Simple and Good…

So today, I made Sauteed Chicken with a Mustard Cream Sauce with a side of sauteed mushrooms with thyme.  Fantastic recipe.  It is a wonderful meal, all around.  The mustard cream is not too powerful but has a strong and sweet flavor too.  The mushrooms are incredible- and frankly, I love sauteed mushrooms.  It’s just good meal.  I got it from the Meal Planning 101 website which is reliable and really good every time.  So far I have made the Chicken Vindaloo-Korma, the Italian Sausage Soup, and now the Sauteed Chicken and mushrooms.  Nonetheless, all of these meals are manageable, both simple and good.

By the way, I just love food.  If you haven’t yet figured it out, I live to eat and form my schedule thinking about my upcoming meals more than my upcoming schedule.  Food offers both variety and adventure- but the real deal about it is that cooking and going out to eat at ethnic places allows me to find my ultimate pleasure beyond variety and adventure- incredible experience.  The experience of tasting a wonderful cream sauce or trying a spice laden dish or tearing apart a seared and spiced chicken or twirling Napolitano spaghetti and sauce around my fork are precious experiences.  Experiences of the world, experiences f cultures- and experiences of life really.  All because of good cooking and eating.  Not a bad deal really.  And it is all really fun!

Corporate Guilt…

Tonight I heard a message on the prophetic book of Obadiah.  That Obadiah would be called a book is strangely humorous because it is only 21 verses- the entire book!  Nevertheless, the teacher of the lesson tied Obadiah to the theme of corporate guilt, corporate responsibility, and corporate punishment.  Basically, if you don’t know those terms, it is thinking about sin not just as personal sin but also thinking about sins we commit as groups of people, and how we are judged together as groups.  In Obadiah, the entire nation of Edom is judged for what surely were the sins of some but not all.  In Obadiah, the entire nation is responsible for the actions of its people.  In Obadiah, the nation of Israel receives the land of Edom, not only select individuals.  Thus, corporate guilt and corporate responsibility reminds us today that we don’t only sin individually.  Rather, things that are done in our midst as a country and as a church we ALL are responsible for.   I think this idea is powerful and critical for us to truly act out what it means to be the kingdom and people of God.  But I must clarlify these statements.

Some people, Christian people, would believe that things like homosexuality or abortion are flashpoints for God’s judgment on America.  Some people even protest at the funerals of soldiers saying so or claim that a hurricane or 9/11 are judgments on America.  Surely God does judge our actions as a people, but we are horribly blind if we only attach judgment to such behaviors as homosexuality or abortion, one of which I don’t even have a problem with and the other is complex (you’ll have to guess or ask me which is which).  What about the massive levels of poverty in our country?  What about the self-indulgent lifestyles of Christians or Americans or both in buying whatever we can and justifying our love of possessions by “attempts at happiness”?  What about our vast colonial like actions as a country that arrogantly decides who should be invaded and who shouldnt and who is good and who isn’t?  What about our actions as a country to have a military base everywhere outside of our borders?  What about our actions in turning a blind eye to the drug addiction in our culture?  What about our fear and resultant fear mongering and brutalities against poorer blacks, immigrants, and Muslims?  These things that happen surely qualify as things that we are guilty of as a group of people, even though they are done by individuals.  I believe that we are judged indiviually for such actions in the Last Judgment but that God also provides humbling judgments about whole groups of people in life now.  Two different judgments.  And I believe that both exist, not one or the other.   Some people usually identify homosexuality or abortion, but those are only narrow things that I would argue have minimal effects on communities as a whole compared to some of those other things.

