Wisdom, Major Deaths & Transformation

I was reading Fr. Rohr’s meditation the other day. I should say that when I read it, I was thinking about grief already, thinking about loss. It was the week prior to my final goodbye at New Community where I served for a touch over eleven years. Even though I made the change for good reasons, it was still a change.

That change was laced with loss and that loss meant grief. I am grieving that loss, grieving that change. Of course, there are other changes and losses, too. I, like you, am grieving more than one thing at a time. I try to stay in some touch with those losses to respect them, to hear them, and to learn from them.

Fr. Rohr was discussing Walter Brueggemann’s observation that the Torah, the Prophets, and the Wisdom Literature (three scriptural categories in the first testament of the Christian scriptures and the three parts of revelation making up the Hebrew Bible) represent the development of human consciousness. These three parts of biblical witness present what it means for humans to be, to become. Fr. Rohr was underlining the importance of these three types of witness in life.

We need to be reminded of our original createdness in God’s community (Torah is our instruction in that very truth). We need to live close to those voices that help us look beyond ourselves, our egos, and our small commitments (Prophets do that). We require for living well criticality that helps us see honestly how to live toward the self and others (Wisdom offers those guides).

It was in this brief reflection that Fr. Rohr said,

Wisdom literature reveals an ability to be patient with mystery and contradictions—and the soul itself. Wise people have always passed through a major death to their egocentricity. This is the core meaning of transformation.

I find it taxing, staying true to transformation. It’s hard to be faithful to transformation because in being faithful to that change, I’m signing up for continued self-noticing and continued self-growth. I’m setting myself in places where I plan to notice others and plan to grow others. I plan not to die in one sense. In another sense, this is absolute death. This is surrender. It’s scary. It’s major.

If you’re feeling your own grief, passing through a death (whether it’s minor or major to you), name it as a part of your transformation. The contradictions that scar your soul, the mystery that leaves your heart hungry for more than what’s in front of you, name them as sources of revelation about not only your death but your life. Your steps, your paths, and your journey are leading somewhere, and it’s called transformation.

Try your best to trust. Even the attempt is a death. It is also the emergence of life.

Estimates of Your Leadership

Skitter PhotoLast month I had the opportunity to visit my mentor and father-friend, Dr. Johnathan Alvarado, on the occasion of his 50th birthday. His wife, Dr. Toni Alvarado, invited a collection of colleagues, parishioners, friends, and extended family to a party. I stayed for the full weekend as we celebrated him. I had the chance to represent those who JEA have mentored over the years—in my case, nearly 25 years.

The weekend and the writing of my reflection ahead of it gave me an opportunity to bring to mind all the things which he’s been to me, to my marriage, and to my family. His (and their) exemplary ethic in the practice of wise, enduring, faithful, intellectually responsive, and Spirit-led ministry mark me in my attempts to do similarly. I’m part of the fruit of his life. I’m part of the estimate of his leadership.

Bishop Alvarado shares me with other people who’ve mentored me. He and they are regular parts of my growth. As I described his impact upon me, I couldn’t help but visit my own ministry, teaching, and service to the world. I couldn’t help but question my own family life when I heard his daughter (their youngest) speaking so lovingly about her dad.

Bishop Alvarado esteems others well, and to participate in a public affirmation of his life was splendid. To review–even in my own life–how his life mattered and how his effort provided a currency for our own development as a person was of double benefit. It underlined my sincere appreciation that he is alive.

Listening to earned tributes has that impact on a person. You hear and you want to emulate what you hear. I want the estimates of my leadership to sound and look and feel like those did in December. I want to be the husband, father, leader, pastor, educator, caregiver, and writer who loves well and is loved well. I want to see the estimates of my leadership as I lead and to count them worthy.

CPE: Supervisory Education Student Training

Thanks to Danist Soh

Thanks to Danist Soh

I finished my residency in clinical pastoral education at the end of August. As part of that ending, I was in transition to stay in training by beginning work in supervisory education. I needed to stay on somewhere since the church was keeping me part-time. And an opportunity opened.

In effect, my life will continue to look like it has over the last year. I’ll continue to serve my church as one of the pastors, and I’ll continue to serve my patients as a one of the chaplains.

Most people in my church seem surprised when I mention my CPE training. They don’t feel the impact of my work. They don’t notice the differences in how I spend my days.

As a church that focuses its mission on twenty and thirty-somethings (and certainly not exclusively), most of our people are involved during their days. They aren’t coming to a church, meeting with pastors, or attending ministry meetings. That was very much the culture of my last church. At New Community, people I meet with meet me at night or on weekends because they work, study, or otherwise occupy themselves.

So, attending weekend activities at church, while working during the day at a hospital and working at night to see our church people, lends to a congregant’s surprise when learning that I’m also working in CPE. But I am continuing that work. And I’m glad to be doing so.

It’s been an interesting mix of experiences starting my program these last weeks. I’m still serving as the primary chaplain in the medical intensive care unit. I’m observing the work of my supervisor as he works with a new set of interns, starting to see supervision from a different ledge. I’m preparing didactics, reading a lot, still seeing the ups and downs of people’s lives in a busy level one trauma center that sees death daily. I sit with people going through hard spots. I pray all the time. It seems that way. It’s getting easier to sit quietly.

I’m not sure how that’ll impact my posting. I’ll still post quotes of people I read. I’ll write reviews of some of the books I’m appreciating as a way to keep my mind engaged in a number of ways with the authors of those books. I may not be able to post as much as I like.

The process before me is faith-filled. Like any growth process, the most constructive parts are unseen. The strongest impacts ahead aren’t written in a description. And I couldn’t tell you all the gifts I’ll receive as I step into what’s next. There will be love there though. There will be people that love me and people that I’ll love.

