Monday, August 24, 2015

Living with Intention

A.Hanson, Denver Botanic Gardens, 2015
I am just a few short days away from fulfilling my contract as a CPE resident here in Denver, and then I will be embarking upon a drive to Minneapolis, where I will be settling into newlywed life. I have a part-time job awaiting me, but otherwise, my days will be mostly blissfully unscheduled.

My soul is crying out for Sabbath. I have been pushing my mind, body, and spirit to the breaking point for about eight solid years now.  I have made ten moves, lived in three different states, finished grad school, finished a pastoral internship, finished a residency as a chaplain, came out, and also got married.

As I was reflecting on what is next for me, the one word that is sticking with me is "intentionality." I am tired of living in a place of reaction instead of intention.  I want to be in a place where I consciously make my decisions instead of life making my decisions for me.

Part of this sabbatical is to care for my body in gratitude for all that it does for me. At times I feel like I am an extremely astute mind rather unfortunately attached to a body that needs to be feed and receive rest periodically. I push my body to the limit on a regular basis (forcing it to go without sleep, subsisting on coffee and whatever food I can shovel into my mouth to make my stomach stop growling, and not exercising), and I know that I am relatively young, and this cannot go on forever. I have already seen the effects in my thirties and I am not interested in living like this anymore.

I will rest when I need to rest. I will stop going to bed with my phone and having a frenetic looping between social media sites be the last thing I do before I go to sleep. I will eat good food (and perhaps kick the sugar addiction that has been my nemesis for years) and drink more water than coffee. I will get exercise in a way that cares for both my body and my soul. This means not falling prey to the trap of having exercise become another obligation or another obsession. I will not punish my body into a running program or a weightlifting program, unless that is what it wants.

I will work on noticing things around me. Things that are growing, things that are changing. My wife and I have two dogs, and dogs are just about the best creatures ever at reminding us to live in the moment. I plan on walking these two adorable little crazies as often as I can.

I will work on creating things. I have always been a creative person, and somehow that got lost in the shuffle that is paying bills and going to school and being a grown-up. Somehow creative pursuits are just not as valuable as some other things. Which is a lie that the world tells us. Creating things is about the only antidote to the stress of being human. A life without a spark of art is not much of a life at all.  I love music, particularly creating choral music together with others. I threatened to take up trombone again (my instrument until 12th grade), and my wife suggested that while I was welcome to do so, it might hurt the doggies' ears. In the past I have also loved watercolor painting, quilting, knitting, felting, jewelry making, pottery, and screen printing. I am looking forward to making some improvements to our backyard and to doing some maintenance inside the house.

I will work on meditating, before it becomes critical. Meditating can be sitting quietly, walking, writing, prayer, or some sort of devotional. There have been way too many occasions recently where I have had to set a timer for myself and force myself to sit still in order that I might not jump out of my skin. I will settle deeply into my own soul and actually be present with myself. In other words, actually do the things that I counsel other people to do.

I will live with joy and intention as a newlywed. I will live life abundantly as I continue to be a part of a community of friends and people of faith in Minneapolis/St Paul.

Above all, I am making an intentional decision to realize that I am a person with a mind, body, and spirit, and I need to care for all those things at once. Come, eagerly awaited sabbatical. I am ready for you!

Sabbath Coffee Tour, Part IV: Huckleberry Roasters (Pecos Street)

For Part IV of my Denver Sabbath Coffee Tour I visited Huckleberry Roasters. This local roaster has a roasting room and a cafe on Pecos and 43rd (in the Highlands neighborhood) and a cafe on Larimer and 25th street near downtown.

This part of Denver is mostly older residential homes and this coffee shop occupies a corner of the block. There is a shaded patio, and a big front window open to the outdoors. There a few big tables (encouraging patrons to share), a couple small tables, and a bar. The space is open, minimally decorated, and seems to draw a large number of people from the neighborhood.  There is wifi and plenty of room for enjoying coffee and pastries while you work. Donuts appeared to be a big hit with everyone who was coming in.  Parking is available on the street, and is ample.

I was greeted warmly by the two baristas working when I arrived. The warmth exuded by these two made the experience truly wonderful.  I ordered a pour over, today's brew was the Rwandan Kibuye Gitesi, a bright and sweet roast. I just needed a little bit of cream. Once the coffee cooled a bit, it mellowed into a rich and full blend.

I mentioned to one of the baristas that I was engaging in this coffee tour, and he suggested several other coffee shops to visit. He also suggested some roasters in Minneapolis/St Paul to check out while I am there.

