Thursday, December 18, 2014

O Adonai/O Lord

A.Hanson, 2012 
O Lord, leader of the House of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of a burning bush; On Mount Sinai you gave us your wisdom: with outstretched arm, come and redeem us. 

I think culturally we rebel against the idea of a Lord.  Adonai, or Lord, in Hebrew has connotations of a ruler and an omniscient being that Americans are uncomfortable with.  But it's not as if we do not have other lords or other things that rule over us.  We have made money our lord.  We have made success or career or education our lord.

What would happen if we surrendered to the Lord of Israel?  To the gentle wisdom of God?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

O Sapientia/O Wisdom

A.Hanson, 2013
O Wisdom, you come from the mouth of the most high, and reach from one end of the earth to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: come, teach us the way of wisdom.

In this particular season of Advent, we seem to have an abundance of chaos in our world. The senseless racism of our country has been made abundantly clear, despite all attempts to contain it, schoolchildren are dying in Peshawar, Pakistan, Ebola rages in Africa.

O God of Wisdom, you hold the earth in your hands.  Help us to know that you know all things and you order all things.  Help us to rest in your wisdom.  Even when it all seems so senseless.  O Sapientia, O Wisdom.  Come.

O Antiphons

A.Hanson, 2014
The O Antiphons are a set of sung refrains that are used at Vespers during the last seven days of Advent.

They get this unusual name because each refrain begins with "O" and some name of the Messiah. They pertain to some prophecy from Isaiah.

Also, they are beautiful.  So please join with me in my Advent preparation with the O Antiphons.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sex and the Seminarian

Let's talk about sex.  Or more appropriately, sexuality.  But "Sex and the Seminarian" was a catchier title for this blog post.  Yeah, it's uncomfortable.  I am hoping it doesn't get me called before my bishop, but I sort of feel compelled to reflect upon this important issue.

I read a post this morning from the Fidelia's Sisters blog called "Holy Sexuality", which was written anonymously, which says something about this whole issue, reflecting on sexuality, shame, and leaders of the church.  So I am not writing mine anonymously.

The author reflects on how entering seminary and the ordination process felt like "going back in time" with regards to standards of morality.  The author does not specify her denomination, but I will compare it with my tradition, the ELCA.

At the beginning of candidacy, candidates are asked to read and sign the document "Visions and Expectations" which outlines standards of conduct for rostered leaders.

With regards to sex, the document says the following (From the ELCA social statement on human sexuality): "It is in marriage that the highest degrees of physical intimacy are matched with and protected by the highest levels of binding commitment, including legal protection. It is in marriage that public promises of lifetime commitment can create the foundation for trust, intimacy, and safety."  

And pertaining to single people, "Single ordained ministers are expected to live a chaste life, holy in body and spirit, honoring the single life, and working for the good of all."

And for places that do not provide for same gender marriage, the ELCA says this: "An ordained minister who is in a publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationship is expected to live in fidelity to his or her partner, giving expression to sexual intimacy within a publicly accountable relationship that is mutual, chaste, and faithful." 

To summarize this document, sexual intimacy belongs within the bounds of marriage or a committed legal relationship.  When I started seminary, a friend told me  (who shall remain nameless for their own protection) that "You can be celibate or you can be smart."  Meaning, don't get caught.

I guess I would like to boldly ask for choices beyond celibacy or secrecy for seminarians and clergy people.  How about we invite a conversation about healthy sexuality? The Christian Church has shamed sexuality (particularly that of women) for far too long.  Sex was seen as merely procreative and otherwise, just plain icky. By cloaking sexuality within a cloud of secrecy, we open ourselves up to all sorts of unhealthy attitudes.

Sexuality was created by God for the mutual intimacy and consolation of both partners, so let's start there as a place of conversation.  It can be a healthy (and holy) expression of what it means to be created beings. By moving sexuality out of the shroud of secrecy, we also can be important participants in the societal conversation regarding sexual consent.  The Church can be an important voice in helping to uphold the dignity and worth of all people by encouraging open and honest communication about sex.  By making sex shameful in the eyes of the church, we further victimize those who have been hurt.

Seminarians have sex.  Clergy people have sex.  Some of them are married.  Some of them are not. We need to acknowledge that sexual intimacy is a healthy expression of what it is to be human and that our desire for closeness with another is a good gift from God.  I do think it is possible to have a healthy, faithful expression of sexuality within a relationship that does not have the bounds of marriage. 

By holding clergypeople to these standards (which I have described as "Puritanical" on some days), we set up a boundary between ourselves and the rest of the world.  Our people, our parishioners, do not wait for marriage to have sex or to live together. I think that it is possible for clergy to take the lead in modeling healthy, mature, faithful, respectful relationships just like we model sabbath and discipleship and being in community with one another. 

And to my detractors who feel like this is just me wanting to do whatever I want, I concede there might be some measure of truth to that argument, but mostly I just want the sexual shaming in our world to stop. Stop the shaming.  Open doors for communication and consent and faithful expressions of desire.  

Stop using the argument of "Biblical Marriage" because that does not mean just one thing in the Bible (One man and his entire harem?  One man, one wife, and the wife's servant?), and it certainly does not mean what we think it means for us now. 

Let's boldly, prophetically, and faithfully create a new narrative around sex.  Not just for clergy and seminarians, but for all people. Let's make it one of respect and openness, not secrecy and sneaking around.  Let's make it one of faithfulness to God and one another, not one of dishonesty. Let's contribute positively to the discussion around consent for sexual intimacy.  Let's contribute positively to the discussion around dismantling heterosexual privilege. 

