Tired and Mossy

Just in front of my parking space yesterday was this mossy trunk of a stately oak tree. The grass wasn’t sprouting yet. The branches were bare, and last year’s leaves blew around on the ground beneath her. No sign of spring anywhere…

I had a moment of familiarity. The cold, dark, and windy days we’re having, one after the other, are getting to me. I don’t mind the cold so much. It’s that grey and gloomy sky that seems to be stuck behind a blanket of clouds forever. I’m feeling tired and mossy. It’s true.

Ok, Ok. That’s a bit melodramatic. But that’s March in the MidAtlantic. The weather flip-flops between cold and grey, and has just enough peeks of sunshine to remind us that winter will, eventually, go away. But what seems to predominate are the gloomy, rainy, sleety days. It’s… tiresome.

I drove around, a little grumpy, a lot discouraged. I had received news lately (for myself and people I care about) which have not exactly been something to celebrate. Then there’s the general muck-and-mudslinging of our political mess here in the US. It was all getting to me.

At just the right moment, God seemed to weigh in, just to remind me that I was not traveling alone. I spotted these beauties later in the day while waiting at a stoplight. (It’s a little off-kilter, but I only had one shot before the light turned green!)

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Just a bit of color. A patchy blue sky. A reminder that, yes, I can get through this day/season/struggle. And you can, too.

Yes, you will go out with celebration,
    and you will be brought back in peace.
Even the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you;
    all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Isaiah 55:12 Common English Bible

 

Deep Peace

John Rutter’s setting of the Gaelic blessing, “Deep Peace” is playing in the background. I have finished some writing, some house cleaning, put away the laundry and reviewed my calendar for the week… and have a few moments to just sit and Be.

At the silent retreat last month, I had opportunity to do some journaling and praying. My prayers were answered, though not how I expected. Not at all. And yet as I re-read my journal entry, I realized the words were still true:

In God’s silence, in God’s seeming inactivity, so much is going on. Just like the frozen pond in winter, with the peepers and fish buried deep in the bottom muck, things may be still, but they are forming. Within me, there is also — a deeper, cognitive, spiritual and intrinsically peaceful level of change in my soul. 

Would I have known the depths of a yearning for this as-yet unknown Call had I not been still enough to hear it? The quiet is unforced, just as God’s leading, not changed by my wishes but shaped by God’s wisdom.

There is comfort in knowing this… deep within, All is Well. There is so much NOISE in keeping Silence. Well, non-noise, really. And in all of this non-noise, there are reminders of life and hope and peace… surrounding and filling me. There is so much to hear that I can only BE in it.

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I know this Deep Peace, though I have no way of explaining it… only being IN it. Though I still wrestle and complain, (and yes, ask my ‘WHYs’ and ‘WHY NOTs’) I still walk in a place of abiding Love.

I share all this because, I suspect that you, who stumble onto this blog, have your own questions and doubts just sitting there, too. And I believe, down to my toes, that even with unknown answers, it is Enough to just Be. Here. Now. In the Presence of the Divine…

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace of Christ,
of Christ the light of the world to you.
Deep peace of Christ to you.

Angry Tears: When We Ignore the Rape Victim

139136870I walked to her bedside. She had bruises on her face and arms and was rather stiffly trying to sit up in bed. She saw me enter and her eyes immediately grew wary.

“What do you want? Another SAMPLE? More EVIDENCE?” she snarled, lying back with a sigh and starting to open her legs.

“No, no!” I quickly said. “I’m a chaplain. I’m only here to see if there’s anything I can do that ISN’T “Evidence.” I am here only for you.”

Her body relaxed against the gurney and she started to cry. I gently touched her hand and she grabbed it and held on tightly.

“Oh God, no. I just want this to be over! I want to go home and forget!!!”

I said nothing. I was learning to wait and listen until the patient asks me a question. I handed her tissues. And waited some more.

~—o0o—~

 

This was one of the first rape victims I cared for as a student chaplain. It was over 4 years ago, and she was like  many of the sexually abused I have seen in my ministry. They are visceral memories that pop to the surface when I read articles like the one recently published in Christianity Today (CT). An article (which I am not linking to because they don’t need the traffic!) that was from the perspective of the perpetrator, a now-penitent youth minister. An article in which the perpetrator was given a voice, but not the victim. And an article that (in fairness) has been pulled from the on-line journal edition, and the publisher states that the revenue gained from the ads on the page will be given to (in their words) “Christian organizations that work with survivors of sexual abuse.”

I appreciate the publisher’s apology. But it was unkind, wrong, and completely insensitive to publish it in the first place.

A felon’s confession of regret is laudable — please hear me. But the victim of the abuse, and it WAS abuse, has again been marginalized. The male, dominant, patriarchal culture of CT didn’t see a problem with publishing it. They allowed someone who abused pastoral trust, who took advantage of a position of authority in the Church, to again have a “pulpit” of sorts.

