Book Review: The End of the Island

IMG_9952In a chaplain’s world, theodicy is that delicate and difficult balance of the gut-wrenching work of understanding why the Divine allows evil and human suffering. Human as we are, there is such a temptation to distill the work of theodicy into neat little pieces. As if pain, suffering, loss and grief would EVER be done “neatly.”

Many books attempt to express this through allegory or rigid theological systems. Instead of a systematic expression, however, Tucker places his allegory in a kind of contextual theology. Thus I approached this book with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Jeffrey Tucker takes as his muse “The Happy Prince,” a children’s short story written by Oscar Wilde. (You can read it on-line here…)  In the postscript of his book he delves into some of the influences of that story in his work as a chaplain. It’s worth reading first before you delve into the topics his work contains. I would have liked him to develop his own perspective on why he thinks he might be the Prince. It would have given his story a better foundation, for this reader, anyway.

The book is organized around the narrative of an old man traveling “to the end of the island” – a journey he feels he must make as his “time is short.” The “journey” is expressed via short vignettes, spread out over several chapters, each addressing a different question as it relates to human suffering. The questions include:

  • Where is my Suffering?
  • Where am I in my Suffering?
  • Where is the Divine in my Suffering?
  • Where is my Human Support?
  • Where are my Hope and my Deliverance?
  • Re-Defining Forward Movement
  • Finding the End of the Island

On the journey, the old man meets several individuals who help him re-examine what he is experiencing, where he is going, what he hopes to find, and what other lessons might be part of his journey. I particularly liked the author’s reflections in chapter 4 on “Where is the Divine in my Suffering?” His analogy of God being in both the tidal wave and the tidal marsh were poignant and personally meaningful to me.

At first, this structure is somewhat confusing and disjointed. (Perhaps a better “How to Use This Book” section is needed?) However, because of the nature of the questions which Tucker addresses, having “space” in between the sections of the old man’s story is helpful for allowing the reader to engage and reflect. This is not a book to read at one sitting. In fact, if you rush through it, you will miss the beauty of the struggle in this journey we are all on – of life and death, of hope and discouragement, of suffering and release.

Tucker’s premise is that our life’s journeys are not about “solving” the problem of pain. It is not meant to provide simple strategies or pointers. There aren’t Bible verses to read and write down your reflections with Jesus as your Best Friend in suffering and God always bringing healing and relief. (In fairness, there were many places where I found it was easy enough to be drawn back into Scripture and journal. It just was more raw than pretty, honest than victorious.)

This book is also going to make the more conservative readers among us a tad uncomfortable, for the author invites us to dwell with the wider views of spirituality, and to engage in mindfulness practices around the journey we are all struggling through. However, you will be invited to explore fresh and new ways of walking through your own personal, painful, rough patches. And that, in itself, is enough. For God is enough.

As the author says, “The totality of all our questions will never be resolved completely. For remember, I am talking here about movement – not a neat, linear journey.”

Here’s to the messiness and the reality that God is there in the mix. Always.

*****

The End of the Island by Jeffrey C. Tucker. © 2016 Eugene, OR. Resource Publications (Wipf and Stock): Paperback, 156 pages.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Light and Shadow

Over on my 365 photos blog, I posted this picture and a poem.

I walk through this area every day, many times as I’m headed towards my car, towards home and a “normal” life… something my patients long for, dream of, and dare to believe will be theirs some day. The sudden brightness and contrasting shadows resonated immediately.

There’s many occasions on the average “day-in-the-life” of  a chaplain where I walk from the happiest of moments to the saddest, almost in the same breath. It can happen going from bed to bed, room to room, or floor to floor. If I am not self-aware, I can be slammed with the sudden change from joyous light to deepest sorrow.

Today was a day of contrasts. Of hope. Of despair. Of pushing onward towards healing. Of giving up. I felt the push-pull on my heart. In both situations, God is there. Tonight I celebrate and mourn.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, your perfect love is casting out fear… This song came to me this evening when I was reflecting on my photo-of-the-day…

Taking up the carpet

 I know it looks a little creepy, but this is mask I wore yesterday.

My husband and I decided to take up some old carpeting in our bedroom. We had moved this carpet from our first house to our present home. It didn’t owe us much. We had purchased a remnant of a neutral, densely woven, low nap carpet. It was in our family room and then our bedroom. It got a lot of heavy traffic and a good bit of cat hair. (Um.. and cat hork, too.) Even when shampooed and vacuumed, it had long since stopped looking clean.

So, it was time to say, “Buh-bye!”

Except there was this LEETLE complication… we have a king-sized waterbed.

