Friday Night Fun

Cool people.  Good activity.  Great time.  Got to hang with some of my favorite kids at church and a favorite couple at church decorating pumpkins and eating wings.  The Gibbs family has Gregory, Ashley, DeAndre and Taylor with their good friends and honorary Gibbs family members Kalynn and Marleau.  These are great kids and great characters.  DeAndre got in the car and on the way just randomly said how happy he was I was in his Wednesday night bible class.  And Taylor is so sweet when she tries to get her young brother into trouble and laughs while doing it (it is so innocent and playful cause she admits to it and has fun with it).  Gregory is such a blessing.  And Ashley is wonderful and talented and has wonderful things in her future.  What a great family.

And it was so enjoyable to hang with the Sargents after I had a good conference on Spirituality and Pediatrics.  Yet the conference ended with a really teary seminar on a special kids’ battle with mitochondrial disease which he lost but reflected a special spirit- anyway, it was a tear jerker and both sad and inspiring.  Frankly, after that, I didn’t have anything planned for the night but I just wanted to hang out with someone and the Sargents were wonderful to let me be a part of their night with the Gibbs.  After the night, I got to stay and watch the Cardinal-Ranger game, and we talked about moving, about the Gibbs, about chaplaincy, about her pregnancy and about my dear elderly housemate.  I got to talk baseball and stats with a baseball guy.  Got to talk grief and recovery with a therapist.  Got to talk about uncertainty and concern about my Dad with this great couple.  Good night of great fun and great fellowship.  When I left, I knew I was cared for and loved, and that my concerns about life and the church and my issues were all heard well and with compassion.  That is worth it.  Good night for sure- check out the results of the night:

From left to right: DeAndre, Marleau, Kalynn, Gregory, Ashley, Taylor, me (my pumpkin is on the right)

Water Buffalo Theology

So I am reading, or trying to read this book called “Water Buffalo Theology” from Kosuke Koyama.  It is a theological read, so reading comes very very slowly.  Basically, he addresses issues through an Asian perspective- what exactly does that mean?  It means that theology and faith isn’t simple and clear to all people- theology doesn’t come down to one meaning for all people.  The same Scripture may be looked upon through different eyes and the cultural context of those reading provides framework for those perspectives.

One of things in Koyama’s book that has intrigued me quite a bit is the slowness of God.  Obviously, we are part of a society that encourages, even demands efficiency, thus quick and fast paced movement and productivity.  Koyama points this out in the young nation of Singapore as well, a country I know relatively little about.  But he points out that a God that is covenantal in his love is not an efficient God, but actually a slow God. God walks with the people 40 years in wilderness, seemingly pointlessly.  He provides generations of judges, kings, and prophets to Israel to convey his covenant love and righteous anger and incredible patience.  And I never thought about this: isn’t the image of a crucified Christ truly the definition of immobility or as Koyama puts it “maximum slowness”.  God, the God of covenantal love, is truly a slow and inefficient God by our world’s standards.  What implications does that have for a people of incredible demands for efficiency and production?  Certainly as I think about it, we have to be people willing to become immobile and slow too.  Perhaps I need to accept the slowness of traffic, stopping along a drive to see a sight and enjoy my drive, spend more time with people, consider sacrificing some of my resources and time to work with needy people though it is inefficient for my schedule, etc.  Perhaps a slow God requires that I not seek to be productive all the time- enjoying a nap, sitting in silence for a while, retreating for a time (like a silent retreat), or avoiding filling a schedule till full every moment of the year.  (Perhaps for a person like me a slow God calls me to let go of the calendar) Or perhaps for the unemployed me, a slow God calls for great amount of patience and trust.  Either way, consider for yourself what it means to have a slow and inefficient God, a God not trying to produce a factory assembly line of heaven attendees but a people of faith and trust and love.

