Saturday, August 30, 2008

The World of the Possible

Thanks to all of you who here or other ways have reached out this past week. This has been a week of great upheaval and yet also a chance for me to marvel at all of the good in our world and to be amazed at the changes afoot in my part of it. For younger daughter, we have now had oodles of high tech tests, tests that would not have been possible when I was a child, growing up in the '60's and '70's. It seems for now the answer is an inhaler which we are now trying to master- when, how often. The sophistication of the technology can amaze me, but it cannot replace the importance of people taking the time to listen, really listen to what someone else is sharing. And for everyone who listened to me, and to her, I give thanks to God.
For my older daughter, we are continuing to look for what she needs, but thanks to technology, on the 'Net and through email, I have ideas and suggestions and a plan. In this world of possibility, I can get these things faster, and see more information in depth before I ever pick up a phone. But in the end, it will take people willing to listen to her, to us, to know who she is and what she needs.
This past week we also lost track of my parents after they left here for FLA for two days. Bad weather took out their phone, cable and internet service and jammed cell phone connections. All of the technology in the world was not helping us know if they were safe at home or in a ditch. Finally I remembered another way to reach them, through a friend who was not affected, who was willing to listen and help out.
All of the technology in the world cannot replace that human component. We need each other to feel human.

In this world of possibility is another exciting development that I hope takes us one step farther, not in technology, but in being human, and seeing each other
as equals. I watched with excitement and emotion, the speech Barack Obama delivered at the Democratic National Convention, a speech filled with possibility, and a speech focused upon our humanity and dignity. A speech about the possibility of a way that is not the "same old, same old." Delivered by a man who has lived possibility.
Who has refused to accept the notion that he is "less than."

As a child growing up in the '60's and '70's I remember a long drive across the state of North Carolina in 1969 to go the Outer Banks for vacation. In those days before the advent of high speed interstate, the road meandered through every little town. It was hot and dusty. It was mid-day, as I peered out the window hoping to see anything of interest that would break up the monotony of the drive. As we wended our way through a sleepy town, I saw two African American men walking down the sidewalk. A white man was approaching from the other direction. When he got within some apparently prescribed distance, the black men stopped, stepped off of the sidewalk into the street and looked away while the white man passed. Then they were free to get back onto the sidewalk and continue.

Being curious I asked my parents, one from Philadelphia and one from NC, why this happened. My mother said it was just the way it was. My father said, but it shouldn't have to be. And then the air was stiflingly silent for what seemed like a very long time. Just the crackle of the radio and the brittle tension of two expectations of the world.

This is one of the stories I remembered as I watched Obama. As I watched as a child who heard and believed that the world as it has been is not the world as it has to be. I do not know how this election will ultimately be decided, but to be in a world where the historically unlikely- a woman, an African American are lifted up, and where people have become energized to see beyond the small window, is thrilling. A world of the possible is in our midst, if we are willing to listen, really listen, to share, to help out and embrace the fullness of humanity as it can be, and as God desires it to be.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I want off of this ride please

I am not a good patient. I am worse at being a parent of a child with an issue. And there are two daughters and two issues. One is with LC#1. She the child of long-standing developmental issues stemming from brain trauma at birth. It is time for another clinical neuropsych eval. And the old evaluator has moved. SO I am starting at ground zero, and know this will be a new time of adjustment for LC#1 who needs this evaluation for the accomodations she may need for college, but also in the back of my mind is the statement that " you should not let her drive without reviewing her status. Even with medication she may be too unfocused, in which case she is a danger to herself and others." Haunting words indeed. And so this is not just a new appointment but a whole new running of the gauntlet. And telling the whole story again. The whole tiring story. And I confess that I get tired just having to again tell about her birth trauma and how she almost died. And I wish this pain had a shelf life that would expire but it does not. And like every other person whose issues are not obvious to the eye- she "looks so normal." So I have to kick myself around to do this. I am kicking myself now. And it is when I am feeling like this that I remember the doctor who was negligent telling me he " understood I thought her delivery was less than optimal."
Until now I have counted myself blessed that LC#2 is issue free. No glasses. No medicines, no allergies, nothing. She decided to run cross-country this year. She started coughing. A lot. We went to the doctor and he said she was a little congested- too soon to say anything. Well, two more weeks have passed. Now there is coughing and trouble breathing. Sounds like what they call " exercise induced asthma." But then she had the day with chest pain and numbness. And I decided to call the doctor. That day a family we know had a daughter who is 19 go out running and drop dead from cardiac arrest. Now we are in the world of EKG's and pulmonary function tests. And I am praying this is really just an inhaler, but it is hard not get my imagination going. And I wonder if we should tell her she just can't run, or if that would be overreacting. And I wish I was stronger, but it is only on the inside this is all happening, as I tell my daughter the EKG is just shiny post-it notes with wires attached. So this morning before the doctor's appointments, my husband and I went out for breakfast, and a man collapsed at the counter and the ambulance was called. And when I took my daughter to the Health Campus for her doctor's appointment they called a Code Blue at the Cafe down the hall.
And I am waiting for my CPE evaluation which needs to be in by Friday, which is now getting picked up on Friday in Lancaster and driven an hour and 45 minutes away to Gettysburg the day it is due before the football game. After this summer, I know all of this is still small compared to the enormous issues people confront every day, including those whose lives were impacted in the places I went today, but I still wish I was getting off of this ride. Now I am done whining because it is time to be praying.

