Tuesday, June 30, 2009
life looks like
everything i didn't do
a collection of every place
i never went
all the people i never called back
not at the bedside
all the women i never approached
when i go
the what's left
in the last lingering light
seems not so much
this is not true
this is true
Monday, June 29, 2009
Here are Funk's 21 Theses:
1. The God of the metaphysical age is dead. There is not a personal god out there external to human beings and the material world. We must reckon with a deep crisis in god talk and replace it with talk about whether the universe has meaning and whether human life has purpose.
I'm surprised that Funk would mis-use a world like 'metaphysical'. I think it would make a lot more sense if he fought his modernist tendency to use objective language and say something like "there can be no understanding of God outside of human experience and God's effect on the material world", something like that, because what he's saying here is, to me, not really a big deal. It is really ironic, though, that what Funk is doing here is entirely about metaphysics :)
2. The doctrine of special creation of the species died with the advent of Darwinism and the new understanding of the age of the earth and magnitude of the physical universe. Special creation goes together with the notion that the earth and human beings are at the center of the galaxy (the galaxy is anthropocentric). The demise of a geocentric universe took the doctrine of special creation with it.
This is oversimplification. I suppose the ancient doctrine of special creation went out the window a long time ago, but there's no reason whatsoever that we can't have a better doctrine of special creation. It could look something like the anthropic principle from a theological viewpoint. The anthropic principle isn't superb science or anything, but its a very simple idea that looks a hell of a lot like special creation, and doesn't even have to do with theism at all.
3. The deliteralization of the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis brought an end to the dogma of original sin as something inherited from the first human being. Death is not punishment for sin, but is entirely natural. And sin is not transmitted from generation to generation by means of male sperm, as suggested by Augustine.
Let's assume that this argument follows on itself for now, because I want to keep these pity if possible. I don't think anyone still thinks sin is carried in human sperm - Funk is arguing with people who aren't around anymore by my measure. In the Genesis story, toil, injustice, snake-fighting and death are all the result of sin, by my reading, so there is more here that Funk needs to deal with before this thesis is sufficient.
4. The notion that God interferes with the order of nature from time to time in order to aid or punish is no longer credible, in spite of the fact that most people still believe it. Miracles are an affront to the justice and integrity of God, however understood. Miracles are conceivable only as the inexplicable; otherwise they contradict the regularity of the order of the physical universe.
"Miracles are an affront to the justice and integrity of God, however understood." That just makes no sense to me on its face. "Miracles are conceivable only as the inexplicable", on the other hand, seems astoundingly obvious to me. That's like one half of a tautology. I also don't necessarily buy the need for a dichotomy between "God never intervenes whatsoever in any way" and "God violates nature in order to intervene". This is a sort of blunt-instrument view of God that just isn't very convincing.
5. Prayer is meaningless when understood as requests addressed to an external God for favor or forgiveness and meaningless if God does not interfere with the laws of nature. Prayer as praise is a remnant of the age of kingship in the ancient Near East and is beneath the dignity of deity. Prayer should be understood principally as meditation—as listening rather than talking—and as attention to the needs of neighbor.
Again, this makes no sense. If there's no God 'out there', then who or what are you listening to? Also, meditation can mean a thousand things, only two of which are listening or attention to the needs of a neighbor. This is an amazingly impoverished view of both prayer and meditation that an intro to comparative religions class would cure, I would think. It did for me anyway.
6. We should give Jesus a demotion. It is no longer credible to think of Jesus as divine. Jesus' divinity goes together with the old theistic way of thinking about God.Maybe, if this keeps coming up, I should call it the "baby-and-bathwater fallacy". I can think of a few ways to think of Jesus as divine in ways that would almost be a promotion. So, because we aren't in the Bronze Age anymore, we have to throw out the concept of the divine entirely? Oh no, wait, we can also just rethink it based on our new context like people have done throughout history.
7. The plot early Christians invented for a divine redeemer figure is as archaic as the mythology in which it is framed. A Jesus who drops down out of heaven, performs some magical act that frees human beings from the power of sin, rises from the dead, and returns to heaven is simply no longer credible. The notion that he will return at the end of time and sit in cosmic judgment is equally incredible. We must find a new plot for a more credible Jesus.
I am bored to tears by a fully credible Jesus. I cannot imagine someone so credible moving anyone in any way. I'm yawning before I even hear about this credible person. And yes, I can think of a number of ways, even ancient ones almost as old as the faith itself, of looking at Jesus' act as something other than "magical".
8. The virgin birth of Jesus is an insult to modern intelligence and should be abandoned. In addition, it is a pernicious doctrine that denigrates women.
This is harsh and high-horsey (par for the course here I'm afraid) but I pretty much agree. I've never felt that the virgin birth was 1) necessitated by reading of Scripture or 2) essential in any way to my faith.
9. The doctrine of the atonement—the claim that God killed his own son in order to satisfy his thirst for satisfaction—is subrational and subethical. This monstrous doctrine is the stepchild of a primitive sacrificial system in which the gods had to be appeased by offering them some special gift, such as a child or an animal.
I can't imagine that Funk is unaware that there are many doctrines of atonement since I learned about them in my intro to theology class, so I'm not sure what he means here. He's talking about penal substitutionary atonement, which is just one class of atonement theology among many. And where he says "stepchild" I would say "emphatic judgement and end", and I don't even have to step outside of penal sub atonement to get there.
10. The resurrection of Jesus did not involve the resuscitation of a corpse. Jesus did not rise from the dead, except perhaps in some metaphorical sense. The meaning of the resurrection is that a few of his followers—probably no more than two or three—finally came to understand what he was all about. When the significance of his words and deeds dawned on them, they knew of no other terms in which to express their amazement than to claim that they had seen him alive.
The resurrected Jesus teleports around and passes through crowds, appears and disappears. Clearly the resurrected Jesus, even in a very literalistic reading of the Gospels, was not just Jesus' same body walking around with the same properties other bodies have. I also just find this claim: "When the significance of his words and deeds dawned on them, they knew of no other terms in which to express their amazement than to claim that they had seen him alive" to be stupid. I mean, that's just ridiculous. It strikes me as a modernist trying to understand a premodern mindset and failing utterly. But, when you totally throw out everything valueable about myth, this is the kind of thing you're left with.
