Friday, December 09, 2016

Healing

Reading - Cure vs. Healing – Fred Recklau
Cure may occur without healing; healing may occur without cure.
Cure alters what is; healing offers what might be.
Cure is an act; healing is a process.
Cure seeks to change reality; healing embraces reality.
Cure takes charge; healing takes time.
Cure avoids grief; healing assumes grief.
Cure speaks; healing listens.

          It is good to be back. For those who might be new here. I have been on a 3 month health sabbatical.  During this time, I received Radiation and Chemotherapy treatment for tongue cancer which also spread to my lymph nodes.  After the treatments, I have spent the last six weeks allowing my body to start healing from the treatments.  I have found that healing is a process, which is why the reading Cure vs. Healing was so meaningful to me. I admit, when I started this process, I was (and to some degree of course still am) focused on the cure part of the equation. And rightfully so, it is not an either or proposition.
I am lucky, in that I have a good prognosis for my illness. Yet still I live with uncertainty. I will not know if the treatments were successful until the end of January. It looks good, but I live with uncertainty, and I have to live with it, I don’t have a choice. How I deal with that uncertainty and the uncertainty of every day in the future when I feel an ache or pain wondering if it may be a reoccurrence. To face this uncertainty means that
Healing embraces reality.
I have to admit the two months I was in treatment were the hardest two months of my life.  I ended up in the hospital three times with a high fever. The pain and discomfort from the treatments were cumulative and at times all I could do was lay up curled in a ball waiting for the pain to pass, or more so waiting for medicines to kick in that would allow me to endure it.  Endure, that is probably the best word to describe the experience. I had to keep in the back of my mind that it might be months even years before I was better. Although I lived in the present moment I tried to remember that in other times, I had endured other pains, and had come out at the end healed.  Healing takes time. Pulling from those memories helped me endure the difficult times. 
And although I didn’t see most of you during this time of healing, you were with me in spirit.  During the treatment I stayed in Iowa City at a residence on the hospital grounds called the Hope Lodge (sort of a Ronald McDonald House for adults). The staff used to joke with me that I won the award every day for most mail received.  The outpouring of cards and good wishes were so overwhelming that it carried me on days I could not carry myself.  There was one card that I received that gave me a great laugh, It said “There’s a Bible Verse that would be perfect right now, too bad you have heathens for friends”. Each card I received had a heartfelt note that made that invisible thread visible to me and reminded me that I was cared for and loved and missed by many. And that feeling was mutual.  What I learned about healing, is that although some of it is silent and internal, it is a reminder that I am held by family and friends and Congregants and that healing can be facilitated by a community. Sometimes with invisible threads, sometimes with the admonition from my brother to keep eating, sometimes with the joke from my son, sometimes with a visit of friends, sometime with the encouragement of others who have walked this path before me, sometimes just with the well timed soft gentle caress from my wife Jan, all of these things and much more helped me through this time
While I am healing from the treatments another lesson I learned was patience.  I had endured the treatments and now I expected to be better. I cant explain to you how hard it is for me to sit and watch daytime television. I watched a lot of Netflix but I yearned to do something productive.  I started taking walks twice a day in my neighborhood.  I started reading spiritual books for as long as I could without losing focus, but sometimes I just had to lay my head down and endure.
Now I know not everyone has a good prognosis though, and in truth as I said, I do not know yet if I am cured.  Yet I know I am healing.  When I was in treatment, as I was enduring, all of life’s big questions come to the forefront.  I have to admit, although I never asked myself the why me question from an existential standpoint, I did look at my lifestyle and ask could I have done something different to prevent this, so as to try to prevent it in the future.  The Committee on Ministry at the Congregation which does my annual review for the past three years each year had the same strong recommendation to improve my ministry. 
The UUA Ministerial Fellowship Committee upon granting me final fellowship a number of years ago offered the same recommendation.  That recommendation was to do a better job of self care for myself.  I have always been a type A person going full speed.  I have a vocation I love, so of course I want to spend as much time at it as I can, I care about all the people here and want to make as much time for as many people as I can.
But what I have discerned is that I have to take better care of myself physically and spiritually.  I have to actually take my day off and not go to meetings, I have to not accept every invitation to join every group I am invited to, I have to spend my writing day writing my sermon so I am not up late Saturday night writing.  I have to spend part of every day practicing my spiritual practice so I can be fully present when I am with you.  I am not saying if I had done these things I would not have gotten sick, but to heal myself, I must start doing these things. I want to be clear, no one at the Congregation ever pressured me not to do these things, this is completely on me. This was a hard way to wake me up to this lesson, but it was an important lesson. Healing listens and healing acts on what others are telling me, and listens and act on what my inner voice is telling me my body and spirit need.  In the dark hour of the night, when those deep questions arose, I was more certain than ever that I had made the right decision to go into ministry, that I had made the right decision to come to Iowa, (which by the way has a nearby hospital that is nationally known to specialize in the type of cancer I have) to I made the right decision to accept the call to this Congregation, A loving, caring, supportive Congregation, that held me up when I could not hold myself up. May these invisible threads hold us together always.