Huckleberry Roasters has been my favorite experience so far on this coffee tour.  The coffee was delicious and the warmth and community created by the baristas and patrons made this an excellent stop on the coffee tour. I will definitely be making my way back to Huckleberry Roasters.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Sabbath Coffee Tour: Part III, Amethyst Coffee (11th and Broadway)

 For the third stop on my Denver Sabbath Coffee Tour, I checked out Amethyst Coffee at 11th and Broadway. This light and airy coffee shop (with a Scandinavian style, mid-century modern vibe) serves coffee from Commonwealth Coffee Roasters. I cajoled my friend Vince into joining me, as he is also a big fan of coffee.

This coffee shop is in the remodeled/reclaimed Broadway Plaza motel building which is now called the Metlo. It is a haven of shops and artistic spaces. The coffee shop is in the former front desk space. There is a small parking lot in front, metered parking available on Broadway and non-metered parking on the side streets.  Parking tickets are given in abundance along Broadway, so make sure you feed your meter or watch the street parking limits (usually two hours on side streets). The atmosphere is quiet and open.  There are plenty of tables, a couch, some armchairs, and a shaded patio. It would be a great place for writing or working.  There was no music playing, just the doors open to the patio, with ambient street noise, which I find preferable to loud music in coffee shops. The barista working was friendly and helpful, and patrons were hanging out on the patio with their dogs.

I ordered a cold brew coffee over ice.  Today's roast was the Ethiopian, a light and fruity roast. The coffee was smooth enough that I drank it without cream or sugar. Usually coffee is too bitter for me to enjoy without doctoring it up. There is a pastry case, but by the time we arrived (around 11:30) there were no pastries left.

This was delicious coffee!  I highly recommend this coffee shop both for its delicious coffee and for its comfortable atmosphere.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

It doesn't just stop with a free lunch…a sermon on John 6:24-36

A sermon preached at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, CO. 

Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the Triune God.  Amen.

I wasn’t originally going to preach on this text.  I was going to preach on a text from Ephesians that talks about unity in the Holy Spirit and I even went so far as to write most of that sermon. But this Gospel text from John, the bread of life, has not let me go.  The word “life” in this text seemed to really grate on me this week. As I read the texts and prayed, I also experienced one of the most challenging weeks in my career as a chaplain, bearing witness to 8 deaths in the last 48 hours, along with the trauma, illness and pain that happen in every hospital. I've not been thinking about life, I am thinking about mortality and death. I feel like the crowd, having a hard time understanding what Jesus is saying about eternal life. They ask, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we might see it and believe you? What work are you performing?” In my work, where I see so much suffering and death, I plead to God, “Give me a sign so that I can believe you when you say that death is not the end!”
I have been earnestly chasing Jesus for a sign just like the crowd that we hear about in John’s Gospel. The crowd followed Jesus to Capernaum because they witnessed a miracle in the feeding of the 5,000.  They want to make Jesus their king by force, because they were impressed with the loaves and fishes. When the crowd catches up to him, he says “I am giving you eternal life, my body and blood, and you don’t get it.  You are happy to just stop with a free lunch!”  Jesus tells the people, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food which endures for eternal life.”
The crowd was stuck in the broken time of now, unable to see the holy not yet. Their hunger, a sort of physical hunger that is hard for us to understand, compels them to have their stomachs filled and their hunger pangs quieted, and until the needs of the present are cared for, it is really hard to see the promise of what is to come.  While our stomachs might not growl with starvation in the same way as the crowd gathered around Jesus, we too are stuck in the broken time of now. We hunger for justice when we hear about yet another Black American killed by a law enforcement officer. We hunger for answers when we learn of stabbings at a gay pride parade in Israel. We hunger for forgiveness for the ways that we continue to oppress our brothers and sisters of color through systemic racism. We hunger for life and for good news and for the promise of the Gospel when we battle shame and despair and depression and addiction everywhere around us.
Jesus says to the crowd, consumed by their current hunger, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”  Do not be consumed with the brokenness that you see now, but focus on the promise of all that God gives you.  And the crowd asks, “What do we do to secure these promises for ourselves?” And Jesus says, “Nothing. The work of God is to believe in him whom he sent.”   
And the crowd says,  No, really. There has to be something. And give us a sign so that we can believe you about the whole eternal life thing.  What are you doing so that we can believe?  When our ancestors were doubting the presence of God, they were given manna in the wilderness by Moses.”  And Jesus says, “ It was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven, but my Father who gives you true bread in heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  Still perhaps wishing for a nice sourdough or rye loaf, the crowd says, “Give us this bread always.”  Jesus proclaims, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” 
Jesus says the same to us, “Do not be consumed with the brokenness of the world, but know that God is among you, the bread of God has come down into the world.” We think are better off than the crowd because we know that Jesus talking about himself and we know the rest of the story, but we still struggle with believing what Jesus is saying.
Perhaps because we equate believing with intellectual understanding.  If we just had enough evidence, enough signs, if manna of some sort could be provided, that would be great. But having faith is not about comprehension and making a reasoned decision based on carefully considered facts.  It is about an encounter with Christ. It is Christ coming into the world for us, and saying, “Come to me, I will feed you from my very body.”  And it is about us bringing all of our broken pieces and our open hands saying, “I am hungry.”
What if believing that Christ is the bread of the world is not about understanding what it’s all about, but about a willingness to come to this table each week with our hunger? To say, “I have no idea how this works. But I am going to eat anyway because I am hungry.”  Our pastors declare each week during the invitation to communion, “Behold who you are, become what you receive!” We are all Christ’s body, we are all Christ’s beloved.  When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we share in his life and death and resurrection. We are reminded of Christ in us and around us. We are reminded that death has no dominion. THIS, the bread and the wine, THIS is the sign for which we cry out when we hunger, when we are surrounded by fear and shame and death.
Hunger is not the end. Pain is not the end. Fear is not the end. Even death is not the end. And because it is really hard to remember that, we get to be reminded each week when we eat the bread of heaven as we gather together around this table.  I am hungry to be reminded that death is not the end, even though it surrounds me everyday.  I need to be fed so that I might have the strength that comes from Christ to continue to do my work in the hospital. 

