Getting your Hands Dirty

getting your hands dirty

Bearing good fruit into the world demands that we get our hands dirty. Creating something from nothing, or building on something to make it better, paving a new road, establishing a novel idea, are never easy or smooth…because life isn’t supposed to be easy or smooth. The dirt under our nails, whether it is metaphorical or actual grime, is a testament to what we are willing to sacrifice to bring something to fruition. When ministry became my chosen profession, God gifted me with many opportunities to get my hands dirty in ways that were humbling and well, sometimes even gross, like unwanted interaction with bodily fluids. Serving Christ demanded I roll up my sleeves and get messy. More than anything, I learned that bearing fruit in a sterile environment is impossible.

I know I’ve said this before in different ways, but you can’t skip the middle of cultivating any dream by bypassing the dirty work. Too much of the final product is predicated on the will, imagination and effort necessary to struggle through mire in order to achieve success. While frustrating, it is perfectly normal for people who are in the middle of any pursuit to wonder if the difficulty will ever end, if it is worth it, if the fruits of labor match the effort and expectation. The road yet traveled can be a daunting proposition. For me, that is why faith is so important to the process. We don’t have to be alone in our pursuits. God is the ultimate safety net, and is ever present even in the muck. And, it is often amidst the muckiest of muck where true revelation lies. Always keeping your hands clean, or the process sterile, kills growth and can mean you miss the best lessons life has to show you. The best fertilizer for the greatest fruit is sometimes noxious. It’s a testament to God’s great sense of humor that shit is one of the greatest ingredients for growth…both literally and figuratively.

So, I say, life is not sterile. Some of the greatest fruits come from mud, even seeing more clearly.

John 9:1-11

“As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see. His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is,” but others said, “No, he just looks like him.” He said, “I am.” So they said to him, “(So) how were your eyes opened?” He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.”

The New Road Traveled

dr steve

My husband called me today from a seminar on cutting edge research (8-5 both Saturday and Sunday) because during his lunch break he found out that one of our practice members fulfilled a dream of being drafted by the NFL. Years ago, this particular young man (wonderful man, even when he faced the wrath of Mary…) came into our office with a debilitating injury, a hip dislocation (Bo Jackson) that threatened his future not just in football, but all sports. They told him he may never play again, that he couldn’t put weight on it for at least 6 weeks. Just days later, he walked out of our office and now he is in the NFL (not directly, of course). He was our “first” ARP (accelerated recovery performance) patient, and with his dedication, hard work and faith, he is a testament to overcoming obstacles. I am so happy for him.

But today’s post isn’t about just this young man’s success. It is about all the pieces that fit together that helped him on his journey. I’m sure he can give you a list of all those influential people who stood in his corner that helped him to achieve his dream (I know he has thanked Steve over and over). We should all follow his lead, because as individuals we don’t do enough of that, i.e. recognizing and thanking those who help us in our lives. Not one of us is an island. And not one of us achieves anything on our own. The fruits we bring to the world are a compilation of countless influences, obstacles, opportunities, and benefiting from the fruit of others, many who go unrecognized. So let me take a moment to say a few words about the man who helped him on his way.

Most people don’t realize that Dr Edling is always on the cutting edge of embracing new and innovative approaches to health (which are soooo different than fads). I have never met someone who is as passionate about sustaining, maintaining and forging new roads for optimal health as he is. As an athlete himself, whose life was derailed by an injury, he has worked tirelessly to find ways and technologies so no young athlete has to let go of a dream. Whether it is through constant study, new technologies and going way beyond the call of duty, he is one of those special few who refuses to be defeated and absolutely loves and is committed to his work. No one is more thrilled, save the person themselves, than Dr Edling is when success is achieved and goals are met, and many times even surpassed.

Much of the time, his voice is a solitary one, one that pushes and maintains that change is up to the individual, that it is often a scary and challenging proposition and never an easy pill to swallow. The answers aren’t always easy to find, but he is there, though, every step of the way, through the frustration, sometimes pain, the problem solving and adaption when other questions arise. He has done the work, the study, put in the sacrifice, the investments in the best technologies. Most importantly he is present, available and stands as a partner to everyone who walks in our practice door looking for better health. Whether their needs are structural or metabolic, he gives 100%.

