Sunday, April 25, 2010

Obama In The 'Hood

My hometown is all abuzz this weekend because the POTUS and FLOTUS are in town. (President Of The United States and First Lady Of The United States - I had to learn these acronyms in our local paper.)

"Any Obama sightings?" was the common first sentence after "hello!" P&F dined a local BBQ joint ("12-bones"), hiked on the nearby Mountains to Sea trail (access to which is 5 minutes from my apartment!), played golf at the Grove Park Inn, had a personal tour of the Biltmore House, took in some hoops-jumping and a spa-treatment, and enjoyed dinner at the Corner Kitchen - which is where many of my church-mates enjoy brunch on Sunday after service.

This morning, after playing tennis at the nearby Inn, they visited Billy Graham in Montreat - just two exits up the freeway - to bring greetings, have a word of prayer, and wish each other well. (He continues to reach across both aisles, so to speak, and have conversations with many voices... liberal and conservative, and those who escape categories. I like that in a POTUS.)

All this buzz... it was quite exciting. Every time we heard a siren, there was an expectancy in the air... would he show up at our church? ought we to save him a place in case he arrives?

I wonder what we could learn from shifting this type of reaction to his presence just a shade.

I'm curious if we read about the wonders of God's works in the news ("Lillies bloom in gardens all over the world today!" or "Green shoots emerge from scorched forests following last summer's fires!" or "Mother forgives son for his violent behavior and son helps teach others how to deal with anger!") What kind of buzz might we create if every time we hear a siren, we think about sending healing light into that space, pray for traveling mercies, recklessly love the parties involved in whatever was afoot?

I sometimes get overwhelmed at how God continues to show up. I don't know if I could hold that anticipation over an extended period of time. I am inspired by what Christ's God-consciousness was able to do - to just be so in tune with God's world that everything he saw and experienced sourced out of that Love.

Everyone there was incredulous, buzzing with curiosity. "What's going on here? A new teaching that does what it says? He shuts up defiling, demonic spirits and sends them packing!" News of this traveled fast and was soon all over Galilee. - Mark 1:27 (The Message)

How are you abuzz with God today?

Thursday, April 22, 2010


When does death actually occur? When the brain stops? When the heart stops? When the organs fail? When the doctor says?

I've covered in this other post about the medical considerations.
However, I think spiritual considerations give a new perspective on all of these.

Normally, with a pending 'brain death,' an organization evaluates if the patient is viable for organ donation. The rep from this non-hospital agency gets to know the family in the final days or hours while the patient is medically treated. They learn about the patient's wishes, or the patient's next-of-kin's wishes. If "yes" then the patient, after being declared brain dead, will go to surgery and the organs will be recovered. Then in the OR the patient's heart will be removed and some time in the midst of all this, "death" will occur.

When there is a "soon to be brain dead" patient, someone from the medical team informs the chaplains about this or we learn about it from simply from doing rounds. We, too, get to know the family in the final days or hours. This is the time when the family gathers, the friends come by, the relationship dynamics are set aside (or are aggrivated) , and grieving begins.

This week, I encountered a 'soon to be brain dead' patient, an unmarried young adult with an infant son, and her family. Her father, the next of kin, decided not to agree to organ donation despite what the agency said about how this could benefit others. His reason was quite sacred and gave me pause.

He believed that since he was there when she took her first breath, he wanted to be there when she took her last. He felt responsible for her soul, having created it in the first place, and felt that in her dying breath he would feel her spirit and soul join in his presence.

I felt humbled to hear his understanding of her death. He shared so honestly and with deep grief. What grace he shared in that moment. What courage to see your own child die.

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi,[c] lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Matthew 27:46
Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons. Matthew 27:55-56

What is your point of view of Death?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

When No Is Yes

He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field..." Luke 10:2

This work in the hospital sometimes seems endless. There is always more to do, more patients to visit, more staff to visit, more families to comfort. So this week, I'm taking some on-purpose time off.

A recent article in Weavings by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre resonated for me. Her article reminds me that while there are many big No's

("...such as no to Romes' false gods, no to readings of scripture that serve special agendas, no to the state when it threatens honest worship, oppresses the poor, tortures innocent people...")

there are also the small No's

("...those daily ones like saying no to seductive ads, no to incessant electronic intrusions, no to self-indulgences that erode our sense of purpose. And no even to the temptation to do more 'good' by overextending ourselves.")

Ouch - that last one really got me. Saying No to good things is the hardest for me - one more patient visit, one more church committee, one more phone call. I think that in these "good things" I am also called to be a faithful steward of my SELF. To what am I faithful to this day?

Where is the YES that I need to say in this moment and what kind of NOs are needed to protect that commitment? It's helpful for me to reframe NO in this way, that it's okay to say No when it's protecting a Yes.