Monday, August 25, 2008


The past couple weeks, I have been pondering connections. The ending of connections in CPE, the effort to maintain some of them. The effort to stay connected with those who have taken new calls or gone out on internship. Re-connecting with those back at LTSG, and making new connections with those who are just coming to campus. My parents who come to PA for the summer, are headed back to FLA. My daughters, one returning to High School and one just starting, are focused on where their connections are. Calling, texting, IM-ing, emailing, Facebooking, blogging. Our striving- We all are seeking connections in our lives. In the world of Facebook, we join and leave groups, check to see who is available to chat, and write on each other's walls. For what are we searching?
People who share something with us. People who understand what it is like to be us. People who can affirm that who we are or what we do is not in vain, but valid. In our ever faster paced world with technological advances and in modern developments where we can leave our hermetically sealed climate controlled domain for our climate controlled transportation where we drive alone with only the music we want to hear, where we can in so many ways choose “our” world at work and in leisure, there is still that yearning for connection. Just look at many vehicles and you will see our efforts to connect. The ribbon car magnets that urge support our troops, exhort awareness for autism, breast cancer, the local sports team, or so many other causes we communicate are important to us, and we hope to others. The T shirts we don, the bracelets we wear, and for the more extreme, the body art we adorn ourselves with, all proclaim this desire to be known, understood and affirmed, and to connect.
In one extreme case, I now know a man who has the multi-colored puzzle piece autism ribbon tattooed on his neck- he is raising a son with autism. I see them walking through town, some days more of a struggle than others. We have spoken – because of the tattoo. I have heard a sliver of his story, and no he is no longer just some eccentric-looking guy, but a person with a story and a connection. His tattoo practically screams- “See me, see us!” Because if you slow down and look, you'll talk and I can share what my world is like. And then you can't walk on like it never happened.
This human desire for connection and awareness has also manifested itself in the many support groups and awareness events that raise money for the things that impact our lives: ALS, MS, COPD, CHF, ADD/HD, AIDS, MD, CP, and many others. Behind all of these initials and acronyms are the lives, trials and triumphs of real people. Real people who in the absence of connection may feel destined to struggle alone. And because their struggle is not a defined event of getting sick and getting better, they are often isolated by the lack of constant support they may need. But in many ways, many of us give of our time and energy to rally, advocate, and raise support, sometimes with fierce intensity- for our “connections.”
From the other perspective, so often in my own life, and those of my friends and family, I know that it is only when someone we know and love, a friend, neighbor or family member, fellow parishioner, co-worker, is confronted by a struggle that we can personalize what is like to be a: person with cancer, mental illness, auto accident rehabilitation, perinatal loss, .. the list goes on. It is when we can put a face on the situation that it becomes “real.” Like the Velveteen Rabbit who only became real when he was truly loved, these experiences only become real for us when we can see one of “our” people as affected. Once this happens, we may become energized, compassionate, prayerful, understanding. No longer nameless, faceless issues, no longer “someone else”, no longer able to be seen in black and white terms. Because we have a personal connection.
This past semester in seminary this concept came to light in yet another variation, in class when we were discussing the doctrine of sin. What came to light was how much harder it was to criticize the lives or decisions of others when we knew someone who had to confront an issue- decision making among the poor, issues of sexuality, abortion, for example. How much harder to think that the mirror of the law, as we may have previously interpreted it, was one we wanted to gaze into. Because these were people WE knew and loved, not just someone else, and we knew their story.
God knows each and every one of us, and knew us before we were formed in the womb, and we are created in God’s image. So I wonder when we think about ourselves and those we meet, and those we have never met and we contemplate the hard decisions we all make in our lives, does God see us with the eyes we use when gazing upon those we do not know, or with the eyes we use when it is someone we know and love, one of our “connections”?
I think it is the latter, the eyes of a loving parent, who desires a connection with us as much as we seek connection. With eyes that experience the same anger yet anguish we experience when we see the lives of those who matter to us. A God who loves first, and constantly. A God who calls us to see everyone as someone with whom we have a connection. Maybe if we tried to live this out, we would be slower to judge, quicker to love, understand and support, and to do more than just observe, but to reach out for yet one more connection.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gaining Wisdom