The victim can only feel violated again.

“But he’s SORRY for what he’s done,” you say.

I am sure he is. He lost his job. He hurt his congregation, his family, and broke his ordination vows in the worst way possible.

But there is something we are all forgetting here. He has hurt someone deeply. He has affected her trust in God, in her spiritual leaders, and in the Church Organizational. And he probably has damaged her trust in people in general. (In fact, one such victim’s account of her struggles and her faith are here. READ IT. There’s important messages for us who are pastors, chaplains and church volunteers!)

Publishing this article contributed to the “modesty police” subculture of reminding women “to dress so that his eyes don’t wander.” (Which by the way, is complete fertilizer.) As I have written before, modesty and self control are part of everyone’s responsibility. And we are tasked with not just teaching a dress code, but an approach to sexuality and humanity that has a proper perspective:

The images of misused sexuality are everywhere. To teach our children good judgement and a “strong moral compass,” we have to teach them to first see the men and women around them as human beings who are sexual, not sexual beings who are human. [From: “Dear Mrs. Hall, We Need to Chat.”]

Here is the greater issue. And it is much more difficult to accept.

The Church is called to be a refuge. A place of nurture, safety, comfort, encouragement and peace. A place where those who have been hurt, abused or cast-off can find security. It’s why many churches are seeking to be a place of safety, to have a culture of acceptance. A community where they do not have to justify why they are afraid or enumerate their scars, but be accepted as they are.

We write policies about nursery and Sunday School and youth group “safe church practices” and take them seriously. And then a publication allows a convicted felon to talk about how he violated them.

We teach our children and teens that “No Means ‘NO!'” and then re-victimize someone.

We preach about a God of justice, of One who commands us to care for widows and orphans and the strangers among us. (Deut. 10:18) And we continue to thwart God’s redemptive work among us.

Maybe if enough of us protest, past this moment of “take down the article,” the Church will gain a collective self-awareness and act with compassion towards the victims in our midst. And maybe our publishers and editors will figure out that this mindset has to go. Just maybe.

~—o0o—~

 

chaplaingearI sat with this young women for over an hour. I listened. I silently prayed and raged inside at what she had experienced.

She talked about everything BUT God, the rape, the perpetrator. She cried. She raged. And then she said, “I don’t know if I am strong enough to go through with pressing charges.”

Tears streaking down her cheeks, and responsive tears welling up in mine, I said, “You can be. You must. He must never get away with this again. You are WORTH it.”

She stared at me. “I’m worth it? God knows I’d like to be.”

“God knows you ARE.”

Her chin went up and there was a glint in her eye. “Yes. I AM!”

She left the ER that night with a friend. I had to leave and attend to a death elsewhere in the hospital and I didn’t see her again. I didn’t find out if she pressed charges or not, nor if the perpetrator was convicted. I’d like to think so.

Her story is like countless others I have heard in my role as a chaplain. They are each filled with anger, self-hatred, self-blame, and a furious distrust of a culture that glorifies dominance and fear.

It grieves my heart. It surely grieves the heart of God.

And it is time that we do all in our power to give a place for their voices to be heard. The voices of the victim and injured.

Lord help us hear their courageous, broken hearts
and respond with Your justice, mercy and hope.
Amen.

 

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, please visit these websites where you can get help! You are WORTH being cared for, listened to, and supported!

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network
After Silence

From the desk blotter: a prayer by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Another in a series of quotes, quips and prayers that encourage and inspire me. From my desk blotter to your computer screen… 🙂

 

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Sunrise in December

O God,
early in the morning I cry to You.
Help me to pray
and to concentrate my thoughts on You.
I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely,
but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart,
but with You there is help;
I am restless,
but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness,
but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
but You know the way for me…
Restore me to liberty,
and enable me to live now
that I may answer before You and before me.
Lord,
whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wisdom that comes from above

In the chapter on taming the tongue, James writes about how we can demonstrate God’s wisdom. The first step is to know what it is, and what it isn’t.

13 Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. 14 However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic. 16 Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and everything that is evil. 17 What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. 18 Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.
James 3:1-17

I live outside DC, not in Connecticut. My kids are older now, no longer in elementary school. But yesterday, my heart was torn and my imagination in overdrive because what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary could have happened at DuFief Elementary, two blocks from our home. For any parent, this was a nightmare in a news cycle that would not shut up. Commentators blathered. News anchors attempted to say the same old news in different ways. And the ultimate questions remained unanswered.

WHY? WHY HERE? WHY HIM? WHY LITTLE KIDS?

As a chaplain, I’ve learned: there are no answers that satisfy our “why” questions. Any attempts to explain or define cheapen the pain underneath the questions, or they over-simplify what is far beyond complex to a multi-variable equation. This is true in all of those mind-numbing situations like violence, divorce, cancer, and traumatic deaths.