11. The expectation that Jesus will return and sit in cosmic judgment is part and parcel of the mythological worldview that is now defunct. Furthermore, it undergirds human lust for the punishment of enemies and evildoers and the corresponding hope for rewards for the pious and righteous. All apocalyptic elements should be expunged from the Christian agenda.
Grr. "Mythological". But I've gone there before. Apocalyptic elements have not been part of the main "Christian agenda" for a while now. Well, I guess there's "Jesus is coming, look busy" type evangelism, or fear-of-Hell evangelism, but a lot of even conservative evangelical types look down on this as simply leveraging self-preservation to get people into the pews. I'm fine with tossing that part out. To lose all of the apocalyptic, though, would mean we also have to lose, say, the thoughts and words of Martin Luther King Jr. I am not willing to "expunge" that.
God's Domain according to Jesus
12. Jesus advocates and practices a trust ethic. The kingdom of God, for Jesus, is characterized by trust in the order of creation and the essential goodness of neighbor.Ok, this is staggeringly untrue. The Gospels are chock-full of Jesus suspicion of the essential character of neighbors. It is not about trusting your neighbor, it is about loving your neighbor even when s/he is a certified asshole to you all day long. Even given the guarantee that you will be hurt by others, you are never to hurt in return. That is not a trust ethic, that is a nonviolent ethic. Trust in the order of creation? No, I think that the kingdom of God is probably trust in God. Though its likely that for Funk, God is approximately equal to the order of creation, so maybe close enough?
13. Jesus urges his followers to celebrate life as though they had just discovered a cache of coins in a field or been invited to a state banquet.
Whew, I was afraid I was going to disagree the whole way through. Right on!
14. For Jesus, God's domain is a realm without social boundaries. In that realm there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, homosexual nor heterosexual, friend nor enemy.
Woo! I can sign on to this. Where do I get me some of that no-boundaries community!?
15. For Jesus, God's domain has no brokers, no mediators between human beings and divinity. The church has insisted on the necessity of mediators in order to protect its brokerage system.
Sort of. That's not why I do it, but I can see that Funk is having an argument with the distant past, so this fits.
16. For Jesus, the kingdom does not require cultic rituals to mark the rites of passage from outsider to insider, from sinner to righteous, from child to adult, from client to broker.
Damn, you had me there for a few of them. No, Jesus's idea of the kingdom clearly includes rites of passage, and the early Church clearly practiced rites of passage. The client to broker part I'd say not...this just isn't a very deep or interesting understanding of rites of passage. Again, a failure of the modernist mindset.
17. In the kingdom, forgiveness is reciprocal: individuals can have it only if they sponsor it.
Woo! Back to good stuff! Though, of course, the onus is on the Christian to forgive first and most.
18. The kingdom is a journey without end: one arrives only by departing. It is therefore a perpetual odyssey. Exile and exodus are the true conditions of authentic existence.
This of course ignores the powerful theme of paradox between exodus and home being the same place or condition, but again, Funk clearly does not have any interest in thinking about paradoxes. Which makes me wonder what interests him about the Bible or theology at all...
19. The New Testament is a highly uneven and biased record of orthodox attempts to invent Christianity. The canon of scripture adopted by traditional Christianity should be contracted and expanded simultaneously to reflect respect for the old tradition and openness to the new. Only the works of strong poets—those who startle us, amaze us with a glimpse of what lies beyond the rim of present sight—should be considered for inclusion. The canon should be a collection of scriptures without a fixed text and without either inside or outside limits, like the myth of King Arthur and the knights of the roundtable or the myth of the American West.This is total nonsense. "...a colllection of scriptures without a fixed text and without either inside or outside limits" not only contradicts the previous sentence in this thesis, but doesn't make any sense. What Funk is describing is a random pile of writings without any identity at all. Also, for the love of God, can Funk possibly reference some actual, meaning-generating, world-spanning myths? He finally touches on it, and all he comes up with are King Arthur and the American West? What the hell?
20. The Bible does not contain fixed, objective standards of behavior that should govern human behavior for all time. This includes the ten commandments as well as the admonitions of Jesus.
The Bible is definitely internally contradictory, and we contradict it in many ways just to function in modern society. This is inevitable, since we are not in the Bronze Age. However, I think that there are standards in the Bible which transcend its historical limitations and which I think we should take seriously if the Bible is to be at all important. What those are is of course always a subject for debate, and has been for two thousand years of Christian history.
The language of faith
21. In rearticulating the vision of Jesus, we should take care to express ourselves in the same register as he employed in his parables and aphorisms—paradox, hyperbole, exaggeration, and metaphor. Further, our reconstructions of his vision should be provisional, always subject to modification and correction.
Myth! Myth! Myth! At least he gets parable, hyperbole, exaggeration and metaphor right. But Simile? Allegory? What about the 'register' employed by the Gospel writers? Folktale? Martyr cycle? Poem? Healing story? Liturgical structure? The list goes on and on.
If nothing else, Robert W. Funk needs a thesaurus.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Military Coup in HondurasA military coup has taken place in Honduras this morning (Sunday, June 28), led by SOA graduate Romeo Vasquez. In the early hours of the day, members of the Honduran military surrounded the presidential palace and forced the democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya, into custody. He was immediately flown to Costa Rica.
A national vote had been scheduled to take place today in Honduras to consult the electorate on a proposal of holding a Constitutional Assembly in November. General Vasquez had refused to comply with this vote and was deposed by the president, only to later be reinstated by the Congress and Supreme Court.
The Honduran state television was taken off the air. The electricity supply to the capital Tegucigalpa, as well telephone and cellphone lines were cut. Government institutions were taken over by the military. While the traditional political parties, Catholic church and military have not issued any statements, the people of Honduras are going into the streets, in spite of the fact that the streets are militarized. From Costa Rica, President Zelaya has called for a non-violent response from the people of Honduras, and for international solidarity for the Honduran democracy.
While the European Union and several Latin American governments just came out in support of President Zelaya and spoke out against the coup, a statement that was just issued by Barack Obama fell short of calling for the reinstatement of Zelaya as the legitimate president.
Call the State Department and the White HouseDemand that they call for the immediate reinstatement of Honduran President Zelaya.
State Department: 202-647-4000 or 1-800-877-8339
White House: Comments: 202-456-1111, Switchboard: 202-456-1414
Visit www.SOAW.org and www.SOAW.org/presente for articles and updated information.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Note: This is not the sermon I actually preached - I derived a few notes from this and then preached from the notes and improvised. But this is what I based it on.