This post is the reflection I offered at chapel Thursday at LTSG. It is based upon the daily lectionary reading of I Cor. 6: 1-11 which you really need to read in all of its detail before you read this reflection. For me a lesson to read the lesson for the day you are signing up for before you say “yes.”
To quote Dr. Oldenburg, “ Do you Really want to say ‘Thanks Be to God’ for this text?” We will spend some time reflecting upon it in a moment, but we will not be discussing any of the labels.
To the Summer Greek –ers: You’ve almost made it halfway through in your quest for Greek knowledge. The fact you see me here is proof you can do it. For all of us we are beginning another time of learning. All of this knowledge will help you dazzle parishioners, and peers. And lest you think learning Greek is in vain, I can tell you that in my time as a summer chaplain intern I did have a patient ask me about aorist tense verbs in Greek- no lie! Dr. Carlson did not pay me to say this.
This time last year, I was sitting where you are now, and I was starting to feel like things were not so bad. I had made it through the first week without running away. Turns out that Dr Carlson was pretty OK too. I thought maybe I had figured it out after all. And then, WHAM! I hit my Greek wall. I found out I had to learn 24 ways to say the word “the.” A simple three letter word- 24 ways! And I found myself in need of a helping hand. I remember going to Jason my tutor, handing him my translations and saying, “ If they are right, I don’t know why, and if they are wrong, I don’t know how to fix it.” He was very patient. Thank you Jason, though you may be wondering if you should have helped me. When I hit my wall, I began to ask myself if I was really called, should I really be here, can I really do this? I gave up a “perfectly good job” to be here- I wonder if I can get it back? It all came crashing down, but my friends here helped me, not just to learn the words, but to get me over the stress and to remember it would all be OK. Summer Greek can be that time of bonding in the face of common adversity, but here at Seminary there will also be times where your personal adversities will clash, times when being in close proximity to each other, or having to navigate a group project gone wrong, or that big test on Friday, will create disputes and test the limits of your patience. Community has its challenges, and some day so too will a congregation to which you are sent.
Being here at Seminary is as much about the gaining of wisdom as it is knowledge. So how do we make it? By the grace of God to be sure, but more specifically by being engaged in community with others. Not by judging others, or comparing ourselves and our wisdom or worthiness, but by seeing each other how God sees us- sinners who are washed, sanctified and justified by God through Christ.
In our lesson from Corinthians today, Paul is chastising the Corinthians for their faulty and inflated view of their wisdom. He has been telling them: just as Israel was to purge itself of abominations, so also the church must purge itself of ways of conduct inappropriate to the kingdom of God. Earlier in this letter, he has lost his patience when he asks if he should come at them with a stick in discipline, or a spirit of gentleness. Note to Dr Carlson, please don’t get out the stick. Paul criticizes how they are resolving disputes among themselves. His rejecting of the courts stems from the belief that disputes should be handled within the community of faith. To go to beyond it is to breach the unity of the church. He asks, "Can it be that there is no wisdom among you?” This is bitingly ironic in view of the Corinthians' claim to possess a special wisdom and ability to judge others. Paul calls them on it and says that if they are going to judge the world, surely they should be able to judge trivial matters among themselves. True wisdom we are told is to be found only in conduct that sustains and builds up the community. Rather than live in judgment of one another, Paul urges- remember we are all the same- washed, sanctified and justified and now for you, called to this place.
Here at Seminary, the true wisdom I hope to share with you is that last year we got farther in our time in Summer Greek, and the first year in seminary when we remembered to see our fellow Christians as a part of the community where we all experience joys and struggles in our quest to know God and ourselves better and more deeply. We called it “No Seminarian Left Behind.” So I encourage each of you, to seek the wisdom- that comes in community here in this place. Amen.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Maybe We All Have Encountered the Canaanite Woman

