Saturday, May 31, 2014

How To Comfort

[This is a transcript of a speech I gave to our church men’s club in 2012.  Minor details were edited to accommodate the written form.]

In 2011 (three years ago as I write this), I spent three weeks in the hospital after a stroke in which I was paralyzed on my right side. I have regained much movement, but still have a limp and right sided weakness.  See my Caring Bridge journal for details. I think I learned some things about comforting that I thought I would share with you. This is all based on my experience, not research. I didn't condense some seven point sermon on comforting, or read a book or a magazine article. These are just my observations. You can observe a lot just by watching… Let me start on the lighter side with some of my pet peeves…

There are things not to say. Even if they're true. There are a lot of things that the victim can say that you can't.  For instance:

James 1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.

Don’t tell me to count it all joy. I know it's in the Bible, and I know it's true. I just haven't been able to live up to it yet.

If you can't relate, don't try. People will say "I know how you feel". To be blunt, no you don't. Just because your uncle had a stroke doesn't mean you know what it's like. There are 1001 illnesses, injuries, and losses I haven't experienced.  For instance, even though I had a stroke, I can only begin to imagine what it is like for Helen Golz (the audience all knew her – she had a series of stroke and was quite disabled.  She died this year, 2014).

A quote from friend Sarah Witt, a speech pathologist, "The first thing we were taught in aphasia class is NEVER to say you understand. I've seen enough of how messy life can be to know I don't understand a bit. I can't even imagine I could have half the gumption it must take to be you and Kit every day. The only opportunity it seems to be is for the rest of us to tearfully stand back in awe at people who go thru life changing trials bravely and with dignity. We miss you both a lot."  (She gives me too much credit, I did not face this trial with dignity or bravery.)

On the flipside, if you can relate, please do. If you have gone through something similar, it really does help to swap stories. That's one reason why I go to the stroke support group every month, and why I volunteer at Regions Hospital to visit new stroke survivors.

Don't tell me about other people's miraculous healings. You may think it's encouraging, but I just think "where's my miracle?"

Don't blame the victim. Even if someone is dying of lung cancer after smoking for 40 years, don't say it. They can say "I should've quit smoking years ago". But no one else can say that.

Actual things people have said to me.

·                    “Think of it as an adventure” - no, an adventure is two cruise tickets to Barbados.
·                    “What an opportunity” – no, opening that brewpub you always wanted - that's an opportunity.
·                    “People would kill to trade places with you.”

Actual things people have said to others

·                    “I wonder what secret sin you must have.” (to a woman wheelchair bound from arthritis)
·                    “You asked for it” - said to cancer patient (name omitted)

Let me give you the first rule of comfort. Show up.

Like I said, I was in the hospital for about three weeks. During that time I had about 100 different visitors. Obviously some visited more than once.  Many of you in this room came to visit me, some of you even visited me when I was in Duluth the first three days. Yes I kept track. I had my laptop, and every night I would record the names of visitors. This is the gold standard of showing up - actually showing up. Obviously that's not always possible.

I also got enough get well cards to fill a shoebox. And some of those were from entire congregations like Eau Claire, with dozens of signatures. There are lots of reasons why you can't physically show up in person - a card can be a pretty close second. Sometimes they arrived just when I needed a boost. Don't forget phone calls and e-mail and Facebook.

Let me give you the ultimate example of showing up - Jill Taylor's mother. Jill is a neuroscientist who had a stroke at age 37. Eight years later, after a nearly complete recovery, she wrote the book "My Stroke of Insight (1)". A blood clot the size of a golf ball damaged her speech, both understanding speech and making speech. When her mother GG found out, she put her affairs in order and came to be with her daughter. Let me read you a paragraph:

“I remember clearly the moment GG came around the corner into my room. She looked me straight in the eye and came right to my bedside. She was gracious and calm, said her hellos to those in the room, and then lifted my sheet and proceeded to crawl into bed with me. She immediately wrapped me up in her arms and I melted into the familiarity of her snuggle. It was an amazing moment in my life. Somehow she understood that I was no longer her Harvard doctor daughter, but instead I was now her infant again. She says she did what any other mother would have done. But I'm not so sure. Having been born to my mother was truly my first and greatest blessing. Being born to her a second time has been my greatest fortune.”

That doesn't mean that I wanted any of you to crawl into bed with me however.

Let me give you a different kind of example. Twenty years ago I was in the hospital for an appendectomy. I was hospitalized for five days (I think appendectomies are faster now). Our minister at the time never came to see me. He called me on the telephone. Let me put it plainly - he phoned it in.  At least he did call.  That minister left our church in 2011, I chose not to follow him.

Suppose somebody is in the hospital, which is better? Spend an hour on your knees praying for healing or drive to the hospital and visit them?  Here's one answer.

Matthew 25:35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. (King James 2000)(2)

In the “Freeman” translation: when I was sick, you showed up. When I was hungry, you showed up - with food. When I was naked, you showed up - with blankets, and clothes.

Don't get me wrong, though, I'm very very grateful for all the prayers that went up on my behalf.

The second rule of comfort - I don't have a second rule of comfort.