How are you hungry? How does this sacred meal feed you? 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

chaplaincy series: Pastoral Theology

Explanation of project: CPE students were tasked with writing and delivering a “pastoral homily”, a message that would speak to patients in a pastoral way. This is not a sermon, but rather, an exploration of a pastoral concern.

My initial reflections: Proclamation is something that comes quite easily to me.  I write and deliver sermons on a regular basis. I have preached homilies at funerals, weddings, prayer services, worship services, graduation and confirmation liturgies, and other events in the life of a pastor. What would be of greater learning to me is to engage in dialogue with my peers and supervisor regarding the topic of this homiletical reflection, disability and pastoral theology.

Limiting the scope: There are many definitions of what it is to be disabled.  There are physical disabilities, cognitive disabilities, invisible disabilities such as autoimmune diseases and mental illnesses, and other conditions that may or may not be disabling such as deafness or blindness. The scope of this project does not allow for extended consideration of all of these topics, so the term “disability” for the remainder of this project refers to paralysis, specifically the inability to walk as a result of a traumatic injury. Additionally, since I am not a part of the disabled community, my reflections are limited to my own social location. I can reflect upon these topics, but I am perpetually outside this community. Finally, since I am a minister in a Christian tradition, specifically a Lutheran pastor, my perspective is Christo-centric and is guided by scripture. 

Images of paralysis in scripture:  (NRSV)
Mark 2:1-12:
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic— ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’ And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’”

Matthew 9:2-8:
 And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’ Then some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’ But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic—‘Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.’ And he stood up and went to his home. When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.

Luke 5:17-26:
“ One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting nearby (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.’ Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, ‘Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you”, or to say, “Stand up and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the one who was paralyzed—‘I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.’ Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’”

Matthew 8:5-13:
 “When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.’ And he said to him, ‘I will come and cure him.’ The centurion answered, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.’ And the servant was healed in that hour.”

John 5:1-15:
“After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Take up your mat and walk.” ’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Take it up and walk”?’ Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.”

Acts 9:23-25
 Now as Peter went here and there among all the believers, he came down also to the saints living in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years, for he was paralyzed. Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!’ And immediately he got up. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

Scriptural Reflections:
-All four Gospels have some account of Jesus telling a paralyzed man to “Stand up, take your mat, and walk.”
-There is an additional account of the healing of the Centurion’s servant and of a man named Aeneas.
-Scriptural accounts pertaining to paralysis tend to be closely related to healing happening when a person proves their faith or when their sins are forgiven.

Pastoral Reflections:
It is extremely problematic to link paralysis with sin or with faith.  To link paralysis with sin is to say that someone did something to deserve their condition/injury/illness. To link paralysis (or healing from it, “take up your mat and walk”) with faith puts someone into the position of feeling like they can do something to pray their way out of their condition. Additionally, to link paralysis with faith means that someone who is paralyzed can be seen as “not praying hard enough” or not “having enough faith”, because if they had great faith, they could be healed. Both of these are cold comfort to someone who is paralyzed. I have been present many times during this residency year when a doctor told a patient that they would not be able to walk again as a result of a car accident/ski accident/fall/other trauma. Patients frequently respond, “what did I do to deserve this?” The pastoral response is, “absolutely nothing, there is nothing to say except, ‘I am with you’” and yet, so much of Christianity wants to pray for a miracle when a severed spinal cord is not going to ever be repaired.

