A Message from Bishop Jakes

There is so much in this message. I saw it yesterday and decided I wanted to chronicle it as much for myself as for blog readers. It isn’t my habit to share sermons but there’s rich material about shame-based theology we must confront, truth about process addictions to social media, interpersonal relationship possibilities, rest, creativity, liberative self-determination, and grace for all the backgrounds that limit us.

While you will find disagreements–you should in every communication if you’re critically engaged–you will find something good and worth meditating upon. Listen to what’s for you.

One Letter at a Time

The other day my youngest son asked his brother what something spelled. He read the letters in his distinct voice and asked, what does OPEN spell?

I was driving, and my habit is to usually not see what they are seeing. Their perspective, in the backseat, is not mine. I regularly respond to their, “Daddy, what is that?” with “Son, I can’t see what you’re seeing right now. I’m driving.”

That is so much of life, isn’t it? Not seeing what someone else sees. Not sitting in the posture of another’s position. Not being able to shift perspectives. Not having empathy.

My little boy has caught on to this regularly enough. He’ll ask his bigger brother a question he may have tried with me.

The other thing is, my son was showing me evidence of his learning. I nearly missed it in that moment. I was amused that he was asking his brother a question. I turned toward the sound of voice. I appreciated that he knew how to ask a good question in order to find answer.

I almost missed that he’s learning how to read one letter at a time, one word at a time. He’s been learning but much that learning resides inside his little frame. I saw a glimpse of it!

Trauma, Suffering, Pain

The word trauma is a fashionable way of talking about suffering, and I find discussing trauma to be accurate and meaningful at many points. At the same time, I think that the word conjures defenses that make it hard to see suffering and pain, two words I prefer using when I’m trying to nuance the various ways people hurt.

Trauma should probably be diagnosed. It should be investigated in the body and the background with care, attentiveness, and skill. To assign something as traumatic brings an entire mechanism of treatment. As it should.

However, the skill and patience required to accurately say something is a trauma isn’t always necessary to call something painful. Sometimes addressing pain is a quicker focus. Plus, pain (or suffering) is always a part of trauma.

Whenever you talk of these three–trauma, suffering, or pain–there’s pain. So, querying your pain is a way to be healed even as trying to diagnose whether you’ve been traumatized. Where you hurt is an indication of where you need healing. You can call it trauma if that’s discerned. Or you can say you’re suffering or struggling or in pain.

I find this a help to me as I pray about my own pain. I know where I hurt and I try to survey that with God. God knows where I’ve been traumatized and God surveys that with me. I’m more skilled with what I know hurts, and God is more skilled (and patient and attentive) to the other things I don’t always yet know.

Pause

I read a reflection by Rabbi Brant Rosen who was discussing a number of things related to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I read once that Rosh Hashanah begins the “days of awe,” which made me smile. The high, celebratory holiday is followed in a few days by Yom Kippur, the Jewish time of atonement.

Rabbi Rosen wrote that, from last year to this one, many things have happened worth remembering, worth pausing. He narrated how significant it is that many of us have been grieving over the year. Grieving who was lost, particularly the more than four million who have died to Covid-19. Grieving unemployment. Grieving disorientation. Grieving an irretrievable life that won’t return.

His suggestion was to use the series of holy days to pause and to reflect. He suggested that we pause over the griefs, using a relevant Jewish custom to spend a year of mourning and praying the Kaddish, but also to pause over the wins, achievements, and triumphs. He noted that it is a scientific victory to, in the same year, locate a virus and a vaccine.

Even with the liturgical moment, in life routines, of reminding oneself that life and death come to us all, there is beauty in pausing, anchoring into what is good, worthy, honorable. Pausing to appreciate the undeniable blessings even while appreciating the undeniable losses. There’s an honesty there, no?

Rabbi Rosen had me considering another time of pause. In my hospital work, I’ve participated in moments of pause when a patient dies. Surrounded by medical staff, many of whom have worked to save the deceased person’s life, we pause in silence, to reflect upon the work and effort, to honor the dead, to acknowledge the loss.

“The Pause” as it’s called in medical literature doesn’t happen all the time, at every death, or after every code, but it is one of those liturgical acts worth using in hospital settings. A team, and anyone on the unit or service line who participated in caring can participate, gathers, pauses in intentional silence, and leaves. A chaplain can lead the moment but anyone else can too.

The pause allows for a gathering together, a joining with others when medical technologies have failed or when it was time for death to arrive. Everyone pauses. Pauses to think of the losses and the gains. Pauses to think of what dreadful things happened. Pauses to think of what great things happened.

All of it will leave us disoriented just enough but, somehow, also oriented toward a consideration of life and humility and death.

Recognize Trauma, Dismantle Racism

Trauma is a loaded word and scary at the same time because it obscures pains from the past that we wish to forget. However, despite our efforts to forget and move on, history continues to follow us in our lived experiences. How people interact and deal with the trauma is unique for each person. Our bodies and psyches reveal who we are, and our behavior shows our deep wounds. When these wounds are systemic across entire groups of people due to discrimination, police brutality, and racism, it is necessary to deal with the trauma and triggers on both personal and communal levels. Coming to grips with this type of trauma is to sit with the past and mentally to reflect and exercise these painful memories for healing, liberation, and ultimately dismantling racism. 

