Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Unbearableness . . . Uncomfortableness . . . of Being

In the Old Testament of the Bible to be born with a disability was viewed as a sign of disfavor with God . . . to be sinful or the result of sinfulness within the family . . . to be considered one on the outside of the “chosen”.  In the Old Testament to have a disability was not good, and as such, the individual was treated different . . . ignored, ostracized, pitied, exiled, and even killed . . . after all, the disabled apparently did something to upset God and get the consequences of their sin.  In the Old Testament those with disabilities . . . physical or mental . . . were sent out of the circle to take their places in the shadowlands.

It doesn’t get much better in the New Testament.  The treatment of those who have disabilities is still seen as some sort of grave offense against God and others causing the disability . . . they still remain outside of the circle . . . still exist in the shadows of society and the world in which they live.  The only saving grace of the New Testament is Jesus.  Jesus demonstrates through his actions towards those with disabilities that those with disabilities are as much a part of the family of God as anyone else.  Jesus . . . in the New Testament is constantly tearing down the walls that separate to bring those who are in the shadows . . . to destroy the misconception of sinfulness that separates anyone from God. 

Despite the shift towards inclusion between the Old Testament and the New Testament, things really haven’t changed a whole bunch through the generations since Jesus’ fleshly presence in the world.  There is still a lot of stigmatizing . . . a lot of separation . . . a lot of exclusion . . . a lot of discrimination . . . a lot of injustice . . . that occurs to those who have some form or sort of disability.  In spite of huge scientific advancements and research . . . great enlightenment . . . the plight of those who struggle with disabilities—physical or mental—has not gotten much better than it was in the times of the Old Testament. 

The word “stigma” has been attributed to the word “stigmata”.  Stigmata connotes the “marks of Christ from the crucifixion”.  Within the realm of those who follow Jesus . . . or those who calls themselves Christian . . . Christianity . . . the stigmata was a positive sign.  It was a mark of being touched by God.  It was viewed with reverence and awe . . . a sign of holiness.  Shoot, having the stigmata was a good thing as it shot people up the ladder towards sainthood. 

But, that was then and this is now.  Today the word “stigma” is seen as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.  Today “stigma” is a negative.  On the one hand, I guess, it is fortunate that the implications of the word “stigma” is not reserved for any one group . . . “stigma” seems to be an equal opportunity negative that is used freely to separate people and groups from the perceived and acceptable society.  For example, ask any elderly person whether or not growing old is seen as a negative and they will tell you that it is.  Growing old and being old is not an acceptable state of being in our society.  Watch television and tell me how elderly people are viewed . . . check out the advertisements in magazines and newspapers (one can only put up with so many commercials for Depends and Viagra) . . . the elderly are not portrayed in the most positive light.  That is a stigma.

As I stated, stigma is an equal opportunity negative.  Off the top of my mind I can state at there are stigmas associated with those who are: disabled (mentally or physically), elderly, poor, uneducated, gendered afflicted, race afflicted, religiously afflicted, culturally afflicted . . . those are the broad stigmas; but, there are the smaller stigmas.  I can attest, as a University of Nebraska football fan, that there is a stigma I have been labeled with . . . the mere mention from me of my favorite college football team brings an array of assumptions and opinions as to who I am.  Trust me, in this off-year of Cornhusker football I have been taking a beating.  Anything and everything that is unknown or unacceptable or not like us has the ability to become a stigma that we place on others.  Anything and everything is fair game to be marked with disgrace and unacceptance . . . it all has the ability to be stigmatized.

Basically “stigma” is a “mark”.  In the field of medicine a “stigma” is a visible sign or characteristic of a disease.  In its original meaning a “stigma” was a mark made by a pointed instrument.  Sometimes it was referred to as a tattoo . . . it was a mark or a spot on the skin.  At one time, within religious circles it was considered as a positive; somewhere along the line it became a negative.  As a negative it finds its life in ignorance, fear, and misunderstanding. 

By now you have probably figured out that I have a hard time with the word “stigma” . . . I don’t like it.  It has lost it purpose and its meaning—at least from its original meaning and intent.  It does more harm than it does good.  It has become a hammer to pound others into a pulp . . . a means of exiling those who are different to the outer spheres of the shadows.  I do not care for anything that separates people from one another.

Stigmas make it difficult to accept who God has created an individual to be . . . makes it hard to be one’s self.  Stigmas make people uncomfortable with who they are.  Stigmas separate . . . discriminate . . . alienate . . . and, even kill those who are not acceptable in the values of society.  The problem is that often the values of society are not dictated by the people who make up the society but by those who are selling something.  If a person wants to know what is valuable in society one only has to look at its advertising and media to understand.  Being old is not valuable.  Be unhealthy is not valuable.  Being disabled is not valuable.  Being uneducated is not valuable.  Being poor is not valuable.  Being different is not valuable.  We live in a cookie-cutter society and if we do not fit the mold . . . well, we are unacceptable.  When the world we live in rejects us it is difficult to live up to whom God created us to be.  Stigmas are only a sign of the illness inflicted upon us through the world in which we live in.

