By Adriene Thorne.
Now the United States of America was commander of the free world. She was a great country, in her own sight and in the sight of others, highly regarded, because through her the Lord had given victory. She was a valiant warrior, but she had leprosy.
My paraphrase of the 2 Kings text this Independence Day weekend captures, for me, the current flavor of our United States of America. It is evident in ongoing political tensions. It is in the sickness of a nation that does little but pray in the face of the Orlando massacre. It is in the fear and vitriol directed at refugees who are trying to save their family’s lives. Our country is great, and our great country is sick.
We need healing from the disfiguring moral leprosy of “better than.” My political viewpoint is right. My faith is true. My country is best. The illness that plagues us crosses partisan lines. It includes people of faith. It includes “the nones.” Moral leprosy is blemishing our best ideals, our best faith, our best selves. It infects us, whether we arrogantly place our affinity group above all others, or apathetically fail to speak and act against those who do. Caught in the festering wound that pits God’s children against one another, we are called to make the fetid mess right. We are called to heal.
Healing Will Be Given, Not Purchased
Naaman, a great man, had leprosy, a disease that left most individuals outside the bounds of human relationship and community. But, Naaman, a man of pronounced wealth and excessive power, had access to kings. He could buy anything he fancied. Except that. He couldn’t buy healing. Instead, a few unnamed people extended healing to him at no cost. Individuals of little value, held the item Naaman most valued but could not procure. They held healing in their outsider bodies—female bodies, foreign bodies, enslaved and marginal bodies. I like to think that their generosity inspired Naaman to engage his own acts of healing justice. To use his wealth and influence, like the store owners in our video, to leverage what cannot be purchased—jobs, opportunities, and hope for a future.
Healing Invites Humility
Many of us are not comfortable receiving what we have not earned or paid for. The great man had leprosy, and sickness unceremoniously dumped him in the dustbin of “other,” where his power and wealth could not make him well. In this outsider place, he suffers with the marginalized. Perhaps in this place, Naaman touches the fear of refugees wondering about their safety, their next meal, and their futures. Sickness takes the great warrior where his wealth and power cannot, and there he discovers what he needs—a community. Sometimes healing comes when we admit that we are not warriors but vulnerable human beings in need of help that we cannot earn or pay for. Life is largely about figuring out what we need and what we hold. The rest of life is about receiving and giving.
Prepare to Be Surprised
The great warrior could not heal himself. The great king could not heal the great warrior, rather a little slave-girl was the first healer. She held the knowledge of a prophet who was able to cure. Elisha, a foreigner and person of a different faith, held the knowledge of what action to take. A group of servants held the words that convinced Naaman to receive what the prophet held. What healing do we miss because we cannot receive? We must stay open to healing that comes as surprise. Wash seven times in the Jordan River. Speak with this person about a job. Let me shelter you. God made us for Godself and for one another. Healing our moral leprosy, will happen in communities of surprising folks when we are ready to receive.
Learn To Quilt
It takes a hodgepodge of God’s beloved creatures, stitched together, to fashion Naaman’s healing. The quilted existence, that sees difference as an opportunity to receive and give, is fairly effortless for my twenty-six-year-old nephew and many of his peers. He has pieced together the patchwork of his life into a beautiful covering that includes all God’s people. He was my travel buddy to Greece and China and spent part of every summer with me in New York. We intentionally seek out different music, new foods, and most significantly for both our lives, people from all walks of life. My nephew jokingly refers to my circle of friends as the rainbow coalition. Learning about their worlds, helped fashion and heal his own.
We cannot get to the healed and whole places God has prepared for us if we are traveling only with those who look and think and worship and dress and live and vote and love like us. Naaman’s healing comes together at the point where the fullness of human experience comes together. He learns to quilt.
No Child of God Left Behind
I’m sitting in the Staten Island Ferry Terminal putting the finishing touches on this piece. Through the soaring windows, I have a marvelous view of the American flag and the Statue of Liberty. On my right, a man in West African dress is speaking French into his mobile phone. To my left, a Chinese grandfather comforts his granddaughter in Mandarin. A port authority guard with fingernails as long as my forearm, painted the color of setting suns, explains to an East Indian family how the subway system works. This is it, the hub of a city that welcomes the refugee. This is the gateway for the “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We are a nation of immigrants. I love this rhythm and flavor of America, in spite of the recent Supreme Court split decision, because, at our best, we remember that all God’s people are holy. We remember that welcoming the stranger is central and sacred to the story of our nation and our faith. I agree with the President Obama’s assessment that the failure to take action on immigration “takes us further from the country that we aspire to be.” It also takes us further from the people of God we aspire to be—those who share the healing they hold.As we celebrate our freedom this weekend, do not miss the border crossing, multicultural effort required to bring the great warrior to wholeness. Be aware of the shifts in power from the mighty to the disenfranchised as masters take orders from servants. Note the collective wisdom of community members working together, in spite of difference, and be inspired to give what you hold to help create a healed world that works for everyone. For I am convinced that our healing is located beyond borders, and we cannot heal if we cannot cross over.
Bible Study Questions:
- From what surprising place or person has your healing come?
- If you believe healing is given and not purchased, where are you being led to give healing today?
- What one action will your family or community take to support refugees? Click here for one great place to start learning and supporting.
Video Discussion Questions:
- Sometimes employment opportunities can open doors to a new and full life. Have you had a ‘life line’ job? How did it change your life?
- Being a supervisor often means more than just supervising. Have you mentored someone you work with? Has it made a difference in their perspective or drive? How did the experience help you grow in your professional life?
- Wankel’s is just a little hardware store in New York City. Are they really making a difference? What could you do to help a migrant person in your community?
For Further Reading:
- Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams (for ages 7-10)
When relief workers bring used clothing to a refugee camp in Pakistan, ten-year-old Lina is thrilled when she finds a sandal that fits her foot perfectly, until she sees that another girl has the matching shoe.
- Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue by David J. Bobb
“The power promised by humility is power over oneself, in self-government,” says Dr. Bobb. “[But] humility’s strength is obscured by the age of arrogance in which we live.”
- Prayer, Stress, and Our Inner Wounds by Flora Slosson Wuellner
This book offers practical ways by which prayer can help us experience inner healing.
- Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference by Warren St. John
This fast-paced chronicle of a single season is a complex and inspiring tale of a small town becoming a global community—and an account of the ingenious and complicated ways we create a home in a changing world.
The Reverend Adriene Thorne currently serves as the Executive Minister at Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village of New York City where she has creatively shared the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ for eight years. Reverend Thorne received her undergraduate degree from The State University of New York – Empire State College, concentrating in the field of Cultural Studies with a Creative Writing focus. She went on to earn her Master of Divinity degree in Art, Religion, and Psychology from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, and completed post-graduate studies in pastoral care and counseling at The Blanton-Peale Institute and is certified as a coach and disaster chaplain.
Healing and the arts are central to Adriene’s ministry and life. Reverend Thorne is the founder of Everything That Breathes, a national organization connecting artists with faith communities for the purposes of sharing the gospel in fresh and creative ways.
Reverend Thorne has taught throughout her career, both nationally and internationally, developing curricula for all age groups that integrates movement with concepts of teambuilding, identity, and healthy living. She has served as visiting artist/theologian at New Brunswick Theological Seminary, as lecturer, in the area of spiritual formation, at Union Theological Seminary, and as keynote speaker and preacher at The Pacific School of Religion. Her work has been published in the Huffington Post Religion section, That Reformed Blog, and in The Twelve, where she has appeared as a guest writer.
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