religion Archives | Chaplain | JM Faith at Work

Who Are You

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Who Are You?

Well, who are you?
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who are you?
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
‘Cause I really wanna know
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

“Who Are You?” a song written in 1979 by none other than The Who, is one of the most repetitive songs of all times. The word who is repeated 150 times to my count. Well – who are you? Do you really wanna know?

Emily Dickinson answered the question in a poem and then turned it around with her own question,

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?

I might think that’s an easy question to answer. But what if you ask me, “Who are you?” I might say, “Well, I’m Jim Melvin, of course.” That doesn’t satisfy you. “Those are just words on a page,” you say. “Who are you really?” I answer, “I’m a seventy-one-year-old man?” Unsatisfied you press on. “You were seventy last year. Are you a different person now and will you be a different person again next year when you turn seventy-two?” I decide to turn to my profession. “I’m a Lutheran pastor.” You’re ready for that one. “Were you someone else before you were ordained? Does that mean you’ll be somebody else when you retire?” I’m getting frustrated. It’s around election time so I guess maybe you want to know my political affiliation. “I’m a Democrat,” I say definitively. Of course, that won’t satisfy you, so you press further. “What if you don’t like the person your party nominates for president this year and you vote republican? Will you be a different person then? Who ARE you?”

At this point I’m going to call time out to take a little break and think about this question more deeply. It wasn’t so easy after all. As I go deeper and deeper it occurs to me that there is a part of me that has never changed. I can remember looking out at the world as a little child and I recognize that the same me is looking at the computer screen as I write this. The same four-year-old me that looked up at my mother’s face as I sat on her lap is the same me that looked down at her lying on a bed the day she died. There is continuity in my me-ness.

Who am I? I am the subject of my own life. I look out at the never-ending river of experiences that flow by me. I am the one who from the inside watched this body around me age for seventy-one years. I am the one who my parents named James Edmund Melvin and others called pastor. I am the one who assigned labels to myself like Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, depending upon my time in life and the current situation in our country and world. Who am I? I am consciousness. I am my soul or what the Buddhists call Atta. I am the stable part of being. I am eternal. I am the one who looks out at the world in wonder through the portals of my eyes. I am the one who is relationship with God, with the divine.

This may seem like a frivolous exercise, the epitome of naval gazing. If we stumble through life without this realization, however, we live as prisoners of our own illusions. Our illusions become delusions when we believe that they are real. There is great freedom in this knowledge. Now we are free to redefine the artificial identities that we have constructed and make ourselves new. The only thing that cannot change is me. With greater insight we can redefine our outer identity to match the inner. When we do, we experience greater happiness, freedom and authenticity than we have ever known before.

I invite you too look in a mirror. Look past the worry lines that have developed over the years. See if you can envision the child that looked in a mirror many years ago and saw him or herself for the first time. Say hi to you. Sit quietly when you have a moment to be alone. Listen to the thoughts swirling in your head. Who is doing the listening? That’s you. That’s who you are watching and listening to your life. Enjoy the show. Enjoy life. You have been liberated.

To turn the question of Emily Dickinson’s poem around again –

I’m Somebody! Who are you?
Are you – Somebody – Too?

Let There Be Light

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Pastor Jim Melvin

I have good news for you, my Vitamin D deprived friends; the days are getting longer. We’ve already gained over half an hour of daylight since the sun started coming home to the northern hemisphere on December 21st. The bad news is that it’s still almost two months until spring. We have the darkest time of the year, both physically and emotionally and perhaps spiritually to endure.

It’s no accident that the first thing God created was light. Light is associated with good and life. That’s why Jesus was called “the Light of the World”. It’s no coincidence that we celebrate Jesus’ birth during the darkest time of the year. At a time when we feel at our lowest, it gives us hope to hear that light will be returning to our lives.

There are some things that we can do to help us through this remaining period of light deprivation. One of the most important things is to realize that we are not alone if we feel down or lack energy during this period. Our bodies are chemically reacting to decreased light exposure including the production of Vitamin D which takes place in our skin with exposure to light. So have hope. This too shall pass. Your feelings are normal. The days are getting longer.