Yenny Delgado here

Arriving to Work

I used to hear my training supervisor say to me how grounding chaplaincy was. I was new enough to the work and new enough to Peter to listen very closely. Sometimes I think I was a better listener when I was new to the ministry.

I have always been nosey enough, curious really. So I was engaged by what he’d say after being such a long, faithful, pastoral leader at my hospital. He’d say things in the halls on our way to see people that made the visits worthy even before they began. I learned more that I only retain in the pores of my soul than I can re-state.

On one of those days, we were coming off the elevator. I was co-working the medical ICU. He was the chaplain, I was the resident. He was the real spiritual caregiver, I was trying to be. The ICU was not the congregation so I had some learning to do. I loved it and still do.

Peter told me that he hadn’t been on the floors for a while and that he always felt like there was a goodness when he came back. He was managing the department, creating programs, co-working with his colleague Mark, my other training supervisor and my current manager. Back then, I knew nothing of what he was really doing.

I’ve learned more about what took him away from the floors. I’ve lived it over the last few years of being an educator now. A lot can take you away from a patient room or from a family meeting discussing the end of life or from a session with a physician who just needs you to stand there as they cry. There’s an odd goodness in those moments.

One of the good things is the gift of perspective. You show up to work having all the things anyone else has. You carry all the things everyone else does. A soreness in your foot, brokenness in some soul spot, annoyance, heart-rending pain, minor delays about three or four decisions, uncertainty about an important person. And you go to the floor. You get to the unit. You arrive for your patient.

And for a moment or for an hour or for a day, you develop the tools to share yourself with another person going through hardness. You don’t lose your own stuff but you shelve it temporarily. You know exactly where it is. It’s outside on the contact precautions cart. It’s on the counter at the nursing station. It’s spread out like murky liquid on the floor at the door. It’s somewhere, your stuff.

But you bracket it so that you can, rather than shrink yourself, expand into someone better. You place your things where you can find them when you’re done. And you arrive to meet another sacred person.

Being Stubborn

I am a stubborn man. I usually soften that description by saying I’m committed. I’m a thinker. Those two things are true but they take form in my stubbornness. They are expressions of stubbornness. At least, for me.

Now, most stubborn people can spot other stubborn folk. We recognize each other even if we don’t speak to each other. We notice the characteristics, the gestures, and the acts which are native to members of our tribe. These are acts I need not write. I don’t want to do all your work for you, and I don’t want to completely out my people!

What I do want to say is that stubborn people, aside from being the best kind of people, have a fault line. At a point, we stop listening. At a point, we stop attending. At a point, we stop.

The stubborn person doesn’t move after arriving at a place because that place is right for them. That arrival, that posture, and that position is psychologically recognizable. So, why move? Why keep going?

We reason within that, having already arrived at ourselves and our points and our beliefs, listening is no longer needed. Now, this fault line can be, and often is, smudged. After all, stubborn people can listen and attend. It’s possible. But it takes a lot to re-engage our ears because we have to hear something compelling and something familiar enough to ourselves, our points, and our beliefs for listening to be credible.

Here’s the other point: all people are stubborn people about something. Everyone makes a commitment to something, some posture, some belief. The question is, what are you stubborn about? When you know that, you begin to be aware of what you’re willing to move from and what you’re stuck on. You can consciously engage with your listening potential.

Leavings

The other day my summer intensive students finished their unit of CPE. We gathered at an Oak Park restaurant and had a great time. It was wonderful to see them together, around a table, laughing, and making fun of each other and of me, remembering their 11 weeks of chaplaincy at the hospital.

They had a way of relating that didn’t include me, and we had a way of relating together that did. We joked over how the Catholic and the Episcopal students were first to order a bottle of wine. Somebody told a good joke about Baptists and beer, and, when it felt right, I asked a troubling question about substance abuse and ministry. I learned more about the six traditions around the table when it comes to the concern. You can tell a lot about a group of people when they gather, when they raise questions, when they sit with questions.

We took pictures, entertained our server, and enjoyed our food. We talked about our patients and our group work. I tried to enjoy their natural rhythm and further minimize my “supervisory approach” as we went about the work of ending.

I asked my students a similar question that I raise each week with my boys. On the morning my week with the boys ends, I ask them what their most favorite and their least favorite part of the week has been. It’s become a ritual for us. In fact, if we’re driving to the drop-off where they greet their mother and I haven’t raised the question, one of them will. The ritual has caught on.

I asked my students something similar and we all listened and joined in to see again the experiences we knew about or a few that we hadn’t known about. We listened and, as one feminist theologian wrote, heard each other each speech.

To supervise students well, you have to have a way to end. You need an approach to leaving and it causes an educator to be intentional about not only beginnings but endings. Even if you don’t do much to finish, end, or terminate, you have to consider it to be good at supervision. How will this end? How do I want this to finish? Where would I like to be when we’re done?

My therapist told me once, when we were discussing the beautiful nuances of introverts and extroverts dating, that everyone needs to leave, not just introverts. She said we practice leaving every time we get together. Extroverts move toward other people naturally. Introverts move in the direction of the individual self. These moves are about energy, the maintenance of a person’s soul. You need to move toward and away.

Everyone comes and everyone goes. It’s a natural part of life. It’s a natural need.

Even when you move toward people, the soul requires leave-taking.

When you leave, may you do so with grace, blessing and laughter.