Deliver Us Not Into the Bitterness of Eternal Death, Again.

We wake and mourn once again. This cycle has seemed to mark our common life together more often than any of us wish it would; the school shootings blend together and that is as offensive to the lives lost as it is to the truth that this should never feel normal.

There will be many things written today about the shooting at Central Michigan University today, a university not unlike our own WKU.  My habit after school and mass shootings has become to pray one of the anthems we seldom use in our funeral services.

In the midst of life we are in death;
from whom can we seek help?
From you alone, O Lord,
who by our sins are justly angered.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.

Lord, you know the secrets of our hearts;
shut not your ears to our prayers,
but spare us, O Lord.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.

O worthy and eternal Judge,
do not let the pains of death
turn us away from you at our last hour.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.

Buriall II, BCP p.492

It came to my mind because while we are a resurrection people, death, especially mass murder on this level, is not immediately filled with hope. Instead, in times like these, I need to have the heavy refrain of “Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and merciful Savior, deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death” punctuate my fear and my anger. I need to be reminded that in the midst of life, we are in death. I need to be reminded that God not only sits with us in our grief, God is also rightly angered at our sin of failure of caring for each other.

May God have mercy upon on all those whose lives were lost, may light perpetual shine upon them, and may we, as a nation, be willing to do all that we can to stop this sort of mass violence.

Sacred Space

One of my biggest tasks when I was working as a chaplain in the hospital was to hold space. The hospital is a place a efficiency; the hospital room is not designed for comfort not for a long term stay. Conversations that happen in a hospital are also efficiency driven, as they should be. When a nurse or a tech comes in to draw labs, they don’t begin with small talk or pleastries, nor do they feel the need to know who the patient is before they draw blood or check the IV drip. This is, of course, necessary to the function of a hospital, but the gift of the chaplain’s role in the hospital is that you get to help hold space.

As a chaplain, you do not serve an immediate role, your purpose is not transactional like many roles in a hospital staff. At my hospital in Texas we had a system in place for immediate, but not life threatening events. If a patient fell or had a severe drop in blood pressure a Rapid Response was called, and a rush of hospital staff came from all areas of the hospital: the lab sent a tech, someone in red scrubs arrived with an EKG machine, one of the ER docs would come, respiratory health, etc., etc., etc. It was always a lot of people, but there would also always be a chaplain. Our work in that moment of crisis was not to help in the immediate crux of the concern, but to be a calm presence in a frenzy of action and to hold space for the reality that life goes on.

We chaplains hold space, we acknowledge that sometimes you need to take a beat even as life marches on. To be able to hold this space is a gift; it seems to be a combination of practice and God-given ability to be non-anxious when everything around is leaning into the anxiety that saturates big transitions. This space is metaphorical, of course; it is sitting quietly in prayer for 20 seconds or for 20 minutes. Holding this space is sacred because it is in this space that we have to acknowledge that life is fragile and lovely and painful and beautiful, somehow all at the same time. Holding this space is sacred because it is a privilege to sit with people in the in between times; it is a gift to get to quietly acknowledge that we are somehow both stronger and weaker than we previously thought possible.

I’m learning that being a campus chaplain provides a similar opportunity to hold a sacred space. It is different than holding it as a hospital chaplain, but sacred nonetheless. It is sacred to hold this space with our students because, just as in the hospital room, life changes in some big and unexpected ways, and in these moments each of us needs someone or something to help us to hold this space. We need someone who helps us realize that our quiet moments are sacred opportunities to catch a glimpse of who God may be calling and shaping us to be.

Begin Again

My favorite kind of beginnings are ones that are a return to what I’ve already done. I love to have a fresh start without having to figure out how to navigate a new system or place; it is the best of both navigating a system you already know, but also getting to start with a new and invigorated hope.

Days like to today are my favorite because they are begin again days; it’s a fairly arbitrary mark on the calendar in which a new phase of life starts. As the Spring semester starts for Western Kentucky,  I have an intense appreciation for the chance to begin again. This morning it was lovely to see people walk around campus gearing up for their days and for the start of their classes. Last night the coffee shop was already buzzing with students with oversized textbooks and brightly lit computers. And even as the spring like weather begins to soak campus, I’m sure that this semester holds bright sunny days to come (even if we have to endure a few more winter ones before we get there).

