Thursday, October 21, 2010
One of the classes is a seminar class that goes along with our field placement (mine is at Church of the Messiah and I do plan to write some posts about the goings on there). One of the things we are learning in the seminar is to reflect theologically on the things that are going on around us; to look at all we do and encounter through a theological lens. The professor starts each class by asking "so tell me what interesting things you've seen this week," and we talk about where is God in all of this. We also have to write personal reflections and turn them in. The following is the first one I did:
I have a lot on my plate this term; I was a little concerned about it over the summer and spent time praying about what I could let go. In these prayers, however, God told me that I could do it, that I needed to do all of it, there would be important lessons learned. So, as the first week of the term approached, I carefully plotted out my calendar and prayed for strength and endurance (God, I’m not as young as I once was …). During the first week very little went according to my calendar. I was feeling quite stressed and discombobulated. I was having bad dreams about not getting things done, not being where I was supposed to be, and forgetting what I was supposed to be doing. I was getting too distracted by what might go wrong to concentrate on what I needed to be doing. So, I sat down to pray: “God, you said I needed to take these things on, why can’t they go the way I planned them … Oh, wait, that’s the point, isn’t it? These are not tasks I’m doing for myself but for your purposes. I need to let you form and transform me. Even in the craziness, God, you are present, teaching me. Help me to remember to not hold so tight to my plans that I let go of you. This isn’t going to be an easy lesson for me to learn.”
Looking back on the things that “disrupted” my own plans, some of these were the people around me, in my community, who needed to feel God’s presence. I wonder, if in my stress of rearranging my plans to be with them, did I get in their way?
Monday, August 9, 2010
I found it difficult but fun to write at the same time. For those who are familiar with the Winnie the Pooh stories, you will recognize lines and descriptions taken from the books (with the hopes that I don't cause any major copyright violation incidents). I hope you enjoy it...
Biography of Me, by Eeyore
Nancy sat by herself in the corner of her room by the window, her head to one side, thinking. Sometimes she thought to herself, "Why?" and sometimes she thought, "Wherefore?" and sometimes she thought, "Inasmuch as which?" and sometimes she didn't quite know what she was thinking about. The particular task ahead of her was to write her biography and her thoughts kept coming back to the boring thought that her childhood was nothing particularly exceptional so why would anyone be interested. Yet it had to be done and so she began.
She wrote and wrote and thought and wrote and realized her life looked different in the words on the page than the pictures in her head. The pictures in her head looked like any other family she knew, not that she new every family every there was, but she'd known some and that was enough. "They're funny things, families. You never know what yours looks like until you aren't in the middle of it anymore," she said to no one in particular, particularly since no one else was in the room.
Mom and Daddy, a big sister and brother, these were the ones she grew up with in a small corner of a small town in the big state of Texas. Sounds normal enough but the activities in the home were not as those of the neighbors. Daddy was a student, going to university, thinking big thoughts. Mom worked when the rest of the world slept and took care of those who needed extra care, even if just for a short time. But, Nancy said as she typed it, dinner time made things normal, they all sat down to eat together.
As everyone must, Nancy grew from childhood to a teenager with all of the mixed up thoughts and emotions that involves. This she knew was like everyone else. There were times when she would say, like I've been known to say, "We can't all and some of us don't … Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush." But there were many more times when she would say "one can't complain. I have my friends and my family. Someone spoke to me only yesterday" in her bouncy, cheery way.
The years continued to pass, days and weeks and seasons, rain and shine, hot and cold, happy and not. Someones and others and friends and dear ones, some stayed and some went. To most she could say: "Thank you. You're a real friend." Wandering here and there, over and yon, she never quite found her fit in any of the places she tried. One sun shiny spring day instead of going for a picnic in the woods with her son, she decided to visit a place she hadn't been in a very long not short time. She knew she belonged in this place and even when she went somewhere else, this place was still familiar there and she belonged. The sign on the door read Episcopal Church.
She’d been to a similar place as a child yet that place never seemed to fit. When she wanted to serve in this similar place she wasn’t allowed and this made her think thoughts about how was it possible that she read the guide book differently than others so she doubted her ability to read it and understand. It must just be grey dust that had blown into her head by mistake. There was no talking about it. There was no give and take. No exchange of thought. Only their way.
But in this new familiar and belonging place that she had found, Nancy began to feel a deeper and deeper need to serve and this time others and dear ones accepted what she did and encouraged her to serve more. The more she served the more energy she found until one day she was told she needed to go to yet another place to learn and read and practice about how to do this serving thing the right way. She said yes to the adventure but there would be happenings to happen before it could begin.
Of the someones and dear ones that she held so close, an extra special someone, her wise Grammy Irene was getting too old to hold on to anymore and she passed in that way that our grammys and grampys do and Nancy was sad. Three seasons, chilly winter and breezy spring and the oh-so hot summer passed and another dear one, one of the dearest, Mom, got so very sick and she was too tired to get better and she went to be with the grammys and grampys but Nancy thought she wasn’t old enough to go. But this was not all. Sometimes sad things come more than we want them to. Before they could leave on their adventure, Nancy’s husband and partner and friend decided that he didn’t want to have any more days and weeks and years and he too went where Grammy Irene and Mom went to be. The sadness was bigger than anything Nancy had ever seen. So big it tried to block out all the things that could cause a girl to smile.
But Nancy was not alone. There were still someones and friends and dear ones around and they smiled for her when she couldn’t and she could see her own smile somewhere in theirs. Despite being sad, Nancy knew as much as a girl could know that there was still the adventure she must take to learn and read and practice those things she needed to put into her brain, for they were already in her heart. And it is on this learning adventure that Nancy sits, writing her story that must be written, thinking new thoughts and trying them on for size and liking the fit. Saying to herself, “I know if I didn't have high hopes, I'd be depressed all the time” and feeling the happiness that will always live within her and letting it spill out onto the someones and dear ones and others around her.
Friday, August 6, 2010
I wrote this last week and just never got it posted… I'm now officially done with CPE, but there will be a few posts coming from the experience, I think, now that I have time to sit back and reflect on it a bit more …
There are lot of rules in the hospital about patient confidentiality (and rightfully so) so I have been reluctant to write much about my experiences with patients during my chaplaincy. But sometimes, the experience is just too powerful or interesting not to share. Of course I'll leave out anything that might possibly identify the hospital or the patient.