In the meantime, there are some simple steps that we can take to feel happier and more energetic right now. Here are a few:

1. Get as much light as you can, natural and artificial. You can buy special high intensity full spectrum lights at the pharmacy.
2. Get outside and breath in the fresh air even if it is cold.
3. Exercise frequently.
4. Take time to enjoy the sunrise even if you have to adjust the time you get up in the morning.
5. Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
6. See your doctor if you feel unusually depressed or your sleep patterns are seriously disrupted. Your doctor may prescribe anti-depressants on a temporary basis to help elevate your mood.
7. Get social. Find plenty opportunities to socialize with family and friends. Isolation worsens depression.

Those are a few physical things that may help you survive until spring, but don’t forget your spiritual life. Take time each day to pray and reflect on the light of God which dwells within your heart. Close you eyes and visualize a warm glow emanating from your heart. Remember that the promise of new life through Jesus Christ is yours.  And let there be light.

My Father Was A…

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Pastor Jim Melvin

How would you write the story of your origins in a few sentences? Mine would go something like this. “My father was a coal miner born in Southern Illinois who moved to Iowa as a young man to build a better life where he met my mother, the child of hardworking German immigrants who came to America also seeking a better life.” Variations of that story could be told by millions of Americans.

Near the end of their forty-year Exodus wandering in the wilderness, Moses reminded the children of Israel of their story of origins. They were to recite this story when they entered the land flowing with milk and honey and make it a part of their worship forever. These words were to be said in the temple on Shavuot each year as the harvest offering was presented,

“A wandering Aramean was my father,
he went down to Egypt and sojourned there,
he and just a handful of his brothers at first, but soon
they became a great nation, mighty and many.
The Egyptians abused and battered us,
in a cruel and savage slavery.
We cried out to God, the God-of-Our-Fathers:
He listened to our voice, he saw
our destitution, our trouble, our cruel plight.
And God took us out of Egypt
with his strong hand and long arm, terrible and great,
with signs and miracle-wonders.
And he brought us to this place,
gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.
So here I am. I’ve brought the firstfruits
of what I’ve grown on this ground you gave me, O God.”

That wandering Aramean was Abraham the ancestor of Jews, Christians and Muslims. All of us who identify with these three “Abrahamic” faiths have in our past been called aliens, immigrants, foreigners and refugees. Whether we are Jewish or not, in our settled and secure lives we should regularly recite these words so that we remain appropriately thankful for our blessings.

We are not indigenous people. We are all, to use the language of ecology, invasive species. All of us sre immigrants to whom God has granted a resting place on our journey. We thank God for that. We show our thanks by acknowledging those who still wander in the wilderness waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise of a homeland. The children of Israel were required by their own religious law in their sacred scripture to not only welcome but to care for the dispossessed strangers whose wanderings brought them to their land. Here are some of those references,

“You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 10:19

“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:34

“You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore, I command you to do this.
When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.

When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore, I am commanding you to do this. Deuteronomy 24:17-22

And in Jesus’ description of the final judgement, God says to those whom he welcomes into his kingdom,
“I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35

For a variety of reasons including war, political oppression, drug violence, and drought and famine caused by climate change, we are witnessing massive shifts of human populations on an unprecedented scale. Today more than 70 million people are displaced from their homes including 6.7 million in Syria, 2.7 million in Afghanistan, 2.3 million in South Sudan, 1.1 million in Myanmar, and .9 million in Somalia. There are about 5 million Palestinian refugees, of which 1.5 million live in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Closer to home, there are 4.5 million refugees from Venezuela and 650,000 asylum seekers from that country. The list goes on.

It is no wonder that we who live in America and people of other developed and prosperous nations feel a need for self-protection. The flood of humanity seeking a secure place to call home is overwhelming and seems to threaten our way of life. That does not, however, absolve us of our biblical call and the demands of our basic humanity to help our neighbors. The scale of the refugee crises should create a sense of urgency among us.

America has a long history of welcoming refugees to our shores. We are, after all, a nation of immigrants and refugees. But it has never been easy. Even after the horrors of the Nazi holocaust were exposed through graphic pictures to the American people as the concentration camps were liberated, few Americans were in favor of increasing the number of Jewish refugees allowed to our own shores. Still, we have found the courage and the will to help the dispossessed. For the past 40 years we have led the world in the number of refugees whom we have resettled in some years topping 100,000.

