Wednesday, January 05, 2005

A long, slow slog

To accept one's past--one's history--is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. James Baldwin (1924-1987)

Two scenes from our recent trip to Florida. Taking 24 hours to travel 30 miles in Kentucky on I-24 due to snow and Kentucky's seeming denial that it snows there. (Few snow plows, no road salt, and tow trucks not big enough to move semi's).

Watching a TV preacher at my daughter and son's-in-law. The preacher's sound bite--"We have to move from being victims to victors." He's a 40-something pastor of a megachurch (I don't remember where), one founded by his father. He said that it was hard when his father died, especially when so many people, including him, were praying for healing. But he has moved beyond the past. "I've never visited my father's grave," he said.

He made me uneasy. Why?

First, telling people to move from being victims to victors could be a way of silencing people; i.e., saying,"don't bother me with your pain." Many a victim has been silenced and that's definitely not the path to being a victor.

Second, and perhaps a deeper reason for my uneasiness is that our past, all of it, is part of our roots. Even the pain and shame of our past is part of our roots.

Becoming disabled at age 16 was the beginning of a whole series of painful, shameful events. I basically had to reinvent my life after it burned down. Eight surguries between ages 17 and 23. People mistreating me because I was disabled. Losing my Pentecostal people when I failed to be healed. Losing my sense of call to the ministry. A major depression.

Let me tell you, it was a long road from victim to victor. And I can imagine the guilt I would have felt during those years if I would have heard the pastor's sermon. Forget this victim stuff. Hurry up and get to victory.

But I had a body that kept sending me back to the hospital for more surgeries. I had a body that made planning for the future seem like a crazy guess.

Plus all the things I had learned as a child about God and faith and healing didn't speed me along the road from victim to victory. I tried them all (answering altar call after altar call and limping back to my pew every time.) Rather than speed me along from victim to victory they added to my misery.

Yet all of these experiences are part of my roots. And crazy as it seems, I draw incredible strength and courage from these miserable experiences. To use James Baldwin's image, I didn't drown in my misery, although for years it felt like I might.

Now I use my past. As I prepare to teach Evergreen Leaders workshops I draw on those victim years because as part of my roots, they energize me to work with groups. Groups and people in them are often victims and moving from victim to victor is not a hop, skip, and jump. It's a long, slow slog.

It's organic.

I like that Evergreen Leaders is named after a a type of tree. On Memorial Day weekend 2003 when nine of us gathered to found Evergreen Leaders we planted a Colorado blue spruce. The tag on the spruce said that it's supposed to grow to 35 feet tall. Now that's a thriving spruce. But eighteen months after we planted it's only 15 inches tall--a long ways from a 35 feet.

On alot of days Evergreen Leaders seems about 15 inches tall, a long ways from a thriving organization giving tools to lots of ordniary people, teaching them to help their groups thrive.

But that's okay. A Colrado blue spruce grows to 35 feet tall, one slogging season at a time.

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