Thursday, September 28, 2017

Christians and Interreligious Dialogue


Hallo! 

I've just returned from Austria and Germany where I had a delightful time reconnecting with friends and engaging in lively discussion with colleagues (^ that's me, third from the left)! For the past two years, I have been a part of the United Methodist Ecumenical and Interreligious Training initiative where I have learned about dialoguing with those who think, believe, and act differently than I do. As I’ve entered into community with other Methodist young adults, clergy and laity alike, I’ve learned invaluable lessons about loving my neighbor. Historically, the UMC has prioritized ecumenical (inter-denominational) conversation and cooperation. Churches like the one I serve have created opportunities to serve with, worship with, and build friendships with other denominations as we recognize the importance of the unity among the many member of the body of Christ.  However, we have much work ahead as we brave the frontier of interreligious relationships. In an increasingly divided world, this kind of conversation and understanding of one another is more important than ever. Here are a few of my own reflections on how to connect with non-Christian brothers and sisters who live among us.

  1. They are not as different as we think they are. Very easily we look at somebody who appears different than whatever we consider the norm and think of them as other. That woman wearing a scarf (hijab) or that man wearing a round hat (yamaka) on their head represents the abnormal, the strange, the weird, the different, or the threatening. Fear of the unknown goes a long way in dividing us and keeping us from loving our neighbors. Why not sit down and have a conversation with someone who looks different than we do and find out just how much we have in common? I have often discovered that my Jewish and Muslim friends have much more in common with me than I ever expected. We share interest in social issues and passion for the other, we have similar taste in movies/music, and we seek to live in peace with others. It is important to be able to acknowledge how we differ while affirming the things we share. When we are able to seek out that which we share, we begin to see “the other” as “us.”
  1. Listening goes a long way. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of opinions. Sometimes I share them and sometimes I don’t. Though I do not claim to be perfect in this area, I do strive to be discerning about when I should open my mouth and when I should use restraint. When I don’t share my thoughts or opinions it is not because I don’t have them or they’re not valid. It’s not because I’m avoiding conflict, though that happens from time to time. Most often, when I exercise restraint, it’s because I am genuinely trying to understand another person’s perspective that differs from mine. Period. I don’t try to understand so that I can refute, I don’t try to understand so that I can argue my perspective. I seek to understand so that I might be able to respect and appreciate the other person for the image of God in which they are made (just like I am). A Greek philosopher once said, we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Perhaps we could benefit from doing just that.
  1. Jesus himself had something to say about interreligious work. He spoke of an interaction between two people of different faiths. Perhaps you know the story of the good Samaritan that Jesus uses to answer the question, "who is my neighbor?" The Samaritan-Israelites and Jewish-Israelites did not get along — they were of different religions. Jesus spoke to a group of Jewish-Israelites about a Samaritan-Israelite man who had mercy on another human being who was hurt on the side of the road. The man on the road likely did not share similar beliefs with him, but he chose to take pity on him in spite of their differences. This Samaritan-Israelite man wasn’t of the majority religion of the region but he did what a good Jewish-Israelite should have done in that situation — he “showed [the hurt man] mercy.” Perhaps we can learn from this unlikely hero. It seems that judgment has no place in our love of neighbor. Why don’t we try being people of mercy?

As always, I have a long way to go in my practice of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, but I’m excited about the journey. Until next time — auf wiedersehen!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday: Grieving All That is Lost



                 


     We're ending this year's Lenten journey this week. Three days away from Easter, it's really tempting just to jump to resurrection, but it's equally as important for us to stop and grieve what is lost as Christ empties himself and gives all of himself for us on Good Friday. As I think about Christ's journey to the cross, I can't help but to think of his disciples and friends. What were they thinking? What were they feeling?

Hopelessness?
Fear?
Doubt?

