The Wounded Healer

Steve & Shirley
Steve & Shirley

“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” – Isaiah 40:1

The psychologist Susan Silk published an article about the psychology of comfort called “Ring Theory,” or, for short: Comfort In, Dump Out. It’s personal for her: after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and in the hospital, she got tired of having to comfort people who were supposed to be comforting her.

Ring Theory puts the wounded person at the center of a circle, and everybody else in concentric rings around the wounded. Their distance from the center corresponds to the closeness of their relationship: spouses are closest in, followed by family, close friends, work colleagues, and, finally, Facebook friends.

The rule of Ring Theory is that you have to comfort anyone in a circle smaller than yours, and get your own needs met by someone in a circle larger than yours.

The priest Henri Nouwen didn’t coin the phrase Wounded Healer—Carl Jung did that—but Henri popularized it. He said that we Jesus-people are called to put our wounds, once they have begun healing, into the service of the newly wounded, and he also told this story:

A Rabbi came to the prophet Elijah and asked, “Tell me, when will the Messiah come?” The reply, “Go ask him yourself,” surprised the Rabbi. “Where is he?” he asked. “He’s sitting at the gates of the city,” Elijah said. “But how will I know which one he is?” the Rabbi inquired.

“He is sitting among the poor, covered with wounds. The others unbind all of their wounds all at one time and then bind them up again; but he unbinds his wounds one at a time and then binds that wound up again. He says to himself, ‘Perhaps I shall be needed and I must always be ready.'”

If we are the hands and feet and wounds of Christ in the world, what does it mean to be “always ready”?

It has something to do with sitting among others who are wounded. 
It has something to do with only unbinding one wound at a time. 
It has something to do with acknowledging that we are not only here for ourselves, but might be needed, and called by God to respond to that need, at any moment.

Dear Lord, bind up my old wounds, and help me to get a grip, that I may comfort in, and dump out, as the day requires, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


PS: Due to circumstances beyond my control and for the good of the church, I will be suspending my blog. Thank you for reading the blogs and devotions over the years. It has meant a lot to me to be able to share with you in this manner. God speed to all of you.

Those Crazy Teens

Steve & Shirley
Steve & Shirley

And this is His commandment, that we believe in the Name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us. 1 John 3:23

Seventeen-year-old Courtney Thorp goes to Shell Rock Senior High School in Iowa. There’s another thing you should know about Thorp. You should also be aware that when she was nine months old she was diagnosed as having cerebral palsy. It is an illness which can negatively affect speech, balance and many other aspects of an individual’s life.

Mainstreamed in her education, Thorp, along with her parents, were always dedicated to minimizing those negatives.

Even though she knew her daughter was an upbeat kind of kid, when Thorp’s mother heard her only child had been nominated for homecoming queen, she was worried. Yes, the kids at Thorp’s school always seemed to be nice, but … maybe this was some kind of prank: a cruel hoax which some bad-attitude students were playing on her daughter.

Thorp’s parents received some degree of peace when the school’s associate principal called and assured them the nomination was legitimate, and there was no ill will or cruelty in it.

I have to tell you the night the homecoming king and queen were crowned, Thorp’s mom ended up in tears. In her words, “I lost it.”

Had the assistant principal been wrong? Nope. Not at all. Mom “lost it” because her daughter’s coronation as queen was marked by applause, cheers and high-fives by the rest of the court. The homecoming king said, “It was such a great feeling when she won. She comes to school every day with a big smile on her face. She is happy 110 percent of the time. She loves life and she makes the best out of everything. She’s a big inspiration to everybody.”

So, that’s the human-interest story from Iowa.

Now there are two reasons that narrative has been shared. The first reason is because it’s easy for these days for my blog (and me) to center on the sad, the sick, the terrible, and the tragic. For you and for me that can be discouraging and depressing. I felt it was time (after the Mad as Hell rant) for something upbeat. The second reason the story is shared is because here is a high school filled with kids who get it.

I think they get it partly because of parents, partly because of their stable community, and partly because most of them are members at one of the churches in Shell Rock. These kids may not know it, but part of their specialness has to do with their belief system. It is a system which says we are redeemed sinners, no one is perfect, we all fall short of the mark, but we have Jesus who loves us and by his mercy lifts us to the Father’s throne, and restores us to the Father’s house.