In the past few years, however, that number has been reduced to under 30,000 per year. In other words, the number of refugees and the number that we are accommodating are diverging. Once again, we find ourselves struggling to balance our self-protective instincts with our call to sacrificial love. It is time for us as people of God to seriously align our personal advocacy and our governmental policies with our religious and humanitarian obligations.

One of the greatest obstacles that we face in dealing with the immigrant and refugee crisis is our own fear. We fear that that immigrants will bring with them crime. We fear that terrorists will arrive in their midst. We fear that they will overwhelm are welfare, healthcare, and welfare systems. We fear that they will alter our culture and even our language. We fear that instead of us raising them up, that they will drag us down.

These are all legitimate concerns, but America has faced great challenges in her past and met them with integrity and moral courage. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt encouraged the American people in his first inaugural address, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” And Jesus reminded his followers, “Have no fear little flock. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

We can only put aside our fears by first committing ourselves to work together. In the polarized environment in which we find ourselves, we cast the people with whom we should be working to solve problems as our enemies. We are wasting most of our time and energy attacking each other rather than attacking the problem. We don’t have the time and energy to spare.

Here is my simple proposal for a commitment that each of us can make as we seek to deal with the plight of immigrants and refugees in America:

1) I will listen to and acknowledge the fears of my fellow citizens and treat them with respect so that we make seek solutions together.
2) I will not use the language of hate nor be triggered by sarcastic attacks on immigrants, refugees or people who are labeled as other.
3) I will live out my biblical and moral mandate to care for the alien, the immigrant, the stranger, and the refugee in our midst.
4) I will seek to educate myself on the religious, social, political and moral issues to the best of my ability seeking out reliable and objective sources of information.
5) I will always remember my own humble origins and thank God for how I am blessed to live and prosper in this land.

My father was a wandering Aramean. So was yours.


By | Blog

Pastor Jim Melvin

If you have seen the Broadway musical Rent, the number 525,600 may ring a mental bell; it’s the number of minutes in a year. The average life expectancy of an American today is 78 years, a couple of years more if you are a female and a couple of years less if you are unfortunate enough to be a male. Male or female, our minutes are numbered, 41,776,800 to be exact if you live that average 78 years (not counting leap years).

41,776,800 is a big number; but it’s not THAT big a number. It’s way less than a billion. We talk about US budget deficits in billions and trillions of dollars. And as the popular astronomer Carl Sagan used to say with great emphasis, “There are BBBillions and BBBillions of stars in the universe.” Our lives are small and of short duration on a cosmic scale. This life is not infinite. The clock is ticking my friends; our clocks are ticking.

Thinking about this may call your attention to the clock ticking in your chest or even send you into a panic attack. That’s not my intention. To the contrary, I’d just like us to consider the opportunities for living represented by that pile of minutes so that we don’t waste them. Each minute is made more precious by its relative scarcity.

There’s an economics term that I hear my friends in business throwing around all the time, opportunity cost. Simply put, opportunity cost is the value you give up doing one thing when you choose to do something else. For example, when I choose to stay in bed for an extra hour in the morning, I’m giving up the opportunity to make money at work or the opportunity to enjoy an hour taking a walk or going fishing with my child. On the job, my boss might not be so happy to know that spending time playing Candy Crush on my phone is robbing me and him/her of the opportunity to get some work done.

It’s a matter of the choices we make on a minute by minute, day by day basis that will ultimately add up to a life well spent or a life wasted. We shouldn’t be obsessed by this kind of accounting of our lives; I’m don’t want to analyze my life on a spreadsheet. But here are some do’s and don’ts to make healthy choices about how to spend your time.

1) Cut back on screen time. Here’s a statistic that I find shocking. According to a Nielson Company audience report, the average American spends 10 hours and 39 minutes per day peering at some kind of screen consuming media. Although we spend more and more times on our personal devices, television is still the main consumer of our time. Consider the opportunity cost. That’s 10 hours and 39 minutes a day we could spend interacting with our children or spouses. That’s 10 hours and 39 minutes a day we could spend at exercise and healthy recreation. That’s 10 hours and 39 minutes a day we could volunteer to our church or service organization. I might even devote a few of those minutes taking a refreshing nap. In short, turn off the tv, put away the phones and tablets, and spend some time in the real world.

