UCCDM Lenten Devotional-EASTER, A Letter to Angel’s Caretaker

This is the eleventh and final entry in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional. This reflection for Easter Sunday comes to us from the Rev. Dallas (Dee) Brauninger. She is a former UCCDM Secretary and Board Member her bio can be found on the Former Board of Directors page. Rev. Dallas (Dee) Brauninger also received the 2013 UCCDM Award.

Easter

Faith reflected in a note to the man in an Iowa prison who socialized Leader Dog Angel for a year:

You did a fine job of socializing Leader Dog Angel.  She and her trainer arrived at my house on Sunday, January 12. I will give it my all to be a good person for her to guide. Angel is my fourth dog guide since 1986. She returns my freedom to get around and have a life filled with doing meaningful things for others.

Thanks for teaching her how to return a thrown ball without a tease. I will see that she balances her lifework of patiently guiding a 70-year-old woman with the joy of play and being a “dog” dog when she is off duty.

I am proud of Angel’s first career of loving and trusting you.  She knows about trust. She gives freely of her love. You must have a wonderful soul to have encouraged these tender qualities. You gave her a solid start in her profession as dog guide — good habits and good behavior. I respect and thank you for the kind, gentle way in which you taught her.

You surely miss her. I wish well for you. I pray that you will continue to choose life-giving ways. I hope that whenever life is tough you can remember this dog who told you clearly that she accepts and trusts you to give her what she needed, no matter what your past chapters. Sometimes we need an angel to remind us to hope. If you were the one who named her, you saw her soul.

Though strangers, you and I share the gift of knowing Angel. She takes the loneliness out of my blindness. Perhaps she also lessened the loneliness of this Lenten time of your incarceration by helping you also to see yourself as a person who can respect and trust yourself. Nothing can separate you from what she gave to you.

I know the plans I have for you, to give you a future with hope. Jeremiah 29

 

UCCDM Lenten Devotional- Silence, Emptiness and Hope

This is the tenth in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional Series. This reflection comes to us from Rev. Alan Johnson, Chair of the UCC Mental Health Network, Ex-Officio Member of UCCDM, and Former UCCDM Board Member. His bio cam be found on the Board of Directors page.

Silence, emptiness and hope are the themes for Holy Saturday

Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24.

The heart of the Christian story is of the three days, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. Good Friday is the suffering and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Holy Saturday is the time of emptiness and silence. Easter Sunday is when God raised Jesus from the dead to new life. The three days make a compendium, a trilogy of the whole Christian story. The death, the silence, and the resurrection, as a totality, make us sing our praise, offer us ways to see the new creation coming into being, and lead the believer to a new way to living in the world.

What is the point of Holy Saturday? Why not just go from the death to the resurrection? Because it reveals the truth of life itself. When I was sunk in depression, when I could not sleep, could not focus, was in a daze, could barely communicate and did not have an appetite for many days, it seemed like life had ended. I felt hopeless. It was an empty time; a void of pleasure; a wasteland. Thank goodness for a good therapist, medication, a supportive partner, my Christian faith and a faith community to which I belonged.

That is why Holy Saturday speaks to my soul. While as post-Easter people, we can barely surmise what it must have been when Jesus’ followers knew that he was dead. Really dead, as the Apostle’s creed says, he was crucified, dead and buried. That was it. It was over. Really was. What was the hope then?

In Lamentations, we read of the experience of being bereft.  “…driven and brought me into darkness without any light…has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago…though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer.” This must have something of what those early disciples experienced on that day after Jesus’ crucifixion. The bleakness was real. Scripture tells it like it is. Lost, consumed with darkness, not a spark of light or hope. This has been real for many people, as it had been for me.

The emptiness, the silence, our spirits crushed. Holy Saturday, the day after Jesus’ death, allows meaninglessness and hopelessness to seep into our bones. It confirms this common, universal human experience. Although hope comes in our own hopelessness, for the God in Jesus ultimately will not abandon Jesus into a final death, our faith does not deny the bleakness and the profound loss, emptiness and silence on Holy Saturday. There was nothing more humanity could do. We came to the end of the line, to the end of the rope. It is in Holy Saturday that we live in silence.

