Archive for Jesus

I, Judas

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2019 by thecrossingchicago

It was an intimate moment between the two of them.  Sure, there were others around.  Some were undoubtedly watching with their own interpretations wondering what it was that they were seeing.  Perhaps there was some dis-ease among a few, but then again, they were likely preoccupied by the fact that they were eating dinner with and talking to a man who was long enough in the grave to have a stench.

Judas made his opinion known as Mary used her hair to apply the mixture of nard and tears to Jesus’s feet in her final act of love this side of the tomb.  It was a frozen point in time special to the two people who were in it, who got it, who knew they needed it because it would be their last opportunity before the hands of fate would wrap them in its hatefully morbid grasp.

Like Judas imposing his own concerns about selling the expensive perfume instead of “wasting” it on Jesus, we often find ourselves in similar situations where we are assigning our own bias from the periphery.  Who knows if Judas was lining his pockets with the treasury money, but we do know that he was inserting himself into a space that wasn’t meant for him.

I dreaded carrying the pager.  Every chaplain in the hospital had to take turns, but I seemed to get it on days when I just wanted to set my mind on cruise control and get the day done with no interruptions.  That Monday was no exception.  When the pager started playing its irritating tune on my hip, I knew that I wasn’t going to get that luxury.

The number on the pager told me that it was the ER.  Most of the time, you don’t have any trouble finding your destination when you go to the ER because there is a flurry of activity and you make your way to it like a moth to a flame – occasionally with the same effects.

Diego’s mother was sitting in a chair just outside the bay where her three year-old son was covered in what looked like bubble wrap to keep him warm.  Tubes extended everywhere from his small body and machines were whirring and humming all around.  His father sat to the right of the bed with his head in his hands occasionally looking up at his boy in dismay.

His mom was understandably in hysterics and I knelt by her side to try to offer some comfort.  There wasn’t much I could do other than just be there and sometimes that has to be enough.  There were no magic words or incantations that were going to undo what had already been done at the bottom of a pool covered in a tarp that the unknowing tot had apparently mistaken for a trampoline.

She wanted something tangible to hold on to because she couldn’t hold her baby.  The team was doing their best to bring him back to life, but most knew it was futile.  I was doing my best not to show my emotions so that I could be strong for this broken woman, but I about came undone when she fell on the ground and clutched his tiny little shoes to her chest.  Seemingly washing them with her hair and tears in a Mary-like gesture for one who would not be raised.

It’s hard to forget things like that.  I wondered how Diego was doing and eventually assumed he had already died as I went about my week tending to other emergencies.  It was that following Thursday when, once again, that dreaded piece of plastic was clasped to my belt.  With the same desire to go about my day uninterrupted, I looked with disdain at the number on the display as it played its foreboding tune.  I didn’t recognize the extension and had to call to see where I was headed.  Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

I pressed the button outside the unit and waited for a nurse to buzz me in.  As the doors opened, the antiseptic smell of rubbing alcohol and every antibacterial potion filled my nostrils.  Being a lifelong member of the I-Hate-Needles Club, it never failed to make me wince.

Making my way to the nurses’ station I made eye contact with the nurse in charge for that shift.  She tilted her head toward the open door down the hall and I looked wondering who was in there.  I could see Diego’s mom poking her head out the door sobbing, looking down the hall and then briefly at me before she went back inside the room.  So it was going to be one of those days.

I had no idea what had happened to Diego and his family.  The days blended together and other patients, other crises didn’t necessarily make me forget about them, but at least took them from the forefront of my awareness.  Now I at least knew they had made it this far.

I came around the side of the station and stood to the right of the nurse who was pouring over some documents.  She looked up at me with a look that I occasionally got from nurses that said, “What the hell do I do?”  She looked down the hall a few doors down from Diego’s room to where I could see people walking in a circle and hear music of some kind as they undulated to the beat.

“He’s gone and I ain’t going in there to tell them, Chappy.”  She looked back up at me.

