Candidacy and Fatherhood (2 of 2)

Photo Thanks to Leeroy

Photo Thanks to Leeroy

I messaged Dawn after the initial interview. Then we talked. She was feeling fine and was headed to a planned prenatal appointment. I breathed as if for the first time.

We spoke about the interview but I couldn’t put more language out of my mouth. I had talked for more than hour and didn’t have the energy to rehearse much about it. An hour later she texted that she was having contractions. She was calling the midwife she had seen earlier. I was waiting for the report to come back at that time, waiting to hear if I passed.

After I passed and told her, we strategized and, for my part, to quell my fears. Then I got in the car to return home. I called her an hour later and couldn’t get her. I called back and she said she was going to the hospital which was 2 blocks away from her job. I was still fine, I was speeding by then in Wisconsin where they love out of state plates. Still, the hospital is there for that reason.

I had already told my coworkers that I might need them to intercept her and wheel her down the street. I had already asked Uncle David to be on notice in case I needed him. I actually introduced Dawn to hospital security for this very reason. I was going to have some notice, though, in my original vision. Dawn decided to pass by all that; she walked alone. Both of us, in two different places, getting ready for what was next.

I called her later and she was in the middle of a contraction and couldn’t speak. I drove faster, feeling an opening of possibility that I couldn’t be with her for the labor. She texted from triage. I was still too far. I called her mother and asked her to get to the hospital. Traffic stopped just outside of O’Hare. Literally stopped. Still, I end up beating my mother-in-law there.

That morning I had gone around, deliberating and then exhibiting how I am when the unplanned happens. That was a feature of my committee appearance. I talked about how nothing in pastoral practice is truly known ahead of time. I remember thinking about a practice of faith. True pastoral ministry is usually unpredictable. That truth was actually happening that morning and it was happening as Dawn walked to the hospital and while I sped to meet her.

I arrived at 4:50PM. I smelled of sweat from the whole day of meeting and waiting and driving and hoping. As soon as I walked in, Dawn says, she felt an intense contraction. She said that our baby knew it was safe to come. I looked at the clock and got to her side as she called to me.

She was laboring and had been. The posture felt familiar but it was different than with Bryce. It was bright outside this time, daytime. With Bryce I was there from the early signs and throughout. Labor started at night. I remember everything going very slowly. This time things moved swiftly, intensely.

Dawn held my hand, and I remember thinking that breaking all those laws to get back was redeemed in that moment. Especially if I would make it out of there with my hand bones intact. Our second son, Brooks, came at 5:37PM, and as you can imagine we were thrilled. It was the predominant feeling in the room.

I wasn’t thinking about the day when he came. Of course, being a part of a quick laboring process doesn’t afford you the space to reflect. That’s why I’m writing this now. Holding those two “moments” of preparing for and getting through candidacy, on the one hand, and returning to Dawn and being a part of the welcoming committee for our son, on the other.

They sit near each other as mirrors in a way. Two events full of potential and promise. Two events full of fear and hope. Two events with people who are involved to bring someone new forward. Two events that are, in different ways, destabilizing, constructive, constitutive, and reforming.

Candidacy and fatherhood are words that belong together. Of course, they speak to each other’s tentativeness and humility. They return to the other the truths of vulnerability and preparation and work and tirelessness and tiredness. They sit intently together, those words, like two brothers enjoying each other’s company.

It Was Fear That I Saw

Photo Thanks to Matthew Wiebe

Photo Thanks to Matthew Wiebe

I’ve seen the look in too many people’s eyes. And I don’t say that as a pin of honor or badge on my lapel. It was a dreadful thing when I first started seeing fear so regularly. There’s nothing like the naked, bold, and startling fear in the eyes of a person who watched the slow-coming death of someone they love. Love makes us hold tightly. Love, often, is the enemy of surrender. And I thought about it when a woman asked me, in a way, about my own loves.