The second qualifier is the difference between corporate (communal) punishment and guilt.  When we sin as a group of people, we carry a corporate guilt that we confess and seek forgiveness for.  Yet, it is not our place to name God’s judgment within those situations.  It is only our place to claim that we have sinned and that we seek forgiveness for our arrogance, our selfishness, our brutality…whatever it may be.  So, perhaps God was judging us as a country in the event of 9/11- but I don’t know that and no one ever will.  Rather than claim it is God’s judgment on us and arrogantly claim that we know God’s mind and heart, we rather claim that there are sins we commit as a people that God judges somehow, someway, and in some fashion in the world.  This approach I like favors starting with corporate guilt as a means of repentance and re-centering on God, rather than using corporate punishment and arrogantly claiming knowledge of God that sets the speaker above all the rest of the people.  It is a way of claiming that we sin rather than claiming that you sin- and it starts with saying that I don’t know how God judges, but that he does judge our nation or our church and then genuinely searching out our actions for places we may need to repent.  That is the way we maintain our integrity as a group of people devoted to the common purpose of the kingdom of God- by not trying to throw others under the bus of judgment.

So, as you can tell, I think corporate guilt is important, and thus, I feel that corporate responsibility- the responsibility of the people as a whole to do good, act justly, and walk humbly- is critical too as part of being faithful.  No matter what, we definitiely miss the kingdom if we neglect how important the community is to God and our faith- it is never just about my personal relationship with Jesus, but is about both mine AND OUR relationship with the Lord.

An Examen Exercise

My examen from tonight:

What moment am I most grateful and least Grateful? I was most grateful for a card I received in the mail from a friend from church, Glenn Harper, who was so appreciative of the Rockets game we went to together and shared fellowship.  I found myself feeling very grateful to have had that experience of fellowship.  I also was grateful when a friend shook my hand this afternoon after work and seemed interested in how my day was.  I was least grateful today when I woke up this morning- I was exhausted since family of the elderly man I live with has come in and they are staying in my room.  Though I really like spending time with them, I was very frustrated and ingrateful for their presence if only because I am not getting that much sleep!

When did I give and receive the most love today?  When did I give and receive the least?  The visit I did today with an 80 year old man with Parkinson’s was a visit full of given love as I listened to him share about being frustrated and feeling ignored, and affirmed his feelings, affirmed his story by listening to him tell about his life, and affirmed God’s compassion for him through my compassion when he viewed God as punishing.  I was blessed to show my loyalty to him as human being when his world was falling apart.  I received love today when I was affirmed by my supervisor for what I am- an ESFJ (Keirsey Temperament Sorter) which reflects my adaptability and open minded and search for pleasure in life and relationships.  I gave the least love when I came home to the elderly man tonight and felt so frustrated with him that I didn’t want to talk to him.  I received the least love from a nurse who seemed to blow me off today.

What was the most life giving part of my day and what was the least life giving part of the day?  The most life giving moment of the day was when I stopped to see a woman who has been in the hospital for a month and is moving on finally. Being with her and seeing her smile and feel encouraged with a new significance, I felt like I was given life.  The least life giving part of the day came just in the time after getting home from work and waiting until church.  Because the children’s class has been difficult to go to the last two weeks because of a couple kids acting out really terribly, I have felt awful today feeling excited about going, taking my enthusiasm out for the day.

When did I have the deepest sense of connection to God?  The least sense of connection with God?  In that visit with the man with Parkinson’s I felt a great sense of connection with God because I was reflecting the qualities of compassion and mercy that I seek and find in God.  And for whatever reason, I found the prayer in Donuts and Devotional at the chaplains meeting this morning to connect me with God in the sense of repentance.  The least sense of connection with God would be the time I ignored/neglected the elderly man.  The bitterness in me seemed to place me very far from God.

Where was I living out the fruit of the Spirit?  And where was the absence of the fruits of the Spirit?  Actually, this morning at the D & D meeting I held off on the good looking bagels because of my Lenten fast, and I felt like I truly had a sense of the Holy Spirit and self control  (not mastered- just a sense!).  And that visit with the Parkinson’s man was a place of peace and kindness.  Instead of taking his comments about the theme of punishment of Christians and his own frustration and ager personally, I maintained myself and reflected a peace and kindness towards him that helped him eventually feel comfortable and lower his defenses. There was an absence of the Holy Spirit when I arrived home tonight.  Perhaps it was a general sense of feeling tired and empty from the whole day of work mixed with my feelings towards the elderly man, but I just didn’t sense any good fruit coming out of that 30 minutes.