“Alright.  I’ll do it.”  I took a deep breath and shook my head as I made my way toward the sound of what seemed to be praise and worship music in Spanish.  The people were waving their hands, some crying, as they threw prayers to the ceiling as if the intensity of their prayers was proportionate to the distance they would travel to God’s ears.

“I know God hears your prayers.”  I gulped as they all stopped and began to gather around me.  “But we need to pray for comfort and peace now because he’s gone.”

The weeping was of biblical proportions – tearing of clothes and heaping of ashes.  It was almost too much to bear seeing these people come apart.  Some collapsed into each other in a melee of tears and others began to pray through the sobbing as they once again began their circular dance.

I led a group of them back to Diego’s room and wasn’t prepared for what I would find.  I took a deep breath before I entered the room and unlike Lazarus, there was no smell of death.  Although he never regained any of his brain function after his fateful swim, he remained “alive” on machines until minutes before.

With the kind of grief that only a mother could feel, she held his lifeless body wrapped in a brown coarse blanket almost like a saddle blanket.  She hugged him close to her breast and I could see her shoulders tremble and heave from behind as she wept.  I placed a hand on her shoulder and once again did everything within my power to keep from losing it myself.  As an empath, it’s sometimes almost too unbearable to stand so close to a burning bush.

She turned to me and held out her little boy.  At first, I didn’t know what to do.  I stood frozen as I looked at the shell of this tiny life and then back up at her.  Then I got it.  I took Diego in my arms and held him tight for a few moments.  I kissed his smooth precious forehead and turned and passed him on to the person next to me – probably an aunt.  It was hard to see her face through my tears and that was ok.

As I watched each person hold Diego and anoint his face and hands with their tears, my feeling of dismay and discomfort gave way to a better realization.  Where I initially felt an extreme dis-ease around them passing this body around and that they were somehow doing something wrong, I became aware that it was I who was wrong.  It wasn’t that these people were doing something horrific or unconscionable.  It was I, who like Judas, had walked into a thin place and imposed my own interpretations as I wasn’t immediately able to see the pure holiness of it all.

Rosie-Colored Glasses

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 9, 2015 by thecrossingchicago

modern-houses-snow-country-house-designs-8It was a bright day as the sun glittered on the freshly fallen snow.  The roofs of the nice houses were covered as were the luxury vehicles that sat in their driveways.  It was a perfect scene from a Norman Rockwell painting or perhaps from Home Alone before everything went haywire.  Except for the suspicious looking man in the Lexus driving through the neighborhood.  When the officer noticed him, he could tell that he was clearly out of place.  After all, the man was African-American and not only did he not belong in this affluent neighborhood, but in all likelihood, the Lexus he was driving was stolen.  Black folk couldn’t afford such luxuries.

The officer pulled the man over and asked him if he knew why he’d been pulled over.  A lovely little trick that cops use when they clearly have no reason to be pulling someone over.  Perhaps he expected the man to flinch or even give a confession right on the spot.  It worked.  The man did confess to his crime. 

“Yes, officer.  DWOTW,” the man answered.

“What the hell does that mean?” the officer asked as he squinted his eyes suspiciously.  This boy was toying with him.

“Driving while other than white,” the man explained.

The officer was not remotely amused and asked the man to get out of the vehicle so that the officer could search it.  An African-American in a nice car in an affluent neighborhood could only be up to no good.  There had to be drugs or weapons in the car.  It didn’t matter that the officer had no cause for search nor seizure.  There wasn’t something that looked like a gun handle sticking up barely in sight in the glovebox.  There was no bag with white powder sticking out from under the seat.  No, the man’s crime was simply “driving while other than white.” 

The driver pointed out the officer’s folly and rubbed a little extra egg on his face as he pointed out that, not only was the Lexus he was driving his own, but that was his big house on the end of the street with his kids and wife waiting inside for him.  This particular driver was a graduate of Northwestern University where he played defensive back.  He was later drafted by the San Diego Chargers and after retirement from the NFL, finished his graduate work and is now employed as a nuclear physicist overseeing the 17 nuclear power plants east of the Mississippi.  This man is also one of Westyn’s football coaches.

