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.

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 except 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.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Marriage reflection after Easter

I am a novice and I am not breaking new ground. But I wrote this to a friend a little while ago and after a fantastic adventure last week to Costa Rica with Cristin and some friends, I reflected on it again and how much I love her:

Marriage is simultaneously more wonderful, challenging and confusing than I could have ever imagined. I think there are a myriad of differences between my marriage and any relationship I've been in. Cristin demands the real me. I was hiding in a lot of ways from true intimacy with another person and she won't let me hide. With my previous relationships, it was just not a deep relationship. I didn't give my whole self. I didn't let a girl see my wounds and how I'm broken. Which is hard because those aren't attractive things but Cristin sees that and doesn't always receive it well. Its not that she is he most accepting or gracious person, she is as much a work in progress as i am, though probably further along. But she has such acute sense of the authentic and the real, and even if it is unappealing how I am weak, she deserves to see it and make her own choice.

I hate to say it because of how bad it is looking back, but really with other serious relationships I was not real. I was just kind of guessing that I might love her, guessing that I might be in love and that I might marry her and that that was how it goes. But with Cristin I just knew. The moment I saw her. It took her a couple weeks. But she had the same realization. Ultimately I think it is a matter of choice. But there's just no mistaking that she is the perfect person to both challenge me and heal me, or destroy me. And we spend our days realizing that heaven or hell is our choice. Even with all my hangups and fears and competing desires, I choose happiness and joy when I choose her, even when my fear and anxiety, my false being within dissuades me.

And so I take my greatest step forward into my true self when I love her authentically in the way God has called me. This is the start of the kingdom in our midst and the power of two who are gathered in His name. And it is hard. But it is great.

Friday, March 15, 2013


Broken streets a three way race of meanings intertwine
Angry remnants and forgotten people line the shattered byways

Eggshell dreams barred in by shadows
Darkness is unbridled here 

My light I bushel passing by In anonymity 
A steel cage on wicked wheels for quiet passage makes

I carry David's sling with me inside my mobile coffin
Cobwebbed with days a single stone yerning for a passage

To splash into this untouched pool of nightmares and disappointment 
Ripples of change by presence made held captive to unimagination

Refusal to see all that god has done and is doing 

Like a crippling weight I cling to that drags me down to the depths

Monday, July 30, 2012

And another thing

Dear all churches that adorn your men's ministry with a military motif,

The two essential ingredients in your military metaphor are 1) hardship 2) intensive training

Your ministry neither offers nor addresses either.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Football Season

I've written posts about football before, but every year when training camp starts I watch this video. It's by far my favorite sports-related poem. Casey At The Bat is also good.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

From Swamp to Desert

Wandering is the romantic metaphor of my generation, and for me, a personal connection as well. All of my favorite movies feature people who go on journeys with uncertain destinations, and are wanderers. But if there's one thing that the old testament teaches us it's that wandering, waiting on God, these things are not romantic or ideal. The Israelites essentially walked around and had funerals for 40 years. A quick reading of the book of Lamentations (ironically my favorite old testament book) reveals a dark and awful picture of what one may dwell in whilst waiting for God.

I used to live in a swamp. Now I live in a desert. I am wandering and wondering. I have no idea what God will do in my life. I forget easily the many things He has done, and promised. Even some of the things I have tattooed on my own body, and I ignore the messages my flesh proclaims in favor of the lies that I have believed.

Wandering is not fun if you are stuck in the same place while you're doing it. And in the desert, the barrenness of the landscape can drive one further into hopelessness than probably any other landscape is capable of. One of the allures of wandering is the cross country journey. I have bucket list items that include making the trek along the PCT as well as the Camino de Santiago.

I was just reading about the southern California portion of the PCT: "...from a hiker's point of view, one thing is true of almost all of Southern California: For 700 miles, there is too much sun and too little water." - Karen Berger. This is an apt metaphor for my life now.

There is a scarcity and desperation I feel, and the anxiety of it can be crippling if I give into it. "When you spend enough time around the chemistry of desperation, you come to recognize the smell. One desperate element is combustible. More than one desperate element is lethal." - Daryl Zero

Psalm 1:1-3
Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

Oh, for a season to pass. This summer in the desert is not what I hoped or expected, but it is good to wait on the Lord, to turn inward and reveal the many wrongs in my own heart, and offer those up to Christ to be made right, To learn again at Christ's feet what it means to Do Justly, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly with God. In the moment I write this, I can be thankful. It's an important moment to remember in the desert.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kavanah & Yoga

Intentionality is a good modern expression for Kavanah. Pro-active is another good word that goes hand in hand. I was thinking about both this afternoon.