For some of our students this is their first time to begin again at Western, and for others it’s their last; today’s chance to begin again holds for each of us something different, but full of hope nonetheless. My prayer for the start of the semester is that each student, faculty member, or staff person on campus today gets a chance to glimpse at the hope of beginning again; that whatever their hopes for the day or the week or the semester or this phase of their life comes to fruition. May your steps and actions be guided by the hope not just for good grades or an easy class schedule, but the hope of the crucified and resurrected messiah. May everything you do today and always be infused with the love of God and the hope of Christ.

O Eternal God, bless all schools, colleges, and universities and especially Western Kentucky University, that they may be lively centers for sound learning, new discovery, and the pursuit of wisdom; and grant that those who teach and those who learn may find you to be the source of all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer for Schools and Colleges-BCP, 824

Deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death

We wake and mourn once again. This cycle has seemed to mark our common life together more often than any of us wish it would; the mass shootings blend together and that is as offensive to the lives lost as it is to the truth that this should never feel normal.

There will be many things written today about the terrorist attack in Las Vegas today; I’m not one to write a hot take, but this morning reading through the news my mind went to one of the anthems we seldom use in our funeral services.

In the midst of life we are in death;
from whom can we seek help?
From you alone, O Lord,
who by our sins are justly angered.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.

Lord, you know the secrets of our hearts;
shut not your ears to our prayers,
but spare us, O Lord.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.

O worthy and eternal Judge,
do not let the pains of death
turn us away from you at our last hour.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.

Buriall II, BCP p.492

It came to my mind because while we are a resurrection people, death, especially mass murder on this level, is not immediately filled with hope. Instead, in times like these, I need to have the heavy refrain of “Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and merciful Savior, deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death” punctuate my fear and my anger. I need to be reminded that in the midst of life, we are in death. I need to be reminded that God not only sits with us in our grief, God is also rightly angered at our sin of failure of caring for each other.

May God have mercy upon on all those whose lives were lost, may light perpetual shine upon them, and may we, as a nation, be willing to do all that we can to stop this sort of mass violence.

Naaman and Spiritual Practices

There is an unfortunate side of my personality that, when approached with a simple challenge or exasperatingly easy problem, I think to myself, “that’s stupid, I’m not doing it.” As if when something isn’t challenging, it isn’t worth my time or effort. When I’m faced with a difficult problem or a complex, interpersonal issue with many facets and sides, this is great; I’m ready to tackle the tough stuff. Give me the metaphorical shoe string that has been knotted over seven times, and not only will I untangle it, I will love every minute of it.

But when it comes to the more mundane issues that arise in life, this is less of a benefit, and, in truth, most of our lives are mundane. It is more of a challenge for me to spend two simple minutes resolving a simple issue than it is for me to spend two hours working on a complex one.

In the reading from the Hebrew Bible this morning (2 Kings 5:1-19), Naaman comes to the prophet wanting to know how to be clean of his leprosy; the prophet tells him to go and wash seven times in the Jordan and his flesh will be restored. This, seems to me, is a fine solution; ritual washing commanded by the power of God through the prophets generally leads to good things, but Naaman is not about it. Naaman is hot. How dare this prophet command something so simple, and in such a simple river as the Jordan; surely Elisha would come and give more complex, personal instructions for his healing. His servants, likely somewhat timidly, said, “if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean?” Naaman took that good word from his servants and followed the simple command and was made clean; he came back to Elisha and made his proclamation of faith in the God of Israel. Thank goodness his servants were there to help him see the ways in which he was overlooking the power of simple, purposeful actions.