Mark 4: 26-34
This Sunday, I wanted to give you a little warning. This sermon will end with a question. I will leave it open, unresolved, something like a jazz tune maybe. I want you to take something home with you, to think about.
Does the gospel make sense?
Whether the gospel makes sense or not, I think that the world around us makes a lot of sense to a lot of people. It makes sense to economists. It makes sense to politicians. It makes sense to scientists. It makes sense to sociologists and psychologists.
For decades now, we've been borrowing billions, and now trillions, of dollars, and that makes sense. Until the consequences really hit us in the face, we tend to accumulate debt whenever we can. The average American family has a net worth of about zero dollars. That means if all of us had to pay our debts all at once, right now, on average, we'd all be destitute and homeless.
It makes sense, doesn't it? It feels like it does when I take out student loans to pay for seminary, or when I put something on my credit card. I mean, why not? I'll pay for it another day. And there really is nothing so delectable, so entrancing, as the thing I can't quite afford. The next generation iPhone! A vacation in Hawaii swimming with sharks and sea turtles! A Mini Cooper! Makes me tingle to think about it. So I can't throw around much blame for all this debt we've got.
And we keep getting into wars. Have you noticed that? You can count backwards through hour history, as a lot of history books do, and measure our past as a series of wars. Historians get a lot of mileage out of this. And it makes sense. We spend so much on all of these weapons, and sometimes someone makes us angry, or threatens us. So we get into another war. Sometimes two wars at once. And I don't know about you, but I like being safe. If someone tells me I'll be safe here in America as long as we are fighting a war over there in Afghanistan or Iraq or some other distant place, it sounds pretty tempting. It seems like a fair trade, because I don't have to go to bed listening to mortar shells or air strikes. I sleep like a baby, as they say. I count sheep, not gravestones.
It makes sense that, just like other creatures, we'd be competing all the time with each other. It would be really hard to work together, unless we were competing against some other group. Life is a competition, right? Some are on top, and some on bottom. There are the strong, and the weak. There are winners and losers. I pull up in my Pontiac Vibe at a stoplight next to a Bentley coupe on the way to the SF airport, and the driver of the Bentley and I both know what the deal is. We're both playing the same game, and he's doing a lot better than me. If I want a Bentley coupe, I'll have to steal it.
Like I said, from a very sane, rational point of view, the world makes sense as it is. There are lots of people who can tell you how much sense it all makes.
But then why do I have this nagging feeling, down in my stomach, in the back of my mind, that something is wrong? No, honestly, I sometimes feel like everything is wrong. The debt is wrong, the violence is wrong, the game I'm playing to get ahead is wrong. Not just the big wrong things, like human trafficking or terrorism – anyone can see that some things are wrong. But the everyday stuff – it feels wrong too. Do you get that, sometimes? Is it just me? Am I crazy to be looking out the window, to the horizon, for some other way, some other way to live?
It makes so much sense, but it feels so wrong.
I feel like I'm stuck in a maze, but there's no cheese, no matter how long I look for it.
When I told a friend of mine, someone who works with me at the hospital, about what I was preaching on – the text from Mark that we just read, and I read my friend the parable of the mustard seed, her face lit up and she got excited and she said - “Oh! Yeah! The mustard seed! Its nonsense, you know.”
I hadn't really heard this take on it before, to be honest. Maybe I should have, but when the mustard seed has been preached on in the past, that I've heard, it's all about this little seed that becomes this big bush, all about how little, humble things can become tremendous things with time and some care.
Apparently, it is also nonsense.
My friend laughed at me and encouraged me to look for images of mustard plants on the Internet. So we did. We looked at all sorts of species of mustard plants, from all over the world, including some that are native to the middle east, or that are popular with gardeners in New Jersey. What I saw were hundreds of images of these flimsy little plants, hardly worth calling shrubs. The biggest ones I saw were basically five-foot-tall weeds. They didn't cast much shade, and I couldn't imagine more than a single bird finding space underneath to nest.
I thought of the parable of the mustard seed and imagined Jesus telling it, maybe out in the countryside of Galilee. Maybe he's standing next to one of these little mustard plants, waving feebly in the breeze. He tells the parable and there's some laughter.
“Oh, so the Kingdom of God is like a tiny shrub with a few birds beneath it? Wow, where do I sign up?”
I reflected more on the first parable, of the other sower, as it were, or who I think of as the farmer. This farmer is kind of like me. I sort of have a brown thumb. I have a vague sense that plants need water and dirt and sunlight, but I don't really know how much of each they need, or where, or when. I can picture myself like this sower, tossing seeds out into the dirt, looking with mild surprise as some of them sprout, and though I don't know what's going on, I'm out there with the sickle once I see some grains. I have a brown thumb, but everyone likes fresh bread, right?
So the kingdom of God is not only like a scraggly bush, but it is also like a clueless farmer. Ready to join up yet?
This. Does not. Make sense.
Why isn't the kingdom of God like David's kingdom, with its standing army and its victories in battle and its heroic leader? Why isn't the kingdom of God like the temple, the huge stone edifice in Jerusalem to which Judeans flocked in order to enact atonement or to mark the turning of the year or to hear the high priest speak with God's voice. Those are kingdoms that make sense. Those are, I think, what people were expecting when Jesus came around.
Why isn't the kingdom of God a place that makes sense? I realized that if the kingdom of God made sense, it would be just like the world I live in now. The winners win and the losers lose. The lucky flourish and the unlucky beg and sleep on benches in the park. Some people get diseases and die young. There are escalating wars and swelling debts everywhere you look. Its a place with a lot of injustice, and a lot of grief, and a lot of things I wish were different.
The world as it is now makes the kind of sense that we expect.
The kingdom of God makes another kind of sense – and it is calling out to us.
I'll tell you a bit of nonsense, some nonsense that we've all heard before, and then I'll be finished for now. I hope I haven't taxed your hospitality too much.
A long time ago in the middle east there was this guy. When he was born some people thought he was important, and while outsiders were excited, the people in power were more interested in killing him. As this little guy grew up he showed a talent for reading and public speaking. He gathered a little group of unmarried men and women, some children, a tax collector or prostitute here and there, and this band of losers called him “teacher”. Some of them called him “the son of God”. The really crazy ones even called him “God”.
