Sunday, October 08, 2017

Poem: 18 Years

Siezed and frozen, not in carbonite, 
Kids are now voting age, advanced stage,
And I sit alone in this cage,
A body of rage,immobile, 
inconceivable, irrevocable,
Or so I have resigned myself
This crooked life cannot be made straight. And no one can feel this awful weight.
I hate it. This life.

They say he teaches truth and changes lives, proclaims righteousness and even-gasp-heals.
I've heard it before but still I will rise, 
not fully of course, 
and I will make the long journey down these stairs, through my door
Out into the streets, the whispers and stares, 
They never cease. Like I did anything to deserve this disease, 
and I have almost forgotten my longing to just get this off of me, please, God!
Stiff and still and stalwart, steadily I shuffle on Shabbat, 
and find a seat, near the door, first one I see, 
the ache gets worse when I do anything. 
All that effort and I just want to go home, and lie down.
I'm here but I've forgotten how to hope.

Suddenly I feel a different stare, sublime and subtle somehow, but He is looking right at me. He takes a knee, reaches out and touches me
And whispers gently
"You are free." 
I, it...feels...
...weightless, effortless, lifting up my spirit.
I. Stand. Up.

I can't even hear the noise that follows. I can stand and dance and feel like God hasn't given up on me.
Don't heal on the sabbath? After 18 years, Sabbath rest has finally come to me, praise God(thank you, Jesus) I am free.

Luke 13:10-17

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

An Update of Sorts: San Francisco

Greetings Friends,

Here is an update on our lives. It is wordy. Enjoy!

Settling in: Moving to San Francisco from Riverside has not been an un-bumpy transition. We are loving some of the features of the city, but it is a city and thus we are shifting to a new way of life. Everything is different. There is no complaining, but differences require adjustments. Like with laundry. We fortunately live 4 blocks from a laundromat and we have figured out a system. We looked like a couple of noobs the first time. Just going to the store is a different experience, and getting anywhere takes about 3 times as long as we would expect. The conveniences of modern life are totally different here.

We are loving the city. Our first weekend here we were invited to a Free Guacamole Competition, that featured over 30 amazing Guacs as well as unlimited chips and beer. The whole thing was free! It seemed wild to us, but this city has so much to offer. Our neighborhood is like a little village, with so many great aspects. Our apartment is less than 400 sq ft, and so we have done some tricky business fitting some stuff in and also getting rid of stuff. We have also been able to get acquainted with a faith community at 1st Mennonite Church. They are very warm, and very mennonite, and I even met a coworker that goes there. It will be a good place to grow and find comfort in our new digs, but nothing seems like it will ever be as rich as Madison St.

At Work: I've been loving work // the program. I feel totally at home and adept in the fast pace of the hospital. It's a lot of new things coming at us fast (me and the other 14 Residents) And there is a lot of explaining to nurses that "I'm new", so that's why I don't know yada yada. UCSF is a very sharp, professional, and yet quite welcoming place. We were just listed as the the #5 Hospital in the country by US and World Report, beating out UCLA for #1 in California for the first time in a few years (So I'm told...I love identifying with the culture here in the hospital/school)

My days are spent splitting time between visiting patients in the mornings, and going to classes in the afternoons, as well as working through educational goals with my supervisor and cohort of fellow residents. I also am on call an average of one night a week which means a 24 hour shift in the hospital (there's a special sleeping room JUST for the Chaplain On Call) and I have a lot of written assignments that I can catch up on when I'm not being paged. As chaplains we are assigned to specific floors, but when on call, I cover everything from Labor & Delivery to Geriatrics. The diversity and opportunities abound in this huge and advanced teaching hospital!

Cristin is busied with connecting to the health system here as well as building into friendships in the city. It has not been easy, but we have found a good Physical Therapist and many supportive voices as we find health care providers, and connect with our community and friends.

We continue to welcome your prayers and uplifting for Cristin's health, our sense of stability, Matthew's work in the hospital, and for the many kind and hurting souls of the city.