When did I experience consolation and desolation?  I experienced consolation in my workout today, as it seemed to bring light to my dark feelings of tiredness.  I experienced consolation when I saw my supervisor and that brought a sense of connectedness.  I experienced consolation visiting with a family choosing to place their loved one in hospice and then affirming their tears and grief as gratitude for his life.  I also experienced consolation in a didactic on an upcoming consultation interview and feeling affirmed to be a good chaplain soon.  I experienced desolation as I mourned for the sadness of the man with Parkinson’s inasmuch as I felt much love in that visit too.  I experienced desolation in my tiredness and felt far from God when the tiredness crept in.

Good thoughts.  A great exercise for anyone.  As you notice, I draw lots of energy from being with others, and I really hurt when relationships with someone is off kilter, like the relationship with the elderly man and the man with Parkinson’s who felt ignored.

God, reveal your presence throughout this world, and may your mercies and mysteries bring light to dark and weary places. Amen.

The Final Four…seriously!

Well, in one swift and yet sweet second, I find myself attending the Final Four in Houston this year.  Will I be courtside?  No.  Will I be nosebleed?  Close but not quite.  Instead of the 600 and 700 levels at Reliant Stadium I will be in 520- which is still high but not bad.  Nevertheless, I am stoked!

I cannot wait.  I am going alone but I will be able to have a great time and meet some people anyway.  But the Final Four?  It is awesome and should be a sweet experience no matter what!  I could see Kansas and Ohio State, Notre Dame or Pitt, or even San Diego State or North Carolina!  What a great experience it will be…

My Lenten Season

Lent has always had a special place in my heart.  It has also been especially effective at transforming my life practices.  For instance, it was the simple act of giving up sodas that began a much healthier lifestyle and led to 45 lb weight loss in about a year- and it all started with giving up sodas for that 40 days (just giving up sodas I lost 15-20lbs).  It helped me gain control of that soda drinking too.  In another instance, I tried giving up watching sports on TV, reading about sports online, and playing any sort of sport video games- but allowed myself to actually play them or watch them in person.  That changed my life in that I haven’t been so caught up needing to watch sports or unable to focus when my team is on TV and actually able to focus on someone else when sports may be on.  I don’t need sports anymore- rather now I consider watching and reading a nice luxury (most of the time!).  A real change for the better.  So, all that being said, the Lenten season has always been very beneficial.

Now, what will my Lenten season look like this year?  I am taking on a lot, but I usually try two-three things, one or two fasts and one or two additions to my life.  I share all of this not because I am righteous and because any who read must emulate me- but that I like the accountability of knowing that people know what I am giving up.  I invite your participation and accountablity:

  1. Practicing the spiritual discipline of examen every evening.
  2. Read one Psalm a day.  (1, 3, 6, 9…)
  3. Fasting every Wednesday from 1pm to Thursday 11am. (Dinner, Breakfast)
  4. Fasting from unhealthy snacks: only fruits!
  5. Fasting from sexual activity.  (Not what you think.  I would lie if I said I didn’t masturbate like any normal young man.  Perhaps it isn’t really wrong anyway, but it is helpful to sacrifice the “pleasure”.)

By the way, the practice of examen is quite simple.  It is a practice of rummaging for God and noticing my God given desires during the day, essentially opening up what was beautiful and what was difficult and trying.  At the end of a day, I reflect in maybe 15 minutes or so, 1) What moment today am I most grateful and least grateful? 2) When did I give and receive the most love today- and when did I give and receive the least love? 3) What was the most life-giving part of my day- and what was the least life giving part of my day? 4) When did I have the deepest sense of connection to God and others and myself- and when I did have the least sense of connection?  5) Where was I was aware of living out the fruit of the Spirit- and when was there an absence of the fruit of the Spirit?  6) Where did I experience “consolation” and when did I experience “desolation”?  —- In essence, it is a practice of naming God’s presence through the lows and highs of a day and almost invites me to understand who I was created to be- what gives me life and what drains me.

These are my goals, and certainly I will falter on them throughout the Lenten fast, especially since there is so much.  But I have noticed that when I have a lot of smaller commitments, I do a pretty good job focusing.