There is something left wanting when we link disability to sin or implying that a person’s traumatic injury could have been avoided or that it could be healed if they only had enough faith or prayed the right way. There needs to be a different concept of disability and theology.

Re-imagining disability with theology:

A. The interdependent God: posed by Kathy Black in A Healing Homiletic. This idea of Christian community is a place where “all are called to work interdependently with God to achieve well-being for ourselves and others.”[1]  This idea begins from the place that we are profoundly interconnected to one another and to God.  Physical limitations are merely a different manifestation of “normal” because we are all connected. Those who depend on the assistance of others with daily activities are essentially no different than those who depend on the assistance of other people who have expertise with other tasks, such as financial management, construction, and so on. Black argues that “experience of disability allows us to see what is often invisible to others: all people, disabled or not, are dependent on other people and the resources of the natural world for survival.”[2]  Black emphasizes the connection between God and between human beings, saying that “the universe is interdependent and God is part of that interdependence.”[3]

Scripturally speaking, I see evidence of this interdependent God in Exodus 6:7a, “I will take you as my people, and I will be your God.” God is God because of God’s people. God is not a puppet master subjecting people to whims of pain and suffering. In this image of the universe, human choice and God’s will are just a couple factors in a myriad of factors determining our lives.  

What does this look like in a hospital setting? Patients in a hospital are acutely aware of their dependence on others.  I made a visit to a patient last week who said that she was unable to chat at the time because she was waiting for her nurse to take her to the bathroom. The eventual treatment plan for most patients is to return home and to return to health, and to get to that point, patients must rely on caregivers. But what if this interdependence works the other way as well?  Nurses are nurses because they have patients to care for. Chaplains are chaplains because they provide pastoral care. Care is not provided in a vacuum, it is provided as a part of a web of interconnected relationships. In this model, disability is not a deficit, but rather, another way that we are connected to one another.

B. The Disabled God: Nancy Eiesland, in The Disabled God, posits that traditional images of disability as a curse or as a blessing (something to overcome) are simply not adequate and make it impossible for a person with disabilities to see themselves as part of the imago dei, as divinely inspired creatures made in the image of God. Eiesland suggests that the image of the crucified Christ can point to the disabled God.  Jesus died as a result of physical limitations. He was crucified on a cross and suffocated because he was unable to lift his own body weight enough to fill his lungs. Eiesland states, “Christians do not have an able-bodied God as their primal image. Rather, the disabled God promising grace through a broken body is at the center of piety, prayer, practice and mission.”[4] Eiesland’s image of God divorces physical disability from the notion of sin, because Jesus was free from sin and yet he became disabled. She also argues that the stories of the crucifixion and the resurrection show that God is in solidarity with those who have disabilities or who are otherwise marginalized. God knows what it is to be physically limited and knows what it is to experience pain.

This has major implications from a pastoral perspective for patients in the hospital. As Jesus appeared to his disciples as a survivor, with wounds from his suffering, even inviting the disciples to touch him and place their hands in his wounds, so too patients are marked with wounds and scars from their own suffering. This speaks of a God in solidarity with those who suffer. God knows what it is to suffer and God knows what it is to die. As someone who has suffered, I would much rather have a God who suffers (a theology of the cross) than a God who is seen only in glory. As a patient, I would rather have a chaplain who is willing to acknowledge that God has experienced the worst that this world can offer and is not too quick to pray for healing or for wholeness because that feels cheap.  As a chaplain, I would rather have a disabled God, because that is a God that I can believe in and that I can bear witness to as I sit with patients in their suffering.

Reflecting Together:

1.     What do you think about people “deserving” their condition?  What about drunk drivers or suicidal folks or someone else who actually did something, even if it was mere stupidity, to bring about their paralysis?
2.     What do you think about God as being disabled?  Does this expand your vision of God or does it limit what God is capable of doing?
3.     What can paralysis tell us about God?
4.     Do these thoughts challenge your theology? Expand it?  Are you indifferent?
How does this sort of reflection shape our w

[1] Black, Kathy. A Healing Homiletic, 1996.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid
[4] Eiesland, Nancy. The Disabled God, 2002.