Thursday, November 30, 2006


"Sin is inevitable, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." -Julian of Norwich

Sin, and its wonderful counterpart, pain, are inevitable. And, as Julian states, all will be well. Wounds will heal, grief will fade, pain will ease, transgressions will be forgiven, and hope will return. However, Julian sagaciously declines to specify how or when all will be well. As I listened to a patient in horrific pain cry out, begging for death, I wished that I understood the how and when. As I hugged a grieving friend, I wished I that it were possible to know the how and when. And when I struggled with my own pain, I wished for the speeding of time and a divine revelation of how to heal more quickly. But no answer came. And I was reminded that faith, love, and life are marred by brokenness. But it is only in this brokenness that we can appreciate the promise that all shall be well, however and whenever that is.

The sunset tonight is beautiful. The sun is brilliant tangerine against the silhouette of the skyline. Rose and even lavender tinge the edges of the horizon. I've been trying to comprehend the tragic beauty of sunsets. Some people think they're romantic, but watching the sun drop and disappear has always made me a little sad. Watching the source of daylight vanish, leaving first colorful traces of light, then darkness, behind is a little disheartening. However, I enjoy the mystery and calm of the night. I love the freedom and coziness the darkness lends, and the reminder of God in the stars. Better yet, while I'm not often awake to see it, I love the sunrise and the progression of the sun from a small sliver at the edge of forever to an orb that illuminates the whole sky.

"That's the heart of religious questing, isn't it? Once you get a handle on the infinite cycle of the restless existence of all things, do you despair or do you willingly take your place in the circle? Does enlightenment lead to sorrowful disengagement or willing participation?" -Robert Fulghum, "Uh-oh"

This, to me, is the real challenge of seminary. Sure, it's tough to keep up with the readings and write all the papers and get through all the hours of contextual study, but the real challenge is balancing enlightenment with faith and life. Once you discover that Moses probably parted the "reedy sea" instead of the Red Sea, that the books that made it into the Bible were selected by a group of priests at a conference in Northern Africa, that congregations can be centers of catty, political infighting as much as communities of faith, that people suffer pain and loneliness in hospitals and workplaces and homes without relief, and that ordination means submitting your whole life to an imperfect, human institution, how do you keep on? How do you stake your faith and your life's work on an ancient book in a changing world of hurt where you will struggle each day and may never know whether you're having an impact? I don't have a perfect answer. I have only a few strategies that I have begun to embrace. I have to remember that the texts may be ambiguous, but that contemplation and interpretation can help us to gain a much better understanding than we'd be able to gain if it were simple and straightforward, plus we learn much more in the pursuit. I have to believe that, despite their faults, congregations and churches are our ways of building Christian community and, in spite of their failings, they are our attempt to show love in the world. I have to believe that there will someday be relief for the pain and brokenness, and in the meantime, there are love and joy and beauty in the world, too.

There are days when I disengage. There are days when I come home from the hospital or from campus and collapse in a chair and watch movies to numb myself to the enlightenment that's burning my retinas. But after the sun sets and rises again, I get up and go out to face it again. Because, though I don't know when or how, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Jumping into the Getaway Car

I'm about to set off on my third ten-hour drive in the last week and a half, part of two road trips home in as many weeks. In a way it's a treat for me, since I love driving and enjoy the extended time to think late in the semester. The first trip was for an interview that, despite being longer and more intense than I anticipated, had a positive outcome. The second is for a family holiday celebration. Even though it's my least favorite holiday (I don't like Thanksgiving food much and the pressure in the kitchen is enough to make me flee to my room) I'm looking forward to a chance to chill out with my family.

Much as I love school, I'm ready for a chance to be away. As we near the end of the semester, stresses and emotional breakdowns are coming to the forefront. People are becoming short with one another and nerves are rubbed raw by end-of-the-semester pressures. It should be good to get away from that for a few days. By the time we return, people's patience will be renewed and we'll all communicate better.