I walked in the room and introduced myself to the patient and his wife. As soon as I said the word "chaplain" his face light up. This is always a good sign. Reactions to saying I'm the chaplain have run the gamut, anywhere from sheer terror (why do I need a chaplain, am I dying), to suspicion (are you going to try and convert me), to disinterest (just another of a parade of hospital staff coming through), but I digress … back to this particular reaction, delight!
"I have a question for you, Chaplain." His face turns quite serious. "If you die in your sleep, how do you know you're dead?" (You will all be proud to know that I controlled my impulse to give a smart-assed answer because I saw the seriousness of his face and knew he really wanted a serious answer.)
"Well, I guess it all depends on what you believe happens after you die," I said.
He smiled and I gave an internal sigh of relief that he was pleased with my answer, or at least I was hoping the smile meant he wasn't offended or put off by it.
He stared at me for a few seconds before saying anything else. "You didn't flinch at my question, you just answered it. I like that. I guess my question is more about what should we be thinking as we die?"
I won't go into detail about everything we said (the conversation took over an hour and I don't care if you do have your favorite reading beverage and are willing to read it, I don't have the brain capacity to write it out word for word and disguise any personal information on behalf of the patient. Sorry to disappoint you).
He shared with me his personal experiences of being in dangerous situations where people around him were dying and his only thought was to protect and save others (this was the nature of his job), not the possibility of his own death. His current illness, however, had him thinking of his own death and he wondered if that meant he was going to die. He was calm and confident, believing he would go to Heaven when he died. We talked about how it felt to know that we are doing what God needs us to be doing while on earth. I didn't try to concoct any answers for him, just listened and shared what I thought when he asked. I think the conversation would have gone longer if we hadn't been interrupted by his doctor coming in. I was honored and blessed by his trusting me to share his most intimate beliefs and I told him so.
I never know what's going to transpire as I walk into a patient's room and I have to confess, the majority of them are simple, fairly short conversations. But there have been a few that will stick with me, mostly because I'm amazed that perfect strangers will open up to me because of the role I'm in – more of that "awesome responsibility" I keep discovering.
And I continue to be amazed …
Friday, July 30, 2010
As my phone buzzed me from my sleep I thought, how did my alarm get set vibrate rather than ring? Through one half-opened eye I looked at it and realized simultaneously that it was a call coming in from the hospital and it was 4 am. "Hello," I said as awake and alert as I could manage.
"Is this the Protestant Chaplain on call for <insert name of hospital here>" came the official sounding voice from the other end.
I sat up and said, "yes, this is Nancy" as I forced my brain to pay attention to what was coming next.
"A family on <insert ward #> is asking for a chaplain, the patient is dying."
"Wait, let me write this down." I knew I couldn't rely on my memory at this time of night (or morning, I'm not sure which timeframe 4 am belongs to). I turned on my bedside lamp and reached for my notebook and pen. "Go ahead."
"I'm sorry for waking you, Ma'am."
"No apology needed, I'm on call, it's what you are supposed to do." The official sounding voice laughed and gave me the details. "Please tell the family I'll be there as soon as I can," I said as my mind had already started going through my closet thinking about what I can put on. As I physically opened the closet door I thought of the entry I read in the Beauty Tips for Ministers blog about always keeping one outfit pressed and ready for those middle-of-the-night calls and I wish I had paid better attention to the advice. I grab what doesn't need ironing and pull it on, make my way to the bathroom, put up my bed-head hair as neatly as possible (wasn't oily hair supposed to end sometime in my 30s???), wash the sleep out of my eyes, decide against any makeup beyond a quick dust of powder, put in earrings, and brush my teeth (a very important step I was glad I thought of even if halfway to the hospital I realized I had forgotten to freshen my deodorant).
I got in the car and thought "Oh, dear God, I have no idea what I'm supposed to do!" Which I immediately followed with the prayer "God, you are going to have to give me the words." Thankfully, the drive was uneventful and I even managed to stay within the speed limit.
I entered the darkened room to find two women, one looked about my age and the other older standing beside the bed where the man appeared to be sleeping. I softly whispered who I was. The younger woman, the daughter, stepped away from the bed and explained the situation to me.
"My father is dying," she said. Tears ran down her weary face but her voice was strong. "His breaths are coming further and further apart. He's been in so much pain and we don't want him to suffer any more. We've said our goodbyes to him. Please pray with him so that he knows it's okay to let go."
These words will ring in my ears forever. My mind and heart raced through time to two separate events, years apart yet just as vivid as this event unfolding before me. I remember standing with my grandmother at my granddaddy's bedside and hearing her whisper to him "Shug, if you are ready to go, it's okay." About ten years later, I said similar words to my own mother: "I know you don't want to be this sick and if you are too tired to keep fighting, it's okay." And, now, these people I didn't even know, had never met before walking into this room, were asking me to give their husband and father permission to let go of this life.
I stepped close to the bed, took his hand, placed my other hand on his shoulder, and leaned in close to his ear. "Mr. <patient name> my name is Nancy, I'm the chaplain. Your wife and daughter have asked me to pray with you." I took a deep breath and said a quick silent prayer asking God again to direct my words. "Heavenly Father, please take your son into your arms and relieve him of his suffering." As soon as these words passed my lips I felt his shoulder shake and I thought it was him taking another breath. "Give comfort to his wife and daughter in their sadness. God we know you understand our pain at losing a loved one and even though we can rejoice that <patient name> will no longer suffer but live in your glory, they will grieve losing him. Give them strength, God."
Before I could finish the prayer, his wife says "He's gone, I feel it." For some unknown reason, I respond, "I just felt him breathe" thinking this was the movement I felt. Both the wife and the daughter said they didn't feel anything, that he hadn't moved …
The events of the next three hours were mostly guided by the hospital staff, the doctor coming in to pronounce the time of death, the nurse disconnecting him from all tubes and such and telling the family they could stay with him as long as they needed. I sat with them for about two hours listening to them tell stories of his life amid tears and laughs. Finally, they stood and said they were ready to go and I walked them downstairs to sign the necessary paperwork to allow the hospital and funeral home to coordinate and cooperate. As I walked them to the front of the hospital, the sun was up and it was time for me to start my regular duty day.