Maybe we have all encountered Canaanite women. For me the most dramatic example of this was Denise. She was separated from her husband, who kicked her out and recently released from a mental hospital with a post-traumatic stress diagnosis. She had lost her home, her job, custody of her daughter and the last shreds of her dignity. But she was convinced her daughter was being abused by her husband. She was loud, in need of medication and volatile. When she brought her emotional wave into the office, she frustrated my secretary, angered my fellow lawyers, and embarrassed everyone else in her path. No one listened to her, or believed her- she was a mess.
She would call or “stop by” incessantly, demanding my time without regard to my sense of priorities. I wanted to make her go away. But what if she was not just unstable, but also right about her daughter- the cause of her ceaseless desperate crusade? For the first two years I represented her, I resented her. Yet, I could not bring myself to dismiss her, even when I was told I could. I stuck it out. She fought with me, but she begged me to help her. She gained greater stability, and in the end, she was right, and we were able to prove it. We regained custody and she could start the healing process for herself and her daughter. It was not immediate, but in legal circles, two years was pretty close. I came to change my mind about mental illness- no longer a blanket excuse to ignore. I completely identify with Jesus and the disciples. But what about Jesus?
Jesus should not act in this irritated and insensitive way, right? I think it would be easy to focus upon this as an inquiry into why Jesus acted the way he did. “See, even Jesus had a bad day.” It could certainly help justify what we do or do not do at times. After all, we have had those days too, when people have argued with us, or chewed us out. We are tired, and just want to get away from it all. We want to live out the Corona beer commercial where the person sitting on the beach gets to throw that ringing cell phone into the sea- NOT NOW!
Yet, someone blurts into our world, like this woman. Maybe it is the homeless person who doesn’t take the hint and keeps following you asking for food. It could be the person who starts coming to church, but then becomes a whole lot more needy than we care to see. Whatever it is, these people mess with our world, and they point out our impatience, as well as our prejudices and self-imposed limits on caring. Who are our “Canaanite women”? We want a God who will love and accept us, BUT the road stops short at our barriers- substance abusers, AIDS victims, migrant workers, or ___________. We can tell ourselves that we’re like Jesus. It’s not like Jesus was doing nothing- he was doing some good stuff, and he had a mission and a people.
But let’s not get comfortable with this story as proof that we get to slack off in carrying out God’s mission. Because this is not the gospel message. Because here comes that Canaanite woman, and she takes the picture everyone is looking at and turns it upside down.
She is a social outcast on many levels. She has no man. She belongs to an ethnic group that is despised. She is poor. She probably smells. She has a child who is a freak. She is yelling out constantly- she makes everyone uncomfortable. Jesus could hurl a racial slur. After all, no one would think twice. But instead, he just tries to ignore her. She keeps on crying out, and now the disciples are begging him to make her go away. So he has her yelling on one side, and the disciples whining on the other. Oy!
So he tries to tell her she is none of his business. Yet she has the audacity to challenge and seek not a just a meek request to be nice to her. She demands to be called an equal. She not only dares to insert herself into Jesus’ group, she argues with him. She even goes so far as to tell him what his mission really is. And it hits him. Suddenly, his tone and focus change. He has been surrounded by leaders of the people he came to save, who reject him. His disciples are his insiders, but fail to grasp who he is. He is surrounded by people who just want something, but have perhaps no plan of commitment.
Until now, Jesus has basically focused upon the chosen group, for better or for worse. And although the official message is that everyone is equal, the reality of this in practice hasn’t quite taken off.
In this time of groundbreaking politics in this country, it all sounds kind of familiar- some people should know their place, wait their turn, go home or get lost. Race and ethnicity make us uncomfortable. We believe in ideals, but…
“Give me your tired and your poor, your restless masses yearning to breathe free, but.. maybe not so much.
We could focus on why Jesus acted like he did at first, but the gospel message is in what he did next. And this is what WE are called to embrace and live out. She kept pushing. She used his logic against him. And Jesus was moved. He could have grabbed the picture back from her and turned it “right side up.” But he didn’t. This woman who had nothing to lose, and who had nothing to give other than her soul, was laying it all before him, bowing down and worshipping him. While she sought him as a desperate parent, she called him what none of those who should know him did. She called him “lord”- the word of total faith and commitment.
This story pivots in a new direction. The living out of the universal claim that God’s will and salvation, and God’s message of love, mercy and forgiveness, are not for a few, but for all. Even and especially those who may challenge our view.
The Jews despised the Canaanites. They were the bitterest of enemies. Yet this woman they want to dismiss is instead a heroine of faith- persistent and extreme, and an example of total commitment. Her life may not be ours, but her faith example should be.
This commitment to faith will not always be easy. This aspect of the story is also true. But God stands with us, and is calling us. Luther in Freedom of a Christian, notes that through Jesus Christ we are freed from bondage to sin. And in this freedom, we should be inspired to do good things out of love and worship of God. Who does God care for? This is who WE should care for. Not just those like us, but those NOT like us. Not just those we like. But also those we may think we have good reason not to like.
We often pray in our prayers here for “those whom it would be easy to forget.” Today we are urged to live this out. Let us not forget all of the “Canaanite women” but strive to embrace our faith and to carry out God’s mission of love, mercy and forgiveness, and of equality for all.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Overcoming Barriers