When I first started in ministry at Sweet Holy Spirit, my role was primarily administrative. Aside from some relatively small amount of pastoral care, I functioned the way an executive pastor functions, looking at costs, praying about meeting budget, managing operations, getting to know a staff, decreasing that staff, trying to compensate the staff based upon the unique and faithful expressions of ministry’s vocations. I brought an attorney on retainer, developed relationships with insurance agents, learned about wage demands from the IRS, and became a master at explaining differences between exempt and non-exempt employees.

Being an executive pastor who was in the seat when the pastor was away was more responsibility than I was ready for. It aged me. It still does in a way. And I remember seeing fear in those days. But it was a different fear. It was a fear of missing marks that were mostly set in the wide generous room of a large church. I had my own fears. But in terms of the real fears of others, I was hardly exposed to much. I was the person who kept at the overarching system so that the good folks in our church could come and hear the words spoken. But I hardly had enough time with those folks, those listeners. They would have taught me differently about different fear.

When I came to New Community, I came, in part, because it was twenty times smaller than my home church by my conservative estimate. I would be able to pastor in a classical way, and that vision is one that I’ve been able to live. I’ve been in homes, around tables, having conversations and not just at the office or even in my study at home. I’ve been able to search the lives of others at their leadership and invitation. I’ve seen more fears in the eyes of our people.

And still, my church is “relatively young” church. I find myself over the years putting up three or four fingers when I tell people how many times I’ve visited hospitals for the people of New Community. It’s relatively young, I tell them. People don’t ask the pastor to come to the hospital when a baby is born, and twenty and thirty-somethings don’t generally get hospitalized and require pastoral visitation. Where I preached twelve funerals a year (as part of a staff of ministers) at SHS, I’ve done almost as many weddings during some of my ten years at New Community.  Fear looks differently in those congregational contexts.

When I started working as a chaplain, I started seeing fear differently. In the medical center, I saw it all the time. I see it all the time. I can see it daily if I choose. Unfortunately, there is always somebody (perhaps a somebody in 900+ beds) negotiating with fear.

The good thing about being a chaplain who is also in the supervisory education process is that you’re always doing action, reflection, action. Always working in that CPE model of learning. In fact, you have to stop yourself from doing it. At home, in the congregation, in conversation with people who know nothing about this model of learning. Stop being shaped the education and be. Still, it relates to how you see yourself.

You become a process person, loosening your grip on content and becoming more interested in what’s happening, what’s taking place, what process we’re in, rather than the superficial and low-hanging surface of what’s merely explicit. Process is hardly ever explicit. And fear is the same. You have to see it even though it’s facing you.

That’s why relationships falter because it takes a therapist or a spiritual director or a guide who’s outside the dyad to say, “Hey, what’s happening here?” or “This is what I’m seeing.” or “If you keep in this direction, where are you headed?” These aren’t content statements but process ones.

You begin to see your own fears. You make friends with some of them. You give grace to them, gifting them with new understanding because the words behind and under those fears are understandable. They are real just like the fear.

Stuff I’m Writing (3 of 3)

Photo Thanks to Aaron Burden

Photo Thanks to Aaron Burden

When I started the supervisory education program in CPE, I noticed that there were hardly any meaningful trails about the process on the internet. I decided to write through my process. So I have some “public process notes” on the blog in order to keep track of some of my experiences.

Related to that, I’ve been working on materials for a committee appearance in early April. While I won’t go into much about the appearance on this side of the meeting, I want to put up a few thoughts from the three papers I prepared for submission to the committee.

This is a part of my theology theory paper—a major paper for the supervisory process. I’ll get feedback and work on it until it sings and is ready for the subsequent processes. This portion is around the mini-section on contextual theology and the incarnation, a major second step in the paper after I talk about sources of theology which emerge out of the narrative tradition of my African-American experience. There are quotes from James Cone’s God of the Oppressed and Smith and Riedel-Pfaefflin’s Siblings By Choice: Race, Gender, and Violence.