In the midst of chaos and darkness, in the midst of failure and success, in the midst of sin and despair, bring light O Lord to longing hearts in repentance and fasting and transformation.  Create in us, in me, a clean heart, O God.  Amen.

Heard and Invited

Not much has been the same since my Unit 2 evaluation last week.  I have been exhausted since then.  It is like a whole world came crashing down around then.  And I think in some ways, that world did crash.  The world that crashed was a world of pretending of sorts.  Pretending to make it, pretending that I did care in some instances and pretending that I didn’t care in others, pretending that I didn’t really have wounds, pretending that I didn’t have desires and hopes that I really have.  It was just strange.

I tend to withdraw when I feel really vulnerable- which means that I might get really silent, really curt, really ambiguous, and really withdraw from the presence of others whether I am with them or not.  And it happens when I feel vulnerable, which is when I feel cut off, lonely, or more often when I feel disappointed or disappointing- when I am really hurting myself by constant critique and self loathing (yes, I dislike me more than any others).  And I get into cycles of this low self esteem or self concept and bear down on myself and try to act out my frustration by withdrawing away from others, instead of more fully initiating conversations or fellowship opportunities.  So naturally, because I was afraid to admit some of these struggles, or didn’t really know how to talk about them, I just pretended that the issue was something else external or pretended that I was still doing well, or pretended that I really didn’t have these deep wounds, or pretended that I confidently had it mostly together (no one ever has it all together!).  And that sort of crashed.

Not crashed in the sense that life fell quickly, like a roof collapsing on a fiery, decimated house.  But like a roof that has been broken, ripped up, cut up, blown through a couple times and barely holding together that slowly finds itself crumbling down.  And at one point, it just falls.  Thats what happened when my supervisors and peers invited me to stop disengaging and withdrawing, and invited me into the genuine relationship I was hoping for.  It fell when they heard, not assessed or said, but heard my woundedness and my deep fears and resistances.  But they heard.  Which meant so much.  They heard, and then they invited me in.

I am drawn to this opportunity, because it is really hard trying to navigate life feeling alone (whoever reads this, please do not try to persuade otherwise!) and feeling helpless.  And by engaging, by taking the risk to not be so bitter and not let myself get stuck and by being honest and open in my relationships, maybe I can actually find satisfaction, roots, and a home- a home not in my peers but a home in a career, a location, a mix of stuff.  It is amazing what can happen when one is heard and invited.  This reflection, going through that process, was exhausting though.  The invitation leaves me constantly wondering, constantly trying to imagine the promise in this opportunity of invitation and imagine how it will emerge over the coming months and years.  That’s exhausting.  Tired, dragging, empty.  And I have a 24 hour shift tomorrow?  It just keeps coming.  But I will make it, in spite of being tired and empty.

Transitioning in the Hospital!

So, when this week finishes, I will have finished my six month rotation at the children’s hospital I work at.  And over these last couple days and next week, I will be transitioning to another unit for the last six months of the residency, which is the Neurology unit.

First things first: the grief.  I am very sad to be leaving the Children’s Hospital, where I have learned and visited and been present in the NICU and Pediatric ICU, the Children’s Center and Clemen’s Wing.  It is sad to be leaving a place that I had set my sights on since early in 2006 when I decided to get my Master’s for chaplaincy and set my mind towards chaplaincy.  From that moment, I began a Masters degree and moved to Texas for this experience, which was well worth it.  I will grieve the relationships with staff that I have shared, since they have been an incredibly affirming group and fun to work with!  I will miss the likes of S and J, of M and L, of K and K (names protected for privacy) as well as J, Y, B, N, and all the others in the PICU, NICU, and Children’s Hospital.  And I will grieve the opportunities to play, to risk, to love families that are broken and somehow communicate the loving presence of God.