Another point I am struck by in Koyama’s thought is the consideration of time.  In Thailand, monsoons come regularly and the frog croak comes consistently with it, year after year without ceasing.  Nature it seems, is cyclical, which brings stability and trust that generation after generation passes knowing that time will come go.  Our view of nature and time is more linear- purpose driven per se.  Rather than seasons that come cyclically, we understand that time works towards a goal.  Goals, products, results, purpose.  Time moves forward in Western culture.  But perhaps there is something to learn from the seasonal frog croak and monsoon cycle, where confidence and peace is instilled because accomplishment comes not from the fulfillment of purpose, but by the season fulfilling itself- the season happens.  Trust is learned from knowing that seasons will come, that though there may be dryer spells, nature continues to work and nature returns.  Trust and peace are found when there is a lack of control per se.  But there is also something to add to the cycle from the understanding of purposed time.  God purposes time towards his goals of bringing his creation back to him and redeeming all creation.  So while we learn trust and peace from the lack of control that comes in cycling seasons, we learn to grow in our behavior and attitude and understanding while we move toward the fulfillment of God’s purposes for the world.  That strikes a chord with me- learning from the cycle of seasons and the linear movement of life.  In Houston that cycle could be the mosquitoes (not a great time, but still cyclical) or in other places the seasonal presence of snow- but if we find those things in our area, perhaps we can learn great trust in creation’s cycles while still seeing God’s purposes fulfilled.  Usually, when people I know see cycles in nature, they become hopeless and resigned because things aren’t getting better- but perhaps we ought to become more hopeful and reserved to God’s continual presence through creation’s cycles.  Just a thought for us Westerners from Koyama.

Anyway, the book is good but I am moving quite slowly through it.  I like how different faith perspectives and different cultures provide me ways to learn and grow.  There is something rich to be had when we approach life with questions of “What can I learn?” and “How am I challenged by this?”  I like it and look forward to any thoughts.

The Car Light

Tonight, while taking a walk around the neighborhood, I found a car with the lights still on, albeit 9:35pm.  I debated for a while if the car had an automatic turn off and the owner had gotten out recently…or whether the owner knew and would turn it off remotely since it looked like a very nice newer car…or whether the owners were asleep and it would be more of a hassle to wake them up…or that since the car was newer the inside lights being on wouldn’t drain the battery too much before morning and that everything would be alright…or that since there at least 5 individuals or couples walking around the neighborhood at this time that maybe the owner of the car was already told and I didn’t need to add to that or that there are mosquitoes swarming all over Houston in the grass and right by the doors of houses and considered it may be best to avoid being bitten by a swarm of mosquitoes…or…you get the point.  I was trying to avoid my “civic responsibility” or just trying to avoid helping someone out.

That’s the interesting thing for me.  Help is not so simple, especially these days.  We don’t seem to help when opportunities present themselves- poor people on street corners, donating to the church, preparing a meal for a stressed family, giving a ride to the needy elderly person, helping someone find a lost item, or even telling someone their lights are still on.  There are always opportunities to help, but it seems we as human beings don’t always come through.  Why?  Perhaps a number of reasons, but one of them isn’t that we are just not moral people anymore (people often talk about how good things were back in the days…sheesh.)  But there are some good possibilities.