David at Here I Stand asks an interesting question that has caused me to do a little more reflecting on my summer. He states, "Begging the question of the week: What can you do to help overcome the barriers of faith, prejudice, racism, or classism in the communities in which you live?"

I have blogged before about bridging the faith divide with a Muslim family in crisis. Here are some other snippets of my summer, and honest statements about my responses, for better or worse.

Scenario 1: My largest frustration is in my perception of the lack of sensitivity or concern for those who are not Caucasian European lineage. At times it seems as though these people do not receive the same attention or care, because it is a bother. A gentleman from Mexico was brought into the ER, not on the trauma side. I got a call because family is here to see him and they need to be showed to “somewhere.” I ask the patient’s name and go to meet them. There are two gentlemen. One is the man’s brother and the other is a friend who speaks English. I place them in the large consult and go to find out who is the doctor and nurse. The man was found collapsed and non-responsive by the brother. I find the doctor and let him know family is here in case he needs information or wishes to see the brother who lives with the patient. He does not seem terribly interested even though everyone is trying to stabilize the patient and wondering what is happening and complaining about lack of information. I find out what I can share and go back to family. I also get contact information because no one has gotten it. The patient will be going to ICU at some point, and it is not looking good. “I have contact information for family– do you need it?” seems to be greeted with “if you want to.” No one seems concerned that he may not make it through the night and who might need to be called. I wonder if the mindset is that this is just another Hispanic, maybe it’s drugs- he has vomited all over the room. Turns out he had a brain lesion that herniated. I mention there is a friend who is translating, and am told that is a relief because it is one less thing she has to deal with. Stress of the moment or genuine sentiment? After the patient is as stabilized as can be, and I have again reminded the doctor that family is here, then he comes. I introduce him to the brother and translator. The doctor asks background, the thing he needed 40 minutes ago. He looks at the translator- he never looks at the brother. When the family finally comes to the room, the brother is told there is no reason to stay. Still no one seems concerned about them. I ask if they want to stay, but they seem OK with what has been communicated. Usually there is some question about whether family wants to stick around. I confirm that they will be called if there is a change. They go home.
The next day, I wonder if I should visit. I look to see where the patient now is and find out that there was a Code Blue and the family was called and told there was not much to do and the brother called off the efforts. We were not called, either then or later when family arrived. They faced all of this alone. Coincidentally, I ran into the family at the elevator- the translator recognized me and called out to me. He tells me the patient died. I ask him to express my sympathy to the family- they are tearful and express gratitude. They thank me for all I have done- for caring about them. The translator thanks me for pronouncing the man’s name correctly. Not trying to not trying to make it be an English name. This tells me the perception of the group about others they have encountered. They are on the way to Mexico for the funeral. I am glad to have been there- I just wish that the same degree of care and attention devoted to others by staff had been shown to this family.

What did I do? I brought it up to my supervisor who passed it on to the Vp for Diversity. This incident has passed, but the ongoing training has not.