My six months in a Children’s Hospital taught me a lot of things.  First, I like to play, love to joke, love to be a kid once in a while.  It is why I now look at my ministry not as a shepherd, but as the wise and intimate fool- or even as a wise clown or something like that.  Second, visits can be significant whether I am visiting for 5 minutes and saying hi or dealing with issues of grief over 4 hours.  Third, normal grief response varies greatly, which means one can expect anger (punching a wall or door), sadness, isolation (not wanting to talk), fear (silence, tears, shaking), denial or disbelief (rejecting doctors’ assessments or not accepting the reality of death), bargaining (if I am more faithful, God will heal…), desolation, desperation, feeling lost, feeling in pieces, becoming confrontational, anguished, sorrowful and doubting.  And the key is that as a minister I need to be welcoming to all the responses, whether they are trusting or doubting, full of faith or full of fear because those are all normal and okay.  Fourth, the bond of parents and children is immeasurable.  I saw in those parents the distance I sometimes feel from my own, and cried along with parents because I was touched by that special intimacy.  Fifth, the world can be both a tender place and a wretched capricious place.  No matter how well parents or families try to manage life and risks, children get hurt and die fairly and unfairly, beautifully and brutally, silently and boisterously- and the constant is that even these innocent lives are not spared the tragedy this life brings.  Sixth, tragedy and injustice often come together.  I cannot even begin to talk about the amount of pain and anger I experienced in the present of children abused, beaten, neglected, drugged, raped, or abandoned by parents who raged against their kids, were drunk or high, felt smug in demeaning their child, or felt no love or care towards an innocent and helpless child.  The need of Social Work and CPS is much more understood in these circumstances.  Seventh, the little baby is a beautiful, precious, tender, and needy piece of creation.  The smiles, the cries, the squirming, the opening of eyes- it is all amazing and beautiful and one learns to value those small things when seeing a baby who cannot do any of those things.  But that baby is needy in its helplessness, and strikingly, knows to take care of its needs by crying out, something I have yet to learn very well.  Eighth, rituals matter, no matter what Protestants or Churches of Christ may say.  The baptism of a child where God’s presence is manifest in love and care, or the anointing of the sick for a dying child, or a liturgical prayer that brings comfort in the tradition and “sameness” when all else is failing, or the chanting of Scripture by a Hindu or Buddhist at the bedside inviting a peaceful atmosphere.  Moments where God’s presence sneaks in through mystery and in the midst of pain, darkness, and fear.  Ninth, dreams fall apart in the Children’s Hospital.  Parents may not even be able to name those dreams they have, but whether they are with child in waiting to give birth or at the bedside of a child with a incurable skull fracture or with a child with the flu, they have dreams.  And they are being shaken.  Parents find their dreams for their children of health, of greatness, or playing with their kids in the yard, of building a treehouse, or watching them grow up and get married- they find these dreams being broken and challenged.   Tenth, children’s care needs a multitude of disciplines: social workers, advocates, friends, playmates, patient rights, HIPPA policymakers, nurses, doctors, child life workers, directors, guardians, chaplains and parents.  Sometimes I fill a role, and sometimes those roles aren’t filled.  There are many more things but those are the most important.  Last, I learned about myself too, and many more things than can be written here.  But I learned that I somehow don’t remember my childhood, that I am torn by being dutiful and being creative, that I struggle with self criticism and not disappointing people, and that I am still trying to find the genuine inner freedom that is content in my own skin.  I am still learning that “I am who I am and that’s all that I am.”

All told, it was a wonderful experience, a challenging experience, and one that left a teasing taste for me to look forward to, hopefully as a pediatric chaplain.  But in transition as I grieve for one thing lost or passed, I look forward to another.  In this case, the Neuro units.

What do I look forward to?  Learning about the function of the mighty and still mysterious brain.  Learning about patience with a patient who cannot speak clearly or quickly because of a stroke.  Learning to be minister on my own without a staff chaplain in those units.  Learning my own pace and style without the presence of another chaplain.  Learning how the body is controlled, manipulated, and staged by the brain.  Learning terms and names of brain issues and sicknesses.  Learning more about myself, why I feel uncomfortable around neurology issues, who I want to be, learning how to be a good all around staff chaplain.  Learning about the ministry skill of facilitating story telling and processing alternatives about what life looks like after brain issues, as well as envisioning future lives.  Yes, there is lots to learn.

As always, it is a mixed transition, but one that should serve me well as I look back on August 31, when I am transitioning once again…