Books I’m Reading

More and more I’m claiming reading as a spiritual practice. I find myself reading in the Presence, listening to authors who interact with deep mysteries while I’m reading in the presence of Mystery. It’s a stretch for some people to accept the claim, but I may be doing my best praying while I’m holding some of these things. This is more a note to self of what I’m currently (and somewhat slowly) reading these days, in the order of when I started them.

I’m thumbing pages from these texts over the next month or so. Since a chunk of my pastoral work is enmeshed in these texts, I get to do some of this reading during the day, thank goodness!

  1. The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief & Healing. I started this collection, edited by Kevin Young, when I began my CPE Residency last fall, and it’s a powerful poetic reminder of what I see in the hospital daily. It’s on my desk at the hospital and I’ll stretch out the collection the rest of the residency.
  2. Life Cycle Theory and Pastoral Care. I picked Donald Capps’ book off the shelf of Dr. Ramona Joseph both to prepare for a January presentation with my colleagues and as a refresher on Erik Erikson’s developmental theory. I did the presentation but have one more chapter til I finish this text.
  3. Reframing: A New Method in Pastoral Care. A bit dated for its subtitle, I’ve always appreciated reframing in my practice of ministry, and this reading is acquainting me with the biblical and theological underpinnings of the method and not only the cognitive-behavioral theory I learned about ten years ago.
  4. The Gospel in Black and White. I’m reading this with a pastoral intern who’s serving at New Community and paying particular focus on racial reconciliation. Since I’m willing to revisit the places I suggest my students journey, I’m engaging with this dated but important reminder to parts of the Christian family.
  5. From Every People and Nation. This is the second book I’ll read with our pastoral intern and hopefully we’ll be working together–with me giving him my best assistance–as he develops and enriches his theological framework for the ethical work of reconciliation and works at a curriculum of sorts to address the good news, biblical interpretation, church, and stuff about race.
  6. Twelve Tribes of Hattie. This is my first piece of fiction in forever, and I’m enjoying reentering that literary world with this great novel. I’ve had this book on my TBR list since 2013, I got it from the library, and by the time this post goes up, I’ll be finished with it!
  7. Jung on Christianity. I’m reading bits and pieces by and about Carl Jung for my next presentation since I’ve never read anything on Jungian theory. This is one of 2 or 3 that I’ll sit with as I prepare something for my peer group on Jung’s applications for spiritual care in the hospital. I’m pretty sure I’ll read Memories, Dreams, and Reflections and Man and His Symbols even if very slowly through the rest of the year.

If there are still readers out there of my cpe-residency-impacted-blog, tell me what you’re reading. I may add to my TBR pile.

Reading for Class

This is a part of my reading for tomorrow’s class. It’s after the author describes how the world adapted economic models post World War II so that everything that was done essentially contributed to a nation’s economic strength. Wealth was measured in terms of goods and services, but not quite immaterial things. Services like creating weapons or being a soldier or a law enforcement officer counted while cooking dinner for your kids or cleaning up after your kids or working in your garden didn’t.

In short, we have converted destruction into an economic good. But anything that grows without money changing hands–parents who care for their children, people who voluntarily care for the sick, the dying, or the homeless, people who pray or meditate or walk in the woods–these, at best, have no value. At worst, they take away precious time and energy that could be used to grow the G.D.P.

…During Sabbath we stop counting…During Sabbath, things that grow in time are honored at least as much as those things we would buy and sell. At rest, we can take deeper measure of our true wealth. If we do not rest, if we do not taste and eat and serve and teach and pray and give thanks and do all those things that grow only in time, we will become more impoverished than we will ever know.

From “Why Time Is Not Money” in Wayne Muller’s Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest

Advent Post #17

And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me–holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then returned home. (Luke 1:46-56, NIV)

Advent Post #16

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her! (Luke 1:45)

It takes guts to believe in God. It takes more guts to believe that God, who exists, makes promises, and then, even more courage to believe that God makes promises to you.

After all that, to think that God would make and fulfill them! Eventually your beliefs are tested. Eventually what you’ve held close to your heart about God’s words and God’s ways are tested.

Sometimes when life tests our beliefs, those beliefs fall apart. They are too weak for real life. We find that they lack truth, that they cannot stand under the test of reality. We conclude, in a manner of speaking, that we were disillusioned to have believed what we did, that we were off, or that God, simply, was not trustworthy.

When we say that we were disillusioned to have believed, we check ourselves and attempt to modify our beliefs, try to speculate faithfully by studying in order to come up with something else.

If we say after that test that we were at fault, we try to change ourselves to fit what has to be the real God reality. I was wrong, not God, so in order to keep an intact faith, I change.

In the third option, where we conclude that God was untrustworthy, we decide and, sometimes painfully, to walk away from God. We tell ourselves and others that the God we thought was ‘in charge’ was a portion of our imaginations and that there really can’t be a God.

In all three instances, we relate to God because of some thing, some test, some examination of our deeply held beliefs. We aren’t always in touch with our beliefs. Usually we learn what we believe when those beliefs are challenged or up-heaved or undone.

Whatever category or line of thinking you may be in relation to God (and I don’t put you in these as much as I offer them as possible categories for this post), I wonder if you can consider that you are, right in that category, blessed. Whether you love or hate God. Whether you even believe in God. Whether you sympathize with people you see as religious because you pity us.

Can you stretch into the word blessed? Henry Nouwen talks about the meaning of “blessed” in his book Life of the Beloved, and he says that it’s essentially about good speech. To say that we are blessed is to say that somebody says good things about us. Can you hear that, that someone speaks well of you? I’d suggest that the person saying good things about you and me is God.

