Reaction and Action

Upon learning of the Tuesday morning attack at a residential center for people with disabilities in Sagamihara, Japan, I wept.

I wept for the sleeping souls who will never again awaken, for their families and friends left to mourn their sudden and tragic deaths. I wept for my brothers and sisters with disabilities who may feel afraid, and I wept for our world. Tears of anger and sadness.

Calling a friend to ask if she had heard this horrifying news, felt like something I needed to do. As we talked about the senselessness of this massacre, she said something that seemed profound. “Let’s just pray that we, as two people on the phone, and we as a society, never get so callus that we do not react with tears and anger at the news of such tragedy.”

This was powerful because it seems every day we wake to tragedy and injustice being reported from somewhere. How often do we feel shaken by the violence reported on tv, in social media and we react, but don’t respond? But what do we do? Of course we want to pray to a Comforting God and ask for peace. I think we should. Like the imprisoned John the Baptist, my heart questioned. So my next conversation was with my pastor. My pastor suggested that I use this pain and turn it into action. And another friend suggested I write a prayer. So my first action was to write some thoughts, and my second to share them.

A dear friend gave me a wonderful gift, a book that I often turn to, and I’d like to share with you a poem as a prayer…

Taken from Out of the Ordinary, Copyright 2000 by Joyce Rupp. Used by permission of Ave Maria Press. All rights reserved.

Leaning on the heart of God

I am leaning on the heart of God.

I am resting there in silence.

All the turmoil that exhausts me

Is brought to bear on this great love.

No resistance or complaint is heard

As I lean upon God’s welcome.

There is gladness for my coming.

There is comfort for my pain.

I lean, and lean, and lean

Upon this heart that hurts with me.

Strength lifts the weight of my distress.

Courage wraps around my troubles.

No miracle of instant recovery.

No taking away of life’s burdens.

Yet, there is solace for my soul,

And refuge for my exiled tears.

It is enough for me to know

The heart of God is with me,

Full of mercy and compassion,

Tending to the wounds I bear.

I will be taking further actions to speak out against the violence of ableism. I pray others will do the same. Awareness of this, often discreet, dehumanization of people with disabilities, is key to stopping the violence. Continued prayers for peace, mercy and love for all peoples.

Terry Martinez

UCC Disabilities Ministries

Board of Directors, Vice Chair

Called by Name

For Easter Sunday, the final day that we’ll be posting the 2016 UCCDM Lenten Devotional series, our devotional reflection was written by Rev. Jeanne Tyler who is a former UCCDM Board Member.  Her bio can be found on the former Board of Directors webpage.

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.  So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple; the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them.  ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’  Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb.  They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and he went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.  Then the disciples went back to their homes.”

“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.  They said to her, ‘woman, why are you weeping?’  She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’  Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom do you seek?’  Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’  Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’.  She turned  and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’  Jesus said to her , “do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’  Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord.'”  (John 20:1-18)

In the early, early morning even before dawn, we discover Mary Magdalene up and walking toward the tomb.  We suspect a new reality is gaining favor, is emerging, is coming to light.  So, it begins in the desolation of death.  Death is the reality we expect.  And so it was with Mary Magdalene. She came alone in the dark barely able to see.  She expected to find the tomb with the stone firmly in place.  I mean that is what dead is.  She came to the tomb in the dark and discovered the stone had been removed from the tomb.  The stone was not where it was supposed to be.  She cannot imagine an open tomb.  She worried that someone had taken the dead body of Jesus and disposed of it; making even more of a mockery of Jesus.  This would end even more the promises of Jesus.  There would be no comfort and life would continue in its dreary dark never changing way.  The present dead would remain as the past.  And, the future was unchangeable.

Someone calls her name.  Someone she does not recognize.  “Mary” is spoken and heard and recognized.  As a person with a hearing loss even with two hearing aids I can hear a sound and not recognize the word spoken.  Someone knows her.  I do not think Mary was hearing impaired but I do believe she was in shock or amazement that anyone in that tomb knew her name.  Someone calls her name, “Mary”, and at this moment she recognizes by the voice, her friend Jesus, the Crucified and Risen Lord!

