I was walking from my office Friday, coming out of the building just behind a woman, and as I approached the street, I stopped the way I always do. There were cars coming and even though there’s a great trauma one center a block over–one I was heading to it in fact–I don’t want to become a patient! So, I waited to judge my chances.

I heard the woman say, “Thank you,” and I didn’t know she was talking to me exactly. I did see in my peripheral vision that she was at the curb. She pulled back.

As I walked across the street, I saw her edge into the traffic and raise her hand. I always look around me, always need to know who’s behind me, even if I’m in Streeterville because I was raised on the south side.

The woman was then looking for a taxi, and she had thought I was calling one for her. She had thanked me based upon the assumption that I was going to hail a cab. It hadn’t occurred to me to call a cab. It was the last thing on my mind. I was going to see my patients.

I walked through the alleyway smelling Do-Rite donuts and asking myself how many assumptions I had made about people that morning. It wasn’t many because the day was still young, but I wanted that lady’s assumption to become an education for me. I chuckled as I shook my head to convince myself of my perception of the moment. I debated how right I was and eventually decided that it didn’t matter if I was correct about her assumptions of me, as I reminded myself that it never mattered.

I didn’t want to pivot toward those older assumptions of white women, the ones who locked their doors when I approached their cars even though I was only walking down the street, or the ones I avoided by crossing the street because I wasn’t ready to face their thoughts of me through their physical reactions to my presence.

I didn’t want to find something wrong even if the woman coming from my office thought I was the valet since there were valets at the building, black guys, even if they didn’t wear NM chaplain jackets or carry books with ribbons protruding from them that couldn’t be understood as sacred materials. I wanted to study my soul and interrogate my experience and question what I was assuming.

I wanted that moment to be an education. I wanted that woman, who I hope found her taxi and her destination, to be my teacher for the morning. After all, I was in a residency to learn and to form my (pastoral) identity in my beautiful brown skin and this was as much a part of the lesson as the patients I’d visit.

Ongoing Growth Plans

Every year my denomination sends the members of its ministerium a form requesting our report of what we’ve done the previous year for our growth. There are specific questions from several categories. And the form also asks who we’ll share that information with after we prepare and send it.

The point is to have us let the Covenant know if we’re taking our selves seriously. Most of us possess life-long credentials, so the mechanism captures our efforts in continually nurturing the gifts in us, the gifts of us.

When you’re released for ministry of word and sacrament, it assumes that your previous experiences will be shaped by new and subsequent experiences. What we did in becoming servants of word and table, we’ll keep doing as we stay before the word, the bread, and the cup.

As I reported to Ordered Ministry a month or so ago, one of the experiences on my form is my residency in clinical pastoral education. Of course, I’m reading in this residency. I’m doing a fair amount of theological reflection, attending to pastoral formation and identity, and serving as a minister in a medical setting. I’m also teaching in a seminary and that immediately keeps me thinking about spiritual practices and ministerial ethics since I’m teaching out of those interior resources.

These experiences both equip me for my own growth and for my immediate and continued service to the local church and to the community of the denomination. But these things are a part of my plan. They are work, technically. If you asked Dawn, she’d tell you that I have all these jobs. But, in a sense, I have one vocation.

I am a pastor. I am a pastor when I meet a couple to create a genogram during premarital counseling. I am a pastor when I study the scriptures and write curricula for small groups. I am a pastor when I sit and listen. I am a pastor when I hear a story and hold it to myself. I am a pastor when I learn my congregation through weekly prayer requests, when I intercede for them, when I consider the things God has yet to do in them.

I do pastoral things when I teach here or there, but it’s all part of one vocational stream. And that stream requires that I give attention to my growth. I should be intentional, and that intentionality is my responsibility. Not my church’s. Not my clinical supervisor’s. Not my spiritual director’s. Mine. So I’ll give sustained attention to my ongoing growth in order to stay faithful at the work of Christ in me.

If I don’t, I’m not being a good minister or a good person. In other words, my growth matters. My depth matters. It matters for the work I do, but more importantly, it matters because these practices (of teaching or praying or leading or keeping quiet) make me into the person I choose to be.

What about you? How do you take responsibility for your growth and development? How are you becoming your self? What’s your ongoing growth plan? Do you have a rule of life? What are the things in your life that are there specifically to expand, nurture, and form you? Can you point to things, to relationships or partnerships?

What is one specific act you’re engaging in for your continued deepening? If you can’t name one, get to it. You’re doing your very self an injustice. You’re also robbing the world of a better gift.


I offer weekly written reflections at the hospital and I’m going to pull some of them for the blog regularly to share them here. This is a prayer for us as we work, wherever we do.

God, remind me that you are present in the flat stretches of life and daily detours, not just the milestones and big twists. Help me have eyes this week to see traces of your work, places of your moving. In your name. Amen.

(Adapted from Timothy Jones’ Workday Prayers, 154)

Hummingbirds and the Delights of Staying


As usual, David Swanson does a fabulous work in bringing me to a salient, contemplative, and insightful moment. His impressions open me up to the ways in which I can notice, and after having been where I am for the time I have. I appreciate each word for where it takes me: hummingbirds, delights, staying.