Spiritual disciplines are kind of like washing ourselves seven times in the river; they are generally simple actions and choices that lead to big changes in our lives, simply because they orient us toward God and toward each other. In my rule of life, I have a set of spiritual practices I try to do every day; there are periods of time where these are easy to do and there are times when carving out time to read scripture or to pray at my set times seems inconvenient. Those challenging times are when I most crave a complex problem; it’s when I want God to require our spiritual life to be constantly difficult and challenging, rather than continuous and mundane.

A vibrant spiritual life doesn’t come from being amazing at solving spiritual crises or problems; it rarely comes directly from a prophet, with complex and challenging aspects. A vibrant spiritual life, rather, comes from showing up, day after day, praying our prayers, reading our holy scriptures, and living our lives in cruciform manner. A vibrant spiritual life is not the result of glamorous spiritual adventures, rather it’s getting up, and following the command to do the simple action that will bring about big results.

Walk Slowly and Take a Deep Breath

At a time in which prayer was especially challenging, I found the joy of hiking. When the well from which I draw my prayers wasn’t dried up, the words of my prayers were hostile; I was overwhelmed and angry, and while I wasn’t sure God’s role in it all, I knew in some ways, God was to blame.  Then, I saw the the bright sunlight filtered through vibrant green leaves. I saw the beautiful abandon of wild flowers in the forest. I saw the ways in which nature makes way for things to grow as well as for things to die. And then I remembered how to pray, I remembered how to breathe, and in many ways I remembered that the only way to move through this world is to walk slowly and take a deep breath.

This world moves too quickly to notice all the beauty that surrounds us; most of us rush from event to event without being able to see just how abundantly God has adorned this world with beautiful things and beautiful people. We have to slow down; to run the course of this life requires that we be able to slow down or we will exhaust ourselves with our self-imposed hurry.

A fellow university chaplain, Charles L. Howard, in his book Pond River Ocean Rain, writes about finding stillness, peace, and, then also, finding God: “The path is narrow and shaded by a whispering green canopy provided by strong oaks, willows, and pines. Its flora-lined walkway seems to invite those who walk slowly enough to breathe in the calm and wonder that emanates from these little fragile witnesses watching at their feet.”

We all are walking a path, and it’s up to us to notice the ways in which those things and those people who surround us on this path point us to the wonder and the joy of God; it’s up to us to walk slowly, to breathe deeply, and to give thanks to God for all that has brought us here and all to which this path will lead.

The seasons are changing here. Soon the flowers that line the path will be covered with warm-colored leaves and the air that greets us as we leave our houses or our places of work or study will be crisp with a slight chill. The changing of the seasons often brings a hurried nature; the community begins to pack in events before winter comes, the pressure of the second half of the year begins to weigh us down, or the depth of the middle of the semester begins to become a slog. Resist the urge to run past this slow change that nature takes on this time of year; resist the urge to pine for the end of the semester or the turn of the new year. Remember that you and all that you encounter are created in beauty and holiness; remember that God is present with us in more ways than we can imagine. Remember to walk slowly and take a deep breath.

 

Influential Moments

When I look out at the world, there are things that I assume to be true. Having a fairly high anthropology, I’m pretty convicted in the general goodness of humanity, but I also lament the fact that this innate goodness is rarely our dominant narrative as a society. When I look out at the world, I am not looking objectively, with absolute reason and rationality, I look out at the world as a complicated, complex being who has been shaped significantly by people, events, and deeply held beliefs. There have been moments in my life that have shaped what I believe to be true about the world and the world’s needs; there have been moments that have shaped how I see myself and the gifts God has given me to meet those needs in the world.

Like most folks, today brings back memories for me: I was 17, sitting in U.S. Economics, having just finished watching a video about the economic background of KFC (yes, the chicken place), and the video clicked off and the TV switched automatically to the news. I watched the second plane fly into the tower with 20 other 17-year-olds in Tennessee; most of us had never been to New York and none of us had faced any sort of tragedy to this national magnitude. I remember a lot of things about that day, but one of that stands out the most was hearing the fear-filled cry of hatred for “those people” (by which, I’m sure he meant all Muslims). I remember holding my own fear and denouncing this sort of racism and hatred as not only reactionary, but also foolish; in what might have been my first curse ever, I remember saying, “Just because you’re an ass, Chad, doesn’t mean all Christians are.” This was the most scathing and dramatic thing of which I could think; I was a pretty innocuous 17-year-old.