My experience shaped how I arrived at scripture, how often I visited the Bible, and how basic encountering the passage has been to how I encountered the God behind it. In that sense, I’m a contextual theologian. In my pastoral theology there are roots of contextual theology. Having sources like experience from which to draw theological language eventually brings me to God, the content rather than the periphery. God is who we were singing about in my younger days.

Traditional Christian formulations of God are Trinitarian. They are more than that for sure because God cannot be captured by our formulations. As is true in the grand historical human experience, God has been disclosing God’s person in many ways. I’ve “met God” through conversations with an addict named Lawrence who talked to me about beauty while painting the church. I’ve met God through the silence of a person who was struck by a loved one’s sudden death. God’s come in those moments and come to me. Always sensitive to me, to us, to the audience, God meets us in our specific conditions.

The incarnation where “God becomes flesh” is the striking example of this. Thurman called the incarnation “the great disclosure.” Through the incarnation God is at work, revealing, disclosing, and opening to others who God is. James Cone reminds us that Jesus is not a theological proposition restricted to the conceptual. Jesus matters because he is matter, because he exists outside of our heads.

He is an event of liberation, a happening in the lives of oppressed people struggling for political freedom…Jesus is not simply a doctrine or even a particular event limited by time. He is the eternal event of liberation in the divine person who makes freedom a constituent of human existence. There is no existence apart from him because he is the ground of existence without whom nothing is.

I think of God as eternal, as essentially loving, as relatable. I think of the inextricable way that justice is the avenue whereby God’s loves. “In short, God is manifest to us through material means.” God expresses all that God is through particular means. We never is love without justice, mercy without reconciliation. One is the expression of the other, the explicit exhibiting the implicit. As Kelly Brown Douglas, a womanist theologian writing Christology, says, there is a compatibility between Christianity and acts of justice.

Spiritual care, then, as an incarnational act is an expression of God’s intention toward human beings, and that care is at the bottom of our work in CPE where we attend to our selves and our ministries. As an expression of love, our work is also an expression of justice. As necessary as people are to that theological articulation, the first actor is Divine. God acts, expressing love and justice—expressing God’s self—and people receive that action, respond to it.

People are created by God, and as created beings have a host of ways through which we interact with the world; we are emotional, intellectual, and physical beings. Each element of a person’s makeup is grounded in the Creator’s initiation and desire. Seen and unseen elements compose us. All of these avenues become vehicles through which God can reach, heal, teach, and transform us.

God touches the world through us, connecting with us—the incarnation, again, being an exemplary portion of this, a clinical encounter is another—and then connecting with the creation through us. God cares for creation in other ways which we cannot see. A chaplain’s role is to participate in God’s work in the world by, variously, cooperating with God to care for, protect, preserve, challenge, and observe the work of God through human interventions, through silence, and through the variety of ways we care. People are the means for and recipients of that care. Care is aware of the past.

In Siblings by Choice, the authors tell us the truth about the power of the past:

The past represents ways of knowing that emerge from struggle and can inform us today. The complex and ambiguous present is the result of the experiences, thinking, and struggles of our ancestors who were born and raised in civilizations and circumstances different from our own. Their struggles birthed the conditions under which our consciousness develops and our life narrative unfolds. From them we may gain wisdom for patterns of living that extend an otherwise limited perspective on the present.

Care isn’t beholden to the past. It honors the past, holds the past and present together, particularly as people struggle with the present crises of life such as death, sickness, loss, and change. But care is future-oriented, always looking for the right now connections between humanity and divinity.

Stuff I’m Writing (2 of 3)

Photo Thanks to Peter Belch

Photo Thanks to Peter Belch

When I started the supervisory education program in CPE, I noticed that there were hardly any meaningful trails about the process on the internet. I decided to write through my process. So I have some “public process notes” on the blog in order to keep track of some of my experiences.

Related to that, I’ve been working on materials for a committee appearance in early April. While I won’t go into much about the appearance on this side of the meeting, I want to put up a few thoughts from the three papers I prepared for submission to the committee.

This slice comes from the section on my CPE pilgrimage. Using my experiences in CPE, this particular paper is a reflection on my learning issues, my process of professional development and growth, my evolution and personal integration, learning experiences, and self-understanding. My section here is essentially my professional development portion.

