Monday, December 31, 2007


I don't usually make New Years resolutions, and I had no intention of doing so this year, either. But, as I was cleaning my room, I had an idea. I love getting mail, particularly cards and letters from people I care about. I have boxes of cards that I've received over the years, all saved because they remind me of people I care about. I have birthday cards from years ago, graduation cards, valentines, and postcards that are souvenirs of other peoples' vacations, and I love them all. I like to open those boxes on rough days and remember that there are people who care about me.

Those cards got me to thinking: there are lots of people I care about, who've sent me letters or cards, and I've never gotten around to sending them letters. Moreover, there are lots of people who have impacted my life that I've never taken the time to thank. So this year, I want to send letters and cards. I'm going to take the time to send the letters I often compose in my head, thanking the people who've made me who I am. I think that, since this resolution calls for both self-reflection and giving to others, it's a pretty good idea for something to do over the next year. Now, how am I going to find all of those addresses?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Arrows 2007

I love this Newsweek practice of rating events and people at the end of the year using arrows. So I'm copying it again this year.

↔ Graduate School Ever since I began my 3-year masters program, the other students have insisted that second year of the program, which I started this year, is the hardest, both academically and personally. In some ways, I can see what those students meant. Systematic Theology, which I took this semester, is one of the hardest classes I've taken in the program, but it is also one of the most rewarding. I really enjoyed getting to consider and begin to formulate my own theological beliefs. I also took two of the classes I've enjoyed least in this program, mostly due to the pedagogical style. All in all, I feel like I'm a lot better prepared for ministry than I was before, which, I suppose, is really the point.

↑ Harry Potter 2007 marked the end of the waiting: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last book in J.K. Rowling's bestselling, history-making series, finally reached the shelves. Rowling brought her story to a phenomenal conclusion. In addition, I got to celebrate the publishing of her last book with some of my favorite people. My mom flew out to my city so that she could join me, my aunt, and my friends in buying copies of the book. My mom, my aunt, and I then spent the rest of the weekend reading the story aloud together, in keeping with our family tradition. I loved getting to share such a wonderful story with the people I care about. And, finally, nearly all of my questions about the wizarding world were answered. The only downside to the joy of finally getting the last book is that it is, sadly, the last book, and there are no more Harry Potter books to look forward to.

↑ Romance No details, I'll simply say that I'm extremely happy.

↔ Summer Work I spent my summer doing Clinical Pastoral Education, a program that trains people who are going into ministry to develop pastoral care skills, often working as chaplains. Thus, I worked as a hospital chaplain for ten weeks this summer, meanwhile taking part in individual and group supervision with other students preparing for ministry. Hospital chaplaincy wouldn't have been my first choice for how to spend my summer, but it was a good experience and excellent preparation for ministry. I had a really good group and my supervisor was fantastic, but I'm pretty sure now that I don't want to be a hospital chaplain. I'd like to serve in ministry in a way that I get to be part of lots of parts of people's lives, not just the disasters and crises.

↑ Friends It seems obvious to me that anything entitled friends should have an up arrow next to it, but this year was particularly good for such relationships. The longer I'm around my classmates, the more I like the vast majority of them. This year I got closer to my female friends, aided by the weekly girls' breakfasts many of us shared. I got to know several of the third years much better than last year, and I've found them to be wonderful people. At the same time, I managed to keep up with my friends from my hometown and from undergrad pretty well. One even came to visit me, which was great fun.

↓ Football I was VERY proud of my Missouri Tigers this year. They exceeded my expectations, defeated Nebraska and Kansas, and even spent a week as the number 1 team in the nation. However, because of two losses to Oklahoma, they were knocked out of the national championship race. My disappointment and anger are less with the Tigers, however, and more with the BCS system, which privileges teams from conferences without championship games. It's ridiculous that two teams that Mizzou defeated, Kansas and Illinois, were selected for BCS games, while Mizzou was relegated to the Cotton Bowl. And I won't even get started on my sadness about my beloved Denver Broncos. *sigh*

↑ Travel This was the first year in the last several that I haven't left the country. In fact, I hardly traveled at all. I did, however, get to visit Seattle. It was my first visit to either the Pacific northwest or Texas. It was also my first major trip with friends, rather than with family, by myself, or with a school trip. I had a BLAST! While it wasn't out of the country, it was still new, and still very fun.

? 2008 I can't believe how fast this year went, and I sincerely hope that next year won't fly by quite so quickly. May 2008 be filled with joys and blessings for you and yours.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Contemplations

Christmas this year was a bit strange for me because it is only the second one in my memory that I have actually spent at home. Almost every year, my family has traveled to my grandparents' house for Christmas, but this year, my grandparents were in the process of moving, so traveling to visit them really wasn't a viable option. So we remained at home.

There were a lot of traditions that I missed. I missed getting to hang out with my grandparents, hearing their stories of the birds in their yard, the rabbits in their garden, and the weather of the fall. I miss my grandmother's lemon meringue pie, made just because it is my favorite. I miss the potato casserole and the frozen salad, and trying to cram at least twelve people into the dining room/kitchen area, all talking and laughing and eating together. Since we were in my hometown, we also skipped our usual tradition of getting terribly lost trying to find the Catholic church in my grandparents' town, then lifting our voices with a whole church full of strangers to welcome the birth of the Christ child.