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Chaplain's Work

The lifeblood of a Chaplain's work consists three things: Communication, Presence and Impression. This is a subtle and artful thing. I don't consider myself to be good at these, but I feel like they are things that I don't think about anymore. There is a flow to the hospital and it has little to do with social order or small talk. It is a strange configuration of bodies in the hospital, between the many interdisciplinary groups and the many many patients. It's often too much for me to handle, and a Chaplain is often in between these, both the teammate and the advocate. And so, how are are and come across is the essence of what we do. A favorite quote from a predecessor chaplain is "Don't just do something, stand there!" Truly a strong reflection on the role of the chaplain.

These essential manners are intangible, temporary, fleeting. The Chaplain is a demonstration of what the Bible means when it reminds us that life is but a vapor, a temporary breath. We arrive, we assess, we intervene, and we leave. With this is a model, what is the long term impact of the chaplain? We often don't even see the impact we make. We take what we see and we try and see it with the person who is in it. And so it is difficult to find what the long term sense of this work is.

Someone told me to consider how I want the world to look in 1, 5, 10 and 30 years. This is the scope of your life. I have decided that the short answer of all of this is Unity. I want to see unity increase and commonality decrease. The sameness of life is such a critical error. Diversity of viewpoint is the only way to step into the river of humanity. We settle for commonality and mistake it for unity. It is simply not the case. This principle of unity vs commonality is what has driven people apart through history, it is the tribal and deferential nature of humans in small groups. It is our duty to overcome it.

We have taken pains in our historical habit to commemorate this tension, and often towards the common. Why are their statues of people, anyway? We are living in the blink of an eye. Jason Steele put it best when he wrote "In 100 million years, the universe will descend into entropy and not even Shakespeare or Coca Cola will be remembered, so what chance do you have?" The spirit of chaplaincy is to live to be forgotten, to live into our core experience and so to embrace the ethereal other. We are called to be people who remember, and conversely live into this forever forward posture. We must sail to our destination, burn the ships and begin anew. One hospital room at a time.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Ink and Magic

Lines on a page that hold together all the rage and harmonize the sharpest tones and reveal the future from the perspectives of our own experience. Richard Rohr said “Love is saying yes to what is”, and that desert father never had truth engraved into his dermas, needing hours of self-appointed pain to commemorate the pain of self-inflicted life.

The ancient and lost arts flow wildly through the afflictions, and remind me of the inglorious why. Suffering and dying well, aspiration to live to be forgotten, and hope to find that work is prayer, all hold sway in calculating this enigma that is chaplaincy. If it ain’t the years but the mileage, like old Indie said, then the stars for navigating are the milestones on this old Roman road. And those are carved in permanence.

So I pray for a good harvest, and I weed the garden, and hopefully discover that Clive was right and they’re the same thing, and even though there’s nothing new under the sun, the sun rises and the rains fall on us all. The words of the Barbarian ring most true to me lately, “For us there is no spring, just the wind that smells fresh, before the storm.” 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Postmodern Voyager, Overly Dramatic At Times

Seeking, Experiencing, Overcoming,
I struggle and stride amidst the tide
And wade through streams and swamps

Born on a rainy day, perpetual mist, personal thrift, unexpected downshifts
Went to the Desert to be born, emergence baked in harshest rays, 
Testing on the desolate, dying earth.
Memories and footsteps traced backward through the desert sands, 
The terrains and frames of mind and time
Like scenes and lines on a silver screen
Or wild American landscapes, strange

Trails made by unknown hands, The mysterious and sublime
A scholar and a gentleman,
Like Sir Isaac Lime, distilling all things

In the Laboratory of contemplation 
Decanting droplets of visions and wisdoms,
New Postulations, expanding as the sky
Assembling a microcosmic engine of grace,
To traverse the secular and sacred now through the meaningless beyond.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Monday, May 08, 2017

A Writing Exercise

I just took this free Psychology of Writing test, and it was informative.

While I won't share my results, it is the first creative writing I've done in a while, and I had myself a little laugh while rereading it.

There was a long a solemn hum in the air of the lab that November day, and no one could tell why. The crickets and grasshoppers were all hibernating, but somewhere, someone knew something was about to change forever.

Bernadette and Geraldine spent many long days and nights in the lab. They had been college roommates, Biology majors, and had grown so close through the years, but today after 10 long years on the project was going to be different.