And the garden would make you envy the birds, it’s so serene. Thanks, David.

Originally posted on signs of life:

The hummingbirds should be back any day now. This was my thought a few days ago and a quick search online confirmed it: the first ones had been spotted in Chicago a week or so earlier. So a couple days later I brought out our two feeders, washed them, and added the sugary water they can’t resist. This morning, sitting on the porch while feeding the nine-month-old, I spotted the first one. It’s one of my favorite moments of the year.

This small sequence of barely noticeable events got me thinking about staying. We’ve lived in our Chicago home for six years and for the first few I never saw a hummingbird. We put up a feeder on a whim, not expecting much. But the birds came and now we have two feeders in addition to some recently planted honeysuckle that they seem to love even more than the sugar water. I’m…

View original 361 more words

Listening Is

Listening is a mind-set. Active listening, effective listening, compassionate listening, and in-depth listening involve respect and appreciation for the person who is talking. Such listening suggests that what the other person has to say is important and deserves validation. Listening is a decision to engage in another’s life story and discern how you can be of help in the shaping of his or her story. Listening does not require us as caregivers to have great answers or be experts in the subject areas. Listening is a commitment to respect you enough to give you my full attention and give you clues and follow-up questions that ensure I received your messages as intended.

(From Professional Spiritual & Pastoral Care, pg 127)

“Writing…an often painful task”

Michael Eric Dyson’s brilliance with many things glows in this and other paragraphs as he writes about the fractures in his relationship with Cornel West. In this quote, he’s talking writing. If you’re interested in what else he says, visit here. Among our other impressions of his overall critique, we should pray for the folks mentioned here. They are part of an intellectual community that shapes and influences the opinions of our best practitioners. My point is to underline what Dyson says of the work of writing.

The ecstasies of the spoken word, when scholarship is at stake, leave the deep reader and the long listener hungry for more. Writing is an often-painful task that can feel like the death of one’s past. Equally discomfiting is seeing one’s present commitments to truths crumble once one begins to tap away at the keyboard or scar the page with ink. Writing demands a different sort of apprenticeship to ideas than does speaking. It beckons one to revisit over an extended, or at least delayed, period the same material and to revise what one thinks. Revision is reading again and again what one writes so that one can think again and again about what one wants to say and in turn determine if better and deeper things can be said.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

The year we got married we made a lot of decisions. We purchased a fixer-upper. We had to get a car. We built a garage and searched for a lawn mower at the hardware store my father sent me to over in the Back of the Yards.

We also completed a budget together, elected an executor of our estate, little estate that we had as twenty-three year olds, and chose agents to make healthcare decisions for us if and when we couldn’t make those decisions for ourselves.

I selected my brother Mark, both because I trust my brother and because I didn’t want my wife to be in that situation. Mark will answer his phone and talk through the implications with a medical team, with my wife, with a cool demeanor. Mark will make sure I’m cared for.

I wanted to plan ahead and put that responsibility on my brother’s shoulders. That advance directive is still in place. Mark decides for me if I can’t decide for myself. He communicates for me if I can’t communicate for myself.

At a recent family dinner I reminded everyone of this. We were actually celebrating my mother’s birthday last fall, and I took the moment to nudge my loved ones to plan in advance. I told them that I didn’t want to live in a prolonged state if I had been oxygen-deprived for longer than 10 minutes. I gave specific instructions, in the presence of my family, to my brother and to the others. Mark’s the agent but they all heard about my decision. Again and again, I will remind them that there are wishes I have regarding my medical care. I will refine those as I go and certainly the longer I’m in healthcare as a chaplain.

Today is national healthcare decisions day. I went to a program about it here at the hospital. Randi Belisomo spoke about her organization, Life Matters Media, and talked about the simple and important process of choosing an agent. Of course, as a chaplain, I walk through the steps of this simple process with people. I witness their completion of the healthcare power of attorney form. And sometimes I get to tell people how vital it is to do this simple thing.

If you don’t choose a person to speak for you, the law has answered your lack of choice. The law puts surrogates in place when you have not chosen. Someone always speaks for those who don’t speak for themselves. So, today, if you haven’t chosen a person to stand in your place, to communicate for you what your medical care should look like, and how aggressive those interventions should or shouldn’t be, consider it. If you need to update your form, the form generally opens with something like, “This Power of Attorney Revokes All Previous Powers.” You can change it at any time.

Consider your feelings and thoughts on these matters, taking the opportunity to involve your family in your thinking, in your care, and in your planning. Communicate your wishes to your loved ones and to your agent, and realize that this is a good way to communicate what you want so that that doesn’t have to be decided for you. Document it on your state’s version of the healthcare power of attorney, and these don’t have to be notarized or done by an attorney, as long as you have a witness who isn’t named as the agent. You’ll want to consult your state’s version because every state is different, but they should be similar from one to another.

If you’re in Chicago today, Life Matters Media is working with the Chicago Public Library at two locations this afternoon to explain these advance directives and to help people fill these documents out. For more information, look here at Life Matters Media.

For the Illinois form, you can visit my hospital’s page and print off a copy.