2) Spend more time in prayer, devotion, meditation, and other spiritual pursuits. As opposed to almost eleven hours we spend looking at screens, the average American spends about 8 minutes per day in prayer. (That’s actually a little higher than I expected.) Studies show that people who spend significant amounts of time praying and reading the Bible are healthier and live longer. Try devoting just five minutes to prayer when you wake up in the morning and before you go to sleep at night. See how you feel. Also, maybe try to squeeze in 30 minutes reading the Bible or other devotional material.

3) Engage in meaningful conversations. It says in the Genesis creation story that it’s not good for us to be alone. Most of us would agree that there is nothing more important than our relationships. And yet, we seldom take the time to really talk to one another about important things like our feelings, our hopes and our fears. Sitting down to leisurely meals on a regular basis with the significant people in our lives encourages us to talk. And, of course, don’t bring the phone to the table and don’t watch tv. Just talk and chew.

4) Exercise. The Mayo Clinic says that 300 minutes of moderate exercise per week provides significant health benefits. They say that 150 minutes should be a minimum goal. Just going for brisk walks is good enough. If possible, walk in pleasant and peaceful surroundings. You might even try praying as you walk. Get double benefits for each minute spent in your perambulatory devotions. (No, I didn’t make up that word.)

5) Work hard. When you are on the job, or when you have important tasks to take care of, put your heart and your soul into it. When we are working hard and accomplishing something, we don’t have to worry about the opportunity costs. We are making good use of our time. After all, we have to get things done and make a living. No regrets here.

6) Chill. This is my favorite. Just spend some time doing nothing. I remember a Seinfeld episode where Elaine is sitting on an airplane with a friend. He asks, “What are you doing?” “Nothing,” she replies. “You have to be doing something,” he insists. “No, I’m just staring at the back of the seat.” “Boy, you really are doing nothing,” he finally admits. This may be the hardest one for you type-A people, really doing nothing. Once in a while, don’t worry about the opportunity costs. Just do nothing.

Well, that’s kind of a random list; but I hope you get the idea.

On a personal note, I’m almost 71. Assuming that I make it to 82 (that’s how long my dad and brother lived), I’ve got 5,781,600 minutes left. That’s 60 minutes less than when I sat down to write this. Talk about tick-tock. Here’s the way I’ve decided to game the system. I’m going to live each minute with Psalm 118:24 on my lips or at least in my heart: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Then how can I go wrong.

What Worries You Most

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Pastor Jim Melvin

The list is long of things that we can choose to worry about. Just turn on the TV news and that’s really most of what we hear about. It doesn’t matter if we listen to Fox, CNN, MSNBC, or our local evening news. They all barrage us with things to worry about. For your convenience I’ve compiled a list of worrisome things to keep you awake at night.

2–Climate Change
3–Environmental Disaster
4–Gun violence
7–Economic Recession
8–Drug Resistant Disease
9–Terrorism, Global or Domestic
10–Sexual abuse
11–Gender Inequality
13–War, Nuclear or Conventional
14–Cancer, Heart Disease, Alzheimer’s & Other Diseases
15–Drug Addiction
17–Loss of Religion (or for some, too much religion)
18–Lack of Clean Water
19–Species extinction
20–Invading Aliens from Outer Space

These are all legitimate concerns. (Well, maybe not the last one.) Not only is the list long, many of the threats have multiple dimensions. Take gun violence, for example. You may fear the number of guns in circulation and that you may full victim to a mass shooting; or, you may fear that someone is going to restrict your right to have a gun because of the fear of others. In the case of immigration, you may be concerned about the onslaught of poor people coming to America. Or, you may be concerned that America is turning it’s back on our historic openness to people seeking freedom and opportunity here. Or, if you’re an immigrant, you may fear that ICE will come for you one day.