On the other hand, this was one of the most relaxed holidays I've had in years. My sister, my parents, and I just stayed at home and had a laid back day. We led the music at the 7:00 Catholic mass at Dad's church, then simply worshiped at my United Methodist church's 11:00 service. We visited with our friends and neighbors after both services, and went home to our own beds to sleep. We slept a little late, took our time opening presents and making and eating breakfast, relaxing so much that we didn't even change out of our pajamas until after 1 in the afternoon. Then we watched a movie, put together a wonderful dinner, and spent the evening playing games. In some ways I missed the commotion, clamor, and craziness of Christmas at my grandparents' house. In other ways, though, this calm, quiet holiday was just what my family needed. The fall was ridiculously busy for all of us (as evidenced by my total lack of entries in over a month), to it was a huge relief to have a quiet, low-stress day together.

I am sure that, as I think about it over the next few days, I'll become melancholy that the Christmases of my youth: the crowded busy holidays in the mountains of Virginia. But at this moment, I'm glad for the holiday I had. I'm especially glad for it because I don't know how many more opportunities I'll have for quiet holidays. Lately I've begun to think about my future, and I know that this is one of the last times I'll simply get to sit and worship on Christmas Eve without being in leadership. In fact, I worry that this is one of the last Christmases I'll actually get to spend with my family, since I'll have to be serving my church on Christmas Eve in just a few years. I don't know what those holidays will look like. But for the moment, I'm savoring the memories of those Virginia Christmases, and cherishing this relaxing Christmas at home, hoping that it won't be one of my last. I know that Christmas is about welcoming God incarnate, not what you eat for the holiday meal or who you eat it with, but it's a lot easier to celebrate the Holy Family when you don't have to be all alone.

I pray that, traditional or not, busy or relaxed, alone or with family and friends, you have a holiday filled with joy and peace.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


At the beginning of the semester, I was terrified of Systematic Theology. It is in the curriculum area that is the hardest for me, and I was dreading another semester of classes from that area. But, as it's a required class, I signed up and started attending classes.

In Systematic theology, everything is connected. One cannot talk about creation without addressing the issue of theodicy, which leads to questions about evil and sin, which lead to discussions of Christology and Soteriology and, eventually, eschatology. Likewise, talking about the end of the world leads us back to questions about what the world is and whether it is good, or bad, or both, and about salvation, which is essential for discussions about the end of the world, anyway. Every question leads to another set of questions and, no matter how hard we work to define things, there's always the caveat of, "But it's all a mystery and, as much as we know, there are things that are incomprehensible for us."

In spite of the exhaustion and the circularity, though, I have really liked my Systematic Theology class this semester. Instead of just being required to memorize specific phrases from councils a thousand years ago, Systematics let me consider my own beliefs and consider the ideas of different theologians in conversation with each other. It finally gave me the opportunity to articulate my beliefs and questions in ways that make sense. I don't have all the answers, in fact, I'm not sure I have ANY of the answers, but at least now I know how to ask the questions. And I can begin to refine my beliefs, as incomplete as they may be.

Monday, November 12, 2007


I grew up in a small town. In said small town, because of the small population, it was almost always possible to identify a passing car and name its inhabitants. You knew when your parents had arrived to pick you up from school because they were the only people in town to have THAT minivan. Likewise, you could tell what your boyfriend was up to by cruising past the local hangouts and searching for his car.

I have, rather strangely, held onto the habit of identifying people by their cars, even though I now live in a very large city. Not only that, certain cars still carry emotional significance, even when I know that the people I associate with them have a) gotten other cars since the one I recognize as theirs and b) live hundreds of miles away. Nevertheless, there are still cars that make me jump in fear a little and cars that send butterflies dancing through my abdomen.

I still get butterflies when I see blue Ford F150s and burgundy Sonatas, and I cringe a little inside when I see white Sable station wagons or small maroon luxury cars. I get an urge to wave at purple Ford Windstars and blue Dodge Neons. I may never see a white family van with a green stripe without getting the faintest taste of energy bars and smell of new tennis balls in my nostrils. Just looking at light blue Ford Tauruses makes me queasy. And large utility vans and ancient pickup trucks will forever make me think of ASP staff.

I know that the strangers I mistakenly wave to probably think I'm crazy. But things stick with you like that. I'll probably develop a liking for classic cars when I'm very old as a result. Who knows?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

And One to Grow On

I am the youngest cousin on one side of my family and, as a result, I inherited tons of clothes as a child. My closet and drawers were always filled with outfits from my older sister and two older cousins. The clothes always arrived with the same reassurance: "You'll grow into them."

It seems like my life lately has been all about growing into things. I spent the summer trying to grow into my pastoral presence and authority in the hospital. I've spent the last few years growing into my role as an adult, each year gaining more and more independence. Each day I do things I once would have handed off to the adults in my life to take care of. In the last two months, I've purchased a new computer, replaced my tires, and started taking on new responsibilities at my church. Each time I do one of these things, I feign confidence and try not to think about the changes going on in my life. But, every once in a while, my own adulthood surprises me.

For example, this past Sunday I preached my first sermon. I have not yet taken a preaching class and I have always hated public speaking. When I first began discerning my call to ministry, I was terrified at the thought of preaching every Sunday, and the terror didn't really fade, even as I took on other ministry tasks without too much difficulty. Preaching always seemed like the biggest hurdle. But when my pastor asked me to give the sermon, I stepped up and starting writing. On Sunday, I stood in front of a congregation and preached. It went well and afterward I thought, "Yes, I can do this. I can actually be a pastor." It was like tugging one of my cousins' shirts over my head and finding that it finally fit me.

I am now officially a twenty-something. I've reached the point where birthdays feel much less like milestones and more like another mileage sign beside the road. To other people, that might be disappointing. For me, it means that I'm developing another facet of my personality. I'm still not going to stop blowing bubbles and coloring with crayons when I need to, and deep down I still cling to some innocent idealism. But there's a new sense of confidence. I worry about what I'm about to do less and simply take action faster.