Lately I've been getting more into Yoga practice, and Yoga is a lot of fun. If you've never tried it I highly recommend at least once, and watch some videos on youtube to get an idea. There are some weird things associated with Yoga, and having seen the yogi's in India and how they basically pimp a two religions which can be very dark. I don't give every practice my wholehearted endorsement. We need to redeem it if we want to practice it as sons and daughters of God. But there are some things that Yoga definitely has right that we are missing out on if we don't at least get curious.

The first one is energy. My fiance, Cristin, is very tuned into energy, and can get a sense of positive or negative energy when she walks into a room. Whether you believe in that or not, it deeply effects her moods and as a part of discernment, her feelings are very reliable. Energy is what is required to fulfill our intentions. If we sent our intentions we must seek out the right frame of mind, the right energy to achieve it. If we want to align our intentions with God, we need to create space in our lives for God to work, and step into good energy so that we don't get burned out. Christ said his burden is light, because of the energy that comes with serving a good God. Any workout is going to enhance your energy, but Yoga has specific intentional things to do that. How else can we intentionally increase and make positive God energy for ourselves and others throughout our days? This is where Yichud and Kavanah become intensely practical.

The meditation piece of Yoga needs some work. The Ohms are not my thing. For a Christian we need not empty our minds, but fill it (Phil. 4:8) There is something else similar to Ohm that I like a lot more and that is Shanti. The wisdom of God is first peaceable. Shanti means peace. The reason I practice Yoga is not to be some unflappable inner peace guru. I already have a pretty good inner peace going on. The reason I like it or it helps me is because it reminds me that Peace begins within and must go outward. Blessed are the peacemakers. I have it all set aside to do a study on peace in the Bible, but I know one thing, worrying about inner peace comes from a posture of feeling threatened. Making peace outwardly comes from a posture of feeling the injustice of others. And this is what I want more than anything. To embrace the Micah 6:8 principles of life, this is my desire. I am not there yet. I often have no idea how to advocate for others, but I'm in a place now to begin to learn. And Kavanah is a key to this effort.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Yichud & Kavanah

Another two month hiatus from blogging, no promises, but I really need to be writing more. I've had something more specific to direct my writing to (ie my long-distance relationship) And so I begin this process with hopes that I will write more regularly, and hopefully more interestingly. At least until I have a job. Also, I need to get back into something I used to do all the time, which is write movie reviews. Those are available here.

Mentioned briefly in Shaping of Things to Come by Frost & Hirsch, these two principles in the title of this post are really co-essential, and they jumped out at me from the page (not just because they were italicized). Kavanah means "to pay attention, to direct mind and heart in order to maximize levels of intentionality in our actions." Yichud referes specifically to the Shema, and the oneness, or unity of God, and points to the principle of us unifying our lives under this God who is charactierized as being "one".

Many people have said it, but Rob Bell said in one of his books or Nouma videos that if anything is important to God, then Everything is important to God, because he's big enough to care about all that. To unify our lives is not to sort life into categories, Important and Trivial, Sacred and Secular, Humans and Sparrows. God cares about it all.

I have wrestled with the idea of Sunday morning church events, and how we call that worship, and there's a temple-centric, time and place oriented approach to God, and the worship of God. I have concluded that really just reinforces my cognitive dissonance between what God says and what I do. I am really bad at the principles described above. The worship center is not a large acoustically tuned room with a sounds system. The worship center is staring back at you in the mirror.

To be God's image, as we were created is a 24-7 thing, and as we approach life with Kavanah and Yichud, we don't become ascetics, or get untold health and wealth. We don't just walk on water and we don't just sink. Jesus promised life to the full. That's everything life on earth, beautiful and fallen, includes; triumph and heartache, boredom and anxiousness and complete engagement and intensity.

My only real purpose in writing this is to realize in part how seriously AND joyfully God has created this world, and how there is no change in my demeanor that is required. Only in my beliefs, in identifying the lies I believe, and in my actions, to correct those decietful practices, to do justice and treat all others with the dignity not of their actions, but of their image, which is also God's image.