Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Well.... well....

I've been back being a regular student for a few weeks now. I have one class I adore and two that--well--they will end at quarter's end. The class entitled Introduction to Christian Religous Education, while interesting and all, is making me crazy today. We have to do group projects. I hate group projects. I am an introvert for heaven's sake. Plus, the selection of books to present on, plus dates to present, left me stuck with a book that is not interesting to me--just because that's the time frame that worked in terms of other deadlines I have. So I started reading the book. I hate the book. The author is incapable of writing without using words like "kerygma" and "diakonia" and etc. when these can be translated into words a body might actually understand. I am not more convicted of the message because of these words. In fact, I am less convicted of the message. To me, the entire point of the book is to say this: look, folks, when you are a church anything and everything you do is teaching somebody something. And you would do well to look carefully at what you think you are doing and at what messages you actually convey. Because you have the opportunity to come off with integrity or come off like a bunch of idiots. Choose wisely. Unfortunately this message is far too simple for our author; besides, to present effectively, the author would have to lose a ton of education-ese and add a ton of practical information. Like, oh, I dunno, EXAMPLES. Also the author would have to lose a ton of communitarian bias including the blatant statement, "to be is to be with." Apparently the whole idea these days is that the individual has been overdone at the expense of the community. Perhaps so, but it does not then follow that the individual, taken alone, is without merit. Spoken as an introvert who would find a full academic day of "engaged pedagogy" in the sense of dialog/dialog/dialog and group interaction/group interaction/group interaction completely overwhelming, I want to say, no value, eh? OH YEAH??? It takes much longer to read a book when I have to go pick it back up again after I've thrown it across the room every few pages. Plus, there is some inconsistency to my mind in the ideas that (a) ministry has to be done IN THE REAL WORLD where people live and (b) the CHURCH should be the community where learning happens and the drain of ministers into other settings via the vehicle of CPE is bad because it takes ministers away from the church. Now, this book was published in 1989, so the material is actually very, very dated, but from my perspective it may be that I have had the chance to do ministry in chaplaincy because the church as community has lost meaning to people for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with CPE.


I have to rant sometimes. I will stop now and get some sleep!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Incredible Afternoon

This afternoon I and my fellow students in the preaching class got to sit in on a discussion between the D. Min. students and Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor. Dr. Taylor is considered the dean of black preaching in the US, and some say that he should be considered the dean of preaching, period. I'd learned of him during a course I took last summer, and gotten to see a video of his preaching then. What struck me, in the videotaped appearance, was his tremendous erudition and tremendous preaching talent, and also a quality of personal warmth. To sit in a room and listen to him speak was an extraordinary experience.

Dr. Taylor is a striking man 87 years old. He's got a voice I could listen to all day, and the quality of warmth I saw on video is magnified in person. He was so generous in his comments and his responses to questions, so vital and engaging, that one could not help but love him. He said something to which I resonated to the bottoms of my feet--he said, to each of us, "No one has ever preached the Gospel the way you do, and no one ever will, not to the end of history, not exactly the way you do." First of all, to have the Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor assume that I am actually capable of preaching the Gospel, well, that is heady stuff right there. And that stress on the uniqueness of each voice is both liberating and frightening in its implications. He spoke of the need of a preacher to have "a sense of the Scriptures" that is deeper than the knowledge of text. What he meant was that, to him, each person responded uniquely to some one of the myriad threads that runs through the body of Scripture, and that sense informs our preaching. Taylor spoke of the loneliness he experienced as an only child, and stated that that experience may be reflected in his "sense," his response to the theme of God's loneliness, God's desire to be loved by God's human creations, and the lengths to which God goes to win that love. Taylor's God is a God who loves humanity profoundly and who recognizes that love is not true love unless there is a choice--and who longs for us to make that choice. It is a powerful image and one that will stay with me. Mind you, Taylor's theology is not a mushy "theology of Love" that is ungrounded in reality. He spoke about "counterfeit preaching" that he sees in the world today and especially in some of the more popular preaching "stars," including what he calls "the health and wealth Gospel" and preaching of peace that does not include the cross. For Taylor the cross is necessary, because that, he says, is reality, and preaching must be about reality.

He will preach tomorrow at school. I'll miss it due to a medical appointment. He told us he is thinking about "the tyranny of the majority" because he believes that to be a huge problem facing this country. I'll want to hear it on audio recording, but if I had to pick one experience of Dr. Taylor I'd have picked today, just sitting, just listening, just hearing how a preacher of his status goes about his work. The other thing he said that I loved was that the best preachers have wonderful senses of humor. That goes along with what I've noticed, that the best at ministry over time do carry a sense of lightness, of appropriate humor, perhaps of not taking themselves too seriously.