I'm a firm believer that any long drive must be accompanied by some awesome tunes. After all, who wants to drive 10 hours on the interstate without something to sing along with? I don't. So here's the current "In My Brain" playlist:

Grand Illusion - Styx
Woke Up in a Car - Something Corporate
Here Is Gone - Goo Goo Dolls
Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes - Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mombazo
In the Sun - Joseph Arthur
Rockin' Me Baby - Steve Miller Band
All About Soul - Billy Joel
Comfortable - John Mayer
Don't Say You Love Me - M2M (random Scandinavian band that no one besides me knows)
Susie Q - Creedence Clearwater Revival
Grace is Gone - Dave Matthews Band
Out of my Head - Fastball
Sheep Go to Heaven - Cake
You May Be Right - Billy Joel
Sexy Boy - Air
Dumb Girls - Lucy Woodward
You and I Both (Acoustic) - Jason Mraz
Friday I'm in Love - The Cure
Maybe Tomorrow - Stereophonics
Bye Bye Blackbird - Joe Cocker

Now I'll hop into my getaway Buick and drive, singing, off into the sunset.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Love and Pain

It's inevitable: if we love someone, we hurt them. When we love people, we get close to them and gain special access to and understanding of their inner workings. We see them at their highest and lowest and, as a result, gain increased power for inflicting pain. Sometimes the pain is intentional, often not. It is just that when we love, we open ourselves to being hurt. We grant power to those we love by valuing their opinions and believing their words...words that won't always be kind. One bit of criticism, a poorly chosen word, and the beloved is injured. It's mutual, too. It is the people we love who hurt us the most, as well. In being close to one another, we are more able to do both good and harm.

Love is always a risk.

Look at your family. Families begin with married couples who, contrary to their portrayals in 1950s TV shows, always fight, at least sometimes. Children, despite their love for their parents, misbehave, rebel, and hurt their parents. Parents, in trying to discipline their children, often scar the kids with harsh words or punishments. Siblings compete against one another and wreak havoc on one anothers' confidence and security.

As one of the patients I worked with last week explained, all marriages end: 50% in divorce, 50% in death. The same statement could be applied to all relationships; even friendships fall apart as a result of distance or fighting or loss of contact. As long as flawed mortals form relationships, those relationships will be flawed and, at least somewhat painful.

So why do we do it? Why does so much of our culture revolve around these dangerous situations? Because in the pain is also love. Risking brokenness is the only way to wholeness. I'm not saying that we all have to find a perfect mate, I don't think that's the case. I'm saying that building loving relationships with family, friends, mentors, and significant others is the most important thing humans can do. Humans were created to love. We're here to love God and one another, despite the risks. While the people we love can hurt us more than others, they can also give us the greatest joy. There are few things in life as rewarding as seeing a loved one happy. And it is only love that can help us cope when the pain is the greatest.

Don't worry if you're out there wondering where the hard, realistic person who writes this blog has gone. I haven't become a hopeless romantic and I'm not going to get all mushy on you. I'm simply asserting something I should have said long ago: Love is the most powerful and most valuable thing we will ever experience, no matter where it comes from. We need to respect and value it each and every day for both the harm and good it causes.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Throwing it out there...

These are things I want to say to people but haven't managed to articulate. I just want to say them here because I can't say them in person. I think there should be greeting cards for this sort of thing, but Hallmark doesn't sell them yet.

I forgive you. There are even things, despite what you did to me, that I thank you for. Even though you really messed me up, I'm so much stronger because of what you put me through. I'm still not totally recovered from the damage you caused, but I want to be and, someday, I will be. I've moved on and I know you have too, but sometimes these things just need to be said. In the meantime, thanks for the lessons and God be with you. (Because I'm not and never will be again.)

I'm sorry. I hurt you when you had done nothing to deserve it. I was confused, but that's no excuse. I wish I could chase the pain away, but you have to grow through it. And I hope you do. I hope you grow and thrive and find what you're looking for and get to be happy. I'll be waiting to cheer when that happens.

You can do it. I know that you're facing a tough decision and I know that every possible path leads to pain. But they also lead to life. They lead to dreams and wholeness. Don't let yourself be held back by the people who might judge you. Do and be what you ARE, claim your path and continue your journey. Whatever you choose, I'll stand by you.

You amaze me. I admire few people as much as I admire you, and just the thought of you makes me smile.

Please be careful. I worry about you. I know you're seeking and you have to take risks, but don't lose yourself in the search. Enjoy the moment, but don't forget the long term. You could get seriously hurt and make yourself very unhappy for a long time. I'll be here to pick you up if you fall, but I can't keep you from scraping your knees. You have to take care of that on your own.

I'm proud of you. You went out there with boldness that I didn't know you possessed. You opened the doors and stepped out into the big, risky world. And, once there, you discovered exciting things you thought you'd never find. Embrace and enjoy it.

Don't be afraid and don't retreat. You've come so far that you can't chicken out now. Go get 'em, kid!

I think I'll write to the card companies about this. Maybe American Greetings will pick them up...