He may be a little embarrassed by this post. He never toots his own horn, so I will…only because the gift of his fruit, is making dreams possible for others, and that makes me proud. I see his enthusiasm for innovation, selflessness and commitment in our sons too, so that I’m confident the gift of his fruit will continue, and that also makes me proud.

Blessed are the Merciful, for they shall be shown Mercy.

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I’ve been quiet. I’ve been busy. I’ve been stretched. I’ve been focused. I have lingered on this beatitude for awhile. Mercy: I have yearned for it, received it, exercised it, celebrated it, and embraced the hope it brings. I have also, at times, stood with an aching sadness at the lack of it in the world in both small and large ways. Mercy was at the heart of my spiritual awakening and is the sustenance for my soul. And it is mercy both in its effort and absorption that keeps my house clean when I am tempted to throw it by the wayside and rage against the lies and cruelty and ignorance and ego and judgement and entitlement and fear. In desperate moments I remember Jesus in the garden sweating blood because his fear and anxiety was so deep yet was still willing to give his Godly heart for my flawed human one. My life transformed because he augmented my broken heart with his heart. And it was then that I became his fruit, a viable product of his extraordinary life and sacrifice, a means by which the power of mercy can live and stay palpable in our often sad and desperate world. When I allow his heart to be my heart, mercy is air, it is breath, it is life, it is everything.

Truth…Bringing Sexy Back

bringing sexy back

Today’s post is somewhat tawdry, and deals with some antiquated ideas perhaps, but in this new era where truth is false and falsehood true, I’ve chosen to get a little down and dirty. My intent is to shed a different light and a little humor to point out something about power. And we all know how powerful sex is, right? It sells things, draws attention, allures us and awakens desires. It compels behavior in both good and bad ways. Most importantly, what would the world be like without it? Yet the same goes for truth, what would our world be without it? While studying World Literature, I will always remember the play “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes, the plot of which centers on a woman, Lysistrata who, fed up with the constant fighting and poor decisions of the men in Greece convince the women to withhold sex as leverage to negotiate a peace to the Peloponnesian war. It was one of the few Greek plays that literally made me laugh out loud (especially at a Catholic University)…and yet gave me great pause knowing full well the power of sex in a male dominated culture. (This is not to say the culpability falls on men alone or in general…OK, that’s bullshit, for my purpose here, I am saying exactly that). My friends, wouldn’t it be great if we could connect sex and truth together and harness that same carnal power to force the present culture to negotiate a peace to the war on Truth?

Here is one of my favorite exchanges from the play:

Lysistrata: “Here goes, then; no need to beat around the bush. Ladies, if we’re going to force the men to make peace, we’re going to have to give up—”

Calonice: “Give up what? Tell us.”

Lysistrata: “You’ll do it, then?”

Calonice: “We’ll do it, even if it means our death!”

Lysistrata: “All right. We’re going to have to give up—the prick. Why are you turning away from me? Where are you going? Why are you all pursing your lips and shaking your heads? What means your altered color and tearful droppings? Will you do it or not? What are you waiting for?”

Calonice: “Count me out; let the war drag on.”

and after some convincing…

Calonice: “Well, what if we did abstain from, uh, what you say, which heaven forbid: would peace be likelier to come on that account?”

Lysistrata: “Absolutely, by the Two Goddesses. If we sat around at home all made up, and walked past them wearing only our diaphanous underwear, with our pubes all plucked in a neat triangle, and our husbands got hard and hankered to ball us, but we didn’t go near them and kept away, they’d sue for peace, and pretty quick, you can count on that!”

Lampito: “Like Menelaus! As soon as he peeked at bare Helen’s melons, he threw his sword away, I reckon.

In a modern twist, wouldn’t it be great to have a campaign to make truth as tantalizing as sex? Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Just think, instead of People magazine coming out with the Sexiest Man/Woman alive issue, they could have the Most Veracious Man/Woman alive. I can see it now, a centerfold of (feel free to pick your favorite flavor, there are plenty of truthful women out there too) Jake Tapper or Chuck Todd stripping away illusion like a well-worn suit, taunting us with tantalizing factual information rooted in multiple and verifiable sources. I had to stop writing for a moment, my blood pressure just skyrocketed. If truth were as powerful as sex, our news programs could begin with seductive, low lights and music…Baum chiki baum, baum…”Good evening I’m Wolf Blitzer (a perfect name for news porn), for tonight’s top story, only new objective and concrete evidence will be discussed and our esteemed panel, suited with lie detector machines will weigh in and get shocked whenever they spin (I had to throw a little 50 shades of Gray thrown in there). Like in Lysistrata, we would recognize the lying liars who lie because of how deprived they behaved. That deprivation, in the play, meant all the men of Greece and Athens suffered from constant chaffing because of, well, you know what rubbing against…let me just say we wouldn’t see Putin riding a horse for any time soon.