    Oh, do I empathize with them! As there have been people, habits, traditions in my life that have died I have felt that hopelessness of life without them, that fear of what's next, that doubt of the goodness of life without them. I ran across psalm 44 this morning, and it made me say, yes. This is it. This must have been something like what they were experiencing, as it is often what we experience in our own walk with God. Maybe it will be of help or of some comfort to you, as it has been for me:


We have heard it, God, with our own ears;
our ancestors told us about it:
about the deeds you did in their days,
in days long past.
You, by your own hand, removed all the nations,
but you planted our ancestors.
You crushed all the peoples,
but you set our ancestors free.
No, not by their own swords
did they take possession of the land—
their own arms didn’t save them.
No, it was your strong hand, your arm,
and the light of your face
because you were pleased with them.
It’s you, God! You who are my king,
the one who orders salvation for Jacob.
We’ve pushed our foes away by your help;
we’ve trampled our enemies by your name.
No, I won’t trust in my bow;
my sword won’t save me
because it’s you who saved us from our foes,
you who put those who hate us to shame.
So we glory in God at all times
and give thanks to your name forever. Selah

But now you’ve rejected and humiliated us.
You no longer accompany our armies.
You make us retreat from the enemy;
our adversaries plunder us.
You’ve handed us over like sheep for butchering;
you’ve scattered us among the nations.
You’ve sold your people for nothing,
not even bothering to set a decent price.
You’ve made us a joke to all our neighbors;
we’re mocked and ridiculed by everyone around us.
You’ve made us a bad joke to the nations,
something to be laughed at by all peoples.
All day long my disgrace confronts me,
and shame covers my face
because of the voices of those
who make fun of me and bad-mouth me,
because of the enemy who is out for revenge.


All this has come upon us,
but we haven’t forgotten you
or broken your covenant.
Our hearts haven’t turned away,
neither have our steps strayed from your way.
But you’ve crushed us in the place where jackals live,
covering us with deepest darkness.
If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to some strange deity,
wouldn’t God have discovered it?
After all, God knows every secret of the heart.
No, God, it’s because of you that we are getting killed every day—
it’s because of you that we are considered sheep ready for slaughter.

Wake up! Why are you sleeping, Lord?
Get up! Don’t reject us forever!
Why are you hiding your face,
forgetting our suffering and oppression?
Look: we’re going down to the dust;
our stomachs are flat on the ground!
Stand up! Help us!
Save us for the sake of your faithful love.

     Darkness, grief, loss, questioning -- they are all a part of our walk with God this day. Take a moment to remember your loss today, knowing that resurrection and new life are on the horizon.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What's with burning palms for ashes?

Today I burned last year’s Palm leaves to be used for this year’s ashes. Curious about how that happens? We’ll just say, it’s a process (see pictures at the end of the post). As I burned and burned and stirred and burned, I reflected on a question I ask myself every year:

“Why are last year’s palms burned to be used for this year’s Ash Wednesday’s ashes?”

After all, we’ll be celebrating Palm Sunday toward the end of the Lenten season. What’s the deal with burning the palms now at the beginning? I’ve searched the internet and I’ve not really found a good answer to that question (of course, that could be due to my own “googling” capabilities). I can’t say I’ve got it all figured out, but here are a few things I’ve pondered. 

Palm Sunday is all about the excitement and anticipation of Jesus coming into Jerusalem. The people recognize he’s the messiah, the one who will be taking down the powers that be to save them. They are shouting his praises saying, “hosannah!” They’re excited because they don’t know what their salvation will actually mean. They don’t know that Jesus will have to suffer and die a criminal’s death. They don’t know the heartache and hopelessness they’ll feel before he has risen. They don’t know what has to happen for their salvation through the messiah. But for now they’re excited. That excitement, then hopelessness, then excitement at Christ’s resurrection speaks so much to our human journey and our liturgical one. 

During Lent each year we give something up or take something on so that we might walk a little closer with Christ. The Easter comes and we celebrate the fullness of relationship that Christ offers us, the life we have been given through him. We promise we’re going to keep up whatever it is we’ve been doing because it’s been so life-giving for us — we’ve seen the light! We have good intentions, really, we do. But somewhere along the way, life gets in the way. We stop going to that bible study we went to during Lent. We stop praying at lunch like we had been doing intentionally. We start wasting our time watching Netflix instead of improving our minds or our relationships. We had good intentions, but we mess up. It’s inevitable. That joy we had that reflected the excitement of our Palm Sunday and Easter lives has now dissipated. 