I am in no way saying that I have arrived. I still feel like a little kid playing dress-up with great regularity. But I have a nagging suspicion that it's not entirely fake, either. Maybe I can do this whole growing up thing.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Oh My Gosh!

I attempted to go to the movies tonight with a couple of friends from school. As we were waiting in line to get tickets, we realized that we were too late for the showing of the movie we wanted to see. As we were standing in line debating what to do next, one of my friends glanced behind him at the next person in line.

Friend #1: (to the person behind us) Should I recognize you?
Person behind us in line: Um, no.
Me: (glancing behind to that person) Yes. Yes you definitely should.

The person behind us in line smiled and chuckled at this. I, in an act of GREAT restraint, chose to leave it at that and allow the person behind us in line to continue his date without further disruption.

Who did I make smile?

SHANNON SHARPE!!!! I'm just now coming down from the adrenaline high of seeing him, and I can tell you, he's actually better looking in person than he is in uniform on TV. It made my night.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Today I drove down roads I know so well that I find comfort in the pavement itself. For as long as I can remember, I've traversed these roads each winter and summer, always with excitement and comfort in the depths of my being. The roads, which have changed little over the two decades I've traveled them, are as familiar as the lines on the faces of the people they carry me toward. I venture along them through the green, rolling hills and low, rugged mountains of West Virginia to the home where my grandparents have lived throughout my lifetime.

My earliest memories of the roads are colored by incredible excitement. I remember riding on seemingly endless car trips knowing that Christmas awaited me at the end of the road. When I ran out of art projects and games to play in the car, I would fall asleep, but I always insisted that my parents wake me in time to go through the one tunnel that marked the highlight of the drive for me. Once we had passed through the tunnel, I'd wait impatiently for the moment when we pulled up to my grandparents house and tumbled out of our minivan into Grandmother and Grandaddy's waiting arms. Those were the holidays where my biggest concern was that my uncle would eat too slowly on Christmas morning and keep me from opening presents, when I was the youngest person in the house and delighted in charming everyone in the family. I thought the stairs down to the basement were the greatest toy ever invented and I loved to bounce stuffed animals and run Slinkies down the staircase, much to the chagrin of my safety-conscious parents.

The closing of the single tunnel on our route marked a new chapter in my journeys to the hills. I began to enjoy the drives through the hills in addition to the destination. I loved pointing out Christmas lights and singing carols in harmony with my family during the long car rides. I started to treasure the long drives with just my mother when we came in July to pick blueberries, singing along to Patsy Cline and discussing things I never expected to discuss with my mother. I became fascinated by the grandmother clock and fireplace that lent what I imagined to be southern grandeur to my grandparents house. Those were the years that I was finally old enough to spend a week at my grandparents' house each summer away from the rest of my family. Those summer weeks were filled with trips to the pool with Grandmother, golf lessons with Grandaddy, playing Scrabble and Battleship, watching Murder, She Wrote, and sitting on the porch playing bocce ball and watching the fireflies on warm summer nights.

As I got older, the house and the loving people in it became a refuge on long road trips and a place to ease my homesickness for the mountains after ASP summers came to a close. I could always count on a spectacular meal, love, and a cozy bed as I drove through on visits to colleges, grad. schools, and visits to friends. My visits became shorter, the time dearer. I learned to talk with my grandparents, to listen to their stories and hear the guidance and wisdom of their years.

Their house will in my mind be forever linked with memories of food. It is where enormous Christmas feasts of ham, turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, frozen salad, fudge, and pie were shared at tables crowded with relatives and punctuated by loud conversations. It is where I knew I was loved from the second I walked in because I could smell my grandmother's gifts made specially for me, favorites like potato casserole, tomato soup, buttercream jets, and lemon meringue pie. I spent countless hours at the kitchen table, chatting with family members, playing games, and enjoying Grandmother's love made tangible to my tastebuds.

I'm sitting now, looking out at the garden Grandaddy has tended for so many years, peaking at Grandmother tidying the kitchen after serving a delicious dinner, and trying to fathom saying goodbye to this place. It has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, a place that seemed never to change, even as I grew and transformed within it. I took for granted that this haven, the site of so many cherished memories, would always be here, exactly the same. I know, now, that it is changing. There is a sign in the front yard and many of my favorite things that usually sit around the house have disappeared into boxes. In a few months, the house will be emptied completely and I will return here no more. The cherished items and, more importantly, the beloved people who lived in the house will move somewhere else and I will have a new place to visit. Still, I grieve for the loss of this place, which is a sacred space for me.

Tomorrow I will drive away. I'll turn down the road and I may never return here again. I will tuck this house, this sacred place, into my heart and take it with me because I cannot bear to leave it behind.

Friday, August 10, 2007


For me, this summer has been about hands. When I entered my chaplaincy internship, I thought it would be about spiritual connections and serving people and gaining more self-understanding, and it has been, but it has mostly been about hands.

First of all, I fidget. I am constantly moving my hands, doing things with them. I have great difficulty holding them still. That was what first drew my attention to them this summer. In our first few days at the hospital, I discovered that I was fidgeting more than usual. My hands were the outlet through which I was expressing all the anxiety I was feeling about being in a new environment and taking on a new role.

Out of that, I began to think about what I’m holding, both in my hands and in my heart. I began working on a pastoral theology of holding things with open hands. I concentrated on holding and letting go, clinging to things and lifting them up.

This increased consciousness of my hands made me think more about how I use them in ways I hadn’t noticed. I found that, when I don’t have words, a gentle hand on someone’s shoulder can tell them that I’m present with them with compassion and comfort. Holding someone’s hand can say, “We’re in this together. You’re not alone.” I learned to listen with my hands. I discovered that I had an urge to fidget when my anxiety was high, and my hands became very still when I was comforting someone else’s worry or sorrow.

