January 2012


So I’ve been feeling pretty numb all week, ever since I awoke in the wee hours of Saturday morning only to hear on the BBC that the worst bombing attack in Nigeria’s history had just taken place.

The details were fuzzy, but a series of bombs had exploded in Kano, Nigeria’s second largest city and the largest city in the predominantly Muslim north.  A number of police stations had been attacked and an immigration office was targeted.  Multiple bombs had gone off in these locations; my brother Ian told me the following day that Al Jazeera was reporting up to 20 bombs (!).  Now we are learning that over 185 were killed and the Sunday New York Times featured a photo of corpses being hauled away in a pick up truck.

The fundamentalist group ‘Boko Haram’ (which means in Hausa ‘western education is forbidden’)  has claimed responsibility. This is at least the second time they have struck in the last month. On Christmas Day, they killed Christians emerging from services in Jos and Abuja, both cities where family members of mine live. Thanks be to God no one I know was hurt, or even close to the scene, but people – be they Muslims or Christians – are traumatized and fearful.

The Federal Government does not seem to have a handle on Boko Haram – this terror campaign has been escalating in the last several years and this latest attack came on the heels of a nation-wide strike that paralyzed the whole country.  (That story is for another blog.)

Suffice it to say, I am praying, more than ever for Nigeria.

May the Prince of Peace come quickly, I pray.

 

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Yesterday, I jumped on the R train after a lunch appointment at South Ferry and headed back to the office. As I got on the nearly empty subway car, a woman entered ahead of me.  I could hear her huffing and puffing and found myself thinking “how out of shape she sounds.”

A few moments later, she began a conversation with a young man sitting across from her. In true New York fashion, I tried to look as if I wasn’t listening but my ears were tuned in.

She asked him if he was a radiologist. He wasn’t but she had correctly observed that he was carrying large radiological films in a cold-resistant pouch. She then went onto to thank him for his work and disclosed that she was a breast cancer survivor.  She now makes it her business to thank anyone involved in the health care world, specifically folks who have anything to do with radiology.  She then went on to fill in the gaps.

“I was with my mother down south, sleeping in her bed. I always do that when I’m there. She noticed a lump and told me to promise to get it check out when I got back to New York.  So when I got back, I went for a check up, and they found the lump. It was just a few millimeters in diameter, but  I am so glad they found it.”

Turns out breast cancer runs in her family; her sister died of it.

“When I was getting chemo, I had to take  ___. ” She mentioned a drug I’d never heard of.  Then she laughed; it was a deep throaty, laugh. “It didn’t make my hair fall out.  The other patients would ask me: ‘what are you living on?’  I’m living on Jesus,” she offered, laughing again.

Then, as if she was feeling self-conscious, all of a sudden, she blurted out, “Am I boring you? Sorry, I just feel like I have to tell my story.”

Her conversationalist wasn’t bored; neither was I.  So she kept going.

“Yeah, my hair never fell out, and I am so grateful that I’m alive. So,so grateful.”

I found myself humbled. Humbled by her story, her gratitude, her laughter, her joy at being given a second chance to live life to its fullest.

Just before I got off at Herald Square, I told her I’d been eavesdropping and thanked her for sharing her story.

“Oh, OK, OK.” Her face lit up once more and she smiled one last time.

 

At the end of last year, I began reading Eugene Peterson’s memoir ‘The Pastor’ about his calling and journey of being a pastor, and how his vocation as pastor shaped him. It is vintage Peterson: no airs or graces, just simple, plain talking about the way God matured this man who expected to be a university professor into the humble role of pastor for a 300 person church. A must read for anyone who loves anything else Peterson has written (or anyone who loves memoirs, regardless of who wrote them).

Last night, I came across a section where he compared the role of a psychiatrist or counselor with the role of being a pastor. It was helpful for me in my role as I often contemplate how what I do in pastoral care is different from biblical counseling.

Here’s Peterson’s insight on this distinction:

“I was not primarily dealing with people as problems. I was a pastor calling them to worship God….The people who made up my congregation had plenty of problems and more than enough inadequacies, but congregation is not defined by its collective problems. Congregation is a company of people who are defined by their creation in the image of God, living souls, whether they know it or not. They are not problems to be fixed, but mysteries to be honored and revered. … My work is not to fix people. It is to lead people in the worship of God and to lead them in living a holy life.” p.136- 137.

A wonderful reminder for my heart and mind that tends to want to jump in and try to “fix” people and their problems.

As we enter into a New Year, may all of us who have the privilege of ministering to God’s people treat them as image bearers to be honored, not as problems to be solved.  And may that be the primary way in which we engage them.