Susan Palo Cherwein has written this prose poem, “God is in Silence.”

In the emptiness, God is.

In the darkness, God is.

In the silence, God is.

When the psalmist cried out form the pit,

God was already there.

When we cry out from the deep night,

God is already there.

When the silence is roaring in our minds,

God is there.

For when we are emptied of our paltry projects and goals,

When our grandiose and prideful accomplishments run aground in darkness,

When even our incessant mental chatter ceases in despair,

God is revealed in silence

Whither can we flee from God’s presence?

God is.

In the silence and the emptiness in this second day of the Christian Story, the Holy still resides.  The writer of Lamentations writes, “But this I call to mind.” There is that “Divine BUT.”  “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, therefore I will hope in him.”

Even on Holy Saturday when we spiritually journey into that place of gloom and doom, where, if it is not our lot at this time, it is the lot of many people in the world this day, we can remember. We can call to mind that it is with God that there is hope. And even if a person does not have hope, when in the pits, it is still God who shows up in unexpected ways and with surprising people to keep rekindling the fires of faith and hope. We know that God is the One who keeps us, holds us, lifts us up, and always provides hope in our hopelessness. Enter into the experience of Holy Saturday acknowledging that the emptiness and the silence are part of our human experience, but it is never the last word. That last word comes tomorrow.

“God is in Silence” from Crossing: Meditations for Worship by Susan Palo Cherwien–Copyright © 2003 Birnamwood Publications (ASCAP) A division of MorningStar Music Publishers, Inc., St. Louis, MO. Used by permission.

UCCDM Lenten Devotional-Reflection for Good Friday

This is the ninth in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional Series for 2014. This reflections comes from Rev. Peggy Davis Dunn, UCCDM Board Member and former Chair. Her bio can be found on the Board of Directors page.

Good Friday

I am poured out like water, and all my bones have fallen apart; my heart is like wax; it melts inside of me; my strength is dried up like a piece of broken pottery. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you’ve set me down in the dirt of death. Psalm 22: 14-15 CEB

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light. John 1:5 CEB

I write this reflection sitting on a couch in a room in the Walter Reed Military Hospital in Bethesda MD. About six feet away from me lies a grandson whose body was broken in a horrific car accident about 6 weeks ago. We are here this week to be with him and to give his mom some companionship and respite as she accompanies him on his journey back from the days when he was given a 5% chance of survival. His trauma has involved having both arms and both legs broken, broken ribs with internal injuries, extensive facial damage including the loss of an eye and some hopefully temporary brain injury. Parts of his body which are whole have been drawn from to repair parts of his body which are broken. His rehabilitation has involved 21 surgeries so far, and this journey will likely go on for about a year. His body will not be the same as it was before his accident.

His pain has been great and his body has been broken. His life path has been altered in a split second. The words of Psalm 22 above are apt.

But daily we see him return to the land of the living. He gains strength and capacity. He moves more steps forward than back.

Good Friday is the day when Christians reflect on the suffering of Christ on a cross outside of Jerusalem, on the willingness of Jesus to endure the suffering of crucifixion. The suffering of Christ then, and the suffering of this grandson now, are very real. But suffering is not the last word, then or now.  Suffering itself is not redemptive, on Jesus’ part, or anyone else’s. What is redemptive is the Spirit that sustains in the experience of the suffering. And the Light which shines in the Darkness even when we cannot see it. We believe, in the words of John’s gospel, that the darkness of our lives cannot extinguish the light, tho the darkness be very real, and very dark. The light is found in the darkness. In our various ways, we hold that faith.

 

UCCDM Lenten Devotional-Who Do You Say That I Am?

This is the eighth in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional 2014 series. This devotional reflection comes from Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas, UCCDM Secretary. Her bio cam be found on the Board of Directors page.

Maundy Thursday

Genesis 12 ; Gospel of John 13, 18

It occurs to me that Sarai, the wife of the patriarch Abram, has something in common with Jesus. Both had their identities betrayed by someone they loved and trusted.