  1. In social psychology, the bystander effect certainly affects the amount of help.  The bystander effect claims that the more people are present in an emergency, the less we tend to help.  Think about the Queens rape incident of Kitty Genovese and how little help was offered over a 30 minute attack in the middle of the street.  Or the Brooklyn hospital case where the elderly woman fell out of her chair in a waiting room and clearly looked to be in trouble, but no one helped for an hour, including security guards.  Certainly, when people are present, we may think others will take care of it and so we remove ourself from responsibility.  Or there are certain responses of fear to the public- perhaps the friend I am walking with will not like stopping and waiting while I take care of car light incident (a short thought in my head)- or that I will look like a fool if I give a 1.50 in change to the homeless man at the corner of West Bellfort and Chimney Rock.  Fear and giving responsibility to others is part of the bystander effect.
  2. People help those who they consider significant in their lives, and the definition of that is different these days.  Perhaps 50 years ago everybody was significant because they came under the umbrella of doing the right thing.  But today, those who are significant to us is very specific: my family, my certain friends, those I like or any number of designations.  I think this is the challenge of Christianity is to move beyond designating who is significant by meaning to you or by what is considered right or wrong and move into seeing everybody as the image of God- not someone we help because their perception of us is important or because it is right to help them but because we want to help them.
  3. We are an earning type of culture.  Our society encourages measurements of “worthy” or “deserving” and so our decision to help someone else is often determined by how deserving they are.  A homeless person on a street corner is often deemed undeserving because they are unable to help themselves.  A poor person in need of welfare in spite of trying to find work is often deemed undeserving because they are lazy and don’t want to work.  These are clearly bad assumptions, but even with people we know we classify how deserving they are- a family member asking for help with rent, a friend asking for help moving, etc.  We do it.  I do it.  But earning designations are helpful sometimes, but in many situations they undercut the deepest and greatest commands we have in faith: to love God and love one another because of the gift of the grace of God to all.
  4. In some cases, help is not given because we don’t consider ourselves in abundance.  But this is a strange thing, because it is usually us who define our own “poverty” and declare ourselves poor people in spite of making $100,000 a year.  A lot of people call themselves poor and tight on resources (financial and other) but are not all that poor and tight on resources- but that is because we never think we have enough (I fall into this category so often it is shame on me).  But in many cases the most generous and helpful have actually been the poor- ala the widow’s mite or the welfare’d elderly lady at church who bought cookies for my Refreshment for the Soul for nurses at the hospital.  So maybe we need to watch ourselves when we think about this excuse.
  5. Fear, fear, fear.  We fear helping because of the response of others.  I feared the owner being upset at my knocking on his door at 9:35pm.  I feared that no one would actually come to the door.  I feared the situation because I didn’t know these people at all.  I’m sure this works for you too.  We fear that people will belittle us or that the help we may offer is meaningless (i.e. the car won’t die because it is probably a stronger battery with a newer car).  But the response doesn’t matter.  A Samaritan or hero in someone’s life may never get the respect or credit or love for their actions, but you do it because it is part of who you are and you want to do it.  Often, I think it is critical that we think about situations where we may help or be helped so that we are prepared- that our response to an opportunity to help be ingrained in us before it even happens.
  6. It doesn’t fit what we want.  When I asked youth to stop in a mall and pretend they lost a contact on the ground to see how many would come to help, bystanders or passers-by were often focused on what they wanted to do- to shop, to get to that one store, to continue their clearly provocative conversation, that few helped out.  Maybe when I don’t help the needy, it is because it doesn’t fit that budget that allows me to golf this week or pay for Netflix or something like that.
The truth to me is that our culture today isn’t necessarily less helpful than other earlier generations.  Rather, I believe that because opportunities to help are more visible now, and so the amount of times we pass it by is more- but that also means that there are also lots of times when people do help.  I have received that help in a number of ways.  Compassion is still alive.  But often we are focused on when those opportunities get passed up.  I encourage you to not pass up on that opportunity to help, but also to count your blessings and name it when you see help being given- that would help everyone become more aware and pay attention to the many good people around us.
By the way, I did knock on the door, and the guy was grateful.  But damn, those mosquitoes bit me up good.  I just don’t like those things.

Island Time

Tonight, I spent the evening with a former coworker and CPE resident, Tom Bain, and his precious wife, Jillian, out at Galveston where they live.  They are precious, beautiful people whom I feel a great friendship and Christian love.  Tom is experiencing the same anxiety looking for hospice jobs as I am, and his wife is actively pursuing God’s ministry and call in her life too.  These are people that I share similar experiences and desires, and whom I know will speak honestly and lovingly about their lives and mine.