It sucks.  It sucks to live in a world of stigma.

Shoot . . . I am a walking billboard for stigma.  First of all, I do not fit the image of youth so expounded upon all of us each and every day . . . I am 57 years old, have gray hair, and a Dunlop edging its way toward a tractor tire around my middle . . . I am an AARP card carrying member.  In the eyes of society, I am old.  Being old is a liability.  Second of all, I’m not rich . . . shoot, I don’t even have half the toys society tells me I should have at this stage of my life . . . the big house, fifteen cars, umpteen technological gadgets . . . the big vacation on some exotic beach . . . and, lots of stock in those drugs meant to help my first stigma out—Viagra and anything associated with the sex drive of a twenty-year.  I am an ordained minister . . . trust me, it is a stigma.  I am considered to be ultra-conservative . . . a fundamentalist . . . a Bible-thumper . . . non-beer drinking . . . Gaither-loving individual.  Being a Christian minister is a stigma.  Those only scratch the surface of the stigmas associated with who people perceive me to be . . . wrong or right, I am categorized.

And, we all are.

Because we are categorized, we are separated . . . we are divided . . . we are pitted against one another.  Before we even know one another we are already separated and pitted against one another. So often those divisions . . . those stigmas . . . are based on ignorance (not stupidity—though that is often a big cause of stigmas—but ignorance) . . . based on fear . . . based on differences.  Rarely are the roots of ignorance able to stand up to experience.

And, that is a shame.

There is no place in the world . . . no place in our lives . . . for stigma.  There is especially no place for stigma for those who claim to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  Where the world erects walls, Jesus tears them down.  Sadly, though, even those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, use stigma to order our world . . . to separate ourselves from that which we do not know or understand.  The result is that we lose out in discovering a whole array of wonderful and beautiful people who could easily be blessings in our lives.  There is something fundamentally unfaithful about that . . . something that goes against the call of God in our lives to “love one another”.

I do not believe that call has called any of us to make the lives of those in the world to be uncomfortable in who God created them to be . . . broken or unbroken . . . whole or partial . . . rich or poor . . . educated or uneducated . . . black or white or Native American . . . gay or straight or bi . . . healthy or unhealthy . . . able or disabled.  I do not believe that God ever intended the idea of stigma was meant to be a negative, but rather a simple mark of who any of us was created to be.  There is no room for stigma in the journey of those who follow Jesus . . . for those who claim an intimate and personal relationship with God.  There is no place for stigma of any kind.  Plain and simple . . . in my estimation, stigma is a sin.

I believe in a God who desires a relationship with all of God’s creation . . . each and every one of us.  I believe that through Jesus this invitation towards relationship with God . . . and, with one another . . . is demonstrated and lived.  Through Jesus it proven that it can be done despite the fight that society puts up against it.  There is no room in the world for stigma that separates . . . differentiates . . . and, even kills that which we do not understand.  No, Jesus said, to love one another.

The Bible tells us that we are all created in the image of God . . . all of us.  If this is true . . . where is there room in our lives or world for stigma?  Did you ever think about that?

Friday, October 16, 2015


Six months . . .

Six months is a long time to be silent.  It has been six months since I last wrote a blog.  That is a long time . . . in the blog-o-sphere that is death warrant certain to kill one’s readership; but, it has been six months since I last wrote a blog.

For a long time I thought that the cause of my silence was a “writer’s block”.  Every writer goes through a writer’s block . . . it is a part of the “gift” of being a writer . . . or, as in my case, the desire to be a writer.  Yet, in the end, I have determined that it is not a “writer’s block”.  No, in the past six months I have written quite a bit . . . just not on this blog.  I have written a sermon for each Sunday since I quit writing on the blog . . . and, in my humble opinion, many of those sermons were quite worthy.  If anyone would like to check them out they can go to this LINK.  For those keeping count, that is approximately one sermon a week for nearly 24 weeks . . . nope, the writing was still.  I also wrote a weekly column for my church’s weekly digital newsletter . . . that is another 24 entries into the world of writing.  If you are interested in reading any of those you can subscribe to the newsletter—which is free—at this LINK.  Apparently whatever the cause of my silence on my blog for six months really had nothing to do with “writer’s block” . . . Shoot!  I was averaging two blog-length writings a week during that time.  Writer’s with “writer’s block” do not crank out sermons and columns . . . no, they bang their heads against the wall.

“Writer’s block” cannot be blamed for the writer’s silence . . . no, I think it has been something deeper . . . something below still waters.

I think that I am going to blame it on being “adrift”.

Let me explain.  In the past year I have read two books by a Billings author named Craig Lancaster . . . 600 Hours of Edward and Edward Adrift.  As I guess you can determine, the two books were about a character named Edward.  Edward is quite a character . . . a frustrating one . . . especially in the first book.  Edward is an individual who is on the autism spectrum . . . and, both books are written from his perspective.  If you know anything about autism you will understand what I am attempting to convey about the style of the book and its main character.  If you can get beyond the quirkiness of the main character’s disability, the books are well worth the time and effort.  They are both excellent stories.