I see chaplaincy and supervision as expressions of pastoral ministry. When I serve in the church, that community is the context for my pastoral ministry. For supervisory work, the context is CPE. The work is still pastoral. To track my development in ministry, I draw upon a tool I’ve used in teaching. I’ve worked with students on developing rules of life as a vehicle for exploring and containing practices for development. When I think of my own process of development, I think about the rule which I include as a process of my development.

Included in the process is my intellectual, physical, spiritual, and emotional development; there is room for each. The elements relate to my growth, even if each is not happening while I’m in the professional setting. For example, if I’m not taking care of my body, which my work setting may assume I am, I’ll be no good for the work of spiritual care of patients or families.

I use my birthday as a time to reflect upon my work and life and how I can continually develop. I acknowledge and celebrate how I’ve developed and I spend time thinking through how to continue doing so. As I’ve gone along, other moments have emerged to augment what consideration I have during my birthday. These include an annual assessment from my denomination (March); the beginning of a semester for the classes I teach (late August); the ending of the classes (May); the start and end of CPE units will fall into this developmental plan. At a micro level “processing our process” is something that I’ve drawn from my training supervisor, and that is a constructive way for me to regularly attend to the work I’m doing.

In terms of content, the process of development includes 1) noticing areas of weakness or interest that I might address in an upcoming year; 2) getting some consultation from the people within my “venues of growth”; 3) listing ways for me to give room to my new or abiding interests; 3) locating strategies for addressing my areas of weakness; 4) implementing those ways and strategies; and 5) evaluating myself in a way that makes sense for the area of development. CPE has been a part of that process. I came to CPE because it was a way for me to respond to my needs for continued development. When I participated in my first unit and certainly since then, the process has been substantial for my growth (I’d point to my student evaluations to revisit some of those learnings).

I see chaplaincy and supervision as expressions of pastoral ministry. When I serve in the church, that community is the context for my pastoral ministry. For supervisory work, the context is CPE. The work is still pastoral. To track my development in ministry, I draw upon a tool I’ve used in teaching. I’ve worked with students on developing rules of life as a vehicle for exploring and containing practices for development. When I think of my own process of development, I think about the rule which I include as a process of my development.

Included in the process is my intellectual, physical, spiritual, and emotional development; there is room for each. The elements relate to my growth, even if each is not happening while I’m in the professional setting. For example, if I’m not taking care of my body, which my work setting may assume I am, I’ll be no good for the work of spiritual care of patients or families.

I use my birthday as a time to reflect upon my work and life and how I can continually develop. I acknowledge and celebrate how I’ve developed and I spend time thinking through how to continue doing so. As I’ve gone along, other moments have emerged to augment what consideration I have during my birthday. These include an annual assessment from my denomination (March); the beginning of a semester for the classes I teach (late August); the ending of the classes (May); the start and end of CPE units will fall into this developmental plan. At a micro level “processing our process” is something that I’ve drawn from my training supervisor, and that is a constructive way for me to regularly attend to the work I’m doing.

In terms of content, the process of development includes 1) noticing areas of weakness or interest that I might address in an upcoming year; 2) getting some consultation from the people within my “venues of growth”; 3) listing ways for me to give room to my new or abiding interests; 3) locating strategies for addressing my areas of weakness; 4) implementing those ways and strategies; and 5) evaluating myself in a way that makes sense for the area of development. CPE has been a part of that process. I came to CPE because it was a way for me to respond to my needs for continued development. When I participated in my first unit and certainly since then, the process has been substantial for my growth (I’d point to my student evaluations to revisit some of those learnings).

Stuff I’m Writing (1 of 3)

Photo Thanks to Leeroy

Photo Thanks to Leeroy

When I started the supervisory education program in CPE, I noticed that there were hardly any meaningful trails about the process on the internet. I decided to write through my process. So I have some “public process notes” on the blog in order to keep track of some of my experiences.