The bottom line is… it does not matter why. It matters more WHAT we say, WHEN we say it, and TO WHOM we address our feelings and questions.

I will probably anger some wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ when I say this… but… this did not happen because there is no prayer in schools. There are many praying people in public schools. I know students, parents, teachers and administrators who pray. Let’s not cheapen their impact as faithful servants of God. It probably is more likely that this happened because one person, in need of support and help, did not get it (or did not accept the help that was offered). One family, struggling already, now finds itself in a horrible nightmare of finger-pointing and s/he said or did this or that wrong.

This kind of rhetoric is unhelpful. It must stop.

God did not decide to punish a community, a school, a classroom, or a bunch of families in Connecticut. God did not visit wrath on innocents. If you think God works that way, then you and I worship a different God.

Let’s seek to be Christians who bring wisdom from above. Consider what you can do for the people closest to you that offers them words of peace. Respond to the needs around you with words that are gentle and filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. Hand out hugs like they are chocolates. (Or broccoli, if that’s your thing!) Give reassurance. Affirm. Celebrate the accomplishments and dreams of those around you. And wherever possible, put the praise back on God, who gifted you in the first place with the ability to love and care for others. Allow tears to fall without becoming maudlin.

Get away from the blame game!

It is not a result of poor gun laws, gun ownership or bad parenting. It is not because of our President. It probably has a lot to do with holes in our mental health safety net, in our own inability to deal with or accept people who are different from us, and in living in a world that is broken by sin. All the government policies in the world will not cure what the Spirit of the Lord can and will do in bringing healing and wholeness.

So today — I will continue to hug my friends and family. I will bake cookies, attend a concert and trust (still) in God’s faithfulness to see us through. It will be hard. But with the Spirit’s help, it will be enough.

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I offer this prayer in closing as my personal supplication…

Lord of all,
We do not understand.
Our hearts ache.
Our people are scared.
We have no answers, only questions.
We lay all of our concerns, pent-up feelings and unanswered questions before You.
You are all-wise, all-caring, all-compassionate.

Fill our minds with Your peace, Your gentleness, Your mercy, Your justice.
When we think we have the answers, shut us up…
So that we continue to pray and listen
to You, the only One who knows and hears and answers.

May Your joy be our strength in this season of Advent,
for we have none on our own…

In Christ alone we pray –
Amen.


Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy

There is no title that fits this post. None.

This week I have had to hear news I’d rather never have to hear again…

…a sweet family from church relocating to the west coast
…a nurse with malignant melanoma because of her “addiction” (as she put it) to tanning beds when she was in her 20s
…an amazing woman whose battle with cancer is now over
…the emotional pain of broken relationships
(and those are just the stories I can mention. There are many others that are locked away because of promises of prayers in confidence.)

I wrestled with these events. I have prayed a lot. While I know that the world is organized and directed on a much Bigger Plane than this earthly one, it’s hard. Things seem fuzzy. It doesn’t seem right. In fact, I’ve been a little mad.

So from my heart come these words… if you are in a place of grief or anger or confusion or frustration or loss, I hope that they help. Or at least bring some measure of peace.

Holy One
We cannot see.
We do not know the whats and wheres and whys
of the pain we meet in this life.
Things seem fuzzy
unclear
beyond brokenness.

In confidence
I raise my questions to the heavens
and rest and trust
even in not knowing.

No, it makes no sense.
And yet in the arms of heaven
it does.

In the quiet
of cats purring
of soft rain falling
of leaves drifting
I hear your heart calling to mine.
You bring peace and shelter
comfort and strength
to weather this storm
and the next.

Thank you.

Only God gives inward peace,
and I depend on him. Psalm 62:5

I hardly know where to start…

Five or six blog posts have been clicked into the ol’ electronic trashcan in the last week. I’m still struggling to write without being insensitive, impolitic or stupid. (The three are not equal. Though they could be.)

The short of it is this: there’s been a round of RIFs at my place of work. Some of them are due to organizational restructuring. Some of them are simply because the departments made cuts to meet budgets. And some of them… well, we don’t know why. It is what it is. There isn’t a department that hasn’t taken a hit.

People are hurt and angry, and I’m supposed to be pastoral. But I have my own set of unaskable questions, and, simply put, it hurts.

God has a way of ripping control out of our carefully manufactured circumstances. I have done some soul-searching and I’m continuing to ask and seek to understand. For now, God asks I trust. And listen. And look for God’s way in the midst of bewildering twists and turns.

I was clicking through some of my photos from last summer’s trip to Colorado, and I came upon the one of the double rainbow. It’s the glimmer of hope I’m clinging to right now. I was reminded that only God sees the “end” of the rainbow. We see the refraction in the middle, but not the length of time it will last, the breadth of its span, the weather system and atmospheric conditions which cause it…

I have no clarity of understanding. I just have hope that God knows and watches and cares.