Relationships

On the first day of my Introduction to Theology course the professor said we were all theologians and the purpose of the course was to raise up a life time of our embedded theologies to meet traditional theologies, and discover where the two found commonalities and where the two found tensions; this is called deliberative theology. So I compared the theology of the songs that formed me, What a friend we have in Jesus, Great is thy faithfulness, and All creatures of our God and King, with the doctrines of creation, the trinity and Christology – I found no contradictions.  But I did find that I’m more conscious of theology occurring around me.  For instance the holy scriptures reveal who God is; creator, redeemer, sustainer and most importantly, lover of all creation.  God enjoys being in relationship with humans and non-humans alike.

I’ve been reflecting on God’s desire to be in relationship with all creation, humans and non-humans,  this past week as I had the privilege of introducing my love for Lake Michigan and Chicago’s luscious landscapes; a sample of God’s masterpieces, to a cherished friend of 30+ years and her daughter.  I was not only thrilled about seeing my friends but with sharing the sights and sounds of the city.  When we visited the Art Institute and I gave serious thought as to how a sculptor can visualize  what stone to remove in creating a statue out of a lump of marble (humm, God created humankind out of a lump of clay); heard high school students participating in the Ravina Jazz Mentoring program raising the roof with performances of works by Thelonious Monk and Miles Davies (I believe King David played a harp); meandered through the Lincoln Park Zoo and watched the animals bathe in the warmth of the spring sun as did we; strolled through the Lincoln Park botanical gardens and learned there are between 25 – 30,000 species of orchards (sounds like the Garden of Eden to me); and experienced the shimmer of Disney in the Broadway show Aladdin.

Just as God seeks to be in relationship with all creation, so I now too seek to breathe in the fragrance of fresh mown grass of the garden, let my eyes dance across a Monet painting, feel the texture of fledgling jazz, and let my imagination flow in a Broadway show.   I find that being in relationship with all creation is bringing me into a fuller understanding of who I am as a creature made in God’s image.

Studying theology has added an exclamation point to my experience of life!  I encourage you to find your own punctuation.

 

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Chicago is …

Chicago is a city whose national press and lead stories on the local nightly news is mostly negative.  Yes, Chi-town has a serious problem with gun violence, however per capita Chicago comes in seventh behind St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans, Cleveland, Newark and Memphis.*  But our highly publicized status sometime overwhelms the greatness of this city.  Let me tell you about the Chicagoland I’m learning to love.

Last week I finished my final paper for the semester, and before I embark on a summer of Clinical Pastoral Education, I’m taking time to drink in this magnificent metropolis.   I’ve witnessed its uniqueness through: the hallmark of the spring transitioning to summer, the opening of the Buckingham Fountain triumphantly cascading tons of water (even though the temperature is still in the 60’s) and providing fabulous photo ops for brides and grooms; followed by the most colorful harbinger of springtime, the annual Kite Festival which I am blessed to view through my living room window; an amazing jazz concert at Symphony Hall with the violinist Regina Carter (if you aren’t familiar with her, here’s a taste https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nXruQXWx50); concluding Sunday night with a fundraiser at the architecturally renowned Chicago Cultural Center (see picture of the dome below) for the Bishop Anderson House  fundraiser (an affiliate of the Episcopal Church and Rush Hospital) whose purpose it is to promote the work of chaplains. The honorees at the gala were two amazing women serving at Cook County’s Stroger Hospital, Dr. Kimberly Joseph, a trauma surgeon and burn specialist and the Rev. Carol Reese, an Episcopal priest and Clinical Social Worker.  These two women have brought together on a daily basis the trauma of the body and the soul to carry out “The Art of Healing,” the theme for the evening.

Chicago like any great city has its challenges as well as its glorious moments.  I’m learning to drink in its shining moments and work with others to address its wounds in the hope of participating in “The Art of Healing” this great city.

Visit this amazing city – hold us in your hearts and prayers.

 

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A moment of grace

Yesterday I had the pleasure of witnessing the ordination and consecration of Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, eleventh bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis, 111th bishop of the Episcopal Church, first black female diocesan bishop, and first female bishop to succeed a female bishop.  I’ve witnessed many consecrations, three which were met with descending voices.   But this beloved friend was welcomed only with joy, hope and enthusiasm for the ministry to which she has been called.  But I must admit I found myself in an unusual spiritual state as I worshiped through the music, the prayers and the solemnity of the service.  I wasn’t sure if the feeling was because this was a dear friend or because I’ve been recently introduced to theology.  I couldn’t quite articulate the it until the sermon started and the preacher named it; I was witnessing a sacrament.