If any or all these fears are hounding you, I have something that may help. I’m not going to string you along like some of those internet or TV infomercials that bait you to keep watching for twenty minutes only get you to send them $19.99 for a piece of obvious junk (And get an extra one free if you order now!). My suggestion for overcoming every one of these fears is FAITH.
Yada, yada, yada. Don’t tune me out just yet. Jesus had faith that God would save him, you say, and look what it got him, a painful death on a cross. Exactly! Jesus faced the most terrible struggle and abuse imaginable including crucifixion, but in the end experienced victory and eternal life. Knowing throughout his life that his path eventually led to that hill upon which he was crucified, his faith allowed him to live life courageously and meaningfully. His example inspired those who followed him in his own day and inspires millions today who put their faith in him.

The book of Hebrews we read, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…(Hebrews 11:1; 12:1)

Life isn’t easy. Everybody struggles, some of us a lot more than others. Every item on my list above is a real concern (once again, maybe not the aliens). Go back and read through the list again. Now cross off number one. That’s what faith does. Through faith we’ve already won the final victory. We have the assurance that the thing we most hope for yet haven’t seen, eternal life, is a reality. Now we are freed to work on all those other problems.

If only it was as easy as I’m making it out. I know that it isn’t. Faith is hard. Faith is the work of a lifetime. And faith takes a lot of different shapes in different people. I’m a child of the ‘60’s and can still hear groups of people singing, “All that we’re saying—is give peace a chance.” All that I’m saying, is give FAITH a chance.

Pastor Jim

When Someone You Love is Dying

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When Someone You Love is Dying
Pastor Jim Melvin

All of us will face a time when we know that someone we love is in the active process of dying. They are sick, and they are not going to get better. Many of us are dealing with the reality right now. How we face that reality will determine how well we can accompany the person we love on their journey and how we will experience that journey ourselves. As a former hospice caregiver and pastor, I have been blessed to walk this road with many people and I thought it might be helpful to share what I have learned.

Yes, I used the term blessed. I know that most people in the caring professions, nursing assistants, nurses, doctors, hospice professionals, pastors, rabbis, counselors, etc., would share the sentiment because they have also had the opportunity to learn from those in the final phase of life. They too have been schooled in the wisdom of the dying. (Note: I am not including here untimely or violent death which requires a different set of sensibilities and spiritual understanding.)

So, let’s look at some behaviors and attitudes that may serve as food for the journey. It will not be easy. Along the way you are going to be forced to get in touch with your own mortality. We don’t like to think or talk about death in our culture; but it is essential during this time that we do so. As a side “benefit” we are doing our own spiritual work as we are helping others.

Be Honest – Be Humble
Here’s my honest truth: After forty years in a vocation that deals directly in helping people prepare spiritually and physically for dying, I know less than I did at the beginning. I have learned that the canned wisdom that I have at times used to comfort people, including the deepest wisdom of scripture, falls flat at the bedside of somebody struggling for one more breath. I have no answers.

I’ve drawn comfort from the fact that I’m in good company. One of my favorite Bible stories is in the Gospel of John where Jesus arrives to raise his friend Lazarus from the dead. As Jesus approaches the wailing mourners and Lazarus’ family outside the tomb, Jesus does something really surprising. He breaks down and cries. And John says that he was torn up inside.

I don’t know the reason for this emotional display. Did Jesus have a moment of doubt about whether or not he could pull this off? Was he just overwhelmed by the pain and suffering of the mourners regardless of the fact that he knew he was going to raise their friend? Either way, Jesus sheds honest tears that show everybody his humility in the face of death.

Don’t be afraid to be honest. Don’t be afraid to be humble. When asked a question to which you don’t have an answer confess, “I don’t know.” Nine times out of ten, the questions you will be asked aren’t really questions at all. The questions are just probes for assurance that there is somebody else there who is as uncertain and vulnerable as they are. Someone who cares.
In my first hospice training session, someone asked the instructor what you say to someone who is dying. She said, “As little as possible.” Profound advice, particularly when you don’t have anything of value to say. There is nothing wrong with silence. Quite to the contrary. Silence is to be treasured. Silence can be Holy. Psalm 46 says in the midst of trouble, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Silence can go against our grain personally or against the norms of our culture. There is a trend in modern restaurants to decorate with reflective surfaces that raise the level of background noise (to the point that people my age with diminished hearing can’t engage in a conversation). Casinos pipe noise into the room to get gamblers’ adrenaline flowing to keep pulling that slot machine handle. Even many churches feel a need to fill every pause with music or liturgy so that worshippers don’t get uncomfortable. Ironically, I want to shout, “Be quiet!!!”

