have missed its significance. He would have gotten all caught up in the flashiness of machinery and technology, which are not, in the end, what display our humanity. If you want to know the pulse of a place, look at how it marks its own borders. Look for what it is yearning and searching for beyond those borders. Find its idols, and then find the one that is missing.

Don’t just take a second look; take a second look at the very things that make you want to look away. Take a second look at the idols: the ones that repulse you most, the ones you love to hate, the ones that go against everything you stand for. Examine them closely, because in them you will find the opening. In them you will find the entry point to dialogue and conversation about our common human ache. And just so you know: those idols, the ones you scrutinize so carefully, will actually put your own into sharp relief. Another culture’s statue to the unknown god will probably show you that you had one, too, all along.

In today’s America with a contentious political fog that is so thick that you could cut it with Trump’s barber’s scissors, it is easy to get caught up in what divides us.  We have mental “frames” that shape how we see and think of others.  Our language itself helps create the image that we have of them.  This advice by Florence is timely as it reminds us to look at our brothers and sisters whom we may not agree with in a new light.
As human beings, we all have common needs.  Although those on the other side of the aisle may present them in a way that seems repulsive, it is critical to consider the why of their reasoning.  One example is the belief that we are created in God’s image and every life has value.  For conservatives, this may manifest itself in policy against abortion and euthanasia.  For progressives, it may be apparent in positions that stand against the death penalty or those that provide teaching and training to reduce gang violence.  At the roots of our being, there lies a common thread.  However, depending on how and where we were raised (Athens, Topeka, Chicago), our stances may be in stark contrast even though the premise is the same.
It’s helpful to keep in mind that it’s not just them who invoke moral reason to justify policies that seem utterly senseless to us.  We do it, too.  Even with everyone looking at the same object, it can appear vastly different depending upon the vantage point.  So, perhaps we can find some common ground with those we are ideologically opposed to by looking at our own idols to find the common ache.  Because “those idols, the ones you scrutinize so carefully, will actually put your own into sharp relief.  Another culture’s statue to the unknown god will probably show you that you had one, too, all along.”  Well said, Anna.
Peace on the Journey,
Brandyn

Poetry is Worthless

Posted in Uncategorized on November 12, 2016 by thecrossingchicago

Poetry is worthless, I heard.

It supposedly does nothing for the world.

But it’s not without value, I agree.

Lest the sweet voice of a child or

The sound of a requiem played in the distance

Wafting through the trees to my expectant ear

Be deemed to be without reason.

A prayer whispered on the lips of a dying saint

Or a liturgy penned by a poet of old

For a people who could not find the words.

Worthless?  Perhaps.

Needed?  Absolutely.

– Brandyn Simmons

Pressing On

Posted in Uncategorized on November 12, 2016 by thecrossingchicago

Real estate tycoon Donald Trump flashes the thumbs-up as he arrives on stage for the start of the prime time Republican presidential debate on August 6, 2015 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN / AFP / MANDEL NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Well, whether we like it or hate it, are elated or mortified, it’s done.  It happened.  There are so many adjectives that I’m tempted to insert here, but I won’t.  I have decided that rather than being bitter, I am going to be hopeful.  Last night at the prayer vigil that our church hosted, I prayed that God would bring mindfulness and compassion to the hearts of all people, including our President.

I have heard talks of revolts, uprisings, and revolutions.  I obviously don’t agree with violence and know that such ideas could only lead to detrimental outcomes for all.  I do believe in revolution, however.  This is not to say that it should be done by force or coercion, but rather that there needs to be a change in the hearts of all Americans.  Instead of looking at one another as enemies, we should be seeing each other as brothers and sisters so that we might be capable of empathy.  Our divisive speech and comments such as “I’m tired of ‘them’ taking ‘my’ tax dollars” needs to stop.  This will lead to the manifestation of the kin-dom of God right here where we are.

Many have quoted the saying that the Chinese characters for “crisis” are “emergency” and “opportunity.”  The latter is how I choose to see the situation.  I don’t see a need to be in a panic and become irrational.  Instead, I see this election as an opportunity for a new way of doing life.  Presidents only have so much power.  The real change happens in the trenches with the common folk.  So, if we say we are for social justice, equality, and empowerment, then now is our time to shine.  We have our work cut out for us and there’s no time like the present to get busy.

Blessings on the Journey Ahead,

Brandyn

Cubs Fan

Posted in Uncategorized on November 3, 2016 by thecrossingchicago

img_0802It hardly seems fair.  There were people who lived 100 years and never saw it happen.  There were folks who were life-long fans and died days or hours before getting to see it to its completion.  And then there was me, a Sox fan, decked out in Cubs hat and shirt gathered with the real fans holding my breath as Bryant threw to first to get the final out of a roller coaster of a game and chase away the Goat’s shadow.