Barbara Brown Taylor's "Getting to No" article in Christian Century grounds my real fear - that saying "no" to someone makes me feel like I've just said that word with an exclamation and angry tone behind it. I really don't want to say it that way! I read recently that St. Vincent de Paul was able to say "no" and people felt as blessed as if he had said "yes." Well, there's a saint for you. So forgive me, friends, as I practice saying no when it means I'm protecting a commitment to which I have given thoughtful discernment and it comes out all caps with some nasty emoticon attached. I'm learning!

BBT writes, "...Learning to say no is how we clear space for a few carefully planted yeses to grow. Saying no to lesser gods is part of saying yes to God. Saying no to one neighbor, at least until the next dance, is part of saying yes to another. Getting to yes includes getting to no. While saying yes may always be more satisfying than saying no, both are sacred words in the mouths of those who want to get to God...."

I'm reminded this week on vacation about saying No to many things so that I can say Yes to many others. This is hard work. Time to get out on the beach.

God spoke to Israel in a vision that night: "Jacob! Jacob!" "Yes?" he said. "I'm listening." Genesis 46:2

To what are you saying No in this moment?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kites, Footballs, and Gulls, Oh My!

I've always had this weird fear of flying things hitting me.

I don't know exactly the source of this fear... I think that perhaps I was struck by flying spinach while innocently eating my PBJ at La Cresta Elementary school lunch. Or maybe it was the time that riding my bike across the driveway, I was decapitated (metaphorically) by the kite string of my little brother. Or perhaps it was the bird droppings from my long summer days hanging out in the barn.

So today, as I pedaled my bike down the wide and windy beach, I was fear-struck once again by flying things. Then, it seemed, the gull was after me. It all turned out okay when, with quick reaction, I turned my bike away from feathered disaster.

Still, I consider how this last year as a Chaplain has presented me with many opportunities to face my fears. Fears of extreme expressions of grief? Well, here's a family or two (or three or four) to face and to comfort and to be present with. Fears of imagining my sister in the ICU? Well, here's someone just like her in the bed, with similar fears herself! Just show up and be real. Fears of falling off the road bike while flying down the mountain pass? Well, join me in the trauma bay to find out how this turns out...

Thanks to Spirit, as long as I remain awake to my fears, they will remain awake to me. I don't think that God puts me up to a test. Nope, I just think that as long as I remain aware of my fears then I will continually face them until I can integrate them into who I am and claim them as mine.

So even on vacation this week, I get to stay awake and aware. You never know what might fly down and touch you!

John clinched his witness with this: "I watched the Spirit, like a dove flying down out of the sky, making himself at home in him. I repeat, I know nothing about him except this: The One who authorized me to baptize with water told me, 'The One on whom you see the Spirit come down and stay, this One will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' That's exactly what I saw happen, and I'm telling you, there's no question about it: This is the Son of God." John 1:32 (The Message)

What's keeping you awake this moment?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Go Team

They say "it takes a village to raise a child." Well, I can say that sometimes it takes a village to re-raise one, too.

She knocked on the office door asking for help to get to a nearby town. That's where her aunt would allow her to move back in. She had just been discharged from the Emergency Room after receiving medical care - after escaping from a domestic abuse situation. Her shakey hands described in broad swipes the hallway she slept in the last two nights. Her nervous eye-shots told volumes of her ever-vigilant look-out for safety.

Wait a minute, I said, have a seat and lets see what we can do.
The case manager arranged for a taxi back to her now-ex-boyfriend's pad to pick up her meds and small bag of personal belongings. The chaplain's discretionary fund (donations from nurses and doctors for us to use in these kinds of cases) paid for her bus ride from our city to hers. The other chaplain provided a free meal which she consumed in the 10 minutes as we waited for the taxi. The cafe workers topped her burger "her way" and added an extra scoop of fries for her.

It doesn't always work out this smoothly. It seemed to me that the entire village in this hospital was on her side today, helping her to re-launch her life in a more healthy direction.

Go Team!
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. - Acts 4:32-33
How are you sharing what you have with God, in this moment?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Into. Your. Hands.

A week ago, we listened to these words "... Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last." - Luke 23:46-47

At every death to which I attend, these words come to mind. It's part of our horrible honor here in the hospital. Each death is different. Each death unique. Each death has it's own fingerprint, history and dynamics. Each death is in God's hands.

About a month ago, my colleague Erin Miller shared the following story from Henri Nouwen's book Our Greatest Gift.

...The Flying Rodleighs are trapeze artists who perform in the German circus Simoneit-Barum. When the circus came to friends invited me to see the show. I will never forget how enraptured I became when I furst saw the Rodleighs move through the air, flying and catching as elegant dancers. The next day, I returned to the circus to see them again and introduced myself to them as one of their greatest fans. They invited me to attend their practice sessions, gave me free tickets, ...and suggested I travel with them for a week in the near future... I did, and we became good friends.