Homily Part II
Sometimes it is easier to see what healing is needed for oneself, and in today’s political atmosphere it is harder to see how to heal a country or even our larger community. No matter what side of the political divide you are on, it is clear there is a deep divide.  I know this past election has left many feeling fearful.  Particularly people who belong to racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, and as well as my BGLQT siblings.  Remember you are not alone. Remember what I said earlier that healing happens within communities. Make sure you stay connected to your community.  When the fear becomes overwhelming remember to gather with others who love you and will stand with you.  I don’t know what the future holds. The future is always unclear, and if we are not awake the present is unclear.  We live in fear of an uncertain future, but in truth it was always uncertain, we just didn’t accept that. It is better that we live with an uncertain future though than wallow in fear. We must live, not wallow. We must take time to grieve what could have been, and then go on living. We will have to endure some hardship, but we must have faith that the pendulum will swing. We have to be there to push the pendulum forward. 
That is the point though, it is we, not any one person individually. We were not awake to the present because we were not in relationship with so many people who feel isolated. When people feel isolated and fearful, they will join any group that accepts them or any person that speaks to their fear. We often did not speak to others fears, we just condemned them. I found it interesting that I saw so many interviews with people who supported the president elect, who said “he tells it like it is” or “he is plain spoken” and they could look past his indiscretions because at least they believed what he said. I don’t understand it, but that is what I heard. And so I ask, Do we tell it like it is? When people come into our Congregation on Sunday morning, are we even there to greet them, welcome them, hear them, build relationships with them. Do they sense an authenticity about many of us and about our mission. Do we share with them the loving saving message of our religion? I hear that from so many of you. How has this religion saved you. You need to share that with others. We do that by showing up and building relationships.
Especially now in this time of great uncertainty we need to show up for building our community and reaching out to others who are so in need of our community. We do this in all of our communal actions here.
Like our welcome team serving during coffee hour nourishes the people, like our ushers and greeters you are welcoming a long lost family member home, Like the adult and children’s religious education team, the spiritual practices team and source teams who help us build our soul with their programs, like our building and grounds team, art team and sexton who allow us to come together marvel at and have beauty in our lives when we are physically here. Like our pastoral care team that shows up when someone needs a ride somewhere, or a meal or just needs a friendly ear to talk to. Like our social justice programs who show us constantly what it means to bear witness to injustice and work to making our community and the world a more just place.  Even and I say especially the stewardship team (which we are still looking for people), these people build the foundation that allow all these others activities to happen here and for generations to come. All of these actions are healing.  Let us make sure when any person but especially a new person shows up here they see our values at work. My point is, to build the beloved community, we need you, we need you here. This is where relationships are built. In the day to day work of building community.
Just like with my illness, I endure the harshness, and I do a little more each day to make me stronger, and as I am able, I reach out to others. I focus on healing. That is what we must do. We may have to endure some hard times with policies not of our liking. Each day we must do things that make us stronger, each day we must do things to reach out to others and build relationships and each day we must work on healing and building up this fragile community, country and world. Let our values permeate the world. Let us live our values. 
I often quote the Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker who wrote that “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”
Clearly the arc is not linear, so it needs us to share our vision of the moral universe and to push the pendulum. And it wont be easy.  I recently saw a post on Facebook from a youth group where the teacher used this quote and explained “that just like in the Civil Rights movements there were set backs, we will have them, but so did Luke Skywalker, and Odysseus, and Katniss Everdeen did,  and you have to go through the hard stuff to create a more perfect union and get to the happy ending.” We need to remember that in other times, we have endured other pains, and had come out at the end healed, maybe not in one’s lifetime, but due to the lifetime of work of committed people. It is through commitment that we build the roots that will give us strength to see through the hard times, that will sustain us when the harsh wind blows, that will give us hope in a time of uncertainty. 
So I invite you to come together to go through the hard stuff, but in the midst of building our roots, let our wings be set free, let us not lose sight of the beauty in the world, and in our lives, and in our community.  Let us look for the beauty in each person and let us let our beauty shine forth. I have seen it in you, I know you have it, it is healing me. I invite you to go out and heal each other and others with the same love you showed me.  May it be so.