‘Correct your misspellings,’ the apostle and Parkinson’s disease

I RECEIVED AN EMAIL from a blog reader saying something like this: “Please do yourself a favor and correct your misspellings.” 

Regardless of the reader’s intentions, I suspect she didn’t recognize the difficulty of writing a blog while tremoring from Parkinson’s disease, a diagnosis I received seven years ago at the age of 52. 

Within the last several months I described to a friend what it feels like to go from knowing you have Parkinson’s disease to actually living with the disease. I said that sometimes it is like living in a box with a small hole through which I can see a life I once lived but recognize that I will no longer be part of again. 

I’ve come to understand what the Apostle Paul might have felt when he wrote: “Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). 

The smaller our worlds become as we age — or experience marginalization or any kind of suffering — the greater the potential for clarity about what is real and true. The smaller the view in our rearview mirror, the brighter can grow the vistas that lie ahead.

C.S. Lewis reportedly said that he read to know he was not alone. I write to know I am not alone — most of all, that something of the Eternal remains with me. 

The theologian Walter Brueggemann recalls that professor Bernard Anderson of Princeton Seminary, his first mentor, taught him to disregard what others thought of him and what he said or wrote. 

That was a turning point for Brueggemann — one of the many pivots he describes as “turning from moralism to emancipation.” 

What Brueggemann learned from Anderson, I’ve experienced with Parkinson’s disease.

Now I can identify with Paul when he says: “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. 

“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11).

This is an amazing rejection by Paul of his religious training and socialization as a Pharisee. The more he experienced suffering, the less his credentials mattered and the more his present and future life in Christ meant to him. 

You can hear the anticipation and even desperation in Paul’s voice: “I want to know him!” 

I used to think Jesus hung out with those whose grammar, spelling and punctuation were wrong because he felt sorry for them. Now I know he hung out with them because, like Paul, they didn’t care about what mattered to the important religious and political folks. They — like children, rather than the wise and learned (Luke 12) — were the ones who would see the kingdom.

When a Pharisee periodically entered that sacred circle, I suspect he didn’t hesitate to encourage them to seek out a synagogue where the bulletin had no misspellings, all the t’s were crossed and the i’s dotted — and where no one gave a rip about the illiterate folks around the corner, where Jesus was laughing it up with his friends who couldn’t write a blog post if they wanted to. 

But the thing was, with Jesus, they had everything they needed and couldn’t care less what the Pharisee thought.  

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