Thursday, January 27, 2011

Slaying Dragons

The summer I spent as pediatrics hospital chaplain was one of the most transformative few months of my life.  I learned that it really is impossible to fall asleep in the on-call room.   I learned to have even more respect for nurses, doctors, and the whole network of people it takes to keep a hospital moving.  I learned to not take it personally if families took one look at me in my navy blue chaplains’ lab coat and reacted like the grim reaper just walked in the room.  I learned how to be present in times of crisis, what not to say in times of loss, and how to trust myself.  All the training in the world doesn’t really prepare you for what you’ll feel when the pager goes off at 3 am to let you know that someone is near death and you need to go be with the family, or worse, make the call to get the family to the hospital.  The skills are definitely good as back up, but for me at least, this was when I learned what I was made of as a hopeful-pastor-to-be.
As a part of that journey we (the seven other interns and I, along with three residents and a host of staff chaplains) explored the different gifts and hang-ups we each brought to the ministry table.  One particular staff chaplain, a man from New Zealand with one of the best accents and best mustaches I have ever seen, warned us from the outset that chaplaincy was a place where we might slay some of our dragons.
I think this is fantastic imagery.  We each have gifts for ministry (whether that looks like ministry in a church, hospital, or a job that, on the surface, seems to have nothing at all to do with God).  Each of us serves in our relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.  And, with a little self-esteem and a little encouragement from others, most of us can name at least a few of our gifts.
But confronting our dragons… that’s a much more intimidating idea.  What do I bring to the table that might hinder my ability to creatively and compassionately care for others?  What are the things in my past and the traits I carry that I need to face head on and challenge myself to overcome, with God’s help?
Chaplaincy was a great opportunity to face down some of my own dragons – feeling unequal to the task, wondering if I lacked the authority to do this well, being too racked with worry to trust myself.  Those dragons weren’t all destroyed that summer, but they all got named and examined.  I like to think I took a good run at more than a few.
May we each step out to serve others a little bit braver, a little bit bolder, and a little more honest about who we really are as ministers and as children of God.  Dragons, be ye warned.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


It’s been pointed out to me by more than one person (and each knows well my linguistic quirks) that I have the idiosyncrasy of asking friends to “remember when”… when the subject is whatever is currently happening.  “Remember that time we got massively lost on the way to the museum?  Wasn’t that hilarious?” as we tap furiously at a lagging GPS device.  “Remember that time we got to wait in line forever at the grocery store and got home and realized we forgot one of the shopping bags?”, seconds after we’ve walked in the door.  I’m pretty certain this started as most things I repeat too often start – an awkward attempt to bring humor to an otherwise irritating situation.  Playing with time is funny to me.  Meta-living is amusing.  And staying frustrated with a situation is a lot harder to do when you’ve already jumped out of it.
But it’s recently struck me that there might be more at work in this quirk of speech.  I enjoy jumping ahead to the part where we laugh about things later, and while there is merit to refusing to settle in discontent, it is also a product of the Jump Ahead Generation.  I am part of a culture that can – and does – take photos for the express purpose of making them Facebook profile pictures.  In the moment when something funny is said, conversation will turn to making it a status, a tweet, a pithy marker of time and a notice to the world that We Are Having Fun!!  Right?  Aren’t we?  Look how much fun we’re having! 
I am not down on the marvels of technology – that would be a pretty spectacular level of hypocrisy for someone as email, Iphone, and Facebook dependent as I am.  I’ve started a blog for Pete’s sake.  I’m as plugged in as the next kid.  I just believe that our levels of hyper-connectivity are dangerous for true communication and that it's going to take deliberate effort to provide balance.
It is in part because we have so much space to fill now.  In a time where telegrams came by the letter, planning what you were going to say was crucial.  Thoughtful exchanges were really the product of necessity.  Now, no one is asking that we think.  Just that we shout.  Be funny, be loud, be cruel, be beautiful, be dangerous, just be it in the most knee-jerk extreme way possible and your voice might catch someone’s ear above the din.  It might catch someone’s eye as they scroll through their newsfeed for the eighteenth time that day.  Substance ranks well below style and volume today, and that’s a perilous game.
Yet something about this gives me hope … maybe it’s the fact that we’re all still interested in communicating at all, no matter how weird things get.  We still write and create and put ourselves out there (albeit with new levels of anonymity and proliferation at our fingertips) because we are as human as ever – we want to understand and we’re dying to be understood.  The circumstances keep changing but, on a fundamental level, we don’t.  And for that, I am grateful
Perhaps, then, this particular entry is just a reminder to myself to really Be wherever I am … to remember to exist for the space and time and people around me, instead of the what-might-be ahead.  Just to Be Here.  Now.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Theology and Florence + the Machine