2. People in the ER are poor and dirty. The staff are joking about it, but not in the presence of the people in question, but at the other end of a very large department. What did I do? I left the circle of conversation and went to stay with the family. I observed to see whether the buzz moved to where it could be heard until they were discharged. It did not. It was a rough night in the ER so I did not use that time to speak up, but to be aware and stand with the family. Maybe they would not talk that way in the chaplain's presence.

3. An increasing number of Hispanic families are at the hospital. There is plenty of charting to let medical staff know the family or patient are Spanish speaking only. But somehow this is not communicated to pastoral care staff in fulfilling visit requests. This makes visiting difficult for non Spanish speakers. But what I saw happening was that rather than trying to arrange for translation or see how far they could go in meeting needs, these visits were being pushed aside. What did I do? In one instance, I made a visit and was able to use my limited Spanish conversational skills and pen and paper to determine that the patient had a church and desired her pastor and made the contact. In another, I tried to visit and met with the daughter. She and I talked about how her mother was doing, set up a time for me to visit when the daughter could translate and ministered to the daughter regarding her stresses. I raised the insufficiency of the communication of language needs.

4. An Amish father came to see his son on the pediatric floor, but was clearly lost. I escorted him to the check-in desk. The clerk gave him an ID and told him he could enter. She did not offer to take him to the room which I knew was far away. So I stayed with him and took him there. On my way out, she thanked me, saying she wondered if he could find it, because " you know how they are" - a people who opt out of parts of culture? who leave school after 8th grade? I said that all I knew was he was an anxious father who was being asked to process a lot of information in a stressful time, and since as a parent it would be hard for me too, I guess I did know "how he was." She stated she hadn't really thought about it that way.

I wonder why others do not make a greater effort to understand. Even with questions about why people’s names are different, a lack of sensitivity to proper pronunciation disappoint me. Often I have not shared this disappointment. I have tried to answer questions when I have been asked in a neutral way, not self-righteously. But I wonder if we are called to love all God loves, if we can see that there is more than surface level. While many times, I can only focus on my own work in this area and encourage others, I wonder if there will be times to be more prophetic.

While I could spend a lot of time wondering why others " do not", I could more effectively focus upon what I can do now that God has sent me, which may be focused upon honoring others as created in God's image one-on-one, or may be working with others to highlight injustice and work to overcome it. And I think that my job is not to make others be like me, or to defend my God, but to meet people where they are- this has meant be sensitive in prayers, use of religious resources, obtaining Qur'an's, rosaries, hand held prayer labyrinths, and honoring traditions that seem diametrically opposed, including the right of a Jehovah's Witness to refuse a blood transfusion that would save his life.

In the end, I feel I often have more questions than answers, but I trust that God will guide me, and give thanks for all of those who strive to love our neighbors, whoever they may be.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Long and Winding Road Takes Another Turn