The greatest joy, however, came toward the end of the summer when I began to reclaim ways of expressing myself through my hands. When I was a kid, playing piano was a form of expression for me. Through years of piano lessons and competitions, though, piano became a stressful task rather than a joyful self-expression. My music became too constricted to hold my emotions, so it was no longer an outlet for me. I gave up playing and, for many years, did not try to express myself through my hands. In the last few weeks of my internship, though, my supervisor brought in drums for our group. At first I was a bit skeptical of the activity. It seemed too bohemian and strange to be a tool of spirituality. And yet, once we began to play, I found my feelings coming out in the rhythms. My hands, which had been so busy holding and working, could play and release the emotion and tension.

So I bought a drum. It’s a small djembe, not fancy or stylish, but perfect for me. It is an African instrument, a style played for centuries by people in West Africa. Now I can pick up my drum and play the rhythm of my mood, my day, myself as I am in this moment. I can play a prayer or meditation, I can drum out the things I can no longer hold in my hands. I know it sounds cheesy, but it works for me.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Headmasters' Portraits

“Imagine you’re in a room, a large room, decorated however you like. It’s your space. Now you notice that around the walls there are pictures. Looking closer, you see that these are portraits of people who have been important to you, people who have inspired you and touched your life. Think about who is on your walls. They are with you, a part of who you are…” - a supervisor in my program.

When I was given this exercise to do, an image of the headmaster’s office at Hogwarts leapt to mind. Granted, I altered it a bit, gave it a deep burgundy plush carpet, put in some big, cozy armchairs and added a few more bookshelves, but it was a large office with a big napping couch in the corner. And, as I was instructed, portraits covered the walls. They were too numerous to fit in a single line at eye level, so there were several rows with many, many pictures. However, while the supervisor only imagined still images, the room I imagined has Hogwarts paintings: pictures that can move and talk. The people who have influenced my life aren’t just silent memories, they are vibrant individuals who still affect the ways I think, act, and express myself.

There are people with great wisdom. These are teachers, relatives, people I know from church. They are people who share wisdom born of experience and reflection and steeped in years of living. Some are verbose, composed speakers, while others speak softly and say only a few words, yet they all have an impact, all have made a difference in my life.

There are people who provide incredible support. They are the people whose love and care give me the confidence to face the world each day. As I realized last year, I have been able to travel far away and do things that seem brave only because I knew that there were people, however far away, who were standing by me and cheering me on. These are the folks who see the best parts of me, even when I cannot recognize them myself.

There are the true friends, though some of them also happen to be blood relations. These are the people who are deeply attached in my heart that I cannot imagine my life without their influence. We have shared such intense experiences and conversations that they have molded my identity.

And then there are the challenges. People whose portraits I would not have chosen to include on my walls, but whose presence in my life has so altered me that I cannot leave them out. These are often people I dislike, people who have hurt me, but who have taught me invaluable lessons. I have been thinking a lot about those people lately, reflecting on things they said and ways they wounded me, and about the ways I have grown through healing from them. These are the people who called me names, shattered my dreams, tore apart my confidence, and criticized the deepest parts of me. Yet, from them I have developed a strength and resilience that is essential to me now. And so, they, too, are present in this room, impacting my life and identity. Most of those portraits are silent now, like Muggle photographs in the wizarding world, they cannot speak or move.

So as I continually refine my identity and redecorate that space, the portraits remain. I consult them when I’m struggling, think about what different people might have done or said, how they might have advised me. Sometimes the portraits inspire me to call the actual people they portray, but often they are just a reminder, a perspective or bit of wisdom to be considered. Many of them probably have no idea that they have such a place of honor, such an influence. They likely go through their days without knowing how grateful I am to have known them.

Max Lucado once wrote that if God had a refrigerator, our pictures would be on it. I don’t know about that, but I do know that your portrait is on someone’s wall somewhere, and probably on mine, too.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Question Mark

This is a perspective I frequently face. Many of my friends are atheist or agnostic and, while they respect my faith, they think it's a little hokey. Like many people in my generation, they see faith as an outdated superstition. Others my age, those on the far opposite end of the spectrum, see Christianity as the answer to all questions, with the Bible as the encyclopedia of answers. The problem with these views, in my opinion, is that they see faith generally, and Christianity specifically, as an answer. I don't see it that way. To me, faith is a question.

I don't think that faith exists to answer questions of how we came to be or how the world will end. I fully appreciate the knowledge of the world that comes from science. I believe that scientific discoveries often tell us more about how the world began than any creation story in a sacred text. I am awestruck at the beauty and complexity of the universe and I am amazed at scientists' ability to gain deeper understandings of the world. But answers from science do not negate the need for faith.

I am working this summer in one of the top hospitals in the country. Every day I see the wonders of science and technology, I watch as people fight illness with medications and machines that demonstrate the incredible power of science. And yet, beyond the machines and medications, beyond the ingenuity of science and the fragility of human bodies, there is something more. There are still questions.

Even in our contemporary world full of knowledge, questions of meaning remain. If there was a big bang, what set it off? Why is it that Earth has just the right atmosphere to make the existence of living things possible? These questions point to the unmoved mover of Greek philosophy, a larger force, beyond physical existence, that is the first cause of all life. And, perhaps more immediate to everyday thinking, are questions of meaning and relationship. What is the deeper meaning of life? Sure, we can explain chemically how a human is formed, how human development works. We can understand illness and the workings of the body, and even death. But what is the deeper meaning? What is the purpose of the turning of the earth, the changing of the seasons, the beating of a human heart, the growth and withering of plants?