Roosevelt Groves (or Rosie, as we call him), told me this story as we was taping up Westyn’s hand after blocking a PAT and taking a boot in the back of the hand.  When one of the coaches asked Rosie if he had a knife to cut the makeshift splint that they had created to fit Westyn’s hand, he replied jokingly, “Cops shoot black folks who carry knives so I don’t carry one anymore.”  I laughed along with him, but it wasn’t really funny.

Lest anyone think I am anti-police or even overly critical, I am pointing out something that does not merely exist within the police force, but within all of us.

What if Rosie had been an African-American teenager in a hoodie sitting down low in a beat up Chevy Monte Carlo blasting rap music when he cruised through this neighborhood?  Then would the officer have been justified in pulling him over?  As hard as it is to say out loud, must of us would say yes. 

All races have equal rights in the U.S.  Civil rights became a reality 50 years ago.  There’s nothing wrong with society.  We see our world through rose-colored glasses and things appear much better than they really are because we are the privileged.  We should know something is horribly wrong when even our prophet, Lord, and God incarnate uses racial slurs.  Maybe instead of looking at everything through rose-colored glasses, we need to start seeing it through Rosie-colored glasses.

When we read the Bible in snippets as given by the lectionary, we tend to lose the overall meaning.  The narrative is taken apart in chunks and we end up with a misinterpretation of the intended lesson.  One important aspect of this story is that Jesus choses to go to “the other side.”  He doesn’t merely go to the other side of the tracks, he goes where the people on the other side of the tracks came from

The Jews didn’t only look down on those who lived in the surrounding territories, they hated them.  These were the people whose ancestors tried to keep them from claiming their God-given land.  I don’t imagine the “foreigners” liked the Jews any more.  It took a lot of courage and a big swallow of pride for this Syrophoenician woman to go to Jesus and ask for help.  The love she had for her daughter compelled her to go to this Palestinian Jew who had a reputation for being a healer.  And what she received in return was a slap in the face.

I’m not sure what this woman expected Jesus would say when she went to him.  After all, she wasn’t only a foreigner, but she was a woman.  Jesus was supposed to be different, but he proved to be just like the rest. 

Go away dog, what I have to give is for the Jews only. 

Yes, but even the dogs get to collect the crumbs that fall at their master’s feet.

I imagine that Jesus was clapping in his heart when she said this.  She stood up for herself and didn’t allow even the Sophia of God to put her down when her daughter was suffering. 

Did Jesus use this opportunity to teach a lesson to the disciples?  He had just gotten done teaching that it was what came out of our mouths that defiled and now what went in.  Perhaps he was showing them how words could hurt.  Or maybe he just wanted to test the woman and see what she would do.  Then again, maybe Jesus was just a bigot like everyone else.   

This woman’s daughter was afflicted by a demon.  While the people of that area believed in the supernatural and demon possession was not out of the question in their worldview, it was also code for something that was torturing the mind.  Something was bringing this girl down and tormenting her.  Perhaps she was bullied by her peers.  Maybe somebody called her a dog.  We will never know.  What we do know is that Jesus taught this woman a valuable lesson – don’t ever let yourself be put down by others.

This was a moment much like when Jacob wrestled with the Angel of God until morning – I will not let go of you until you bless me.  Jesus threw some cruel words at her, but she did not back down.  She, in essence, said I will not go away until you do what I know only you can do.  The correlation surely was not lost on Jesus.

I have done what you asked for.  Go back to your daughter and teach her to do as you have done.  Don’t let her be pushed down by those who would seek to oppress her.  Teach her to have pride and never, ever, hang her head and believe that she is any less than anyone else.

This story would be powerful all by itself without a follow-up.  But Jesus wasn’t done.  When he was headed through Tyre on his way back, he came across a man who was deaf and mute.  It’s a little gross to think how Jesus basically spit in his mouth, but it’s very powerful to consider what the result was.  Was the man really deaf and mute?  Or was he doing what most of us do on a daily basis?  Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. 