Our time for the summer unit of CPE ended a week ago at the Regional Trauma Center in “Amish Country.” A time for us to wrap up our reflections ( though mine are still resonating). Time for contemplating this context of ministry which is in a city(though arguably not a New York or even Philly-sized) which serves a county of a half a million, plus a neighboring area. Where our diversity includes not only several racial or ethnic groups, but a distinct religious sector, the Plain Sect faiths. A place where many may see the county as one way, the days of old, in spite of the rapid, burgeoning growth in divergent paths. In the past, most towns could count a traffic light or two, but now bypasses, sprawl and transience are phenomena of the last fifteen years. Where the trauma bays is far more frequently in use than ever before. Here are some random thoughts from the group.
One of my team mates brought up how the ER staff treats people who are intoxicated- the “drunks” – and how he found himself buying into their vibe and banter even when he felt he should not. It is easy to understand- the staff have seen lots of pain and crisis when people drink and drive. It is hard to have to clean up a person who chose this path. My peer stayed and joined in. And I thought of that fire in the courtyard with Peter and the others- denying Christ. What you do to others, you do to me. What about those it is hard to love? We talked about how easy it is to see Jesus’ ministry and our calling to carry it out, in a sanitized movie-set way. The truth is that the ER and much of the work we do here on the eight floors is a very real composite of the demoniacs, lepers, drunkards, gluttons, prostitutes, blind, lame.. these are not people somewhere else, but here in our midst and we are called to minister to all of them.
And while much of our work is valued at the time, who knows for whom the message is a fleeting glimpse. Some may see their crisis as the catalyst for a quest, while others know they can or will not, and some will outright reject. Our sharing centered around remembering that Jesus was not only loved and adored, but rejected with a cry to “Crucify!” One of the struggles for some has been wondering how their work will bear fruit, who cannot see their presence at the moment as sufficient, a single step in a much longer journey. Sometimes our work is done in very visible ways, and at other times when perhaps only God knows we have been present. Some wrestle with not having an affirmation of their care. Others struggle with knowing that they see a person leave who is going right back into the crucible that sent them here. And I think of the rich man who walked away, those who were healed who never said thanks. And those who do the things they do not want to do, and cannot do the things they know they want to.
For myself, I know that what I have gleaned here can, and will hopefully, carry over into ministry and relationships in a variety of circumstances and contexts. But I also know that the immediacy of this care in this context, where I am Spirit led and sent into roles I could not imagine, to be in liminal moments where I am in awe of God’s presence, demonstrating compassion to those it is easy to forget, is an experience I am drawn to. Times where mere words seem insufficient. While my peers wrapped up their unit and moved on, I am continuing as an on-call chaplain while I return for my second year in seminary, with a new ID, and new discerning to do. When I began my process of discernment, I assumed I would be ruling things out that did not seem like my ministry. Instead I have found that I am ruling things “in” which I think means that I am becoming more a person open to the Spirit’s leading, and less a person who wants to tell God how I think it ought to be. I am energized to see where the long and winding road will take me next and who my fellow travelers will be.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Laying Down the Burdens