I had my first existential crisis in sixth grade while doing last minute work on my science fair project. I had been studying plant photosynthesis and was trying to name the purpose of my experience. I found myself agitated, asking my parents over and over, but WHY does the plant perform photosynthesis? It just grows and dies, and its existence is just about survival? Why does it bother? Faith isn't about questions of how (for example, how was the world created?) it is about questions of why. Why do we exist? Why do we seek relationship with one another? That is where I begin to base my faith. God, faith, are the framework in which I seek answers to those questions of purpose.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

If I had a comment card...

"You look like a chaplain. It's in your face."

"I don't mean to offend you, but aren't you kind of young for a chaplain?"

"There's something about you. It's like there's a little light inside you. That's how God is using you."

"Thanks for praying with me. I didn't hear most of what you said, but thanks."

"Are you a pharmacist? You don't belong here."

Monday, June 25, 2007

Weekend Snapshots

1) It's a hot, sunny day on a swiftly flowing river. The rapids are frothing and, in the calm spots, the sunlight shimmers off the surface of the river. The river is bordered by forest, a mix of evergreens and leafy oaks. My raft is about to go over another level 4 rapid, and we're all paddling together while our river guide sits in back steering with the rudder and shouting instructions. We're all wearing red and blue lifejackets and yellow helmets, dripping with water from the rapids. I'm laughing while the kids in the front of the raft squeal with excitement.

2) The pride parade is winding through the city with crowds of people on either side. The sun is blazing and the pavement is radiating the heat up into the throng of bodies. I'm riding on a float for a friend's real estate company, throwing beads and t-shirts at spectators, waving at the impromptu community that has formed on the sidewalk. Then, as we pass a group of conservative Christians who are protesting the parade, one shouts up at me, "Jesus hates you!" I just smile because I know better.

3) It's 9:00 a.m., but it's already a little too warm to be comfortable outside. The sun is pouring down between the buildings as cars whiz past in the last wisps of rush hour traffic. I'm walking down the sidewalk in my business attire with my bag slung over my shoulder and my head held high. I've survived another overnight duty at the hospital and it went really well. The thought begins to crystallize in my mind: I'm a chaplain.

4) I look into my friend's eyes and finally find a way to say, "I love you no matter what. You can count on me."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

In my head

I don't want to go in. I don't know who you are or what you'll say. I don't want seeing your brokenness to remind me of my own. I don't want to be that vulnerable, to face the possibility that you might say something mean or reject me. I don't want to feel awkward or say the wrong thing. I'm frightened. And yet, I want to serve you. I want to hear your story and see your eyes looking at mine. I want to learn from knowing you. I want to hold your hand as we both reach toward God.

He's my age. He's my age and a car accident put him in the hospital for six months. Suddenly, out of nowhere, half a year in the hospital, at times barely clinging to life, only now working on learning to walk again. The same thing could happen to me or one of my friends. Will he be able to make a full recovery? Will he be able to return to work or play sports again? How do I help him find hope and strength for recovery after such a sudden and devastating experience? How do we keep from becoming frightened of everything? On what do you construct a solid foundation?

Terminal cancer. She says it calmly, quickly, in the middle of an explanation, and for a moment I hope I imagined it. Then she says it again, and I know it wasn't just a misunderstanding. The first two doctors said there was nothing they could do. The third offered a possible experimental treatment. In the midst of anger and shock, a tiny bit of hope was offered. But the hope is for remission, not cure. It's terminal. How do we face that condition? Yet again, I feel like a snake oil salesman trying to peddle hope with a smile on my face and an ache in my heart.

I can say that life is a terminal condition. I can say that everything is temporary, both good and bad. I can try to cling to the one constant unshakeable thing: God. But it's hard to make that tangible, it's hard to tell that to people when it sounds so trite, even to my ears. So I sit in the silence. I listen. I offer what little comfort and hope I have and pray that simply showing up will be enough.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


I'm taking on a tremendous challenge this summer: working as a chaplain intern at a hospital. I've been assigned a few floors in which to visit and care for patients' spiritual needs, but in addition, I have to do night and weekend duties. The night and weekend duties involve very long shifts during which I am the only chaplain in the hospital. When I'm on duty, I will have to respond to all cases of cardiac arrest and all deaths in the hospital to care for patients, family members, and staff. I'll admit right now that I'm terrified of the first time I get called to care for grieving family members in the middle of the night. I think my instincts will kick in and I'll figure out what to do, but it's still frightening to think about. I'm just thankful for the preparation I got through my hospital chaplain experience over the last school year. At least I now have some level of confidence when I walk into patients' rooms.

The nice thing about doing this chaplaincy internship, though, is that the time when I'm away from the hospital is truly free. I don't really have papers or assignments, and those I have I can do while at the hospital. Unlike working for ASP, there are set hours and when they're over, I leave with no responsibilities hanging over my head. It's a lifestyle I'm not really accustomed to since I've been a student for the last 18 years. I really like coming back to my apartment and knowing that the evening is mine to spend as I please, whether that's hanging out with friends, reading, watching movies, or going to bed really early.

Monday, May 28, 2007


Please pardon the very long gap between posts... I've been busy taking advantage of the short break between school and summer work by traveling all over the place. I'm on my third state and time zone in the last 3 weeks, so it has been a bit difficult to post. However, there will be full updates on all of this stuff forthcoming. A few posts to look forward to: hometown folks, fun in the pacific northwest, and changing thoughts on small children. So, now that your curiosity is piqued, you can count on updates a few days from now when I'm back at my usual location.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Unconnected Dots

I love black jelly beans, but I don't like licorice. I like ketchup, marinara sauce, and tomato soup, but I dislike fresh tomatoes. I don't know why. Maybe I'm an artificial flavoring junkie.