Before Jesus said ephphatha, or open, he looked up to heaven and sighed.  How long will these people keep on this way?  How long will those who have been created in your image continue to treat each other like dogs? 

Jesus opened the man’s mouth and ears and told him to stop being silent and start speaking up.  Don’t pretend you can’t hear injustices spoken.  Don’t act like everything is ok.  Jesus’s message was the same to him as it is to us: I have given you a voice, now use it.

The Dogma Files: Adam and Eve

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2015 by thecrossingchicago

adam and eveGod is a liar.  The fact that we exist is proof of this reality.  In Genesis 2:16-17 God tells Adam that he can eat from any tree in the Garden of Eden, except for the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  God warned Adam that if he ate of that fruit, he would die on that same day.  Guess not.  Maybe God was just kidding.

There are a lot of aspects to Christianity that are really hard to swallow.  There are a lot of stories that just don’t add up and the story of Adam and Eve is probably at the top of this list of untenable narratives.  Can we safely disregard this story then?  Should we just pull a Thomas Jefferson and cut that part out of the Bible?  Shame on the writers of this story for recording lies that would cause us to stumble some 2500 years later.  Or should I say shame on us for reading metaphorical narratives as though they were literal history?

It sounds awfully sacrilegious to call God a liar.  If the Bible is recorded as the exact, inspired, historical, factual Word of God, then God has been caught in a number of lies.  This makes it extremely difficult to follow such an untrustworthy deity.  We don’t have to worry about ditching God though, because God never said the words written in the Bible – not verbatim anyway.  As I’ve said here and elsewhere numerous times, the Bible is compilation of historiographical narratives.  It is the story of a people who are trying to make sense of their existence by recording true myths about existential problems and the plight of humanity.  This is the story of the Jews as seen through human eyes peering into the world of the sacred.

To call something a true myth is not an oxymoron.  Mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “All religions are true but none of them are literal.”  It’s also been said that a myth is something so true that is happens every day.  The stories in the Bible, Adam and Eve being no exception, are myths that help us see into the true nature of God and humanity, if only we have the eyes to see.  With this in mind, what would it look like to view the story of Adam and Eve through this lens and not as a literal event?  Let’s find out.

Although Adam is a proper name today, it wasn’t when this story was recorded.  Adam merely means “human.”  It is a play on words using the Hebrew word adamah which means “earth” from which Adam was formed.  The word for form or make in Akkadian is adamu and the word for red (the color of the clay from which Adam was made) is adam.  Those scripture writers were some witty fellers, weren’t they?

The Jews were in captivity in Babylon in the 6th century BC.  By that time, Akkadian was replacing Sumerian where most in the ancient Akkadian empire spoke both languages.  When the Jews were in captivity, they were influenced by the Akkadian, Babylonian, and Sumerian religions and this is where the creation accounts of Genesis come from.  The Jews’ language was also influenced by these other Ancient Near Eastern cultures.  Ironically, the story of King Sargon who led Akkad to prominence sounded much like the story of Moses.  Sargon was said to be placed in a reed basket as a baby and placed in the river to be left to the mercy of nature.

Now that we’ve freed our minds from the absolute necessity that the story of Adam and Eve must be literal, let’s take a look at the story and see what meaning it holds.  There is a lot of meat here (pun intended) around Eve being formed from Adam and the dominion of humans over animals, but I’ll save the gender roles and ecological discourse for another time.  For now, I want to focus on “The Fall” of humankind.

Adam and Eve had their pick of any food in paradise.  Assumedly, there were numerous types of vegetation and fruit to choose from.  It may be worth noting that there is no account of Adam explaining the rules around the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but although God laid down the law before Eve was even created, she is aware of what was said.  This shows that Adam and Eve are not to be taken separately.  They represent all of humankind and are given two names so as to represent both genders.

