Host Your Dreams

I have been thinking about dreams, at least, since I listened to Dr. Sam Chand talk about himself as a dream releaser when he consulted with us at Sweet Holy Spirit almost twenty years ago.

I was very new and just as young while serving the church. Almost daily, I confirmed in my mind that I was not equipped to serve as an executive pastor. With my degrees, with my history growing up at the church, with my spiritual sonship threading through my life there, with occasional phone calls on random days from Grandfather Ellis to calm me down.

Sometimes, the work is more convincing than the dreams. Sometimes, the reality is that you cannot do what your dreams tell you that you can. Sometimes, we live in the real world so long that we believe the world of our dreams is not how God pulls us together, nightly, fixes our brain breaks, and inspires us to do what our ancestors and our communities need.

Even though I knew the church, it was my home, like the back of my head, I did not know all that it needed. As a part of the church staff, we needed a person to come and stoke the dreams of the church, of the pastor, of the staff.

Among the things Dr. Chand did was listen to the dreams of our leadership. He talked, listened, considered. Something about his ministry vitalized me. He was, among other things, hosting our dreams.

He did more than that, but in those first gestures, as an experienced leader, he was modeling for me how to host the dreams of others.

Everyone needs dreams. Everyone needs to pursue dreams. Everyone, in order to pursue dreams, needs people to host those dreams.

There is a place for challenging them and certainly a place for practically weighing the costs of pursuit, for considering the routes to their fulfillment. But it starts with locating the hosts of what’s so close.

You need a host for your dreams–and one that isn’t only you and that isn’t only God. You may not unroll all the dreams to one person, but the act of sharing even pieces of your dream is an act of becoming whole.

Ask God to send you hosts for what you’ve held, capable hosts for what’s deep within. You don’t have to carry your dreams alone, even during seasons of particular loneliness. You don’t have to go after or fulfill them alone either. May you have the company you need.

Celebrate, Grieve, Celebrate

These are three motions, three commitments, three postures – all worth living into. If you’re into making commitments in the first month of the year, consider them.

Celebrate what was. One of my plans in the first weeks of this year is to a write list or create a word cloud of all the things I got to do last year. So far, I’ve been writing the list in my head but I’m aiming for paper. It’ll include all the things I got to be and all the gifts I received. It’ll be my way of celebrating what was. The celebration is inherently an act of remembering.

Grieve what’s gone. We don’t grieve enough. I don’t grieve enough. I’m convinced that we’re taught how to end grief not welcome it. So, a lot of my work is around nurturing this soul gesture, building this emotional skill, and opening myself up to doing what the world often has little room for. We need to say goodbye and to grieve those goodbyes.

Celebrate what remains. Seeing what’s still present is another beautiful and clarifying gift. When a role or a job or a relationship or an ability ends, the ending needs to be felt. That’s the grief. But there are things which remain and those still-present things require their own celebration. What’s current needs to be enjoyed. The more we refrain from appreciating what’s present, the more we fix our focus upon the past or the future, and we miss what’s right now. This second celebration powers life and thriving.

There’s more to say but the more falls within those three postures.

The Project of Identifying Yourself

My CPE unit is wrapping up with the residents and final evaluations always bring up some discussion around our relational or interpersonal dynamics. We talk about each other. They talk about me and what I do with them. I talk about them and what they do with me.

We broach subjects like the one I was talking about with Eddie, a friend and therapist. Me and Eddie have our own rhythm for discussing the world’s issues, so the conversation is one we’ve had in pieces before, even though that conversation wasn’t part of final evaluations in the fall unit of CPE.

Essentially, the conversation was about projective identification, a psychodynamic concept that has to do with another concept called projection. I’m not a specialist in psychodynamic theory so my views are imprecise. Nonetheless, projection is an unconscious process where a person extends, casts, or projects an unwanted image away from the self and upon another. The casted “image” can be a trait, quality, or part of the self and not only an image per se. I use image in my work because it connects with my pulls from Relational-Cultural Theory and relational images. Think of the projected thing as thrown, casted, and rejected.

The projected image, feelings, and traits are operative in the relational dynamics with the one projected upon. Projections are sent things. They indicate aspects of ourselves that we don’t accept for whatever reason. They may not be good parts. They may be socially unacceptable, contradictory to some ethic or value we hold. They are aspects of the self that are, on their faces, not acceptable. They must be sent away.

Projections are normal, frequent, and probably always happening in humans. Again, they are unconscious, which means they’re generally out of awareness. We know projections occur but we don’t know when ours are operating. They are, in a word, unavailable. They are unseen by us. They usually emerge in, through, or as part of conflict. Strong reactions are almost always indicators of projections.

I never read that verse of scripture because it feels offensive! Or, every time I meet with him, I feel exhausted. Or, we keep going over the same issue in my workgroup. Or, those two argue every time they talk. Or, he always finds a way back to such and such. Strong reactions.