Be silent with a purpose. Those silent moments can be a time for personal prayer. They can also be a time to listen to God speak as he spoke to Elijah, “…in a still, small voice.” When we get comfortable with silence we will feel less inclined to nervously clear our throats and say, “Well, I’ve got to be going.”

Laugh and Cry
On the other hand, while silence and solemnity are great, there is also a need for laughter, plenty of laughter. I remember Woody Allen once saying that someone told him that death was just a part of life. “Yeah…” he answered, “…the last part.” Often people who are dying display a need for humor and laughing. And it’s not because they’re just trying to avoid dealing with reality. They don’t want to always define what’s left of their life with doom and gloom.

There’s and old saying for public speaking (I couldn’t find it on Google so maybe I made it up) that says, “Get ‘em laughing then get ‘em crying.” It works. Sharing humorous stories or funny anecdotes from the past, has a way of opening up the emotions and turning on the tears. And that’s all good. Sometimes it works in reverse. I’ve noticed at funerals that the reception hall after the service is often filled with laughter. It’s all good. There’s a fine line between laughing and crying. They both leave us in tears. Remember the Lazarus story; even Jesus cried.

When you cry, you don’t need to hide our tears from others or apologize for them. This especially goes for crying in front of children. While children need to be made to feel secure, we cannot protect them from all sadness. Kids get it. What does it say to a child if we DON’T cry for someone we love when they are hurting? Tears are distilled from love.

I did not grow up in a touchy-feely home. My home was more of a no-touch zone. My brother and I didn’t share a hug until he was almost 80 years old, even though we were very close. It’s not hard to figure out why. When I was young we lived with my German immigrant Lutheran grandparents who were a hands-off sort of people. There’s a reason Northern European Lutherans are referred to as the frozen chosen. I have fond memories of grandma and grandpa, but other than sitting on grandpa’s lap while we listened to the Lone Ranger on the radio or napping with my grandma on the chenille bedspread on her bed, we just didn’t touch much.

While I seem to have escaped my low-touch childhood without debilitating emotional scars, there is plenty of evidence that shows the importance of human touch. During World War One large numbers of infants ended up in orphanages due to war casualties. These infants were “warehoused” due to their sheer numbers. Many of these infants failed to develop normally and, in some cases, died. They developed a condition which came to be known as Failure to Thrive. They were literally dying to be touched.

A similar situation developed with another group of “untouchables” in more recent history. In 1979 I began working with hospice in San Francisco at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic which struck initially in the gay community. Because of the uncertain origin of AIDS, there was great fear surrounding physical contact with sufferers. I remember going to extreme measures to disinfect myself after visits and the extreme anxiety that I had to overcome to finally kiss a dying man on the forehead. And I considered myself enlightened. (I’m not pooh poohing the importance of universal protection control policies especially considering the virulent infections circulating today.) My point, not only were these gay men dying of AIDS, they were also dying to be touched.

Christian traditions, my own Lutheran tradition included, have long practiced the laying on of hands for healing the sick. From what we know about the importance of touch, it is easy to see why. Beyond any religious or miraculous reason for these rituals, they are compassionate actions which fulfill a basic human need. Combined with prayer and spiritual insight, laying on of hands can be a powerful healing instrument.

How does this relate to you? Don’t be afraid to touch someone who is dying. Aside from the risk of infection, we tend to think of the dying as unclean. These feelings were probably biological self-protective instincts. Instead of seeing the dying as infected by death, we can intentionally picture them as they truly are, beloved children of God embarking on the most Holy of journeys. We reserve solitary confinement for the worst criminal offenders. We have it within our reach to free the dying from the prisons of their isolation. Go ahead. In the words of the old AT&T commercial, reach out and touch someone.

Take Care of Yourself
History is full of martyrs. You don’t have to be one. You can’t take care of someone else, especially in the long term, if you don’t take care of yourself. Care of the dying can be hard work. You need to take care of the basic needs of life including getting enough sleep, eating healthy meals, and, don’t forget this one, taking some personal time for relaxation and recreation.