Despite the fact that Eve knew better, she is tricked by the wily serpent (supposedly not yet a “snake” because it hasn’t yet been condemned to slithering on its belly) to eat the fruit of the tree (note again that nowhere in this text does it say “apple” although that’s how the legend has morphed) and have the same knowledge as God.  Adam also ate of it and many misogynists would claim that Adam gets a bad wrap because it was all really Eve’s fault.  It also makes us wonder why the story is told as the Fall of Adam and not the Fall of Eve.  God warned that death would happen on the same day, but we are told that the two went on to have children who would populate the region.  Of course we run into the age-old problem of incest if the offspring of Adam and Eve were having children together, but this is only problematic when the story is taken literally.

Adam and Eve did not physically die from eating the fruit, but as an archetype for humanity, humans do begin an existential death when we try to play God.  When we create false realities about ourselves, others, and cosmology and then try to impose those realities upon others, we die a little every day.  Adam and Eve were completely innocent in every sense of the word.  Not only had they done no wrong, but they were naive.  They had no idea they were naked.  They had no needs nor anxieties.  But when they tried to have knowledge (versus wisdom) they became aware of their lack and ineptitude.  They were no longer “good enough” and felt the need to hide themselves from the essence of all being.

Knowledge is good.  Knowledge is, as they say, power.  But when we seek knowledge as an alternative to wisdom, we begin to climb up out of the well of our depths and into the world of logic.  We lose all sense of mystery and sacredness and begin to see a need for a logical explanation for everything.  Facticity becomes more important than wonder and we lose the ability to experience God.  We leave our hearts behind and live in our heads.  This was the downfall of humankind as brilliantly painted into the tapestry of the myth of Adam and Eve.

When knowledge rules over wisdom dualism is born.  The need for exact reasoning for everything leads to a necessary determination whether something is good or bad.  The realm of wisdom tells us that there is no dualism and that good and bad are different sides of the same coin.  The realm of knowledge tells us that we have to put everything in its logical place to make sense of the universe.  This is why the forbidden fruit grew on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  When humankind decided to replace contentment and an awareness for the sacred we began to die.  The very essence of our meaning and purpose, our very existence in fact, and that existence in God became cloudy and we made a self-imposed exodus from paradise to our own Babylon where suffering awaited being born out of our delusions.  Humans are incapable of knowing everything.  When we try to give everything an explanation, we will inevitably be wrong some, if not most, of the time.  The false realities that we create are mere delusions that become attachments, for we are incapable of letting go of our finitude.  Perhaps this is why we have such a problem with mortality and need assurance of eternal life.

The story of Adam and Eve is not the history of our earthly mother and father who brought the wrath of God upon themselves for eating a forbidden fruit.  It is the story of humanity’s struggle to make sense of its own existence.  It is a myth that is so true that it happens every day.  It’s a warning against giving up wisdom for knowledge.  It isn’t an explanation for why bad things happen in the world and why Jesus needed to come as “the new Adam” and save us from ourselves.  But, in a sense it is exactly that, because Jesus pointed the way back to paradise.  He taught the way back to godly wisdom and giving up worrying and competing over resources.  He showed us that we need merely to turn our gaze inward to find that the Garden of Eden not only still exists, but is flourishing with more than we can ever need.  Now that’s a story worth telling.

The Three Wise Guys

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 3, 2014 by thecrossingchicago

ImageThe three wise men.  That’s what we call them, although it says nowhere in Matthew that there were actually three.  Perhaps they would be better labeled as the “the three wise guys.”  Herod was the Kim Jong Un of his time.  This was Herod Antipas, not to be confused with his father, Herod the Great.  He was paranoid and realized that he was no more than a puppet at the hands of those more powerful than he.  He killed his own family members out of paranoia that they would try to dethrone him and even divorced his own wife to marry his brother’s.  When John the Baptist spoke out against this marriage arrangement, Herod had John’s head served up on a silver platter – literally.