Geraldine knew she had to share the news personally: She was going to be stepping down. She did not have her heart in it. The Science just didn't have the same electricity and excitement that it once did. She knew she had to take her folk tambourine ensemble on the road and she already had a gig booked that night in Fairfax. And so as her passions shifted, she knew she had to make amends to her longtime partner in science. 

Bernadette drew out the samples as she had every day for the last year. There was nothing out of the ordinary to her until Geraldine entered the room. The two ladies looked each other up and down. Flashbacks abounded, back to the first day of orientation at Fairmont college. Geraldine in her pleated skirt and khaki windbreaker, looking like Henry Jones without the hat, contrasted by Bernadette's full hippie regalia, including Rainbow short shorts, and a Hemp halter-top. Yet somehow the two were instant friends. 

"Bernadette," Geraldine faltered, she knew friendship would not strike twice, as lightning had their electricity experiment in their senior year. Bernadette took a long breath, and closed her eyes, searching for the words to say. The two were connected like siamese twins after a surgery. "Let's go get a drink." She dropped her samples to the ground and shook off her lab coat. 

The two walked through the doors of O'Malley's bar 20 minutes later, demanding old republic stouts and lighting up red apple cigarettes. "I'm gonna miss you, girl." Bernadette said casually, raising a glass to toast. Geraldine felt immediate relief, knowing that the two would be back at O'Malley's this time in two weeks when she returned from her eastern tour. Friendship may not strike often, but it does not disappear.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

All Longing

I often marvel at live music performances. Not just the wonder of sound and sense that so enraptures audiences but the gaudy sense of other we have at understanding the audience/performer dichotomy. We long for something other. As though the sense of vapor in our life held an instinct of the eternal. the hypnotic energy of live music is something I think about all the time. There is a worship in the moment, there's a stage of elevation and the things on that stage are to be objects of awe and wonder. They are to inspire, they are there for us and yet we are there for them.

There is a longing in a stage show. And there is not enough longing in a church service. There is a great deal of debate, controversy and expectation around the liturgy of a church. I have been so blessed by a church with fluid and flexible liturgy. I have also truly been encouraged by the traditional liturgical church calendar. These elements represent to mea source of empowerment in bringing to light my essential purpose for church services.

The purpose in short is to tell the story of God. The story of God cannot be boring. It must contain a sense of longing and a spark of imagination. there must be surprise, as well as met expectation. In short, we must rethink how we do church business as usual, for this story and ours are most unusual.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

On obituaries

Dying young is awful. Take all the postmodern romanticism and cram it, cause knowing people that have died young and people that have lost people that died young is tragic. It is freaking awful.

That said, it gives me pause, to come up for air from the ocean under which I live, relatively alone. Reading obituary blogs and messages of bereavement is also awful, but kind of disconcerting. Occasionally it is infuriating. 

I believe the world has exhausted the ways to say, for example, "Stevie's death has made me think a lot more about life."..."sitting in church that day, watching Jim's funeral really put things in perspective."...etc, etc.

First of all, I honor grief in all forms, and always encourage the health and mindfulness that these types of thoughts lead to and include.

And I also wonder what you're doing the rest of the time. I think about death and dying, life etc. it's not terribly deep and doesn't feel like lucidity. It's understandable why I do it now, cause I'm a chaplain for hospice. I say goodbye to 2 people a week, on average. I get called to visit folks that are either very close to dying or have already passed; and I've finally experienced one of my more morbid goals in life which is to witness someone pass. 

But the truth is I've been thinking about this all my adult life. In high school, I took one of those vocational surveys, and I was told I should be a funeral director. Who tells a fifteen year old that? 

This is more of a weird confession than a rant. But I don't know if it's Hollywood or what that tells us we need to have powerful lucid reflections around death. We probably need to work harder everyday to accept the nature of reality and of a consistent experience of loss, rather than trying to sound profound as a way of coping with tragic loss.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Basketball. I realized a while ago that basketball is not my sport. Probably why for a brief period of my life I was obsessed with the video game NBA 2K. I dominate in digital. But in real life I am bad. Bad at basketball.

