I posted a question today on Facebook.com and Twitter.com. The question, "what makes a life meaningful if all the things that brings a person joy are taken away?" has provoked some deep and thoughtful replies. I posted it in a slightly different way than it was asked of me. The question has had me deeply pondering my reply.
I have certainly been asked that question in different ways before. Someone in a long term care facility who is in a wheelchair, or lost their sight or unable to live alone any more have asked that question to me. It often comes out, "What good am I?" "I don't want to live like this anymore."
This question was given to me by someone who is not in that position. It was asked by someone with health concerns, certainly. This person listed the things that had always given life joy, which were now unavailable. Then the response, "I am sure that God has a plan." This was not said as a cynical aside or a trite comment, but with conviction and faith and hope. Yet even with that response, the question was posted and a "comma" was added to our conversation. It is certainly not over.
When I was a much more inexperienced pastor, I often had a quicker response. In a care facility I might have said, "you can pray, for me, for the church, for the world, for your family and friends and neighbors." That would be a true statement. Certainly our world needs people who pray, not for a certain outcome, but just pray that the Spirit might surround and encourage and challenge people to be the best they can be and for nations and governments and institutions to do what is right and good and just.
Perhaps, I am at an age when the above response is not enough. I do not know what it is like to lose the things that give my life joy. I have not had things systematically denied to me. I am hypoglycemic, I have to watch my sugar intake. No medicine is involved, but too much sugar is like a drug and causes me to fly high, then hit a low. I, sometimes am not as "good" as I ought to be, and I pay for it in terms of how I might feel for several days if I "binge". So I gave up "real" soda, and most desserts unless they are shared.
So what! There are worse things. Without my glasses, I am officially "blind as a bat", but glasses make it possible for me to do everything I want. I do not know what it is like to lose my hearing or my sight or my mobility or my ability to do most of what I want to do. It is some what easy for me to say to someone a simplistic answer about how faith sees us through, or that the things that give our lives meaning or pleasure are "temporal".
I love to cook. The ability to taste and smell make it possible for me to create dishes that bring pleasure and joy to others. My sense of smell and taste are keen enough that I can often tell what spices and ingredients are used in a particular dish. It's not perfect, but it is keen. I can not imagine what it would be like for me to not taste and smell and experience the joy that cooking and serving and feasting with others brings to me. I am sure others would tell me food is not that important, that good food and drink are a waste. Yet, when people gather around my table and eat and drink and know that God is good and life is good, it is enough for me.
I can see, I can hear, I can walk, I can talk, I have my mind. I can show love in all the ways that matter to the ones I love the most. If I lost it all tomorrow, what would I have? Who would I be? What would make my life meaningful and hopeful and faithful and joyful?
One of the responses to the question I posed was "love", "I stick with love." To that I would add grace. I know and I tell folks all that time that our worth is not dependent on what we do, or what we accomplish or how we succeed. Our worth is based in the gift of grace and love in our lives. Certainly all of us want to make a difference, but the real worth is in how we love...one another, ourselves and however we understand God. We all fail, we make mistakes, we fall short of our abilities and do not make use of every opportunity we are given, but in spite of all these things, we are loved and in the words of Paul Tillich, we are accepted.
When I am not driven by my own need to be productive, to succeed, to work hard, I know this. I believe it. In the end, all there is ...is love and grace and God's Spirit that sees us through the good, the bad, the ups and the downs, life is all its experiences.
It may sound trite, but I believe it, I know it in the depth of my being. And if and when the time should come that I do lose some or all of those things that give me joy and help me find meaning, I will lean into that knowledge that life is good, God is good, that in the end all of us are loved and that grace will see me home.
My husband and I have returned from our vacation. It has been a long time since we had a "real" vacation where we left town. We visited family in Toledo and Chicago and had a wonderful time. We played, we saw "stuff" and we enjoyed time with those we love.
Leaving town, we drove as fast as the speed limit allowed to get to our destination. Coming home, however, we decided to take our time. We had several days to travel and chose to do just that.
Part of our journey was along Route 66. As my older brother said, "it's takes a Boomer to know what that is." I would add or anyone older!