Knowing this Jesus the teens of Shell Rock, Iowa, have put into practice an attitude of love and acceptance… By God’s grace may their attitude become contagious all around the world.

Hopefully, our time together tonight has made you feel a bit more thankful for Jesus and a whole lot more thankful for some of the Christian kids who are coming after us.

Dear Lord, today we give thanks for kids who conquer problems and those who support those who need it. Most of all we give thanks for Jesus who taught us how to love and support someone else. In His Name. Amen.

Grace and Peace


PS. We think our cat is watching the Animal Channel while we are away every day. We even found cat nip on the TV remote the other day. She has learned to sit at her bowl and rattle it until we come fill it. She is almost 14 years old… so old cats can learn new tricks.

On The Back Pew

Steve & Shirley
Steve & Shirley

“Finally, [the spirit] took me to the inside court of the Temple of God.” – Ezekiel 8:16

Have you noticed that most people, when they come to worship, don’t sit up front? The back of the church tends to fill up first almost as predictably as the bottom of a glass will be the first to be filled with water. You have to get there early to get a good back seat. Why is that? If we are attending a concert or a lecture, we would charge down front where the “good seats” are, even pay extra for those seats. But why not when we come to worship?

I have heard a number of theories. People want to be able to see who else is there, which is easier to do from the back. And it is easier to slip out quickly during the last hymn if you sit in the back. Some say I am just more comfortable back here.

Those explanations may be part of the story, but I have heard another theory. That theory states that we don’t immediately go to the front because that would feel like a definitive declaration of faith. Sitting in the back you can still feel like you have one foot in and one foot out. To stride down the aisle and sit in the front feels like skipping right to the “your whole self in” part of the hokey pokey, and we may not be ready for that. Our own experience of faith often is more qualified, more tentative than that.

If doubt or uncertainty disqualifies us from worship, we will have many empty churches. Some of us live lives of doubt, diversified by faith. Others of us live a life of faith, diversified by doubt. And in the church there is room for us all. Even at the front of the church.

In the Temple in Jerusalem there was an inner court, reserved for the righteous, and an outer court for everyone else. Gratefully, in the United Methodist Church, it is all an inner court and we are all invited there – no matter who we are.

Thank you, O God, that your invitation to me is not based on my righteousness, but instead flows from your graciousness, in and through the love of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Grace and Peace


Mad As Hell!!!

Steve & Shirley
Steve & Shirley

This is not a devotion tonight. It is more of sharing with you a dream a fear, and what I plan to do.

I have to admit to you that I am very mad at what the people in Washington are doing to our country. I don’t believe I have every been so angry at or so disappointed in our country’s leaders. I am so angry that I am going to get involved in politics. I ALWAYS VOTE. But this time I am going out to help organize people to vote for people who will walk across the aisle and compromise in order to do the BUSINESS OF THE PEOPLE. I will work to vote out ALL people who have an agenda that is not surrounded around the good of the people of America. They must be willing to work together or they will not have my vote.

I am afraid that people are running out of hope that their government will ever do anything to help them. It is kinda like the Vietnam veterans felt when we came home from the war and sought to get help for PTSD or Agent Orange… right after the government required us to fight for our country… our country denied help to many for conditions they put us in.

I read today that some of those people are beginning to act. A Truck Drivers Association, some 3,000 truck in all, are planning a slow-down of all traffic on the Washington Beltway 3 days this week beginning Friday. They are not letting anyone into or out of Washington. They are leaving a lane open for emergency vehicles only. This is their protest for the gridlock in Washington. (USA Today)

I had a dream the other night about the people who wake up one day and find that they have lost all hope. That is the last straw of a desperate person… the loss of hope. Perhaps they have lost their jobs, their homes, maybe the family has split… and there is nothing left.

In my dream there are millions of these people who are marching on Washington and blocking the streets to and from the Capitol building. But, they are peaceful… angry but peaceful. I never even thought about trucks on the Beltway.

Worse than that are the ones who are so desperate that they get violent. If you know someone like this, please talk with them, make arrangements for them to get help, or call someone to help. There may be an element out there who will seek out these Tea Party people, who are reportedly safe in their own districts, and take some violent action toward them in their home district.