A page to the Behavioral Health section of the EMD- an anxious, upset patient, who is not in need of inpatient care. I’m told she seems to be having a crisis involving faith-maybe the chaplain can help her. I arrive and the nurse begins explaining, “This woman came in and she’s upset and shaking and crying. She looks exhausted. She keeps saying she has committed a sin, but she says she can only talk to a saved Christian. She asked me if I am one and since I won’t answer her she tells me I can’t understand. She can only talk to a saved Christian. I tried naming all of the really big sins and she says it isn’t any of those. Who knows. She’s in there (pointing to one of the rooms). (The doctor comes out of the room, shaking his head, rolling his eyes. The nurse tells him that I am the chaplain. He speaks to me sarcastically. ) “Good luck! Maybe you’ll get farther than I did. Who knows? ! ( he saunters off irritated).” The nurse says, “She’s nice. We told her we could give her an antidepressant. She refused it. We’re discharging her, but you can talk to her here for awhile. (I knock and enter the room.)” She looks up with tear streaked face. “ I’m Carolyn, one of the chaplains here. I heard you wanted to talk to someone, May I join you?” She assents. She is crying and wrapped in a blanket, hunched over. Her hair is pulled back, but a couple defiant strands have come undone and are loose around her face. She is an African American woman in her 30’s. She looks at me with tired eyes and then puts her head down. I pull up a chair facing her and sit down. I ask “what’s going on? You seem troubled.” She puts her head in her hands.” I’ve sinned..I don’t even know where to start. “ “ Take your time. You can start anywhere.”
Her husband is in jail.. has been for a while now. In and out of jail. (she tells me his record).He’s on work release and she has to take him to work construction early and then she watches her grandkids for my daughter who works 6 to 6. Then she picks up her husband and gets him back to the prison. It is a lot to do. “ An’ I’m just tired, you know? I’m worn out an’ I just can’t do it no more.” She’s been doing this for years now. It’s been a long time and a lot to do.“ And I’m trying. An’ I went to my pastor because I needed to talk and he rebuked me! He said I was committing a sin.” ( crying) The sin? He told her she was committing the sin of selfishness. “Well, I believe, you know, that pastors speak the Word to us. They can rebuke us if a person needs it… he told me that I have to be strong for my family and for my husband. My husband has been an addict. I used to be too. He’s been doin’ OK. And I want him to stay clean. My pastor told me if I quit doing all this my husband might backslide on account of me. That if my husband backslides it will be because of my selfishness. That God will hold me accountable in the judgment.” It is up to her; if her husband backslides, it is on her. God will judge her.
“ I don’t mean any disrespect to your pastor, but it seems like you’re not sure if it really is all up to you. Does it seem right to you?” She is not sure. She tells me she knows she has been selfish in other ways and the pastor, he knows.“ Are you sure I am not keeping you from your job?” I look her in the eye and tell her this is my job. “I can stay as long as you need.” Previously she and the pastor had a tiff she thinks is connected. “See we were supposed to go to a ball game with the pastor and his wife. And they got the tickets, but then we couldn’t go and we had to pay them for the tickets. I got some money but I didn’t use it to pay him all at once I paid it over awhile. And he got mad and said I was selfish. ..I used the money for things we needed and I did get it all paid back, just not right away. But that was selfish of me, I accepted that rebuke. I think that he is holding that against me. But I don’t know. “ “ Do you really think you are being selfish? It almost sounds like you’re expected to be perfect.” She responds,“ I need to be a good Christian.”
After awhile I ask, “ You’ve told me a lot of what you are doing. How about your husband?” She shakes her head, “He’s not doin’ much.” So I wonder,“ You are trying to be a good Christian, but can you be good enough for two people?” She pauses. “ Not really.”“ How does it feel to have to work that hard? Besides tired, how else do you feel?” And the tears roll. “ Angry. !” She is angry at her husband. When I ask what she would say to him if he was here, she sits more erectly, almost bristling and proclaims, “ I’d say ,’you need to straighten up and come home and be the man you’re supposed to be!’” How was that to say that? “ It felt good. Mmhmm.”This is what she had shared with her pastor and is that when he told her about the sin of selfishness. Preaching overfunctioning as a virtue. She is just supposed to be strong. After all her pastor’s daughter is very ill and in the hospital and he still is the pastor. She sees he’s tired and needs to be forgiven. But she isn’t sure if there is forgiveness for her. So we talk about how we are all imperfect- God knows this. And I proclaim that she is in fact as loved and forgiven as the pastor, as any of us. We talk about what she can use to be strong, and she mentions prayer and trusting in the Lord. We talk about Jesus telling us about shouldering burdens. About how good it has felt for her to talk with someone and to say things and not be judged for them. To drop off some of the burdens she’s carrying. I encourage her to consider counseling- she has rejected an anti-depressant. She is in recovery and taking a pill is not a step she is willing to take. She’ll think about it. We join hands and pray-
“Lord, I thank you for M, who is trying hard to be a strong wife and mother, and provider for her family. She needs strength. She has many responsibilities Lord, and sometimes they weigh her down. May she remember that you tell us you are there to share our burdens, to lighten our loads. When she is feeling weighed down Lord, help her to turn to you. Lord, M is trying to be a faithful servant. May she know that you are right here by her side on the journey, each step of the way. Lord it is hard to admit we cannot do it all, help us to trust in you. Lord, you tell us that you love and forgive us. May M know that she is loved and forgiven by you. Lord, we pray for M’s husband and her family. Guide them in their lives that they may grow in faith, and be restored. We pray for M’s pastor and his family, that you may bring comfort and healing to them in their time of need. Lord, we pray that you will guide M and place in her path those who can help and care for her. Help her to make decisions that will help her. Lord you tell us that we can cast our cares on you, and that you will give us peace. We pray for your peace for M now. Even when we find it hard to come to you, we thank you that you hear our prayers. .. We ask all this in the name of your risen Son, Jesus Christ. Amen. We sit in silence holding hands for while and then she feels a little better and is ready to go. She hands me the blanket. I show her out, watching her walk back out in the great unknown. I will be praying for her. It was a challenge to honor her theological framework regarding accountability on the Judgment Day, and the authority accorded to the pastor. Even when I first met her, she did not ask me if I was a “saved Christian.” My mere title gave me a role. I was trying to balance offering her space to explore without denigrating her shepherd or tearing apart her framework. Even if what she was using was causing trouble, to take it away or dismiss it would leave a person with limited systems with nothing. As God’s representative with the ability to rebuke or admonish, can the pastor deny God’s forgiveness? God desires mercy not sacrifice. She should not have to be a total sacrifice to atone for another. She is in need of grace. We learn from God and from others. The yoke is not intended to increase burden. This framework of getting right with God may have helped her in recovery. She does not speak of any others who are a resource to her. Maybe faith that she is clinging to is in place of people in her life. Unless she comes back to the hospital, there is no way of knowing where the road will take her. I also wonder if she feels she still is repaying God for her earlier “sins.” And I wonder some more as I live out the prayer- placing it in God’s hands.