The preacher, the Rt. Rev. Jeffery Lee, Bishop of Chicago, asked us to verbally recall the definition of a sacrament from the catechism of the Episcopal Church.  He explained that ordination/consecration of a bishop is a sacrament and since confirmation was many years in the past for most of the congregation, he guided us as we recited,   “A sacrament is an outward sign, of an inward and spiritual grace.”  I was asked the same question on my Introduction to Theology final exam.  I used the Augustine response (the same result), “a visible sign of an invisible grace.”  I looked deeper into the meaning of “grace.”  The Greek translation is, “a mystery.” The Book of Common Prayer states, “Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and underserved.” I say, “Grace is God’s unconditional, undeserving and unearned love for us.”

The consecration occurs through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And as the choir beckoned the Spirit by chatting, Veni Santcte Spiritus (come Holy Spirit), beginning with the bass voices leaving a path for the tenors, altos and sopranos to follow, I was overwhelmed.  The attending bishops gathered around and laid their hands on her in apostolic session (uninterrupted passing of authority traced back two thousand years to Christ laying hands on the disciples) consecrating her a bishop.  The room was filled with this mysterious unmerited love.  I was witness to and spiritually aware of God’s grace in action.

I encourage you to open yourself to the power of the Holy Spirit for the mysterious occurrences of “grace” in your life.

 

 

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Feeding on hope

If you’ve followed my blog over the past couple of weeks then you know I’ve had a few recent disappointments.  And while working though them one of my “prayer warriors” helped me articulate my place in the gospel story;  I’ve been sitting in the Garden of Gethsemane.  She reminded me there was a place for my discouragement by referring me to the most telling lyric from the song “Gethsemane” from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, “I’m not as sure as when we started.” Listen to Jesus’ lament. https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=youtube+tim+neally+gethsemane   It’s great to have friends to show you where you stand alongside Jesus.

This past week was the last meeting of my theology class.  I have to say I was amazed that I enjoyed studying how our Christian doctrines and thinking have evolved through the centuries.  It was not just the subject matter but how it was presented by a young enthusiastic professor at Loyola, Peter Jones.  A small example of the depth of my professor was his last lecture on “hope.”  He asked us to list adjectives which defined “hope” and then adjectives that described “hopelessness.” The “hopelessness” list was much longer, revealing our collective familiarity.  At the end of his lecture I left the session with two of his thoughts: 1) “Always follow your hope.”  2) When you feel down, find a friend and feed on their hope.”  Wow,  I really needed to hear those words.  God sent my “prayer warrior” to share the lyrics from Jesus Christ Superstar, and let me feed on her hope.

This is why Christian community is important. “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and sings it back to you when you’ve forgotten the words.”

The Lord has risen indeed; Alleluia!

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A good kind of exhaustion

This year I felt as though I really lived Holy Week and not just memorialized it.  Several disappointments, followed a friend receiving an unexpected diagnosis and numerous choir rehearsals for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and of course the Day of Resurrection, have left me exhausted.  Not to mention four papers to write for school.  But it’s a good kind of exhaustion because I know what Jesus endured was infinitely more taxing, and my week was only a glimmer of what Jesus suffered.  But then this life is only a glimmer of the life to come.

I’ve done a lot of reflection about God’s gift of love, compassion and grace to us in the person of Jesus and his death and resurrection.  I certainly don’t understand it all, nor will I ever wrap my mind around God.  And I’m not sure I can articulate what is developing in my soul, but the feeling is complete peace, followed by utter exhaustion.  Everything about Jesus is radical and counter-cultural.  It takes a lot of energy to ‘love my neighbor as myself,’ be a ‘Good Samaritan,’ or ‘seek the Kingdom of God.’  It’s not easy to constantly push against the status quo.  But then I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

My theology class has introduced me to theological reflection which has taken me to a deeper understanding of my embedded faith.  So I’m not only trying to live as a Christian, but also reflect, read and write about it on a daily basis.  As we would say in the Episcopal Church, we “learn, mark and inwardly digest” the scriptures.

It’s a good kind of exhaustion.  Have a blessed Eastertide.

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Have a plan!

One of the things I like best about being in an academic environment is you know exactly what is expected of you and when it’s due; it’s easy to have a plan.  And one of the things I know about life is if you want to make God laugh – have a plan.

