Saturday, January 13, 2018

Hello 2018

Here's an update of sorts, for all you people who are following our journey. The end of 2017 also marks the 1/3 mark for my CPE Residency year. It feels altogether to be dragging on and disappearing. Such is life, looking both forward and backward. I find myself holding a lot of tension, which maybe is the norm for getting older and stuff, but, I feel this liminal space is creating a desire to savor and soak it in, and also to get it over with so I can get a job and restore some stability to our life.

The last couple months have been good and difficult. We most recently had a minor issue when our car was towed. It is okay, but it does push our finances for the month to the limit, so that is frustrating. In further investigation it seems like a city strategy for a cash grab, so we are challenging it. Urban perils. We are still learning a  little more every day what it means to live in the city.

We really enjoyed some time with our Riverside Community and Cristin's family over the winter holidays and then a getaway to Palm Springs. The top highlights for me were celebrating Cristin's birthday! She is amazing, one of a kind and lovely. I'm so lucky to have her in my life. Also taking a day up the Arial tramway to the Mt. San Jacinto recreation area. It's so peaceful, beautiful, full of wonder, trees, views (you can see all the way to the Salton Sea). The whole time there was a lot of fun, good food and drink, Christmas spirit.

I had to come back to SF early to be on call Dec 29th and it was actually quite peaceful in the hospital, not a single call in 24 hours (Which is an oddity, I probably won't have another on call night that quiet). After that, Cristin returned and we celebrated New Years in the city! it was a pretty amazing night. Although change is constant, I really like our cultural observation of the new year and the many changes it may bring. It is important to feel whelmed by a sense of potential.

Honestly it has been a slow start to 2018; As much fun as was had over the holiday, it really took me out of my routine, and that has left me feeling a little slow to get back into it. Momentum can be a huge aspect of my life, and I am still getting in touch with the starting mechanism for life's challenges. My program and fellow chaplains have been a distinct blessing in this regard, listening and encouraging as we are all finding new sources for endurance, rest and faithful service.

Speaking of challenges, our peaceful apartment has hit a snag as our new neighbors have turned out to be college-age frat party types. Our walls are thin, and they are pretty inconsiderate, despite many neighborly engagements. As it continues to get worse, we are doing all that we can, going through the landlord and so forth. While it has provided a lot of learning in duality and tension for me (trying to empathize with the enemy, etc), Cristin mainly just loses sleep and is unjustly afflicted. If you think of us, pray for us in this regard; moving away and breaking the lease would be costly and damaging; in the same breath, it seems like a long 8 months ahead with the routine disruption, so we will continue to take action until our choices become more clear.

Cristin is staying busy, we've found a new MD that is very empathetic and she continues to learn and grow in her journey with her PT. She's thoroughly enjoying her discipleship group, making connections with folks, continues to seek direction and healing.

Fun things on the Horizon include a conference I was accepted to attend! in February I'll be going to Washington DC for a conference about Diversity and Spiritual Care; I'm very stoked, but also a little bummed as it's my first time going to DC and there'll be no time for tourism. 2 weeks after that will be the official end of the 2nd unit, and halfway mark for the program (madness!). Cristin will be going on her own getaway while I'm at the conference, participating in a contemplative spiritual retreat through our SF Church, 1st Mennonite. We will both come back together with greater learning to share with one another and our communities.

That's about it, Happy New Year! Happy MLK Day! Hopefully we will update again before Lincoln's birthday!

Friday, January 12, 2018

No Teacher's Edition

For several months in 2011 I worked as a substitute teacher in Louisiana public and charter schools in New Orleans and the surrounding metro area. It was difficult to say the least. I actually wrote on my resume that I worked in the "toughest schools" and it was no joke. One day the students actually revolted and bum rushed out 10 minutes before the bell rang. Another teacher came in to ask me if I was okay. I was not.

It wasn't all gloom and doom; some of my favorite experiences came in arts and humanities classes where students could do their work unsupervised, welcoming conversation. I also enjoyed the younger, unspoiled classes, and I have to say that substitute teaching 1st grade was really fun. I had a drill sergeant demeanor and those kids got in line, and were also very sweet and fun. I also knew the material, which made it easier to feel comfortable (unlike the time I had to sub for AP Math class, I haven't thought about that stuff in a loooong time, and was little help to the honor students).

One thing that troubled me and still does to this day was in teaching the first grade lesson plan for the day which included spelling and writing, reading, coloring, and basic arithmetic. The dismay came at the presence of a teacher's edition. For first grade. The basic arithmetic answers spelled out, answers in a different font and color. Who is teaching this class?

I think of this now because my work place is an educational environment. I work in a teaching hospital, my supervisors official titles are "Educator", and I am here to demonstrate learning. But unlike even our earliest formal learning, apparently, there is no teacher's edition, there are no easy answers. Sometimes there are no answers at all. I get asked why suffering happens, and even if the words are unspoken, I see the question on their faces. I often say, "That's a tough question"...or "I wish I could answer that"...There is a sacred dialogue with those who suffer, or who's loved ones suffer, and it has little to do with me telling them why or how I think this is possible and unpacking years of philosophy in a cold monotone.

But even if there were a teacher's edition, a magic book with all the answers filled in for us (spoiler alert, the Bible  does not have all the answers, nor does any other sacred text),  it would not be satisfying. I believe that what is meant by asking the questions is not the wish for an easy or simple answer, like we received in first grade. It is the desire to struggle with someone. It is the desire to know that the search for meaning, though veiled, is not fruitless in and of itself, and that we are not alone in it. It is our way of wrestling with our own despair and of finding hope in the relentless uncertainty of life. Any platitude is just a form of bargaining with our grief, trying to tell ourselves we don't need to feel the feelings we feel when we suffer, or witness suffering.