I'm an extremely word-oriented person. I watch movies mostly for the dialogue and listen to music mostly for the lyrics. I love playing with words, phrases, and imagery. I like writing and reading. At the same time, I constantly find language to be inadequate for capturing reality and truly expressing myself. It's exasperating.

Why do cities think that putting a big metal slab over the pavement where there's a pothole is a solution? Hint for the street maintenance people: it doesn't work. Sorry.

In the fair city where I live, all the streets in a given area have the same name with teeny differences. For example, in an area where the main road is Rosedale St., the smaller branches and crossroads will be Rosedale Dr., Rosedale Ln., Rosedale Park Ln., Rosedale Circle, East Rosedale St., Rosedale Ct., etc. Seriously, there are tons of words and potential road names. Get creative! Increase diversity! But mostly, please be less redundant and confusing!!!

I really enjoy songs that have random lists of things as lyrics. My favorites at the moment are "Ball of Confusion" by the Temptations, "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel, and "La Vie Boheme" from RENT. This may be another manifestation of my love for words, I'm not sure.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Reality Check, or a Rant on my Hatred for Abstract Thought

I can't do abstract thought. There are philosophers and theologians whose ideas and arguments are based in thought so abstract and intangible that I cannot begin to conceive it. I'm sure that their ideas are valuable, I'm sure they're extremely intelligent and well-argued. However, their ideas are so far removed from reality, people, and life that I have no framework for conceiving of them. For example, Karl Barth's main argument, so far as I can tell, is that God is the ultimate unknown, that which we cannot know, and Christ came merely as an arrow that lets humanity know that God is unknowable.

I am a practical person. I love studying the way people and societies interact, I adore history, sociology and psychology. It's not that I insist on concrete ideas, I'm fine with mystery and ambiguity, but I need to be able to relate those things to some form of reality. If there is no basis in reality, what is the purpose of devoting time and energy to thinking about it, anyway? I am grounded in reality, in society, in time and history, in identity. No matter how hard I try, I can't imagine absolute void, I can't conceive of that which is wholly other, and I have no framework for thinking about that which is completely unknown. Furthermore, how is it helpful for people to spend time and energy attempting to contemplate things that are wholly unconnected with reality and life? How does thinking about God as "that which is unknown" help ministers to preach or provide pastoral care? How does that help Christians relate to the deity or grow in their faith?

I have trouble finding the value in ideas and studies that are disconnected from life. To me, what's most important is how we live and how we relate to others and God. I'm most interested in studying people, life, reality, and how those things shape our understandings of God. Maybe I'm too steeped in experience, maybe I'm too human-centered or don't have high enough Christology. But if I have no experience of something, if I cannot even relate it to something that occurs in the world, how can I have any understanding of it? Anything that has no connection with reality is a play of the imagination. And, don't get me wrong, I love using my imagination, but this is not how I choose to use it, and I have trouble playing logic games in the realm of imagination.

This problem with abstract thought occasionally makes me discouraged about my education and future career. I know that I need to be able to understand and explain some pretty abstract concepts. I am constantly told that they're important and valuable. But I'm more of a practical theologian. My gifts are in sociology more than philosophy. And I hope, with God's help, that'll be enough.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

I'm a Geek

You’re St. Justin Martyr!

You have a positive and hopeful attitude toward the world. You think that nature, history, and even the pagan philosophers were often guided by God in preparation for the Advent of the Christ. You find “seeds of the Word” in unexpected places. You’re patient and willing to explain the faith to unbelievers.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

I'd like to know which church father I would've been if I'd hit the co-worker with a mallet and questioned his masculinity...

Please share your results in the comments section of this post!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

I'm Just Saying...

I want to write an entry about wisdom, my desire for it, and my lack thereof. I want to talk about all the truly wise people I have met and how their gifts go far beyond just knowledge.

I also want to introduce the inspirational people in one of my small classes and tell you not only about the diversity of the group, but also about the wonderful blessing that each person has been on my life this year.

I'd like to tell you about my excitement for the end of the semester and my incredible dread of my summer activities that will include not only paying to work full time, but also business attire and pantyhose, which make me cringe at just the thought of it.

I want to describe the absolute insanity of the pollen in this city in the springtime, but the way it is counteracted by the profusion of gorgeous flowers.

I could tell you about my recent visits with friends, or the craziness of studying with classmates for five hours over a beer and a pizza, or my frustration with the lack of straight single men in my world at the moment.

I'd even like to share with you about the ridiculous amount of stuff I'm facing in the current 2-week period, including 3 tests, a paper, the deadline for my research, 2 special worship services, registration, and the preparatory stuff for my summer work.

I'd like to tell you about all that, but I'm simply too tired. I have no more brainpower left for explaining this to you, so instead I'll apologize for this short, content-less interruption of your day and promise to someday share all that. In the meantime, my pillow is calling.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Broken Cup

P: "It's all too much. War and violence wreak havoc all over the world. Every day people die of starvation and disease. In every community groups are oppressed and persecuted because they are different. We have better communication technology than any other time in history, yet people still live in loneliness and isolation. Every single person I meet is broken and wounded. Surrounded by so much pain, I am paralyzed. I'm empty. I have nothing to give. What can I do?"

C: "Maybe we're just snake oil salesmen peddling hope. We don't know if it'll work, but it's all we have to give."

P: "What if I don't even have that? What if I'm lost in the desert with nothing left to survive on, much less share?"

C: "Then put one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, until you get out. And maybe, just maybe, there will be manna along the way."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Drunken Monkey

There is a Zen proverb that says, "The mind is like a drunken monkey". I think there's more to the proverb than that and I'm probably taking it way out of context, but that image applies to me at this moment. For the past few days, I have been wandering through theological dilemmas and attempting to articulate the conflicts and struggles in my head. This has led me into some fantastic conversations, but I'm still struggling to formulate my disperate ideas and struggles into a coherent body of thought. As such, this entry is stream of consciousness, marked by sudden rifts and subject changes and full of overt mentions of God and theologies. I make no apologies, that's where my mind is at the moment.

