Religious Pain vs. Spiritual Pain

When I was in seminary 30 years ago,  Dr. Rev. John Weborg  was one of my professors. He was the professor of theology. He is a deeply reflective  speaker and teacher. His words were always profound and offered much substance.  There was one topic he talked about that took root deep within me, and I remember it well these 30 years later. He talked about the difference between religious pain and spiritual pain, which I will describe in a moment. Let me share a little more first.

When I first graduated from seminary, I worked with refugees who had been tortured. They were from all over the world, but at that time, they were predominantly from Central America. What people went through was heartbreaking and beyond comprehension.  It was a hard way to begin ministry being faced with such extreme suffering. I learned quickly, that much of what I thought I knew, went right out the window. It was hard to know what to do with such extreme suffering.  

Most of the people I spoke with had two responses. One group claimed to have gotten through the horrific ordeal because of their faith, believing that they would not have survived if they hadn’t had God and prayer to cling to. The other group gave up because they didn’t know where God was in the midst of it.  

It was then that I had a conversation with Dr Rev. John Weborg and described to him this ministry. He spoke again of these two different kinds of pain.

Religious pain is pain that we encounter through persons or the church who represent God.  In the case of the refugees, some churches blamed them for being tortured, claiming it was their sin that caused this to happen. This was so grievous, for instead of the church standing with,  for, and beside these persons, they blamed them instead. Maybe they did so to stay safe, or because they aligned themselves with persons of power, or maybe they had a skewed view of faith. No matter what the reason, it was grievous. It happened in World War II, when those in the church were silent while Jewish persons were taken away to concentration camps. What many don’t know is that countless LGBTQ persons were taken and killed there as well. And it happens today when we in the church are silent, when the Body of Christ doesn’t stand with, for or beside a person or community especially during a time of suffering.   

 Spiritual pain, is experienced through one’s direct struggle with God, like: when we undergo a trying time and don’t understand what God is or is not doing in the midst of it; or when we don’t sense God’s presence or we feel like God has abandoned us; or  when we don’t receive the relief or the answers for which we are seeking, especially during a time of suffering.  People can experience that during a time of illness, loss, and tragedy. They may wonder where God is or why God isn’t delivering them. 

The tragic part for me is that people often interpret religious pain as spiritual pain. They can believe that God is letting them down, that God has left them,  when it is the church that is doing so. I have journeyed alongside many in this place.  Nothing breaks my heart more, and I believe that God grieves and weeps too.

When I told Dr. Rev. John Weborg about my ministry with the refugees he suggested that I teach them how to lament. To lament means to cry and grieve and mourn out loud, to express sorrow strongly.  When we lament in prayer, we express our pain and grief in words and cries and groans directly to God. And one of the many things that is so great about God is that the Spirit partners with us in our lament, because as it says in Romans 8:26 & 27, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” So even when we don’t know what to say, when all we can do is groan or cry or sigh, God promises us that the Spirit “intercedes for us through wordless groans.”  God joins us in our groans with God’s own. And when we don’t have the words to pray, we can also use God’s words, for the Psalms are filled with prayers of Lament. (Psalm 22, 25, 27, 74, 90 are but a few)

To lament gives voice to our pain, our cries, our bewilderment, and our anger. Especially in times of suffering, to lament can bring relief. Spiritual Director and writer, Teresa A. Blythe says, “If Jesus can ask God why God forsook him on the cross, we can have confidence that God can handle our honesty as well.” When we lament, we are working out our pain, giving voice to our anguish in prayer, with the one who joins our groans with God’s own.

We just journeyed through Holy Week in the Church Year. We remembered and experienced the great loss again of  Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Grieving through that gave birth to the celebration of new life on Easter. What’s difficult is that suffering has not ended. The recent bombings in Brussels reminds us of this, as does each time racism claims another life, or when another LGBTQ person loses theirs. There is so much suffering around us, and so much to lament, including the racial profiling of Blacks, Muslims, and Immigrants. We lament the acts of violence of persons against persons. We lament the ways people of color still experience discrimination and prejudice on so many levels. We lament when the church does not stand with, for, or beside those who are suffering. We lament when others, like so many in the LGBTQ community,  believe that God has left them because they experienced being left by and excluded by the church. 