The un-augmented would be the fashion, truth tellers the new celebrity. Not hiding behind all the subterfuge would obliterate stress. Sex and truth would be desired equally. When we turned on cable news, we would simply be informed, there would be no need for endless panel discussion any longer unless the focus was pure problem solving. Of course that may mean some may lose their jobs, but running the world would be a whole lot easier. The truth has brought sexy back and made us free, and with freedom comes much responsibility (but a lot more fun). I will leave you with the last line of the play:

Lysistrata: “Come now, since everything has turned out well, take these women back with you, you Spartans. And, you Athenians, these ones are yours. Let each man stand beside his wife, each wife beside her man, and then to celebrate good times let’s dance in honor of the gods. And for all future time, let’s never make the same mistake again.”

Before the Fruit

the little red hen 2

Remember the story in the Golden Book series about the red hen who begins the arduous process of planting, growing,harvesting and preparing the wheat to make bread? Along the way she asks for help from various animals who, for no apparent good reason, decline to help her in her work? In the end she, with a great deal of snark, asks if anyone would like to share the finished product…the other animals who refused help finally chime in, and in perfect self justification, the hen says no and keeps the finished product all to herself. A simple story about the results of hard work and who should enjoy the spoils of said work.

I think there are two important issues here. The first, the bearing of fruit is rooted in hard work. Yes, I see the pun, but it still rings true. Often times we are so focused on the end result that we disregard the effort it takes to bring something good to fruition. The second important issue for me, and one that the red hen while perhaps justified personifies, is the belief that the lines are clear between who deserves the fruit of labor and who does not. I wish life were as simple as portrayed in the story, but the lines drawn between who deserves the fruits of labor and who does not are absolutely not clear, and it is a trap we as Americans have fallen into and largely what the last election was predicated on. It is also runs contrary to everything I’ve learned in scripture.

I get it, why give the other animals any bread after they refuse to help? There are a host of potential reasons that could mitigate why the dog, cat and duck refused to help: poor health, exhaustion from helping out in another situation, a lack of understanding what to do, secret yearning to be rid of the hen, or a multitude of other reasons, many of which can also be bad. The reasons are infinite. One would have to be interested in why, but due to the job that the hen wanted done, concern for why the other animals refused to help wasn’t part of her need or plan at the time. She had work to do to accomplish her goal, and that can be a good thing. I, personally, see a lot of myself in that red hen, as I’m sure most people do. The problem arises when the work is finished and the choice is made how to share. Just taking a moment to understand the other animals could have made a huge difference in her choice.

I eat plenty of bread that I had nothing to do with making. I get to share in many fruits of others where I played absolutely no part in their creation. I drive on roads, attended schools, share in new technologies that enlisted no help from me at all. Of course, I’ve paid a price for many of these things, but many I have not. I’m lucky enough to be the beneficiary of a host of fruit that I personally paid nothing for at all and had little if anything to do in their creation. If I’m truly humble about it, there have also been times when I’ve been asked to help and I may have appeared like one of those animals in the story, and yet I still received the benefit of the final fruit. The actual foundation of my faith is rooted in the greatest freebie of all: eternal life by the sacrifice of Christ.

Yet on the other side of the coin I know with great certainty that there are plenty of people out there who have benefited from my hard work, who either don’t have a clue, or were happy for me to do the work for them. In all truth, there are moments, like the red hen, where I don’t want to share, but they are far and few between because challenged by the words of the Gospel and my faith, I choose to go beyond initial judgments and dig deeper into the people who seem to want something for nothing. Walking in someone’s shoes strips initial judgments away, and almost always I learn my initial assessment is either off, at least triggered my compassion. In some cases, delving deeper into who the people are who actually extended the hand of help to me actually exposed a more corrupt character than initially presented and who turned out had far more nefarious reasons for helping, and I’ve escaped harm from them too.