One day, I was sitting with Rodleigh, the leader of the troupe, in his caravan, talking about flying. He said, "As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher. The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump." "How does it work?" I asked. "The secret," Rodleigh said, "is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron behind the catchbar."

"You do nothing!" I said, surprised. "Nothing," Rodleigh repeated. "The worst thing that the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher. I am not supposed to catch Joe. It's Joe's task to catch me. If I grabbed Joe's wrists, I might break them, orhe might break min, and that would be the end for both of us. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him."

When Rodleigh said this with so much conviction, the words of Jesus flashed through my mind, "Father into your hands I commend my Spirit." Dying is trusting in the catcher. To care for the dying is to say, "Don't be afraid. Remember that you are the beloved child of God. [God] will be there when you make your long jump. Don't try to grab him; he will grab you. Just stretch out your arms and hands and trust, trust, trust."

This story continues to work on my heart and mind. As I name my theological position as process-oriented, where we co-create with God, I also really value the notion that God's presence resides in a place to which I surrender. I can allow God to catch me, too, every moment. I can just stretch out my arms and hands and trust, trust, trust. That's comforting to me when I am anxious about big questions, like what I will do after CPE, or small questions like when I am unable to sleep...not just at death.

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant N. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen. - Commendatory Prayer - BCP 465

Into your hands I commend my spirit, *for you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth. - Psalm 31:5

How is God catching you in this moment?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Life Reflections

Our pastoral theology course continues to
our sense of asking good questions. Just when we try to think about God one way, our professor probes our sensibilities another way.

This latest one invited me to think about my life. A not-so-small topic, especially when one is hanging around Hospice once a week. I hope to use this to stimulate conversation, not only with folks who can see the end of their life right now, but also with those I would like to know better.

Reflections on My Life

When dream (i.e. hope/wish), I dream of ___________.
My favorite color is ______ because it reminds me of ________.
When I think of my family, I think of ____________.
What I love most about my life is ____________.
What I would love to change about my life is _____________.
What I wish people knew about me is _____________.
What I hope my family remembers about me is _____________.
When i think of love, I think about _____________.
My most wonderful memory is ____________.
What do you think will happen when you die? ______________.
What scares me most about dying and death is _______________.
What do you look forward to with death? _______________.
My biggest hope for this world is ______________.
When i think of God, I see or I imagine _______________.
I think heaven will be like _____________.

With unabashed copying of my colleagues Nathan and Erin, I also include here one of Erin's recent fun morning report reflections, built with this style in mind.

by Erin Miller

Today, I am so glad that I'm a ___________ not a ______________ (occupation). Today, I am blessed by the sounds of _________________. I am blessed by the sight of ____________________. And I am blessed by the taste of _____________________. Today, I am thankful for _____________ and _______________. And I can't wait for ___________________. Today, I am grateful and glad about it.
So then, just as you recieved Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Col. 2:6-7

I wonder how God provides blank spaces in my life for me to fill in. How will I fill my life with new creation and enter new possibilities? How many times has my filled-in answer directed me one direction or another in my life?

...where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 1 Like 40-41

What do you fill-in where God provides space?

All Tied Up Right Now

He was dressed only in his green hospital gown, scruffy jeans and a random baseball cap. He stood at the foot of his ICU bed, leaning towards the hallway as if to get some air.

Puzzled, I approached him for a conversation. As we spoke, he tried to shake my hand as I introduced myself, but his pinky finger, wrapped in white steri-tape, was at the end of a long cord measuring his blood-oxygen-level. He then tried reaching out his other arm, but it was wrapped in the blood-pressure-cuff which was attached to the monitor. He also had several IV's connected to his veins, infusing some kind of medicine.

We chatted about why he was here in the hospital, his symptoms (at length) and his prognosis. He carried on sharing with me about his Catholic baptism. When I gave him the rosary, he stepped back to give him some slack on his connections so that he could kiss it. He said it was the first rosary he had since the Vietnam War. In his leaning, the bubble over his head said, "LET ME OUT OF HERE!" even though he was gentle, kind and fairly open for a hard-core, scarred Vet.

I reflect, how am I like this patient? I'm coming into the last ten weeks of this program. I feel as though I am both a patient and a survivor. I've got hospital-wear on my top half and street-wear on my lower half. I'm healing my inner wounds and standing up into my own. I still bumble my way around and yet venerate each sacred religious item I am given, whether a confession, a moment of donut communion, a last breath or a first step of faith. And, I'm still connected with long cords to my space - the chaplain's "lair," the RB conference room, the morning report board room, the round chapel where God's whisper resonates in echoes - and my wonderful, CPE-mateys. And the bubble over my head sometimes reads, "let me out of here!" (can I say that out loud?)

I wonder if God's got ties on me and what kind of numbers show up on my monitor?

Jesus said, "You're tied down to the mundane; I'm in touch with what is beyond your horizons. You live in terms of what you see and touch. I'm living on other terms..." - John 8: 23-24 (The Message)

To what are you tied right now?