Clinical Skill

A friend called me and I answered the phone, “What did I do?” She laughed and then asked me what my goals were for the year.

Having thought little about the calendar year, it took a minute. I live on a few calendars. My school calendar, my oldest son’s school’s calendar, my work calendar, and in an implicit way, the liturgical calendar.

Each project in my world has a calendar. In some ways, I’m modifying goals regularly based upon what happens in each mini-world.

So we joked a few minutes while I got myself together to answer her question. She and a few folks had listened to each other’s goals the day prior and she wanted to hear mine. She wanted to do me the favor of hearing my goals. Emmanuel Lartey, a pastoral theologian, wrote in In Living Color, that “Listening is a core skill in any form of caring.”

We traded goals and that was it. The thing is, when trading goals and expectations and hopes, I was–and she was–giving each other permission to participate. Trading was a step. Her asking me in a few months some version of “how are you doing with this one?” is another step.

It was a gift to me, having her ask the question, probe gently, and listen. I actually said to her, “This is what I do. I show up and ask people a question in order to hear them. How are you taking my role?”

I learned in that conversation that more people do what I do. More people are capable of coming alongside another person in order to listen, to care. I also learned that friends can take different roles playfully and that we can all do more or less than what we’ve done in the past.

That’s actually one of the learnings behind my goals, learning that I’m not, merely, what I have been and what I have done. My friends…always strengthening my and their clinical skill.

Already Better

“When I got to your stage of having a whole night’s sleep several times,” Sasha told me, “I did just one thing. I paid absolutely no attention to ‘it’ whatsoever. I pretended it wasn’t there. I decided I’m not going to give up another second of my life to this ridiculous problem. You are still paying too much attention to it just by having this conversation with me. You’re already better.”

Sasha talking to Kate about years of paying attention to not having enough sleep. The quote says so much about sleeping, dreaming, and living after sleeping and dreaming. Read the rest here at the Guardian.

Global Outages

One of my school administrators sent an email recently that their phone system provider was experiencing a global outage. I’ve received emails from this administrator in the past, emails about the learning management system being down, some technical update being scheduled, or something that felt really distant from any language I use or, frankly, understand. Global outage grabbed me.

It was a phrase that captured aspects of my interior life to that moment. Just the day prior I had been praying for someone, an act that seems common to me, my entire ride home. She asked me to pray and I did. For 39 minutes I talked with God about her. And I started speaking with God by saying how hard it was to ask for the very things on my own behalf that I was asking for that sister. I was in the crevice of my own global outage.

I had been experiencing that outage, where my conceptions and systems and structures for what I’ve known as my life with God weren’t working. I’ve been participating in a different life with God, one that I’ve examined in spiritual direction, that started six years ago when my father died. That death, that loss reoriented where God and I were, the distance between us, the proximity, the curiosity. The years of re-conception have been rich. And painful.

Another outage occurred more recently, and follow up outages can be more debilitating than prior ones. Outages with details so wide and broad it helps not to go into them. They are, to put it briefly, another entrance into their own global outage. If you’ve had them, you know that there are the “intermittent issues,” “the delays in progress,” your own failed attempts to recover and repair and reset. In life–outside of computers and databases and files–global outages are world-orienting. But they are, first, completely disorienting.

They’re hard to write about, difficult to talk about, and full of immense energies spilling in countless directions. You have a sense that work is being done. You can hear, in the quietest voice, regular whispers of that work. As my computer guy said to me last month, “there are updates going on here.”

In the outage, God is working. I know that’s true. I have seen and witnessed it, even if my internal world of grief feels opposite. I know something in my spirit that I don’t feel anywhere else. That is one way to speak of faith.

Creating things that will show themselves. Refashioning systems that were so burdened that they snapped. Mending spirits so broken that their pieces look like shiny dust blowing in a million directions. But there is more than dust. There is more than what’s broken, bruised, and crushed.

I’m not sure what’s there. I’m not clear yet what’s coming. But there is a stream shaping in the dust. There is a current in the making. It’s a faith claim to be sure, but it is also based upon a deep knowing. At some point, there will be resolution.

Blessing the House of the Heart

From Jan Richardson’s The Cure for Sorrow (and a fitting opening to blessing)

If you could see

how this blessing

shimmers inside you,

you would never wonder

whether there will be

light enough,

time enough,

room enough for you.

If you could see the way this blessing

has inscribed itself

on every wall

of your heart,

writing its shining line

across every doorway,

tracing the edge

of every window

and table

and hall–

if you could see this,

you would never question

where home is

or whether it has

a welcome for you.

This blessing wishes

to give you

a glimpse.

It will not tell you

it has been waiting.

It will not tell you

it has been keeping watch.

It would not

want you to know

just how long

it has been holding

this quiet vigil

for you.

It simply wants you

to see what it sees,

wants you to know

what it knows–

how this blessing

already blazes in you, illuminating every corner

of your broken

and beautiful heart.

Fake It Til You Make It

When I was growing up, my pastor at the time used to say, various forms of “Fake it til you make it.” This quote came up in an article about sleep, a quote I’ll share with you in the next blog post. When my pastor said it, it was almost always a way to encourage the church to move toward what was lacking in life so as to keep moving and not be stuck.

I have good memories of the many ways Bishop Trotter used to preach this message, drive this point, tune this into us. I miss hearing him because I’m not there anymore, but I imagine him preaching in strength and it’s inspiring to an old part of me.

As a son in the faith to him, I know better than most that this was one of Bishop’s most enduring slants. He would call himself, when I was serving there on the staff, “an encouragement preacher.” That shows his inclination, his method, and his motivation. He preached themes of encouragement as a matter of vocation. There’s what he did and there’s what I did with it.

Like everyone in his audience, I had to take in and do something with that overriding message. This homiletic device became troublesome for me. It became a way for me to resist engaging with the specific ways I needed to be true and not fake. I couldn’t negotiate with being fake and being real at the same time. Many can’t to my way of thinking.

I’ve held the memory of that message and its intent. I’ve added to it, my message after the period. So it’s more of a story I tell, with part of the story being that historical fake-it-til-you-make-it sermon and another part being about truly pursuing what’s authentic to me, what’s honest, what’s true.

I’m on a life hunt to be honest, to be truthful, to un-do the deceptive people and systems that cause the unhealth of my people. My image for years from Jeannice and Kwabena sits on my desk. It’s a Ghanaian horn-blower, a truth-teller. It’s true as I see it. Fake it til you make and create the supportive communities that help you make it. Like Bishop and his image, I have this one.

Of course, the beauty in Sweet Holy Spirit was and is that the community enabled God’s people to regularly, consistently, and persistently make it. May we keep the ascents where they need to be for each successive emphasis.