Monday, August 31, 2009

It is night.

Lord, it is night.
The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
What has not been done has not been done.
Let it be.

The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and our own lives rest in you.

The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
New joys, new possibilities.

in Your name we pray.
This prayer is from the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer and is ringing in my head as I sit at the hospital doing personal emails and activities. I'm going home now since I"ll be on call tomorrow.

Really, I'm leaving now.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Invisible Knapsack

August 25, 2009
keep alert ... keep awake ... keep awake Mark 13:33ff

Ah, that's such a good reminder to me. Keep awake, the scripture says, for lessons, for nudges, for signs that God is near - that things will change. If today's didactic on Pastoral Care and Diversity in an indication of things to come, I believe I'm going to be changed by the course.

To prepare for class, we read Peggy McIntosh's 1988 classic, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack." In this enlightening article, she outlines conditions of her life for which her African-American colleagues cannot count on. Many of these items create a pause for me.

Here's a partial list, just to wake you up:

* I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
* I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
* When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
* I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
* I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
* Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of my financial reliability.
*I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.
* I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
* I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
* I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
* I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
* I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.
* If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
* I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
* I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help my race will not work against me.
* If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.

How are you awake, in this moment?

Monday, August 24, 2009


August 24, 2009
Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you... Genesis 8:15

Be merciful to me, O God, for you are my God; I will call upon you all the day long. Ps. 86

Today we began a didactic seminar on "Images of Pastoral Care." We'll be reading the anthology (Dykstra) and sharing case studies that connect to the wide variety of imaginative metaphors of pastoral ministry. The Wounded Healer. The Courageous Shepherd. The Circus Clown. The Living Human Web. The Intimate Stranger. The Midwife.

The idea is that with these creative metaphors we may begin to develop our pastoral identity. The book's thesis is that as I, the reader, begin to understand my self-identity, I may recognize my own insecurities in holding up an image of myself that may or may not be working. "Both the madness and the wisdom of pastoral theology... derive from keen attention to life on the boundaries..."

In the midst of this madness and insecurity, today I imaged my pastoral ministry as jazz. It's discordant, yet has a cadence that connects all the notes and the listeners. It's sometimes blue and sometimes radiant. It escapes any 'box' that tries to contain it. And it will change.

And it will keep changing. And God will be in the midst of it. All the day long.

How is God revealing God's self you to, wherever you go, today?

Black Scrubs

August 23, 2009
You judge by human standards. I judge no one. John 8:15

The commentary has a little footnote over the 'standards' that remarks "according to the flesh." In our contemporary society, could we read this as "don't judge a book by it's cover" ?

For me, it brings up my 'practicing human' issue again. I'm working through judging by *not* my limited human standards but by my sense of goodness, my sense of chosing life, my sense of yes. Judging is not always a "good" or "bad" thing - a "right" or "wrong." Actually, we all 'judge' or discern or decide between choices every day. I think that perhaps this has to do with becoming aware of the criteria for our choice. It's not so simple, Jesus is saying, as looking at the cover of a book and deciding.

I think how this applies in chaplaincy. Don't judge a patient by the grimace on their face - it may just be gas. Don't judge a family by the barefeet or flipflops on their feet - they may have just been on a beach vacation or hanging out on their porch when dear ol' uncle had a heart attack. Don't judge a nurse by the color of his scrubs. Black happens to be the color of the trauma team while aqua green is the color of oncology.

And, as I am becoming aware of my own inner critique, I am learning each day how to tell her how un-helpful it is for her to judge me as "wrong" or "insufficient" for the things said or not said, things done or not done. I'm forgiven and I am enough. Back in the box with you!

Thanks to the loving support of my colleagues and supervisors, I have help taming my inner judge. Thanks for being on my journey!

How are you doing with judging, today?

Say it. Say it. Say it.

August 22, 2009
Do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speaks, but the Holy Spirit. Mark 13:11

I worry about what I am to say sometimes. Maybe that's part of my 'practicing being human' thing. With God's help, I worry less and less these days and am sometimes surprised by the Holy Spirit's words.

And sometimes, it is what I don't say or get around saying that is kind of fun.

Take, for instance, the woman who showed up at the lobby of the hospital who wanted to simply go pray with patients. The info desk attendant didn't know what to say, so she paged me. I met the nice woman at the lobby and listened to her share.

"God told me to come here and pray with patients. See, a few years ago I was in the hospital and my pastor came and prayed with me every day. That was so powerful that now I want to give back."