Route 66 is the "mother road". It was the first attempt to connect this country by particular highways for automobiles. The oldest route was 1926-1930. Some of that original road is still in existence. And it is very narrow. Just enough room for a couple of Model A's to pass each other going in different directions. No shoulders, curves every which way and still being used as county or sometimes access roads along US and State highways. The next stage of Route 66 was from 1930-1940 and finally from 1940-1977. The route became straighter with each incarnation. Some of it is the same, of course, but many times adjustments were made to in order to take less time to get from one place to another.
In Illinois, much of the oldest route takes you through the early coal mining country. These little towns are filled with the relics of that day and age when the world of the worker and the company raged against one another. The late 1800's and early 1900's are filled with clashes between the owners of the mines and the ones who worked them.
The United Mine Worker's Union of America began in 1890 to fight unfair wages and the company stores. Now, I certainly had read about this part of our nation's history in school, but being in some of those places made the truth of those times more real. The early miners had to buy their supplies at the company stores. Those stores often were more expensive than retail. The miners, however, were not paid in cash, but in scrip that was only good at those stores. Their homes were owned by the company and they had to provide their own tools for work, bought of course, at the company store. It makes the song, "I owe my soul to the company store" more sad and somehow more real.
The clashes began as mine workers struggled to find a way to bargain for fair wages and working conditions. The risk was that they could lose everything since the companies owned everything. To make a complicated story simple, what agreements were made were not agreed to by everyone. Strike workers were brought in and in 1898 in Virden, Illinois violence erupted. What would become known as the Virden massacre left seven miners and five guards dead.
The Virden community refused to allow the miners to buried within in the city. So the union bought a one acre site in Mount Olive, Illinois, forty miles away and created the Union Miners Cemetery. Of course you know,that both Virden and Mount Olive are on Route 66.
There are certainly more stories of violence around the issue of fair wages, but I want to focus on the Mount Olive cemetery. The Mount Olive cemetery laid more miners to rest there. In 1930, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones was buried there to be "with her boys." In 1936 a monument was created to remember all miners and Mother Jones.
Of course we stopped. We walked the cemetery. We paused by the huge monument at the base of which Mother Jones is laid to rest. She was a woman of deep convictions and fiery temperament. She was considered one of the nations most "dangerous" women for her ability to stir up protest among miners, among women and among the children. She was arrested, yet she stayed the course for a just wage and working conditions for miners.
I paused to remember not only those miners, or Mother Jones, but all who have been willing to stand again injustice throughout the ages. I am challenged again to remember as a United Methodist it is part of my heritage to stand for what is good and right and just. In 1908, the Methodist Episcopal Church adopted their first social creed. It was the first of its kind and many other denominations and even the early roots of the National Council of Churches and the United Nations based their social statements on this early statement. It was a call to faithfulness and that early statement included standing for a living wage as a minimum standard, the right of workers to organize, opposition to child labor and many other standards for health care and housing we now take for granted.
My road trip, reminded me of why I am grateful for my call as a pastor and for the particular denomination I serve. I am not perfect, the United Methodist Church is not all it can be or will be, but the roots of standing up for the poor, the homeless, the victims of injustice are part of my heritage. I am glad we "took" the time to take the slow road, for it gave me an opportunity to visit some places and some important markers in our history.
Back to work, I am more committed to living a life that in the words of the Prophet Micah states, "What does God require of you? But to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God."
I am really not good at taking time off. Over the years, I have gotten very good at taking my "day" off, but really investing time in vacation, in sabbath is not my strong suit. But later this afternoon, after a Board of Directors meeting for Interfaith Ministries, my dear husband and I are heading out.
He encourages me to take time off. He encourages me to slow down. I am driven however. I grew up with the whole idea of time off was to get things done....around the yard, around the house, you know...idle hands and all. So even on my days off, I tend to "get things done".
What I miss, but my incessant need to be doing, is the chance to truly relax. I love to read, but take very little time to really enjoy reading. I love to do hand work, but haven't had a needle out for a long time. I love to work in clay, again, haven't take the time. I cook, which gives me some creative outlet, because it is relatively easy to justify...after all we have to eat!
So, for the first time in a long time my husband and I are heading out. Taking a road trip to spend time with my twin, with my brother and his wife and to visit a daughter and husband. We intend to play, to sleep, to visit and to hang loose.
So, I won't be posting for a few days. I will be attempting to focus my energy on relaxing and enjoying the people I love. I will re-embrace the sacred sabbath as a way of reconnecting and refilling myself with the Divine Presence. It will be a gift of grace, so that I remain;