As he traveled around with this band he grew in popularity. People came out in droves to listen to what he had to say – even though, a lot of the time, it didn't make a lot of sense to them then. But all this popularity got him into trouble, and so he was arrested on trumped up charges. And all of his friends and followers freaked out and ran away to hide. They pretended the didn't know him.
He died on a cross alone.
And he went into the earth like a little seed, and slept for a short time in the utter darkness, and then, a small yellowish-green shoot came up, and caught the sunlight, and drank the rain, and spread deep roots, and it began to grow. It grew far larger than plants of its kind ever grow, so huge that it surprised everyone. No one could chop it down, it just kept growing and growing and growing, its branches so thick, its roots so deep. It didn't make any sense at all.
This flimsy plant has grown so huge, so broad, so tall, that all of us, each and every one, can find a welcoming home in its shade. There is room for everyone here, and it does not make sense, and it is true, because here we are together.
And look! We don't know why, but the seeds we sow bear fruit of their own. I know of one handfull of seeds that was sown here, so to speak, in this fertile ground, and has since grown, and continues to grow.
Praise God for grace we do not understand. Amen?
Friday, June 26, 2009
Second note: This post on Adiaphora is a great example of a position I'm almost diametrically opposed to, and that I seek to refute with this post.
Ironically, I think the general definition of tolerance that is bandied about is too broad. It leads to absurdities like having to answer "well, shouldn't you Liberals tolerate intolerance?" This is followed by a gotcha-smirk and triumphal nodding. Checkmate!
I don't think "tolerance" should mean that we tolerate everything, and I think a better definition is in order to clarify things.
What I think we liberals, progressives, whatever, mean when we talk about tolerance is ethical toleration - tolerance of things that are not overtly harmful or ethically unjustifiable. It is the self-discipline of allowing voices that we disagree with to be heard. So, for example, it is not intolerant to move away from you if you are poking me in the eye with a stick. I can be tolerant and also avoid eye-poking. I can also be tolerant and avoid some equivalents of eye-poking.
I can be tolerant and yet not tolerate things that I think are ethically unjustifiable or harmful. In those cases, tolerant or not, I have a moral responsibility to speak out and say something, and to do what I can ethically to put a stop to what is going on. To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes, I can tolerate you swinging your fist around until it connects with someone's nose.
So, for me at least, when I write about tolerance, assume what I mean is ethical toleration. I think it is what Liberals/progressives/whatever also mean when they use that word, but you'll have to ask them.
(Honestly, I think responsible conservatives probably buy into this in principle as well - but I'll have to ask them.)
Thursday, June 25, 2009
road rolling beneath me, the fog
is fingerling down green hills
or a hand brushing away
the light or
a wave roiling over to crash
between precarious million-dollar homes
in wet lowlands awaiting draining,
and gelded trees
wait wet, furtive
in the hollows
breathing the cold breath of the sea
A fascinating peek into what's going on in Iran, from Andrew Sullivan:
A twitterer named lettersoftheliv has published an exhaustive series of tweets as a how-to guide for non-violent demonstrations. Here's how to protect yourself from tear gas:
Do not pick up/throw back tear gas canisters- will severely burn your hands.
Vinegar soaked bandana helps you breath with tear gas. Contaminates fast, have extra.
Most tear gas injuries come from PANIC/chaos,not the chemicals:Ppl lose heads.Effects intense but very short-term.
Stay calm and yell “WALK, WALK” as you walk away from tear gas/pepper spray attack- spread calm.
Do not wear contact lens- pepper spray can linger and damage your eyes.
How to protect yourself during a basij assault:
Go limp-When rigid,easy to pick up & move.If limp weight,hard to pick up & move (Always tuck your head by looking at your belly)
link arms, stay in large groups, never touch a basiji, consider Sit Down when attacked (depending on plan/setting/ and Weapon)
If grp sits dwn & police grab at 1 to beat, that 1 should scoot back & ppl behind open up & pull thru to back.Ppl in front close gap.
If sit in grp&1 beaten w/batons,Ppl drape selves over target:spread hits over 3 ppl's butts, not 1 prsn's head.Cover head & torso
"No-Hit Strategy"-attacked ppl hv instinct 2 hit back:Never let ppl rcv more than 2 hits b4 swarming as group 2 protect.
Swarm/Surround agitators who are becoming violent so they cannot escalate the situation.
If police push u n grp,unsafe 2 push back:escalates situation.All cross ankles & sit in place.Impossible 2 push seated group.
At times you deem appropriate, sing or chant- do things to keep groups spirit strong- this is unbelievably important.
Stay alert, “Ignore” harassment- ignore yelling, throwing objects, etc Do not react emotionally- Do not engage baiting
Most powerful weapon you wield is SHAME- from your own religious/cultural context, choose symbolic NV acts.
Always scan for escape routes, easiest exits.
Know and trust ppl u are protesting with- don't mix NV and violent protesters
Be prepared – with talking points, chants, alternative plans, exit strategy, contingency plans, supplies, etc
Practice/Roleplay NV de-escalation & tolerating/surviving/escaping "basiji" in GROUPS. Discuss-strengths,weaknesses
Share “if I get arrested” info-emergency contacts/needs
Assign jobs- scout, scene assessment, food, map, exits, etc. Have 1 person off-site know where you are.
appoint teams of people 4 tasks- a team 2 scout & swarm agitators, keep deescalated (assume agitators r plants)
Avoid alcohol, drugs and caffeine- dehydrating. Don't use anything that will impair judgement.
Stay hydrated- use oral rehydration solution:1 ts salt,8 ts sugar,1 liter clean drinking water:Stir.
If no bathroom available use privacy circle, group stands in circle around person, faces outward.
What to wear (or not to wear):
Wear a waterproof, nonabsorbent outer layer if possible. Cover your arms and legs.
Wear 2 pairs of underwear. If you get arrested, you have 1 to wear and 1 to wash.
Dress in layers, appropriately for weather.
WOMEN- Don't wear tampons- wear pads (can't remove if arrested or trapped, toxic shock syndrome)
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
I'm going to try to write a poem a day. I've been looking for a regular spiritual practice to engage in (guess what - discipline isn't my strong suit) and this is what I've picked. Ideally I'll wake up 10 minutes earlier and rattle one off each day.
I'm measuring this in terms of my last unit of CPE, so the goal is 60 poems by the end of my current unit. If you do a little easy math, you find that this will give me a few days for Mulligans and so on. We'll see how it goes.