After understanding better that she really had good intentions, I suggested that she contact the hospital down the street, since I knew (from a good source) that they had a volunteer chaplain program. And, since she was primed for prayer, I asked if she would pray for me and my colleagues. Of course, she said.

There we were - not worrying at all about what we were to say - and filled with the Holy Spirit as this complete stranger held our hands in the lobby of the hospital and prayed for us and for our work. What joy and hope!

How are you allowing the Holy Spirit to speak for you, today?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Long Robes

August 21, 2009
As he taught, he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!" Mark 12:38-40

I've been wrestling with the concept of pastoral identity. What's that mean, really? Is it important that I wear the white chaplain coat? Is that what makes me a chaplain? I can hear myself, "I'm wearing the white coat, so that defines me."

Of course not, but thinking along these lines is helping me define what is my pastoral identity. Somehow recognizing what it is not gives me some sense of what it is.

The woman I visited this morning (the one with her sister, grandmother, nephew and friend in the room) thought that I said I was the chapel. "Wow," she replied seriously, "...they have a chapel at this hospital? You it?" I had a sense that her misunderstanding was not about my pastoral identity.

I explained, "Um, well, we do have a chapel - a place you can go and pray if you like - and so I am the chaplain; a kind of pastor for the hospital." Oh, uh-huh - they all nodded at her and at me.

"So would you pray for me?"

She got it. And it wasn't because of my white coat. She helped me out!

What long robes must you be aware of, today?

August 17: Part 2

August 18, 2009
God will not let your foot be moved; the One who watches over you will not fall asleep. Ps 121:3

He was unable to tell me about his family. Eventually, later in the afternoon, a relative called back and indicated that he had lived as a hermit for years and had estranged himself from the family. I felt sad. When I had prayed for his spirit to be commended to God, I longed for some meaning - some connection - some sense of someone who might have cared for him.

Today we went on a tour of the morgue. Yep, there was my new friend, in the cooler. Name was marked on the bag, identifying him from the several others who had been brought in from the county, for which this morgue serves. The forensic technician offered and we agreed, did we want to see one of the bodies?

Wouldn't you know that the one she pulled out was the one for whom I had prayed just 24 hours prior. I thought it would be gruesome, but it was not. There he was. The forensic technician shared with us her deep respect for each human being, and her marvel at how wonderfully bodies are made (I am not making this up!). She indicated that her motivation was to speak on behalf of those who could not speak on their own.

Even after death, my friend had someone who had not slept last night and had watched over him to determine the cause of bodily death.

In what ways have you experienced Love's enduring presence, today?

Love Me Tender

August 20, 2009
...besides him there is no other. To love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself - this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. Mark 12:32-33

Today's lectionary reading from Mark reminds me - yet again, since I seem to have memory issues (what with being human and all) - about what matters. It's not about "doing" it right, it's about love.

I learned today about how being hard on myself may have served me in years gone by, but is now getting in the way to living into my pastoral identity. My colleagues are providing fantastic mirrors for self-reflection and my supervisor is helping discern fresh ways to approach situations that I had never even considered.

Love, love, love....of God and Neighbor - and self.

How are you loving your self so that you can love your neighbor and God, in this moment?

Human, fully

August 19, 2009
Let my cry come before you, O God; give me understanding, according to your word. Ps 119:16

Today, I decided to take to heart Barbara Brown Taylor's recommendation. BBT picqued my interest when, on page 117 of An Altar In The World, she talkes about the vocation of becoming fully human.

"Since some people consider being human a liability, and "fully" would only make things worse, I should perhaps explain what I mean. To become fully human means learning to turn my gratitude...into grow gentler toward human practice forgiveness of my and everyone else's hourly failures to live up to divine standards..."

I took to heart practicing being human today. I laughed at my colleagues for pushing the rug against my office chair, thus pinning me up against my desk. I thanked the patient who cried about being a burden to her family for sharing her intimate feelings with me. I practiced forgiveness to myself when I committed three classic "Chaplain bloopers" that I could remember, and probably many others that I could not remember.

I'm going to keep practicing being human. Let my cry come before you, O God, and give me understanding.

How are you practicing being human, fully or not?

Monday, August 17, 2009


August 17, 2009
That night the Lord stood near him (Paul) and said, "Keep up your courage!..." Acts 23:10

I don't know about you, but I do need encouragement once in a while. And, I find that it comes in surprising ways, if only I stay awake to it.

Like today in the Chest Pain Center. He came in by EMS due to his cardiac arrest. He was unable to tell me about his family, nor can the emergency room nurse figure it out from the slip of paper in his front pocket. Another nurse found his wallet and between the three of us, we began making calls to various phone numbers to find out who were his people. I left some voice messages, as did my colleagues. We all looked at each other with that "what else can we do?" look in our eyes.