It must have been a great slap in the face then, for these three wise guys to show up at Herod’s doorstep saying, “We understand that a new king has been born.  Someone who will be greater than you.  We want to go pay him homage, so can you tell us where he might be?”  That would be like going to Kim Jong Un and saying, “We hear that a new leader over all of unified Korea has been born, can you show us where he is?”  You can imagine how Herod would have flown into a rage and ordered every child two and under to be killed.

The question that has to nag at us though, is, who were these wise men and why did they go to Jesus?  It might be helpful to take a look at who they likely were.  The magi were called wise men, but they were also mystics and astrologers.   Magi is the plural of magus which was the name for a Zoroastrian practitioner.   Looking back on history and connecting the dots, we can determine that these Zoroastrians were from either Persia or Babylon.  A good number of Jews never came back from the exile to Babylon and it is a distinct possibility that, if these Zoroastrians were Babylonian, they could be familiar with the Jewish concept of a messiah.  Likewise, if they were Persians, they would be very familiar with the Jews as it was Cyrus, the founder of Persia, that defeated the Babylonians and allowed the Jews to return home and even helped them rebuild their temple.  From 1500 BCE, Zoroastrianism was the primary religion in that area in terms of monotheistic religions.  In fact, it is said to have been the first monotheistic religion followed soon thereafter by Judaism.

Zoroaster, or Zarathustra was a religious figure who got tired of the class/purity systems of his area in what is today northeast Iran.  There was a pantheon of deities and people were expected to please the Gods or face the consequences leading to strict purity rules that developed into a caste system.  Zoroaster found this to be very oppressive and was reported to, during one of the purification rituals, had an experience in which he encountered Mazda – the one true God.  This God, Zoroaster said, is all good and is the creator of the universe.  Mazda dwells within humans and every bit of good in people is a manifestation of Mazda, where all evil is from Angra Mainyu.  It was supposedly revealed to Zoroaster that Mazda wanted for humans to focus on practicing good words, good thoughts, and good deeds.  In doing so, the goodness would be spread to others and eventually evil would be defeated and a new kingdom would be established here on the earth while those who embraced evil ended up in hell with Angra.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, I thought it might.  It was into such a system of Jewish purity laws and class division between the pure and the untouchables that Jesus was born into.

King Cyrus had been a Zoroastrian and proselytizing was against the core of the religion.  More important than converting people to certain beliefs was teaching people to show compassion and love to one another, thereby bringing about heaven on earth.  It is no wonder then that King Cyrus has a special place in the hearts of many Jews, especially since he sent Sheshbazzar along with Zerubbabel back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and then commissioned Ezra to go back and teach God’s law to the newly returned Jews.

Fast forward about 500 years and here we find a group of Zoroastrian mystics, those who believe fully in the immanence of God within human beings, going to pay homage to one who was to be the ultimate incarnation of God.  These men were signifying the end of the old order and the beginning of the new.  This was not to replace Judaism, but to embrace it while casting off the man-made oppressive aspects of it that only served to make God seem farther away.  We humans are good at building systems and structures that are supposed to get us closer to God that only serve as barriers that prevent us from seeing God.

If God indwells all humans, and those who are open to the awareness of the presence of God can experience that connectivity, then it should be no surprise that these Zoroastrian mystics would have experienced something like a cosmic earthquake at the core of their being when a God-man like Jesus entered the scene.  Someone who wanted exactly what they wanted – the redemption of all creation – had come and they just had to meet him.  It’s not known how long these men stayed and who knows, could they have even had some influence on Jesus’ spiritual development?

We can learn from these men that it’s not always wise to turn to the powers that be for wisdom and direction.  Just because it’s “The way we’ve always done it” doesn’t mean it’s the best way.  Herod and the religious leaders represented the old ways that just led to death.  Fear leads to an irrational and dangerous attempt at grasping and holding on to save some semblance of familiarity.  Let’s be open to new revelation no matter where it comes from.  Let’s see that God is still speaking, and in this New Year, let’s put the fear, complacency, trepidation aside and dare to do something different.