It’s been almost a full year since our last intentional season of putting ourselves in a better posture to receive God’s blessing. We’ve come back to square one. We know it’s going to be tough, but we must start again, with repentance and remembrance that we are human, that we need God. So we burn last year’s palms. Burning — a symbol of cleansing. These ashes of last year’s excitement and renewal are coming full circle to mark us as people who have repented, who seek renewal, who are beginning again to look for the salvation and life offered by Christ. May we remember that as we receive ashes today. 

“From dust you have come, from dust you shall return; repent and believe the gospel!”

Prayers for a meaningful Lent! - Rev. McSwitz



In case you're interested in my making ashes process, here it is:

 
 First you start with 6 or 7 palms...        then you cut them up and put them in a jar.


 
Next, you burn them...                            until they look like this.

  
Then you put them in a blender...           until they look like this.

After sifting them, and doing the whole process again, you've got...



Ashes for Ash Wednesday! So there you have it -- that's my process. :) Happy ashing!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Why I Don't Give Christmas Presents

I don't give Christmas presents.

How selfish, you may be thinking! Why wouldn't you give something to the people who mean the very most to you, especially as you're giving thanks for the greatest gift of all -- Emmanuel, God with us!

Here's the deal. For a couple of years now, I've come to realize a few things that have changed my gift-giving habits:

1. Giving isn't about gaining stuff, it's about true generosity.

As a kid, Christmas is measured in food eaten, hugs from relatives, and who got the best presents (from Santa, among others). Even as a kid, I loved giving at least as much as I've loved receiving. Christmas was magical, a time filled with peace, love, generosity, and compassion. As I've grown older, as the glitter and the glamour of this time of year has not faded, but the way I measure the success of the season has shifted. As I've become more and more able to provide for myself, receiving gifts has become less of my focus. Generosity has become the primary focus for me. You see, I am able at this point to buy for myself most of what I need and want, even if that means I have to save for a while to do so. My friends tend to be in similar positions. 

I am so profoundly aware that many people in my community and in the world are not able to provide for themselves or their families in the same ways that my friends and family and I are able. For several Advent/Christmas seasons now, I've given a different kind of gift to my friends and family and asked them to do the same for me. Instead of buying the cute coffee mugs, or gift certificates, or blankets, or decorations, or [fill-in-the-blank], I make donations. One year I made donations to a bunch of different organizations that lined up with my loved ones' passions or interests -- Alzheimer's Association, March of Dimes, etc. One year I made one large donation, taking into account $10 per person in whose name I wanted to give. This year I gave to a family who was facing hardship this season and I plan to tell that family's story to those for whom I gave. However I choose to give, I give what I have to those who need. And when I share a note with each of my friends and family, telling them who they helped this year. They know that because I care for them, I am doing what I can to make this world we live in a better place for all of us.

2. Alleviating hurt in the world begins with me and my family.

If I don't do it, who will? Generosity in our world starts with us. Healing in the world happens when we begin to pick up the pieces of the world around us. We cannot expect that everyone else who has more than we do will pick up the slack. And we can't expect generosity to start when we have money. What are we teaching our kids when all we do is give expensive presents to those we know and love? Shouldn't they get to experience the joy that it is to give to someone who truly needs and doesn't just want? What if this season you invited your kids or grandkids to pick three of their own toys they want to share with a kid who might not get another present this season? What if you went to your local food bank or soup kitchen and volunteered together? What if you encouraged your kids to take a little bit of their allowance and collect for the church or another a worthy cause?

3. Sharing ourselves with others is the reason for the season.

I so often hear "Jesus is the reason for the season." Yes, that's true, but it's not only about Jesus' birth. It's about God making an appearance in a very present and tangible way for those who hadn't already known the love and compassion of God in their lives. God arrived on the scene to pour himself out for the lost, the hungry, the broken, the sick, the rejected, the ashamed, the prostitutes, the thieves, the unclean. Those of us who celebrate the arrival of Emmanuel, God with us, celebrate a God and Christ who gives everything for those who need. As we seek to follow in the way of Christ, we too are called to share ourselves with those who need us. Sometimes that's our family and friends. Often that's a stranger. See, generosity isn't about making ourselves and our friends/family richer, it's about making our world richer by giving of ourselves for those who need. It's about celebrating the birth and life of Christ by following more closely to the way that he showed us to live. 