In the first book, Edward is dealing with life . . . basically six hundred hours of his life . . . about a month in his life.  Order and ritual is a fundamental foundation of his life . . . routine is his anchor . . . everything in its place, everyone in their role . . . and, life is good.  In the first book this begins to fall apart . . . Edward crumbles . . . things change.  In the second book, the crumbling of his life continues and suddenly nothing makes any sense to Edward . . . he is adrift.  Then he gets a call from his ex-neighbor to come and help them with their son . . . a son who has gone adrift in the move to a new city and life.  From there the adventures begin as Edward attempts to right the boat, end the drifting, and get his life back.  It is quite an adventure.  To really understand the story I encourage you to read the books . . . it will be worth your time.

Bottom line . . . Edward’s life is turned upside down when all of the anchor points in his life are destroyed.  They are destroyed through the death of his father, the neighbors moving, his mother being gone half of the year, and losing his job.  Nothing is as it was before . . . everything has changed . . . changed when Edward thought he had it all figured out.  Someone upset the mobile, and now it was spinning uncontrollably.

I really identified with Edward in Edward Adrift.  I could identify with his fear . . . his frustration . . . his anger . . . his sense of loss . . . his sense of being afloat in a vast sea with no way to direct his vessel to a place of safety . . . a place of belonging.  For a while now, I have felt adrift . . . adrift in life.

I am not sure that that much in my life has really changed . . . things are still just as hectic as they have always been.  That is my life.  Yet, I feel adrift . . . lost out in sea.  I am not sure if there is any one area of life that I can pinpoint as the main culprit . . . I mean, my life is going on pretty much as it always has; yet, I feel adrift.

And, maybe that is the problem.  I am all over the map when it comes to my life.  Mine is a life of many hats . . . I am a father with six children (four children and two of their spouses) . . . I am a grandfather of four grandchildren with two of them living in other states . . . I am a spouse . . . I am a preacher of a church, a nice church . . . I am an employee at one of Montana’s universities in which I wear three different hats (of which each hat represents a full-time job) . . . Plenty to keep anyone busy 24-7-365!  I am here, there, and everywhere!  Some days I have to stop and think about where I am and which role I am in.  And, within each of those roles there is plenty that is up and down, high and low, and spinning out of control.  It is hard to set anchor when one is roaming all over the map.  Nothing seems connected . . . nothing seems related.

As a follower of Jesus . . . as pastor . . . as a child of God . . . I believe that my task in life is to discover who it is that God created me to be.  It is in that that I truly believe I will find my anchor . . . that I will find my home . . . that I will no longer be adrift.  I believe that God calls all of us . . . all of God’s children . . . to that goal. I think that that is the key to faith and living life as God wants us to live.  We are supposed to love others as we love ourselves, but if we can’t find ourselves . . . well it is hard to love ourselves . . . it is hard to love others.  Most of us spend our lives “adrift”.

I guess it is a matter of congruency . . . a matter of living one’s life in accordance with who God created him or her to be.  The tough part is figuring out who God created him or her to be.  That is where one is “adrift”.  There is not a whole lot to say when one isn’t too sure who he or she is . . . when one is “adrift”.  Sometimes the silence can be deafening.

There comes a time when one becomes tired of trying to stay afloat . . . tired of drifting aimlessly . . . tired of the silence.  There comes a time when one has to cry out against the silence . . . even if it is to only hear his or her own voice . . . a time to quit drifting.  I am not sure if it has been the events of the past couple of months . . . or the past couple of hours; but, I have come to a point that in which it is time to begin.  Time to begin to discover that which is my center . . . my heart . . . my anchor . . . my home . . . and, who I am.  Time to begin living as God created me to be.  Time to quit drifting.

So, I step forth boldly . . . okay, in all honesty, I step forth timidly . . . to begin the process of being congruent . . . of being balanced.  In the end, that is what we are called to and what we are striving towards.  Life is fragile.  Life is scary.  Life is hard.  Writing has always been a place where I have been able to wrestle with life . . . wrestle with the “big” questions . . . wrestle with God.  In silence there is nothing . . . oh, sure, there is prayer and discernment . . . but, there is no conversation.  I am ready for conversation . . . with myself . . . with God.  I am ready to come home.  I am ready to welcome myself.  I imagine it will be just as hard to endure as the silence of being “adrift”.

Confession is good for the soul.

Let the conversation begin.  In Edward Adrift the hero, Edward, realizes that one has to paddle towards the unknown . . . one cannot stay “adrift”.  He also realizes that there is an uncertainty in moving in any direction, but that that is better than floating aimlessly “adrift” in the sea of life.

I am not sure where I am going exactly . . . but, I know I cannot remain “adrift”.  Into the unknown I will venture . . . who knows where I will end up!