I am deeply grateful to have had this experience and touched and thankful for my fellow chaplains who, after only half of my "regular duty day" sent me home to take care of myself, spiritually, emotionally, and physically (although I teased them it was just because they wanted me to shower). Through this event, I realized, again, the awesome responsibility that comes with God's call for my life. I will lead people through the most difficult, as well as the most joyous, spiritual moments of their lives and yet I cannot rely on my own strengths or abilities but those that God gives me for this purpose.
This experience of praying someone through their moment of death will stay with me forever, not in a frightening way but in an awe inspiring way as a testament of God's presence in our lives and physical being. I hope to always be amazed at the way God can build my confidence and humble me at the same time with the same experience.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
It feels a bit like tooting my own horn, but, again, some folks have asked to read this sermon. I wish there was some way to convey voice inflection in written text, but you'll just have to put in your own. Any and all feedback would be sincerely appreciated!
I'm working on my next sermon for August 1 at St. Thomas. You can check out the lessons on The Lectionary Page. Any and all suggestions will be considered!!
July 11, 2010
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Luke 10: 25-37
Is it just me or does the first verse in today’s gospel lesson sounds like the start of a bad lawyer joke? Only instead of a witty punchline that puts the lawyer in his place, Jesus responds in a way that lets the lawyer and all of us, discover the truth ourselves. In the context of Luke, the lawyer seems to randomly approach Jesus as an individual. In Matthew, the lawyer asking this same question is part of a group of Pharisees taking their turn to attempt to discredit Jesus after a group of Sadducees has failed. In either case, whether he was prompted by a group or acting on his own, he wanted to test Jesus’ knowledge of God. After Jesus turns the tables on him and asks the lawyer what the law says, the lawyer goes on, as the author of Luke tells us, to justify himself, meaning he wanted to prove himself a righteous man of God.
I’m sure many of you have been in this type of situation, either professionally or in a social setting. Someone wants to find out who knows more about a given subject and begins to question us not out of curiosity but to prove their own worth. Some of you know that this summer I’m doing a chaplaincy internship at the VA hospital. Last week, I was the on-duty chaplain and part of being on duty for the weekend is to do the protestant services on Sunday morning. We hold two services, one in the main chapel for anyone who is mobile enough to come to it and then another service in the psychiatric ward, just for the patients and staff there. The other chaplains, in helping me prepare for my first weekend on duty told me about one of the patients in the psychiatric ward who says he is Jesus. They told me that often he will interrupt the sermon to make comments such as “that’s not what I really said…” or to offer commentary on what the preacher is saying. They said the best thing to do is to ignore him and keep going, that he just wants to debate but if I didn’t acknowledge what he says then he would be quiet. I don’t think I have to tell you that all week I was secretly praying that he wouldn’t be at the service. I really didn’t want to be faced with the situation of this man questioning my knowledge even if I was given permission to ignore him.
As I was greeting the patients in the common room in the psychiatric ward before the service, guess who I met? Yep, Jesus. He introduced himself to me and thanked me for coming to do the service and then sat right in the front. As the service began, he followed along attentively in the bulletin, joining in all of the responses and prayers (I remember thinking to myself, Jesus must be Episcopalian!). As I began my sermon, I said a silent prayer for patience and courage. About halfway into it he stood up and I braced myself. … But instead of saying anything, he simply smiled at me and calmly walked out. … Now, I’m not sure which action would have had the bigger impact on my confidence, if he had completely questioned what I said, or just walking out all together! But, at least he didn’t try to test my knowledge. For the time being, I’d like to leave that to my professors.
Okay, so this is a very light-hearted, bit of a stretch of an example of the self-righteous testing that the Lawyer was doing with Jesus but I know we’ve all been in that type of situation. The lawyer realized he couldn’t trip Jesus up on the law, so he tries with something that isn’t specifically defined in the law: “who is my neighbor”. After all, Jesus was well known for hanging out with unsavory types so maybe his definition of neighbor would somehow be a contradiction to or evan a violation of the law. The traditional view of neighbor was a friend or a fellow citizen, not someone who wasn’t an Israelite. Even for us, today, the word neighbor makes us think of those that live right around us, in our “neighborhood.” But Jesus has a different definition and in his usual fashion, her responds with a parable, one we’ve known since childhood. We all know that the point of the parable is to show us what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves. But why do we want to do the actions that show we love our neighbor as ourselves, what makes us desire to be this type of person? Let’s take a bit and, as my favorite professor would say, “unpack” it and look at it in detail.
First, the cast of characters: There is a man. He’s not given a name or a nationality or any type of identifier, just a generic man. The detail comes in his journey, he’s going from Jerusalem to Jericho, there was a purpose to him being on a road that at the time was known to be dangerous. The lawyer probably would have been able to picture himself traveling along this same road, feeling a sense of danger and not being surprised that the man fell into the hands of robbers. The robbers aren’t given any type of descriptor either. For the point to be made, it doesn’t matter who it was who was hurt or by whom, only that we see that a human being, one created by God in his image, is in desperate need.
Next comes a priest, a specific person whose job was to offer sacrifices and take care of the sacred rites of the people, who by chance, was going down the same road. He sees the man, yet doesn’t get anywhere near him and leaves him as the robbers did, half dead. After the priest, likewise comes a Levite, someone who served as an assistant to priests, who also passes by on the other side of the road, staying as far away from this man as possible. The story doesn’t give us any indication of their thinking or their feelings upon encountering the wounded man, leaving the lawyer and anyone else listening to fill in their own reaction to coming upon such a person. Anyone listening to the story, and even you and me, reading it and listening to it today, can see ourselves in each side of this equation.
Finally, there is a Samaritan, someone who despised and was despised by Jews. The description of the Samaritan seeing the man is opposite of how the priest and Levite saw him. The priest and Levite saw him first and then passed on the other side giving the impression that they went out of their way to avoid him. The Samaritan, the story tells us came near and when he saw him was moved with pity and he took action to help the man.
Jesus provides more detail about the Samaritan than any other of the characters in the story. His point is to show the lawyer who is seeking justification for his own behavior that those who focus first and foremost on the law rather than on the Giver of the law are the ones who don’t show compassion or mercy.