The past becomes sweet, the present secure and the future hopeful.  It is Easter Sunday.  Hallelujah!!!   Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed!  The horrific experiences and fears of death are vanquished by the voice of the one who calls Mary from fear to joy, from resignation to recognition, from silence to courage, from alone in the tomb to community with brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.  She went and told the others “I have seen the Lord”

This Easter story gives me courage.  It begins with Mary stumbling in the dark toward death not her own death but toward the dead body of Jesus who gave her and the others hope and meaning and fulfillment.  It includes tears and bewilderment and helplessness.  In the midst of this is a voice that calls her name and she recognizes his voice.  It gives her all the courage she needs,  all the hope she needs, all the love she needs, all the authorization she needs to proclaim, “I have seen the Lord”.  May it also be so with you!

Prayer:  Though we stumble and don’t always hear your first call to us yet you call us again and we recognize the voice of one who loves us.  Filled with gratitude we respond with courage and hope and perseverance for a church that is inclusive.  Amen.

Caught In The Middle

This is the Holy Saturday entry, the eleventh, in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional 2016 series.  This devotional reflection comes from Rev. Nancy Erickson.  Her bio can be found on the Board of Directors page.

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard[a] of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.”[b]66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone. Matthew 27: 57-66

In the calendar of the church year, this is Holy Saturday.  Jesus is in the tomb.  We don’t do a lot with this day in the Church.  We don’t build worship services around it.  We don’t sing hymns about it.  But, we do live it.  For those who followed Jesus today is a day of deep sadness.  It is a day of loss.  It is a day when hope has been turned to despair — a day when our deepest fears have come to fruition.  Because today, Jesus is dead and the resurrection has not yet come.  So it is a day in the middle.  Caught in the middle waiting.  As someone with a significant disability I know about waiting.  Those of us who live with disabilities wait for diagnosis, wait for assistance, wait for laws and policies to change, wait for the bus with the lift to come by.  Our lives are filled with waiting.  Anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one, the pronouncement of a terminal illness, loss of job or income, or any other devastating blow, also understands what Holy Saturday is about.  What was is no more and what will be is not yet clear or known.  It feels as if there is nowhere to go and nothing to do.  The Holy Saturdays of our lives last a lot longer than one day.  So what does one do?

This is where the actions of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary have something to say to us. We read here that they were there sitting across from the tomb.  I imagine that they were sitting in silence, remembering, wondering, waiting, hoping. Maybe that is what faithfulness looks like on Holy Saturday.  There is not much to do except be present to the reality of what is. Holy Saturday is a difficult day.  We so desperately want to be relieved of the pain.  The two women of Holy Saturday will become the first people Jesus greets on Easter Sunday.  So trust the silence and the waiting.  The time for action will come.  But for now be still.  Remember, wonder, hope.  Pray.  It is Holy Saturday and the God who loves you is at work.

God of death and life, give us the patience and courage to trust you in the times of sorrow as well as the times of joy.  May we be still and know that you are God.  And may we trust that death always transforms into new life.  Amen.

The Power of Paradox

For Good Friday, we post the tenth entry in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional 2016 series written by Kelly Tobin. Ms. Tobin is a mother and a disability advocate who lives in Denver. She occasionally takes to the stage to share her story as an individual born with anomalies affecting all four limbs. Kelly also lives with the sequelae of a Traumatic Brain Injury.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Cor 12:9 – 10; NIV)

At the height of my life of thievery, at age 42, I stole a junior-sized hospital gown. I recognized a startling comfort as I eyed it and stuffed it stealthily into my duffel bag. Not only did it sport my favorite colors, but it fit my petite body just right. Fifteen surgeries in, it was about time! On this particular occasion, I’d undergone my fourth amputation. Such procedures had always involved elements of trauma and “unbearable” pain. Somehow, that gown spoke otherwise.

Heading into surgeries, we hold in view the desired outcome. God doesn’t always give us a reason for our suffering, however. We all come to know a Good Friday of our own, or several of them — days or years dominated by physical pain or perhaps iterations of betrayal,  blame, public humiliation, fear, loneliness, abandonment, loss, grief, utter brokenness. Even our anger and hatred eat away not at our enemies’ well-being, but ultimately our own. Where do we turn? To what can we cling? What’s “good” about Good Friday, the day that Christ feels his Father turn away and Jesus comes to know ultimate betrayal? Herein we begin to discover the Gospel’s paradox of weakness and strength, a truth as perplexing as it is comforting.