There will be learning and I’ll necessarily make more mistakes. My average has already gone up this year for mistakes! I’ll require more from my family and friends, and I’ll return the gains I’m getting from one work environment toward the people within the other environments I’m placed. I’ll deepen my conversations with my spiritual director. Me and Dawn will speak and listen more meaningfully. Bryce will get a better dad. And we’ll see what else there is.

Ending Another Semester

They trickled into the room and eventually we gathered as a group.  For most of the semester we started at 9am, but the clock ticked across several more minutes before our start.  By then, the tables were filled and dressed with treats.  Two pans of some casserole of sausage and bread and eggs or broccoli and onions for us meatless eaters, a bowl of sugary goodness a pastor’s wife provided, a box of buttered sweet cakes.

Their eyes and heads were heavy with every unfinished paper and all those unwritten words scrambling in their heads like thoughts waiting.  Their anxiety was normal as was their exhaustion.

We talked about things.  We wrote affirmation cards and ate and talked about the unseen days ahead.  Their would be jobs over the summer, breaks from seminary, no one taking classes.  One of them was starting a business, one serving at a camp.  There were hugs and written prayers, and as in previous times, I was so thankful for the chance I have to do this work.

Prayer for a Friend as He Presents

You have never had a problem presenting yourself.  You have always communicated well.  So as my friend communicates, will you?

When he walks into the room, present yourself to him as he presents himself and his stuff to others.  Calm his heart and nurture his nerves in your hand.  Make him see and hear what he should.

May every inspection that happens in that time be full of accuracy, wisdom, and practical help.  Season the words of his listeners with grace, empathy, care, and truth.  Bring them closer to each other and to beauty as they talk.

Grant that this presentation brings you glory.  Enable it to connect with the broader bigger vision of his doctoral work in powerful, effective ways.  And perfect every step in the future of this work.  Bring it to pass in a ravishing way.

In Christ’s name.  Amen.

Creating Saints

I’ve been thinking about the creation of saints, the way saints are made, and it’s been a head swirl of a time.  I’ve been both captivated and sullen, giving my ears to the interviews between Charlie Rose and leaders in the Roman church, for instance, and struggling with questions in my own ministry of what a saint looks like and how many we have and who is so far away from the word that they themselves would laugh.

It’s a basic question.  After all, I spend my days doing ministry.  I spend a lot of time pushing, coaxing, praying, encouraging, and teaching people–all because our work is about creating saints.  Not in the Roman tradition of course.  There are no robes, no newspaper articles, no banners or flags or printed billboards.  There aren’t interviews of all the people these saints have met, notes about every conversation, explanations of the details of their miracles.

There are miracles but they’re boring, unseen miracles.  They are the daily events that God must be underneath but that Presence is so far that is silly to call them by the same name.  They’re too terrestrial, these miracles.  But we make disciples in churches.  We talk to people and recognize the gifts that only God could implant.  We create saints.

And creating saints in my way of practicing is both encouraging and debilitating.  It’s draining and fun.  It’s hard and people are ungrateful while, at the same time, in some other way, there’s nothing more interesting and full and enlivening.

Creating saints brings no cameras or coverage.  There is hardly any notice of this mundane task; even colleagues may not notice or understand since our services are so specialized and context-bound.  There is less fanfare.

Creating saints means dinners away from family, vacations at weird times when they come, taking days to recover from an experience of self-giving, or never having normal Sundays, even while Sunday is the momentous occasion of remembering what it’s all about.  Creating saints is waking up with someone’s name on my tongue, someone who’s life was given to me in 2 hours and in a way that it’ll make me intercede at odd hours.  Creating saints means insomnia and isolation because of confidentiality and appreciation for a long laugh that my son just can’t control.

No one wants to see that on television.  It would be too boring, too close to real human experience.  It’d be better to read a good novel.  At least you could close the book and move on.

Conversation with Eugene Peterson & Correctives to Pastoral Job Descriptions

One of my favorite people is Eugene Peterson.  He’s up there with Howard Thurman, Gardner C. Taylor, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Henry Nouwen in terms of heroes.  In this video he talks about being a pastor.  If this is meaningful to you, you should certainly read Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor.

Faith Like Hers

Everybody needs a reason (or a couple dozen) to keep at the work that they do.  Spiritual leaders included.  Those reasons come in the form of conversations where people explain how their faith is developing, periodic check ins when a guy says something about God that sticks in you, an email where a woman says how she’s praying for you, and a host of other reminders that the work you do matters.

And then there are those moments when you get a reason for the work you do while, at the same time, being reminded of the overall point of your work.  The point, for instance, of a pastor’s work is not for that pastor to feel any particular way about his or her work.  That pastor’s work is entirely about the explicit and continued lifting up of Someone else while he himself (in my case) is changed by that Someone.

I read Ashley Moy-Wooten’s testimony a few weeks ago.  Then, she passed it to me and a few folks in our church after she posted it on Undocumented.tv, a blog focusing on how immigration is a missional opportunity for churches.  I hope Ashley’s words can remind you that God can use people that you’re around, people you’re working with and for, to reach you.  She has echoed parts of my heart in her testimony.  The faith community of God’s church has been for me how she’s describing people in her work.  God can remind you, perhaps, through her words, that there is an overall point to what you do.

When identifying that her relationships with immigrants were ways that God reached her, Ashley says,

I would have never guessed that the people I felt I was fighting for would actually end up being the biggest blessing to me that I would ever receive in my lifetime—the gift of faith and encounter with God.

She goes on to say,

What continues to astound me every day, though, is how powerful our God is, and how easily He can turn a top on the other side as it continues to spin. What many of the people I’ve worked with will never know is just how indebted I am to them.

If you’d like to read the entire post, please click here.