Sunday, July 10, 2016


My dear friend Nathaniel Brown is 85 and his kidneys have given up the ghost. So he goes for dialysis several times a week. During the hours-long process, blood is taken out of his body, filtered through an artificial kidney of sorts, and pumped back in.  It's tough on an old body, but Nathaniel soldiers on. He lives with his family, but they are not believers and he's more or less house-bound, so he feels acutely the lack of spiritual support.

Every Saturday I visit him and spend some time with him while he undergoes dialysis.  We talk and laugh, share our week's activities, sometimes vent about our struggles. I read to him - sometimes from the Word and sometimes from other works. Every month or so I take him communion.  

Every week he talks until he just can't stand it any more, then he digs his hand out from under the blanket, reaches out to me and says, "Pray fo' me."  And we spend a long  time, praying by turns. Thanking and praising the Lord, praying for each other, for our friends and family, and just talking to the our Heavenly Father.  Here we are, praying at the VA:

Nathaniel and I are very different. Beginning with the obvious: he's a man, I'm a woman.  I'm 40 years younger than he is. He's from the Deep South, I'm a Yankee born and bred.  He grew up in a poor family without a father. In fact, to this day he doesn't even know who is father was. I grew up in an intact, middle-class family, and I just talked to my father this afternoon. Nathaniel's skin is a rich dark brown. Mine is eminently sunburnable. His faith background is Pentecostal/Holiness and mine is Mennonite - an Anabaptist sect second cousin to the Amish. He's a career military man; Mennonites are conscientious objectors. He is physically handicapped and my handicap is neurological. I have long hair; he has no hair.  He's always cold, I'm always too warm.

We are on opposite sides of just about every dividing line there is, Nathaniel and me: gender, socio-economic, familial, geographic, racial, denominational and political.  

There is so much I can learn from him!

The violence we are seeing today in this country, leveled against people on the opposite side of some arbitrary dividing line, is incomprehensible to me.  I just can't wrap my brain around the mindset that "not like me" is a bad thing. And the backlash that says "Because YOU are not like ME, you don't have a voice in this.  You're part of the problem; you can't be part of the solution!" mystifies me just as much.  Everyone is decrying the problem but I don't see anyone proposing a solution.  We're just digging in and entrenching more firmly on "our side" of the line.

A line I don't see.

Why don't I see it?  Maybe because what Nathaniel and I have in common is greater than all the lines in the world. He is a pastor. I am a chaplain. We both believe in God the Father who sent his Son into the world to save sinners, and that is our common ground. "In Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free, no male nor female. You are all one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:8.  

Saul of Tarsus was the great Drawer of Lines.  He took his permanent Sharpie marker and made a thick line between "Jew" and "Christian," and the Scriptures say he was taking Christians bound to Jerusalem to stand trial for heresy.  Whole families of Christians. In Acts we see him "Breathing threats and murder" against the church.  But then he had an encounter with the Risen Christ, the Eraser of Lines.  On the Road to Damascus, Saul was physically blinded, so he could no longer see the lines, but had to take people as they were. He became Paul - Apostle to the Gentiles. And he was the one who wrote the letter to the Galatians where the foregoing quote is found.

Nathaniel and I, who are so totally different, really are blood brother and sister. Not the blood that flows through my veins or from Nathaniel's body and into the dialyzer and back, but the blood of Jesus poured out to make us wholly His.  
I don't know what the solution is to the nation's problem; I can't even begin to imagine why the problem exists. But maybe that in itself means that there is still hope.