When I was in fourth grade, I was picked last for basketball numerous times and cried numerous times because of it. When I was in fifth grade I played my first and only season of organized basketball. Our team came in dead last, and I scored four total points in the entire season. I played a lot of intermural sports in college, but I never played basketball, and on one occasion I went to open gym event where everybody was playing basketball and I was too shy and too ashamed to even try to play an organized game I just shot around by myself.

If those three instances don't give you a clear enough picture, then you can just use your imagination about the things I'm not telling you regarding how bad I am at basketball.

And so, for me, basketball represents the ideal of sports and represents and reveals some of the ways that I am ashamed of myself or feel that I am a failure. The ways that I refuse to accept myself. Basketball reminds me that it is being in a hard position and feeling judged and like a failure that I am all alone. It is powerful in the way that I've been conditioned and the way that I have framed my life and myself through this experience. And it is a good reminder that I can be comfortable with who I am and accept myself, despite that I have obvious and apparent inability and flaws. 

Just a snippet, really, not a fully formed thought

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bridging the Gap

I still remember my first and only preaching class from undergrad, it was a very big deal. The top three guys got to preach in Chapel, and being that it was a class that only allowed male students, it was very much a young buck show. I probably should have gotten an F in that class. I'm not much of a traditional preacher, and at the time I wasn't very good at public speaking, I actually burst into tears on my first go at it. There were guys that were polished preachers at that point, and I felt like I didn't belong in the same major as them, hell, even the same school.

Looking back, it's clearly a group of big fish sharing a small pond, and some of the guys that "won" are not involved in ministry at all now.

Delivering a sacred communication is an essential part of ministry, and I've had a lot of opportunities to give messages, so, I at least don't cry anymore. But it's still remarkable to me that the best lecture style talks are available online, and people state that they pick a church for the teaching. I'm also distressed that Church attendance is culturally mandated and oriented around a concert/lecture.

That is probably part of another post I should write, but I will never forget the main criteria of those sermons and that class. We were supposed to take the passage of the Bible, clearly explain and interpret it, and then "bridge the gap" from the Bible's world to our present day world, and then give application.

As a Chaplain, delivering sacred communication is the exception rather than the rule to my typical experiences and activities of ministry. I have to bridge an entirely different gap that professors never told me about.

Most of what I do involves shutting up and listening, and constantly fighting the inner urge to steam roll people with bible passages and "profound" thoughts. Platitudes do not ease suffering, nor are they heard by those who are in the midst of trials.

In the midst of the chaos of occasional crises and breakdowns, I also traffic with a lot of people from a lot of different faiths, and that's where pluralism gets awesome/interesting/weird/frustrating. I don't have a problem affirming the humanity of all people of all faiths, and from my own tradition, I believe that they are formed in the image of God, deserve dignity, respect and love, are sinners just like me, and spiritual beings with a spiritual need for kindness, redemption, and refreshment, particularly in the midst of suffering. One of the most powerful lessons of pastoral care comes from Ignatius Loyola, the ministry of consolation.

The main problem I have is that there are a lot of people who bypass the more sensible portions of their religious preference and default to superstition. And in the world of superstition, the man carrying the sacred text, a mere prop of identification for the superstitious, is looked on like a witch doctor, doing incantations and being present almost as a mascot. Half the work of an average chaplain is in restraining one's self from slapping these people.

There is a spectrum, with "witch doctor" on one end and "pleasant well-wisher" on the other. The work of pastoral care is not only caring about other people and being patiently present, but self-identifying yourself in the middle of the spectrum, and avoiding the many pigeon holes along the path. Bridging the gap of relevance to the real world, from peoples often ill-informed perception of "clergy".

And I guess it's interesting, that many people's sacred communication proficiency in the church leads them squarely into those pigeon holes.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Trust And Crisis

Trust is a peculiar thing. It's simultaneous the source of strength and greatest test to a relationship of any sort. It is not unique in it's simultaneous necessity and deceptively limited stature. Trust can be like a punctured innertube; one needs it to survive the ocean, and yet even at it's fullest capacity, it will run out before it's purpose is complete. Simply put, we cannot trust enough, and are far to untrustworthy for our own good.