As me and Tom shared the anxiety of our job search, they affirmed my call to ministry and chaplaincy in particular, and as we talked about the bizarre and strange opportunities and ways God would bring fruition to his calling (i.e. jobs, volunteer work), we talked about what the waiting game meant.  As we reflected, the waiting and anxiety offers firsthand insight into the waiting rooms and patient and family waiting in hospitals that is certainly dreaded with great fear- so in a sense my waiting for a job makes us better ministers who can further empathize.  As we reflected, we noted that waiting was an opportunity to pursue God in different ways- perhaps doing a spiritual retreat, perhaps reading Scripture more fully, perhaps reconnecting to others in different ways like volunteering- a true opportunity to find and see God in ways I would not otherwise as a full time hospital chaplain.  As we reflected, I even had the opportunity to hear God’s prophetic word in my life.  Jillian offered that with the experiences I have had with children and teens in crisis, that perhaps God was not only forming me into standard hospital chaplaincy, but molding me into working with children/teens in crisis as a permanent part of my life and maybe a true career too.  It is something that is good feedback on what my life has reflected, as I have enjoyed mentoring, connecting, meeting kids in crisis.   Maybe this feedback will encourage growth towards being certified in Child Life work, or getting certified in Critical Incident Stress Debriefing/Management where certified leaders help in massive traumas, events, or disasters (i.e. after a tornado destroys Joplin, after Hurricane Katrina, after a shooting at a school…).  I will look forward to where that prophetic word becomes reality in my life in the kingdom of God!  All good reflection as you can see, and al valuable as part of a true friendship where I find kindred spirits.

And that’s part of island time.  They live on the island.  They move by a different schedule- the infamous slow island time.  And they have used it to become attuned to God, and just be really good people.  And I am grateful for that!  But while I mention island time, I must mention that we went to dinner.  And you can’t beat island time when you walk a couple blocks to dinner, which is located right on the water (as you will see the sight as we get closer):

Galveston beach and Casey's Restaurant just to the right

And Casey’s was wonderful too.  Honey-pecan vinaigrette on a appetizer salad.  Firehouse #4 as my drink.  Grilled and blackened tilapia with blackened shrimp and blackened sea scallops, and a side of veggies.  Really really good.  Loved it.  Can’t beat seafood when you are eating right in front of the water!

So as it were, good food, great friends, at a slow and enjoyable pace- and God in the midst of it all.  Can’t beat island time.

Reading Scripture

I don’t know if I read Scripture a ton.  But I do enjoy just reading Scripture.  And I want to read more.  I want to read it and enjoy it- not simply study it.  I want to read it in chunks but not too large of chunks that I have to think about so many different points and stories and ideas.

Meditate on it.  Eat it.  Chew on it.  Let it breathe through me.  I will never be the super studier, although I have my moments.  But I want to treasure Scripture by reading daily and feeling comfortable reading smaller chunks, like a chapter.  And when I do the reading of Scripture in a year, like I have tried in the past, it seems overwhelming and untreasurable (in the kindest sense).

Perhaps some of you have ideas about how to approach the Scripture in smaller ways but daily- and maybe some of you would join in reading daily, maybe a chapter, maybe a passage.  But something daily. I’m open for ideas, and for partners.  I just want more out of my scriptural experience, and suspect there are others who do as well.

Saying Goodbye Is Hard

I am almost sure now that I am going back to Southern California.  Sure, it is hard to accept that there may not be opportunities in the Texas Medical Center.  And it is hard to accept that the city of Houston will not be part of the journey for much longer.  In fact, God is with me no matter how the journey meanders and moves across the world.  So really, I accept that life has different directions and that, in my perspective, there is no one plan or path.  I believe rather that God is with me no matter what, and that God’s kingdom is working everywhere in the world- and the kingdom can use disciples everywhere my hands and feet are.  That is truly the blessing of God’s presence- I don’t have to find one path but recognize God’s presence no matter where I am.