I’m coming close to finishing my first semester of a Master Program in Pastoral Care, and was clear about my work for the balance of this academic year and even next.  I plan to enter my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education this summer – check; and continue with a Residency in Clinical Pastoral Education through August 2018 – blip.

Last week I coordinated an ordination discernment overnight for the diocese, and heard from one of my colleagues that the Residency program I planned to enter had completed its admission process and was full.  Full?  How could this be?  I followed all the directions!  I was totally deflated as the program included a stipend and health insurance.  I wanted to cry – I did cry!  But not hard because I still had another eight hours of the overnight to finish and this time was about others, not about me so I couldn’t fall apart.  I quickly emailed one of the supervisors of the Residency program and on Monday he explained the closure of the admissions process. As it turns out this particular program started receiving applications last fall before I discerned health care chaplaincy was the ministry for me – a day late and a dollar short.  Sigh!  God must have a belly ache from laughing over this one.

The thing I know about God is when God is laughing it’s because God loves me and has a better plan and I need to step out of the way and let God do God’s thing.  After licking my wound and talking with my academic advisor, she suggested several other Residency programs in Chicagoland.  As it turns out there are some openings for the fall but nowhere near my home.  And the long days would be exacerbated by the complexities of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Public Transportation – see last week’s blog.

Yes I do have a plan “B” – get a customer service job, continue with academics and delay clinical work until next year.  Not a bad plan.  But my “pre-plan B” plan is to follow Isaiah 40:31, “they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”  Can’t wait to see what the Lord has in mind!

 

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Why am I inconvenienced?

This past week I heard these same lyrics in two different songs, “Let me see more of you and less of me,” John 3:30.  OK Lord, what are you trying to tell me?

I am made in the image of God; God lives (abides) in me with every breath I take.  I’m not the only one made in God’s image, but a part of all creation.  Yes, including the people who “work my last nerve.”  I’m called to honor and respect God’s image in each of them; after all Jesus washed Judas’ feet.

My main mode of transportation in Chicago is ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) transportation.  It’s a shared ride system which means clients are picked up and dropped off who are ideally traveling in the same direction.   The smallest miscommunication with the reservationist can send me on an unexpected and undesired tour of Chicagoland.  I’m not sure why my rides are so often confused, but they are (I’ll spare you the details).  I wonder if the staff lack proper training or do they have the adequate skill set for the task, or perhaps I’m not clear with my request.  One thing I know for sure is most of the staff are possessed with a non customer service oriented attitude.  And to be honest, the way the talk to each other is not very respectful, not to mention when the clients get involved in the conversation.  Rides often resemble a bad soap opera!

So I started thinking about John 3:30, “See more of you and less of me” – I need to show the same respect for them as I would for a person who does their job well.  Do they deserve it – NO!  But then I don’t deserve the unconditional love and grace God bestows on me daily.  I don’t know their context: care for dependent children or elderly parents; trying to “make-ends-meet” with the short rope of low income; juggling multiple jobs; maybe they feel “up will always seem like down.”  How can I show the love of God?  I must admit I get short tempered with and judgmental of these folks because I’m inconvenienced on a consistent basis .  So I have to remember that these people too are made in the image of God and I’m must treat them as brothers and sisters in Christ.

If I’m going to be a chaplain, I don’t think I get to choose when and where.  I don’t think I can be “on” all the time, but just giving them the benefit of the doubt and showing a little grace can help them see there is an “upside” to life.  Had I not been inconvenienced, their need for grace would not have been laid on my heart.  It reminds me that I am called to have the heart of a servant for everyone, most especially for those who provide a service for me.

I’m sure I will continue to be inconvenienced.  But then God continues to love me and forgive me on a regular basis.  Although I’m not God, I’m made in God’s image and should reflect God’s love.  So I pray for the wisdom to understand that every inconvenience is an opportunity to reflect the grace of God by seeing more of God in others and less of my judgmental view.

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Waiting for grades!

I find God uses other people to encourage me when I least expect it.  I’ve finished mid-terms and a paper and I feel like I’m sitting on a porcupine cushion waiting for the results.  Will these grades give any indication of my ability to express God’s love for people during their time of need?  I don’t know but I’d like to see the results!

In the meantime, God blessed me with four unexpected events. Two friends sought out my support through prayer and conversation; one for a medical condition and the other regarding her next professional move.  After several long conversations with each, where I mostly listened, asked a few questions and offered prayer at the end, I felt amazingly connected not only to my friends but also to God.

