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Pulpit Exchange with Hancock UCC March 6, 2020

06/01/2020 01:52:46 PM


Rev. Barbara Callaghan

Temple Isaiah Shabbat 3.6.20
Rev. Barbara Callaghan

It is good to be with you this evening. I have offered prayers and some words here and there at Jewish services but this is my first time preaching at a Shabbat service. When Howard and Rachel shared with me the texts for the service tonight I diligently read them, quickly realizing these were parts of the Torah I really didn’t know much about. I read the Exodus passage about the consecration of the priest and how to make the priestly garments for Aaron, the many details about the breastplate and the ephod and thought how very grateful I am that Howard told me it was ok for me to wear “street clothes.”

I then read the Deuteronomy passage about not forgetting what Amalek did to the Israelites on their way out of Egypt. I must say I don’t know much about Amalek, but there is a lot that is said about him and the Amalekites in Jewish commentary online. I also realize you don’t need me to try to tell you anything about Amalek.

Something we can have a conversation about though, regardless of what faith we might be, or even if of no faith, is this command from God to “remember.” This is said a lot in the Hebrew scriptures, as you well know. Remember too that you were strangers in Egypt… for example, and the rest of the sentence could be filled in there – so that you look out for the stranger in other places and don’t do to them what others did to you. But here in regards to Amalek the meaning or purpose is less clear. God then goes on to say blot out the remembrance of Amalek. I will leave it to Rachel and Howard to tackle that if need be.

But this issue of intentionally remembering the painful thing. Let’s discuss. I have often heard people say after something really awful happens, “I just want to move on.” I have seen others, and tried myself, to take something painful in life and box it up neatly and put it on a shelf. Realizing, after some time, that doing so doesn’t lessen the power it had over me, because of the energy required to keep it boxed on the shelf. Sometimes in fact it requires more energy and more time and attention to keep the unprocessed pain in its place – it can be like trying to keep water in a cardboard box, you have to replace the box over and over again. Simply “just moving on” can have a boomerang effect.

I have heard people say, on the other end of the spectrum, “I will never get over this. I’ll never be able to move beyond this.” “This painful thing that happened is now who I am.” No matter how true this may feel on the heels of something painful, and for some time it may seem like the only truth, after a while, sitting only in the pain can rob us of life.

In both of these extremes, if we stay stuck in either of them for a long time – the ‘just move on’ stance and the ‘I’ll never be able to move beyond this’ stance – we are more prone to passing on the painful thing, which at this point we can name trauma. Because it is, ironically what we are giving most of our energy to. We inevitably become that which we focus on.

But what if we let the pain enter in, find its place in our lives, take up the right amount of space? What if we integrate the experience and let it and empower us? This is the third option. We can let the painful memory fuel us - not for revenge, not for bitterness, but for righteousness. I would define righteousness as that which increases the flow of God’s love into the world. What if eventually, with the love of community and probably good therapy, the experience became one of the strands in the woven rug of who we are – a significant and deeply wise strand, but not the only strand. What if then, the awful thing, the pain, is able to be used for the healing of the world?

In the New Testament there is a verse that says that God uses all things to work together for good for those who love God. We take that not to mean that God causes the hard things, or the traumatic things, but that God uses everything if we but let God. Nothing is wasted. As Joseph said to his brothers who sold him into slavery, you intended me harm, but God used it for good.

It can be hard though. To choose the third way means there are no short cuts. The only way out is through. If you’re going through hell, for goodness sake, keep going. Which is why it can be easier in the short run to choose the other options: to either box it or to dwell in it. But it is only easier in the very short run. The problem is then we don’t remember in the way that God has asked us to remember, and not only do we rob ourselves of the possibility of healing, we are prone to even unconsciously wound others from the place of our own woundedness.

Richard Rohr, A Christian monk, says this more succinctly. He says of pain, “If we don’t transform it, we transmit it.” We see this do we not? It is not unusual that the particular areas of justice work that we are the most passionate about flow from the ways we have seen or experienced hurt in that area. And if we don’t do the work to let it be transformed then sometimes even the good work we do can have an effect of feeling bitter. But if we let even small amounts of healing happen, love can flow through the anger, and love in action then becomes that much more powerful.

A non-canonical Christian text, the Gospel of Thomas, says it this way. According to the Gospel of Thomas this is Jesus speaking: “If you bring forth that which is within you it will save you. If you do not bring forth that which is within you it will destroy you.”

This has certainly been, and continues to be true in my experience. One bright and significant strand of the rug of who I am, and what drives me comes from my own formative woundedness. Surviving as a gay Christian kid in a southern conservative evangelical world came with its own share of pain. Often lgbtq folks who are ill treated by a faith community leave faith all together. When this happened to me I tried and tried to just get rid of God in my life. The pain and anger and determination to not be hurt like that again fueled my attempts to run as far from faith as possible. Box it up, put it on a shelf, and move on. It turned out though that I could not – I grew to know as true, the psalmists words that there was nowhere I could hide from God, nowhere I could flee from the divine’s presence. I wrestled so much with God that now over 20 years later I still walk with a metaphorical limp, as maybe Jacob did. But it’s a limp I’m grateful for because I can’t forget - I will always remember. With integration of this experience I have realized that part of my purpose in life will always include advocating for LGBTQ folks and other marginalized groups; my work will always include building bridges in these ways, as an outpouring of my faith and my commitment to justice.

One of the strongest testimonies to the power of letting pain be transformed into loving action, that I have witnessed, is communally with my Jewish friends and colleagues – especially as related to the rights of immigrants and refugees. In my experience in working for justice around immigration and refugee issues there are no better advocates than my Jewish friends and colleagues. I see you do this work with love, persistence, righteous anger, and again love. Perhaps, because as a people, and in your own lives, you have taken the trauma and pain of the result of closed borders when refuge was needed the most, you have taken that pain and with loving commitment put it to work for the good of the world. You have remembered. You have remembered what was done to you, and let it drive you for the sake of righteousness and the healing of the world.

We can remember in this way communally, and we can also do so individually.

The power of remembering, and of letting our pain be transformed, is a particularly potent kind of power. It’s a pleasure and an honor to be in partnership with you all here in Lexington, greater Boston and beyond. Thank you for having me. May we all remember and let all of our life be used for tikkun olam.

Tue, June 6 2023 17 Sivan 5783