God provided the Mosaic law that was followed so painstakingly by the priests and Levites. The law is not bad. This was not the point of the story. The law provides direction on how to live life as people who loved God with heart and soul. The problem lies in making the law more important than loving God or even seeing it as a substitute. The problem lies in letting religious rules get in the way of being God’s people.
Following the rules isn’t how we get to know God. We obey God’s commandments because we know him and love him. Look at the text from Deuteronomy. Moses explains that God wanted his people to obey his commands because they had turned to him with all of their heart and soul not as a substitute for this relationship. Obeying the rules is the visible sign of our relationship with God. God’s purpose in creating us is to be in relationship with him, not so that he would have someone to give rules to. We are commanded first to love him with all of our being. We don’t have to search what God commanded us to do, he gives it to us plainly so that we can understand it and when we truly understand it in our hearts it will be easy for us to do.
Of all the rules and laws given to God’s people in the Old Testament, Jesus boils it down to loving God with all of our being and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Aren’t you glad you don’t have to sift through all of the law books of the Old Testament to find it?
But even though it is given to us plainly, don’t we all at one time or another, attempt to test what Jesus tells us against our own ideas of what we think justifies what we do? We, like the lawyer, want to know what we can do, what actions we can take, to have eternal life. Jesus tells us that the “doing” comes as a result of the “being”, not the other way around.
We don’t follow God’s commandments because that is how we learn to love God. We follow his commands because we love him. When we know and love God as Lord and Saviour of our entire being, we want to do what is pleasing to him.
What was the Lawyer’s answer to Jesus’ question of which man in the story was the neighbor? He didn’t list all of the actions the Samaritan did for the wounded man, but he simply said “the one who showed him mercy.” I think the lawyer got it (maybe that’s the bad punchline to the bad joke of the beginning). He realized that being filled with the knowledge of God’s will, true spiritual wisdom and understanding as Paul puts it in his letter to the Colossians, leads us to do the things that visibly show we love God and our neighbor. It isn’t doing merciful things that gives us eternal life, but seeking to know and love God with all of our being and it is this intimate knowing of God’s will that leads us to do merciful things, to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Let us all go and do likewise. Amen
Monday, July 19, 2010
My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor's work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher. Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
What does it mean to bear one another's burdens, to be our brothers' keeper? Don't we each have our own burdens to bear? The world tells us to look out for ourselves, not to count on anyone but me. Even in this passage we read today, there seems to be a contradiction about helping each other and accepting our own responsibility. Paul tells the Galatians to bear one another’s burdens and then turns right around and says that each one much carry their own load.
The difference lies in the meaning of the words “burden” and “load”. A load is something an individual can carry – think of it like a sack or a backpack, something meant for one person to manage and we all have our own load, those responsibilities such as our families, our jobs, our commitments that we are responsible for. A burden is something that is too much for one person to handle, those times in our lives when we can’t manage things on our own. These are the times, times of sickness, grief, and hardships when we need to look out for each other and help one another bear these burdens.
Bearing one another’s burdens is part of what keeps us connected as the family of God, the body of Christ that is the Church. Salvation isn't individualistic, its community. God came to live among us, in community, as one of us in the form of Jesus. Jesus formed his community of disciples and his ministry was directed toward others in compassion and understanding. This is how he taught us to be his church.
Bearing one another’s burdens isn’t just about helping each other. It also requires letting others help us, asking for and accepting help when we need it, allowing other's to bear our burdens. It takes courage and strength to ask for help. But if we refuse to let others help us, even as we willingly help them, we get in the way of our fellow Christians fulfilling the command that Jesus give us.
Typically, it is our own pride that keeps us from asking for help – we don’t want to appear less than others. Paul tells the Galatians to test our own work and not each others, meaning that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to one another with judgment. If I judge my own work simply on the standard of what I know I can do, the load I know I can handle, then there is no reason for me to think of myself as better than, or lesser than, anyone one else. And if no one thinks themself as better than or less than anyone else then we would be a community of equals.
It’s a wonderful ideal, isn’t it, to think of all of God’s children working together for the good of all. A beautiful thing to think about as this weekend we celebrate our nation's independence, our freedom, a freedom that veterans have fought to secure. So I encourage each of you to not give up and to take the opportunities we have to bear one another’s burdens and to let others help bear ours.
God’s peace be with each of you. Amen.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Well, CPE is almost over, three more weeks and it's done. It's been tough. I'm not one to let my emotions hang out all over the place and this seems to be what is expected in our group sessions and various discussions. I have tried; I've shared some of the tougher parts of my life; I pushed past my comfort zone. I think, though, I pushed too far outside my comfort zone and for safety's sake I've pulled back in. Everyone has noticed, especially my supervisor. She brought it to my attention in our one-on-one this week and I told her just exactly what I've said here. She then informed me that there was a lot of sadness in my life … I corrected her to say that yes there were sad events in my life, but that didn't have to define me as a sad person. I've got lots of reasons to put my feet on the ground every morning – my son, my father, and not least of all, I'm preparing to do what God has been calling me to most of my life. I have the joy of knowing that no matter how tragic things may have gotten, or may yet get, I live knowing the love, grace, and redemption of my Heavenly Father. That is what I want to define who I am.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
What a day … I didn't like it much, but I think it was good for me. I'm going to write about it even though my first inclination is to shake my head to clear it and find something to keep be busy so I won't think about it but that would sort of defeat the purpose … So, my friends, grab your favorite beverage and here we go:
I see myself as the "strong one", the one who endures, the one others come to for reassurance, support, and encouragement. I like being that person. I don't want to appear vulnerable, in fact, that is one of my biggest fears. In one of my first one-on-one meetings with my CPE supervisor, she asked me to rank how much I dislike letting my vulnerabilities show and I ranked it an 8 on a scale of one to ten. "Wow," she said, "you really don't like it … (a long pause as she crafted her next statement) … Vulnerabilities are a gift in ministry." "How so???" I must have looked at her as if she had two heads and I was so taken aback by what she said I can't even remember now how she answered it. I think I just kind of blew it off as her way of trying to shake me up, which it did, but I wasn't going to admit it at the time (you see, a wise friend told me this was a wiley trick of CPE supervisors and I wasn't going to get sucked in by the game).
Since then, a memory from school keeps coming to my mind ...