Earlier in this Lenten season we found ourselves confronted by the call of God to Abram to leave Ur, when we follow that narrative to Genesis 12 we find Abram and Sarai called again to leave for a new land. This time they are traveling from Haran into Egypt. Verses 10-20 are often left out of the lectionary which stops at verse 14. It’s almost as if the lectionary is trying to avoid the issue of true identity as it is fully raised in the text. You see, in the narrative Abram asks Sarai to pretend to be his sister rather than his wife. Thus, Sarai briefly becomes one of the wives of Pharaoh. When Pharaoh discovers this he returns Sarai to Abram and sends them on their way.

We don’t hear Sarai’s thoughts on these events. We can imagine what a wife might say to a spouse who asked her to pretend to be a sibling rather than a spouse. But that is not in the text. What is in the text is that Sarai’s husband had to the power to change her identity, to say who she was. Furthermore, we see that Abram’s redefinition of Sarai’s identity leads her to yet another identity completely.

It is Maundy Thursday, Jesus has gathered with the disciples in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover feast, to wash their feet, to proclaim that his body and life are given for them (and us), and to proclaim his coming betrayal. The text tells us that it is as Jesus does these things that the decision is made in Judas’ heart to betray the Master. Jesus even tells Judas to go and do what must be done. Judas, one of the twelve disciples, one of Jesus’ trusted friends is the one who betrays him. It is Judas who must decide who he thinks Jesus is, and then based on that decision Judas will collude with the powers that be. It is Judas who will signal Jesus’ identity with a kiss in the garden.

In both these texts the issue of personal identity are the key issues. In both of these texts someone else decides whom the other is and takes action that will radically alter the both the life of the other, the life of one deciding who the other is, and the unfolding of history.

As a woman with disabilities, many of which are hidden, I know what it is like to have others decide who I am. I know what it is like to be “in the closet” of disability, to have relationships in which there is little knowledge of my disability, and the emotions others show when I let my full identity be known. I know what it is to be vulnerable with others to let them know the depths of my experience and have to trust that they will know with whom and when to share that knowledge. I know what it is like to feel that trust betrayed. To watch at the annual school-house parent night as your parent outs you sharing with the teachers about your disabilities in front of classmates and other teachers. I know what it is like in the workplace when co-workers sense there is something different about you, but not knowing what it is decide they will name it–and name it wrongly. I know what it is like when others redefine your identity such that it disrupts and utterly re-routes your own sense of self. With disability it is not so much identity politics as it is identity of individuality/self that is intertwined with the experience of living in a body so different from the norm that the very world around you is rife with barriers that disable. Life with disability is asking each individual you encounter, in some way–who do you say that I am?

Loving God, You who know me better than I know myself. You who created me to be fearlessly and wonderfully made. Help me to know myself, to share myself, and delight in the friends I break bread with. Empower me to raise my face even when others define me in ways that threaten my identity or life. Grant me Your strength and love, to always know myself, and to do Your will. Amen.

 

UCCDM Lenten Devotional–Cornerstone

This is the seventh in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional for 2014. It is written by Rev. Jeanne Tyler, Vice Chair of UCCDM. Her bio is on the Board of Directors page.

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.-Psalm 118:22

I like to play with images and words. They help place me in my experience of the world.  In Psalm 118, we hear or read, verse 22, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”  Now, this is interesting. A cornerstone is a foundational stone marking the corner of a building.  It is one significant stone. Being the chief cornerstone makes it even more of a significant stone.  But, the builders rejected it. And yet, someone dragged it back and placed it well so it became the chief cornerstone. Is not this interesting and intriguing, particularly on Palm Sunday?  We know the story of Palm Sunday when Jesus enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and the people greet his entry with palms and shouts of Hosanna!

Who among us has not experienced rejection because of a perceived flaw? Most builders want to build an enduring building and they look for stones that match their ideals of “significant” stones. So, how is it possible for a rejected stone to become the cornerstone? How is it possible for people with disabilities to place ourselves at the cornerstone? We are often rejected. We are not good enough, we are not smart enough, we are not political enough, or we are not significant enough to become a cornerstone. What value do we offer in centering the walls of an enduring building?

We offer our humanity; judged as perhaps insignificant, yet created in the complexity and mysterious Image of God. We who cannot hide nor deny our full humanity offer our very bodies as testament to the love of God. In language of covenant, we are grateful to the creation and to Jesus who becomes the cornerstone of our faith; unexpected yet acclaimed.