In that moment, I knew that because my faith mattered deeply to me, it was important for me to help others live out their faiths as well. That day may have started my love for interfaith dialogue and relationships, even though looking back, I doubt I even knew anyone who wasn’t Christian. This was such an influential moment not just in our collective social conscious, but it was also a significant moment that influenced my worldview.

There are other moments, of course. I remember the first time someone told me I had a kind soul, which shapes how I hold myself in regards to others who are in need.I still remember the day that I realized I was fully made in the image of God, which shapes how vital it is for me for all people to know this deep and good truth within their souls. The gracious hospitality showed to me by people of the Baha’i faith when I had lost my own faith and was trying to find my way in the darkness shapes how I engage with everyone who is in a time of darkness, with faith or without it. Seeing how unbalanced the structures within which we all live are biased towards whiteness shapes how I move in this world, what I notice, and then, later, what I may have missed because my privilege allowed me to be feign blindness.

Tomorrow, we’ll get a chance to discuss these influential moments that have shaped our worldview together; I’ll be at the DSU Starbucks at 7:00pm, Tuesday, September 12th. What has shaped what you believe about the world; who has formed the way you think about yourself when you consider what you have to offer to meet the needs of this world?

The One Thing Millennials Can’t Ruin

As I turned on my car to head to the gym this morning, the radio DJs were in the middle of reading a list of “Millennial worries”. Put out by Business Insider, the article that they were referencing, “The 10 most serious problems in the world, according to millennials,” doesn’t surprise me; it’s a list of serious problems in the world, as the title indicates. What surprised me was how shocked these radio show hosts were at each one, commenting after nearly every one about how seriously the Millennials took the world’s problems, as if they expected #4-7 to be about Snapchat filters.

This is something that gets my goat. This kind of popular shock and surprise at Millennials caring about anything other than their phones is to judge a whole swath of people without ever actually seeing, hearing, or engaging them. Outside of it being an unkind reading of a group of people, it is cuts off what could be healthy, mutually beneficial intergenerational relationships.

I’m what I like to call an “Old Millennial”, I was born at the early end of the millennial generational divide. I definitely have millennial characteristics, but I’m old enough to use a phrase like “get my goat”. In some ways, I feel like the older sister of the Millennials; the Millennials born at the opposite end of the generational divide are very different than me, but they’re still my siblings and I’ll stand up for and protect them. Maybe this is birth order personality or maybe it’s because I now work with Millennials or maybe it’s because it’s just plain bizarre blame a whole generation for killing Applebee’s.

people-844207_1920If there’s anything that we can take away from the list put out, which pulls from the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Survey, it’s that the one thing Millennials can’t ruin is the worry that we all share for this world. The world’s most serious problems according to this list are those that affect the most marginalized (poverty, income inequality, lack of education, etc.) and those that affect our shared future (climate change, religious conflicts, food and water security, war). Over 30,000 millennials, from a variety of countries of origin, responded to this survey, and the truth is that Millennials cannot ruin the worry that we share at seeing children go hungry or the dramatic shifts in our world’s climate or the ways in which populist racism and hatred are becoming more and more visible.

The Epistle lesson in this morning’s Daily Office is from James; I get excited when the littler, less known epistle come up. It was James 2: 15-17 that caught me this morning as I was thinking about how much Millennials care about this world and how much work there is to be done: “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

We need each other, folks, or this work will not get done. We need each other to have a faith that is alive and vibrant. Millennials need those who are younger and older than them to be engaged, to care about these serious problems in our world. We need to be people steeped in prayer and people engaged in action, and we can’t expect one generation alone to fully take care of the problems in this world. We need to have relationships that cross these generational divides, because there is no way forward, but together.

