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The Powerlessness of Pain

The Powerlessness of Pain

The Powerlessness of Pain
The worst moment of my life was listening to my mom moaning in pain (later diagnosed as interstitial cystitis) and knowing I couldn't do anything. When someone is hurting, I want to do something. I want to take casseroles to the friend whose dad just died and be at the funeral. I want to change my FB profile pic along with everyone else in support of Weston from my home church who was in an extremely bad accident last week. And when a friend is moving a couple hours away due to cancer, I'm disappointed when I arrive too late to help load the moving truck (even if I would have probably just been in the way of the guys loading furniture). I hate watching from afar. I hate feeling helpless.
Six months after his mother's death, Henri Nouwen wrote the following to his father: “When we experienced the deep loss at mother’s death, we also experienced our total inability to do anything about  it. We, who loved mother so much and would have done anything possible to alleviate her pain and agony, could do absolutely nothing” (45).
It's not only the friends who feel powerless, but often the one suffering as well. I recently talked to a gentleman about how the loss of his independence was the hardest part of having a stroke.
Yet, I wonder if that is perhaps one of the purposes of pain? To remind us that we are powerless?
“Death indeed simplifies” Nouwen states, and I would argue that suffering does as well. He continues, “Death lays bare what really matters” (41). We tend to think that we control our lives by working hard, purchasing comforts, or planning our calendar, until a painful situation devastates our lives and reminds us that we “are a bit of smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes” (James 4:14b).
Suddenly, we have no other options but God.
The Power in Pain
Recently, I was asked about my depression a couple years ago. In talking about it, I was again amazed that I'm now actually grateful for it! No, I definitely don't want to go through anything like that ever again. No, I would never have asked for it. But my increased empathy for others and desperation for God, my gratitude for joy, my deeper love for the church, and my lack of desire for empty pleasures cause me to worship God for that painful experience.
I've again been astounded by God showing up in the church as I watch (from 6 hours away) my home church gather around Weston Shank and his family after Weston had an extremely bad accident. Even though I'm not present, the church’s love is obvious. Profile pictures and statuses are changed to express support. When updates are texted to out-of-state friends, everyone gathers to hear the latest. In-state friends regularly travel the hour to the hospital. The church is evident in pain more so than normalcy.
Some people may look to reason to prove the existence of God. But I know God exists when I see a wife praising God the day after her husband dies. I know God is real when my friends who have cancer care how their experience affects my faith. God must be good if my friend can experience a huge emotional and spiritual attack on her family and still say, “Yes, I want God with all my heart!”. I know there is a God when I see Him loving through His Church.
God has shown up over and over in the painful circumstances of my own life as well. And I too can join those who testify that God is worth it even when life hurts.
Pain is powerful because there we experience God.
Works Cited:
Holman Christian Standard Bible. Nashville: Holman, 2006. Print.
Nouwen, Henri. A Letter of Consolation. New York: Harper & Row, 1982. Print.
Boundary Training that Moves Beyond Sexual-Misconduct Problems

Boundary Training that Moves Beyond Sexual-Misconduct Problems

In the context of Christian ministry, boundary training is often presented as training to prevent sexual misconduct. In my denomination for example, all new pastors take a Relationships with Integrity seminar, with a refresher course every six years. Given the seriousness of professional sexual misconduct and abuse, such training is essential. At the same time,…
N.T. Wright is right & wrong on Paul – Chris Heilig (EP-56)

N.T. Wright is right & wrong on Paul – Chris Heilig (EP-56)

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This is an interview episode with emerging biblical scholar, Christoph Heilig. We spend much of our time discussing a new volume, which engages the work of NT Wright, called God and the Faithfulness of Paul. Seriously, get this book!

Here's a full bio: 

Together with his wife Theresa, Christoph Heilig has studied theology in Gießen, St Andrews and Göttingen from 2009-2014 with a scholarship from the German National Academic Foundation. He has received a Master of Letters in “Biblical Languages and Literature” from St Mary’s College (University of St Andrews) with a work on lexical semantics of the New Testament. His research aims at combining insights from the philosophy of science with the study of the New Testament books within their cultural contexts. Since October 2014, he has been working at the University of Zurich on a research project funded by the Swiss National Fond on narrative structures in Paul's letters. His publications include Hidden Criticism? Methodology and Plausibility of the Search for a Counter-Imperial Subtext in Paul (Mohr Siebeck 2015 and Fortress 2017) and Paul’s Triumph: Reassessing 2 Corinthians 2:14 in Its Literary and Historical Context, (Peeters 2016). He blogs about his research on the "Zurich New Testament Blog," which can be followed on Facebook. Some of his works can be accessed on his academia-page.