In order to achieve Laurie’s Current Favorite Song status (and we can get into the temporary nature of almost all my favorite things another day), a song must pass the car test:  when listening to it in my car, do I have an absolute compulsion to turn it up loud, sing at the top of my lungs, and dance with sufficient fervor to catch the eyes of neighboring drivers?  Enough that they laugh?  And sometimes join in on the dancing?  Done and done for Florence + the Machine’s “Dog Days”.  And now this particular indie-pop-tastic piece is achieving the “always stuck in my head” status as well (apologies if I’m now helping it do the same to you) because it is catchy as all get out, and because I find a piece of it oddly theologically compelling.  Occupational hazard.

This one passage catches my ear and voice every time, but when I went to confirm lyrics there were dozens of permutations.  Everyone seems to hear this section differently.  The one that comes closest to what I hear is this:

Run fast for your mother, run fast for your father,
Run for your children and your sisters and brothers
Leave all you love and your loving behind,
You can’t carry it with you if you want to survive.

Various other arrangements are closer to: “Leave all your love and your longing behind” or some variation thereof, but this one is the one I like best.  And maybe it is a mark of a decent song (or just poor enunciation) that people can hear so many different things in one piece.
Anyhow, I've been puzzling out the nature of call with a few trusted friends lately and it strikes me that sometimes call and traditional family life might be mutually exclusive.  Not always.  Often God calls people to do things with their family as an important piece of the puzzle, and that’s great.  Sometimes raising a family IS the call, and an incredibly challenging one at that.  And I’m not suggesting anyone abandon their loved ones.  But if I were to theologically exegete dear Ms. + the Machine, I’d suggest that you run for your call – that pursuing that which is closest to your identity, to who God created you to be, that is survival on a spiritual level.  Pick up your mat and follow Him. What if we looked at true Calling not as something we have the option of following, but instead the key to a thriving existence… as much necessity as food and water?  And while it might mean leaving behind all that you love for a spell (or longer … that Holy Spirit is wily), perhaps it really is for the good of those you love and for the best for you to refuse the confines of security as priority one, and instead honor your call.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Beginning

The first blog entry.  I’ve resisted the temptation for years – it all seems a bit silly to me – yet I find myself in the incredibly lucky position of having a job that stokes both my creativity and my desire to share ideas with other people.  Community is an idea I value greatly so herein lies one more way to connect with the ideas and understandings of others – to risk my own ideas and invite others to do the same.  Sort of like a spiritual first date.  There’s a danger in putting your own ideas to paper even when you don’t share them with the world.  They stop being ideas, come down from the ether, and become part of your own very small history.  But the human experience is meant to be shared, so here we go.
 I wanted to call this thing the Irreverent Rev, as I’m a candidate in the PC (USA) church and hope to be ordained (and because I don’t take myself or much else too seriously), but this seemed like a better fit.  The nature of the butterfly has always fascinated me – so beautiful, so short-lived, strong, light, and free -- but what really tipped me to being a true lepidopterist is the last book I read before deciding to go to seminary:  In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.  In it, the image of the butterfly becomes a symbol for the peril and grace involved in any great revolution – spiritual, political, personal or public.  The book is historical fiction about four sisters leading an increasingly dangerous revolution and their codename – la mariposa – the butterfly – becomes the speak-able acknowledgment of the danger and over-simplified perception of the beauty of those who would risk everything for what they believe is right.  The world loves a revolutionary, but most of us would rather take in a revolution from afar.
And yet, faith is a risk.  Pursuing call on a deep and honest level means taking great chances.  It is dangerous, but it is also a thing of incredible beauty.
Viva la mariposa!