A few months ago I said to one of my friends that I don't feel. It wasn't a good articulation, but it was what I had reached at that moment. I finally realized yesterday what I meant by that. It's not that I have no emotions or don't feel things, it is that I seldom feel spontaneous, gut reactions to stimuli in my surroundings. Instead, my "feelings" are completely enmeshed with my thoughts. Whenever I have a reaction to anything, my brain immediately begins analyzing and attempting to understand why I have that reaction. I could blame this on incredibly practical parents or on being a Thinker in the Myers-Briggs personality test. It probably also has roots in traumatic childhood experiences or insecurities or self-censoring. However, I don't think there's anything wrong with having emotions that are completely integrated with logical thought processes. In the past I have tried to change this aspect of myself because it seems too cold and, according to social norms, "masculine". I have come to realize, however, that to change that would be to deny a part of my personality and identity.

This integration also affects the way I understand my relationships with people and with God, especially on the topic of love. Love, in my experience, isn't an inexplicable emotion. "Falling" in love seems strange to me because that would require spontaneous, unconsidered feeling, which I have difficulty with. Thus, when I love another person, and when I love God, I love them with my heart and my mind and my actions. For me, loving is a matter of thought and action more than raw emotion. I don't know whether that's good or bad. I just know that, at this moment, that is my experience.

In Pastoral Care I have been reading about narrative therapy, which is a form of counseling in which the caregiver asks the careseeker to tell their life story, or the story of their current troubles, in order to identify the breaks and gaps in the story as hints to where the person's struggles may lie. The theological dimension of narrative therapy, then, is integrating the personal narrative of the careseeker with the divine narrative of God. As I began to think through the implications of this type of therapy in my own life, I was both reassured and troubled. I can see many ways in which my personal narrative interacts with my faith and my understanding of God. However, I have difficulty when it comes to integrating the Bible with that narrative. Scripture has been used throughout history as a tool of oppression and injustice. It has been used to justify slavery, war, imperialism/colonization, subjugation of women, exclusion of LGBT persons, and countless acts of physical and emotional violence. There are passages in Scripture that seem to support the very things I would spend my lifetime opposing. At the same time, Scripture is the basis of my Christian faith and, as such, essential to me. I am currently struggling to find a way to live in the tension between those things; I am trying to find a way to reclaim the oft-coopted Bible to give a message of hope to the oppressed, show love to all creation, and bring an end to injustice. I don't know just how to do that yet, but I suppose that is the struggle to which I am called.

I have been told that every preacher has one sermon that he or she gives over and over, just with different texts and words. I think that's a bit of an exaggeration, but, at the same time, isn't that true of all of us? Every person has particular passions and themes that he or she integrates, consciously or unconsciously, throughout his or her life. I'm not sure precisely what my themes are, and I certainly haven't identified my "one sermon" yet, but I am beginning to pick out a few things that I see weaving throughout my life. They are my passions, things I have learned to embrace and express without flinching. My staff share, for instance, revolved around the theme of courage, and not allowing fear to hold us back from that which we are inspired to do. One of my friends said earlier today that he thinks my sermon is equality because of my deep passion for recognizing the dignity and value inherent in all people. I'm beginning to think that it may also be to bring a message of hope, healing, and joy in the midst of brokenness, violence, and struggle of life. So far, my preaching voice is relatively undefined. I like to think that I won't have just one sermon, that I will be used by God to give many varied messages. My personal themes, however, are beginning to emerge.

I leave you with one question, the one I now drift off to sleep pondering: Once broken, can we ever be the same? And if we could, would we want to?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Even Better...

Who needs a valentine when you've got a family who does this?

And friends who compile awesome woman-empowering mix CDs? A few of the selections from the CD exchange include:

I Will Survive—Gloria Gaynor
Red Rubber Ball—Cyrkle
The Truth About Men—Tracy Byrd
Love Stinks—Adam Sandler (The Wedding Singer)
Goodbye Earl—Dixie Chicks
I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair—South Pacific
She’s Got a Girlfriend Now—Reel Big Fish
Before He Cheats—Carrie Underwood
There’s More to Me Than You—Jessica Andrews
My Happy Ending—Avril Lavigne
I Hate Men—Kiss Me Kate
Bye Bye—Jo Dee Messina
Man Smart, Woman Smarter—Harry Belafonte
The Sign—Ace of Base
Stronger—Britney Spears
Can't Hurry Love-Dixie Chicks
Bitch-Meredith Brooks
Dumb Girls-Lucy Woodward
Survivor-Destiny's Child
Down With Love - Down With Love soundtrack
It's Raining Men - The Weather Girls
Happy Valentine's Day - Outkast
Just A Girl-No Doubt
Tainted Love-The Cure
Don't Turn Around-Ace of Base
Song for the Dumped-Ben Folds Five

Monday, February 12, 2007

It's Coming... (Insert Jaws Theme Here)

Wednesday is coming, and whether you call it Valentine's Day or Singles Awareness Day or Dia de Diablo, it's impossible to ignore the approach of this so-called "holiday". So I've decided to share a few thoughts on this upcoming, erm, event.

It has been said "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." And, I don't deny it, I don't NEED a man. I can open my own jars. I can kill the bugs in my apartment without screaming. I can fix my toilet, repair holes in the drywall, hang my own pictures, and fix most anything else around my home that needs to be taken care of. I can take my car to a mechanic and ask intelligent questions in hopes of avoiding being ripped off. I understand sports without explanation and I can burp loudly enough that I don't suffer withdrawal from lack of masculine presence. But it sure would be nice to have a guy around anyway.