The idea is to write things that come to mind immediately, without editing - I might say more about why I am choosing to write this way in a later post. For now, though, I consider that fair warning.
These poems will probably really, really suck. The ones that don't will likely involve plagiarism of song lyrics that are stuck in my head.
I promise nothing.
I think the poems will get posted in the evening, one a day to keep me honest.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I think, sometimes, that nothing threatens religious people in Western societies more than other religions. I say Western societies because in other cultures, respecting and even practicing more than one religion at once isn't seen as a problem at all. If you go to Thailand or China or Japan, for example, you'll find that people in those countries freely combine Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Confucianism, and other faiths, and they find it hard to believe how upset Americans get about pluralism. African Christianity is sometimes unrecognizable to an "orthodox" type, with its mix of the Bible and indigenous beliefs. Again, a Westerner has to expend a lot of energy explaining why this is such a problem and a threat.
(I think this is because long ago Christianity was perverted by Empire, but I'll leave that for a future post.)
So as I talk about this, I realize that I run the risk of upsetting my fellow Western Christians, and I realize that some Christians from other cultures will be thinking "well, yeah, duh."
I should say that I haven't always felt this way. For a long time I thought that other religions were wrong-headed and, if I was honest, kind of stupid. Buddhists were useless navel-gazers. Muslims were AK-47 toting desert-dwellers. And Hinduism was basically a throw-back to the Bronze Age mess of polytheism. Don't they worship cows or something? Clearly, my own white middle-class Protestantism was superior to all other forms of faith and practice.
What changed was when I actually learned about these other faiths and in some courageous moments, tried out some of their practices myself. This, like all machinations of the Devil, occurred in college. I ended up taking the plunge and majoring in religious studies. What I found was that my faith and spiritual life were deepened when I reached outside of the "traditional" bounds of Christianity. I think this is potentially the case for anyone.
One of the things that I had fun doing which was enjoyably iconoclastic was developing a new worship service at my home church in Akron, OH. The purpose of this worship service was to let parishoners encounter other religions and spiritualities and then for us to have a shared worship experience, an experiment actually, together. This wasn's just my evil plan - this was what the committee that gathered at my apartment came up with through consensus decisionmaking. We had college students from the youth group, the pastor, myself, a couple older ladies, and a couple of parents from the congregation. It turns out that the congregation was hungering to encounter other people with other beliefs and practices, and we all found our faith deepened by the experience.
(Side note - this experimental worship service came up in conversation with the church I visited recently in New Jersey. That was pretty interesting, since they lean more toward the Evangelical than I do)
I remember joining in prayer with a Muslim dentist. We stood foot-to-foot and shoulder-to-shoulder, in the style one would in a mosque (except that women and men stood together, which is much more unusual) as he led us in his traditional prayer. He then joined us in a prayer of the people and a Lord's Prayer. It was very moving, and we had some people in the group who were strongly against having a Muslim into our church (this was in 2003, so you can imagine), but I think it was a great thing. I felt like we all stood on holy ground. Reflecting about it after, it really moved people, especially those who felt hostility toward Islam.
This is just one example of months of these worship services every week, involving all kinds of amazing experiences - and a few frankly awful ones.
In college, what first really struck me was Buddhism, particularly of the Soto Zen variety. Soto means, basically, "just sitting". When you imagine a Zen monk sitting silent staring into space, maybe with some green tea nearby, you might be imagining Soto Zen practice. I thought this was pretty stupid - sit still and pay attention to my breath? What? What was surprising was what an impact the experience had. I took up regular meditative practice (Soto Zen meditation is almost identical to what I've heard called Christian centering prayer for those of you keeping track) which I've kept for ten or so years now, and I got into the writings of Buddhist tradition - mostly Zen writings, but also older things like major sutras and the Dhammapada. For an interesting starter, if you're curious about how I connect my Christian faith and practice and my reading and practice in Buddhism, you might want to start with Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh.
A third influence came through my study of Mandarin in college. I found an old copy of the Dao de Qing (everyone spells it differently, but I use the pinyin) and read through it. In Chinese, the Dao de Qing is actually borderline gibberish. You could read it word for word on a street-corner in Beijing and few would know what you were talking about. In English, its easy to see gibberish as well. "The Dao that can be named is not the eternal Dao." Crazy, right? But I recommend reading it. It is a window into a way of thinking about the world that seems alien to the semi-European one most of us in American share (something like it is in Western tradition as well, but usually ignored). It is delightful evidence that I cannot possibly understand the world the way others do, and faced with that realization, I have to either try to force/convince them to see the world the way I do (traditional evangelism) or respect the way they see the world and try to make room for both of us to learn and grow (traditional pluralism).
I don't want to prattle on at length about other experiences I've had and that kind of thing. I'll say that respectfully investigating other beliefs and practices for myself has been profoundly moving and beneficial to me in every way. Maybe that's enough.
My belief is that God is bigger than Christianity. I am comfortable as a Christian, of making that my claim in this life, but I am also comfortable that others make other claims. I don't think they are all identical and interchangeable, but I also don't think it is my place to tell someone "Your way of viewing the world is fundamentally wrong because it is not mine." I think we can make ethical or logical comparisons, discuss strengths and weaknesses, but I love what I've learned about those who believe and practice differently from me, and I hope to continue to do so for the rest of my life.
What is your tradition, and how have you encountered other traditions and practices? What was it like for you?
Sunday, June 21, 2009
I recently finished reading a really interesting book. I was inspired by watching Lie to Me on Hulu and becoming something of a fan. The show is based on the work of the author of Emotions Revealed, among other books.
The author, Paul Ekman, has been involved for decades in overturning over a hundred years of theory about where emotions come from. Charles Darwin theorized that emotions would be universal and would have universal signals regardless of culture. Since Darwin, almost everyone has assumed he was wrong - but no one proved it. Then Ekman comes along and demonstrates that there are indeed universal emotional signals, visible particularly in the face, which are the same regardless of culture. What differs are rules about displaying emotion.
If you think about it, it makes some sense that we'd all have the same emotional signals. Some emotions are helpful to get across. Anger, for example, says don't get in my way, and there might have been an evolutionary advantage to advertising that feeling to others around you. Fear says oh crap! and if there's a universal signal, it might help others nearby to react more quickly. Sadness and anguish say someone help me, and an open display of this feeling might function to bring someone to comfort and support me.