I guess the point I’m making is two-fold, you can’t bypass hard work in bearing good fruit because the end result isn’t the same. Secondly, the decision regarding who should benefit from the fruit of that effort is never black and white. It is a difficult balance, I acknowledge that, but when you spend a bit more time on actually seeing and knowing the people who surround you and being grateful for the fruit that others bring to the table the shift is powerful. Sharing a gift hard fought without measuring the worthiness of who benefits can be life transforming too.

Lydia’s Fruit

 

lydia

A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying. After she and her household had been baptized, she offered us an invitation, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home,” and she prevailed on us.

After Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned for freeing a girl of a demon, the jailer was converted when after fervent prayer an earthquake felled the walls of the jail, but they refused escape to protect the jailer. Overwhelmed, he asked what he needed to do to be saved, they told him of Jesus, witnessed and baptized his whole family and he bathed and addressed their wounds. After refusing to leave quietly, because they were falsely detained without trial as Roman citizens, they walked proudly out the front door and went directly back to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers and then left.

It took me a long while in my study and ministry to understand the power and gift of Lydia. Imagine the difficulty of traveling all these territories spreading the gospel. Foreign places full of strangers with nothing really to travel with. Those few lines in Acts bring it home. She offered them a safe haven, a generous hospitality that enabled them to face hardship, yet continue their ministry. I wrote a paper about Lydia in graduate school, using her simple, yet powerful gesture as an example of environmental leadership. What Paul and his entourage did was extremely difficult, and because of people like Lydia, they could stop, refuel, take a moment to regenerate to begin the journey anew.

I never underestimate the power of hospitality, especially in terms of leadership…because being a good leader is hard. But when welcomed in and nurtured in a safe haven, they can become their best selves, and that in and of itself can be the the greatest gift to the world, bringing out our best selves to build the Kingdom of God. Face it, the world can be a scary place and we as individuals and faith communities can be a powerful source of love and safety for those on their life’s difficult journey. Never underestimate the power of hospitality, even if it means just sitting next to someone who appears afraid, or standing up for someone who is being bullied or oppressed. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but compounded together these simple gestures can be beautifully transforming. Go ahead, be Lydia.

1988

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My second trip to Russia was through Canada. We flew on the Soviet airline Aeroflot, a night and day difference from our commercial airlines. Cautious, I felt this would be a good thing, Russia from the perspective of the people. That hope didn’t last long. Beyond the clear evidence of what materially was not available to purchase in their home country, each citizen had bags and bags of stuff they purchased in Canada.

It is clearly evident that I am an American on a Soviet Airline. I feel like I’m on a 1950’s grey hound bus. All around me I hear incomprehensible Russian, full of enthusiasm to share the spoils of their trip with their loved ones at home. People have bags and boxes stacked on their laps and under their seats, unwilling to let go of the proximity needed to put them in the upper bins. Their “stuff” includes electronics, Reeboks, and blue jeans. I forget sometimes how accessible material things are to me (even if I can’t afford them). The air in the plane smells Soviet-a mixture of perspiration, musty air and an ointment like smell. It makes me feel like a prima dona because I’m more concerned about brushing my teeth and taking a shower. I helped a woman squeezed into the seat next to mine who looked at me suddenly panicked and I knew she was going to vomit. I grabbed the barf bag in the pocket of my seat and put it in front of her face just in time. I felt so bad for her because I know how awful it is to get sick in a crowded place (like I did last time I was in Russia). It is so easy to love when one who is so vulnerably helpless is forced to lower their guard and let someone help. I didn’t need to speak the language, only sit and be present with my hand on her back and give her a Kleenex when she needed it. She smiled and tried to communicate for the rest of the trip.

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I have always loved Leningrad, now St Petersburg. The Summer palaces, the Hermitage museum and churches are exquisite. Plagued by citizens trying to swap, poach, buy drugs was unsettling. I did not feel safe as a young woman there and wore my glasses most of the time, like it would make a difference (remember that I was young and a bit naive) I had such high hopes for a newer, fresher Russia. I expected a sense of moving with the times, but what I began to understand is that this was a country that wanted the benefits of a western society, but either didn’t want to do the work, or was ill equipped to handle the transition. And they worked so hard to create a smoke screen to make it appear that they would still be equal to or superior to America. It wasn’t a very good one though.

