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Localized Anesthesia

Some of you walked or ran 2.23 miles on May 8 to mark the birthday of Ahmaud Arbery. On February 23 25-year old Ahmaud was attacked and killed as he ran through a neighborhood just two miles from his home. The news surfaced almost two months after the murder because of a short video showing the encounter. Georgians, newly released from a shelter-in-place mandate, took to the streets and cried out for justice. Within 36 hours of involving the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, a father/son duo were arrested. They had decided that Ahmaud was the one who had been burglarizing area homes and took justice matters into their own hands. Very quickly our country was up in arms over another case in racial profiling which resulted in the death of an innocent and unarmed black man.
On Wednesday the local news covered the story of Breonna Taylor, a young woman who grew up in West Michigan. Now living in Kentucky, police stormed her apartment on March 13, believing that a drug dealer operated out of her home. She and her boyfriend were asleep when three plainclothes police officers kicked through their door prepared for a drug bust. Breonna’s boyfriend shot at the midnight intruders. They returned fire and Breonna, a nurse who has been working on the front lines fighting COVID 19, was shot eight times. Breonna is African-American. The police officers are white. They had the wrong apartment and fired more than 20 bullets before pausing to see who lived there.
As the COVID lockdown wears on us in strange ways, we are sickened to hear these stories of injustice. The word “lynching” has been used in Arbery’s case which kicked up something deep in our nation. We are so shocked that this continues to happen that we are tempted to seal off a part of our hearts for self-protection. Turning off the news, one way or another, is the easy way out. We administer localized anesthesia to numb our outrage.
I’ve been doing pastoral phone-calling of parishioners during the COVID 19 siege. Sometimes people don’t take my call because my home caller ID comes up under the name of my husband’s law firm. When they see Solomon Law Firm calling, they ignore it, convinced that they are victims of robocalls. When I begin to leave a message, announcing who I am, they pick up the phone with an apology. When life is going well, we don’t seek out the services of an attorney. Too many people have learned not to trust any administrators of justice.
In this passage from Luke’s gospel, Jesus is approached by an expert in the law, a Pharisee, a religious attorney. His aim is to put Jesus to the test. His question is aimed to get Jesus in trouble. In typical fashion, Jesus throws the question back at him. What does the Law tell us? The attorney answers well and Jesus praises him. A+ for content and brevity. But that’s not enough because the attorney really didn’t care about Jesus’ answer. Remember? The text says, “Wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus…” How many of you want to converse with folks who are set on justifying themselves? Those are the phone calls you don’t pick up!
The question the attorney asks pushes the limits of liability: “And who is my neighbor?” In other words, how can I get away with the least amount of responsibility? Instead of giving specifics that could get Him in trouble, Jesus tells a story that has traveled the distance of 2000 years: The Good Samaritan.
Jesus chooses the setting carefully. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was long and winding. It’s a rocky 17-mile long journey that is 2500 feet above sea level at its highest and descends to the lowest place on the planet that is not covered by water: Jericho. It was a well-traveled route by religious pilgrims and merchants. Thieves hid around blind corners of the road or in the many caves found along the way. They worked in tandem, attacking the innocent travelers before they had a chance to respond. It became known as “The Bloody Pass.” Jesus set up the story in a place that would instill fear in His listeners. The tale of an innocent man being ambushed was believable. But making a despised Samaritan the hero was not!
As the Corona Virus continues to dominate our news, a justice issue is resurfacing. A disproportionate percentage of the COVID patients are people of color. In Washington, D.C., where African Americans make up 46% of the population, 81% of those diagnosed with the virus are black. In newly opened Georgia, 56% of the COVID victims are black even though they comprise only 32% of the population. What does this point to? Facts we’ve known for a long time. People of color have lesser opportunities for good jobs which means inferior health care which enhances the possibility of pre-existing symptoms. Many who work at lower-income jobs have greater exposure to the disease because they work in the public domain. The Hispanic community in our country has been hard hit by the disease for similar reasons. Confronted anew with these injustices, do we anesthetize ourselves to the mandate for change?
At a church in our predominantly white town, the pastor and music director are African American. They have found themselves less than welcomed. The musician has been pulled over six times in his life, five times here in Rockford in the past few years. Not once has he been ticketed. The Corner Bar, a beloved local eatery that dates back to 1873, has lost a couple of great workers—both African American—because they were repeatedly stopped when driving after dark. Our friends call this DWB or Driving While Black. The restaurant workers decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. They could make the same salary in a town where they weren’t being hassled by local justice systems.