What our "teacher's edition" does offer is that simple hope in the midst of the difficult journey. We might not know why we experience things, or why we feel the way we do about our experiences, but it is okay for us to be fully human in the midst of the catastrophic and the heart-rending. There is reassurance that we are part of a greater mystery, and that in the trillions of lives played out in our planets history, many have felt as we do, and that in our shared experiences and natures we are truly one and the same.  We are not alone, and life will go on. God have mercy, Christ have mercy, God have mercy. For everyone. May we be here and now, for one another, and trust that life will go on.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Black Dog Days Trilogy

I went to a writing workshop last week, it was super cool, I learned a lot from some amazing authors and I feel more determined than ever. Part of the writing there was to write something from the perspective of someone who has depression. I wrote 3 pieces! all based off the phrase "black dog days" which is what I think of when I think of a day that is particularly difficult because of depression.

here they are!


Wendy Wonder

Black dog days under a [blackhole sun]
And wonder. Not the good kind.
Wonder where my light has gone,
Wonder about where my world
And all it’s hopes and possibilities have gone
Wonder how much farther down I will go, before
I try again.
Wonder why it didn’t work the first time, who called 911, how it took so long but Ii survived?
Wonder why ther’es so many questions and no answers,
Wonder why all these doctors and nurses look at me
That way.
Will anyone tell me how to get out of this suffocating pain???
I used to breathe, deeply, fully, not it feels like all I can do is
Hold it.
And hope the exhale doesn’t come.
I wonder.

Just tell me it will be ok and leave me alone.


In the Dark

The Black Dog Days feel like walking away from a car wreck: You are alive, but you are also kind of fucked. Maybe life shouldn’t be this way, maybe life shouldn’t be like this. Maye life shouldn’t be. You wonder about all the days you felt so great, deconstruct them, catalogue their anatomy, like some extinct species barely remembered. A decisive action would be nice. A swift and just redemptive swing of some mystical scepter that would shatter all the lies and fear. You catch yourself wishing for unicorn tears, for myths and fairy rhymes. You are trapped here in the dark, and no one is coming to save you. The person who put you here is you. Maybe darkness can match the inside of your eyes and you won’t be able to tell the difference between waking and sleeping, living and dying.



Black and Tan like the new moon, subtle and slow
Dancing in slow motion like you’ve had one too many
And gently, like a fog, leading blindly to certain doom
Without sight or speech or illusions of certainty
Dog and Pony shows that distract us from
The real, from the sick and sad desert of the
Darkest moon shining down
The struggle of light and dark and human souls
Places our every morning and every evening on the horizon
Days and Nights an obvious nod to the routine,
The discipline of which we are not a part
And when we descend, the nights and days are what drive us
Into the floorboards of our own disgrace and destruction.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Music Snippet

I was listening to a podcast in which Henry Rollins stated that one of his personal disciplines and things that brings him joy is to listen to music. He listens to 3 albums minimum daily. I also recently found the joy of BandCamp App. I've been listening to a lot of music in this way and find it really great to share this tip. Listening to music in album format is a lost art. We do a lot of singles, playlists, dependence on the radio. But a album says something. It gives a narrative. It has a flow. Sometimes it is disappointing, because it is two great singles and a bunch of crap.

Listen to more albums!


Friday, October 20, 2017

In the soul...

I recently officiated a wedding for dear friends, and they unloaded the most beautiful and strong vows I've ever heard in a wedding.

The groom shared a story about giving away the key to his heart to the Bride. The metaphor really struck me the way he said it:

"a man’s soul is like a building full of rooms. And that through his life he fills those rooms with everything that makes him who he is. Some of the rooms he lets anyone into, He shows them around and shares that part of his soul with them. Other rooms are more private, and are only shown to the few people he is closest to. And some rooms he never shares with anyone. Rooms with secrets and truths so private, that the door is permanently locked." 

This metaphor holds up over, and it beautiful. The messy part is of course that there are some rooms that no one wants to go into. Dangerous and scary rooms. Rooms where we store the stuff no one wants. I'm not even talking about misbehavin': The other day I was in the hospital and Bob the Eucharistic Minister walked by. I shouted a greeting and asked how he was doing. He shared with me about his sense of self care and that he was feeling good when he was able to work out every day.

He elaborated, and told me something profound: "When you visit with people who are in pain and who are suffering, you carry that in your soul, and you need to care for yourself."

And so, mashing these two metaphors together, there is a room in your soul for suffering. Some people have filled up the room, and there's nowhere to even sit down. Some people have rarely even walked through their barren room for suffering. The point is, everyone has a room for suffering and needs to go to it, and we no only carry the suffering of our own in the room, but the suffering of others, and in order to share suffering, someone must open the door of suffering to you.

It is a room to room transfer, and there is a sense of mutuality and vulnerability in the transfer. When spouses suffer, the transfer is almost instant. When family and friends suffer, so do we. The Apostle Paul instructs the church in Rome to "Mourn with those who mourn" and in this sense, share suffering. The Church ought to behave like a family.

The quest of the pastoral companion and fellow traveler is to know when and where to extend this bridge of vulnerability into the room of suffering. We are meant to seek one another out in this way. And we need to watch over our own rooms, our own soul, in order tomake sure there is always room for the suffering of others, as well as our own.

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