Each time the church contributes to suffering either by omission or co-mission, spiritual pain may be experienced. So how do we experience the life of Resurrection in a world where so much suffering exists? I think one of the ways life comes, one of the ways that  the light shines in the darkness, one of the ways that hope becomes a reality is when Christ shines in and through us. It happens when we are present with, to, and for others. It happens when we let God be God, and when we love just as we have been loved. We stand with, for, and beside all, just as Jesus showed us through His life, just as Jesus does with us. May we be agents of God’s healing in people’s lives and in the church.

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Living in a Kairos Moment

The ancient Greeks had two understandings of time. One was called Chronos referring to chronological time, and the other is known as Kairos time. Kairos refers to an opportune time, a time or season requiring action. It seems we are living in a Kairos moment in our country, in our world, and in our calling as persons of faith. We are being called upon to speak with greater strength against evil and to stand alongside and for those who are oppressed.
In Chicago, there have been countless demonstrations against the violence towards the Black community. It is not enough for the Black community to do this alone. We who are white must raise our voices too, repenting of our racism and seeking to bring needed change. So grateful for the faith groups who recently joined together in a prayer vigil downtown to stand up against those who abuse their power. They raise their voices to affirm that #blacklivesmatter. In Micah 6:8 it says, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Let us affirm it in our words and in our actions this truth and the truth that #blacklivesmatter.

In this country, politicians are fighting to keep our borders closed to Syrian refugees who have been traumatized and suffered more than we can possibly understand, because the politicians believe them to be a threat. The suffering the refugees have known has been immense. The news photos of their travels is tragic and heartbreaking in and of themselves, and yet the pictures allude to a more heartbreaking story. To add insult to injury, gross assumptions and generalizations are made in which politicians are expounding on anti-Muslim sentiment. Let us not repeat the mistakes of history by demonizing a whole people group.

353 mass shootings have occurred this year in our country. How can it be true that it is almost one a day? When will enough be enough? When will we change our policy so that no more innocent lives will be lost in senseless violence?

Oppression and discrimination toward the LGBTQ community is senseless and disturbing. What is hard to fathom is when religious persons advocate for acts of violence and bigotry. The Christian community’s reputation has sunk to a new recent low for their voice of judgment. Jesus was so clear in our loving one another, and our loving our neighbors. When will we reflect the Lord we love and serve? #LGBTQLivesMatter

It seems we are living in a Kairos moment, in our country, in our world, and in our calling as persons of faith. We are being called upon to pray and to faithfully act. We are being called upon to speak with greater strength against evil and to stand alongside and for those who are oppressed. It is for such a time as this.

To quote Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), who was a prominent Protestant pastor who lived during WWII. He spoke and acted during the Kairos moment of his time against the evil of Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

We are living in a Kairos moment. As a people of faith, how then shall we live?

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Reflecting on the Gift of Pastors