Trust is the best/only/worst metaphor for our encounter of the sublime. Descartes rightly began with self-referential existentialism because nothing else is trustworthy enough to conclude in the absolute. And as we break through modernism into a liminal post-modernity, in many ways it is the end of trust as an absolute. Many things were once stylized as institutions, pillars of solid rock that could weather any storm of doubt. Sadly, these pillars are now mere sand and salt in the desert of the real.

Trust, ironically, is the answer the modernisms fact-anomaly. Relativism and perspective are no long ideologies to be fought against; this is no longer a culture war. If it is a culture war, both sides are untenably defenseless. It is rather, an amorphous culture habitat, and domination must be replaced by adaptation and synchronization. All that remains in the face of uncertainty is the banner of trust.

Both in faith and love, this holds up. As a younger man, somewhat disturbed by the divorce epidemic, I feared marriage; I asked a mentor of mine once, "How can you trust someone enough to marry them?" And the answer was not what I expected, and confirmed my fears. "You can't," he said. "All you can do is choose to trust, knowing that the person you marry will break your heart, and you will break yours. They will break your trust, and then you will need to forgive them, and restore that trust."

In faith, we trust in the sublime, and believe that as surely as we will break God's trust, his covenant love, He will be gracious, and forgive us. This is a scary hope have. Especially when you think about how hard it is to forgive someone that you love. Grace is hard for us, in either direction is must flow. I think that this experience, and meditation on the death and resurrection of Christ reveals a disturbing element of faith. While God's ways and God's grace are higher/greater/unfathomable than our sense of it, there is a shadow from His light in our earthly dwelling. Grace is a bloody, deathly, and altogether ghastly affair, even for the God of the Universe. God is wounded by us. God is disappointed in us. And his Grace is ridiculous in not only it's vastness, but the sum total of pain that God is willing to endure on our account, let alone on our behalf.

And the only possible response to all this is Awe. God is far greater than anything there could ever be. Images and senses and ideas are so plentyful and yet so impotent to reveal the vastness of what greatness truly is the essence of a God who forgives. Awe, shock, and aspiration. This is my starting point today. Perhaps that is what trust was intended to encompass.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

First Line of a Novel

The squalid smokey room seemed strangely out of focus as the starlight through the window faded from view. The new days dawn brought unspoken potential and impending doom into Tony's sleepless eyes.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Bible Jim & The Doctrine of Hell

If you ever go to a festival, sporting event, large gathering of people or any public spectacle, you are sure to chance seeing him. If you went to a state college, he might have just showed up on your campus. If you talk about spiritual matters with other humans, I'm certain he is an archetype in the back of conversational mind.

Bible Jim, the soap-box preaching, sign-holding, megaphone brandishing westboro-esque figure is loathe to believers and non-believers alike as a symbol of all that is wrong in the spiritual landscape of America. He sounds bigotted and scary, and he seems more concerned with the doctrine of hell than the gospel. And I am reminded that some people believe that the doctrine of hell is actually a part of the gospel, and that fear, intimidation and threat of suffering are as valid tool as any to convert the heathen masses.

He is imperial christianity personified, which is really just medieval christianity with wheels and spikes. This version of faith, religion, etc, has little to do with the real Jesus. Jesus rightly reserved the doctrine of hell for his believers, his true followers were the ones who received this teaching. Jesus never threatened the sinner with condemnation. He did however, asure the saint of justice to be fulfilled. Hell is our confidence that God does not waver in his justice when he dispenses grace, and that blessing on earth is not in line with the superstition of St. Nicholas.

Whether you take it literally or analogously, the doctrine of hell is a fire under the ass of the Christian, in order to motivate urgent love to those around us. The conscience and the nature of reality, the sense of fairplay, as CS Lewis called it, that all humans have, and of course the Holy Spirit, these will convict a person into desiring change. The goodness that they see in Christ, the sense of goodness, rightness and newness, and the brokenhearted posture of receiving forgiveness will motivate us to follow God.

I'm no Rob Bell, and Hell is in the Bible to stay, but understanding it, teaching it, and appropriating it correctly will help us avoid needlessly offending both God and Man, with whom it is possible for us to find favor, just as Jesus did. It was Jesus' grace, forgiveness and revolutionary teachings about equality, his rebellious nature towards antiquated etablishments, these things are what upset people. Jesus opposed anyone who used the scriptures to bully the lowly.