I had the great fortune to attend a meeting of deacons from the Diocese of Chicago, and listened to a discussion about how to be with people (and their families) as their lives draw to an end. The wisdom in the room was breath taking as I learned about how to touch someone in a way that gives them control over the moment, listen without the need to add my “two cents,” and ask questions instead of making statements about how they might be feeling.  It was a gift of years of mature wisdom and authenticity shared in a room of trusting, like souls.

And last week I had dinner with an old friend who encouraged me by offering  introductions to people throughout the city who are involved in health care and may be willing to introduce me to others participating in the ministry of chaplaincy.   I didn’t know my friend had those kinds of connections!

So I continue to wait for the posting of grades – it’s been three weeks.  In the meantime, my spirit is buoyed through the working of the Holy Spirit and in the persons of my friends, that I’m moving in the right direction and feeling blessed every step along the way.

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Seeking the Kingdom

I started pursuing my soul by not running after it but sitting quietly with it.  My journey entailed giving attention to, and gaining knowledge of, who I am (created in the image of God) by spending time with God.  Like Jesus I’ve developed a need to go off to a quiet place and have one-on-one simple time with God.

I was part of the support system for Archbishop Desmond Tutu when I worked for The General Theological Seminary (Episcopal) in New York City while he was having cancer treatments. My office was located near the main entrance and most people passed my open door, either going to class or home. There were days when Bishop Tutu returned from treatment and he could barely move his body.  He used my office as a respite en route to his apartment.  I closed the door on his visits to give him privacy as I soon became aware these visits were not purely social. There were days when we chatted about nothing at all, while other days we just sat together, and I quietly continued my work.

One of my jobs was to give tours to prospective students and on one occasion while I was drilling through the history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, I detected movement in a dark corner.  I simply noted someone was praying and concluded my remarks outside the great doors. On subsequent journeys to the chapel during the middle of the day, I observed the same slow, deliberate motion in that still small corner. I later discovered it was Bishop Desmond.  I thought, “Of course it is! How could anyone who radiates the love of God with such intensity, not spend concentrated time with God?”  I really wanted to ask him, “What do you and God talk about?” But I didn’t want to intrude on his private conversation.  Now I think maybe they weren’t talking at all.  Perhaps they were just being together enjoying one another in the Kingdom of God.

I used to think the Kingdom of God was a place of golden streets and angelic voices where I could possibly earn admission after I died, if I were really good during my earthly existence. And while I do believe there is an afterlife (I don’t give much attention to the architecture) I also understand the kingdom lives within us.  Henri Nouwen describes the kingdom as, “… the place where God’s Spirit guides us, heals us, challenges us and renews us continuously.”

I think I’ll spend some vacation time there.

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It’s all about the context!

I’m half way through my first semester at Loyola and just finished a midterm exam for Introduction to Theology and an exegesis paper for New Testament.  You may be asking, “What’s an exegesis paper?”  It’s when you choose a piece of scripture and examine it from various points of view, i.e. language, socioeconomic, politics, placement in the bible, audience, who is telling the story and what is the moral or point of the story.  In other words, it’s context and how it applies to our lives today.  It was a great exercise in looking at familiar stories from a different point of view using commentaries from African American and West African theologian.  It’s all about the context.

A friend of mine moved to the United States from Puerto Rico during the summer and his four year old loved being outside in the sunshine.  When the sun drenched days of summer were replaced with sunny but bone chilling days of winter, his son still wanted to go outside, but it was too cold. With the persistence of a four year old he continually begged his father to let him go outside.  Finally his mother said, “Let him out outside, he’ll find out!”  Reluctantly, my friend opened the door for his son, who immediately returned exclaiming, “The sun doesn’t work in Chicago!”  It’s all about the context.

Today in church I spoke with a friend whose mother died a couple of months ago.  I was checking in with her as it’s been my experience that everyone is around immediately following a death, but six months later everyone has forgotten.  She said someone recently asked her, “Are you still mourning?” Still mourning!  We talked about how you mourn for months and years, as mundane everyday occurrences unearth yet another wave of sorrow.  We agreed that no matter how well the intentions, if you haven’t lost a parent, you can’t empathize with the loss.  Understanding the process of mourning depends on the point of view or context.

So I’ve decided part of my Lenten discipline is to listen to people who witness life in a different context than my own.  Different political views, life style choices and dietary selections (vegan?); and especially those who live in circumstances not of their choice, socioeconomic status, access to education and health care, and – well, the list could go on.

 

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