I was accused of being too optimistic in discussing this on social media this morning. Maybe I am.  But I also know that nothing will change if someone doesn't hold hope for it to be different.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Chaplains as Missional Leaders

One of the ELCA buzzwords of the moment is "Missional", meaning to attend to the people of God outside the walls of the church and intentionality in word and deed with attention to one's context and culture. 

About a year ago I wrote an approval essay using an ELCA prompt that discussed six characteristics that are identified in missional leaders.   
These characteristics are:
1. Rooted in the presence and activity of the Triune God
2. Engage the way of the cross
3. Relate theology with culture and context
4. Evangelize
5. Cultivate Christian community and discipleship
6. Equip and send disciples into the world 

The ELCA, on their Specialized Pastoral Care page , states that these ministries are missional by nature, in that they, "embody the church's initiative to minister to people who are ill, imprisoned, elderly, troubled, conflicted, and afflicted."  We hear this call all over in scripture. I am going to dig a bit deeper into my own work as a chaplain to explore how I am a missional leader. 

1. Rooted in the presence and activity of the Triune God
      I depend intimately on the power of God to do the work that I am called to do each day. I pray for guidance each morning, I pray a quick silent prayer each time prior to praying with a patient, saying, "God, let my words be what you would have them be" and I pray at night that God would hold the prayers and concerns of each of my patients, and also hold me as I rest in God's arms for the rejuvenation that I need to do my work again the next day. 
     I also get the privilege of eavesdropping on God's work in the world.  I see mysterious works of healing every day, but I also see situations where healing is not possible and people surrender themselves to God. My job as a chaplain is to encourage the beautiful and broken people of God to testify to where they see God at work in their lives.  I can proclaim this work also. 

2. Engage the way of the cross
     If we confess that the way of the cross is that God is most clearly seen in suffering, and knows what it means to suffer, and bears with humanity in its suffering also, I cannot think of a more hopeful thing to proclaim in chaplaincy ministry in a hospital. My own ministry of accompaniment in suffering, because I cannot heal illness or injury, is representative of Christ's ministry of accompaniment. Many of my patient's hope fervently for healing and cures that never come from God. And the only hope that I can offer is that they are not alone in their suffering.  
    Another aspect of the way of the cross that I frequently encounter in my work are patients and their loved ones who are crossing the threshold from life to death. I am in a unique position to have the ability to proclaim (if this is meaningful for this particular patient and family) that death does not have the final word.  It feels like the end of the world, and in many ways it is, as a family walks out of a hospital without the loved one that they entered with, but death is not the end.  Recently, I sat with a woman whose husband was declared brain dead.  She found comfort in the idea that her goodbye was not a goodbye, but rather a "see you later."  

3. Relate theology with culture and context 
     This is something that I do frequently. The hospital is a highly specific context. It is not a church, but it is still a place for proclamation and confession. My work is highly sensitive, and involves gently seeking how patients view God and prayer and faith in their own culture and context.  Then I meet them where they are.  This is one of the things that chaplains do best, because to act like a bull in a china shop with your own theology, bowling over people in their own time of need to confess your own convictions is entirely inappropriate in a hospital setting. 

4. Evangelize
     This is one that is a little more difficult in a hospital setting, probably because of the normative understanding that evangelizing means to share your faith with people in the world with the intent of encouraging them to convert to your faith or join your church. But if you look at evangelization in its original Greek, euangelion, which means simply "good news", I participate in plenty of this in the hospital. I rejoice with patients who have received good news about their diagnosis or surgery. I pray and mourn with people who watch their loved ones die, yet as these families rejoice that their loved ones are in heaven, I too give thanks for the work of Christ in this way. I also share aspects of my own theology and faith when asked. 

5. Cultivate Christian community and discipleship
    Part of my work as a chaplain is to assist patients in meeting their spiritual and emotional needs in the hospital.  Sometimes this means calling a pastor from their specific denomination or church to visit.  Sometimes it means facilitating a specific religious rite, sometimes it means providing a Bible or prayer shawl, or rosary or menorah. A huge part of my work as a chaplain is to encourage patients to name, claim, and enact religious and spiritual practices that provide comfort to them.  This is a way of cultivating discipleship. 

6. Equip and send disciples into the world 
    As explored above, much of my work involves accompanying the patient as they dig deeply into their own beliefs and spiritual practices. I am present for some of the most heart-rending and raw moments that this world can offer.  Part of my work is to help the people of God to walk forward into a "new normal."  Recently I spent several hours with a patient who was driving the car in an accident that caused her sister's death. She asked, "What does God want me to do now?"  And I didn't have any answer except, to put one foot in front of the other and keep on living life the best way that she knew how. I also spent a number of hours with a patient who was diagnosed with cancer after she thought she had appendicitis. I was able to help her engage prayer practices and other forms of discipleship to her prepare her to face many months of treatment ahead. 

In some circles of ELCA clergy, chaplaincy is seen as having "soft" theology or not as good as parish ministry.  For me, it is the ultimate expression of missional leadership of Church in the World and a wonderful example of the Ministry of Word and Sacrament.  It is proclamation of both the word and the Word, the sacraments are engaged on an even more visceral level than in parish settings, and it requires knowledge of all aspects of ministry, in particular, a highly attuned sense of pastoral care and the ability to educate and equip disciples at a very critical point on their journey.  Hospitalizations, whether for serious injury or illness, are a critical turning point for many people of faith.  And the intersection of death with life is one place where the promises that we proclaim from the pulpit are moved from an abstraction to a reality.