"Well, I'll just hover here and pray..." I mumbled helplessly to myself as the doctors and nurses continued to do everything they could to revive him.

One of the nurses looked directly at me and replied, "Oh, that would be a good idea! Thank you!" I guess that I underestimated the power of presence and prayer.

Who stood near you today and told you to keep up your courage?

Transition Time Pondering

August 16, 2009
At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, "Ask what I should give you." And Solomon said, "...give your servant, therefore, an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil..." 1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14

God keeps surprising me, that's all. I love that God appeared to Solomon and asked "what I should give you." See, I sometimes think that God must get tired of me asking & praying all the time. This part of the text helped me understand that God asks me what it is that God would give me. God wants to know my perspective.

And, Solomon doesn't ask for something concrete - but simply for wisdom, understanding, and ability to discern. Simple stuff? Yea, right. I'm at that transition point between units this week in the education program. I'm using this time to ponder what to ask God for in my next unit. I think that I will borrow Solomon's line, that I have an understanding mind and am able to discern.

How do you respond when God says, "Ask what I should give you," in this moment?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Holy Trinity

August 15, 2009
"I spell God with a capital N. Nature." Frank Lloyd Wright

Weekend transition time.

At morning prayer today, the open windows pulled in the cool air, the birdsong and the smell of freshly fallen rain.

During my morning run, sweat dripped down my back as my breath moved in and out of my lungs. My feel plopped along the river road as I dodged the few cars that were rounding the corners. I looked at the Kudzu which has overtaken nearly all the trees between the road and heard the river flowing around the curious rock cairns midstream.

I spent the afternoon with a friend, touring her new home and walking in the forest. We gasped at the bizarre mushrooms and smelled the dank air that settled near the stream. We laughed a bit and shared our strange new lives, filled with gratitude.

How do you spell God?

Final Week - The Starting Line

August 14, 2009
Jesus said then, "Go, your faith has made you well." Mark 10:52

We all come to this chaplain work for various reasons. I've been intrigued that every one of us included in our "why are you here?" as "to discern a call to ministry." And even with our varied backgrounds and experiences, we all simply showed up and gave ourselves to this program.

Today, we "graduated" the summer interns and presented them with certificates, Spartanburg Hospital picnic gear and the very coveted "Survivor" t-shirt (yes, as in "outwit, outlast, outplay"!). We organized prayer beads and amulets. We offered scripture candy and bacon-laced chocolate bars - inside jokes all around!

We took photos and celebrated their commencement - for now the real work begins. Their faith, truly, has made them well.

How is your faith making you well, in this moment?

Final Week - Not So Fast

August 13, 2009
Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. Acts 10:43-44

Just because the summer unit is finishing and five of the Chaplain Interns are leaving TOMORROW, doesn't mean my work is really done. Nope. I have one more final evaluation to write, about my work with the Oncology/Palliative Care unit.

Oh, and then there is the meeting with the Professional Advisory Group (tomorrow) to present my final evaluations to them, and ask for their guidance in my learning goals. Since my real learning goal is to realize that much about chaplain work is, well, not really 'work' at all. It's more 'being' and often 'waiting.' The PAG can discuss this with me, and will challenge me about this, for sure.

The new on-call schedule for four residents means that we'll each be on call every four days (gulp) until the new Externs begin their once/week rotation. So, I see myself as really a servant to this program for another ten months, anyway. Just because it's "final week" - it's really not.

We residents have decided to borrow the sign from the front of the Behavior Health unit: "Caution! Flight Risk! Open Door Carefully"

To whom or what are you a servant, right now?

Final Week - Bunny Trails

August 12, 2009
Have you not known? Have you not heard? I am the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. Isaiah 40:27

I enjoyed very much visiting patients and families today; no didactic readings to complete, no verbatims due this week or next, no scheduled appointments to make. Ahhhh... I simply visited patients and did the best that I could to bring some relief to their suffering.

So the woman with the unusual name surprised me. She seemed at first to want to talk on the phone or watch the TV, but after I introduced myself and made some small talk, she frankly and without an ounce of shame told me about her disease. It's a very common one, but she knew it very well and wanted to tell me about how it flared up recently. I went with her down a bunny-trail-conversation that looped around and eventually ended up with her telling me how good God is. How her faith had gotten her through tough times (she enumerated them) and how strongly she believed she was right with God.