The dim lights in the chapel made everyone whisper and even the whispers echoed slightly. The small group of students gathered not in the neat rows of chairs with kneeling rails but on and around the steps leading to the holy table. The pavement candles were lit without ceremony and no one processed in. Sitting on the floor looking up at the ceiling in the low light, the image of the beams representing a ship's keel came to me. I'd felt as if there had been a storm building up in me for a couple of days and I was feeling tossed about. I closed my eyes and sucked in the slow, deep breath that always helps me to grip the helm tighter to keep control in rough waters. The piano and guitar played softly as the Order for Compline began. "The Lord grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen." I love those words. "Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth." Compline is my favorite service. I find tremendous peace in it. This night, however, I was finding it difficult to speak the words out loud; my voice didn't want to cooperate. I knew I could count on the musicians to just play as long as I let them in the places we replaced spoken words with songs. At the end of the first song, the tears were stinging my eyes, like seawater blown over the bow. I blinked them back and took a breath. "Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit; For you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of Truth; Keep us, O Lord, as the apple of your eye; Hide us in the shadow of your wings." My voice was breaking. A friend sitting next to me slid closer and put her arm around my shoulders. I blinked harder. "Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy," and then the musicians started Lord's Prayer. I put my head on my knees and willed myself into control. As the prayer concluded I slid the leader's book to my friend and she continued the service, "Lord hear our prayer; And let our cry come to you … "
I couldn't control it any longer, the waves crashed over the side of my boat and I couldn't stop them. Those around me continued with the service as they all slid over to surround me and touch me wherever they could fit and reach. My rational being, the one I normally let steer the ship, was yelling "mutiny" as the emotional being took the wheel and turned head on into the storm. I found enough voice to say my favorite words of the service "Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace." I felt a strength begin to grow inside me. As the service ended, no one left. They just circled me tighter letting me ride out my storm without words. When my tears stopped and I raised my head, still no one asked anything. We just all stood, extinguished candles, gathered up service books, turned out lights, locked the chapel door, and walked to our rooms. As we got to the hall of the women's floor, one of the other ladies finally spoke to me and she said something like, "I'm so happy to see you cry. It lets me know you are human just like the rest of us and that I can trust you. Thank you." Her "thank you" has echoed in my mind ever since.
Perhaps this is the gift that my CPE supervisor was speaking of …
And, as for what made today so tough and brought this to the surface again … well, I was sharing about a conversation I had with a patient who was going in for open heart surgery and he was telling me that he longed for the glory of the life he knew he would have in heaven. As I was telling the story, the emotional storm began to spill over the edge of my ship. My supervisor and fellow CPE students encouraged me to let the tears flow and I fought it with all my might. The deck got a little wet, but I held on to the helm and steered away from the worst of the storm. It would have been a safe place to ride out the waves but I couldn't do it.
In a quiet conversation after with one of the other students, I boiled it down to this: There is a difference between being vulnerable and letting my vulnerabilities show in a safe, trusting environment. Now I just have to come to accept and believe it.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Okay so that's really not a word but it says so much … it describes my state of being this past week and using it helps me with accepting those things that make me uncomfortable, like made up words (minor in the overall scheme of things, I know, but a pet peeve nonetheless).
Are you ready for some honest, personal reflection? That is, after all, one of the main things I'm supposed to be getting out of my CPE experience. A nice beverage of choice might make it a little easier. Since it's a Saturday morning, I'm currently settling for coffee …
Some people don't mind confronting those things that make them uncomfortable; some people avoid those things that make them uncomfortable; some people react with panic, fear, anger, self-righteousness, or indignation. I usually start with the avoidance technique and if that doesn't work, I follow through with any combination of the emotions listed. Hard to admit, but true.
This past week, we read some information on a personality assessment called the Enneagram. I'd never heard of it before but apparently I'm part of the minority (I live with the fact that I'm out of touch and usually years behind – didn't even know what my Myers-Briggs was until this past term – I think I was the last one on the planet…). My first thought on personality typing is that I don't put a lot of stock into them. I find them interesting and thought provoking but I don't like being put in a slot and I don't want to fall into the trap of blaming my bad or unhealthy behaviors on a definition of my personality (my CPE supervisor would be so happy to see me personalizing that instead of lumping the human race into the royal we). Besides, how do I know which ones are valid and which are not. I mean really, have you looked at how many variations there are on Facebook? According to FB, I'm Big Bird, Marcy (from Peanuts), Calvin Coolidge, Green, Kermit the Frog, and Light. According to past ones I've taken through various team-building activities at my jobs, I'm a dove and an otter. On a more serious note, Myers-Briggs says I'm an ENFJ (not even anything cute or fun, just a list of letters). So, now, according to the Enneagram, I'm a 2 (not even my favorite number).
This past Tuesday in Reading Seminar, we discussed our first reading on the Enneagram. I wasn't very positive about it and butted heads with my supervisor. She puts a lot of stock in the Enneagram – lives and breathes it, analyzes everyone she is in relationship with using it and I hear her saying things like "I can't help it, I'm a 7". After the seminar, I was a bit perplexed as to why it irritated me so and it bothered me all day. When I got home, I was discussing it with a friend and she was able to voice what I hadn't been able to put my finger on. Where is God in all of this? That is what was bothering me. If I accept all of my behavior, as it is, because a personality test tells me I do these things because I'm a specific type that takes away the transformational aspect of my relationship with God. Of course, with my usual lack of self-confidence in voicing things theological, I wasn't quite sure of how I was going to explain this in next week's Reading Seminar but I began to pray about being more open to learning about the Enneagram and its possibilities.
Earlier today, I was doing some reading for the Spiritual Formation for Ministry class I'm taking in August and guess what came up? You guessed it – Enneagrams. And did I mention that I walked into my favorite bookstore last week and what did they have on display at the front counter? Yep – several books on Enneagrams (please, to make me feel better, someone please tell me you haven't heard of them before this …). But in the book I was reading, The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner, the Enneagram is presented as a tool for spiritual transformation. Benner describes the Enneagram as a way to look deep inside ourselves and identify those sinful tendencies which we would rather bury or ignore but which, until we confront it as part of who we are, will prevent us from accepting and knowing ourselves "as we are accepted and known by God" (Benner, 72). "It is in the depth of your self that God waits to meet you with transforming love" (73). It's a short book and well worth the read for anyone looking to begin the journey of self-discovery as a starting point for spiritual transformation.