That's the "magic" of the season. Love and generosity stir within us something that needs to be awakened again. Something that we've forgotten after 10 long months of working, dealing with death and loss, and and selfishness, and unforeseen troubles, and broken relationships. Love and generosity stirs up hope within us and those we connect with this season. 

So what now?

Maybe you're not ready to completely give up on the gift giving. And, honestly, I still give a gift here and there too. Why not try making a donation or two? You never know, maybe generosity will catch on and the world will get on board with sharing of ourselves with others, and giving to those who need, and spreading peace and hope and joy. Maybe that will happen, maybe it won't. But we'll never know unless we try! This year, give the gift of hope.

Happy giving, and merry Christmas!



Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Missing the Movie (Luke 11:29-36)

"When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, 'This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.  For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!  The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.  Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.'"- Luke 11:29-36

Among my friends, I'm notorious for falling asleep in movies. I wasn't always this way, but in college I began to develop this bad habit. As with most college students, movie watching was a good way, late at night, to procrastinate in the name of fellowship. Most of our movie nights didn't start until God-awful hours, those times when your eyelids start to get heavy and it's easier to slip into sleep than it is to stay awake, no matter how much you want to keep watching. The darkness takes over, cool, calm, relaxing, as your eyelids rest. Most of us have been to this place where it's easier to shut out what's going on around us and give in to sleep, give in to darkness, no matter how much we want to be a part of the excitement and energy around us. Closing our eyes is our bodies' habitual, natural move when we're tired; the darkness is our resting place.

In this scripture I find myself fascinated with the connection between seeing, having your eyes open, and the light. And in other scriptures, too, we see connections between sleep and light --
"...but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, 'Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you'"(Ephesians 4:13-14). I get the obvious points that these scriptures make -- remain alert, open your eyes to what Christ is doing, stay on guard, what is easy to see is also easy to ignore. In other words, don't allow yourself to miss what's right in front of you -- Christ; don't allow yourself to close your eyes and drift into darkness, into sleep. You might miss the movie!

I get all of these points, and they're all good ones. Wholeheartedly, I believe this is the point Christ (and Paul) is trying to make -- it's easier to close your eyes, to live in darkness, to fall asleep than it is to open your eyes and see, to be a beacon of light (lampstand) for others, to wake up. Jesus' way is the way of faith, of light, of trust -- it's more difficult than giving in to darkness and sleep, especially when we're tired already, when our lives are heavy and we're ready to shut out everything. THIS, I believe is what Christ is calling us to do.

And yet, I'm not fully satisfied with that. I have to believe there is a time for rest. There is a time for sleep. There is a time for darkness. After all, God made day and night. Is it even possibly to be able to recognize light without darkness? Is there a time for darkness -- "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven"(Ecclesiastes 1:1)? It is abundantly clear in scripture that God is in the light, that we open our eyes to see God, but is God not in the darkness too? Is God not there when we close our eyes, when we just can't seem to keep our heavy eyelids open? Does Christ not move in the cool, calm of the night as in the warm, excitement of the day? 

Clearly, I'm no Sherlock Holmes, probably not even Watson. Yet another mystery unsolved by yours truly. I'm still struggling. I hope you will join me, maybe even enlighten me. Until then, peaceful rest and joyful waking!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Ministry of Stopping: Luke 8:40-56