But saying goodbye is hard.  Especially when there is no tangible opportunity I am moving to.  But saying goodbye is hard.  Let me tell you a couple reasons.  In my situation, I love Southwest Central Church of Christ- they are a loving congregation, caring for the poor and helpless in the area and across the street, and great cooks!  They are a small church that I believe is on the precipice of great things in the kingdom of God.  Bridge nights, potlucks, 242 group (young adult small group), Open Door Bible Class, and the Hispanic kids from across the street.  Amazing.  And a true blessing for me.

But one more reason is something that truly makes me a little teary- the kids.  There are a couple of kids that I truly feel blessed and called to be around- DeAndre, Gregory, and Jose (not crazy Jose!).  These kids seem to gravitate to me and welcome me all the time.  They are kids that I enjoyed a great connection with and whom I love spending time with, whether eating at Buffalo Wild Wings or sharing Wednesday night class.  I felt called to establish a relationship with these kids and be a mentor/friend of sorts that both shared and received blessings from them.  Gregory’s boldness, smiles, holding hands during every prayer, and self learning sign language.  DeAndre’s focus, sweetness, and devotion to faith- a young child that truly is wise.  Jose’ s free spirit, gentleness, and openness- he has a look of satisfaction in his life that many adults yearn for.  Jose told me one time that he wanted to take the metro Bus instead of getting a ride because he had never ridden the metro- and he purely enjoyed the idea of taking the bus for the first time, even as a 12 year old!  (And I can’t help but thank Ellery to for her desire to particpate, her eagerness, and her sound bytes- during Thanksgiving, she said “I am thankful for myself!” OR I am stronger than Jesus OR Look, Mom its made in China!) These kids have blessed me and I have such a hard time knowing that I will be moving away from them.  Saying goodbye is hard.

Yes, the children make it hard.  Not because of what I meant to them, but because of what they meant to me as I matured, because I can see how their presences were all integral parts in me becoming a better person, and because in their presences, I saw the image of God.  Thank you Lord for Southwest Central, but thank you Lord for these little ones!

Your New Chaplain.

Hospitals.  Hospices.  I call for your attention (especially in the West and Southwest).

I am a qualified chaplain, who has served in a (and one of the busiest in the nation) Level 1 Trauma Center for over a year, have served as a chaplain resident in some of the best hospitals such as Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center.  I was able to provide excellent high quality care to many patients in the numerous ICU’s in the Memorial Hermann Hospital: the Neurology ICU (with world class care for stroke and rehab patients), the Shock Trauma ICU, the Cardiovascular ICU, the Pediatric ICU, the Neo-Natal Intensive Care, the Medical ICU, the Cardiac Care Unit, and the Transplant ICU.

I have worked with patients whose speech is slurred from seizures and strokes and helped them find meaning through their illnesses.  I have prayed with mothers of the children in our NICU, even provided baptism for the NICU babies of Catholic families.  I have met with families crying, mourning, grieving the expected losses of loved ones, young and old, and helped them process those critical first stages of grief (the anger, guilt, sadness, emptiness, shock) and in some cases, helped them debrief the situation, and in other cases, helped them to identify better coping mechanisms, and in other cases, helped them find meaning in their faith and the life of their loved ones.  I have helped mothers and fathers identify critical futures that will be lost because of the death of a little child, and helped elderly people review their life and interpret their lives so they could move forward with what was left of their lives.  I have sat with brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and cried with them as they have been told the chilling news of loss.  I have been with family members and friends during traumatic events like car accidents, seizures, stabbings, heart attacks and spent deeply powerful moments of silence with them, giving them the profound value of presence without judgment or push.  I have walked the halls and initiated relationships with men and women crying, reflecting my sense of availability and triaging needs as they come.  I have helped little children understand that they have lost their dad, played with a child suffering from cancer, and helped calm a child who was afraid of losing her grandmother when a Rapid was called on her.  I have read Scripture with patients and families after death, recited Psalm 23 with families, sang “The Old Rugged Cross” with alzheimer’s patients who come wife awake during church hymns, helped provide the washing ritual for a deceased Muslim man, engaged a woman on the helping strength of her Buddhist faith and small statue above her child’s bed, and worked with a Muslim woman by inviting her to read and share her inspiring passages of the Koran.  I love diversity, and love participating in the faith rituals of other faith groups, and my outside life from the hospital shows with interfaith participation, attending Sacred Symbols and Sacred Art in Houston, participating in the annual Interfaith Ministries dinner in Houston, and honoring the faiths through respectful worship services.