You’ll Never Walk Alone

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 11, 2013 by thecrossingchicago

ImageIt’s no wonder things went the way they did.  After all, William was born in a tavern that his parents owned and lived above.  At age 17, after a girlfriend died of complications from surgery, William entered a deep depression that would continue to rear its ugly head throughout his life.  To make matters worse, William suffered from anxiety which made him socially awkward and made it difficult for him to have a good time with others.  He went to college at Norwich University, but his depression and panic attacks led him to quit during his second semester.  He returned to school the next year, but was suspended after a hazing incident in which no one would take responsibility, so the entire class was suspended.  

William ended up being called in to the Vermont National Guard in 1916 and and then into WWI two years later.  During his training, he and the other military guys would often get invited to parties which scared William to death.  He soon found, however, that the alcohol served at the parties helped him relax and have a good time.  As long as he stayed drunk, he could enjoy himself around others without having to worry about his anxiety.  It helped to quiet the demons of his depression, too, but he would come away from each spat feeling more down than he was before, so he would turn back to the bottle.  Eventually his drinking got so out of hand that he could barely function.  He attended law school after the war, but was unable to graduate because he was too drunk to go get his diploma.  So, he became a stock speculator and traveled around evaluating companies for investors.  His wife thought the travel would do him good and help him keep his mind off of drinking, but the business deals just made more excuses to drink and eventually William’s reputation was ruined because he couldn’t function and he became known as an unreliable drunk.   

Eventually William hit rock bottom.  It was revealed that the alcohol was severely damaging the Wernicke section of his brain and that he would soon either die or be locked up due to insanity.  He had tried numerous times to quit drinking using everything from LSD to special counseling, but could not seem to kick the addiction.  As he lie there one day hung over and wishing that he could die, he remembered that his grandfather had been an alcoholic, but quit abruptly one day after a spiritual experience on a mountain.  His grandfather never drank again after that.  William cried out to God and yelled “Why can’t you do that for me!?  I’ll do anything!  If there is a God, let Him show Himself!”  He would recall later, that at that moment he felt a “hot flash.”  He said there was a bright light so magnificent that he could feel the warmth and for the first time since he could remember, he felt a great serenity overcome him.  William never drank again.  He went on to start a support group that held as one of its core tenets that folks needed a higher power to help them overcome their demons and survive their addiction.  He would come up with 12 steps and encouraging anonymity, would introduce himself at meetings by saying, “Hi.  I’m Bill W. and I’m an alcoholic.” 

Even after Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous along with Dr. Bob, regained sobriety and kept it, he never stopped saying he was an alcoholic.  Bill wasn’t cured.  He was healed.  It’s so easy to think of the two as being synonymous, but I’m quite convinced that they aren’t.  To be cured, one is once and for all relieved of the affliction that oppresses them so that it will never return.  To be healed is to have strength, from within or from without, and the mental clarity to not be tormented by that which afflicts you.  Bill wasn’t cured.  He could have easily taken another drink and even tried to when he was on his death bed dying of cancer many years later, but the nurses wouldn’t give it to him.  Bill overcame his demons, however, with help from God, a group of supporters, and himself and in this he became healed. 

I’m hard pressed to see many, if any, places where Jesus cured someone.  I can find many places, however, where the gospels say that Jesus healed someone.  We don’t really know why Jesus was there that day.  He just got in the boat and told his disciples, “Come on, let’s go to the other side.”  So when they come ashore in Gerasene in Luke 8:26-39, there is a man who is struggling with demons.  We’re tempted to think of Linda Blair spitting pea soup or Anthony Hopkins in The Rite, but I’m not so sure that that’s what this story was all about.  This passage says that the man was naked and lived in the tombs  on the outskirts of town where he was chained up and carried on a raucous.  He would frequently break his chains and wander about and apparently this was the case when he encountered Jesus on the shore of the lake.  The man ran up to Jesus and fell to his knees and yelled, “What do you have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”  He ran up and said “Jesus!  I’m tormented by demons and I want to be free!”  Right?  Wrong. 