The book is partly about reading the signs of emotion in others, but a lot of space is devoted to reading our own emotions and understanding them better. The book is helpful in both regards, I think, particularly for fools like me who are in pastoral ministry. Its really useful to be able to more accurately tell what someone is feeling, and any help I can get dealing with my own emotions is welcome.
So, anyway, the book is out in trade paperback, and for about $16 its a good investment in your emotional understand and, for those of you in helping professions, your ministry.
For more information on Ekman and his work, you can go here.
Friday, June 19, 2009
But I'm not talking about the Bible's poetry, or the hymns of the past, or the praise songs of today.
I am talking about T.S. Elliot and Langson Hughes and e.e. cummings. I am talking about trance and hip-hop and rock and blues.
You go to school and you learn the rules of language, already knowing on some level granted by nursery rhymes perhaps, that these rules are not all there is. But the truth is that you have to understand common language first - only then does poetry become available.
Poetry is the modification or breaking of the rules of language (grammar, syntax, spelling etc.) in order to better express. That's sort of my working definition.
There are times when breaking a rule says more than following the rule - even about something that the rule is meant to point toward. There is something that the laws we pass about spousal treatment which shatters, and thank God!, in a single kiss - and only the kiss can get us there.
I have definitely met people who disagree about the importance, truth and beauty of poetry. (I'd link to their blogs if they weren't so frustrating) I'm comfortable, though, in saying that poetry is valuable in and of itself, and that its value comes from its breaking of rules.
This hit me most solidly in my reading of e. e. cummings. His poems are like the confetti that results from cutting up rational treatises into tiny pieces and throwing them in the air in jubilation - but imagine if that confetti fell in just such a way as to surpass those treatises in every way. Some of his poems come off as just nonsense, and others took a while for me to figure out, but overall, its very rewarding to take the tablets of language and hit them with a hammer (wielded with surgical skill) and find, in the rubble, beauty.
Music is the interaction of multiple layers of structure. There is the rhythmic structure of starts and stops, pauses and sustains. There is the harmonic structure of the frequency of sound as experienced by the human ear, how different sounds blend well and reinforce each other. There is also the qualities of the sound itself - the timbre of a throaty jazz singer versus the abrasive plosives of a rapper or the long mournful draw of Yo Yo Ma's bow across his cello strings.
Sometimes there are words, poetry, added to the mix of music, so that there arises a cognitive-experiential structure of how the words harmonize, or do not harmonize, with the music. Otherwise, you just have the music, which is in a sense a universal language, though what kind of sounds one appreciates has a lot to do with their culture (gamelan versus Stravinski versus a raga, say) and less to do with some kind of Platonically ideal set of sounds.
Life is an interaction of multiple layers of structure - life is music. It is the timbre of daily experience, ever-changing in quality; the rhythm of day and night, of weather, of seasons, of heartbeats and breath; the counter-point of thoughts and reflections; all modulated by the brain, which only lets us sense the unvarnished truth of smell - everything else is filtered, modified, and cut to fit our expectations and limitations.
God is poetry - the rule-maker and rule-breaker simultaneously, the confetti of reason that falls just so, and in that mess, we see the truth.
God is music - the infinite layers of order in the universe are in harmony, or potentially in harmony, and one name for that harmony is God.
What is your favorite poet? Favorite music? What has moved you the most in your life in this category?
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
I have done so little
And you have done so little
That we have good reason
Never to agree.
Have such meagre
Clutching at a
While you control
But your hour is
My moment is
Monday, June 15, 2009
What I mean by "symptomatic" is that our theology comes from us - not from space, or from the Platonic ideal realm, or from an objective viewpoint detached from our experience. If I learn a lot about a person's history and experiences, I can probably tell you a lot about their theology. The two are intrinsically connected, and I have yet to meet or hear of or read a book written by anyone whose theology is not determined to a large degree by their experience. To me, this is inevitable, and even good. I like that there are as many theologies as there are experiences - I just wish we didn't spend so much time and energy pretending this wasn't the case.
In the past few months, however, I've found myself in a position once again where symptoms have a lot more weight than they do in other situations. If my knee hurts or if my blood pressure is high, then those are physical things, and I can seek physical remedies - physical therapy, or ibuprofen, or eating fewer saturated fats. But when the symptom is my inner world, my psyche (just the Greek word for "soul"), things get a lot dicier.
I don't imagine that I have some immoveable kernel that is immune to change, but I do have a consistency of experience. That is, when I wake up, I feel like myself most of the time. The world feels like the world. My relationships feel like my relationships.
So lets posit that you take a medicaiton (as I am) and these perceptions begin changing. I feel like a somewhat different self. The world feels like a different world. My relationships feel like different relationships.
Fortunately, perhaps, I don't have any kind of myth to tell you about self-determination, of grabbing my soul's bootstraps and lifting msyelf out of the mire. That kind of garbage is for Scientology and Ayn Rand and The Secret, if I may be so bold. What I did was I realized what I was feeling was, in some part, symptomatic of something wrong. I tried one medication that made me feel better and worse in a new way, and then another medication that just made me feel better.
I have to say, when someone talks about objective truth, I'm just going to laugh all the harder. If my experiences can be symptoms, what does objectivity mean?
My experience of myself
I have more energy, more creativity, and more focus. I feel more confident about myself and less anxious about what I have to do during the course of a day. It is a little less painful to accept compliments and gifts. I trust my intuition more, even though I don't think it has suddenly become a lot more reliable. I am more willing to say what I think.
My experience of the world
I don't face the next day with dread. I don't think of the world as out to get me, as just waiting for me to make some kind of misstep before it's jaws close over me and snuff me out. The world feels like it is less on a default setting of "threatening". I wouldn't say I'm a starry-eyed idealist (that might be another symptom), but I definitely feel different; as if everything I face is fundamentally manageable, like I'm in a fight I have a chance of winning.
I wrote the following in my third unit self-evaluation a few weeks ago:
I'm not very good at realistic self-evaluation. Kirby has pointed this out in various ways, and its pretty clear to me at this point. Every time I feel like I am doing something of importance, or have to be dependable, or don't have a lot of room for mistakes, I have the sensation of betting against the house - the more important the moment, the bigger the bet. That is, I have the sensation that everything will fall apart, because of something I will do or fail to do, and it is just a matter of time. It is hard to figure out what of this is something I do to myself, what of this might be reasonable care and fear, and what is just a symptom of depression twisting my feelings. I still don't have a clear idea of what health is for me. I end up having to try to use my intuition and ignore it at the same time - like trying to walk a balance beam with an inner-ear infection. In short, I don't think I've demonstrated self-supervision consistently yet, this unit or any unit.