I still feel an uncomfortableness about looking so deeply into myself but I think I'll try strategy number one and confront it … at least until I start to panic …
God's peace, my friends!
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Well, I've survived almost three weeks of CPE … the first week and a half were mostly orientation and getting what we need to do whatever it is we are supposed to be doing (computer access, keys, badges, phones, etc.). We just started seeing patients this week but with all of the class and group work we do, there isn't a lot of time to visit with the patients (in all honesty I'm mixed with disappointment and relief over this). I'm beginning to discover (and those of you that told me this you know how thick headed I can be …) that the most important thing about CPE is self-discovery. The patient visits, although good for the patients and the vast majority appreciate and are grateful for the time we do spend with them, are just another tool to help us bring out those things which will help us and those things which will get in our way in our ministry.
One of the things we have to do each week is to prepare a "verbatim" in which we write out, word-for-word as closely as we can remember, a significant conversation with a patient. We then analyze the conversation from the patient's point of view and our point of view and look at the theology of the visit, answering "where was God in this encounter". I handed in my first verbatim today, the patient was one of my very first visits and I was very nervous – you see we have to do a "spiritual assessment" on all newly admitted patients and there is specific information we are to get from the patient to complete the form in their patient records such as "what type of relationship does the patient have with God", "Has the patient be wounded by the church", and "How does the patient view God", but we are supposed to do this in a conversational way rather than from a checklist of questions. So, I had a copy of the questions in my notebook discretely placed where I could see them and make it look like I'm looking at the patient information slip that brought me to this patient in the first place (sneaky, huh?). What made this particular visit significant was that the patient was a Baptist minister … of course I didn't know that as I walked in the room and introduced myself with as much confidence as I had been able to muster in the short walk from the chaplain office to the ward.
What I discovered as I wrote out the conversation we had was that he was able to minister to me in seeing and acknowledging my nervousness and yet I was still able to do him some good, too. He had been hoping that a chaplain would come see him because as he put it: "whenever I visit a church I make sure I introduce myself to the minister first thing since I'm in their house." Within my first two or three sentences, he picked up on my nervousness and asked me, ever so sweetly, why. When I told him I was new, he smiled with a smile as big as all of Texas and reached for my hand and began to share with me his story into the ministry. He was all but tied down to the bed with cords and tubes, but he was as animated as his circumstances would allow. He was so filled with joy at sharing with me I forgot all about my list of questions and just let him talk, which he did for almost half an hour. He finally ended by telling me that he could see the Spirit in me and to trust that God would equip me for his ministry so I didn't need to worry. Then he asked me to pray for him. As I thanked God for our visit and asked for continued healing for him and guidance and wisdom for his doctors and nurses, he punctuated my prayer with loud "ALLELUIA"s and "AMEN"s. We both had tears in our eyes when I finished.
Immediately after the visit, all I could focus on was the draining of my self-confidence when he told me he was a minister. The next day, as I began to write it out, I could see what an amazing encounter it turned out to be. God worked through this to give me the boost I needed to begin to claim the permission to be a chaplain – equipping me for his ministry (I'm sure, though, knowing me, I'll still worry about it a little).
God is faithful and good.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
People always say the older you get the faster time goes by, and I have to say I'm in total agreement with that. Today, my son and I went through things in my storage unit to get what he needed to set up house in his very first apartment … when did he get to be old enough to live on his own? I mean, I know he's twenty and I know that's not really as grown up as he thinks he is (or any of us thought when we were 20) but I think I'll always picture him as 4 or 5 years old, running around in shorts and cowboy boots. It seems just yesterday.
Yet, among these same memories running amok in my head today, I thought of the events that surrounded putting all of my household goods in storage in preparation for school … and it was hard to slide open that door as step back into the events that clouded what was supposed to be an exciting and joyous time. So far, in this blog, I've never talked about any of it, just parleyed about how I came to be going to seminary and various events of my first year. But, it's on my mind today, and I think I need to put it into words a bit.
The people that where with me through this time know the details and I don't have to put the events into words for you and I'm grateful that you can know without words. When I got to school, I was surrounded by folks who didn't know and I had to learn to frame it in words and I found it to be tremendously healing – putting emotions and memories into words helps me own them instead of my emotions and memories owning me, and, again, I'm grateful to these new friends who patiently let me find the words I needed. The event, the death of my husband in the middle of plans to go to seminary, seems at the same time both far removed by time because I have changed so much since it happened and yet immediate when things trigger my memory unexpectedly. I wonder how can time seem two ways at once? I play back that day and I can see the people around me moving in slow motion and at the same time there are great holes in the events so that it seems time jumped forward and I missed things.
Time is a peculiar thing, and I don't think I can fully grasp what it is or how it works beyond being able to describe how a clock tells us what time it is. I put it in the category of awesome things that I won't truly grasp "on this side of the grave". One of my favorite things to do in church is when we are all reciting the Lord's Prayer or the Nicene Creed, I like to close my eyes and listen to the sound of all of our voices rising in unison with the same words, the same words that have been lifted up to God for hundreds and hundreds of years and will be lifted up for years to come. C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, talks about time, God's time, and how God doesn't see time as we do – he sees all time at once with no past, present, or future and I like to think that the chorus of faithful voices is continuous to God, that he hears my voice with that of the apostles and those of my great-great-great-great grandchildren. It boggles my mind.
When days seem to fly by too fast for me to accomplish everything, when some drag on so that I think I'll never survive them, when memories fill my thoughts so that I am pulled to times past and anxious thoughts try to drag me into the future, I try to remind myself that time is not mine it is God's. My responsibility is to spend the ticks of the clock trying to be who God needs me to be in each and every moment.
So, in this moment, I am coming to terms with my son growing up and I can say that I am proud and thankful that he is who he is and know that as time moves forward he will continue to develop into the person God needs him to be. I'll spend some time picturing the infant, the toddler, the little boy, and the teenager and I'll send him off with a prayer for protection and guidance and hope the time until I see him again goes quickly. Tick tock, tick tock.