The surprise was when she told me about how God even helps her when she is angry or anxious. "Why, just the other day, I was so angry at my sister that I prayed to God to release me from the grip of this anger and do you know, the next day I talked to my sister and - God healed me." In true CPE Chaplain fashion, I recalled how just last night I had been angry and had struggled to not be so as I drifted off to sleep.

Have I not known? Have I not heard? God is the everlasting God... and when I was ministered to by this patient, my anger was healed. Liberated. Released.

How have you not known, nor heard, God today?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Final Week - Go Forth

August 11, 2009
"Go forth in peace, for you have followed the good road. Go forth without fear, for he that created you has sanctified you, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother. Blessed be God, for having created me." Clare of Assisi, last words as she lay dying, to those gathered around her.

Today I am celebrating the feast day of Saint Clare of Assisi, friend and co-worker of Saint Francis from the same famous region. What both Francis and Clare understood as they worked to rebuild the Church of their day was that spirituality and social justice are not opposite ends of a spectrum but are in fact two sides to one coin.

I hear in this benediction her self-awareness, humility and gratitude - even fortifying those around her and honoring the difficult work of integrating social justice with spirituality. I think this is kind of like hospital chaplaincy.

Today I presented my final evaluation to my chaplain colleagues of what the last 10 weeks has been like. What each of my chaplain-mates have meant to me, what theological questions continue to challenge me, what incident summarizes a key learning for me. In presenting my reflection, I felt held by my colleagues and loved. I hear them telling me, "Go forth without fear, for Love has sanctified you, protects you and loves you as a mother."

Blessed be God, who has created me.

How are you experiencing Love today?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Final Week - Summer Unit

August 10, 2009
And now I commend you to God and to God's grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified... Acts 20:32

It's the final week of summer unit CPE for The Interns.

How will I say goodbye?
How can I thank them for building me up, for their sensitive pastoral care, their rigorous honesty, and their faith and hope in the midst of suffering?
How will I simply be with them, in our final evaluations tomorrow, and allow their presence to wash over me like a bath, cleansing me of all misunderstandings and drenching me in grace?

I will commend them to God, with Love. They are sanctified.

How will you commend your loved ones to God in this moment?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

One Such Child

August 8, 2009
Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." Mark 30:36-37

I had the opportunity to "shadow" another chaplain today. He met with the family as the patient slept to discuss a legal document called a Health Care Power of Attorney. As he described the process and answered their questions, he kept telling the patient, who remained sleeping, how he would have to choose various treatment options. His attention was primarily on the weakest one among us.

After describing the choices, the family began to rant. They complained about pretty much every part of the hospital system of which they had made contact in the last three months. At each point, my teacher/chaplain kept the weakest one among us in the forefront. Sure, they had some valid points, but the care given to the patient remained central.

I learned about the value of welcoming the "child" in the midst of family trauma. After our hour+ visit, we regrouped and began strategizing how to address their complaints. But not until we checked in with the nurse, who confirmed that the patient was being cared for (as we had thought).

How are you welcoming the child among you, right now?

Through Prayer

August 7, 2009
This kind can only come out through prayer. Mark 9:28

This week has been one of hard choices. I needed to choose, each day, where to spend my time.

For example, on Wednesday, I wanted to go to a personal appointment that I had scheduled last week. I had set it up the appointment on a day that I was "on call" (what was I thinking?). Soon as I realized this need to be in two places at once, I arranged for one of my colleagues to be "on call" for the one hour of my appointment.

On Wednesday morning, one of the doctors arranged a meeting with a family of a patient that I have been following for the last four weeks. That meeting would be at exactly the same hour as my appointment. I must choose - go to my personal appointment, be 'on call', or go to the family meeting?

I realize that I have these choices in many areas of my life. I must constantly discern what is best for me, for God and for my neighbors in each unique moment. This can only be done in prayer.

How is prayer guiding you, right now?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Life is Short, or is it?

August 6, 2009
Sometimes you get sick and you don't get better - that's when life is short in its longest days. - John Mellencamp

Not too long ago, I listened to Fresh Air host Terry Gross interview John Mellencamp. He shared a story about the lyrics to The first song on the album, "Longest Days." He muses that it came to him one morning, as a complete thought. He quotes his grandmother who in her last days explains her life perspective with him. She dies later and in his somber, rebellious manner, he made this perspective into a line in a song.

I think about the contradiction. About the amount of waiting and long minutes that pass between arrival at the emergency room and the talk with the doctors to find out what is happening with a loved one. Even after diagnosis, the following days are long and filled with more waiting, even when the family laments about how short life is.