"When Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they had been waiting for him. A man named Jairus, who was a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus' feet. He pleaded with Jesus to come to his house because his only daughter, a twelve-year-old, was dying. As Jesus moved forward, he faced smothering crowds. A woman was there who had been bleeding for twelve years. She had spent her entire livelihood on doctors, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the hem of his clothes, and at once her bleeding stopped. "Who touched me?" Jesus asked. When everyone denied it, Peter said, "Master, the crowds are surrounding you and pressing in on you!" But Jesus said, "Someone touched me. I know that power has gone out from me.When the woman saw that she couldn't escape notice, she came trembling and fell before Jesus. In front of everyone, she explained why she had touched him and how she had been immediately healed. "Daughter, your faith has healed you," Jesus said. "Go in peace.While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the synagogue leader's house, saying to Jairus, "Your daughter has died. Don't bother the teacher any longer." When Jesus heard this, he responded, "Don't be afraid; just keep trusting, and she will be healed.When he came to the house, he didn't allow anyone to enter with him except Peter, John, and James, and the child's father and mother. They were all crying and mourning for her, but Jesus said, "Don't cry. She isn't dead. She's only sleeping.They laughed at him because they knew she was dead. Taking her hand, Jesus called out, "Child, get up.Her life returned and she got up at once. He directed them to give her something to eat. Her parents were beside themselves with joy, but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened. " Luke 8:40-56

I've just sat down to start working on my sermon. I know where I'm going with it and I'm ready to knock this thing out! Then the inevitable happens -- someone calls. Sometimes it's an easy task that's asked of me. Sometimes someone has gone to the hospital and I need to visit them. Sometimes it's a matter of life and death. 

I have a tendency to think of these moments as interruptions, annoyances, aggravations. Sometimes I stop what I'm doing; sometimes I don't. Many of us have moments in our days and weeks when something unexpected comes up in the midst of doing whatever it is that we are supposed to be doing, the activities we already have planned.

This is where Jesus is, I think. He's on his way to heal a young girl, but on his way he is stopped. What does he do? He uses that moment. He stops. He takes advantage of the opportunity that is in front of him. He heals. And he goes back to what he was doing in the first place. 

What he doesn't do is equally important. He doesn't keep going. He doesn't say, "hold on, I've got other business, but I'll be back." He doesn't ignore the woman.  He doesn't take care of his more important business first. Jesus uses the moment he's been given. Instead of thinking about this woman as an interruption he thinks about her as an opportunity to serve. She is important to him. 

  What if we treated all of our interruptions like opportunities for service? Would that change our outlook? Would it create more space for us to serve and for God to work through us? More than likely, I believe the answer is a resounding, YES!

It's not always easy or convenient to stop when we're asked. Perhaps there are even times when it's not possible (though, I would think these are few and far between -- If you're like me, you tend to equate impossible with inconvenient). I wonder if being inconvenienced is a part of what we sacrifice in participating with God in ministry. What I do know is God's grace was evident in Jesus' stopping. God's grace was evident in the woman being healed. God's grace was evident in the woman's faith. 

I think an often unnamed grace in this scripture is that Jesus, though he stops, is able to go back to the task he began initially, against all odds and expectations. And because he stops, the healing he does for the girl is even greater than it would have been if he had made it to her earlier.

I think there's a lesson here for us. Today I will start again, and I will try to stop when I am interrupted. I will see that moment as an opportunity. And I will trust that whatever it is that I am doing at the time will be there when I return, by the grace of God.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What's With Demons? A Struggle to Understand Luke 8:26-39

WARNING: Highly subjective and potentially offensive content. If you can deal with that, read on.

"Jesus and his disciples sailed to the Gerasenes' land, which is across the lake from Galilee. As soon as Jesus got out of the boat, a certain man met him. The man was from the city and was possessed by demons. For a long time, he had lived among the tombs, naked and homeless. When he saw Jesus, he shrieked and fell down before him. Then he shouted, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!" He said this because Jesus had already commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had taken possession of him, so he would be bound with leg irons and chains and placed under guard. But he would break his restraints, and the demon would force him into the wildernessJesus asked him, "What is your name?" "Legion," he replied, because many demons had entered him. They pleaded with him not to order them to go back into the abyss. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs. Jesus gave them permission, and the demons left the man and entered the pigs. The herd rushed down the cliff into the lake and drowned. When those who tended the pigs saw what happened, they ran away and told the story in the city and in the countryside. People came to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone. He was sitting at Jesus' feet, fully dressed and completely sane. They were filled with awe. Those people who had actually seen what had happened told them how the demon-possessed man had been delivered. Then everyone gathered from the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave their area because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and returned across the lake. The man from whom the demons had gone begged to come along with Jesus as one of his disciples. Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return home and tell the story of what God has done for you." So he went throughout the city proclaiming what Jesus had done for him." Luke 8:26-39 (CEB)