Thanksgiving is a time to remember and to savor the gifts we have experienced in our lives. When looking closely they are too numerous to count. There are small things like a beautiful sunny day, listening to music that moves us, or taking our dog for a walk. The gifts that mean the most come in the form of the people we cherish, those who have touched us in a deeper way. As I reflected on the litany of people who have enriched and blessed my life, I begin to think about those who have been formational for me, those who have poured into me to nurture my faith and walk with God, and who have helped me to live it out. There are many that come to mind, among them are a couple of pastors about whom I would like to share.
I grew up in an amazing church. It was a church filled with people who genuinely loved each other. They had a special heart for hospitality and welcoming those on the fringes. I, as a neighborhood kid was one of them. They had a special knack for making people feel like they truly belonged, and it seemed to be just a part of who they naturally were. It was really evident in their relationship to the youth. They genuinely welcomed and loved us, nurtured our faith, encouraged our gifts, and included us as part of the church family and their families.. I cannot begin to describe my debt of gratitude when I reflect on that time and those dear people.
One of those people was the Senior Pastor. He was such a godly man. It seemed by looking into his eyes one could genuinely sense the Spirit of God within him. He was compassionate and real. He listened in such a way that made you believe he had all the time in the world and that he really saw you. He impacted me so much through his relationship with God. The closeness he seemed to share with God was palpable. It deepened my desire to experience God like that. His name is Pastor Duane Cross, and I will be forever grateful to him.
Another one of those people was the pastor of Christian Formation, Pastor Paul Barnes. I felt called as a teenager to go into ministry and I spent a year in Ecuador as a short-term missionary where I felt that call confirmed. When I returned home to work for a year before continuing my studies, Pastor Paul took me under his wing, discipled and mentored me. He walked beside me that year, preparing me for ministry, encouraging and affirming my gifts. I am deeply grateful for him because that time really prepared me for my further studies in seminary and in entering the ministry.
I know I am who I am today in part because of these two godly pastors who believed in me, nurtured my faith, and who reflected a God who loved deeply and drew near. So this Thanksgiving as I reflect on all I am thankful for, I will remember these two pastors whom God used in a special way in my life. To express my gratitude, I will be giving a donation to Ministry Mentors as a way to honor them. I encourage you to think about the pastors who have impacted you, who have nurtured your faith and walked beside you. I hope you will consider also giving a donation to Ministry Mentors in honor of them.
God bless you as you reflect on God’s gifts to you this Thanksgiving season.

To donate follow this link:

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Life is an Unexpected Journey

Life is an unexpected journey. It is filled with ups and downs and so many twists and turns. Sometimes we feel so lost, only able to see right in front of us. At other times we know we are right where we are meant to be. Our lives are made up of so many moments: moments that fill our hearts with joy and and moments when we can’t stop crying. There are times when we are touched so deeply,and others when we just feel empty. There are days when we feel strong and assured, and others when we feel weak and wonder how we can go on. There are moments that we long to pass quickly and moments that we want to treasure forever. Life is an unexpected journey filled with so much. When we can embrace it all and learn from each part of the journey, we not only experience life more fully and find healing and meaning, but we also have more to offer to those around us. When we embrace all that life offers us it creates a deep well within, that not only refreshes us but allows others to drink as well. Viewed in this way, life is an unexpected journey, filled with so many gifts.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
― Julian of Norwich

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An Offered Prayer

Lord, you have said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” (John 15:9) It is so hard to fathom a love so deep and wide and high as that. It is hard to take it in. Please make it possible for us to do so. Help us to believe it and to make it part of us. May the reality of it be as our own breath, flowing into our very cells merging with who we are. And may it be so much a part of us, that we see ourselves as you do, as your beloved. May it be so much a part of us that we reflect you, exuding your love to each and every person we meet. May we forgive as we have been forgiven, be merciful, as you have shown us mercy. And when we pause to contemplate your lavish grace, may it spill over from our gratitude and spill onto all those around us. May your love, mercy, and grace live in and through us to all, as you call them beloved too. And in doing so, may we recognize that we are all a part of one another.

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A Pearl of Wisdom by Nadia Bolz-Weber

I love the following quote from Nadia Bolz- Weber. There is great substance in it and the possibility for transformation, if we can hear it and remain open.

“The truth does crush us, but the instant it crushes us, it somehow puts us back together into something honest. It’s death and resurrection every time it happens.”

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Planting Seeds

The following is from a daily reflection from, a ministry of “The Church of the Savior.” The daily reflections are thoughtful and stimulating. I share the one from today because it strikes a cord with me and I hope you will find it meaningful too.   There are so many Good Friday moments and places of grief all around us, places that need the light and hope that comes with Easter. May we all plant seeds of hope and spread the joy of Easter. May we live this resurrection conspiracy and be part of a movement that spreads light.

Planting Seeds

 There is room for all of us in the resurrection conspiracy, the company of those who plant seeds of hope in dark times of grief or oppression, going about the living of these years until, no one knows quite how, the tender Easter shoots appear.
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