I Am Always Right

Matthew 18:15-20 – The 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, September 7, 2014

“If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together…” (Matthew 18:15)

Before knowing my father had dementia, I blamed his vexing behaviors on other things.

Dad was elderly and tired. His hearing was awful (and had been for years). He’d become human cement, set in his ways. He resented, as his body weakened, his loss of independence.

So when he lashed out at me during a visit to Mom and Dad’s home, with his eyes ablaze and jaw clenched and his voice sounding more animal growl than human grumble, I knew where to point my finger: at those “other things.”

“Get out of this house,” he roared. “Don’t come back.”

Dad’s fury, launched at me with the unnerving abruptness of a lightning strike when the storm is miles away, happened several times before my family recognized he had dementia.

Whether or not you recognize what a Pharisee is (hey, not everyone that reads my stuff reads the Bible!), feel free to substitute someone or some group that you "know" is wrong...
Whether or not you recognize what a Pharisee is (hey, not everyone who reads my stuff reads the Bible!), feel free to substitute someone or some group that you “know” is wrong…

I recall how I felt when my father, the lion in winter, verbally assaulted me. What a cranky old fool! Such a stubborn jerk!

And this too: how dare he sin against me? His son! His guest!

I did not retreat from his fury. Remember, I didn’t know of his dementia. I had those other excuses. I tried to engage him in conversation, to comprehend his leave-my-house demand. I did not return his anger with my anger, or his hurt with my hurt. Like the Gospel of Matthew encouraged, “if your brother or sister [or father] sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together.”

Of course, in the New Testament’s Greek, there wasn’t a reference to “sister” in the scripture. But we moderns, desiring to be modern, readily and rightly add “sister” in the interpretation. Women are equal opportunity sinners too, right?

And so are fathers. So was Dad. Continue reading →

20 Days Ago I Had Lunch With Mom

Luke 13:10-7 – The 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, August 25, 2013

“When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.” (Luke 13:13)

Ah, those old fairground booths that snapped a few quick pictures...
Ah, those old fairground booths that snapped a few quick pictures…

Can any passage in the Bible ever be read without context influencing a reader’s response?

I can’t study John’s Revelations, the last gasp of the New Testament, without considering the pettiness and power of the Roman Empire. You betcha Patmos-bound John dreamed a future without tears, and that a brand spanking-new Jerusalem would soon materialize. With Caesar brandishing the sword and cramming his “divine” hand into every available pocket for the empire’s taxes, old John cast his contextual visions to oppressed believers who were wary, wounded and weeping.

When I discovered the Gospel of Thomas (and other non-canonical–or rejected–gospels), I could no longer study Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with the same innocent eyes. In the context of the Christian Testament’s emergence, in the era where a movement inspired by Jesus evolved into an institution with haves and have-nots, insiders and outsiders, believers and apostates, was one gospel really better than another? Yes, winners get to choose how history is recalled and what traditions are revered. But does that mean the losers’ views are chopped liver?

And what about the context of where and when I live and who I am? Continue reading →

Wound & Harbor*

Luke 12:13-21  – The 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, August 4, 2013

“For one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

My wife asked, “Where’d you get those scratches?” She fingered a nick on my elbow and pointed to a curved red slash on my leg.

“I got it from the dog when we were playing a couple of hours ago.”

Our dog Hannah has raggedy claws and can be energetic. Three cats own us and one, Moses, treats my flesh like a pincushion. While biking, an errant branch might slap my cheek. I cook with sharp objects and boiling liquids. However, sometimes I’m clueless about what caused an “owie.” And while some wounds are easily seen, others are invisible.

jaws_shaw_dreyfussIn 1975’s Jaws, I enjoyed the scene** where Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw’s characters compared scars. As they one-upped each other with horrific tales of danger from knives and fangs and worse, they and the viewer grew closer. Wounds are stories.

A few years ago I attempted to heal an unseen wound. I tried to manipulate my father into telling me that he loved me. It didn’t work. I understand . . . and yet not.

Dad had dementia in the final years of his life. When ninety-four, we placed him into a memory care facility not too far from where Mom lived. I tried to visit on a monthly basis. Each visit to the facility was brief and typically with my mother. We’d eat with Dad and usually tidy his room. Until the last year of his life, I could nudge fractured stories from him about his service during World War II. A question about cars likely brought a reaction:  he’d recall the used Chrysler Imperial from the 1950s with the miniature turntable in the dashboard or the new Cadillac Seville he didn’t like and sold soon after the purchase. Mom once calculated Dad had owned forty cars by their fortieth wedding anniversary. Yes indeed, cars could always prompt a few words from my father.

On one particular visit, he seemed in a good mood. Just as we were leaving, I reached out my hand. He grasped it.

“Good to see you Dad.”

Silence. Seconds passed. Then he softly replied, “Good to see you.” Had he mimicked me? Did he know what he was saying?

And then I manipulated him. I told him, gazing at his mostly blank face, “I love you Dad.” Continue reading →