My Blue Cross, Blue Shield health plan with the Presbyterian Church sent me a quiz—an emotional health quiz. As part of that, I was given a series of statements. After each statement I was to underline either: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neither Agree nor Disagree, Agree, Strongly Agree. You’ve taken quizzes like that, right? I’ll just share afew of the statements with you.
I do not become defensive when criticized; Again, Strongly disagree, disagree, neither agree nor disagree, agree, strongly agree.
So which is it with you? How about this one:
I can stay calm under pressure;
I handle setbacks effectively;
I asked myself at the time, what if I underline responses that I know will set off bells? There’s this temptation you know? In fact, I know a pastor who took an emotional health quiz that the Presbyterian Church was offering to candidates for ministry. He was asked to draw a picture of his dream house. He drew a teepee. Nearly cost him his ordination.
So, imagine my setting off bells with answers to that quiz. Carson, our General Presbyter—kind of like my boss-- might call: “Gay Lee, we just got back your test results from Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Why don’t you and I have a little chat? I can come to Scottsville,” Because of course he wouldn’t want to make me drive to his office in Richmond—too much pressure, and in my state of mind????? More likely, if I didn’t give Blue Cross, Blue Shield the answers it was looking for, though, it would just raise my rates, right? That, or, drop me. Although I guess they can’t do that now, can they?
Then again, maybe I am being paranoid. Paranoia isn’t a healthy state of mind either, but it wasn’t covered on the quiz, so no problem.
I’ve got news for Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the Presbyterian Church, and every other entity that puts faith in emotional health quizzes and questionnaires. None of us is emotionally healthy, all the time. Me, included, or maybe me especially. It depends on the day, you know? Ask me if I handle set backs effectively when I discover three inches of standing water in my basement and I just two months ago paid beaucoup bucks to a company that says it has fixed the problem. Sometimes I definitely DO NOT handle set backs effectively.
Again, none of us can claim emotional health all of the time. However, there are people among us who seem to be mentally healthier, than, well, me and maybe the majority of us. In my book these are people who have been able to rise up from debilitating circumstances, resurrected as it were. It’s like emotional resiliency or grit, but it’s not that exactly. What I’m talking about, so maybe I’ve coined a new phrase—is emotional, personal resurrection. Coming back stronger, even better than you were before. That’s what Jesus did, right? He died as Jesus remember, but he rose up as Christ.
One person I know who is an example of what I am talking about is Lori Haas. We are working together to for gun safety, although she works at the national level—I just work with a small group of committed folks, mostly pastors. in Charlottesville. Right now my group is working with the Albemarle and Charlottesville police departments to distribute free gun locks.
In a car, driving to a conference once, Lori told me her story. I am going to tell it to you, in the first person, which is the way I heard it. This is not verbatim though—so forgive me if I have embellished a little or maybe left something out. Lori told me:
"I was out shopping with my pastor. It was a Monday morning, Spring, 2007. We were at a fabric store looking for material for stoles—It is a tradition at our church to sew stoles for the confirmands to wear when they are confirmed. My cell phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number on the screen. Not wanting to be rude, since I was, you know, at the fabric store with my pastor, I turned it off. It rang again, I turned it off. It rang again. I excused myself, saying, 'I am sorry, but this must be important.'
"It was my daughter, Emily, a student at Virginia Tech. I heard, 'Mom, I’ve been shot.'"
Lori said she collapsed to the floor, right there in that fabric store, her pastor standing beside.
Not soon enough, Lori and her husband were in their car, driving at breakneck speed from their home in Richmond, to Emily’s school in Blacksburg. She told me, “The scariest thing, was that we were going 80 miles an hour, and we were being passed by what seemed like dozens of police cars and ambulances, going twice that. The car radio filled us in on the horrific details. Shooting at a dormitory. Mass shooting at Norris Hall. Students jumping out windows. Some dead, more injured. No final count. Tears streamed down our faces. My husband could hardly see to drive.”