We’re in Leningrad-and it is the white nights. At 2:30 in the morning it looked like the afternoon. I met Leonard Bernstein in a shop. I was completely star struck. It was phenomenal, and he was surrounded by people here too.We went to tour the Hermitage Museum, such amazing beauty and art A young man came up to me and wanted to trade, which isn’t unusual, but then he wanted to know if I smoked or did coke and stared exclusively at my chest. I said “no” forcefully. It felt good, but I was mad that the only people who speak to me here-want something-money exchange or other stuff.

There were people we met with who really wanted to make a difference, but I never got a sense that they had much power or backing to really do anything about it. We met with a few peace summits, as they were called but there were always less than a dozen people present. You could hardly call them a summit. I give these people credit, though, they were working hard to make a better life for the people.

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I had a wonderful conversation with a man named Demetrius at our peace committee meeting. It was refreshing to talk to someone young who is educated and open. He gave me his address and said they would invite me to visit again. Maybe, someday. I also went to the ballet it was wonderful, of course-I’ve been lucky enough to see the Bolshoi Ballet in the States. We went to the tea room afterwards, simple and relaxing. No one to bother us. One thing I’ve noticed this tour, is that there are no visits to war memorials, last time we were inundated. The talk of war is almost minimal except for a breed of hatred for Stalin.

014  1988 russia friend

Landed in Kiev on another greyhound type plane. It is much more relaxed than last time. I stayed in the same hotel, and this time had no less than three marriage proposals. Must not be a good place to plan a future. The peace meeting here, too, was just like last time-all party line.

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My time in Crimea was wonderful and awful. I had never been, which I now see for what it was, sexually assaulted before. I am thankful that I was surrounded by people and members of my group to support me, and empowered by my own willingness to punch his lights out. The picture it painted for me was that I thought there was a license to treat women in a way that was unacceptable in Russia, and I unfairly blamed them for a long time. When I returned home and the growing awareness of sexual violence that continued to permeate my own culture, and more personal experiences on a much smaller and subtle level, I had to come to grips when the fact that it wasn’t exclusive to a reforming communist country. Yet, I’m glad that I only wrote about the wonderful and kind people I met there in my journal. When I saw the news that Crimea was annexed by Russia, I knew why. It is the crown jewel of the Black Sea, of the Ukraine, and like Russia seems to always do…it takes what it wants.

We are in Yalta, the vacation paradise of Russia. The hotel is magnificent, the beach crowded with people, families unconcerned about body image, just happy to be on the beach, work first, though. We went to a pioneer village, a youth camp and we only met one official, which was quite disappointing.One distinction beyond the same universal educational curriculum for the last 10 years, rock music is no longer suppressed, and some pictorial art.

Back relaxing in the pool, a very attractive man swam up and tried to sell me lacquer boxes. I splashed him off and then felt bad. I saw him that night in the disco and danced with him and nearly punched his lights out when he started to mall me. Whatever decorum was present last time is not present this time. It is very disturbing.

me and Diana    1988 gala dinner

Back in Moscow at the Hotel Rus (*which is now an office building…original built in 1894) and there were cockroaches. Someone stole a pair of my shoes from my room. I am ready to go home.The city tour was OK, it is dirty now.

That was all I wrote about Moscow the second time, except for one funny ditty I wrote in my journal “Hotel Rus, 6000 rooms with 6000 unused bidets”. We did have gala dinner to conclude our trip and I remember it as lovely, but full of other tourists. I couldn’t wait to go home. The only memory of my return trip was that I had to convince so many on the plane when we stopped over in Ireland not to spend all their money in the duty free shop there. It was hard to convince them that Canada would have everything they needed. Going through customs took forever, one of our party got in trouble for trying to smuggle in caviar. I missed my connecting flight and stayed in Montreal at a new friends family home. My sadness returning home would have been oppressive, but I was ready to start my new teaching job. I didn’t journal for months, so I can hardly recall what my feelings were. I did pack up all my Russia books and materials and put them into storage…which speaks volumes.

Both trips to Russia were an instrumental gift in my life. How it presented and continues to present itself in my life may seem blurred at times. I do know that my devotion to truth and cutting through political subterfuge is a result of those journeys, and is the number one reason I am so pained by what is happening in the world right now. I have paid a price for it, but one that I accept readily. Jesus says the truth will set you free…I walk in that belief and understanding every day.