What Can We Do?

It has been a hard year so far, for a lot of us. When I read about what’s happening in the news so close to home, it breaks my heart. And I feel powerless to change anything. I don’t know of anything I can say that hasn’t been said, nothing that I can add to all the noise. I read again last night in Psalm 46 that God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. And I ask myself as one who claims to follow God, as one ordained to Christian ministry, what can I do to help those in trouble, those in need of refuge? I’m not a politician with the power to make policy decisions. I’m not a billionaire with the resources to provide for the physical needs of the multitudes of refugees fleeing danger. I’m not a celebrity with a worldwide platform for spreading the word. And if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’re not either. Maybe you feel small and insignificant lately, like I do. Continue reading “What Can We Do?”

Extremis: A Netflix documentary on end of life issues

extremisThis week, a short documentary premiered on Netflix. In less than half an hour, Extremis follows several different patients and their families facing end of life decisions, as well as the doctors caring for them. These people were very brave in allowing the film crew to capture such intimate and heart wrenching moments. Everybody dies. We all know that on an intellectual level, but for most of us it doesn’t become real until we are faced with the undeniable fact that we or someone we love is dying. And with the medical technology available in 21st century hospitals, death can often be postponed. The documentary raises many questions, but perhaps the most crucial one is, What counts as life for you? Continue reading “Extremis: A Netflix documentary on end of life issues”

Looking for the Helpers

loveneverfailsIt’s been a week since Orlando. It’s been a year since Charleston. Anniversaries of tragedies can resurface all the feelings of shock, anger, and grief that we initially felt. The grief of public tragedies lately has been overwhelming for me. Through the combination of clinical depression, a deep sense of empathy, and a vivid imagination, I get stuck imagining myself over and over in the place of the victims when I hear the horror stories in the news. I had to stop listening for a while. But still again and again my mind returns to the Pulse nightclub a week ago, and Mother Emanuel AME church a year ago. The only thing that makes it bearable for me is to do what Fred Rogers said his mother taught him to do when he saw horrible things on the news: “Look for the helpers.”  Continue reading “Looking for the Helpers”

Thoughts from the Via Dolorosa

In 2007, I spent two weeks in Israel and Egypt as part of a group from my divinity school. It was the trip of a lifetime, one of the greatest blessings I’ve ever received. Being there, seeing the places where so many stories I’d read in the Bible actually happened, was overwhelming. Sometimes I go back and read my journal from that trip. I filled almost the entire book in those two weeks. During Holy Week, my mind takes me back to the places Jesus walked, where I got to walk, too. I shared my experience of the Garden of Gethsemane two years ago. On this Good Friday, I’ve been re-reading some of what I wrote after walking the Via Dolorosa:

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Living in Imaginary Worlds

Recently I discovered and fell in love with a podcast called Imaginary Worlds. Host Eric Molinsky explores many of the fictional worlds we know from pop culture, but often with a unique and very intelligent spin. It was his five-part series on Star Wars that hooked me (which will come as no surprise to anyone who knows my lifelong devotion to that franchise), and made me think about the movies and expanded universe in new ways. In one episode, historians and Star Wars scholars discussed the cultural/political factors in 1977 that led to the original movie becoming such a phenomenon. Subsequent episodes delved into the “Han shot first” controversy from an ethical standpoint, asked whether the Empire saw itself as evil or was taking what it saw as reasonable steps to bring order to a chaotic galaxy, featured a rabbi who compared the Star Wars expanded universe to the rabbinic commentary on the Torah called midrash, and debated whether “Slave Leia” could be seen as a symbol of female empowerment or was a misogynistic wrong turn in the character’s journey best left forgotten. I listened to those episodes multiple times, then went back and listened to every episode since the podcast began in 2014. It got me thinking about how much of my time is spent in imaginary worlds, not just when I lose myself in fiction, but when I do my job as a chaplain. Continue reading “Living in Imaginary Worlds”

What to Say to Someone Who’s Grieving (If You Have to Say Something)

Recently I shared on Facebook a great piece from BuzzFeed, “What You Say to Someone Who’s Grieving vs. What They Hear.” While I liked what it had to say about how our well-intentioned platitudes can actually be hurtful, some of my friends found it discouraging. Their (very valid) point was that there were no positive alternatives offered, nothing like, “Say this instead.” One friend suggested that, since I work with grieving people every day as a hospital chaplain, I should write a list of better things to say to them. I hesitated, because every situation and every grieving person is different, and I don’t want to give anyone the impression that there are magic words that will make the hurt go away. There just aren’t. But as I thought about it, I did come up with at least a few guidelines and suggestions for words that, in most cases, I believe will help more than they hurt. With a subject as messy as grief, that’s the best I can do. So, here we go. Continue reading “What to Say to Someone Who’s Grieving (If You Have to Say Something)”

Hope Is Stupid

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I’ve always considered myself something of an optimist. But lately, it sure is hard to stay one. The other night, I had a very emotional conversation with my roommate, and she told me, “You can’t give up hope.” I blurted out, “But hope is stupid! You just keep wasting time hoping for things that never happen and then you feel like an idiot, and all the realists get to say they told you so.” I was, admittedly, in a pretty bad place, in the midst of all the terrible news in the world and a big disappointment in my personal life. Sometimes I just want to be miserable for a while and not have anyone try to talk me out of it. Continue reading “Hope Is Stupid”

Up In the Air

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I’m typing this at 30,000 feet. Actually, that’s a guess; I’m not sure what our cruising altitude is. But anyway, I’m on an airplane somewhere between Charlotte, NC and Boston, MA. Since I have a window seat, I’ve been passing my time peering out at winding rivers and geometrically plotted parcels of land and cars the size of ants making their way to somewhere important. The rest of the time, I’ve been reading Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber. A Lutheran pastor with an irreverent wit and punch-in-the-gut honesty, Nadia makes for a great traveling companion. She is just what I need, as I look down on the world and think, inevitably, about God. Continue reading “Up In the Air”

Where God Was Alone and Afraid

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In May of 2007, just after finishing divinity school, I went with a group of about fifty classmates and a few professors on a tour of Israel and Egypt. Seeing the places where so many of the stories I had read in the Bible took place – some of them very little changed by the passage of centuries – was powerful stuff. My mind always returns there at this time of year. This is what I wrote in my travel journal the day we visited Gethsemane: Continue reading “Where God Was Alone and Afraid”

Falling

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Here we are about halfway through Lent, and it feels like I have skipped right over to Good Friday and the darkness of the tomb. This has been a really, really tough few weeks. I won’t pretend to know how much of that I caused, how much God caused, how much was coincidence, and how much was a result of the changes I chose to make for Lent this year. There were a few doozies. And by far the most difficult Lenten discipline has been doing one thing. Just one thing. The idea came to me a week or so before Ash Wednesday, when I was thinking about what I needed to give up for Lent, what would really challenge me and help me make space in my life for God to fill. At the moment I had this thought, I was on the couch, “watching” The Daily Show, while I played Candy Crush, in between texts with my best friend, checking Facebook and email every time my phone buzzed with a notification alert. Continue reading “Falling”