I think now about how my life has very long days and how my time with the Chaplain Interns has been too short. They leave next week and I will miss them!

How is life short for you, even in the longest days?

Tell A Story

August 5, 2009
"A faithful family can laugh at hard times because they know the whole story." quote from a personal friend

I felt surprised by how jovial the family had been, even at the death bed of their loved one. I felt relief as I experience the lightheartedness of a woman who joked and laughed with the nursing staff - even while sharing in private her very dark side - how she has stopped eating from being emotionally drained by all her losses. I continue to be amazed by the human abilitiy to hold both joy and sorrow in one heart, and how faith is the glue that provides that capacity.

In my learning here, I am finding that the more of my own personal "whole" story that I can uncover, the more I have the capacity to live into faith.

How are you present to your whole story, right now?

You Talking 'Bout Me?

August 4, 2009
Who do you say that I am? Mark 8:29

Have you ever bumped into someone in the grocery store and you can't remember from where you know them? Sometimes both of you might even say, "remind me where I met you?" and you laugh about that ol' short time memory issue. Or you smile, greet them and leave with a bubble over your head that says "I know that person from somewhere, but where?"

During "on call" the other night, there were several instances where I shared the space of a certain charge nurse. I kept bumping into him, and in my fog of trying to figure out my role, I kept vaguely recalling his face as familiar. Well, duh. He was the point person providing medical attention to the myriad trauma patients in the emergency room. As Chaplain, I was the point person providing spiritual attention to the patients and families who found themselves in this wilderness.

I often feel invisible in the early minutes of a trauma. The focus necessarily is on the patient's physical ailments. Who am I, then? Who do the nurses and doctors say that I am? I am learning to face my self-doubts at those times, remembering that usually later I am equally valued not for "doing" anything but for "being" present.

After four overlapping situations, this charge nurse looked right at me and cut through my fog. "Seems like a busy night, eh?" We chatted together while waiting for a patient to arrive by helicopter. We connected and got to share a bit about our "real" lives, not just our role in the hospital. I felt in that moment like good ol' me, not "The Chaplain," and I felt relief from that.

I learned from this encounter about my own need to connect with people. And, I learn from my supervision and group work that not everyone wants to connect. Can I be okay with letting others be in "their" fog?

Who do you say that you are?


August 3, 2009
Why are you still talking about having no bread? Mark 9:17

It continues to amaze me. When I present a case study, or when I sit in a group session, the topic at hand is not really the topic at hand. And that's rich fodder for learning about myself.

I write the case study (Verbatim) about a woman who has undergone many losses. I said, she said, I said, she said...then I begin reflecting on how her sociological and psychological needs intersect with her theological and spiritual foundation. It's about at that point that I discover my own losses and how my own theological foundation is intersecting in my life.

I am stumped by how to be helpful in the midst of the trauma situation, when physical care for the patient trumps any spiritual need. In my reflection, I begin to see the metaphorical trauma that I am experiencing in my own life and how taking care of my physical needs has trumped my own spiritual self-care.

I'm really not talking about having no bread. I'm hungry for God.

How are you still talking about having no bread right now?

Saturday, August 1, 2009


August 1, 2009
For,"in him we live and move and have our being" Acts 17:28

This is one of those lines that I wish I could remember when I am a)entering a patient's room or b)launching into a prayer or c)am feeling distant from God. Or all of the above. I think that if someone stopped me in my tracks, that I'd say, Yes! Of course, I agree with that!

It really informs how I think about God, how I envision Christ, how I sense the Holy Spirit. Perhaps I simply need to slow down. my. inner. clock. and pause. long. enough. to. remember. whose. I. am.

In this moment, how do you apprehend God?

Be Opened

July 31, 2009
Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "be opened" and immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released and he spoke plainly. Mark 7:34-35

One of my clandestine learning goals is to learn to pray spontaneously, out loud, in front of others, and comfortably. It's a tall order for me, an Episcopalian, to pray without a book! I read through the Book of Common Prayer, the Ministry To The Sick, and the Enriching Our Worship liturgical books... and I attempt to commit the beautiful language of the collects to memory.

Ha! Memory for me is becoming more elusive every year, so perhaps I need to simply write the prayers on my arm in ink. I could do it the same way my sister wrote our mile-splits for the Chicago Marathon on her arm, guiding us to meet our anticipated qualifying times. Okay, maybe not.

Maybe I can just accept that Jesus sighs and says to me, "Ephphatha," as I enter the patient room. Maybe I can learn to accept what plain speak comes off my tongue then?

How are you "Ephphatha" right now?