I really hate jewelry commercials. They make women out to be shallow and pleased only by expensive gifts, while they imply that men have to purchase women's affections. Take, for instance, the slogan "Every kiss begins with Kay". As far as I'm concerned, that implies that women are prostituting themselves for jewelry. Based on what I know about the diamond industry and the incredible violence and exploitation it is guilty of, I don't ever want to be given a diamond!

I realize that a dozen red roses on Valentine's Day is supposed to be an incredibly romantic gift, but I'd rather have a bunch of daisies when I'm having a bad day than a bouquet of generic roses to fulfill a "requirement" on a prescribed "holiday". Besides, daisies are so much happier than roses, anyway.

Every year I give valentines to my friends wherever I'm living to show them how much I appreciate their day-to-day friendship and support. I don't place much stock in Valentine's Day for its romantic value, but it can be a great chance to tell my friends how much I love them. After all, romantic relationship come and go (more go than anything else) but your friends are always there to giggle with you over crushes, sympathize after the bad dates and fights, and help you drink to your exes when they're gone.

So enjoy Wednesday, no matter what title you give it, for whatever kind of love you want. I'll be singing Outkast's "Happy Valentine's Day" to myself.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


"When you dream
What do you dream about?
Are they blue, or black and white?
Yiddish or English or languages not yet concieved?
Are they silent or boisterous?
Do you hear noises just loud enough to be percieved?"
-Barenaked Ladies, "When You Dream", Stunt

I dream of equality, freedom, dignity, and quality of life for everyone on earth, regardless of age, gender, nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, location, family background, sexuality, occupation, language, philosophical leaning, marital status, education, economic status, and political affiliation.

I dream of a vibrant, passionate, global church that values social justice as well as disciple-making and that is truly open to and welcoming of ALL people.

I dream of a world free of all forms of violence.

I dream of a planet with clean water and air, with abudant trees and green spaces, and with undisturbed lands all across the globe where wildlife may be preserved.

I dream of people who have love and compassion for one another and who desire the good of those around them more than they value excess possessions.

I dream of safe, warm, dry housing for everyone on earth.

I dream of love and friendship throughout my life, no matter where my path may lead.

I dream of a world where art and music are valued and encouraged, where museums and concerts are not luxuries for the rich, but culture available to all.

I dream of laughter and joy, even in a life where pain and grief are inevitable.

I dream of greater understanding of, and closeness to, our loving and merciful God.

I dream of the end of all suffering.

I dream of dryer warmed socks, chocolate chip cookies, sunshine, and filets of salmon.

I dream and refuse to let go.

What do you dream?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Cutting and Pasting...

I'm in a period of my life where I seem to be constantly writing "personal statements". I'm forced to describe myself and my life experiences over and over again for classes, job applications, and applications for educational programs, and that's to say nothing of the numerous times I have to "explain my call" or give all of these descriptions in oral form in interviews and classes. Moreover, my written statements are always typed and I always wear suits to the interviews. Needless to say, I'm getting a little tired of repeating the story. It doesn't even feel like my story anymore, it's more of a tale I spin and sell to people. If I were to be genuine, I would handwrite the statements in kindergarten scrawl and wear jeans, sweatshirts, and tennis shoes to the interviews. But genuine doesn't make success, so I keep selling the same stale story.

An application recently asked me to give a "reasonably full account" of my life. I had no idea where to begin or what to include. Other questions on the application asked me to describe my call and my occupational history, which left me wondering what else should be included? I knew instinctively to include my educational background, the people who have most influenced my life, and a bit about my activities in high school and college. Likewise, I knew instinctively to skirt the tougher times in my life, the negative influences on my development, and the points where my fears held me back.

When in life do we learn to cut and paste our pasts to create a "presentable" story? At what point do we begin manipulating our own lives to create a more desirable product? And it doesn't stop with applications, we do it in relationships, too. We hide our dark parts, weaknesses, fears, and poor choices from even the people we care about most. We do this to seek acceptance and love because we no longer have faith in unconditional care and because we can't bear to think about how people might judge us. We don't give our closest friends credit for caring about us in spite of our faults. Instead, we project the polished versions of ourselves, constantly reforming our identities. It's safer than risking the love of those we care about, even when they'd probably exceed our expectations.

I know that I've written a great deal about identity and I'm probably getting redundant at this point, but I've been wondering about this a lot because of recent events in my life. I've begun to feel as though I'm constantly projecting a slightly polished version of myself. I'm reasonably confident, but I still use slightly larger words, brush on a little extra makeup, and carefully edit those personal statements. As my own experiences pressed me to consider this repeatedly, I discovered someone else's much wiser and more articulate description of the same feelings:

"What is the truth about any one of us? I often wonder about that. Psychiatrists, biographers, juries--even close relatives--know how elusive it is. The eye that looks in on us and the eye that looks out from us is not the same eye. Most of us create ourselves--arrange the facts of our lives like flowers in a bowl--cutting here, bending there, covering here, revealing there, and filling in the blank spaces with greenery as needed. Everything we can imagine becomes real. Fabulists. A word to put the best face on what we do. Fabulists. Tellers of tales." - Robert Fulghum, "Uh-Oh: Some Observations from Both Sides of the Refrigerator Door," p. 144).

Monday, January 08, 2007

Pastoral Care

The call came at midnight. Ten minutes later, she was on the doorstep with the fixings for cosmopolitans, hugs, and kind words. For an hour she sat, listened, reassured, questioned, and hugged.

This is not what they teach in seminary, but this is a wise, caring ministry of presence. This is pastoral care for friends.