We are blessed and some of us because we believed. We did believe, even if we’ve diminished some of those beliefs. We did believe, even if we walked away. Indeed, one of the most remarkable claims about our blessedness is that we are blessed. Without regard for right beliefs and even right acts. Sure, this verse seems to run counter since Mary is heralded for believing in the promise. But the verse doesn’t spread across the entirety of her life.

It doesn’t spread into those nights of doubt when she thought Jesus was just an ordinary kid or those mornings when she was pissed because he said something about having a new mother and a new family, kicking her to the curb. This particular verse is about her pregnancy and her willingness to bear a son. The blessing, though, is a comment about what God always thought of her and what God would, in the future, think of her. Her and you. Her and me.


Desmond-Harris on Facebook, Compassion, and Choice

But here’s what Facebook comments are good for: revealing data about whether you want your “friends” to be your friends any longer. That is, of course, if you believe, as I do, that the way someone responds to other people’s pain and mistreatment—including the systemic mistreatment of entire groups of people—is a perfectly fine way to decide whether he or she is someone you like or want to continue to interact with.

Call me intolerant, but my view is that, if someone’s reaction to an unarmed black teenager being killed is to announce that he probably deserved it, that person is not someone I’m interested in being associated with, and I won’t miss him or her a bit after I hit “block.” There are too many compassionate and smart people in the world for me to waste even a fraction of my social media scrolling time on interactions with people who are either racist or unintelligent and insensitive enough to appear so.

From Jenee Desmond-Harris’ article “How to Deal With Friends’ Racist Reactions to Ferguson” here

Considerations on Peace From Howard Thurman

A cursory glance at human history reveals that men have sought for countless generations to bring peace into the world by the instrumentality of violence. The fact is significant because it is tried repeatedly and to no basic advantage. The remark which someone has made, that perhaps the most important fact we learn from history is that we do not learn from history, is very much to the point. Violence is very deceptive as a technique because of the way in which it comes to rescue the of those who are in a hurry. Violence at first is very efficient, very effective. It stampedes, overruns, pushes aside and carries the day. It becomes the major vehicle of power, or the radical threat of power. It inspires fear and resistance. The fact that it inspires resistance is underestimated, while the fact that it inspires fear is overestimated. This is the secret of its deception. Violence is the ritual and the etiquette of those who stand in a position of overt control in the world. As long as this is true, it will be impossible to make power–economic, social or political–responsive to anything that is morally or socially motivating. Men resort to violence when they are unable or unwilling to tax their resourcefulness for methods that will inspire the confidence or the mental and moral support of other men. This is true, whether in the relationship between parents and children in the home or in great affairs of the state involving the affirmation of masses of the people. Violence rarely, if ever, gets the consent of the spirit of men upon whom it is used. It drives them underground, it makes them seek cover, if they cannot overcome it in other ways. It merely postpones the day of revenge and retaliation. To believe in some other way, that will not inspire retaliation and will curb evil and bring about social change, requires a spiritual maturity that has appeared only sporadically in the life of man on this planet. The statement may provide the machinery, but the functioning of it is dependent upon the climate created by the daily habits of the people.

May we tax our own resourcefulness and may these good peaceful things be so in us. (From Deep Is The Hunger, 34-35)

Nudge Toward Self-Scrutiny

I’m reading Pamela Cooper-White’s book, Shared Wisdom: The Use of Self in Pastoral Care and Counseling. It’s essentially a book about countertransference and it’s good use in the pastoral ministries of care, counseling, and psychotherapy. I grabbed the title as one-to-read at the beginning of my residency and mostly because my previous clinical supervisor in Urban CPE suggested that I continue to explore the notion and practice of “use of self” in my work.

I hadn’t read Cooper-White’s work before I heard that direction from my supervisor. When we started our residency, we were given the option to choose one book to read and review in place of one verbatim. So, I’m reading Shared Wisdom in order to relay what findings I’m seeing and how they relate to chaplaincy in particular and to pastoral ministry in general.

I’m not going to review the book here. I’m 90% through it, but I want to finish it before commenting deeply on its high significance, even for ministers without any real introduction to pastoral care literature, psychodynamic theory, or the variety of approaches to pastoral counseling. The book is a great introduction to all those in my view, though it doesn’t intend to be exhaustive in that introduction.

I want to pull one quote that I think will grab at the book theme and intention. It’s context-less, which I’m generally against, but it does stand on its own and communicates a few things about the total work (It’s from pgs. 173-174):

Not only is none of us immune to the occurrence of unanticipated enactment moments in deep therapeutic work, but I would venture that none of us is immune to at least occasional seductive desires to be the omnipotent healer. While this probably does not constitute an entrenched, predatory charaterological pattern in most practitioners, the very dynamics that often draw individuals to pursue caregiving professions virtually guarantee an intensification of unconscious impulses along a healer-healed axis. Grandiosity may not only appear in the guise of being the special healer of our patients. It may also appear in the form of overestimating our capacity to contain and analyze all the possible meanings that can arise when enactments do occur. As Arnold Goldberg has stated, many enactments may not in and of themselves constitute anything overtly unethical in the moral sense. However, we must acknowledge our limitations in being able adequately to process these enactments and to contain the energies they generate.

Cooper-White is doing a few things here worth capturing:

  1. She reminds us that enactments happen.
  2. She pushes us to question our self-understandings as leaders, particularly of the omnipotent sort.
  3. She says what most don’t know: certain kinds of people go into ministry and we generally have certain impulses.
  4. She uses the word grandiosity which in itself is a nudge (or a wall) worth lingering with.
  5. She writes about limitations and the notion is deeply theological, anthropological, and ethical.