Little Images

I wrote this four years ago and came back to it in my draft folder. The storage unit is not ours anymore since we’ve moved, but the sentiment in this post remains.

Photo Thanks to Nuno Silva

Photo Thanks to Nuno Silva

The other day I spent a few hours rummaging through old things. I went into our basement storage unit and opened a few boxes. I’ve avoided those boxes for two years. My last real vist was soon after the boy came along. Since then I’ve stacked and restacked boxes. I’ve thrown out a couple bags. I’ve given books away.

But I needed to look through things. I need to remember. I needed to let some things go.

I do this regularly: letting things go. My wife is the keeper of things. I’m the one who discards the unused. I used to give boxes of books away–after U of I, after Wheaton, and then after Garrett. I am of the mind that books are worth sharing, especially when they’ve given their gifts to you.

Still, it’s been awhile since I’ve actually gone through the articles and stuff of earlier days, since I convinced myself that I didn’t need as many things as I once did. It’s interesting how what we keep can be its own record.

So I waded through things. There are those cards and letters from my college days and there’s something Mr. Everett gave me in high school. I found a picture with a friend from a dance, the program from a wedding, a hand-written letter from my pastor, a note from my niece, and one of the most creative pieces of writing I’ve ever read, which happens to also be one of the most troubling lies I’ve read. That was from a letter written by a friend impersonating a physician when we were in college.

Each one of these things is a little image of me, a small indicator of the routes my life has taken.

Sitting with Edits

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Photo Thanks to Tram Mau Tri Tam

I’ve been spending a lot of my edge time editing. Edge time is time that I have on the edges on my schedule. Frankly there isn’t much. But every few years I get to edit something meaningful. I’ve been working on someone else’s stuff while also writing a few things of my own in the last months. More on that later.

One thing I’ve noticed about editing—my own and other people’s work—is that the space between the readings is the space where the writer grows. That’s particularly true if you sit with the edits long enough to learn from them. The same is true in a verbatim seminar, in a class, or in a meeting with members or stakeholders or friends. The longer you sit with what’s said, the more impact what’s said has.

Feedback is only as good as you allow it be. If it’s dispensable, you’ll dispense with it. Of course, my post is about editing. All those tracked changes can instruct you, change you, improve your ability to communicate. But you have to take the risk and let that happen.

You have to choose to be vulnerable, to admit to poor word choice, to accept that your phrase was confusing, and to surrender to another option. That option may not be what the editor suggests, what you at a different time might choose. But another option may be the route toward clearer, tighter sentences.

Another thing I’ve noticed about editing is that it helps the editing process to pause. There is always space between words in a sentence. Even though there’s only one space after periods, it’s still a space worth respecting.

Giving myself time to think through the questions of my editors or to notice my own literary proclivities or to see how many times I use passive voice will make me a stronger communicator. It’ll make me a poet. It’ll charge my words. It’ll engage me, and an engaged me eventuates into a engaged sentence.

Differences in Worldview

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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)

Cecilia Galante to Writers

Photo Thanks to Markus Spiske

Photo Thanks to Markus Spiske

My writing is a selfish venture, because I do it for myself, to help me find my footing and secure my place in the world. Some people would consider a childhood filled with fear and loneliness to be a detriment, but I have come to value it because it has made me inordinately curious about the world and the people in it. What kind of things do we find ourselves thinking about, and why do we do what we do, and how do we live with the consequences of our actions? The ideas for my books stem from those kinds of questions after meeting certain people, or hearing about their own experiences and then taking them to the next level.

I used to be terrified to get what I was really thinking down on the page, sure that no one else had the same strange, convoluted, sometimes even dark thoughts that I did. But the longer I’m alive, the more I realize that we are all in the same boat, that none of us are all that much different than the next person. Our fears, anxieties, hopes, and dreams all come from the same place, a kind of sacred space that each of us, every single day, is trying to fill or strengthen or maybe just comprehend. I write to honor that sacred space, and in the process, to gain a better understanding of who I am today, tomorrow, and the next day too.

Read the full interview at Forbes here.

“…you can be creative…”

So I wrote something that I probably couldn’t have written anywhere else. This place where I live now, that I love dearly, is just full of interruptions. But I have succeeded; what I have been doing here in this last few years as my hobby is editing this material. And I find that this material helps me enormously. My own high moments help me. I would say that one of the things that has come to me in the immediate last few days is that this Cosmic Flow, which is God, call it what you will, is the life back of every cell in the body. It’s a nice metaphor, the river is the flow, because it has come to me more deeply that I am just sort of porous. That this is refreshing, healing love of God is flowing through me, and that’s a very marvelous thing to believe, if you are seventy-eight and you’ve got arthritis, and you’re burdened with the racial concept of old age that everybody gets sick and peters out and gets carried away. But it doesn’t matter where you are physically, if you’re sick or if you’re well. That this Reality, of this actual life, all spelled with capital letters, LIFE flows through you at every moment of your waking-sleeping experience. Consequently you can be creative to your last breath.