This man was tormented no doubt, but he was also comfortable.  It was what he knew.  He must have been scared to death to be healed  because then he would have to face a new life – the great unknown – and how was he supposed to do that?  He didn’t even know if he could so he begged Jesus to let him remain afflicted so that he didn’t have to face change.  He yelled to Jesus and said “I beg you, do not torment me!”  Torment!?  The man recognized the Healer and said, in effect, “Please!  Just leave me as I am because this is all I know!”  So then Jesus asks his name and the man said Legion. 

Legion.  This is akin to the man saying, “I am oppression itself.”  Legion was the Roman oppressors with their legions of men keeping the law.  Legion was the name of any illness or affliction that ever dragged a human being down into the abyss and made them feel despair.  This man represented everything that was, ever had been, and ever would be wrong with any human being.  But the interesting thing is, the towns people represented everything that was ever wrong with society.  Did they rejoice when the man was healed and embrace him as a whole person?  No!  They were scared!  They weren’t afraid of the demons that had been cast out, but they were afraid of wholeness and being well.  What would they do if things were actually made right?  For all these years they had been pointing their finger at this man in the tombs and saying how wrong and sick that this man was.  All this time they had been talking themselves into thinking that they were ok because they had somebody to compare themselves to who they convinced themselves was much worse than themselves.  Perhaps the healing wasn’t merely about creating wholeness as much as helping people see that they were sick in the first place. 

Well, maybe I’m being too hard on the townspeople.  After all, Jesus did chase off their pigs and kill them, so if Jesus stayed around too long he was going to chase off all of their food supply.  Wrong!  Jews didn’t eat pork.  It was considered unclean.  The pigs were food for the Roman oppressors.  It was the pigs that fed the oppression and kept it rampant and Jesus in effect said, “If you don’t feed the affliction, it has no choice but to die off.”  Jesus recognized what was wrong with the individual, he recognized what was wrong with society, and he said, “I don’t care how bad you are or how low you think you’ve dropped, you can always be healed.” 

All along there had been the pretext that the man was demon possessed and scary and all of the people were afraid of him.  Perhaps that was partially true, but now the story is different and the man is afraid of the people.  The man was afraid of himself.  What was he going to do now?  He didn’t remember what it was like being well.  What does a whole person even do?  So he did what anybody would have done and said, “Jesus, take me with you!  I finally feel whole again and I don’t want to lose this peace and serenity that I’ve found.  Don’t leave me here alone!”  Jesus looked him in the eye and said, “You will never walk alone.  God will always be with you as will these people.  These people are just as scared as you are right now because they don’t know how to be well either.  So I need you to stay with them and tell them what God has done for you and eventually their eyes will be opened, too, so that you can become friends and become support for one another. 

It is so easy for us to become dejected and to give up.  It’s so simple for us to just throw in the towel or not even try in the first place because we know we can never be cured of our affliction.  But this isn’t living.  We have to have hope.  We have to grab hope with both hands and pull it in close never letting it go because know that although we will likely never be cured, we can be healed.  Guilt?  We can’t go back and undo what we have done or erase the event that makes us feel this guilt – even if we weren’t responsible for it.  But we can overcome the oppression that comes with it and let God take it off of our shoulders.  Addiction?  Yes, it’s an illness.  Once an addict, always an addict.  But that doesn’t mean you have to be active.  With help from God and friends and your own will power you can claim sobriety as yours.  Depression?  Mental illness?  True, you cannot cure these things, but you can reduce the power that they have over you and the weight that bears down on your shoulders.  Troubled relationship?  We can’t snap our fingers and make the other person do what we want them to, but we can take control of our own mindset and reenter from a new perspective asking God to give us the eyes to see and the strength to persevere. 

The same way that Jesus told the Gerasene that he needed to stay where he was at and attest to what God had done for him we have to realize that we cannot outrun our demons.  They are ours and nobody else’s.  But, it doesn’t mean we have to keep suffering.  With the support of friends and the kind of strength that only God can give, we can all be free of the effects.  We, too, can hold our heads high, claim control over our lives, and take heart that we are a healed and whole people who will never walk alone.