While God may not give us a reason for our sufferings, he has given us a reason for his suffering. Not only can we identify with his struggles, but perhaps more importantly, we can know that he identifies with ours.  Hold in view that he chose to live as a man, to suffer profoundly in body and in spirit. Can we release demands for explanations for our suffering and instead breathe into God’s response delivered in a person?  In Christ, after all, God endows us with that which we crave most deeply– companionship, a loving presence, full understanding of the depth of our hearts.

When we unite our suffering with that of Jesus, our own suffering becomes engendered with hope, pregnant with expectation.  When we feel victimized and helpless, Jesus’ own story can nudge us back toward comfort, connection, trust, and hope. God contains us as we wrestle with Him. And as we learn to receive this grace and comfort, life springs forth from death. Our figurative crucifixion becomes imbued with the meaning and hope of a consistent, sacrificial love.

“Why did I steal that hospital gown?,” I ask myself 5 years post-theft. I discover, as I hold it, that it represents to me the me who I’ve come to know and treasure through suffering, the multi-dimensional me who has stopped looking for linear responses and logical answers. We benefit from focusing not on the concrete, but on the subtle process of growth by which we slowly learn to give and receive love.  Step with me into a mystery solved not by an end, but by the means of a sacrificial love.

Prayer:  Heavenly Lord made flesh, comfort us with your love perfected, a love that we do not fully know on this earth. When darkness and betrayal close in, grant assurance that you’ve not abandoned us. Strengthen us in our suffering so that we may embrace death, and in doing so, that we may come closer to knowing the power of our own resurrections in yours. 

Disaster Redeemed

This is the ninth entry in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional 2016 series.  This devotional reflection comes from Rev. Dr. Tracey Dawson, Senior Pastor of UCC Parker Hilltop in Parker, Colorado.  This devotional reflects the views of the author and not the views of UCCDM.

“I love God, because God listened to me, listened as I begged for mercy. God listened so intently as I laid out my case before God.  What can I give back to God for the blessings God’s poured out on me?  I’ll lift high the cup of salvation-a toast to God! I’ll pray in the name of God; I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do, and I’ll do it together with God’s people.  When they arrive at the gates of death, God welcomes those who love God.  Oh, God, here I am, your servant, your faithful servant: set me free for your service!  I’m ready to offer the thanksgiving sacrifice and pray in the name of God.  I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do, and I’ll do it in company with God’s people, in the place of worship, in God’s house, in Jerusalem, God’s city: Hallelujah!” (Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19)  The Message Bible

There’s no better place to find a convert than in the Critical Care Unit of a hospital, underneath a spider’s web of tubes and monitor wires, slow dripping fluids, a ventilator, and a head strap securing a cranium fractured all to hell.  There I was, in and out of consciousness, six days on the other side of a coma produced by the act of flying through my windshield on I-70 just outside of Denver.  I was 19, I was invincible, and I was nearly dead.

My head felt like it was in a vice grip, held together with superglue and dried blood.  My right leg wouldn’t move, and I could neither speak nor ingest food.  But I could pray, man how I could pray! I had just enough wits about me to, as the Psalmist says, “beg for mercy, lay out my case before God.”  I had just enough coherence to know I was in big trouble, the worst kind, the life-changing kind.  I remember squeezing my eyelids tightly together, attempting to shift the blinding pain out of my head long enough to get a direct line to God.  I promised God everything. I promised God to make something of my life, to use my life for God’s greater purpose.  I knew I was in big medical trouble, but I didn’t know enough to know what was ahead for me, and that was probably a good thing.

As my body began slowly to mend, in patchwork fashion mind you, I did not forget my prayer, but I didn’t think God was healing me either.  I settled for thankfulness.  I was thankful for my nurses and for my family and friends.  I was thankful that my passenger did not hate me.  I was thankful for another chance.  Who would have ever guessed that a mere ten years later I would be a criminal court judge talking from the bench to young drivers about why they should always wear their seat belts?

Faithfulness & Wholeness

This is the eighth entry in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional 2016 series and will be published on Palm Sunday. This devotional reflection comes from Candace Low. She is the Executive Director of Independence Unlimited, a non-residential, non-profit center for independent living serving a diverse population of person with disabilities, a member of Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, CT, and a student at Hartford Seminary working on certification in worship and spirituality. This devotional reflects the views of the author and not the views of UCCDM.

The Biblical Passage for this reflection is taken from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In it, Paul begins by writing about himself and his character.