The related concept of projective identification is where the other person receives and cooperates with the projection. The projections are evoked or created in the other. Think of the projection as a judgment, trait, belief, or image that’s sent and think of the identification as an acceptance of what’s sent. It’s identified with, accepted, enacted, and taken to be true. This, too, is an unconscious process.

A person doesn’t consciously agree to accept the meanings, opinions, and views sent over, but it happens as part of relating. And many of these dynamics make relationships between people shine. You think your clinical pastoral supervisor cares, and that thought impacts your willingness to open to him in a unit of clinical pastoral education. Projecting upon him, qualities of compassion and aptitude may enable you to trust that supervisor as you consider the difficulties of patient care in a hospital. That supervisor may take up that projection, embody care and concern for you as a chaplain. The relationship grows from the projection and the identification.

In the negative, how do you know these are working? One key is conflict. When an expectation is unmet. Every unmet expectation doesn’t eventuate into a conflict but those that do indicate these dynamics. When you’re experiencing the same interior, relational, or professional conflicts; when those conflicts emerge repetitively, these two dynamics are at work. They may not be the sole dynamics or even the primary ones, but they lurk and matter. Again, they are normal, common, even natural. Humans being humans means humans projecting upon and identifying with other humans.

It may be worth it to get consultation. In chaplaincy education, we consult with other educators in communities of practice. Those communities are professional circles of trust where we discuss our work with students and how those relationships are going. We get feedback. Sometimes the feedback leads to additional steps for reflection. Sometimes we finalize issues in a few pointed minutes of paying attention together.

All of this leads me to say that the project of identifying yourself is long. The work and service you bring to the world, when you’re at your best, is in locating who you are and committing to that person. Who you bring to the world has to be who you are and not who I’ve made you to be, thought you to be, crafted you to be.

As a pastoral theologian, I’d call that projective stuff a potential idolatry. It is potentially re-making a person who is already made. It is potentially requiring a person made by God to be re-made by me. So becoming aware of the dynamics is important. I don’t want to re-make people.

I’d rather help liberate people when they’ve been remade by people in their backgrounds. I’d rather cooperate with God and with God’s long work of making you and me back into who we were. Isn’t it God’s work to make us who we were, to return us to who we were when others have revised us?

I’m a certified educator and I work, in a biased way, toward the liberation of my students. I want them to come increasingly closer to themselves as they practice ministry so that what they offer in ministry is a beautiful expression of integrity. They offer themselves. They offer who they are rather than the person they are told – through projections or what not – to offer.

I want students in CPE to get along in the project of understanding who they are. I want them to get along in the work of giving and receiving sustaining grace while they’re in the process of understanding themselves. I want students to give who they are as part of their deep commitment to personal, social, cultural, and communal liberation.

I’m tossing images like anybody. Hopefully most of my projections are biased toward liberation and wholeness. That’s my hope. But when I do what we all do, one of y’all can bring me to better awareness or send me to my community of practice, point me to my pastor, direct me to my therapist or to my prayer room.

Or all of em.

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.


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.

“You Already Know Enough…”

I was texting with Sister Reverend Gina and Brother Reverend Eddie, rehashing details of an upcoming meal we’d have. In my calendar, these sacred and eucharistic occasions pop us as the Black Brilliance Gathering.

We got off that subject and into a query I posed to them about qualifying examinations, the exams I’m preparing to take around May and through August. I have four of them: psychology, psychology of religion, theology, and pastoral theology. Incidentally, if you think of any of those words, any combinations of those phrases between now and August, whisper words of prayerful intent for me!

Gina and Eddie, partners of mine in these doctoral streets, took their exams at the end of the summer. Their wisdom, as in all prior moments, was worth having. They were taking me to text school, answering my stated questions and answering the other ones that were abiding in my spirit. 

They were affirming me, teaching me, calming me. Somewhere after Gina had broken down the most concise truth about the exams, Eddie wrote, “You already know enough to pass.” 

After I experienced an immediate critique from all the ways and directions graduate school had trained into us at to that point, I breathed over his comment. It was what I needed even if I hadn’t asked. 

Now, I still was studying–and still am until May or June according to my timeline and plan. I am attending to a list of nearly 200 sources of books, articles, and chapters in all the times I’m not working my good job, exercising, fathering, and dating. I always have a book or two. Actually, I’m reading during some of that dating at this point in my great relationship.

I always have an document on my laptop collecting my collections from all these materials. I’m in preparation mode. And yet, Eddie’s words pull me into a depth with what I know, with what I have, with what I’m prepared with as I am. 

Now, he was addressing me and qualifying exams. But can’t you take his comment in your own directions? You already know enough to pass. You already know enough to…