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Melding of Heritages: A Swiss/Latino Hybrid

Melding of Heritages: A Swiss/Latino Hybrid

With few exceptions, everyone wants to know where they come from, i.e., their heritage. This is especially true of those of us who are children of immigrants in the United States. During this past year in Switzerland, I have been steeped in discovering my own ancestral roots. From the Alpine foothills near Schwartzenburg and the Gürbetal Valley near Wattenwil, the Wengers, the Hersheys and the Horsts were pushed into the deep crevices of the Emmental Valley. Constantly pursued by Bernese Authorities, they moved on to the Palatinate in Germany, and finally settled in the USA after years of uncertainty. The Clemmers (Clymer, Kleiner, Klymer) came from the region of Zürich.
The Hohgant Ridge near where the Emme River begins.
I travelled the Emmental (Emme River Valley) both literally and in my readings from the beginnings of the Emme River near Kemmeriboden-Bad under the majestic Hohgant Ridge, to Burgdorf with its majestic fortress on a hill overlooking the Emme River. The whole area at one time was riddled with Anabaptists. Our travels included the castle in Trachselwald were my forbearers were held in prison, and the Anabaptist Hideout where the Frankhauser family concealed Anabaptists in a hidden chamber in their barn while Bernese “Anabaptist hunters” pursued them. 
I discovered that one part of my family had been Anabaptist since 1591, making me a tenth generation Anabaptist. That same family came to the USA in 1731, and eight generations of that family still live in the original house in Lancaster County. My Clemmer relative supposedly arrived in the USA in 1730 in the same wave of Anabaptist immigrants, making me an eighth generation Anabaptist in the USA. 
All of this family history has made me feel rooted, understanding where I’ve come from, and some of the idiosyncrasies of my cultural make up. There are times here in Switzerland when I meet someone, walk a certain road, or hear a piece of music that makes me feel an uncannily nostalgic bred-in-the-bone affinity to Switzerland. 
In the middle of this journey to find my roots, I received a message from the director of the Latino Student Alliance at Eastern Mennonite University. They wanted to invite me to be the keynote speaker for the kickoff of their Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. I was delighted to accept, while protesting that I am not Latino. “You are an honorary Latino,” was the response from the planning committee. 
Lago Atitlán in Guatemala
Indeed, I have lived, worked, studied and related to Latinos more than eight years in the countries of Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. I taught Spanish full- and part-time for over 30 years at two institutions in the USA. I served on Mennonite Central Committee’s East Coast board of directors for six years. During that stint with MCC, I caucused with the Latino representatives, sometimes translating, often serving as a liaison. We shared our stories with each other, laughed and worked together for a cause that transcended our heritages. They fully accepted me into their circle as one of them. 
To say that I was not affected or influenced by my exposure to the Latino cultural heritage is to ignore reality. Once while attending a party of mostly Latinos, a non-Spanish speaking participant friend of mine remarked after the party: “You seem to have a different personality when you speak Spanish.” This was a totally new and intriguing thought to me. 
Do I have two distinct personalities that weave in and out of the cultural situations in which I find myself? One Latino and one Swiss-American? If this is so, am I schizophrenic? 
I would rather believe that I have learned to meld the two heritages together into a hybrid personality that functions in whatever particular culture I am in. This melding does not make me two-faced, or a doppelganger, but rather an example of what has potential to be an emerging culture in the USA. 
As evidenced by many posts on the recent MCUSA Convention in Orlando, there are still numerous cultural divides that separate rather than meld together. An example of this comes from a Latina friend of mine who is the most acculturated Latina Mennonite I know. She wrote on Facebook while on her way to the Convention: “The white people in this shuttle have identified each other as Mennonite, and have left me out of this conversation. So therefore, I think they think I'm here on some other business.” The Swiss, German, Dutch, Russian-American heritage white card left my Latina friend excluded. I have heard many similar stories. 
Our church has much to learn about the melding of heritages, and our racially divided country even more. My hope is that my church can become an example, a witness, to the power of the Gospel to meld cultural heritages. Even though Paul was “a Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5) he became the apostle to the Gentiles, crossing and melding cultural heritages “becom[ing] all things to all people in order to save some” (1. Cor. 9:22). There has been some progress, but we have a long way to go. 
The Latino Student Alliance accepted me as an “honorary Latino.” I felt that the Latino Caucus at MCC did the same. How soon will we be ready to invite non-European heritage people into our midst as not just “honorary Mennonite/Christians,” but fully accepted as equals?

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