There are a lot of ways to do this that will vary according to the family and friend support systems that you have to rely upon. I personally know of groups of friends that have supported families by scheduling meal deliveries, offering respite to spouses and family, and screening visitors so that the family is not overwhelmed by too much well-meaning support. Similar support services are available through hospices and other health-care agencies. There are also online services such as Caringbridge.org who offer help organizing your own support network. At some point it may be appropriate to consider in-patient care on a permanent or temporary basis. Evaluate your needs and stay open to all the options.

Finally On Their Own
Accompanying someone we love on their holy journey of return to the eternal mystery of God is a blessing for both the traveler and the companion. At some point along the path, however, there will come a time to part ways. The final step of the journey we must all take on our own. It is not by accident that people often take their final breath when the family has stepped out of the room for a moment. Trust the moment of letting go. As we release the hand on this side of life, God reaches out and grasps it on the other. We say goodbye. God says hello.


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The Only Thing We Have to Hate is Hate Itself
Pastor Jim Melvin

In 1933, a time of great national anxiety, Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his First Inaugural Address. The Great Depression had reached its depth and the American people struggled to find a source of hope. FDR identified fear as the great challenge to be faced by Americans and the world. He said famously, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

In 2018, although we are living in a time of relative economic prosperity, the American people are again struggling to find a source of hope. We are plumbing the depths of a Great Moral Depression that is creating a new national anxiety. Today hate is the great challenge to be faced by America and the world. Paraphrasing Roosevelt, “We have nothing to hate but hate itself.”

Hate is the most destructive of human emotions. Hate is condemned in the Bible. 1 John 3:15 says, “All who hate a brother or sister are murderers and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.” That’s harsh by any standard. Hating someone is the same as murdering them. In modern law we even have a special classification for the most serious of crimes; we call them hate crimes.

To the best of my recollection the words “I hate you” have never crossed my lips in anger. Nor can I remember anyone telling me that they hate me. It’s likely that you can probably say the same thing. Uttering that phrase can cause irreparable damage to a relationship. We all have an innate sense of how toxic and violent expressing hate is. Hatred is something that we would associate with Nazis or the Klu Klux Klan.

It concerns me, therefore, that I hear the word hate springing up so frequently and so casually today. All too often I hear people I know and love say, “I hate Donald Trump!” Or, “I hate Hillary Clinton!” Or, “I hate Barak Obama!” Or, “I hate the NRA!” Or, “I hate the ACLU!” Or, “I hate__________.” I hate, I hate, I hate. As Taylor Swift says, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” (You’ll have to excuse me. I know that I’m too old to be quoting Taylor Swift.) These statements of hate are not directed toward people with whom we have immediate contact, so we think they are acceptable. Or are they? Hate is hate. We need to exercise caution whenever and to whomever we speak these murderous words.

Hatred is more that anger. We all get angry. Hate occurs when we let anger take root in our hearts, fertilize it, and encourage it to grow. Anger to a certain extent is inevitable and beyond our control. Hate, however, is something that needs to be weeded out of our psyches and our speech. It is always within our control.

We justify hate by pointing out the evil in another person or group of people. We may go as far as thinking that it would be morally wrong NOT to hate someone who is evil. How could I NOT hate Adolf Hitler, the embodiment of evil. How could I NOT hate a child molester. There is a lot of hate being expressed in the world today because there is a lot of evil. Or so we reason.

Martin Luther King, Jr., a person who was no stranger to hate, expressed it well when addressing those in the Civil Rights movement who expressed hatred toward their white oppressors. He said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” King was in turn reflecting the teaching of Jesus, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’”

It is a short step from hate to murder. Martin Luther King found that out. Jesus found that out. When Hitler aroused hatred for the Jews in Germany, he was able to motivate the people of that Christian country to unleash an ungodly genocide. That’s why we should fear hate. Hate kills.

Listen for that four-letter word in your speech and in the speech of those around you. Ask yourself what is generating such a vile and violent emotion. Challenge the word when you hear others use it. Strike it from your own vocabulary. If we can replace HATE with LOVE on our tongues and in our hearts, then we will have nothing to fear.