Failure is Always an Option

A friend of mine from college  speaks around the world on the future of humanity, society, technology, and Christianity; once before he spoke at a TEDx event in the Cayman Islands, he put out a piece of advice that helps him before he gets up to speak to a large crowd: failure is always an option. At the time, I was in the rush of diocese requirements for ordination, finishing my last year of master’s degree, and preparing to move away from Texas, and hearing that failure is always an option was disorienting enough that I stopped and took a deep breath for the first time in a long time.

Much of my life at that time alternated between checking my Google calendar every 20 minutes to make sure I was on task and panicking about all the ways in which these big, important life moves could fall through. Having one of my biggest fears presented before me in a five word sentence was shocking; it was also incredibly liberating.

Not that it gave me freedom to suddenly start tanking my classes and shirking responsibilities, but it freed me from the illusion that I could somehow control whether or not failure was possible. Failure is always an option, because to try anything risks it falling through.

We cannot, no matter how much we might like to try, force failure from the potential outcomes of doing anything worthwhile. We could hold on to the illusion that somehow we are smart enough, or strong enough, or lucky enough that failure won’t happen to us, but this would only put our energy into maintaining this false belief.

At the time I was spending so much of my intellectual, emotional, and spiritual energy on obsessively trying to avoid failure that I forgot what I was trying to accomplish in the first place. After getting over the shock of the bluntness with which failure was presented, I was able to remember why I wanted to become a priest and how the diocesan process played into the formation for this vocation and I was able to remember why theological education was important (and fun!) for me, and then the weight of a potential failure didn’t feel so heavy, because I knew that accomplishing goals wasn’t the only way to benefit from following the things that I love.

Whether it’s our academic studies, our passions, or our hobbies, failure is an option, and once we can acknowledge that,  we are free to throw our entire selves into the things we love. The only way to do the things we love is with abandon, and while failure may always be an option, let us never let that stop us from trying.

Paying Attention to the Holy Chaos

The ways in which rhythms of life ramps up in August are abundant; the hectic, busy nature fills the air. People begin walking a little faster, having less time to linger over a conversation, and to-do lists grow or become more pressing as we prepare for the start of the school year or the program year. It is exciting and invigorating, even if we lament the end of the (hopefully) more relaxed summer months.

It’s a time of year during which it is hard to pay attention. If we enter into this season running full tilt without making sure that we pay attention, we’ll miss the first of the leaves turning yellow, we’ll miss that first cool morning air that signifies that fall is coming, we’ll miss that we’ve made it through another season and we won’t be able to take pause to give thanks for all that stands behind us and all that waits before us.

I’m a big fan of paying attention; I love the beauty that you see when you pay attention. This beauty is in the changing of the seasons and dances across the trees and the hills that we call home, of course, but this beauty also rests on the faces of those we love or those we barely know. The beauty that you get to see when you pay attention resides in relationships that deepen with each conversation and shared moment. Paying attention gives you a glimpse of what the world and all that reside in it looks like in truth; the pain and the ugliness is sharper, but so is the beauty.

As we run into the start of this school year, it is important, for me at least, to take a moment; it’s important for me to take a moment to give thanks for the rain or the sun, to give thanks for new relationships and for old ones that hold me up in more ways than I can express. It’s important for me to be able to see the ways in which God moves through the people with whose path I cross, whether we see each other or not. It’s important to take time to listen to the conversations that happen and pay attention to where God might be moving or calling us as we excitedly talk about our plans and our hopes for the coming months and year.

“We need moments in our life when we let the chaos settle a bit and invite God to show us evidence of [God’s] presence at work in big ways and subtle ways and allow [God] to guide us in our understanding of what these things mean.” [1] Ruth Haley Barton’s appeal strikes me as necessary as we seek to pay attention at the busy start of this upcoming year. When we pay attention, we get to see that this time of year isn’t merely chaos for chaos’ sake; it, like so many other things in our life and work, is a sort of holy chaos. Through this holy chaos God moves and creates; this holy chaos contains more details and facets than we can imagine or grasp, and in many ways this is a gift from God. May we let it settle and may our eyes be opened to all the ways in which God is moving through new beginnings, fresh starts, developing relationships, or the soon-to-be changing of the leaves.


[1] Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, 63.