Monday, August 24, 2009

CPE....the best of times and the worst of times

I know; it's been forever since I last posted. Thank the CPE experience for that and it's aftermath of sheer, unadulterated exhaustion. On that note, here is a very short synopsis (extremely hard to do) about my travels this summer in the land of CPE, which I wrote for the first issue of Kairos, the APTS student newsletter.

I recently came across a word I’ve never seen before. The word, susurrus (pronounced soo-sur-uhs), means a soft murmuring, rustling sound, or whisper. The imprint of one’s summertime hospital internship story , also known as CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education), is unique and indelible on one’s ministerial path in the life-altering way that only God could susurringly do. It’s the same rustling of God that confirms that life will never quite be the same again because of the experience attained. Toward the end of CPE, a fellow intern and I joked that the day we graduate from CPE was the day we meet Jesus, the Eschaton itself. This same friend even went so far to call the CPE experience, Priest Boot Camp. Although arduous, for me the blessed triumphs far out weighed those moments of despair. I discovered new capabilities within myself through CPE. I learned what it meant to inhibit a growing sense of pastoral identity and authority. I learned how the pastoral role could fit as a team player with interdisciplinary hospital and medical support staffs. I learned how to minister one-on-one with people with different demographics and of different religions; and to those in crisis; and in those breathtaking moments of honor, whether that was being with a woman that delivered her baby unexpectedly on the way to the hospital, or grandchildren telling their grandmother, recently taken off life support, detailed stories of how she enriched each of their lives in love. CPE also meant dealing with vulnerability head-on. It was through becoming aware of my blind sides that I was able to take this newly bred honesty and allow an emerging relationship to form in acceptance of myself, and how I can better relate to others. Finally, CPE gave way to God’s susuration to trust for a future and a hope.

Monday, August 3, 2009

We try to "fix" the world

One of the things I've learned in CPE this semester is not to "fix" others or a situation. By all means one can help others find meaning and help for themselves but we cannot do it for them. My friend Nikki wrote a sermon a couple of weeks back on this exact topic. Let me know your thoughts and hope you enjoy the read.

The Church Doesn’t Need Your Commodore 64, or What Are Your Family Priorities?

This summer, we’ve been looking at the stories of David and trying to discover what we can learn about ourselves, and our families, through these stories. So far, we’ve been challenged not to pigeon hole ourselves, or others, into rigid roles. We’ve been encouraged to live into trying out new dances for ourselves, as well as, to honor the dances of others. We’ve been reminded that we are called to live, and even to disagree, in love. We’ve been asked to move beyond our comfort zones realizing that God does not want us to be a stagnant people, but rather a people of change. And finally last week, we looked at David’s imperfect family life and reminded ourselves that the people of the bible were not perfect – just like we are not perfect. Yet we are all part of God’s good story.

Today, I have the honor of sharing with you the story of David and the building of the temple – well really the conception of the idea of building a temple, or house, for God.

But before we get, there I have a confession. I’m not sure if you know this about Tim, but he is very organized when it comes to his sermons. He has his scriptures, themes and topics laid out months in advance. So it was no surprise that when he originally asked me in April to preach for him today that he also provided me his initial outline for the sermon. I read the first line…David lives in house, God lives in tent and then I read his suggested sermon title The Church Doesn’t Need your Commodore 64, or What Are your Families Priorities? I remember thinking, “oh this one is going to be easy.” I mean I remember this story from grade school – David takes care of his own needs first before taking care of God. God gets upset. David’s priorities are all wrong. Fast forward to today. Where are our priorities? Get them straight. Amen. Phew thank goodness that sermon is over!

So being the good responsible seminary student that I am, I sat down last Sunday and actually read today’s scripture. Imagine my surprise, when the story that I recalled from my childhood did not exactly match up with the story that I was reading. I spent an hour searching for the version that I recalled…I didn’t find it. It’s amazing what happens when you actually read the Bible. I don’t know about you, but when I take the time to read the Bible sometimes I actually see things in a different way…or see things that I missed before… or see something that someone (thank you grade school Sunday school teacher!) forgot to tell me or glossed over or maybe they really did tell me but I wasn’t listening.

The more I read and struggled with the differences of my initial understanding of this story and what I was reading, I realized that Tim’s outline didn’t fit so well to what I felt God was calling me to share.

Now don’t go back to Tim and tell him that I think he is wrong! The church still does not need your outdated commodore 64 home computer from the 1980s. And I still think that this story is about priorities and values. I just see it in a different light now.

If you recall, the original twelve tribes had settled in the promised land. The ten tribes that
settled in the north were known as Israel. The remaining two tribes settling in the south were known as Judah. To make matters confusing, collectively, all of the tribes together (that is all 12) are called the people of Israel. So we have to be careful when we say Israel. Are we talking about the whole twelve or the northern subset of ten tribes? – confusing stuff, I know. Nonetheless, Saul is king over Israel, the whole. He dies. Judah, the two southern tribes, recognize David as king. Israel (the ten northern tribes) recognize the son of Saul, Ish-ba-al, as king.