Prayer  Holy One,  give us hope and grace in ourselves as we are.  It is a great paradox that the stone rejected by builders becomes the chief cornerstone.  Thank you for the diversity of creation and for times of being the chief cornerstone.  Amen.

In the News: UCC Congregation Uses Technology to Become Accessible to Persons with Hearing Loss

The UCC News has published an article about First Congregational Church in Madison, Wis. which recently installed T-Coil in the sanctuary. The T-Coil Technology allows those with hearing impairments to better hear the service. It is one step the church is taking toward becoming A2A. Congregation Installs T-Coil for Accessibility for People with Hearing Loss

UCCDM Lenten Devotional–Old Bones

This is the sixth in the UCCDM’s Lenten Series 2014. This reflection for the sixth Sunday in Lent comes Rev. Lynda I. Bigler, Chair of UCCDM. Her bio is available on the Board of Directors page.

The Lord’s power overcame me, and while I was in the Lord’s spirit, he led me out and set me down in the middle of a certain valley. It was full of bones.

He led me through them all around, and I saw that there were a great many of them on the valley floor, and they were very dry.

He asked me, “Human one, can these bones live again?”
I said, “Lord God, only you know.”

I prophesied just as he commanded me. When the breath entered them, they came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company. ~~Ezekiel 37:1-3, 10

Have you ever felt like a worthless pile of bones?  Undervalued?  Overlooked?  Uncared for?  Discarded?  Stranded in the middle of nowhere, watching all of life’s actions swirl around you without you?

I did. I was eleven years old. It was a particularly bad week. First, my classmates decided it was the right thing to do to let the visually impaired kid make a home run in soft ball before sixth grade ended.  I’d never hit a soft ball in my life. I always struck out. I couldn’t see the bases so I figured it was just as well I never hit the ball. I had no clue where to run.  But that day, they decided I needed to get a home run.  It started by allowing me to barely hit the ball. Then the first, second, and third basemen missed catching the ball  when  it was thrown to them. And then somehow I made it home before the ball did. I guess they figured I wouldn’t hear them discuss the Plan or argue with each other as that all played out. There is little lower than being the object of someone else’s good deed for the day.

It was the week those of us on the safety patrol who were moving up to junior high school got our awards for being good safety patrol members.  As I marched forward to get my award, I guess I wasn’t supposed to hear how I’d only been put on the safety patrol because I could buddy up with my best friend who was sighted.  Besides, it seemed to be the right thing to do.

And then there was the sixth grade dance. I didn’t know how to dance and the boys I liked were certainly not interested in me. But I was on the dance committee because I was a girl and that’s what girls did.  At the committee meeting, the head girl said I couldn’t do anything except bring napkins because I had no other abilities.

I told my mother about all these things. She told me that it was all part of growing up with a disability. Time I just smiled my thanks for their kindnesses and get over it.

I felt as lonely as those old bones.  Even though those bones ended up in that valley as a result of physical violence, emotional violence put me in the same spot. If all I could expect from life was being someone’s good deed or a token or being prejudged for what I could do, then I might as well be among that pile of bones, too. What kind of life was being offered to me that was better?

Few people talk about depression in children because they believe it to be imagined or learned behavior or even just acting out for attention. Not so! Adult friends with disabilities also talk about their childhoods and/or teen years  in which they experienced depression and contemplated suicide like I had experienced. Some of them acted upon their contemplations, but I did not.

Just like those dry bones, God resurrected me. Just like those dry bones, God can resurrect each of us to a new life, a new life in which we can find value and be valued. Resurrection for me meant learning how to channel my anger resulting from social injustice and putting that energy into educating myself to the best of my ability. Resurrection meant learning I had a Voice and how to use it. Resurrection for me eventually meant empowerment.

Ezekiel says there was an extraordinarily large company of us coming back to life: perhaps like were those who are different because of disability, skin color, sexual orientation, culture, or mental health issues , brain injuries, developmental or cognitive disabilities. We are those at the margins of life who are discarded like Ezekiel’s old bones. By sharing our stories we discover how similar our stories are. By sharing our witness, we share our strengths and our value as a People, a People who can effect change.