To complete my infatuation, I learned (and saw) that Dr. Taylor has long been a supporter of women in the pulpit, and also that the congregation which he serves as emeritus pastor is listed on a website of African American Welcoming Churches (welcoming to GLBT persons, that is). I hope that Dr. Taylor has more years to bring his wisdom to the world, and more years to read and study and travel and enjoy. What a marvelous afternoon!!!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Hospice time is over

Yesterday I turned in my badge and met for the last time with the staff chaplain. Wednesday night was my last night on the unit. And today I am just sad, sad, sad. I miss them. I miss the patients--and there are a couple of extra special people there these days. And I miss the staff, badly. I miss the nurses, M, and K, and R, and the other M, and the other R, and P, and E. And the CNAs, C, and J, and A, and N, and J, and P the social worker, and J and K the extra-sweet volunteers, and R-with-whom-I-used-to-work-20-years-ago, now a CNA down the hall in Oncology. I felt like part of a team on the unit, and that was a wonderful gift. I felt appreciated, and, yes, loved, and I loved in return. I'm beyond happy and beyond lucky to have had the experience, and I'll never forget them, and today I miss them all, and I wish them all well, and I am sad. They are getting another CPE student, the staff chaplain told me. This will be good--they need the extra support a student can give, and the student will find it a grand experience I predict. In my deepest heart I confess to being afraid the new student will be so much better than I that they will feel I am a fraud. That makes me sad too. I'll be a grownup and hope the new student is just wonderful and they love him/her, but they still like me too.

Staff chaplain backed off on his negative feedback, and left me with this: that he admires me for moving past the hardships of my life and being able to be a caregiver; that he finds me to have an unusual ability to see behind what is presented to reach a nuanced understanding of what is happening with a person; and that I am a good person. I needed that. I'll miss him too!

Budgets for spiritual services are getting cut--just as I find I want to grow up and be a chaplain. Because I am sad today I am also pessimistic. Today I think, I'll never find work, I'll never be good enough, it's all in vain.

I am supposed to be writing a mini-sermon full of action words. I am too sad. It needs to be done by MONDAY! I am just too sad to think in action words. I'll get there tho. Mark 1 is not that simple, seems like Jesus calls/disciples answer/happy happy joy joy but there are such rumblings in the background. (John's been arrested, and Jesus is after all saying REPENT which is not the most cheerful message, and then there is Zebedee's father left sitting in his boat--the undercurrents are there to tell us that being a person of faith is not the easiest choice in the world. We forget them here in the US because cultural support for a variety of Christianity is so strong, and we have linked Christianity with superiority to the point that we miss the rumblings entirely. Or, we hear them and immediately think in terms of THEM, whoever THEY are, the ones we need to control or silence, the ones who threaten.)

Blah blah blah blah. RevStacey has a snapshot on her blog of Revsparker in Boston!!! and you have to go to RLP chat to find out who they are but I wish Revsparker was in Denver, RevStacey too, so I could meet them.

And that's my story. Rendered more poignant by the fact that I think I actually cracked a rib in my fall last Sunday, so the week has been achy. Finally able to walk Wilson Wolfhound again. Now he's snoozing at my feet, keeping my feet warm, and doing his puppy job of Making Everything Better. That's what puppies do when they aren't wrecking everything they see, and I hope he is happy staying a puppy all his life. He is absolutely the sweetest dog in the world.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Gravity is NOT my friend

There is a small pothole in a street nearby that has a magnetic attraction for my left foot. Probably four years ago, when I had my first wolfhound, my adored Maeve, we walked down that street, and the pothole exercised its attraction, and down I fell. The hole is so small that I had to look carefully to see why I'd fallen! Just the size of my left foot... Maeve stood and looked at me in astonishment. I picked myself up and we went on. Last night, Wilson Wolfhound and I were walking, and sure enough the pothole found my left foot again, and down I fell. This time I managed to pull a muscle or something, so I lay on the ground for a few minutes. Wilson, who is different from Maeve in this regard, looked at me not with astonishment but with an absurd combination of delight and worry. He licked my face over and over again, while a mile behind the face the tail was wagging furiously. Mommy??? MOMMY??? I rubbed his nose and told him I loved him dearly, and then held on to him while I got up veeerrrrrrryyyy slowly and we walked on. Sore ribs this morning! But a grand walk.