Long story short, Ish-ba-al is assassinated and David is made king over all of Israel (the whole twelve tribes). Although the twelve tribes were “God's children” it is evident that they were variations in their political loyalties, religious customs and traditions. Imagine that! We don’t have anything like that in our modern world, do we? I mean, everyone in this room supports the same politicians, believe the same things, and practice the same way? Right? Don’t we? Hmm…

Well to bridge the gaps between the northern tribes and the southern tribes, David establishes Jerusalem in Judah as the political capital and spiritual center for all tribes. We read last week how he moved the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem in an attempt to form a common ritual between the north and the south.

So David has established Jerusalem as the permanent capital of all of Israel. As leader of this nation, he has a house built for himself -- a nice house of cedar. Cedar symbolizing strength and beauty and therefore demonstrating the power of God. So David is looking around his house admiring its beauty and strength, looks out the window and sees God living in – well -- a tent! For the ancient people of Israel, it was believed that God resided in the ark and the ark usually resided in a tent. As nomads, they had carried God with them everywhere. Once in the promised land, the people began to plant roots…to settle down…to build more permanent like homes. David thinks to himself, I live in this nice house, God definitely deserves to live somewhere better than a tent. I’m going to do the right thing and build God a house! He tells Nathan the prophet of his plans. Nathan agrees God deserves better …

and THIS is the part where God is supposed to be angry that David had his priorities wrong. That God's house should have been built first...enter the rage and anger of the Old Testament God…followed by David’s shame…but that’s not what we read.
God comes to Nathan in a vision or dream and tells him to ask of David “Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” “Have I ever asked you or anyone else to build me a house?” Uh-ooh! Did God really want a house? I mean it was a good idea, right? God deserves the best or at least the best we can offer God within the limits of our humanity. Was David wrong for wanting to do something for God? I personally don’t think so. I think where David missed the mark was that he did not include God in his decisions. He didn’t ask God, “how do you want to use me?”

How often are we guilty of that? How often do we act without first checking in with God? I mean we do a lot of really good things around here. We provide money to our local church and the church at large. We give special mission offerings for Global Ministries and other outreach organizations. We volunteer to help out with Vacation Bible School. We send our kids to youth camps and on mission trips. We write letters, send cards, and make phone calls. We serve as elders, deacons, Stephen ministers, musicians, Sunday school teachers, preparers, helpers, and so on. All very good stuff!

Outside the church some of us volunteer for the food pantry at Bethany Christian Church or serve meals downtown at ARCH. Many of us provide money to very worthy charitable organizations. We volunteer at our children’s schools. We care for our neighbors. We seek justice for the weak and underprivileged. We give our time, our talents and monies to worthy causes. Again, all very good stuff and all part of OUR mission to love God and love neighbors…But do we take the time to include God in our decisions?

Could it be that we are so busy doing good stuff --- stuff that is no doubt important – but still so busy that we are missing the one specific thing that God wants us to be doing? Or maybe, like with David, we are so busy trying to do good that we miss an opportunity for God to do something for us? In our story today, instead of wanting David to build God a house, God tells David that “the Lord will establish a house for you.”

The text doesn’t clearly say here why, but it is implied that if David builds a house for God then that may get in the way of the house or the kingdom that God wants to build for and through David. For you see, even a great king like David can’t do it all!

Many of you know that in addition to my seminary studies, I’m also pursing a masters of social work at the University of Texas. In the social work program we learn how to relate to people, counsel others, organize events, manage organizations, create policy, and more. Although all of the classes have been very insightful, by far my favorite class has been my Social Justice class.

Each week we attempted to take an honest look at the injustices of the society we live in: racism, sexism, ageism, able-ism, classism – and yes the list of –isms goes on and on. Of course we could not do justice (no pun intended) to each of the topics. Instead, we merely scratched the surface of such important issues facing our society. I left class every week so compelled to make a difference in that particular week’s topic. As you can imagine, I quickly become overwhelmed. How can I make a difference in all these areas? How can I possibly decide that one –ism, or issue, deserves more attention than another? Who has time to write letters, make phone calls, research which companies to boycott and which companies are safe to purchase from, organize petitions, participate in sit-ins, and so on. I mean everything is so important because everyone is so important.

I found myself so overwhelmed that I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t do anything. Stuck. Drowning in feelings of urgency of need and shame for my inability to do anything. It was just all too much. Until one day my spiritual director and friend said “Stop. Did God really ask you to take on every issue and personally solve them all?” “Have you asked God what part, if any, you are supposed to take on?”

“Well, um no” I replied. I hadn’t really thought of or even asked God what, if anything, that God specifically wanted me to do. Guilty like David.

As Christians, I firmly believe in God's commandment that we love God and love our neighbors. I’m not suggesting that we necessarily stop doing the good things that we do. What I am suggesting is that we line up our priorities with the priorities God has for our lives. In many ways, our actions may stay the same, the difference is God's inclusion. The only way I know of including God is to ask and then listen. Loving God implies relationship with God. Successful relationships must include communication, attention, and time. Without such elements we really don’t have relationship at all.

May we seek to do good in the world based on the priorities that God holds for each of us. Amen!