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:4b-14)

When I was growing up I had ambitions of grandeur to do great things. I wanted to be a lawyer and a musician, perhaps a judge one day or a great concert pianist or singer. Like most dreams, they were all about me with little thought given to how I might serve God. I was destined for great things. One beautiful sunny day the stillness of the day was broken with the earthshattering sound of the crash of my car and the crash of my dreams in the aftermath.

In an instant I went from an invincible teenager to a grownup with a traumatic brain injury that caused deafness and a host of other issues including memory loss. How could I accomplish anything when I could not remember who I was? I woke up from a coma angry! How dare God do this to me? Of course God didn’t do this to me but I had to blame somebody, right?

I have to confess that I spent many years being angry and trying to find something I could do to be somebody, accomplish something of significance so that I would be judged worthy. I was incredibly misguided in thinking I needed to use the judgement of those around me as a measure for my worthiness. It was a beautiful and empowering day that I realized that God was not going to judge me on my accomplishments, or how much I remember, or that I sometimes sing off key because I don’t hear the pitch. It has been promised that I will be judged on what is in my heart.

I sometimes wonder what I would have done or if I would have the passion for social justice issues if I had not acquired disabilities. I can say that I have learned many lessons through living with disability and I can honestly rejoice and thank God for the opportunity to learn that what I do or accomplish is not nearly as important as the intent in my heart. I can rejoice because it has been promised in the scripture reading for this wonderful Sunday in Lent that faithfulness will restore and make me whole. I do not believe that this promise necessarily refers to my body which really needs some work. The condition of my body is not really relevant to my journey. It is the condition of my heart that needs my focus for it is this upon which I will be held accountable.

Prayer: Dear precious Lord, open our mind and hearts so that we may nourish the love in our hearts and do good works in Your Name. Amen.

Human Difference, Redemption, and Grace

This is the seventh entry in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional 2016 series. This devotional reflection comes from Rev. Jeanne Tyler. Her bio can be found on the Board of Directors page.  This devotional reflects the views of the author and not the views of UCCDM.

“Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters,  who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” (Isaiah 43: 16 – 23)

The fifth Sunday of Lent is known as Little Resurrection Sunday. It is a Sunday of Biblical texts that point toward hope of redemption already rather than emphasize judgment and repentance.  The Older Testament text from Isaiah begins at verse 16 of Chapter 43 and concludes with verse 21.  It begins with the crossing of the Red Sea by the chariots and their drivers who get stuck in the mud and cannot rise.  It is the slaves who make it across the Red Sea. “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old, Behold I am doing a new thing.”  Slaves made it to freedom.  It was a new day for a people who thought God had forgotten them.

In our world today, we too experience wilderness in our lives.  God is also there making rivers flow and waters bubble in the desert.  Is this just poetry or visions or dreams or deep yearnings among people who live in the wilderness or close enough to deserts to lack easy access to water?  To give people water is to give people life. Already we are redeemed.

Vulnerability is at the heart of the human wilderness experience.  Sometimes I feel invisible, forgotten, and forsaken.  I read theology.  I hardly ever find reference to persons with disability unless it is to speak of vulnerability.  Yes, I am vulnerable but I also have agency and that agency is as significant to my identity as vulnerability.  Why does this not point to God?  Why does this not reveal God in the fullness of God as being vulnerable as well as having agency?

I am embodied.  I see other bodies.  I see racial differences, gender differences, and gender identity differences.  I also see physical differences and some cognitive differences.  It is hard to perceive brain disorders.  It is hard to see hearing loss and diabetes.  I see all the ways we are different.  And, I believe all the ways we are alike. Created in the Image of God for the sake of one another our common humanity is at the core of wholeness and holiness.  Each of us is vulnerable and each of us exercises agency.  Already we are redeemed.

The wilderness is a place where humans feel threatened by lack of safety and scarcity of water.  And yet the wilderness is also the place of God’s presence and activity.  The wilderness becomes a place already redeemed.  With God’s presence in the wilderness we will experience water for survival and roads for direction.  This is God’s grace.  And for this we give praise to God.  The response to grace is gratitude.  I am grateful for both the vulnerabilities I face on a daily basis but also the acts of agency I exercise.  I am grateful to God for being present in the wilderness I experience.  Someone wise once said, “Prayer begins with ‘Help me, help me, Help me!’ and concludes with Thank you, thank you, Thank You!!!’”.

Prayer: O God of the Universe, you know I hate the times I spend in the wilderness.  They can be awful.  And yet, surprisingly I experience water and directions.  I sing.  Amen!