Give me sin. Give me darkness. Give me weakness. Give me hatred. Give me evil. I can handle these topics. But DON'T give me demons. Few things give me more uneasiness than demons. I just don't know what to think about them. Perhaps the problem is, unlike this passage in scripture, I've never witnessed a demon fleeing from a human body into the bodies of swine. Perhaps the problem is I'm not really sure about things I can't see. Perhaps the problem is I just don't like the idea that something could have so much control over a human without their consent. Perhaps it's a little of all that.

To say the least, this passage gives me pause. I'm not 100% sure of what to make of it, but I'm gonna try. Lets start with things this scripture tells us about the nature of demons:


  • they are embodied (take possession of bodies)
  • they are embodied multiple times (many times it took possession of him)
  • they are strong forces to be dealt with (person with demons has to be restrained)
  • they cause people to do things to harm others (why else would a person with demons be chained and guarded?)
  • they cause people to be alone, separated from other people (they forced him into the wilderness)
  • they can work together (many demons in one body)
  • their preferred residence is in a body rather than in "the abyss"
Again, I'm not sure I've ever seen a demon, at least not a little horned devil, or a spirit that inhabits a body, as many horror movies would have us believe are the manifestation of demons. But I can think of some actions that fit this description. It seems that these demons:
  • are systemic and repeating -- they can be passed from one body to another and they happen over and over again
  • are difficult to overcome and may even have to be overcome multiple times
  • separate a person from loved ones, making them alone
  • come in groups
  • do harm to a person and others who come in contact with that person
Two things in particular come to mind -- addiction and abuse. For now, lets stick with addiction.

Those who experience addiction experience the desire to participate in whatever activity compulsively, repeatedly. Addictions are extremely difficult to overcome and they continue to be a struggle throughout a person's life -- it's not like once it goes away it's gone for good. Addiction returns. Addiction can create a sense of loneliness, misunderstanding, and separation from loved ones and it is also strongly tied to other issues like depression. Addiction causes hurt to those who come in contact with it.

Now, this definition is not actually as nice and tidy as I make it appear. In fact, there are reasons NOT to think of addiction as a demon. My main problem with thinking about addiction as a demon is that it seems to make things black and white in terms of what people can do about it. In this scripture, it seems clear to me that the person inhabited by a demon has very little, if any, control over his own body, which leads to the conclusion that either the demon can be completely in control or God can be completely in control, but the human has very little control. This argument seems like there's no space for me to interact in my own story, and that makes me a little uncertain because I truly believe that God doesn't do all the legwork -- I have to be involved too. But if I really do have zero control that leaves me with two options: If I'm an addict and it's because a demon has inhabited me, then I have no responsibility for my actions because it's the demon, not me. On the flip-side, if I'm an addict and God can take control, then why hasn't God taken control? 

Do you see yet, why this topic gives me such a pain in the brain?!

So, I'm just going to have to deal with the fact that I don't have all the answers. Maybe demons are something that plague us all. Maybe they are things like addiction (even "small" addictions like food addiction, shopping addiction, sleeping addiction -- I don't know, I just made that last one up). Maybe they're not. You'll have to come to your own conclusions about that one.

But here's what I do see happening in the passage. Through Christ, God helps a man break a pattern, a system that has become a much a part of his life as breathing. Through Christ, God relieves a man's pain, if only for a while. Through Christ, God puts right relationship between this man and his community. Through Christ, God is present to this man and changes his life. 

That's some really good stuff. And yet, I still find myself in the position of the community onlookers, seeing the God's power and love, and being afraid of what I don't understand. I find myself full of questions instead of answers, because, you see, I can live with life as I know it, but I'm scared of what life might look like if God healed my demons. Would I be healed forever? Would they come back? Would life be better? What would I have to do differently? These are the questions that plague me. These are manifestation of fear inside me. Maybe, just maybe, these are my demons. What are yours?