But my skills of being with patients and families are served by being grounded in good knowledge and theology.  I am strongly familiar with Erikson’s stages of development, Pruyser’s care gates, Life Review.  I wrote a complete project on the role of guilt in the hospital- in parents, family systems, patients, institutions, and faith- and the numerous strategies and perspectives to understand and care for those struggling with guilt and used my own deeply personal history of guilt and grace.  I am skilled at being able to be amongst a crisis situation and keep my head cool and know just what to do- in essence, having the calm to understand the stages of grief and how anger or bargaining or disbelief all play a role and can be allowed by hurting people.  I am aware of the roles of guilt, of grace, or repentance, of fear, of anxiety, of trust in the hospital setting.  I am well versed in future stories and how the future makes such a significant impact on how we perceive both spiritually and emotionally the past and the present.  I spend a lot of time with children and know and implement the practice of concreteness, of letting them set the agenda, making meaning through play, the cyclical nature of childhood grief, the presence of child guilt, the power of imagination, and getting on the same physical level during conversation and play.  I also value the presence of the team as part of the knowledge and assessment in ministry and pastoral care: the social worker, the case manager, the nurse, the physician, the patient care assistant, the therapists.  I value what each brings to the table in caring and valuing every patient and family because in each our voices we can understand families and bring appropriate concerns and needs that help us be not only healers physically but healers spiritually and emotionally- holistic care!  And I treasure moments of interdisciplinary team care- my interdisciplinary meetings are places where the voice of the minister must be heard as well, since it is not a passive place of reception but of active participation and using my unique assessment skills to make great progress with each of these patients and their loved ones.

But I am not a chaplain for families and patients alone.  I care for staff a lot.  I participated in a project in the Children’s Center at our hospital to visit as many of our new patients as possible to help with lower customer service scores, and those scores were raised, which made the staff job easier with better rewards from higher customer service.  I value every interaction with a staff member as a ministry tool- a chance to give them five minutes of attention that they deserve.  I care to learn about them, to provide empathic listening, an open sense of humor, and a willingness to openly and verbally treasure their work as sacred hands doing sacred work of helping and healing, even when there is death or crisis.  After difficult losses, I always stop in sometime after to check on those nurses and provide them space to debrief, cry, open up their hearts, and acknowledge the grief involved with losing someone you care for.  After really difficult losses for my unit, I led a Critical Incident Debriefing Session and helped our unit to process as a whole and just to reflect on what these losses mean and then to help them renew their efforts at self care since those are the tools that protect our hearts and keep us fresh and healing back at the job.  To that end, I led efforts to provide homemade cookies and refreshments at regular intervals for staff, a chance for them to come for a five to ten minute break and refresh themselves and to simply hear that chaplaincy valued their work.  I am very proud of my staff work- I maintain very good relationships with staff because I value every interaction and because I want to know them- not just the info about a patient.  I love patients and families, but I love my staff and I think I do it well.

I am a good chaplain- yes a young chaplain too.  I am a good chaplain and I still and always will have room to grow.  In fact, my youth and room to grow will take me from being a very good chaplain to a great chaplain someday.  My room for growth reflects a chance to still learn how to be better, to still learn how to reach more people, to connect more during crisis, to be molded even further by a great hospital or hospice.  Nonetheless, I come starting with great skills in trauma, crisis, and pediatrics.  I come with a love for caring for staff and for working with staff.  I come with expectations that I want to participate in something great.  I want to be respected as a growing chaplain with great skills who has been trained and readied at the best places, and now one who works for some of the greatest hospitals and/or hospices.  I want that to become reality.  Will you allow me to do so?