From Miss T in an interview as reported in Fowler’s Stages of Faith, pg. 197

Thanks to Szolkin

Thanks to Szolkin

 

“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.

Why Pastors Should Take CPE (2 of 2)

There are several reasons to take CPE units. I started reflecting on some reasons in the previous post, addressing preliminary but powerful gains in the early process of CPE, in the application components, and in the readying work which comes with the structure of the program itself. Here I want to comment on a few of the guts of the program to answer why CPE as an education is vital:

Thinking takes time. It takes time to consider people and things and influences and connections. The education needs that time, requires that time of you, but it does so in a pervasive way. You don’t feel like you’re doing CPE work one minute and cutting it off the next. So the work pervades your other life areas–in a good way. You slow down, giving the education permission to alter the other parts of your life. The time you’re learning extends, and, hopefully, you are able to apply your lessons to the rest of your life.

Your sphere of ministry grows. I don’t know that ministers look for more responsibility, but my sense of things is that chaplaincy brings an entire zone of ministry that we were, before the experience, outside of. You begin to see yourself as a minister to a larger congregation, if that language helps. You see yourself and your ministry as a chaplain and, therefore, as bigger than the parochial zone of the congregation.

Praying for people changes you. You become more empathic when you pray for others. Pastors are used to this, but we aren’t used to really thinking through those prayers, thinking through those people, and CPE pushes you to consider your approach, your words, and how you pray. In CPE we think about the people and the prayers. We’re thinking about whether to pray or not to when it comes to a particular person. It reshapes what prayer is and isn’t, what it can be. You consider the God to whom you direct your words and the people in the room listening.

You’re pressed to write. You don’t write for publication in CPE, but you write weekly, at least, once a week in process notes. You write verbatims where you recount a portion of a conversation and includes non-verbals, impressions, thoughts, interior questions and impulses when you can. You’re writing but you’re doing a big kind of writing, writing where you mine an event for the sociological implications, the psychological considerations, the theological connections and so forth. You write and it touches how you start seeing. So you interact with these views, these sections, until they become how you are in the world. It’s just starting to happen to me where this shaping is taking place.

Peer groups empower you. One of my friends in the previous group said something to me that I’ll never forget. In fact, everyone in my previous group has said at least one thing I’ll never forget. How many times can a pastor say that truthfully, that someone said something you won’t forget? It doesn’t happen because we live in a world where we talk so much that we don’t hear ourselves much less take the time to truly hear another. We probably never feel truly heard, particularly because most pastors are afraid of therapy and unfamiliar with spiritual direction. Being listened to might scare us! The peer group opens you up to the possibility of holiness encountered through the care-filled presence of others. And it makes you think you’re capable of doing the same.

Recognizing your junk becomes easier. This can be frightening and very informative. You begin CPE by thinking about your origins. You’re asked about that stuff sometimes, particularly when you act out and people who’re just meeting you ask you questions about why you do what you.  This recognition enables you to see conflicts with people in a new view. It calms you because you’re more aware of you and more aware of when something is “all you” or not you at all. The beautiful thing is in your ability not only to see your stuff for what it is but also to get the tools to address your growing edges, to ask yourself “Is this working for me?” and to change however slowly you need to.

You start the practice of being gentle with yourself. This started for me with spiritual direction, but CPE echoes this lesson. In CPE we’re focusing on the clinical method and reflecting on our ministry to others. But as part of that focus, we learn how to give ourselves a break, how to care for ourselves in concrete and specific ways, even when those ways are not dramatic and when they are, simply, going home and sleeping after 4 deaths on your unit. Of course, the learning extends to other places. Because we learn how to be gentle with ourselves, we teach out of that. We live out of that. We tell other people the same and it sounds right because it comes from a place of close integrity rather than a distant pulpit.

You see death differently. Most ministers are acquainted with death. Christian ministers proclaim a Savior who is acquainted with our sorrows, whose skin is dressed in our grief, and who, sadly, dies as part of an unfolding picture of grace. In CPE, you start seeing the small and grand openings of death. You have to start saying how normal death actually is. You make some sense of it theologically and press yourself to make faith sense of the event that’s been happening forever. You see death as a respite for the woman who has been in and out of the hospital for years because she was praying for it to come. You embrace the death of the old man who sang aloud and always laughed and who saw death as a passage to the door of heaven. Death becomes broader than what we mourn. As uncertain as it is, it is different.

Life has a lift to it. You hear words differently. You realize that two cardiac events for the same person almost always means a soon-coming death. But you walk away from the hospital and you want to live in response to what you saw. You want to hug your mother tighter or you slow down to listen to your son even though you have no idea what he’s talking about. You linger with your spouse or call your friend to hear their voice mail message all the way through. You live and laugh at things you see on the street. You look like you’re foolish. You are a little.

What would you add?