Related to that, I’ve been working on materials for a committee appearance in early April. While I won’t go into much about the appearance on this side of the meeting, I want to put up a few thoughts from the three papers I prepared for submission to the committee.

This slice comes from the section on my religious development. The paper speaks to my history, my venues of growth, my strengths and weaknesses, my religious development and self-understanding, and my appropriation of culture and how all those things subjects relate to who I am as a pastor, chaplain, and educator.

My religious development has paralleled my own “human” development. I was raised as a participant in local churches, serving in those churches, and understanding my sense of self in relation to the activity of the church.

This is as much underneath my view of what it means to be a person and what it means to be created by God. The church was the place where I was first called, where I questioned my understandings of it, and where I was given opportunities to flourish as an academically bent preacher who critiqued what was said, usually constructively, and who was unafraid to bring his experiences from other places into the church.

The religious community was the place—complimented and inextricably connected to my family as it was—where I grew. It’s hard to imagine how I would have developed without the seam of the church.

Church (and I’d use “religious development” as a synonym) was tied to my expansive understanding of family since I had a biological and a church family. Both were able to guide, mentor, correct, challenge, and inspire me. Both families were means of development. Through my religious upbringing the following three values were instilled in me—again, not intending to split these from the other developmentally formative community of my extended family:

 1.      Hospitality is normal. My mother fed other people’s children and took people into our home. That was how people in our church lived, and the residential and ecclesial behaviors taught me that hospitality-as-caring was normal.

2.      Salvation comes in many forms. The church’s focus was Jesus, but the saving influences of the community came through the mundane practices of teaching children to cook, after-school tutoring, playing games, and singing. Each act of religious expression helped me understand the broad ways in which healing, change, and growth happen.

3.     Everybody was welcome. My home church boasted a sign that was a joke and a mission depending on how we felt. Of course, both were true. The sign was “Sinners and Rejects Welcome,” and it was a clear statement of the explicit (and practiced) theology. It sticks in how open I want to be in my teaching and ministry to people.

Siblings by Choice

by Pierre Bouillot.jpg

Photo Thanks by Pierre Bouillot

I finished Archie Smith, Jr. and Ursula Riedel-Pfaefflin’s book, Siblings by Choice: Race, Gender, and Violence. I read one of Professor Smith’s books in seminary (Navigating the Deep River: Spirituality in African American Families) and have found in him a deep well for my own thinking and practicing of pastoral care. When I saw this book, I had been developing my reading list for my supervisory education training, and I put this on it.

The book is about their studied suggestion in how women, men, and children from different cultural and spiritual backgrounds can, together, struggle against oppression. They write about how we can choose to become siblings as we form relationships of resistance, safety, trust, and accountability.

“When people are thrown together by external circumstances, they may discover themselves as siblings in a common struggle against whatever it is that oppresses them. They are siblings in struggle, perhaps, but not yet siblings by conscious choice” (pg. 8). The book highlights the intentionally taken paths toward becoming siblings by choice.

My reading was first in the context of my current training. I’m studying to become a supervisor of pastors, an educator of chaplains, and a caregiver to folks in a myriad of crises, likely but not exclusively in the medical setting. But my inherent reading experience is shaped by my right now work as a pastor in an urban multiethnic congregation and as a teacher in two distinct denominational seminaries. There is much to learn and enrich me in the book for all of my work settings.

I say this for a couple reasons that are worth repeating to myself. First, violence has been a historical reality for people I know, and the book does a great job in thoroughly summarizing several peopled experiences of violence. Note that oppression is one form that violence takes.

Second, gender and race are two words which are of continued appeal to me, especially by these two writers—one a black man and the other a white woman—who were working together out of their shared, abiding interest. In the book they are using their experiences as racial and gendered people to point to paths they’ve taken as colleagues so as to offer us a good read of reconciliation.