My experience of relationship
I feel a lot more available to other people recently. I am more comfortable in groups, and it is easier for me to pay attention without my mind wandering. I also find that I am more willing to push back - part of this is the result of some boot-strappy effort on my part, but I also felt a big change that seems to have to do with little pink pills. But I am more apt to make room for myself socially, to make my thoughts known even when they might be uncomfortable.
I find that I still hesitate to write posts like this, and I treat it as a spiritual discipline. I know quite well that there is a stigma around taking medication for something like depression. Most of us, me included, buy into the lie that we are who we make ourselves. Does my thinking and my attitude and my behavior play into depression? Sure. Can't say no. But is it the chicken, or the egg? Is my thinking shaped by the symptoms, or are the symptoms arising from my thinking?
How the heck would I be able to tell?
The truth is, for me at least, that there is no way to tell, and I just have to make do the best ways I know how - to take what help is offered, to do what work I am able to do, and to try to be satisfied with the mess that results.
What does this mean for theology? Who cares? Well, for me it means that I believe more strongly in symptomatic theology over systematic theology. Guess what - theology is human after all, subject to all of our foibles - writing them larger than life even, conflating them with God and ultimate reality. I'm not chiseling down to the hard, shining core of truth. I'm not climbing towers of academic Babble to the heavens. I am baring my soul and my highest aspirations and my deepest fears.
This is better, to me, and not worse.
It is, at the very least, quite honest.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
So when I talk about Christian myth, I hope it is a little shocking coming from a Christian, but not too shocking.
For me, theology is primarily an act not of reason but of imagination, which I believe is far more powerful than the former. We must engage our imagination to even conceive of God. What are God's measurements? What is the sound of Her voice? What is the shape of His footprint? These questions are unanswerable, and only approachable in the area of metaphor or simile, allegory or parable. There is no truly reasonable way to talk about God - we can play in that sandbox for a while, but it falls apart at some point. If we have certainty, it is the gut-certainty of love at first sight, and never the certainty of gravity or thermodynamics.
Finding God in myth is easy because myths are about ultimate meaning, and one word we use to refer to that ultimate meaning is God. I have always been moved and fascinated with our myths as Christians and with other myths from history and from people with other religious traditions. I know that it is naughty to find meaning in these other myths, but I just can't help myself. They are so beautiful, from the impervious ebullience of the Dao de Qing to the trickster-story cycles of Raven and Coyote...clearly, God is too great to contain. In reading Joseph Campbell and the many works of meta-myth out there, I came to understand what were deeply-seated human raelizations about ultimate reality, reflected all over the place in varying intensity.
Finding God in fantasy is just a step back from myth. I first found this when I first read the Lord of the Rings, and felt something deeply resonant to my little tween heart. I soon later learned that Tolkien was quite the Catholic, and was instrumental in converting C.S. Lewis to Christianity. I realized what I had been seeing.
Going farther afield, I remember the first time I read A Wizard of Earthsea. The story of Ged's great mistake made in hubris, and then his long painful journey to wisdom and, ultimately, bonding with his Shadow, spoke to me. For this one, I had to turn to some of the more accessible works of Karl Jung (note that I consider psychology to be a mythology - might explain a few things) among other tidbits, and I got a better idea of why this story had the impact that it did.
As I said, I believe that theology is primarily an act of imagination. I think we depend far too much on reason, as if what we lacked was sufficient intelligence to understand all there is to understand about God. What reason gives us is a better understanding of what we already think is true. It requires imagination to reach beyond ourselves and to grow as human beings.
So when I say that the Bible is full of imaginitive language, I am saying that it is far superior to a rational treatise that attempted to fill all of the holes and shore up all the inconsistencies and internal arguments. For me, the Bible is valuable insofar as it is non-rational, because what it has to tell us that is rational we could figure out for ourselves, couldn't we? So if there are great and beautiful and true things in there (and I believe there are), they are open to our imagination, and in my experience at least, fly in the face of reason.
That's what makes them good - what keeps me coming back.
I just realized that I haven't gone far enough out of bounds. I'll have to fix that.
What is your favorite myth or folktale? What sense do you make of the thousands of myths in human hystory, each contradicting the others in many ways and each echoing the others in other ways?
Thursday, June 11, 2009
As usual with me, I came up with a bajillion answers, but this is the one that I wanted to write about because it kept coming to mind for me. It taps into what I think is a sorely under-analyzed Biblical theme which connects the Bible to the rest of the world's mythology and folklore - the trickster.
Maybe I just need to be turned on to theologians who are talking about tricksters in the Bible and in Christian mythology, but I haven't seen many at all. Well, anyway, read on...
312.1 To articulate an understanding of the pastoral role that is congruent with their personal values, basic assumptions and personhood.
What do you think? Am I just blowing smoke again? Am I heretical enough to warrant water-boarding? Or just enough to be fun at parties?
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
If we're to be judged by our fruits, what kinds of fruits do blog-fights bear? I'm hard pressed to come up with any. I think that part of why these pointless fights made sense to me was just plain depression - it reduces one's capacity to realize the futility of what is going on. Or, maybe more accurately, it makes everything feel equally futile, so I guess arguing with someone in their comment thread feels just as pointless as pretty much anything else.
I now feel like I am looking at these things from something of a new light - from my point of view at least.
I think we should ordain homosexuals. I think that abortion is wrong, but I also think the Pro Life movement is wrong. I am a pacifist to the best of my limited ability. I cry because sea turtles get caught in long lines and are going extinct, along with most large animals in the oceans. I think we should have a canon only insofar as the canon shows us who we are and who God is, and that whatever we agree shows us those things should be "canon". There are parts of the Bible I just never read. I'm a pluralist.
Take your shots. :)
But here's the thing. I want to enjoy this, so when it stops being fun, that'll be that. A good rousing argument can be interesting, but I'm going to scroll past comments that take themselves too seriously, and feel free to do the same with my idiotic little posts.
Monday, June 8, 2009
From Paul Krugman:
Let’s say this slowly: the Bush administration wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So it tortured people to make them confess to the nonexistent link.
There’s a word for this: it’s evil.
We used to know that. Check this poster out from WWII:
Sunday, June 7, 2009
I would like to color outside the lines for a while here. I don't want to argue about the Bible or about orthodoxy, or even really mention them at all. What I want to talk about are the other ways that I experience God, the other paths I've found to wisdom and joy and wonder and transformation which I associate with God but which are not always officially authorized by the adherence-police of our time.
In talking with real live people, once they've gotten past the pat and expected answers we all learned in Sunday School ("love", "the Bible", "Jesus"), some of these things turn out to be the meat-and-bones of someone's lived spirituality. Why are some people so afraid to honor that? Not me. I go out there looking for God in everything. I don't always find God, but when I do, what a thrill!
[Raises a mug to looking high and low for God - salut!]
If I have the time and interest to sustain me, I'd like to cover a number of categories of my experiences of God "out of bounds". I've listed them briefly here, but I may not write about them in this same order. We'll see.
I also welcome all of you to add your own experiences of God out of bounds. Come on, don't be shy. You can even post anonymously if you're afraid the adherence-police will find out :)
The examples I list are not meant to be exhaustive, just things that come to mind under each category:
Fantasy and Myth
...Tolkien (as always with me), Ursula K. LeGuin, Joseph Campbell, Karl Jung, and so on
Poetry and Music
...T.S. Elliot, Langston Hughes, e. e. cummings, hip-hop, Schubert, trance, the Blues
Other Religions and Spiritualities
...Zen and "nothing special", Vajrayana's Six Realms, rave culture, ragas, chaplaincy, vision quests, chanting Om, Islamic prayer, martial arts
...family, romantic, friends, enemies
...beauty, the destruction of beauty, the end of civilization, sharks (!), humans as animals
...apparently God is sex-positive
...Understanding Comics, abstract, representational, awe
...to live up to expectations, to succeed, to overcome fear and anxiety, to be cool
Violence and Nonviolence
...the arc of the universe (?), "I foolishly thought violence would free me from violence", Experiments in Truth, Walter Wink
...Universal spatial scale, scale in time, scale in diverse phenomena, biological examples, the anthropic principle, rules and breakdown of rules, math as metaphor
...A General Theory of Love, Sam Harris, Ekman's emotional templates, hallucinogens, modern dogs
Way Out There
...aliens, the occult, conspiracy theories, torture and objective truth
As I go through this series, I invite everyone reading to comment about their own experiences of God out of bounds...
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Friday, June 5, 2009
What are the key theological issues currently facing the church and society, and how do they shape your ministry?:
We have a powerful opportunity. In this time of economic trials, losses and fear, we can see very clearly who we are, what we are doing, and what will result. As a culture we have coasted along uncritically on greed for a long time now, trusting not in God but in interest rates, loving not each other but the next gadget or raise or lease. This is idolatry, and it is nothing new.
Until the bottom falls out on us, we don’t realize what we are standing on – shifting sand. And the result will always be the same – we will be swallowed whole by our own endless want. Now is a time when the hurch universal, in every place, and in every language, can stand up and say “We know another Way”: A Way that values life rather than making it a commodity or collateral damage; a Way that calls us to love sacrificially rather than hedge our bets; a Way that is a path to life by losing life; a Way that is far greater and more wonderful than all of our ideas and practices and even hopes.
We find that Way in a person, Jesus Christ, and I think it is a wonderful time to be who we are and say what we believe. I am ready for the power of the Holy Spirit to remake and renew us, to remind us that we are chosen before we can respond, and we are loved beyond our capacity to reciprocate or even understand. God’s love is overturning the world and making it new, and I want to be part of it.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Ken Pagano, pastor of New Bethel Church in Louisville, Kentucky, is inviting his congregation to bring guns to church to celebrate the fourth of July and the 2nd Amendment. He says that at the founding of this country "there was a strong belief in God and firearms."
God and firearms.
What a creed.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
I had trouble with leadership until I finally figured it out for myself. I didn’t want to tell anyone what to do – because I don’t want to be told what to do. I value consensus and cooperation very highly, and I don’t want to insist on my own way (or the highway). I love learning more about people, what they believe, what they want out of life, what they think is the right thing to do. I want to work together to create things that are greater than a simple combination of parts.
What I had to learn is that leadership is obedience. I have found leadership to be obedience to my own conscience, not violating my integrity for the sake of safety or a surface-level getting along. Leadership is also obedience to the standards set out for me, by my faith and by the office that I occupy. Leadership is obedience to the truth, even when it contradicts what I thought was true, or makes me uncomfortable, or is difficult to say out loud. Leadership is obedience to the people I am leading – I serve them and answer to them, ultimately, because I depend on them to accomplish anything I want to accomplish, and because they keep me honest and help me check my ego at the door.
At the heart of leadership is ultimate obedience to God. As a leader I believe I am called to do all I can to be a dim reflection of God’s love, and to join the great cloud of witnesses as we seek God. I know that I have more to learn than I have to teach, and I am overjoyed to know that God will always surprise me.
Monday, June 1, 2009
Anyway, interesting reading, and it might wet your appetite for more...
I'm fascinated by the idea that the difference between liberal and conservative might come down to the sensitivity of our gag reflex.
Please describe present call and accomplishments:
For two years I served as Intern in Urban Multicultural Ministries at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, CA. This was the only internship I applied to because when I came to the church, I immediately felt welcomed into a new, strange and wonderful family. During my internship I worked with youth, did adult education, preached and led worship, and participated in every part of the life of the church.
I have described this congregation as a “beautiful mess”, and I think it fits. I love the variety, I love the constant opportunities to learn and to grow, and I love the daily demonstration of the Gospel’s power to overturn everything – language, economics, culture, politics - that keeps us apart. I love to watch the Body of Christ be knitted together one sinew at a time.
I am currently serving in another “beautiful mess” of its own at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital as a chaplain in a year-long CPE residency. This residency has nearly driven me insane – it has pushed me to the brink of giving up or breaking down. What has brought me through is the love and support of my wife, friends and colleagues and the depth of my commitment to my calling. I have been face to face with death, suffering, want, addiction and mental illness, and I have seen God in every single patient, staff-person, and event. I have been softened, sharpened, shaped and refined, learning more fully where my strengths and weaknesses lie, where I am most prepared and where I have yet to grow.