God's peace, my friends,
Friday, May 14, 2010
Well, the first year of seminary has come and gone … I've been trying to put together in my mind just how to express what all I've experienced since September but words fail me. (That happens now and again.) I know I've changed, but I can't exactly explain just how. My view of scripture has deepened, I have a better understanding of church history and how that history affects how the church is viewed and operates today, I've learned lots of new theological words, I've grown spiritually, I've developed some wonderful relationships, and I'm more confident than ever that I'm doing what God has called me to do. What I've learned most of all, though, is just how important words are.
The Bible is the Word of God, breathed and inspired to show us how God used some broken, rag-tag humans, who he created to be in relationship with him and blessed with the awesome gift of free-will, to further his purpose within his creation. God's own words breathed us and all of creation into being. Jesus is God's Word incarnate, come into this world to redeem all humans and restore a right relationship with God.
As humans, words are how we convey meaning to each other through our languages. We speak and write our narratives to preserve what we experience in God's creation. We communicate with each other and with God through our words. Our words can build relationships and bring peace and, without our knowing it or without our intending it to be so, they can damage relationships and bring heart ache. Words can heal and words can harm.
As a student, my professors use words to convey their thoughts and ideas to me and they use my words, spoken and written, to judge how well I've learned what they attempted to teach. My fellow students and I use words to explore what we are learning, by reading other's written words, in conversations with spoken words, and in our papers with our own written words. Beyond the classroom, we express our thoughts and emotions to each other through words. We determine who is being authentic with us, and who is not, by the words they use. We decide who we can trust, and who we cannot, by weighing one person's words against another's. Sometimes we are not aware of the totality of the message of our own words until we see, through another person's actions, their interpretation of our words. Sometimes we can correct the meaning, and sometimes not.
I have always loved the study of words – just ask my classmates how excited I get over looking up the history of a word in the OED (this was after all what my senior paper was on for my undergrad). As a writer, I know the importance of choosing the right words to convey accurate meaning. As a person in relationship with others, I try to weigh my spoken word as carefully as possible, trying to think of the many possible interpretations (and not always getting this part right). In prayer and conversation with God, I know that no matter what words I choose, he knows my heart even better than I and sometimes, just sitting in silence acknowledging his awesome presence is the best thing to do. And, sometimes, when I honestly and authentically do this, I hear his words as clear as day.
One of the most important experiences I have had over this first year as school is learning to put my story into words for people who have no knowledge of my background. The good parts are easy to talk about, easy to find words for. The personal tragedies, on the other hand, have been a challenge. I have had to learn to frame in words the experiences of the previous year because I was with people who didn't know what had happened and I found this process, although excruciatingly difficult, incredibly healing. To put emotions into words is to take control of my emotions so that the emotions are no longer in control of me. It's been amazing, a trite word, I know, but the best I can come up with for now.
I started this blog to convey to those who are interested in my journey through seminary what I'm experiencing and I have to admit I haven't done a very good job of it. So, I'm going to try a different approach to these words. This summer, I'm going to be doing an internship (officially called Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE) at a VA hospital. Basically, I'll be working as a chaplain-in-training. From what others have told me (yep, through their own words describing their experiences) it is an emotionally heavy experience. I'm going to attempt to journal my way through it with entries most every day. (And, yes, I carefully chose the words "most every day" to give myself an out if I miss a day here and there – the power of words is great, isn't it!)
And, now, for words that I don't think I can ever say enough because they just don't seem to convey the depth of my true feelings – thank you all for your interest in my simple story. Knowing that you care and that you support me in your words of encouragement and words of prayer mean more than I will ever be able to fully express.
God's peace be with you, my friends.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
(This is a long one, folks, grab a cup of tea, coffee, beer, wine or whatever your reading beverage of choice is, before you begin … I'll wait for you to get back …)
I have this friend whom I've known longer than any friend I'm currently in contact with. I first remember her from first grade, but we lived on the same block (different streets) so I wonder if we somehow met in the neighborhood before that and were just too young to remember … anyway, I'm telling you this as part of the introduction to this post because she is the cause for the topic here. Our families each moved away from that neighborhood at different times in elementary school and we tried to keep in touch (back in the day when snail mail was the only option) and did, off and on, through our high school years. We saw each other right after we both graduated and then lost track. A little over a year ago, I think, we found each other on Facebook and it was a joyous reunion.
My friend always posts the most amazing quotes in her status. She must read continuously and I'm not sure how she does it while raising 5 great kids! She is a true inspiration to me. She recently posted a quote that sparked quite a debate on her wall and it really got me to thinking and I wanted to share a bit of the thread and get your thoughts.
The quote is from Miguel de Unamuno, someone I'd never heard of before but after this I'm definitely going to read the book the quote is from.
"Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe only in the God idea, not in God Himself." ~Miguel de Unamuno, Tragic Sense of Life, 213
In reply to this quote, my friend received a wide gamut of responses, ranging from the angry to the encouraging. I'll walk you through a select few (copied straight from her wall, with names x'd out, just as they were written):
Some that agreed with the quote:
- Great quote. It resonates with me deeply. This quote has little to do with a lack of faith, far from it. "I believe, help me with my unbelief."I personally believe that faith is directly inverse to your deepest doubt. That it is through doubt that are faith is fleshed out.
Some that expanded on others:
- I would go further: believers who imagine their beliefs about God are somehow closer to Truth than those of others need to realize that ANY concept of God is just that, a concept, infinitely smaller than the True Truth God. None of us has the complete picture; that thought should keep us humble...
Some that took the opportunity to voice their own opinion of God:
- If there is a "God," and it's purely and solely male, I want no part of that, thank you very much. If I was supposed to be made in "God's" image, then God is a fiesty, questioning, doubting, anguishing, feminist, mulit-layered being who savors variety and adores mysticism...not just a Christian who takes some old book, written centuries ago, literally. Although, that could certainly be part of it.
Some that were a bit harsh:
- ridiculous! believeing in God is about FAITH. the bible tells us..."blessed is he who believes yet does not see." why do you keep doing this, xxxx? when is enough going to enough for you? you pretend to understand someone whom you don't even believe exists.
Some that tried to explain and perhaps ease the tension:
- The point of the posts is to get us to think and to learn from each other. If you disagree with the quoted person's thoughts on this subject, she wants to hear why you disagree. She may or may not end up agreeing with your position, but she wants to hear it.