The outcome for Emily was mostly good, considering. She had been shot twice in the head. A lot of bleeding, no internal, lasting physical damage to her brain, though. Glory be. But of course, there was the trauma of it all—and friends and classmates dead. Lori herself crossed paths with the parents of the wounded and the dead at the hospital and at the vigil the next day.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
“For nothing now can ever come to any good”—so says WH Auden. Maybe Lori thought that herself for awhile, but not ultimately. Ultimately Lori made some good out of bad. She became a super volunteer, and that has translated into full time work for gun safety.
That’s what I mean by emotional resurrection. it is rising above personal tragedy.
There are so many other examples. Here’s just one more. My daughter, Joy was born prematurely. Premature babies are at risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome—SIDS. Joy was in the hospital for 5 weeks after she was born. The hospital staff taught me how to operate and then sent Joy home with a little black box. Connected to that box were electrodes. I attached the other end of the electrodes to baby Joy. Glued them to her chest. When Joy stopped breathing which she did often her first week home, the black box would beep, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP! I would anxiously pick up Joy and shake her gently to get her going again.
The inventor of that black box with the electrodes was the father of a child he lost to SIDS. While others might have wallowed in pain and maybe guilt—I should have, could have, saved my baby—he did something so that others would not have to know his pain. That box, was, perhaps HIS personal resurrection. For me, for Joy, for our family, salvation.
On this particular Easter Sunday, the bombing in Brussells weighs heavily upon us. It is ironic maybe, but I predict that the tragedy of March 22, will turn out to be fertile ground for more personal resurrections. It’s just the way of things, you know?
By talking about personal resurrections on Easter Sunday, though, I don’t mean to imply that Christians have a corner on the personal resurrection market. Folks of all religious stripes or of no religious stripe are motivated to rise above tragedy. They work for change, when the rest of us, might turn to drink, or drugs, or wallow in depression.
What IS distinctly Christian though, in regard to personal resurrections, is all that stuff that goes along with our particular brand of resurrection—Christian resurrection--I’m talking about humility, forgiveness and a recognition of God’s all encompassing grace. You know those people as I know those people who claim that despite difficult odds, they have accomplished great things—and they did it ALL BY THEMSELVES! They are singing that song, “O Lord it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way!”
ONE: Christians realize that their resurrected lives are inspired and blessed by Christ’s own resurrection. Therefore, they are humble. TWO: Christians know that their personal resurrection entails forgiveness of the very people who may be responsible for their suffering, since Christ first forgave us our sins; and THREE: Christians know that their personal resurrections entails a recognition that just as they have received God’s grace; so that grace has been extended to ALL.
So, along with thinking this week about personal resurrections, I have also been thinking about forgiveness and grace. And I have been trying to relate forgiveness and grace to the tragedy in Brussels. Does God forgive even the perpetrators of the violence there? Does God’s grace really extend to people whose will it is to destroy Western civilization?
Regarding this last point, I wanted to end this sermon by telling you a story by the pastor and author, Nadia Boltz-Weber, whom I heard speak last weekend. It’s another story, sadly, about gun violence.
Like the gun safety folks I work with in Charlottesville; like us, Nadia also held a vigil after the atrocity at Sandy Hook. We held ours in downtown Charlottesville, Nadia held hers at her church. Just as we did, she prepared a list of names of the massacred, the 26 children and teachers. She planned for the names to be read aloud. After the reading of each name a bell would sound. An intern at her church, his name is Alex, looking over her shoulder as she considered the list, said, “Nadia, aren’t you forgetting a name?” She counted the names. No, twenty-six.” “You Ieft out Adam.” He meant Adam Lanza.
Nadia, was silent for a long while. Then she said, “Ok. I’ll add Adam to the list, but I am registering my opposition to God’s grace.”
We can all register our opposition to God’s grace, especially as it relates to those disturbed people who caused the tragedy in Brussells. At the same time, as Christians we have to acknowledge, that God’s grace IS available to ALL.
On this resurrection Sunday, then, let us celebrate personal resurrections; let us strive to forgive as Jesus forgave, even from our personal crosses; and may we celebrate God’s grace unfortunately, but also fortunately, which is open to us ALL. Amen