Am I a sellout?  A fair weather fan?  A supporter?  I would say I am the latter.  I heard so many Sox fans say that they couldn’t bring themselves to root for the Cubs.  I even saw some that were wearing Indians hats during the game.  I can’t quite understand it, but some people feel the need to hold on to ideas for dear life.

After seeing all the names written on the wall at Wrigley, I could tell that we were getting somewhere.  Names of moms, dads, husbands, wives who didn’t live long enough to see their dream come true.  The way a man wiped back tears after writing his young wife’s name on the bricks and explaining that he had lost her to cancer.  The thoughts that these departed were “angels in the outfield” who somehow helped the Cubs win.  All of it beautiful.

We all have strengths that we should be putting to use to heal the world.  These are gifts that nobody else has, nor can use in the same unique way that we can.  If used wisely, we could start a revolution of hope and change.  Instead, unfortunately, so many people are holding on to ideas that don’t suit them.  They are looking over their greatness to grasp a desire that doesn’t suit them – even if it’s at others’ expense.  This is akin to the fan who can’t just be happy for their brothers and sisters and root for their team when they are strong.

It’s time to get on the bandwagon and become a fan.  Be a fan of yourself and those around you.  What are those skills or talents that you have that you may not have used as much as you could have?  What is someone near you doing to improve him/herself that is resulting in good for others?  Let’s start cheering for the good in people and in ourselves while we focus on the positive!

So, some may call me a sellout.  But I’d like to think I’m a just a fan – a fan of Chicago, a fan of humanity.

Strike the Same Iron

Posted in Uncategorized on September 22, 2016 by thecrossingchicago

the-blacksmith-and-the-kingThere seems to be a lot of tedium in my life.  The same repetitious stuff that brings on ennui and an unsettling feeling that every day is Groundhog’s Day.  I can kind of imagine how Bill Murray must have felt.  I’m not trying to sound melodramatic or come across as though all is bleak and dreary, but there is definitely an ever-present feeling of “here we go again.”  Another way that was eloquently put by Stephen King in his book, Dreamcatchers, is SSDD: Same Shit, Different Day.

For some reason, rather than breaking that cycle and doing something different (because I felt like I didn’t have the energy or had some excuse not to act with intentionality), I continued to endure.  I just went through the steps and rode the waves of highs and  lows until the end of the day would come and it was finally time to sleep and take my opportunity to get off the roller coaster at least for a few hours.

There is something to be said about “waiting until things get better” and having patience.  There is also a danger of failing to act when the power is there to affect change.  Ultimately, nobody has the ability to change my life except for myself.  The (perceived) lack of inspiration to write, the uncanny loss of desire to read, the feeling of complete loss of creativity and motivation in general.  All of these things seemed to stem from being caught up in this endless cycle of repetition and routine.

I finally did force myself to read.  I grabbed Paulo Coelho’s Aleph and began to devour it.  Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down.  This reminded me of the age-old truth that nothing will ever get done without taking the first step.  All I had to do was force myself to pick up the book and open it.  All that was needed was to sit down to this computer and start writing.  No matter what feelings I had about the process or the endeavor, doing it, was the only thing required to get me back on track.

We can’t control our feelings.  We can’t change our emotions on a dime and “cheer up” as many tell us to do.  What we can do, however, is decide how we react to those feelings.  If past experience tells me that I have enjoyed and succeeded at something in the past, then I have to remember that and get to it despite what the emotions tell me.  This is all a part of learning from the routine, which I realized from reading Coelho, isn’t the same as repetition.

In this enlightening book, Aleph, the main character tells a story to teach that:

Routine has nothing to do with repetition. To become really good at anything, you have to practice and repeat, practice and repeat, until the technique becomes intuitive.  I learned this when I was a child, in a small own in Brazil’s interior where my family used to spend the summer holidays.  I was fascinated by the work of a blacksmith who lived nearby.  I would sit for what seemed like an eternity watching his hammer rise and fall on the red-hot steel, scattering sparks all around, like fireworks.  Once he said, “You probably think I’m doing the same thing over and over again, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, you’re wrong.  Each time I bring the hammer down, the intensity of the blow is different; sometimes it’s harder, sometimes it’s softer.  But I learned that only after I’d been repeating the same gesture for many years, until the moment when I didn’t have to think – I simply let my hand guide my work.”

There is a beautiful lesson in here about mastery of skills and practice.  But I also see an even more important lesson about mindfulness and awareness.  Although each strike of the hammer looks like the same thing done over and over again, each blow is unique.  And so is each day for me.  Although my days are filled with a lot of the same activities and characteristics, each day is unique.  I am in control of how mindful I am about noticing those different and special opportunities that each day affords me.  This is a great  lesson about breaking habits and cycles.  Ultimately, though, viewing each facet of the day with new awareness is just as important as escaping the cycle itself.  It takes just such an awakening to lead to new beginnings and first steps.