Sunday, April 14, 2013

Life with a Human Face

The Good, the Bad, and the Messy

Kim Smith Speaking at 2012 Race

I used to look down on people who complained of back problems. I figured they were possibly malingerers and probably whiners. Then I got “down in the back.”

One evening I was outside bathing Clementine our English bulldog, and she was not being cooperative. She  made a break for it and ran to the neighbor’s yard. When I caught her, I grabbed her by the scruff the the neck and was starting to pick her up, when I was struck by severe pain that made it impossible to straighten up, and all but impossible to walk. I spent the next few days on on muscle relaxants, pain pills, and a heating pad. To get up out of bed was a major undertaking that required slow and incremental movements on the way to getting upright  and taking baby steps to the bathroom. That was my first but not my last experience of back trouble.

My experience changed my view of other humans who said they had back problems. I still think there are malingerers and whiners, but now I know back trouble can be real. There’s a human face to it - my own.

Most of us long for simplicity. Black is black. White is white. No gray. No complications. No ambiguities. But when we put human faces - our own or others’ -  on life, we may see things differently.

Many years ago a sibling was getting married in the Catholic church. He and his fiance wanted one of our sons to be the ring bearer. We talked about it, and I sought counsel from others. Eventually we said “no” to the request. Our reasoning was that we did not want our son to be an active participant, even as an attendant,b in a Catholic service. It seemed to us at the time that our going to the service and witnessing it was going pretty far. But I now think we were wrong. I still don’t approve of converting to Roman Catholicism nor of the Roman mass, but, if given the same decision to make, I would allow our son to serve as a ringbearer. The decision would involve looking at a human face - that of my sibling.

Calvin about to speak at 2013 Race
We have supported the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the Race for the Cure. Some have pointed out that Komen provides some money to Planned Parenthood. This money is supposed to be for getting women mammograms, but, of course, funds provided for one thing free up funds for another. But Susan G. Komen has a human face for us - the faces of our daughter-in-law Kim who died of breast cancer last November, of our son Calvin who just spoke at the Race for the Cure and was among the top 25 fundraisers for this year’s Race, of our grandsons Josh and Jackson, of Kim’s mother Jeneane. I believe abortion is evil. That has not and
Josh with Running Partner
will not change. But
we have given money to the Race for the Cure in hope that our son’s hope will be realized - that in his lifetime no more women with stage 4 breast cancer will have to die of the disease.

I have condemned those who divorce without Biblical warrant. My view of divorce is more conservative than the official position of the largest church in my presbytery. I have experienced the breaking of relationships with those close to me over issues of divorce. I have as a pastor been unsympathetic to parents who, while grieving their children’s decisions and actions, have remained supportive of their erring children. But divorce has a human face for me now, because it has come to my family twice. I still hold the same principles I have always held about divorce and church discipline. If I were still an active pastor I would still take the stands I have taken in the past.  But I now have more compassion for those whose marriages end in divorce  - and for their parents. I do not now believe even unbiblical divorce is cause sufficient for the breaking of relationships.

Senator Rob Portman, who was opposed to homosexuaI marriage, has now come out in favor because he has a gay son. I believe homosexual practice is an abomination and that the legalization of homosexual marriage (along with widespread acceptance of non-marital sex and of easy divorce) will likely lead to the further corruption and possible destruction of western civilization. I do not believe you change your principles because you discover your child is gay. So far as I know no one close to me as relative or friend is homosexual in inclination or practice. But I see the human face of Rob Portman, and I think, conflicted though I would be, that I would more likely see the human face of a person among any of my intimates whom I found out struggled with homosexuality.

It used to be simpler for me. I used to be much harder on sinners and strugglers. “Repent” or “Buck up” were my messages. But now, when I see a sinner or struggler, I see a human face - my own. I am still guilty of self-righteousness and censoriousness. But, perhaps, I am a little more likely to feel compassion and extend mercy.

Only Jesus could be completely holy and righteous,  and yet be a merciful and compassionate High Priest who understands, forgives, and helps. Who could allow a sinner to wash his feet with her tears. Who go to Matthew’s party and Zacchaeus’ house. Who would eat and drink with sinners even when condemned by the righteous. Who would go even to the house of  Simon the Pharisee and eat with him.

For the rest of us  seeing human faces most often requires our personal experiences of sin and misery. Empathy and mercy for us come at the high cost of failure and suffering in our lives or the lives of those we love.

Dominus habeat misere nobis omnibus.

The Smith Clan at Kim's Funeral 

1 comment:

RMP said...

Ne respicias peccata mea, sed fidem Ecclesiae tuae