Localized anesthesia is when we numb ourselves to feelings in particular areas. Sometimes we have to do that to survive. It’s what front-line workers are doing right now to be able to function. But all anesthetized areas need to be reawakened at some point. Healing requires that we walk through the areas we’ve intentionally numbed. There is no shortcut. There is no exception. Our beaten victim in Jesus’ parable is going to need to heal on the outside but he will also have emotional scars that are less visible. In order to heal on the inside, he must go into the depths of his past to relive it and let it go.
The surprise element to Jesus’ story is the rescuer. The highly esteemed professionals are first presented: a priest and a Levite. Both positions have privileged access to the Jewish temple life. Surely they would stop to help the bloodied man on the side of the road? But they don’t! Perhaps they fear for their own safety if they slow down their own journey? If thieves had done this to an innocent pedestrian, they could be lurking and ready to pounce again. An instinct toward self-preservation runs deep in all of us. The religious authorities anesthetize themselves from the world’s pain and hurry past. Jews despised Samaritans, half-breeds of another race. Yet it was a Samaritan who was moved with pity when he came across this victim and took it upon himself to get him medical help. We can imagine the inconvenience of loading a grown man onto his donkey, finishing out the arduous 17-mile journey, putting himself at greater risk of attack by his kindness. He spent his own money to get the man good medical care and promised to check back to ensure his well-being.
“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” Jesus asked. Defeated in his trickery, the attorney hangs his head and admits, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Bingo. School’s over. Jesus moves on and we’re still talking about that interruption to His journey today!
This past week I put a question to our membership on FaceBook: Who are the Good Samaritans in our world today. They are counselors who tenderly care for the emotional well-being of their clients by zoom now. They are frontline medical and rescue professionals who are putting their own lives at risk through their merciful actions. They are folks in food pantries, emergency housing programs and nursing homes caring for vulnerable groups. They are folks who deliver groceries to your doorstep so that you don’t have to shop amidst throngs of others.
I asked how our congregants had acted as Good Samaritans in the course of our shelter-in-place time. Blessed with a steady income, many have contributed money to some of the helping organizations I just mentioned. Some bought toilet paper and gave it away. Another person took on an extra job of sanitizing surfaces in a local grocery store each evening and gave away the money he earned from that job. Two teachers, thankful for their own security, gave their stimulus check money to former students who are suffering financially right now. Some folks sent checks to prison ministries, reaching out to a suffering yet forgotten population. Some started making and giving away facemasks. Others baked bread and left it on people’s doorsteps. (I’ve heard that yeast is hard to come by in stores right now as people bake away their stress!) Rather than anesthetize ourselves to painful realities in our world, what a beautiful story it is when we join forces in our churches to extend mercy to those around us in Jesus’ name!
When my mom was dying of terminal cancer at age 66 she was understandably subdued. Always optimistic and energetic before, heading toward certain death was more difficult that I can begin to imagine. She told me that one of her doctors suggested a prescription of anti-depressants to take the edge off of her grief. She was matter-of-fact several times with her doctors who looked in on terminal cancer from the outside. She said that she had good reason to be sad and didn’t wish to emotionally numb herself in this last stage of her earthly life.
Father Henri Nouwen wrote, “The great challenge is living your wounds through, instead of thinking them through. It is better to cry than to worry, better to feel your wounds deeply than to understand them” Administering local anesthesia to the areas of our life that overwhelm us seems like the best solution. But the only way we will be able to move forward with strength in any crisis is to feel those emotions so that we can put them in proper placement and make room for the here and now. I expect there will be a staggering siege of PTSD in our world as we emerge at some unknown future point from COVID 19. Rather than trying to move forward too quickly to reclaim the past and make it fit to the future, we are called to emulate the Good Samaritan: to be moved with pity. Strangely, it is when we huddle together in the trenches, tending to each other’s needs, that we find healing.
As Jesus challenged at the end of His parable, “Go and do likewise.”

By preachinglife

My father was a military chaplain so I moved around quite a bit growing up. I have always gone to church! Even when we traveled we went somewhere to church. I met and married my husband, Garrett, at Chicago Theological Seminary where I earned a Masters of Divinity degree. He and I were ordained together at the First Church of Lombard, United Church of Christ in Lombard, Illinois on June 14, 1987. My first act as an ordained minister at the end of a tremendously hot ordination ceremony was to baptize my daughter, Lisa Marian! We added two sons and a daughter to the mix: James, Joseph and Maria. We have girls on either end and two boys one year apart in the middle. They range in age from 33 to almost 22. I love them!

I have been in the parish ministry for 35 years, serving at three different churches. I have joyfully served the people at the First Congregational Church of Rockford, United Church of Christ in Rockford, Michigan for 24 years.

We live on family land about 3 miles from the church. In random free moments I enjoy cooking good meals, reading, writing, gardening, traveling and spending time with my family. I am blessed!

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