CPE final eval tomorrow. Got my paper done. My field supervisor has given me some very negative feedback that I am trying to process. Spoke to my actual supervisor for some sorting. Got some feedback from the staff with whom I am actually working, on the unit, that differs from that of the field supervisor (staff chaplain). It seems that part of the disconnect is that my style, if you can say that a rank beginner has a style, is very different from his. It may be gender-related: the female staff think I am doing a good job, the male chaplain thinks I am spending too much time and it must be because I want to be liked and am gratifying that need of my own. My actual supervisor says: the grain of truth is that I am enthusiastic, and if I were ever to end up doing this work I'd need to watch my limits. I get so 'triggered' by feedback like that of the staff chaplain--I hear the voice of my mother, saying "You're only trying to get attention," and I feel the caring parts of my heart have been labeled as diseased; I feel "found out" and publicly shamed. My head hangs low. It hurts. It's the feeling of being "flawed at core" that I keep having to fight.

So I am practicing what, in CPE, my supervisors have called "the right to disagree with another person's perception." I *do* want to be liked--who doesn't? But I don't think my work is all about that.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Please pray for my friends and their friends

Or think good thoughts, or whatever you do for someone in danger. The friends with whom I spent Christmas afternoon have a home up in the foothills west of town. Yesterday a wildfire started near the west end of their 40 acres. At 9 PM, the fire was 5 acres in size. Overnight, fanned by high winds, the fire blew up to 2,700 acres. I learned this morning that my friends were trapped in their home in the midst of the fire overnight, although luckily a fire crew was with them and was able to save the house. People and animals (horses and dogs) are uninjured at present. However, the forecast is for strong wind gusts all day, making firefighting efforts extremely difficult. The fire is reported to be 75% contained, but that can change in an instant with wind.

And I suspect that my friends' 40 acres are devastated, with loss of trees and grasses. They're in no shape to do the heavy work of reforestation that is required to prevent erosion and the like. To say nothing of replacing fencing for corrals and the like. I don't know what this means for them. They've lived out there forever, and have found peace and solace in the beauty, the groves of standing pine, the meadows. I think it's all gone. Nature will rebuild in her own way, but not in my friends' lifetime.

I am beyond grateful that they are safe, and beyond sad at what has befallen them.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


...about an elderly couple, we'll call them John and Mary. Mary was a home hospice patient and her husband John was taking care of her. Mary came into the hospital, and that day John said he was feeling sick. John ended up in the emergency room and also was admitted to the hospital. Despite a lot of treatment, John didn't get better, there was just too much wrong. Mary, meanwhile, was stabilized up in the hospice unit. Someone took her down to visit him each day. She was worried sick about him. Yesterday there was a family meeting, and John said he wanted to give up the aggressive treatments and just go into hospice and be with Mary. He came up last night, and staff pushed their beds together so that they could watch TV and then doze off holding hands. John looked absolutely awful.

Mary was thrilled to have her husband with her. We wondered how well she understood what was happening to him. But I caught one glimpse of her face, one unguarded second when she was looking over at him with raw heartbreak. She knew. The social worker confirmed this and said that Mary could only hold onto 'knowing' for a second at a time.

Their daughter told me that when John went to the hospital, he left, on the kitchen table, a box of photos of them and his will. Their daughter believes he was ready for them both to die.

John died shortly after midnight. They didn't even get a full night together. I don't know how Mary is, this morning. She's got good people caring for her, but... say a prayer for her?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


I've got over 300 clinical hours now in my CPE unit. And it's two weeks until we're done. It's nice not to have to worry about the count anymore, but I'm going to miss the hospice unit fiercely. The patients, the families, the staff... It's been an incredible stroke of luck, this placement. The first time I walked on the unit, I felt as if I had somehow come home. The staff were so open-hearted, they were willing to answer any question, help me understand anything I needed. I found myself falling into a work pattern sort of like that of the social worker who works days--the boundaries around our job descriptions are a bit porous, so I may find myself offering prayer with a family or patient, gathering input for a bereavement assessment, talking to a family about how they are doing, how they understand what is happening to their loved one, talking to the loved one about dying, or getting ice, helping a CNA turn a patient, answering the phone, listening to the sorrow of a staff member who has a family member ill. I found this pattern natural for me, as I've never been comfortable "sitting" while someone needs a hand, and also I've found the patients and families are more likely to trust me if I'm not just a figure who is called "chaplain" but also someone who helps them find the coffee machine, or holds a cup for a sip of water, or brings ice, or laughs at jokes. It feels right to me.

God, I'm going to miss it.