I know people are mad, especially when cockroaches are rated higher than Congress, but we need to take action in ways that are legal… in the voting booth. Please be on guard about your own anger and the anger of those around you. Be vigilant to help those who are losing hope… get them help before they do something very bad. Be alert.

It is okay to be Mad as Hell. It is okay to vote the rascals out. It is NOT okay to take any violent action. If that is you or you are not sure… get some help right away. You will be glad you did… and so will your family.

Dear Lord, help our country in this time of great need. Help those people who are losing hope to find hope in you and thereby recover from sinking into desperate actions. Speak to our leaders to come together for the good of the country and make the decisions needed to heal our land. In the Spirit of love and mercy. Amen.

Grace and Peace


Really, Paul?

Steve & Shirley
Steve & Shirley

“To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. […] To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people . . . .” – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Dear Paul:

All things to all people?  Really?

Here’s the thing, Paul: you had a wonderful, tradition-inspiring gift for words.  You were, let’s be honest, the creator of the sound-bite.  But sometimes those 30-second snippets are misleading.

I am positive you were not a full-time tent-maker and traveling evangelist, while also being a loyal and devoted family-man, who took care of his relatives, made dinners, cleaned the house, and still had the energy to take his spouse out on a romantic date now and then.

You know why I’m certain? Because it’s not possible.  

I know plenty of people who try to do all those things (except, maybe, the tent-making) because they think it is their good, Christian duty. “I must,” they repeat, “be all things to all people.” They end up – frazzled, anxious, depressed, and suffering from one broken relationship after another.  

I know this isn’t what you meant. You know that being everything to everyone usually means nothing to anyone. I’m pretty sure you meant you were able to do one thing, with one person (or group) at a time.  And that one thing?  It was love.

Jewish, Gentile, weak, powerful – whoever, whatever, however – you loved them.  You joined people where and as they were, so they might know the love of God who joins them where they are.  

So can we publish a clarification – an editor’s note, of sorts?

You, Paul, called to be an apostle of God by Christ Jesus, were not all things to all people.  You were one thing – love – to one person at a time.

Yet, through the miracle of the gospel, that’s more than enough to reach us all.


Steve (on behalf of the tired everywhere)

All-knowing, all-capable God, remind me I am not You – and you don’t want me to be. When I’m tempted to do it all, remind me it is (hard) enough to do the one thing you do ask of all people – to love the  person in front of me right now. And then help me do it, in and through Jesus.  Amen.

Grace and Peace


I Thank God For You

Steve & Shirley
Steve & Shirley

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now. 7a It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart….” I Philippians 1:3-5, 7a

Yesterday I was honored to preach the homecoming service at Ruffin UMC. This was the church I served while going to seminary at Duke. We spent five years there – stayed an extra year after school to allow our son to graduate from high school.

I am not sure that homecomings really meant all that much to me early on in life or in my career. I guess it is perhaps because I didn’t understand their importance to us as a community. Now that I am older, retired, and have been in ministry for 40 years, I understand and appreciate homecoming celebrations. It is a celebration of a time you spent together, perhaps a time that changed your life, but especially the people who surrounded you as you shared that time together. So we go back to remember as we walk those paths again with friends we have made and lives that have touched us with the love of God. We tell stories, laugh, maybe even brush back a tear. But we travel back to another time and appreciate time shared together.

Yesterday I spoke to a congregation about a congregation that cared for and nurtured me, a young struggling student pastor, and helped to prepare me for ministry and sent me on my way to serve others. Their guidance and nurture was a gift from God which the Ruffin Church did with such compassion and care. I had been at other churches who didn’t give a hoot if I became a good minister or not, who really didn’t care all that much about us. But Ruffin was a special church that accepted its calling to nurture young people preparing for ministry.

There may not be any rewards or recognition for what you have done here on earth, but God knows your heart is filled with compassion. He knows all the young ones you have tried to help prepare for ministry. And in God’s heart you are loved, you are appreciated, you are a great church.

Thank you Ruffin UMC for loving us, caring for us, and nurturing us in the direction of being a good servant of Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord, thank you for the people of the Ruffin Church, and people like them in churches all over the world, who take on the thankless and some time troublesome task of preparing the young for ministry. I thank you for them, O Lord, for they changed my life and blessed me for all the work ahead, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace