Friday, May 23, 2008

One *Consistent* Voice

In a political landscape where someone's method of counting the votes changes every month or so...where "I've listened to you and in the process I've found my voice" means simply that your voice changes state by state and moment by moment...where someone else can call a person an agent of intolerance one year, and seek their favor the next...I think there's one candidate whose voice has been consistent. What do you think?


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Move over, Iron Man...'s Fusion Man!

This is apparently real, folks. I can't decide if it's purely cool, or if I'm concerned about the waste of fuel...though I plan to jet ski Saturday, so I'm gonna go with "cool." Clearly, if I'm to take over the world, I must obtain one of these. Bwah-hah-hah!


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Day, all!

Happy Pentecost everybody - may God's Spirit be poured out on you or well up within you today...may it be a day of encouragement, empowerment, and blessing, so that you may bless, encourage, and empower others.

And hey, don't forget that it's Mother's Day! Hey mom - see you in about 14 hours!


Friday, May 9, 2008

Discipleship Emerging, pt. 3 - Chaplaincy

As I work through this job hunting process, my thoughts have done a lot of circling around what *type* of job to look for, as I've already written about (endlessly). A calling or vocation is not a calling to a job description. I feel like being a minister *is* who I am - or who I'm called to be/become. I also think all people are called to be ministers, in some way - and that for me, what it means to be a minister is that I'm a reminder-er - my role is to remind others that they are ministers. And, I guess, to support them and equip them as they go about ministry/service/working for the kingdom in their own spheres of influence. And to remind them they're not alone, and foster community and connection between the various spheres. And...well, that's enough!

So whatever job I have at any point, it doesn't have to be identical with my calling...but it does need to be consistent. I was becoming progressively troubled as a healthcare chaplain, because my primary understanding of my calling - reminding and equipping and building up - wasn't what I was spending most of my time doing. This, as much as frustration over paperwork and evil corporate greed and governmental waste, is why I'm not a chaplain right now.

Well, being laid off had something to do with it, too.

But I'd already decided I wouldn't stay more than another year. Really. some extent, volunteering at my church and with the college ministry while working in hospice as a 'day job' worked. But hospice isn't really the kind of thing you can do long term if you're not really passionate about it. And while it generally worked ok, sometimes it didn't leave much emotional energy for volunteering, even though that was the stuff I 'really' wanted to do. It was frustrating to know you were doing second-best at things that were most important to you. Meanwhile, I was trying to find ways to be who I am - a reminder-er (really need a better word!) and equipper, but thinking I really ought to be around people who were going to live long enough to do something with the insights they were having...

When the hospice job evaporated, I took that as my cue that it was time to shift to doing a job that was where my heart was - in the church.

My understanding of vocation may be shifting, by the way. I still agree and am passionate about what I've said - being a reminder, equipper, and community-builder. But there's another element that comes to the surface in the last few years, an element that working in hospitals and hospices has helped to crystallize, as well as reading literature from the emerging church, and my own Bible study.

I have seen too many men and women die feeling lonely and cut off from the church…too many people die without believing they are loved, or that God intended for them, for us all, to have lives of meaning and purpose - to know that we are of infinite value.

I have watched people die who never got to the point where they trusted that. At best, I could say that because of me and even more the nurse's aides, nurses, and social workers, they at least were *told* that they mattered. More, they saw people *acting* as if they mattered. That's something. For some of my patients, there was no one else in their lives telling them those things.

We all bear some responsibility for the lives we lead, and I'll grant you that many of those folks made choices that contributed to their isolation. But so what? We all fall short, and some of us only have bad choices to start with. The fact remains, whatever else, that often hospice was standing in the gap in solidarity with those patients when no one else was. Not family...not church.

(Not to say I didn't encounter many incredible and inspiring families, and churches, and a synagogue. Sometimes things - people - work out. Sometimes they don't.)

My dream is to be a part of a church community that is not content to leave those needs in other hands. My dream is to be a part of a church that believes Jesus meant it when he said that whatever we have done for the least of these - feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting the prisoners and the oppressed - whatever we have done for them, we have done for Christ.

And whatever we have not done for them, we have not done for Christ.

The fact is, the church is meant to be doing this work...and when we're doing it right, no one does it better. Can you imagine showing any more love and compassion and solidarity for the desperately poor of Calcutta than Mother Teresa did? She's a model for us. Christ is the model for us.

The hospice I worked for was a the end of the day, decisions about how we gave care were made with concern for the bottom line, and the value of the company's stock. The decision to eliminate a chaplain position - to go from having a full-time ministerial presence in the hospice house, to a chaplain visiting 10-15 hours a week (though I know he does 20 or more - go Tom!)...this was not a decision based on care for patients. Nor do I believe it was based on financial necessity. It was based on cutting corners...on not valuing spiritual care for the dying. Because the model of what we "had to provide" is set by industry standards of care, concocted to meet Medicare guidelines. Which is fine...but it's a different model than the model of Christ.

I's just business. In our culture, that excuses pretty much anything that isn't actively illegal. But...Amos 5:10-13, 15 should speak to our culture.
They hate him who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor him who speaks the truth.
Therefore because you trample on the poor
and you exact taxes of grain from him,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not dwell in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your transgressions
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and turn aside the needy in the gate.
Hate evil, and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

End of the day - I feel called, compelled, to find a way to minister to the lost and least, the overlooked and serve as a reminder that they are loved, that there is purpose and meaning for their lives, to help them find community. My dream...whatever my to be a part of a church community that embraces that, not as an occasional project, but as the meaning of our lives - the working out of our calling - the source of our joy.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Iron Man - Review

So I went to see the "Iron Man" movie Monday night, with Robert Downey Jr. as an inspired choice for Tony Stark (see Stark here in this picture from the comics - Downey looks just like him), Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, and Terrence Howard. Official synopsis, short version: "Billionaire industrialist Tony Stark builds a high-tech suit of armor and leads a double-life as the superhero, Iron Man." Don't click "Read More" if you don't want spoilers.

I liked it! I liked it a lot! No, it's not great literature, but it's a good move. Very well-cast actors with very good delivery from all (although Howard wasn't in enough of it to get a real sense of him...but I imagine he'll be much bigger in the sequel), a good strong story, great effects, good human interaction as well as great action sequences, plenty of humor...and I'd actually rate it a cut above the generic "yeah this was a good movie and I liked the popcorn too" flick. (That's the kind of movie you enjoy going to see at the movies but it has no deep impact and not much re-watchability.) The movie lightly but definitely asks some troubling questions about weapons development and war profiteering, and the role of U.S. or multi-national corporations in profiting off of weapons trade. (Did you know that, of 25 major conflicts going on in 1999, 20 of them had he U.S. supplying weapons to one or both sides? And that the U.S. creates and exports more than 50% of the world's weapons?)

Iron Man's a classic superhero. *You* might not know that, but he is. He's about 45 years old, contemporary with Spider-Man, Hulk, and the Fantastic Four. He's a founding member of the Avengers, alongside the Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and neo-founder Captain America. He, Thor, and Captain America are the Avengers "Big 3", and Iron Man is unquestionably one of the big guns of the Marvel Universe, in terms of power, smarts, and influence over other heroes. don't know who the Avengers are? They're equivalent in lots of ways to DC's Justice League. Marvel's Fantastic Four has more name recognition with non-comics fans than the Avengers, but in the comic universe, the Avengers are the premiere super-team.

So Iron Man's big. He's never had much name recognition outside the comics, but he's had his own action figures and appeared in cartoons and video games. Now, he's on the big screen, and doing well.

Doing very well! Robert Downey Jr. was an inspired choice, and not just because of his look. Iron Man's alter ego, Tony Stark, is a rich playboy who was probably the first superhero to be an alcoholic. Downey (oddly enough) is able to carry off the booze-swilling, womanizing, ultra-rich vibe perfectly - while still having lots of charm and likeability, somehow, just as Stark in the comics manages.

Speaking of the comics, it's nice to see the source material adapted (not slavishly copied) with such respect. Lots of *details* are changed, but everything "feels" right - they've nailed the spirit of Iron Man. A rich womanizer who nevertheless is likeable - and has a sense of responsibility for the common good, and definitely a sense of responsibility for how his inventions get used. The aspect of the plot where he was hunting down and destroying his weapons to prevent others from using them echos the classic "Armor Wars" storyline from the comics. There were lots of other little "Easter eggs" scattered throughout - stuff a comic geek would recognize and be excited about, but that weren't a) stupidly obvious, or b) obscure to non-comics folks. For example, the Asian/Middle-Eastern chr that kidnapped Stark was bent on taking over Asia, and headed an organization called "Ten Rings" - an obvious reference to classic Iron Man foe "the Mandarin", a Yellow Claw variant with ten rings that give him various powers. This guy was "just" a soldier-type, but he was pretty intense - and he seemed set up pretty clearly to be the (or at least "a") villain in the sequel. I think that guy's importance was clear to everyone - he just was a little more significant if you got the comic reference - which is the way it should be with a comic book movie.

Iron Monger was a good choice for villain in this movie. Superhero movies take note - you need a supervillain! Much as I love the original Superman movie *and* Superman Returns, both are marred by not really having real challenges for Superman - not like fighting Zod and co. in Superman II. The Hulk movie was like that, too...of course, that movie was flawed in dozens of other ways too, and the CGI Hulk looked retarded...Spider-Man and the X-Men made great transitions to the movie screen, and part of that was having good villains.

Anyway, Iron Monger was a good choice. Good, fun movie. Iron Man's sort of like James Bond amplified - better gadgets.

Make sure you watch the credits - there's a closing scene that'll excite you if you know enough!

And by the way...tons of comic inspired movies coming out this summer - including a sequel to the best Batman movie of all, Batman Begins, which should be great. And Marvel's announced a sequel to Iron Man already (told you), plus a "Thor" movie (for next summer)? and forthcoming "Captain America" and "Avengers" movies, too. And is the new Hulk movie coming out this year? The last one stunk, imo, but this one is (wisely) ignoring that one and starting from scratch, and Edward Norton is playing Dr. Banner (the Hulk's alter ego), which he should be great at! I hope this movie has some of the "heart" and substance that the old tv show with Bill Bixby did - he was great at communicating the pathos of Banner's Jekyll/Hyde situation. That show also showed the generally non-evil nature of the Hulk, having a creature of rage and destruction that was harmless if left alone...that's always been a part of the Hulk's tragedy, too. Hope the movie will capture some of that...and have better looking CGI!

Go see Iron Man!


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Way to go, North Carolina!

And phooey on you, Indiana. Silly people who don't agree with me...

In honor of the victory in this latest skirmish...well, it's really not in honor of it, it's just because a friend posted this on facebook, and I really shouldn''s definitely a guilty pleasure, and I shouldn't laugh at it...but I just can't resist sharing this video with you. If you're a Star Wars fan like me, you can't help but love it (though it'll also help if you're a Barack fan like me...).


Monday, May 5, 2008

Crazy, Beautiful

Some things are beautifully crazy...or crazily beautiful. Take this, for instance:

There was a news article I saw last year. It's a pretty amazing story but I kept forgetting to mention it. Luckily I was able to find it again on Google - I think I googled 'temple' and 'underground' and 'Italy'. Oh, and possibly 'crazy guy', but maybe not. Anyway, read the story. Go on, read it. And look at the pictures, which are the amazing part. Then come back here and click Read More.

I said READ THE ARTICLE! I gave you the link, so you don't even have to hunt it on Google like I did. You're so lazy. Fine, here it is again.

Now, aren't you glad you read it? Isn't that amazing?

I mean, from what I can tell - and I did some additional research, which you can find here - from what I can tell, the guy behind these "Temples of Damanhur" is nuttier than a fruitcake. (Which I apologize for saying, Damanhur folks - you've certainly accomplished far more in pursuit of your vision than I have in mine, and crafted beauty like I wouldn't have imagined. Sorry for the condescending-seeming tone here, too.) Fair warning - these folks seem very hippie-like, and believe in reincarnation and humanism and probably the age of aquarius and other stuff incompatible with my own worldview. They also, judging from their website, encourage things I can only applaud - ecological sustainability, volunteerism, community, creativity. It's the creativity of these underground temples which these folks have carved and created (pursuing visions that sound, to my cynical mind, like products of schizophrenia...though many folks in prior centuries believed that the mentally ill were touched by the divine. Hmm.) that really strikes me.

In my very first post on "Whistling in the Dark" I mentioned some of my techno-fears. We often talk about how much we've gained technologically, how much we can do that earlier times (or even folks a decade or two ago) couldn't dream of. That's very true, but do you ever wonder what we've lost? I sometimes do. I mean, we live in a technical wonderland which most of us don't understand at all. We're dependent on the expertise of others to keep our computers working, our cars running, our pipes unclogged. How many of us understand even the basic principles of the internal combustion engine, or computer programming, or plumbing?

How many of us still know how to bake bread?

How many of you that do, could bake bread without pre-packaged ingredients and specialized techno-gadgets in your kitchen?

How many of us could build a fire, minus a lighter or matches?

What I'm getting at is simply this - in a world where technology does most of the work for us, the skills of doing it the long way - the hard way - the human way - get lost.

In the ancient world - even in the medieval and Renaissance worlds - humans slowly, painstakingly, with their own hands and their own spirits, partaking as subcreators in the creative work of God (whether they knew it or not), crafted remarkable things. The Sistine Chapel. The Taj Mahal. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Stonehenge. Westminster Cathedral, and Chartres, and Notre Dame.

I would have thought that the expertise, the sheer creative know-how, to craft such remarkable things, would be dying out. I mean, yeah, Beeson Divinity School chapel (where I went to seminary) is less than 20 years old, and it's gorgeous. (Really, it is.) Doesn't have the same outlandish, fantastical, *creative* elements as the Damanhur folks, though. And Petru, the guy that did the frescos for Beeson, is "one of the last living persons" trained in Eastern European methods chapel/cathedral frescos. I'm sure's there's a more technical and accurate phrasing for that...Anyway, there's not many people left that can do what Petru did, supposedly. "And the glory of the world becomes less than it was..."

Shows what *I* know. Good on you, Damanhur folks. You, and other recent experiences like my visit to this place reassure me that there is still wonder and beauty in the world.

And craziness. :)


Discipleship Emerging, pt. 2 - Redux

Let's be a little less conceptual and a little more concrete this time.

I've often told folks that I wasn't really discipled well. I think this is pretty common in my Baptist heritage. Baptists (when I was growing up, and at many other times) were really concerned about professions of faith - conversions - and less so about discipling those making the professions. To be fair, Baptists had developed educational systems that had that end in mind. Church training (which was fading throughout my childhood, but still clung to the church schedule), Sunday School, education through choir and missions organizations like RAs/GAs, ACTeens, and other programs were intended to produce disciples.

Perhaps those programs worked well at one time. I know that in many of my undergraduate religion classes, and in my seminary classes, a lot of non-Baptist students didn't have the same degree of familiarity with Bible stories (Samson and Delilah, Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego, Daniel in the Lion's Den, David and Goliath, etc.) that most of us Baptists had, and didn't seem to have "memory verses" they'd memorized. They didn't show evidence of, ahem, "sword drills" - they were slower to find passages in the Bible than those of us who'd engaged in races trying to beat our opponents with how quickly we could find a particular book...

There have been times in my life when I've been grateful for those Bible stories and working knowledge of how to look something up. Doing summer missions in the Philippines as a college student, I got thrown without preparation time into teaching high schoolers "values education" using the Bible. I'd have been lost that first day without some good Bible stories to pull from.

So a lot of the Baptist educational programs had their good points. Overall, I doubt they really worked on a deep level. There's a couple of reasons for this.

1) They mistook education for discipleship. Bible study and education, any kind of education, are unquestionably very important. But education does not, in the long run, produce transformation. People do all sorts of dangerous or bad things even though they "know better." Education is important, but the key isn't what we know, but Who we know, not what we know, but who we become. Obviously, if we're to be transformed into imitators of Christ, then we have to know things about Jesus so we know what to imitate; but knowing about Jesus in and of itself doesn't require imitation. "Knowing about" is not the same thing as "having a relationship with".

2) Low quality. Not always and not at all times - sometimes I'm sure the material was very good. Sometimes gifted and/or dedicated teachers could do a lot with a little, too. (My best Sunday School class, growing up, was the one taught by my parents. They did a great job.) But looking overall at Vacation Bible School and Sunday School, much of the education that we did remained on a very basic level (so as to be open to newcomers?) - about a 3rd grade level, it seems to me. I wonder if there are any studies on that? That's good up until 3rd grade - but over time, discipleship ministries need to grow up.

Lots of times, and at multiple churches, Sunday School revolved around asking obvious questions with yes or no answers, while acting as if the questions were difficult. Results: boredom, contempt, frustration, people leaving church.

Who had this discussion (multiple times) as a kid growing up in church? (You can substitute lots of things for "cocaine" - drunkeness, going to movies, slow dancing, fast dancing, any dancing...)
Teacher: "Do you think Jesus used cocaine?"
Students: "Um...No. It didn't even exist yet."
Teacher: "Do you think Jesus would've used cocaine if it had?"
Students: "...No. Why are we talking about this?"
Teacher: "Be quiet and answer my questions. Do you think Jesus would've used cocaine?"
Students: "..."
Teacher: "Why won't any of you answer my question?"
Students: "..."
Teacher: "Didn't any of you study your lesson? Why aren't you participating?"
Student 1 (thinks this is stupid): "...You said to be quiet. And we already answered your question."
Student 2 (asleep): "...zzz..."
Teacher (floundering - why isn't this going well?): "Please pay attention. Answer my question. Would Jeus have used cocaine?"
Student 1 (frustrated): "No!!!"
Student 2 (drooling): "...zzz..."
Teacher (good, they answered - we're back on track): "And would Jesus want you to use cocaine?"
Student 1: "ARGH!!!!"
Student 2: "...zzz..huh?"

Real discipleship needs depth - and the freedom to ask questions, not just answer them - questions that don't necessarily have yes or no (or any) answers.

Real discipleship requires community. Not just people we hang out with, but relationships with those who know us well, who see - or don't see - transformation, and helps us to see (or not see) that as well. Spiritual Directors do something similar when they help a directee to "attend to the work/presence/voice/etc. of the Spirit" in their own lives.

Real discipleship also, it seems to me, has to include challenges to *do*, not just to *hear* or *repeat* or *memorize.* Referring back to part 1 - we are to act. We are on mission. Discipleship involves us in the mission, helps us to understand that the mission is central to who we are, if we're disciples of Jesus.

I want...

No, yearn...feel be part of a community where real discipleship - with depth, transformative relationships, and missional action - can take place.

My hope, dream, and prayer, is that as I look for places to serve in church, I will be brought to that kind of place. Not necessarily that they've arrrived at that place...but at least that they're willing to go looking for it.


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Discipleship Emerging

At the end of my last post I referenced that I'd been in transition, in some ways, for a long time. One of those ways is how I think about discipleship and education in the church.

Christian Discipleship is a long-time concern of mine. By discipleship I mean, simply, following Jesus. As with the original disciples, discipleship is about following Jesus and learning his Way (his actions, his teachings, his relationships with the Father and with the people he encountered).

Discipleship can be called by a lot of names - I like the term spiritual formation. Discipleship is about being formed (transformed) into an imitator of Christ. Disciples, according to Jesus, will obey his commands; will love one another as he loved us; will lay down their lives for their friends; will love their enemies; will go out into all parts of the world and recruit ("make"; form, formation) new disciples, teaching them all the same things that Jesus taught to them; will do even greater things (somehow!) than Jesus did; will be one and united with each other by being united with and formed by Jesus (in the likeness of God, by the power of the Spirit).

I'm passionate about it in part because it seems like the key to everything the church is supposed to be - we are supposed to imitate Jesus, to be in relationship with Jesus and let that relationship transform us, and being transformed, we are supposed to be beacons lighting a lonely, scared, angry, bitter, and broken world with the awareness of the presence of Jesus, so that the world is transformed into the peacable kingdom of Jesus.

I'm also passionate about it because it seems we don't do it very well.

On the one hand, that seems an obvious, if unfair, statement. Clearly we don't disciple well - if we did, if people were being shaped into reasonable imitators of Christ, then the Kingdom would break out all over. (It actually is, I believe; but it's easy to miss it, growing as it often does in secret from tiny mustard seeds.) But it's not so much the state of the world, as the state of the church, that says we don't do discipleship all that well.

Most of the world respects Jesus. As Gandhi said, ""I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Many churches are filled with angry, bitter, willfully ignorant, willfully hateful people. There are millions who claim to be disciples (i.e., call themselves Christians) but don't recognize a need to live sacrificially, to love enemies, to care for the poor, the outcast, and the oppressed, to lay down their lives for the good of others - or any of the other things Jesus is known for. There are millions of others, perhaps, who recognize this - and react with cynicism and despair, rather than hope, or with a sense of moral superiority, rather than humility, or who don't react at all, secure in their belief that *feeling* a sense of compassion absolves them of the need to *act* compassionately.

Many christians - many churches - spread anger, fear, and ignorance. Others spread apathy, or smugness, or self-satisfaction with unearned prosperity. The New Testament says approximately "God is light, and in God is no darkness at all." A lot of churches and a lot of individuals spend a lot of time and effort imitating the dark and not the light.

Over the last couple of years, a new sensibility has been trying to emerge in me - a “new” sensibility that is widespread, ancient, and strong. For me, at the heart of this new sensibility is the conviction that we western, comfortable, middle class Christians spend too much time trying to explain away too much of the biblical witness. I'm not talking about debates about inerrancy and miracles and stuff. Much of that, I think, is a smokescreen. I'm talking about our impulse to soften the demands Scripture generally and Jesus specifically.

God desires, not sacrifice and offering, according to the prophet Amos, but justice and mercy.

To help the needy is your spiritual act of worship. Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done it for me.

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

By the way, that lost is from James chapter 1. When James is talking about keeping unstained by the world…in context, he’s talking about two things primarily - controlling how you speak to and treat other people, and about being a *hearer* of the word who is not a doer of the word.

Hearing, but not doing, is a form of being "stained by the world."

Knowledge is important, but it's meaningless unless we act in love. Acting well requires knowledge, but it also requires COURAGE.

We need discipleship that teaches us courage...that teaches us to act.


Free Rice? Free Rice!!

I saw that a friend had referenced this website, which led me to this other associated website. I've added 'em to my link list as worthy whistlers who put a good tune into the dark. These are folks who are "doing", not just hearing, thinking, or pontificating. They're doing good far I can tell.

The fact is, I don't know much about them, just what they say on the websites. The free rice idea, basically, is that if you go to their site and use their content, they will buy rice for poverty stricken folks. Supposedly the money to do some comes from advertisers, who hope you'll see their advertisement while you're online learning vocabulary from the free rice folks.

That actually sounds plausible. Crazy, but plausible, and the folks don't ask you or me for money, just to learn some vocabulary.

At the least, you'll learn some can point any high schoolers you know to the site to it as a good review for SATs...and at best, if it's what they'll be helping to feed the hungry.

For free, as far as you or I are concerned. Check it out!


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Turbulent Victory, pt. 1

Lots of thoughts running through my head, still, as alluded to in my earlier “Running Mad” post. It’s been, to coin a phrase, an exhaustively thoughtful month. [I often feel like I have about 4 different trains of thought going on at once, so this isn't that unusual for me!] Mostly I’ve been seeking clarity. This will surprise no one who knows me, and will probably exasperate many of them – as I seem to have infinite capacity for reflection and rereflection and rerereflection (to coin more terms).

By clarity I mean, most basically, clarity about my job situation. But…and again, this will exasperate the more practical-minded among you (hi Dad!)…but on a more fundamental level, I mean that I am seeking clarity about…geez…about all of it, everything. Not just a job, but a vocation; not just looking for work to do, but for good to do; making a life more than making a living.

Not that I haven’t been doing that, or you and the rest of the world haven’t been doing that…it’s just that I obsess about it more. :)

But seriously, the layoff (Thanks Heartland – love ya, really.) and concomitant job search make this a natural transition time. I have to consider not just changing companies but changing careers and where I live, with all the personal and relational upheaval that follows this stuff. (Thanks again Heartland – really.)

Well, I suppose I don’t *have* to do all that. I could just look for another hospice chaplain job, surely I’d find something (there are more than 22 in Columbia by last count – 5-6 years ago, there were about 5). Even if it were just part-time to start, I’d make as much as I’m doing with unemployment, and could and can supplement with other work, whether it be music or waitering, delivering pizzas or telebanking, temp work or…whatever. I could do that, and in the meantime, I could keep working with the students at USC, stay near friends and family, stay in a community where I have roots.

I could stay at my church. My wonderful church took a year and a half to find, and despite being composed of human beings and thus being necessarily flawed (sometimes exasperating – like me), is a great place. It’s a warm community, a place of authenticity and commitment, a place fitfully but definitely trying to learn how to be missional and transformative. That ain’t all that common, folks. It’s a place I can serve, and a place that’s helping me be a better person and a better disciple of Jesus.

So I could stay. I like where I live, I like what I’ve been doing. There’s no dissatisfaction driving me out.

Except that there is, and the truth is, I was “in transition” long before this layoff came down the pike.

But that's for part two...


New Kind or New Way?

Followed up "Blue Like Jazz" with "A New Kind of Christian" - started yesterday, finished about a half hour ago. Like "Blue" couldn't really put it down once I finally started. Not sure I "agree" with everything, especially about how 'necessary' it is to figure out a post-modern model - couldn't we just work on being 'mere' Christians w/o developing a model? However, that POV, which I had *before* reading the book, makes sense to me philosophically - but my emotions and intuition seem to be charging in the other direction, much to my surprise. So much of what is said about this new (ancient?) way of being Christian is so *exciting* to me. I found myself frustrated that I finished so late in the evening that I couldn't call anyone, bounce ideas off them. Checked email after attempting some quiet and prayer - your email gives me excuse to sound off about about new Christians, sorry.

I find myself excited in a frustrating way, really - because I want to *do* something, right now. But I don't know what. Talk to someone? To God? But really I want to do something incarnational, missional, relational...real...I want to be re-ligamented, re-membered - right now!

It's funny, most of the critiques of modernity didn't bother me at all. In fact, most of what I felt reading was a sense of recognition, at times a sense almost of, "yes, of course, but get *on* with it - what do we do?" I haven't had language for it, much of the time, but much of this for me goes back to my first couple years of college, when my friend Micah and I talked about the church, its problems, its inauthenticity, its failure to read *all* of Scripture, its tendency to pick out one thing and elevate it above the rest (whether a liberal POV or a consevative one) with Jesus so often walking a middle way between. (Or maybe, as Mclaren says, a _different_ way above.)

Back in college, though we sometimes daydreamed about starting a church from scratch, my overall reaction was a sort of cynical despair. I remember Micah and I deciding that we probably only knew of about ten real Christians alive - including Mother Theresa and others we didn't know personally - and not including us. (At least we had that much self-awareness.) My despairing conclusions were put off, though - that is, I didn't fall into despair - because I loved loved loved college. And BSU was the center of that, the most vibrant and active and communal, er, community of faith I'd ever encountered. I loved it, and it kept me in God's presence and in love with people.

And then, in seminary...I really lost it. Me.

Reading Neo's 'dream seminary' really helps put so much of my seminary experience in perspective. I *hated* seminary. I met great people, yes, and learned things I've been grateful for and used in chaplaincy. I gained a much greater sense of, and love for, the whole of the church, not just the American, southern, Baptist expression of it.

But mostly I hated it. There are a lot of reasons for it, of course, and it's all mixed up with pain and my own sin and smallness of being and failure of integrity. But some of it...some of it, is that I think I was mostly post-modern, at a very modern institution. So much of what we were told to do seemed...irrelevant? Not wrong, exactly...just beside the point. So little of what we discussed had anything to do with people hurting. There was no acknowledgement of Christ's desire to redeem the whole of creation, including the creation itself, nature. Talk of other religions centered around apolgetics - usually with a poor understanding of the religion they were arguing with.

Preaching...I didn't want to be a preacher anyway, had never wanted to, couldn't see that it had anything to do with my I wonder, was that because I couldn't preach 'that way'? The way that every preacher I'd ever heard had preached, more or less, the way of modernity - of analysis and word studies and pithy sayings and things that didn't seem real or honest? 

Neo's seminary, one built on a triangle of community (which we didn't have), seminars (we had one-sided lectures - I've told you about classmates asking me to stop asking questions in class), and 'missions' - that would've been exciting. I didn't know the terms or what I needed - but I knew I'd expected something different, and I wasn't getting it, and what I was getting seemed irrelevant, and I began to feel so incompetent, so unequipped, became so lost and angry...

These days, I'm alternately filled with joy and fright. I didn't *learn* what I needed in seminary, and I feel so unequipped for what I feel led to do. Yet, I'm led to do it. And God teaches people by throwing them into the deep end...


Running Mad 2 - A Place to Stand

This post references stuff from my earlier Running Mad post, specifically the following section (italics are me quoting myself) [I often feel like I have about 4 different trains of thought going on at once, so this isn't that unusual for me!]:

"Still trying to let this be a spiritual process of discernment and growth, and not get too bogged down in my many questions. What kind of job should I pursue? Am I chickening out by deciding to look at only associate minister positions rather than senior pastor roles? Should I be thinking about church planting? Do I have the right to take unemployment while choosing *not* to pursue another chaplaincy position? Should I only look at full time church positions, or should I be open to part time church and part time chaplaincy? Should I move, and how far away is too far? Should I look for ways to pursue missional/emergent callings - like missions work, new monastic communities, etc., or just try to incorporate those leanings into more traditional (and more settled, and better paid) church work? Etc. In my prayer time I hear the words 'Everything must change' - but what does that concretely mean? And how do I balance being as pro-active as I can be, while also letting myself be led?"

The last week or so has been busy, mostly in good ways, but busy, and sort of turbulent emotionally and spiritually. Again, mostly in good ways - but all in ways that seem significant, worth attention. I've been doing some unpacking, praying, and processing for the last few days, and feel like I have gotten to something I can stand on - hence the title of the post. But outlining that, clarifying it, is gonna be a bit of a ramble.

By the way, he said (rambling, not getting to the point), I blame high school speech and debate. As a 4 year member and co-captain of the debate team, I was trained to see multiple sides of every issue - and to be able to support any side at need, with logic, rhetoric, and impassioned reason, so that all who heard me would agree with me. Sometimes, that works too well on myself - I convince myself of whatever side I'm coming from at the time - then I look at another side of things, and convince myself of that one, too!

Exasperating sometimes (also fun, sometimes, to exasperate others), but it's also sometimes good theology. Much Christian theology, after all, requires an embrace of paradox and ambiguity. How can God be One and Three? How do you become great by being a servant? How can Jesus be fully human and fully divine?

Okay, I seem to be digressing. But there is a connnection, and it comes back to this idea of embracing paradox and ambiguity. One more example, then: Christian theology is built on the idea of revelation - that God seeks relationship with us, and seeks therefore to be known by us. As Jesus said, as Judaism has said - God has acted in history, and God's acts reveal to us things about who God is and what God is like. God has sent prophets, to continue to speak and reveal who God is and what God is like. That climaxes in the coming of Jesus, who while being as human as you and me is also as divine as God. Jesus and God are one, Jesus says. So by looking at who Jesus is and what Jesus does, we get the best revelation of who God is and what God is like. In Jesus's speaking truth and acting in compassion and seeking for justice, grace, mercy - love - in defying the powerful, healing the broken, befriending the lost and lonely, aiding the poor and hungry, finding the value in the "discarded", dismissed, marginalized people - these traits are traits of Jesus. This is what Jesus is like. This is what God is like.'s central to Christian theology, to any theology, really. And if you believe that God has revealed stuff, then you can be confident in that - really, really confident - and find a faith that you can wrap your life around. Not just a convenient cultural faith, but something so profound, something from God, something that you have to listen to and allow it to change you, not counting the cost.

But interestingly, one of the the things _Revealed_ over and over agin, throughout the pages of Jewish and Christian scriptures, is how limited our knowledge is. Over and over again, in different ways, we are told this. Isaiah 55 puts it like this: "my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

There are other ways its expressed - the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, for example, or the famous "we see through a glass darkly" from 1 Corinthians 13. In the NAS, it reads like this: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known." And a few verses before that, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part"...though love never fails.

God thoughts and ways - God's words and actions - are different from ours. God is different from us because God is better - wiser, smarter, more compassionate, more powerful, more giving and forgiving, more loving than we can imagine. Fundamentally, God is beyond us. The normal theological term for this is that God is transcendent. The very revelation of the community of believers over the millenia is that God is beyond what we can grasp.

And yet, Christians do have a belief in revelation - a belief that though we finite beings cannot cross the gap between us to grasp the infinite, still the Infinite One can, and has, crossed the gap for us. Anything we learn this way remains partial and incomplete - it's notable that the NT so highly praises humility as a fruit of the Spirit, when neither Roman culture nor ours puts much stock in it. And yet it remains revelation, and, Christians affirm, the greatest expression, the most complete revelation, the place where Infinite and finite beings most fully in Christ Jesus. That revelation can be phrased lots of ways - one way is to say that Jesus, called Emmanuel ("God with us"), reveals that the transcendent God is also immanent, powerfully and intimately present with us.

Healthy Christian faith, it seems to me, lives in the paradox and embraces the tension. God is far beyond us, and intimately with us. We must be humble, and remember that we know only in part - and still be so confident of Christ that we are willing to die for him, and that while we live, we shape our lives to further his Kingdom.

So what does this have to do with what I started with? Discernment - understanding the will of God for a person, time, or place - isn't so different from revelation, really. I am called to be humble, obedient, corrigible, to be willing to say at any moment "I'm wrong" or "This was right but it's not any more", or whatever.

I'm called to keep asking my questions. To obsess over them, even - sorry, folks, but I don't think we're meant to be without questions. All the time, we are to be working out our salvation (a word with many meanings, all related to healing, health, and wholeness - as we see in our word "salve". It speaks not simply to "forgiveness of sins", but to becoming a whole person, in body, mind, spirit, and in relationship to God, self, others, and the world.), working it out "with fear and trembling."

I'm also called...and so are faith. To embrace the paradox, to not fear what I don't know, to be willing to take up my cross even if I don't know where I'm headed, to be willing even to suffer for the sake of the Kingdom of love, of God, of be willing to take risks, boldly, confidently, freely.

Where can we stand? In the fulcrum, in the eye of the storm, in the place of convergence, always emerging but never fully formed, carrying the cross....dare I say it, reformed and always reforming...

Stand on the paradox.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

World Hunger Crisis

The world hunger crisis is all over the news this week. In just three years, the price of staple foods like wheat, corn and rice has almost doubled. If we don't do something soon, hundreds of thousands of people face starvation and a hundred million more could fall into extreme poverty. I just took action with the ONE Campaign and you can too, here.

Jesus fed the 5000 and the 7000. Jesus also said that his disciples would do even greater things than he did. That's always been mind-boggling to me. I don't know about you, but I haven't had much success at healing the blind or raising the dead. (I'm still bitter that those classes weren't offered at seminary.) But it occurs to me that this is one way in which we can fulfill his trust in us - by doing something to feed the hundreds of thousands who are in such need.

Be a blessing if you dare.

From The New York Times: In Haiti, where three-quarters of the population earns less than $2 a day and one in five children is chronically malnourished, the one business booming amid all the gloom is the selling of patties made of mud, oil and sugar, typically consumed only by the most destitute.

“It’s salty and it has butter and you don’t know you’re eating dirt,” said Olwich Louis Jeune, 24, who has taken to eating them more often in recent months. “It makes your stomach quiet down.”

Be a blessing if you care.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Interview Report

So I had my conference call interview with the church in Texas last night. It went well, I think (whether or not I wanted it to!). It was a conversation with 5 search committee members (3 men, 2 women - both of them in the choir) and the pastor. We talked for about 45 minutes - they asked some "practical" questions about how long it's been since I've led a choir, how comfortable I am with things like handbells and praise teams, etc. - and some "interview" type questions, like my philosophy of ministry or what the best thing about me is. To the latter question, I responded that there were so many good things it was hard to choose, and I reserved the right to think of other things about me that were even better down the road...

(I said the best thing about me was that I was always learning and growing. I had to say the worst thing about me too - which I said was sort of the flip side, in that I'm always thinking and pondering and considering and sometimes forget to act on what I'm thinking.)

Anyway, it was pretty relaxed, they seemed nice, they seemed to respond well, they even laughed at my jokes without me having to explain that I was joking - which is pretty rare!

In short, I liked them. Darn it! :)

So we're agreed to keep working the process and see what happens next. The position sounds like it's heavier on music than discipleship (in contrast to the job description, which is pretty evenly divided), and I'd talked a lot about how doing "just" music wasn't enough for me. We'll see what they think of that as they talk it over. I know it'll be something I have to pray about. I've often thought that I miss immersion in music ministry, but...Over the last 6-12 months I've also found myself looking back on my most active music ministry years, and questioning how much time and effort went into a half-dozen weekly rehearsals, special programs for Easter and Christmas, worship planning, etc. Back in the day, service for the kingdom meant singing with several ensembles, accompanying a couple of choirs, playing handbells and clarinet, singing solos, etc. None of that did much to aid the poor, the hungry, or the oppressed (Luke 4:19ff), so was it time well spent? I have my doubts.

I love music ministry and would like for it to be a part of my life. But I don't know that I want it to be my primary focus. It's too - engrossing, too easy to get distracted into being a musician and forgetting to be a disciple.

I'm probably making things overly complicated again. :) Anyway, the interview seemed to go well - ball is in their court now as they decide if they want to keep going and if so, they will probably be asking me to fly out to visit sometime in the next month or so.


Sunday, April 20, 2008


Just a short post tonight - I've got an interview tonight with the church in Texas. Since it's so far away (!) the first interview will be a conference call with the pastor and the search committee. If it goes well, the next step would be for them to fly me out there to meet them in person.

The question is - do I want it to go well? I'm just not sure. It's a LONG way from my friends and family. But I'm excited about the job and the possibilities.

Chris needs much discernment! Say a prayer, folks. Hope you're all well, too.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

REALLY kickin' muzak

Well, after yesterday's shameless self-promotion, I thought I'd share some *really* good music with you. My friend Dusty (from Furman) shared a link with me that I'll pass on to you. Here's what he wrote:

"I just wanted to let you know I have posted a new song on my SongU web page. It is titled "The Music We Dance To", and is co-written by an outstanding lyricist, Mike Daniels. The singer on the track is my very own cousin, Alan Johnson, a singer and recording artist in Nashville, TN.

To get to the song, use the following link, then on the main page, click "Songs" on the left, then select "The Music We Dance To" You will be able to open the lyrics and play the song as an mp3."

Here's the link.

Please note, it is copyrighted. Enjoy listening to Dust's stuff for free - while you still can, before he makes it big! Play it, don't steal it!

That's all the time I've got for tonight - later.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Kickin' Muzak

Ok, not kicking, really. But I mentioned in the last post that I'd been asked to send some examples of me doing music to the church in Texas. I didn't really have anything recent, so a friend from church, John Hardee, volunteered to stay late one Wednesday night and help me record on the sound equipment at church. We could record on CD which I could then convert to MP3 files and email to Texas so they could hear me.

Well, we did that, and despite some hurdles that had to be overcome (we were at the church until almost 12:30 am!) got the recordings made. It was very spur of the moment - no practicing, and my voice, singing at midnight, is kind of hoarse. But the quality's better than I expected. And, since I've got 'em in handy digital format, I thought...heck, might as well post 'em!

I'm trying to find the balance between being pleased at the generl sound quality and dismayed by the vocal snafus, which I continue to blame on the late hour and anything else I can think of besides, you know, my singing. :)

Anyway, first we've got me singing Steven Curtis Chapman's "Be Still and Know" - which is a cool song. I learned it for my sister's wedding back in November, with some text changes to fit the occasion. This is the original text.

Next we've got a medley I put together of an old alternate melody of "Amazing Grace" that we used to sing in BSU, alongside "Shine Jesus Shine." Unlike the first song, I'm accompanying this one, and I arranged it, and kind of am proud of that, since it's the closest I get to creativity in music. I'm pretty happy with the piano arrangement, all things considered, but the vocals had some real trouble, especially at the end - this was the last thing we recorded and my voice was just exhausted (along with the rest of me). *sigh* Are the faults bad enough that I shouldn't send it to anyone?

Finally we've got me singing and playing "I Will Bring You Home" by Michael Card. Nothing else much to say about that, except Michael Card is one of my favorites, and this is one of my favorites of his.


Running Mad

So, it's been awhile since I've really written anything, hasn't it?

One of the reasons I keep putting off my triumphant return to the blogosphere (as I work towards conquest of the world) is that I felt the need to write a long, in-depth explanation of what I've been doing for the last 4-6 weeks, and my internal process, and why I haven't felt up to writing much...

...but I haven't felt up to writing much, which sort of defeats that plan. I suppose I haven't felt very much like I was going to take over the world - more like the world was trying to stomp on me and I was trying to keep out of its way. :) Lots has been going on, much good and much less so, but all of it time-consuming and thought-requiring, and I just haven't had the energy to write about it yet. Especially since my writing had mostly been at midnight on the church computer, and I needed to get back on a better sleep schedule.

Anyway, realistically it seems more practical...and more just start writing again, without compelling myself to first do the big explanation.

That said, I now begin the big explanation. :) Yes, I contradict myself, but that's ok. To illustrate this, I call into evidence Uncle Walt Whitman.

Me: So, Walt, is it bad to contradict yourself?
UWW: "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes."
Me: Thanks. I understand about being large. You can step down.

Me: Next witness, I call Ralph Waldo Emerson to the stand. Ralph Waldo Emerson, is it bad to contradict yourself?
Ralph Waldo Emerson (he refused to let me abbreviate his name): "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
Me: Thanks, and who are you calling a hobgoblin, you revenant ghoul? You know you're dead, right?

Me: For my next witness, I call Patsy from "Absolutely Fabulous" to the stand. Patsy, is it bad to contradict yourself?
Patsy: "Don't question me."
Me: But, I need to know if...
Patsy: "Don't question me."
Me: But what if...
Patsy: "Don't question me."
Me: Ok, thanks, you can step down.

So there you have it, I can contradict myself if I want. It's my blog and I'll make no sense if I want to, so there. Don't question me.

Seriously, I do want to do some catch up - it's been a tumultuous time and there's a lot for me to process. I just don't want to require myself to do ALL of it at once in one post. Now that I've told myself I'm not doing that, I can get on with things.

A new friend that I've met during this blogging process sent me a great quote from Jane Austen: "Run mad as often as you choose; but do not faint." It feels like I've been running mad the last several weeks, and I've felt on the verge of fainting at times, but I'm still going.

1. I'm still job-hunting, and beginning to receive some interest from churches out there (about time! I know it's a slow process, dealing with search committees made up of volunteers, but it's hard to stay postive when you send out dozens of resumes with no response for the first month or two). This has been for a variety of positions - the church that's been most interested is looking for a joint music/education position, which I think I'd really enjoy. Just music wouldn't be enough to really keep my interest, but on the other hand, I can't imagine not having music ministry be a significant part of my life. And I'm really hopeful about the education/discipleship routes that are opening to me. My passions are for worship and for discipleship, and the opportunity to focus on those things in a congregational setting is really exciting.

Unfortunately the church is in West Texas, about 1800 miles away from my family, and in a town of about 15,000 people. Neither prospect is that appealing. But I've said I want to be open and be willing to go anywhere I'm sent, and I *am* single, so maybe running off to Texas wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Anyway, we're proceeding to look into that. I'm a little confused, though - the church contacted me 3 times in the first week of contact, and I spent about 3 hours that week, all told, talking to the pastor on the phone. I really enjoyed talking with him and felt a compatible spirit, and was excited by what he told me about the church - including a lot of challenges and problems in the church, which he was really open to discussing, which did a lot to give me some sense of confidence in what they were saying to me and how they were dealing with me. They had me send some recordings of music stuff, and wanted to check my references. The last I heard from them was a 2 line email (in contrast to the friendly and effusive phone calls they'd been using to communicate) saying that they needed to speak with more people than I'd listed, people who could talk about me as a worship leader. ? They still hadn't talked to all the references I'd given - including neglecting to talk to my minister of music, a woman who routinely has me sub for her with choir and congregational leadership when she's out of town! They hadn't yet talked to my pastor, either, with whom I work to plan and lead the service when the minister of music is gone.

So I was real confused about what they were asking for, and if I was imagining the change in tone. I emailed another reference or two, plus explained my confusion and pointed them to Anna Beth and Stephen (Min. of Music/Pastor, respectively). There's been no response and that was a week ago.

So I don't know what's going on there. But regardless, it's taken a lot of my time and my mental energy thinking about it, communicating with them, communicating with reference folks, getting a church member to help me throw together some recordings that I could send to them, etc.

I've also heard from a church in NC, but that's a youth/music position which isn't nearly so appealing. But NC is much closer to family and friends than Texas! The church I'm most interested in, so far, is moving very slowly but let me know I'm still in the running. That's a pure discipleship/education position, and it's pretty far away too - Missouri - but it's an exciting church, with a lot of local, state, national, and international missions involvement. And when I say missions, in their case they do a really good job of balancing evangelism with social action - an exceptionally good job, that requires an impressive level of intentionality and commitment. That church *is* far, but it's in a small city rather than a really rural town, and that too is more appealing to me.

Lots of other places I'm looking at, but those are the three that are talking back to me, so far.

Other stuff I've been doing which I (probably) will talk about later in future posts:

2. Still trying to make ends meet, with difficulty. During this "interregnum" between posts, one of my unemployment checks got lost in the mail, which caused a lot of hardship for a couple of weeks (they had to wait 15 days before they could reissue the missing check) and required me to ask my parents for money. That was embarrassing (they were great about it, but I'm 34 and didn't like needing to ask) and disheartening. So it was hard to find the energy to write, and to feel like it wasn't a waste of time when I should do something more productive.

3. Still trying to let this be a spiritual process of discernment and growth, and not get too bogged down in my many questions. What kind of job should I pursue? Am I chickening out by deciding to look at only associate minister positions rather than senior pastor roles? Should I be thinking about church planting? Do I have the right to take unemployment while choosing *not* to pursue another chaplaincy position? Should I only look at full time church positions, or should I be open to part time church and part time chaplaincy? Should I move, and how far away is too far? Should I look for ways to pursue missional/emergent callings - like missions work, new monastic communities, etc., or just try to incorporate those leanings into more traditional (and more settled, and better paid) church work? Etc. In my prayer time I hear the words "Everything must change" - but what does that concretely mean? And how do I balance being as pro-active as I can be, while also letting myself be led?

4. Still trying to enjoy myself some and make a positive contribution to the world while I'm at it. I keep looking at other things I could be doing - throwing a party, volunteering with the Council for the Aging or the Mission downtown, for example.

I'm still struggling with all that - some days I'm really positive and some days I'm not - but I'm still fighting the fight and walking the walk. I trust that all of you are as well. Keep coming back, more to read soon!

Oh...Patsy notwithstanding, you can question me if you want. :)


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Surreal Global Village

My friend Glenn sent me a link for this one. I don't know whether to thank him or change my email address. (Just kidding, Glenn!) It's...some combination of kinda disturbing, pretty funny, and extraordinarily surrealistic and bizarre.

Apparently, there still exists in Russia the Red Army Choir, the official choir dating back to U.S.S.R. days which performs throughout Russia. They were guests at a concert by the Finnish rock band "The Leningrad Cowboys" not long ago, where they performed, in English...well, watch the video - you'll know the song.

After I take over the world, I will do something about stuff like this.

As a sometime-choral conductor, though, I've gotta say...nice final consonants. You can really hear that "t" on "sweet home".


Friday, March 28, 2008

Great Everything Must Change Interview

Andrew Jones has posted a great discussion/interview with Brian McLaren regarding the "Everything Must Change" book.

I've come across Andrew's site many times when researching various topics, but I keep forgetting to add him to my list of links. That is now rectified - he's a worthy whistler, indeed. Well worth checking out.

I've been absent for a couple weeks now, friends - my apologies. Lots going on, and lots of stuff I'm thinking about - hopefully I'll even get to sharing some of it with you soon! More to follow...


Monday, March 24, 2008

Maundy Thursday

A painting of the Last Supper by Simon Ushakov, 1685.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

But God...

Awhile back, I posted about a project called Nieucommunities. The following devotional is written by someone at the Nieucommunities site in the West End of Glassgow, Scotland.

(The following is not written by me, just shared by me because I liked it.)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10 ESV)


But God… We all have them, right? Those times in our walk with God when loving him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength seem effortless. Fully alive moments of success in relationships or service that make our passion for God so real…our calling so clear…our ability to sacrifice so natural. Moments when we can almost hear our Father in heaven saying, “This is my son…my daughter…in them I am well pleased!” We actually feel the “immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

But then, there are other times…times when love grows cold…times when each step stirs fear, indecision, and doubt. They are the seasons of death and darkness…seasons of the cross. But God… Our community in Glasgow is walking through one such season. We witnessed and endured brokenness in ways that we always hope as children of God we won’t have to experience. In many respects, we watched the ministry God built slowly disassemble before our eyes. It is a season of asking many questions about our calling, our purpose, and our reason to exist.

But God… It is in these times that it is the hardest to believe that he has not made a mistake—that “we are his workmanship.” In these times, it is the hardest to believe that we have a purpose“— good works, which God prepared beforehand.” It is hard to walk the steps laid out for us.

But God… A thought, an idea, which I hold in my mind and heart, fuels my passion in the hardest of times. It is as if Paul writes these words for me at this pivotal moment between what was and what is. Between what has been and what will be. It is my Lord Jesus walking step by brutal step toward his greatest moment of darkness and his greatest gift of love.

But God… It stirs the heart in the deepest place. Could it be that God is still intimately and strategically moving in and out of our lives, shaping and forming all that we are, fixing that which was broken, finding that which was lost, making us into what he has always dreamed we would be? Could it be that the weight of this world does not have to rest on my shoulders…but that it rests on the crucified shoulders of this “great love with which he loved us?”

But God…


Happy (Belated) Birthday, Dad!

So I've been absent from this page more than a week - sorry. More on that later. For now, some day-long overdue business - Happy Birthday Dad! (And Aunt Betty!) Hope it turned out better than these birthdays did!


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Yes We Can

It's been around, but it's worth watching again - especially after the dip in IQ in Texas and Michigan. :) Remember the math, folks! He's ahead and he's gonna win.

Projecting victory in Mississippi!

Yes. We. Can.


Daniel Vestal, CBF, and the Missional Movement

This is a copy of an e-newsletter sent out by the national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship - some reflections from Daniel Vestal on the relationship between "Baptist" and "Missional." I can't find this online - I'm sure it's on the CBF website somewhere (see links on the right), but I can't find it. (Updated 3/11 - the day after I post this, Churchworks sent out a link to the column. You can find it here to read it with appropriate formatting and everything.) I think there's some interesting stuff in it, so I'm posting it in its entirety. Feel free to comment - I'll probably have comments of my own at some point.

I couldn't get it to post with formatting included, so I've reformatted a bit to try and get it back to its original appearance. Hopefully I've avoided creating errors. If you'd like me to forward the original email to you, send me a note and I'll be happy to do so.

-Chris (what follows is from Daniel Vestal - as always, I don't necessarily endorse everything, I just think it's worth reading)

Being Missional and Being Baptist
By Daniel Vestal
March 5, 2008
As I interact with Baptist congregations, it is encouraging to see how many of them are seeking to define themselves as missional. Yet I often hear the question asked, "Does being missional have anything to do with being Baptist?" And the opposite question is asked, "Does being Baptist have anything to do with being missional?" The following reflections are an effort to explore the relationship between the two.

Being Missional

The word missional is a relatively new word in the Christian vocabulary. It is an adjective to describe a Christian or a church that discerns God’s mission and is discovering what it means to participate in that mission.

God is on a mission to transform the world through Jesus Christ. God’s mission is to create a global community of justice, peace and love. We are invited to participate in God’s mission by following Jesus Christ and being a continuation of Christ’s presence in the world. As individuals and as congregations we participate in God’s mission when we:
-depend upon the power and leadership of the Holy Spirit
-engage in spiritual formation and make disciples of others
-embrace a biblical world view by seeking and serving the Kingdom of God above all else
-think and act locally and globally with the least evangelized and most neglected
-embrace and serve those who are poor and who suffer
-practice authentic community and celebrate God’s blessings

Being Baptist

I have written a number of sermons and articles on what being a Baptist means to me, but in all honesty, being a Baptist doesn’t have a lot of meaning until one decides to become a part of a church. Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is a personal decision but it is never intended to be a private decision. We are meant to live in fellowship and unity with other Christians, encouraging one another, supporting one another, worshipping God together and serving Christ together. This community, this fellowship, this togetherness is what the New Testament calls the church.

But here’s the problem: What kind of church? What kind of Christian community is one to join and be joined to as a Christ-follower? It ought to be clear that there are many different kinds of churches where genuine followers of Christ come together for fellowship, worship and ministry. We need to be clear about this because I can remember a day when people would say, "My church is the only true church." Hopefully that day is over. But having said that, let’s ask the question again, "What kind of a community am I to join as a Christ-follower?"

Without giving a lengthy version of Baptist history or beliefs, let me offer a few statements that summarize this tradition called Baptist. It is a tradition that was birthed about 400 years ago and has resulted in thousands of churches being started.
-Baptists have believed that salvation is experienced by the grace of God as an individual freely and voluntarily trusts in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. No one can trust Christ for someone else. No one can be a proxy for another’s faith and commitment. Neither can we coerce another person to trust Christ. It is always voluntary.
-Baptists have believed that after trusting Christ, one should publicly and freely confess faith in the waters of baptism. Baptism is a voluntary act of obedience to the command of Christ.
-Baptists have differed over the mode of baptism, although most have practiced immersion. But the important thing to say about baptism is that it is a public act of confession.
-Baptists have believed that every person who trusts in Christ is competent both to respond to God and represent God to others. Every believer is a priest who can go directly to God. Every believer is a minister who is gifted by the Holy Spirit and is called to use those gifts both in the church and the world to further Christ’s mission.
-Baptists have believed that the Scripture is the inspired Word of God and is authoritative for our faith and practice. However, Baptists have also believed that every person is free to read, interpret and apply the Scripture as the Holy Spirit leads them. This means that Baptists have resisted the use of human-made creeds to force conformity of belief. Their source of authority has been the Bible and not a human interpretation of the Bible.
-Baptists have believed that every church is autonomous and ought to be free of eccelastical control or government control. In a Baptist vision, there is no such thing as "the Baptist church." There are only Baptist churches and each church is free to determine its ministry, plan its worship and choose its leadership.
-Baptists have believed that just as churches ought to be free of government control, so government should be free from the control of churches. This means that Baptists have rejected a church state just as they have rejected a state church. They have argued for a free church in a free state.
-Baptists have believed that individual Christians and local churches should voluntarily work together for the sake of the Gospel. This is sometimes called the "associational principle" and it has resulted in many remarkable, collaborative ministries. Cooperation and voluntary connection is as much a part of Baptist history and identity as individual autonomy and freedom.

Being Missional and Being Baptist

Now what does all of this have to do with being missional, particularly in the 21st century – a century that is sometimes called post-denominational? There are many missional churches that are not Baptist, and of course there are Baptist churches that are not missional.
-In a missional church that is Baptist every person will be valued because each is a priest before the Lord and a minister of Christ. There are no "first-class" and "second-class" members. Distinction between "clergy" and "laity" is not that important or significant. The ordinances of baptism and The Lord’s Supper can be administered by any member of the congregation if the congregation so chooses.
-In a missional church that is Baptist there is no hierarchy of authority. Rather there is shared decision making and shared ministry. Baptists have varied in their history on the role of elders, pastors, deacons and other leadership. But in a Baptist vision there is equality and an egalitarian spirit that permeates the entire congregation.
-In a missional church that is Baptist the Scriptures will be central to its life and ministry. Because Scripture is authoritative, Bible study is important. Because Scripture is authoritative, Bible truth will be sought and applied more than the opinions or interpretations of other people.
-In a missional church that is Baptist differences of understanding and interpretation of Scripture will be respected. People will be valued even when they differ from one another. If we accept freedom of conscience and the priesthood of every believer, we must expect differences and learn to love one another across those differences. The church that has a strict/narrow spirit and communicates an attitude of "my way or the highway" is not true to a Baptist vision.
-In a missional church that is Baptist there will be voluntary cooperation with other Christians to fulfill Christ’s continuing mission. Although we believe in the priesthood of every believer and the autonomy of every church, that doesn’t mean that we act in isolation from other churches. Rather we cooperate in a spirit of mutual trust and respect. We realize that the needs of the world require cooperation and collaboration.

Can you imagine the transformation that would take place in the world if Baptist churches discerned God’s mission in the world and discovered their participation in it? It would be revolutionary. Can you also imagine the energy that would take place in Baptist churches if they discovered and interpreted the Baptist vision for the 21st century in missional terms? It would be revolutionary. In Cooperative Baptist Fellowship we are working and praying for such transformation and energy.

Daniel Vestal is executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, serving since 1996.

Copyright 2008 The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship


Monday, March 10, 2008

Stab in the Dark goes Off the Edge

So...apparently my friend Fencerscott was inspired by me to insert those handy "read more" tags into his blog.

With the result that all his hundreds of previous blog posts turned invisible.

Oops - um, sorry about that, Fencerscott. *gulp*

So, in minor recompense, I give you a link to his new blog. Just a Stab in the Dark is now Off the Edge of the Map. Take a look-see. And tell him I said sorry.

(Heh, heh, heh, heh...I'm certain no one suspects this was intentional, as I test out my death-to-competing-blogs-o-ray, preparatory to taking over the blogosphere. Oh, yes - Soon, I Will Be Invincible!)


Laverne & Shirley - er, make that Lisa & Leanna

Making our Dreams Come True by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox
(Laverne and Shirley Lyrics)

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
Schlemeel, schlemazel, hasenfeffer incorporated.
We're gonna do it!

Give us any chance, we'll take it.
Give us any rule, we'll break it.
We're gonna make our dreams come true.
Doin' it our way.

Nothin's gonna turn us back now,
Straight ahead and on the track now.
We're gonna make our dreams come true,
Doin' it our way.

There is nothing we won't try,
Never heard the word impossible.
This time there's no stopping us.
We're gonna do it....

My friend Lisa's having a baby.

Another baby, I should say - Leland will just be 21 months old when the new little boy is born in August.

My friend Lisa is *brave.* (brave=crazy)

Lisa and Leanna graduated from Furman with me. They were roommates and grew up together in Birmingham, and they each, in their own ways, have always seemed fearless to me. Leanna has been a chaplain and a church staff member and is far along on a doctorate from Vanderbilt Divinity. She's brilliant - you wouldn't know quite how brilliant because she's so quiet about it, but she was Valedictorian of our class at Furman. I think she was quiet about it, at least in part, because she didn't need the validation of other people realizing how smart she is.

This is in contrast to the Chris version of things, where you want everyone to tell you how smart (or good, or nice, or musical, or...) you are so you can believe it yourself.

Leanna's never sought that in the time that I've known her. What I've been working to gain the last several years - a trust in myself - she's always seemed to me to have. Fearless.

Lisa was an Education major - early childhood, Lisa? But she never takes the easy or normal path. In the first few years after Furman, she was a ballroom dance instructor (having tried out for the job w/o knowing any ballroom dances!?!), a host at the Opryland Hotel (one of those things where you show the stars and famous people around - another job she had no experience or training for, she just thought it would be neat or something), and ultimately a missionary for a couple of years in Kyrgyzstan.


She came back and moved to Charleston - not back home to Birmingham, or to Nashville where she'd been living, or Greenville, Charleston. She didn't, as best I can recall, have a job or anything lined up - she just wanted to live in Charleston. So she went. She was sure she'd find something. She liked the beach (once during exams she got tired of studying and wanted to see the beach, so she left campus after midnight, drove four hours to the beach, walked on the sand for 15 minutes or so, and drove back), she wanted to live in Charleston, she moved to Charleston.

This is in contrast to the Chris version of things, where you want to do something, call up six or eight friends to talk it over - for 6 months to a year - while you dither and agonize and, probably, write blog posts describing the existential angst caused by the possibility of making a change.

I don't demean this, exactly; this is often my process. But Lisa's process always looked different to me. Want to live in Charleston, announce move to Charleston, move to Charleston. Simple.


Lisa and Leanna have remained among my closest friends. Granted, we can go a year or two without seeing each other (hey, ladies, we've got to start planning this year's get-together! When's Dust free?), but they're still among the people whose friendship I most value. They have always been fun, creative, entertaining - one day I'll get them to re-enact their version of Simon&Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence" and post it on Youtube, it's about the funniest thing I've ever seen - they could've gone on the road and sold tickets for that performance! They always had lots of friends because they were so full of life - and when you became their friend, they introduced you to a dozen others. My college experience, and my post-college life, have been much fuller because of the friends they introduced me to. In their energy and their fearlessness (brave=crazy), they always reminded me of Laverne & Shirley. (Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days were among my favorite shows growing up. I mention Happy Days gratuitously, so Leanna and Lisa can mock me for it - it's an insider thing.) Oh, I know they're human - they have their doubts just like anybody. But their doubts don't stop them. Nothing's impossible, nothing's gonna hold us back, we're gonna do it - we're gonna make our dreams come true.

And they do.

And that's why, in addition to being great friends, they've also always, kind of, been heroes to me. They helped pull me out of my introverted INFJ life (I wonder if it's their fault my J became a P?), helped me make great friendships, gave me lots of laughter and acceptance - and taught me, sometimes, to be fearless. Or at least less fearful.


We were often crazy, at Furman.


May we all be so lucky as to be so crazy.

Lisa, congratulations. Love and prayers are with you. Tell John and Leland to take good care of you - not that you need it! Scott, keep being good to Leanna. Don't be strangers, folks. I've posted a picture to the right - another of my heroes ;) who won't be held back - that's in your honor, you two.

Thanks for the inspiration. At this time in my life, I need the reminder. I'm not backing down or taking the easy path. I'm walking the way.


On your mark, get set, and go now,
Got a dream and we just know now,
We're gonna make our dream come true.
And we'll do it our way, yes our way.
Make all our dreams come true,
And do it our way, yes our way,
Make all our dreams come true
For me and you.


Saturday, March 8, 2008

ONE and Jesus pt 1

My post from yesterday was about ONE's general purpose statement - which is about committing one percent more of the US Budget to fighting, not poverty or inequity generally, but "extreme poverty" - poverty that is life-threatening, based on disease, lack of access to clean water or food, etc. ONE hopes to wipe out that kind of poverty.

Many Christians often cite, without much understanding, Jesus's statement in the gospels (Matthew 26:11; Mark 14:7) "the poor you will always have with you" as a reason not to try to reduce or attack poverty. This is bogus. (Yeah, I was going to say something longer and more scholarly, but decided to cut to the chase. Yep, even I can do that occasionally.) Three things inform our understanding of what Jesus is saying here - the immediate context, the wider context of Jesus's teachings, and the wider context of the Bible generally. (This is the long and semi-scholarly part.)

In the first place, look at the immediate context. We're getting close to the crucifixion, Jesus has been dropping hints left and right and sometimes saying outright that he's going to be murdered soon. He's headed toward Jerusalem and death. In the midst of this, a woman comes with an alabaster vial of precious and costly perfume and pours it on his head. (Culture people, culture - this isn't our culture!) Kind of reminds me of Psalm 23 - Jesus is in the valley of the shadow of death, soon to be in the presence of his enemies, but "my head you've annointed with oil; my cup overflows." This woman shows tremendous reverence and honor for Jesus, using this tremendously costly gift, not for her own benefit, not holding any of it back for later, but breaking it and spilling it out to honor Jesus.

As Jesus tells the grumbling disciples, this woman did a beautiful thing, one which would be remembered wherever the gospel was told; as indeed it has been, for the last 2000 years. Indeed Jesus, who we know feared the death he was going to face, saw this woman as doing "what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial." Can you imagine how moved Jesus must have been by her costly gesture? "She has done a good deed to me." Nothing was going to save Jesus from the crucifixion to come, but this woman ministered to him. Jesus was surrounded by disciples who continually "didn't get it," who would shortly betray and abandon him in various ways, who refused to believe or understand his statements about his upcoming death. How alone he must have felt! And how comforting, for a moment, to have this woman give him this gift, letting him know that he was not alone, and he was so highly valued as to be worth this gift. Maybe, just maybe, this whole Incarnation and death (and Resurrection) would be worth the pain and heartache.

Then some of the disciples spoil it, by criticizing her! They think it's *wasteful* of her! Can you imagine?!? None of them are being helpful to Jesus as he's going toward death, only this woman is; and they attack her for it!?

My hunch is, as so often was the case, the disciples were trying too hard - showing off for their teacher (rabbi) as it were, trying to "prove" they'd learned their lessons well. Jesus taught so often about the poor - so they're parroting lessons they've heard but not understood, complaining that this perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor, rather than "wasted" on ministering to the soon-to-be-crucified Jesus.

Wasted. On Jesus.

Can you imagine?

So what is Jesus's response? It's not, as many Christians make out, "Forget the poor, you'll always have them around, that's no reason not to give extravagant gifts to your spouse and your kids! GIve them nice trips, and forget about the poor - most of 'em are just lazy anyway!" No, Jesus says "For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me." Not "don't help the poor," as we know from Jesus's many sermons on that theme (more below); not "don't help the poor," but, "get a grip, guys, I'm about to die! This woman is the only one acting like she cares! Back off!"

I hear Jesus being in a lot of pain and fear and heartache at this point.

Note how Jesus frames this. It's not Him saying ignore the poor while spoiling your loved ones with extravagant and unneeded gifts. It's Him saying there will always be poor, and you can and should help them, but my need is imminent, and this woman is not being selfish and keeping this perfume for herself and her own vanity, she's ministering (doing a good deed) to me.

As we look at the immediate context, it's clear that Jesus isn't repudiating aid for the poor; he's telling the disciples that they don't know what's going on, and that if they'd learned the spirit, not just the letter, of his teachings, they would know this woman had done a beautiful thing.

To be continued...


Friday, March 7, 2008

The ONE Campaign

I've just signed the ONE Declaration committing myself to help fight the emergency of global AIDS and extreme poverty.

I'm asking you to make that commitment, too, by adding your voice.

I think your name belongs on that declaration, too. You can put it there by visiting:

ONE is a new effort by Americans to rally Americans - one by one. So far, over two million have signed the declaration in support of a historic pact for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of the world.

Together as ONE we can make a difference!



Thursday, March 6, 2008



BWAH-HAH-HAH-HAH*snort* - what?

What'd you say?

Oh. Well, no. I didn't find a job. (Kill-joy.) No, I didn't end poverty or world hunger. (What have you been doing, for that matter?) But I *did* take another step forward in my plan to take over the blogosphere.

I FINALLY learned how to insert the stupid "Read more" text and make it work!

Granted, it's inserted "Read more" at the end of everything, including tiny little posts that have no 'more' to be read. So far, the on-line helps I've been able to access say this is a problem that can't be fixed yet. We'll see. Oh, in case any of YOU need help with this - the most helpful website I found for instructions on the problem is here.

But what this does mean is that I don't have to force you, faithful reader, to span through mounds and mounds of text if you don't want to.

See how considerate I am? This is why you should root for me to take over the world. Not that it matters whether you root for me or not, since soon, I will be invincible. I'm just saying - I'll be a considerate absolute ruler. Sometimes.


And yes, I'm doing this post to compensate for the fact that I'm not doing a REAL post. Give me a break - I've been working on this "Read More" problem for about 3 hours now, and I'm ready to go home.

I'll be starting a series of book reviews tomorrow, and there's more fun stuff planned on the horizon. Keep reading! (Or you'll be sorry, when I'm invincible.)


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Job Hunting, or...

...what's the deal, anyway?

So, I've referred several times to the fact that I'm an ex-hospice chaplain, or looking for work. Several people have private messaged me for info, since I've never gotten around to clarifying that. So I'm going to steal from myself again, and stuff I've written people off-blog, to give you at least a short version of the story.

I'm doing this for a few reasons:
1) to update you, as there are still lots of my friends that I've not mentioned this too, in any depth.
2) To ask for your prayers - and to give you enough information for you to pray with some specificity.
3) Since I've written most of this in emails to others, putting it here saves me time and coming up with another blog post. :) It's an economy of effort thing.
Update 4) Apparently I'm doing some processing, too - all the stuff about seminary and CPE was added as I was editing the post. That stuff's more for me than you. Bunch of voyeurs. ;)

Anyway...I've been working for several years now as a hospice chaplain. My sense has always been that this probably wasn't permanent. When I graduated from seminary a little over 5 years ago, I had some personal and denominational issues to work through, and also felt pretty ill-equipped, in some ways, for ministry. There was only one 3-hour pastoral counseling course, for example, and it had no practical component. Most of my seminary training seemed to have little to do with actual ministry to hurting people or a troubled world, honestly.

So I didn't want to look for a church yet. I was mad at seminary, mad at Baptist life in general, mad at me and mad at God, depending on the day of the week and the hour of the day. I didn't think I'd be good for a church staff, at that point - or that church work would be good for me, seeing as I was mad at churches and churchy people. ;)

So I decided to enroll in CPE training - Clinical Pastoral Education. This is the training for chaplains, and it involves having a supervisory chaplain critique and monitor you and help you learn to monitor and critique yourself, alongside a group of peers. That's a really shorthand description - but it's a model of learning where you act, reflect on your actions (alone, with your supervisor, and with your peer group - "why'd you do that? Why didn't you do this? What were you really thinking as you did this? What's really going on here?" - the latter being my favorite rote CPE question!), and then act again - hopefully with greater insight, expertise, sensitivity, courage, etc. That kind of action/reflection model really appeals to me. Plus, the chance to do that in the context of ministering within a hospital seemed a great response to the divorced-from-real-life-and-real-hurts complaint that I had with seminary. (Others didn't feel that, by the way - I acknowledge that a big part of the problem during my seminary years was with me - hence, the anger at myself as well as at seminary/the church/God.)

This is turning into the long version of my job-situation. Oops. Well, if you know me or you've read previous entries, I daresay you're not really surprised...

Anyway, cutting of the retrospective - I worked in the hospital as a chaplain and CPE student for 15 months - a summer internship and a year of residency. It was a great experience and helped me grow in all kinds of ways. (I'm trying to be briefer - hence, vaguer.) By the time it finished up, I felt ready and even eager to look for work on a church staff. I also felt much clearer than I ever had in seminary about the kinds of jobs I was interested. In particular I was much more sanguine about serving in a "pastoral" role, whereas before I'd always preferred to use terms that, for me, were less loaded - "ministry" or "minister" as opposed to pastoring or pastor.

I'm not great at this shorter/less introspective/just the facts stuff, had you noticed? I thought you had.

So, it's my last week at the hospital, I've been job-hunting for a couple of weeks - and in the space of 24 hours, I get three calls from three unconnected people telling me about a job.

But it's not a church job, it's as a chaplain. A hospice chaplain, in fact.

Well, the hospice opportunity intrigued me a bit, and I decided I'd pay attention to the three providential phone calls. I'd had the opportunity to serve in several different areas within the hospital during CPE - in oncology, ICU, general surgical, pediatrics, Trauma, all kinds of stuff. But I kept requesting a placement in hospice and kept getting denied it.

The main reason for this - as far as I know, anyway, was for continuity. ("As far as I know" - CPE centers are big on you knowing and expressing your motivations, while at the same time hiding their own. It builds character or something. Plus, they like for you to reflect on what you want - and then give you something else, so you can reflect on the disappointment and learn to be open to the unexpected, and stuff like that. They're very intentional and occasionally sadistic about it. Really. It's great training - and great fun, if you're twisted like me - but it's not for the faint of heart.) Hospice patients and families need some continuity, with so much of their lives in turmoil, and they don't need to be afflicted with a new chaplain every 3 months if that can be helped. Ironically, that was my very reason for wanting to serve in hospice. I was constantly frustrated in the hospital with having 100+ new patients each day, many of whom would be gone a day or two later - relationships had to begin and end very quickly. As much as I enjoyed being at the hospital, I desired the chance to form on-going pastoral relationships with folks, and felt like hospice was the best place to do that, within healthcare. It still wouldn't compare to parish/local church ministry or even campus ministry (my other great and, at the time, latent interest). But it was the area within healthcare chaplaincy that most appealed to me - in theory. So I kept asking for a practical stint within hospice to check that perception out and see if I should pursue it.

Didn't get that opportunity during CPE, but now here I was being offered a full-time job in hospice. I took it, and stayed there ever since. Sort of. I didn't leave, but the company left me a couple of times, and changed names once (so far) as it changed management. Local management changed 8 times, depending how you count it, in 3 years.

The company was having lots of power struggles on upper corporate levels. Lots of people were laid off right and left - the other chaplain that started with me was laid off 7 weeks later, for example. So it felt unstable from the start. Lots of other people quit over the next couple of years. The local office had 35 staff (roughly) when I started; after a year, all but 5 of them (roughly, and counting myself) had been replaced. After a year, I was one of the most senior employees left!

It was a really unstable situation in a lot of ways. The ministry aspect of it was great, and you got to see God working in people's lives just about every day. The corporate aspect was not great, and was a constant distraction from the work.

But my sense was that it was where God wanted me to be for the time-being, that there was a lot for me to learn from it. As in CPE, it allowed me to develop pastoral care skills - practical & theoretical - far beyond what I'd gotten in seminary. I was immersed in the real needs of real people - the stuff I felt so isolated from in seminary. You could pay attention to the corporate stuff, and constantly be listening for rumors and putting out your resume - or you could focus on the work. That's what I did for the next 3 years.

Chaplaincy also gave me the chance to meet people I probably wouldn't have in a typical church, and put me in relationship with people from a variety of backgrounds, faiths, and ethnicities. It helped me to grow a lot. Moreover, it enabled me to be involved on a volunteer basis in other ministry opportunities, through my church and, this last year, through the Cooperative Student Fellowship at USC Columbia. That's allowed me lots of different outlets for ministry - pastoral care through hospice, music and education through my church, spiritual formation and just plain fun through the college group. Any time over the last few years that I've thought about leaving my hospice job - and that's been a number of times, with so much staff turnover! - I've had the clear direction that I was in the place I needed to be - not only with hospice, but with my church and with the CSF. (When I say that chaplaincy enabled me to do these other things - I mean that if I'd had to look for work at a church, I wouldn't have been able to be a church member at Emmanuel. The community at Emmanuel has been really good for me - it's been a time of healing, trying new things in a safe and supportive community, learning to love the church again.)

But that time is drawing to a close, from what I can tell. The week before Christmas, I was laid off from my job with hospice. Technically I'm still on-staff; they like me and have kept me on, theoretically, on a 'prn' or as-needed basis. But they were making cutbacks, relating to a buy-out. (That's the second time the company's been bought in a two year period - our last buy-out was in June 2006. I got an eventual promotion out of that one.) Whatever, the fact remains that since Dec. 26 I've not had any paid work from them, nor does that seem likely to change.

I've spent a lot of time in prayer and discernment over the last two months. Over and over again, I hear God telling me "everything must change" - that it's time for me to step out into a new phase of life and ministry. At this point, even if my old job and hours were offered to me again, I would have to decline to go back to work for them - or probably any hospice, except on a part-time basis. More and more, over the last couple of years and especially the last couple of months, I feel myself drawn (back) toward pastoral, congregational ministry. This is difficult to explain to folks who try to be helpful by telling me about job openings in chaplaincy - I might work that way bi-vocationally, if I had to, to allow me to work on staff with a church - but otherwise, I think that ship has sailed. That's not a reaction to bad stuff with chaplaincy - despite my disdain for corporate life, church work has its issues too, and then some. It's more my sense that chaplaincy was a stop for me, to learn more of what I needed to learn, but that ultimately my calling is to pastoral work in the church, helping God's people to grow into their roles as the hands, feet, and voice of Christ in the world.

Pastoral care is part of that - but so is education and discipleship, worship...all the things that the church does. And I want to minister in and through the Body of Christ, in the name of Christ - not in the name and under the authority of a business conglomerate.

I could go in a lot of directions from here - long-term, I feel some drawing toward pastoring, maybe even some kind of urban church-planting with a lot of community involvement. But in the short and medium term (3-5 years?) I'd love to find a church staff position as an associate pastor, with some combination of responsibility for spiritual formation/discipleship, pastoral care, and I say, I could go in a lot of directions and I'm trying to be open to possibilities. I've loved where I've been the last few years, and I'm still in love with both my church and the college ministry. But neither pays the bills!

(That's not the real issue, of course. Chaplaincy paid the bills pretty nicely. And it allowed me to do real ministry with real people. And I don't know what the future holds. But for now, I think it holds something different. "Everything must change" is the word I hear. I'm excited...and a little nervous, too...but excited to see what that means.)

So that's my current situation in a nutshell. As I say, I'd appreciate your prayers. Grace and peace.