The stories that make us up and influence who we become often reveal the equal opportunity to be wounded by the ways and words of others who have power or misuse their power. When I was young I observed many injustices to just about everyone. Stories of injustice, humiliation, bullying, and disrespect for another were commonplace: a young boy picked on by the larger boy, girls denied the opportunities so easily offered to boys, a church youth minister running away with another man’s wife, a sexual assault, three church splits over a variety of issues, a divorced woman ostracized by other women, a teen date rape, an unwanted pregnancy, sexual harassment in the workplace, eating disorders, messy integration of the school system, segregation alive and well in the church pews, relatives that didn’t return from Vietnam, gas rationing, Watergate, less pay than that of a male counterpart, females denied entrance into seminary, and verbal assaults on the soul if one got out of lockstep in the expectations of family or faith life as dictated by those who had the power. And that was before I turned 20!
For me, the study of the book of Luke was instrumental in noticing what Jesus said and did long before it became the WWJD question on jewelry, t-shirts and bumper stickers. In the book of Luke, Gentiles and Samaritans are discriminated against, Jesus challenges the religious leaders of his own culture and their misuse of power, and the hypocrisy of the day that harmed the widow, the poor, the woman, the broken man, the words of harm slandered against those too powerless to fight back. Jesus had critics who followed him throughout his ministry striving to quiet his words and challenge his human/divine authority to usurp the misused power they refused to give up or acknowledged their participation in such suffering outcomes.
Every generation will have to face the injustices that humanity does to one another. For all the good work and ways that have been accomplished there remains the need to press on, do more, and absolutely do better. The news is full recently of the stories of women harmed by Hollywood moguls, the inappropriate relations of Presidents, the words and sick mindset of powerful men in the Southern Baptist lineage that limited and harmed the value of women, and the recent exposure to the sexual harm done to boys by priests in South America. There is a hypocrisy of both the secular and sacred places in our society. Our society in all areas of the sacred and secular spaces need to take a long look at this duplicity.
Jesus taught throughout the book of Luke the need to heed the guidance of the Holy Spirit as he lived and modeled in his own journey. (Luke 4:1) He made clear that much of our need to improve in our humanity rested in the authenticity to love one another. This type of living with one another requires a respect for others. To show disrespect to others is a form of dis-respecting God and your own self. In Luke 17:21, Jesus say’s, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” Jesus also said we shall know another by their fruits (habits, character, ethics) they produce. (Mt.7:15-20) Self-examination and self-awareness would go a long way in examining our agendas, treatments, and dispositions toward our fellow human beings.
Today, I am in my late 50’s. The injustices of harm and the beautiful inspiration of those who offer compassion, empathy, and challenge the status quo and reform needs continues. There is in this messy life the opportunity to choose the fruit of the Spirit that can inform, transform, and reform us with resilience, tenacity, generosity, peacemaking, joy, hope, love, perseverance, positive use of power, self-control, and love. When I answered the pastoral care calling to become a minister in 1979, it did not come to fruition for another 27 years when I began the academic work of seminary. I was ordained in 2006. Since then, I have become board certified in chaplaincy, and completed both masters and doctorate in ministry. There is a righteous anger I still hold at the insulting loss of time to the call God and I knew was true in 1979. However, I am doing soul care to others in their woundedness. Author and priest Henri Nouwen offers us in his writings, “Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.” Reader, this man has left behind books of great encouragement for living a spiritual life of wellness in a hurting world. His legacy of words has meant so much to me over the years. If you have not read his works, I encourage you to start with The Inner Voice of Love.
Nouwen coined a phrase years ago: ‘wounded healer’. To be a ‘wounded healer’ is to know how to sit with another in their pain and offer presence of silence, words of hope, and care for their spirit without the need to fix or explain the suffering away. A wounded healer is healed from their own woundedness and simply knows the way out through presence, prayer, perseverance, and power of self-respect to begin again. And, only one who has been wounded can model the way of forgiveness, hope, renewal, and face down injustices done to one’s mind-body-spirit. The Cross of Christ is modeled and offered for all of us! What greater love and sacrifice is there than to bleed out your own blood for the cause of another to live. Jesus did such a level of suffering love! There remain stories told and untold of parents who have done such for their own children, bands of brotherhood/sisterhood in war, advocates fighting for change in injustices, and the cost of discipleship in striving for Christ’s higher standard of wearing such a name as Christian.
I have often wondered in my appreciation and love of history, how others who have gone before weathered the injustices done to them in their timeline of living. The bible is full of injustice stories. Hagar, Tamar, Vashti/Esther, Joseph/Potiphar’s wife, King David/Bathsheba/Uriah, Daniel, Jesus, and the martyrs of the first century church. In American history there is the struggles of Native American Indians, Revolutionary War, slavery, women’s right to vote, child labor, labor unions, Depression, poverty, and more wars. I held a newspaper in my hands everyday throughout the 1970’s and 80’s. In those twenty years the headlines spoke of drug cartels in South America, drug war growing in America, the infighting of Northern and Southern Ireland, Energy crisis, Vietnam, Three Mile Island, Watergate, Cambodia, Apollo 13, IRA bombs, The Challenger explosion, Sandra Day O’Conner, Royal wedding, Inflation issues, Olympic politics, ERA- equal rights amendment, and so on…
I did not know the name William (Bill) Self in 1979. But he did not get to be the President of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979 because of his stance to include women as equal in their vocational callings into ministry as that of men. In 1997, we moved to Atlanta, Georgia and after a few years I readdressed this calling and Bill Self was my pastor. He wrote my endorsement letter to enter seminary. I met John Claypool in seminary. He was a professor and he became an important mentor to me. Henri Nouwen’s words around wounded healer’s and spiritual self-awareness were positive ingredients in our many conversations. We both had a story.
Both men were significant to my pastoral identity. Both men weathered difficult harms to their personhood and personal journey in this life too. Their story that shaped and influenced their own pastoral identity resulted from the harms and injustices done to them too. Both men forgave their adversaries that hindered them. I have forgiven mine in family and faith that honed my pastoral identity in their lack of support. And I hold with great gratitude those family and faith individuals that invested in supporting my journey into this ministerial calling. Both the just and the unjust sharpened me spiritually for the timeline of life I am living.
The scriptures remind us that it rains on the just and unjust. (Matt. 5:45) The reality is that everyone and every generation will face the injustices done to one’s mind-body-spirit. The spiritual tools needed to walk in such places that hold unholy moments requires the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5: 22-23), heed Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), practice an unceasing prayer life with God (Matt. 6: 9-13), remember God’s with us and for us (Psalms 139), and find solace in scriptures and other peoples stories that inspire you and challenge you to live well in your own.
Many poets and writers inspire me. These quotes are from a woman I admired for years in her story of advocacy, faith, survival, and wordsmith ways. Thank you, Maya Angelo, for so many well said words worth reflecting upon and relevant still today.
“You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, ‘I forgive. I’m finished with it.’”
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
“If we lose love and self-respect for each other, this is how we finally die.”
“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”
“A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.”
“Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.”
“Whatever you want to do, if you want to be great at it, you have to love it and be able to make sacrifices for it.”
“Determine to live life with flair and laughter.”
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, however, if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
“People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”