Waterbeds, in case you don’t know, aren’t exactly easy to move. They don’t shove to one side or the other so that you can easily vacuum behind them. Or remove a carpet, for that matter. (But the comfort they give is SO WORTH the extra hassle!)

My husband, channeling MacGyver, decided that we could use a scissor jack and various cutting implements, and get the carpet and pad pulled out in sections. We did not realize that we had a much, much bigger task than we realized. Just for the record (in case you are about to try this at home…)

  1.  15 years of cat hair is a lot of cat hair… even when you vacuum what you can reach and…
  2. king-sized beds are wide and hard to reach all the way to the middle.

He ended up using not only carpet shears, but a machete, a box-cutter knife and a pole saw to pull out the carpet and pad in sections. You would not have believed its dusty, grimy state. We rolled up each section and bagged them. After several hours of hacking, jacking, cutting and stuffing, we got the carpet out. It left behind a pile of carpet fribs, dust and cat hair. My lovely self-decorated mask let me breathe without wheezing. The local dump wins the spoils. (No I would not Freecycle this because some loony would come and get this gross piece of carpeting!)

But we were really surprised at the dirt (and the smell) that came from pulling up the carpet. It had never been glued down. It had been cleaned and vacuumed frequently. (I swear I’m not a total slob.) But we were almost grossed out at the grime that appeared as we rolled and bagged the pieces. Who knew? There was all kind of stink brewing under our feet. We just never stopped to notice.

It seems to me there’s lots of times in this life that our actions, when left unexamined, can brew quite a stink. It’s a bit disquieting. But it also brings me back to my knees with a prayer…

Lord,
cleanse my heart
help me keep it real
I sure do love you
Amen.

So as God breathes new life into my heart, and renews me… I am so grateful for a breath of “fresh air” — not just in the carpeting, but in my life. This song by Darlene Zschech came to mind… it’s not new. But the words speak to me and remind me of the forgiving nature of God.

Breathe on Me by Darlene Zschech

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Love and life that makes me free.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Fan the flame within me.
Teach my heart, heal my soul,
Speak the mind that in Christ we know.
Take me to your Sanctuary
Breathe on me.

Speak to me Voice of God,
Soft and still inside my heart.
Speak to me, Word of God,
Comfort, heal, restore with love.
Teach my heart, heal my soul,
Speak the mind that in Christ we know.
Take me to your Sanctuary,
Breathe on me.

A Judas moment

I never liked the story of Judas. It hit too close to home. Judas was a man of expediency, practicality and decisiveness. Judas was someone who did not want to jump through hoops when they could be avoided. Judas was passionate, deliberate, and convinced he was in the right.

In short, I am a lot like Judas.

A million different times a year, I sell out God for something I would rather do. I keep silent when I know I should speak up in disagreement. I stand by as a person loved by the Almighty is bruised, abused and battered.

Sometimes it is out of fear. And sometimes? it is embarrassment.

Fear that I would be the next one hounded and hunted down and humiliated. Embarrassed that I did not always make the right choices throughout my life, and wonder that I have any right to stand up against someone’s accuser. I know who my Accuser is – and it is not God! These days – the final days of Holy Week – are for reflection, for peace, for comfort, for confession and for wrestling with the “Judas” part of me that rises up to condemn.

During Holy Week, especially on Maundy Thursday, I squirm a little. I feel a little too much like Judas.

But… Sunday’s coming! And I will be reminded again that I am dearly, completely, utterly loved. I will hold the evidence of God’s love for me in my hands as I have Communion. I will stand beloved, forgiven, cleansed and fit for God’s use.

I will remember and celebrate. Sunday.

I will remember my sin that nailed God to the cross. Today.

Remember what is most important…

I bought a little refrigerator magnet the other day. It is one of those little “by the check-out” kind of wee gifties that frequently catch our attention. I bought it just because its message is so perfect for my life right now…

Remember What Is Most Important…
It’s not having everything go right;
it’s facing whatever goes wrong.
It’s not being without fear;
it’s having the determination
to go on in spite of it.
Remember that every day ends
and brings a new tomorrow.
Love what you do,
do the best that you can,
and always remember
how much you are loved.
Vicki M. Worsham

Pretty good stuff! It ties in with my reading in 1 Timothy this week where Paul is exhorting those who are called to lead the Church to persevere and live out their callings to the best of their ability. It reminds me that I am asked to not just “do my best” but to present God’s best to the people I meet every day.

Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor,
by love, by faith, by integrity. (I Timothy 4)

Now THAT’S really what is most important!

Deb