What I know about comforting I learned from you, from your example. You don't need a seven-point sermon on how to comfort. I was sick and you showed up - with food, with games, toys, stuffed animals, chocolate, with cards and more. You may think I know some great secret to comforting based on my experience. I'll say it again, what I know I learned from you.

Christ said "if you have seen me, you have seen the Father." He sent you, and many many others. I have seen the Father through you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Horns of Moses

[This is a transcript of a speech I gave to our church men’s club in 2012.  Minor details were edited to accommodate the written form.]

Head of Michaelangelo's Moses(2)
In Rome, in the church of San Pietro , there is a famous statue of Moses, done by the famous sculptor Michelangelo (Buonarroti). It depicts Moses with horns -- discreet horns, but horns nonetheless. According to Wikipedia(1), "This was the normal medieval Western depiction of Moses". Why is he depicted with horns? What was Michelangelo thinking?

Moses bas relief US House orf Represetatives(3)
In the US House of Representatives, there is a relief (not quite a statue, not a painting either) of Moses, also with horns. In fact you can find lots of examples of Moses depicted with horns in paintings or sculptures just by searching the Google images(4) for "Horns of Moses".

Back to our story, Michelangelo's sculpture was commissioned in 1505 by Pope Julius II for his tomb, and was sculpted around 1515. Michelangelo for his inspiration obviously turned to the Bible story of Moses. He chose the passage where Moses came down the mount with the two tablets of stone for the second time. If you recall the story, the first time Moses received the law, the children of Israel had set up the golden calf while he was away, which enraged Moses and he cast the stone tablets on the ground breaking them. So he had to trudge up the mountain a second time, and receive a second pair of stone tablets written with the finger of God. This is the scene that Michelangelo was trying to re-create in his sculpture. It is given in Exodus 34:29- 35.

So let me show you exactly what Michelangelo read, Exodus 34
35qui videbant faciem egredientis Mosi esse cornutam sed operiebat rursus ille faciem suam si quando loquebatur ad eos(5)

Oh wait, that's Latin.

Remember this was 100 years before the King James Bible, which wouldn't have done Michelangelo any good anyway - he was Italian. The only Bible available was the Latin Vulgate translation by St. Jerome, that is Biblia Sacra Vulgata , which means sacred Bible in the common language. St. Jerome translated this in the fourth century A.D., at the behest of yet another Pope, pope Damasus in 382 AD to be exact, so this Bible had been in use for over 1000 years by the time Michelangelo came along.  I assume Michelangelo either understood Latin or had help translating to Italian.

So let's see what Michelangelo read - in English this time - the Douay-Rheims Bible translates the Vulgate Exodus 34:35  

And they saw that the face of Moses when he came out was horned, but he covered his face again, if at any time he spoke to them. (6)

The Latin word "cornutam" from above means horn.  It also occurs in vs 29 of Exodus 34.

Well there you have it, case closed.

Or maybe you remember that verse differently. In the New King James it reads like this "29 Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’ hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. 30 So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. 34 But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had been commanded. 35 And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.(7)

What we have here is two different translations.

A Hebrew-English Bible According to the Masoretic Text and the JPS 1917 Edition, fragment of Exodus 34:29 (8)

 וּמֹשֶׁה לֹא-יָדַע, כִּי קָרַן עוֹר פָּנָיו

And Moses knew not that the skin of his face sent forth beams 

The Hebrew word for horn is qaran.
The Hebrew word for light ray is qaran.

[Here's how they look in Hebrew]

Okay, okay, there is no difference. It is the same word, and the same root meaning. A qaran is an emanation, like light rays or beams as it says in the Jewish Bible, or a horn emanating from an animal's head. Jerome chose to translate it as horn. Everyone else recognizes that it is rays of light. I leave it as an exercise to the student to prove from the Bible that it does actually mean rays of light and not horns. Some say that Jerome did not want to give an Old Testament figure anything resembling a halo, which he saw as a New Testament manifestation for Saints only.

I learned about the horns of Moses when I was taking Hebrew lessons. My instructor told the class about it. Apparently, this mistranslation is well known among the Jews. Like I mentioned earlier, it was a common representation of Moses during the Middle Ages. Somehow, this notion got transferred to the Jewish people themselves, so that Christians, typically peasants or less educated Christians, began to believe that Jewish people had horns, perhaps wanting to vilify or demonize them. Note that Michelangelo portrayed only Moses has having horns, and not the children of Israel. Nonetheless, people began to believe that Jews have horns.

My teacher (who is a Russian Jew) told a story about his grandparents who were sent to Siberia on a train during World War II - that can't be good. When the train stopped in some small villages, the townsfolk came out to see the Jews and their horns.

You can scour the Internet and find stories of people who upon meeting a Jewish person for the first time inquire "where are your horns?" I'm not kidding.

And occasionally you will find references in literature or movies to Jews with horns. But if you're not aware of the myth, you may not have understood what the reference was. It all goes back to St. Jerome and his mistranslation of Exodus.

There you have it, case really closed this time. Moses didn't have horns, Jewish people don't have horns, but the myth persists to this day.

How many more ancient myths do people believe today?