Third, I’d love to see churches who are trying to reach people from different social, cultural, and experiential spheres use this book’s treasure. Churches are experiments in multiculturalism even if they don’t make explicit their concerted efforts to embrace that multicultural attribute. People are different, especially when skin color shows off that difference. But churches need real and constructive resources which are thoughtfully prepared and easily adaptable for their own local church processes. This is such a resource. And I’m a pastor and will be a pastor so material like this is enlivening.

Finally, I’m a reconciling, contrarian who finds delight in starting illuminating, educational, and interior fights for the purpose of healing and growth. This book and books like it help me become clearer about my role in the world in that respect. I’ve taken to telling people that a part of practice is in graciously initiating fights and then seeing what happens. I instigate. I do this better now because of readings like Siblings by Choice.

The material helped me think through the authors’ primary conceptual vehicles of narrative agency, systemic thinking, and intercultural realities, words they define well throughout the book. Here is a quick summary from their text:

Narrative agency is the meaning that people make of their lives over time—gifts of love, activities, beliefs, hopes, anxieties and doubts, fears and courage.

Systemic thinking is based on the principle of linkage, in which everything is actually or potentially linked to everything else, either directly or indirectly.

Intercultural realities are the coming together of influences from many different streams of cultures and systems of meaning.

If these definitions leave you interested, spark a question, or light you up, take a look at the book. The three pieces above become their primary means of investigating public morality, gender, and cultural traditions. Their wedding of Mark 10:28-30 with these three avenues brings an echo of biblical and theological reflection to the book so that you keep with the reminder that you’re reading a work that is pastoral-theological.

We read of life from the African-American experience of man who is of the Baptist tradition and life of a white feminist who is of Lutheran and Catholic heritage. They intend to push by boundaries which impede community, and they give real, helpful exercises to pursue community. I find that inclusion to make this book extremely useable. Using vignettes, literature, and examples from current life, a theoretical work is immediately made practical.

The authors also have a lot of good stuff about reflexivity and experience, and the book is worth buying for the individual and group exercises they develop in order to show how pastoral people can work these concepts into practice. They use literature, historical events, and personal experiences to highlight how vital race, gender, and embodiedness are when it comes to addressing the varied expressions of violence in the world.

They are counselors and theorists in pastoral care. They are basically talking to people who care about some of the same things, and if those areas are yours, you’ll want to locate this book. Bending toward clinical applications, they discuss the ways life these days is connected to life in past:

We create the future through our behavior, and whether recognized or not, we reproduce certain established patterns from the past. Our current activity is guided by maps in the mind or certain enduring ways of thinking and being in the world. (pg. 89).

They encourage the reader to “become aware of the history that has shaped” them in order to “self-consciously work for the good, confess our limitations, stay alert to every new and emerging form of evil, and challenge our students, colleagues, family members, individuals, and groups to develop their own practices and traditions of care, prayer, and work for spiritual discernment” (pg. 71).

History is not our only influence. “We are also shaped by ignorance.” We are impacted by what we don’t know and what we choose not to know. I’m particularly aware of this as I sit through and live through the nasty, vitriolic presentations of people claiming to be Christian in the political realm. As the authors recount stories from their own lives and from their people’s lives, you hold the strong reminder that such stories are hard to hold, heavy.

And this book is encouraging for the witness who, in their words, “hears the story of the traumatized ones, acknowledges their demoralization, helps to give voice to their trauma, and enables them to face the depths of their experiences” (pg. 135). We don’t witness alone. Remember that, whether you read this book or not: we don’t witness alone.

Differences in Worldview

215H

Photo Thanks to Ryan McGuire

Working across cultures can provoke strong negative responses and reduce trust. The outsider or stranger may appear even more strange and untrustworthy. Those of us with training and expertise in communication skills, such as pastoral care providers, may find it hard to bridge certain cultural gaps and resist becoming siblings in a common struggle when differences in worldview appear to threaten cherished beliefs and values. The differences in worldview may appear insurmountable when there is a single, limited, or exclusive focus on one’s own cultural group. Where this is the case, it will be impossible to build trust and face the complex issues of interethnic group oppression.

(From Siblings by Choice, 28-29)