Some that questioned other responses:
- Aren't Christians supposed to reflect Christ in their words and actions??? Being judgmental, whether through words of ridicule or by an attitude of intolerance - especially to those seeking answers or guidance, fail to reflect the Christ I know, trust, and love. Peace and love to all.
Some that were defended a Christian view of the quote:
- As a born again christian, i understand the "strongly indoctrinated" views being expressed here by some. i grew up in church, and had my parents beliefs pushed on me by them and their organization from childhood. but none of that aided in my quest to find god and build up a personal and real friendship with him. it was my questioning and searching and finding out for myself through prayer and reading the bible and asking questions. i doubted for a while, and it bothered me. but even since i have found myself, and my beliefs have grown and matured, i still sometimes catch myself questioning things. certain things that i have come to believe and trust in can provoke questions and unneasiness, but that doesn't mean than im not a christian or that im trying to discredit the bible. it just means that i am human, and that i make mistakes and before i can fully understand what it is that i believe, there are going to be human thought and emotions to climb over. im done. also, i just have to put this out there because it irritates me when "christians" are so condemning and judgemental, that they don't even see the mistakes that they are making themselves.
In total, there were over 30 responses to the post. Now, I'm not one who likes confrontation. I enjoy sharing my beliefs and hearing those of others, but as soon as anyone takes on the tone of a debate in which one of us has to be right and one has to be wrong, I clam up (on any topic, not just about beliefs). But on this occasion, I felt lead to respond and so I did …
- I rarely (if ever) chime in on xxxx's inspiring and thought provoking posts but I'm going to step out of my comfort zone and put in my 2 cents worth. I watch xxxx's posts and read them all with enthusiasm. The questions raised and comments made are wonderful! I'm blessed to be a witness to xxxx's journey and am inspired that she has the courage to seek out what she wants to discover. I believe that all humans seek God, our Creator. If not, this whole idea of religious beliefs wouldn't have lasted since the dawn of time. Every civilization has sought some way to wrap their human heads around the awesomeness of the creation of the universe around us. God did create humans in his image and because of that I believe there is an innate desire in each of us to find him. Even those who have never heard of or turn away from Christianity continue to seek some sort of spiritual fulfillment. Those of us who are Christians also continue to seek him each and every day. Just because one claims to be a Christian doesn't mean that seeking is over. Belief is not a stagnant thing; grounded, yes, stagnant, no. But being created "in his image" doesn't mean that the personalities and traits we posses as God's created are God's personalities and traits. That is creating God in our image. God created humans to carry forward his purpose for his creation, not as mindless robots doing things according to a good behavior/bad behavior check list, but as thinking, reasoning creatures with freewill who can choose to love (or not) our creator because he created us, a creator that is beyond our imagination and understanding. I truly believe that God wants us to continuously seek and question and wrestle with him. Keep wrestling, xxxx!
Like my friend, I'm left to wonder "why some feel threatened by this path," which made me think of a quote from another friend and mentor (you know who you are) "God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable."
The whole thing is very timely for me in light of the discussions going on in my Leading Missional Congregations class that I mentioned in my previous post. How is the Church* supposed to reach those who are unchurched* or dechurched* if we can't respect the various paths that people are currently on? I stopped going to church in my early adult years partly for this very reason. Instead of trying to help others find answers to questions, we lead them to believe that wrestling with our belief is dangerous and a threat. Why should we expect them to listen to us if we won't listen to them? If we are strong in our faith, why would feel threatened to hear about what others believe? So perhaps this is the beginning of me figuring out how I'm to lead a parish some day in a time when going to church is becoming something we do rather than living our lives as the Church*.
[*A few definitions: I use Church with a capital "C" to mean the body of Christ made up of all believers; little "c" church is a specific place, denomination, or building; unchurched are those who've never been to church (except perhaps for the occasional wedding and funeral); dechurched are those who either grew up in a church or spent time attending a church and for one reason or another stopped going.]
What do you think about all of this? What do you think of the quote, what do you think of the idea of continuously "wrestling" with one's faith? Why do you think some people jump on the defensive when it comes to talking about their faith?
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Well, it's three weeks into the winter term and this is my first blog post; so much for staying on top of things …
I had a very nice, and all too short, Christmas break. I got to spend precious time with my family and some very dear friends. I flew back to school the night before classes started and I've been at a dead run ever since. I guess I should have clued in when I had to buy 13 books for 4 classes!
I've been in a very reflective mood since I've been back (for those few moments when I've had the freedom to let my thoughts go where they may). I've been thinking about how I see myself and the various roles that I have in my life. I'm learning a new role but all of my other roles are a part of this new one, too. I was sitting with my advisor going over my annual review (I know I've only been here 4 months, but we do these "annual" reviews every January) and I had written something about how I might possibly be able to using my "skills as a trainer" and in another section of the review I discussed my newly discovered passion for catechism and he said, (I think I've mentioned his sarcasm before) "do you think those two things might go together?" And to be honest, I hadn't really put them together until then … another one of my "I'm a little slow on the uptake" moments.
When we got back for this term, we were all anxiously awaiting our marks (Canadian for "grades") from last term; they weren't posted until the end of the first week. I've been a little perplexed with the grading scale and it took some getting used to. It goes like this: anything below 70 is failing; 70-79 is a B, 80-84 an A-, 85-90 an A, and 90-100 an A+. A's of any flavor are tough and no one I've talked to has gotten over an 87 on anything. The average among my "gang" is 78-79 I think. I'm happy with my marks and I did manage (barely) to make my personal goal of marks high enough to qualify for the honors program. I know that some of you reading this have told me that grades don't really matter and I believe you. So I've done some serious soul searching as to why this grade thing is so important to me – is it pride, do I feel like I have something to prove, what? Here's what I've come up with: I simply want to use my God-given skills and talents the best I possibly can in my new role, currently as a seminarian and later as a priest. After all, he entrusted these skills and talents to me and I need to be a good steward of them.
In one of my classes this term, we've been talking about the decline of the church and what are all of the many possible causes and what, as priests going into this shaky future, can we do? There is much unknown ahead of us. But, I will press forward with the understanding that I can draw on the experience all of the roles I've had in my life, past and present, and use all of my skills and talents to do the little part God has given me to do in furthering his mission amidst his creation.