Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's a Scandinavian thing ... you might not understand


My oldest daughter has recently been very interested in her Danish heritage. She's recently discovered a series of comics called Scandinavia and the World and they are hilarious ... if you're Scandinavian. If not, they might seem downright weird. Think of it as Japanese Manga art meets lutefisk (and if you have to ask what lutefisk is ... well ... check this description and you'll know what to avoid).

The comic above depicts the Pope discovering Denmark, Sweden and Norway observing Christmas with an array of bizarre traditions. The goat costumes are the Julebukke or Christmas goat which is usually made of straw (like this one here). This is one of those pagan rituals which had a bit of holy water sprinkled on it to legitimize it when Christianity swept through Scandinavia. The candle lit wreaths on their heads depict the St. Lucia tradition which began in Sweden but spread throughout Scandinavia. The Christmas tree (which has pagan roots) is covered with the flags of the Scandinavian countries. This tradition came from the time when Denmark was occupied by the Nazis and it was illegal to display the Danish flag - so putting a string of them on the Christmas tree was a subversive way to show their resistance. The poor Pope has no idea what to make of all this!

If you live in the US, chances are good your ancestors came from somewhere else just like mine did. In coming over, there was a strong desire to assimilate so we could "be American." In that process, we all gave up something which was a part of who we are - language, dress, customs. In a time where the world is getting smaller and we are becoming an ever increasingly pluralistic society, it would do us all well to remember where we came from and what we gave up in that journey ... and even reclaim some of what we lost.

Fortunately for me, my Danish heritage does not include reclaiming lutefisk. Gl├Ždelig jul!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Unexpected grace

Every now and then, something just leaps out and surprises me in my work. I had to visit some patients in a local assisted living "memory care" unit. "Memory care" is a gentle way of describing a secure, locked area where people with dementia, Alzheimers or related cognitive disorders live. Admittedly, it's not a place where most of us would like to end our days, but some of us will. This facility (which must remain nameless for confidentiality's sake) has a pretty good memory care unit and their director is very good. I have seven patients in this unit and you never quite know what they will say or do. Working in there definitely sharpens your improvisational skills!

There is one couple in the unit who live together. The husband is forgetful but still conversant. He's always a gentleman and appreciates being able to talk about his faith. His wife has Alzheimers and isn't able to converse anything more than what we call "word salad" - a jumbling of words and sounds which do not make sense to the listener. I visited the gentleman in their shared room and we had a nice visit. They've been married 64 years - I call them the "cute couple on campus" and this usually elicits a chuckle from both of them. His wife was eating her breakfast in the dining room so I joined her there.

She was sitting in her wheelchair and I could tell she didn't recognize me when I first spoke to her. I showed her my badge and introduced myself as the chaplain - she smiled at me and took my hand. She has a far away look in her eyes most of the time. I asked how her breakfast was, she struggled to reply, "I'm not hungry." She tried to say some words but they didn't make much sense so I just held her hand and smiled. Towards the end of the visit, I asked her if I could pray for her. She said, "Yes." So I offered a prayer for her and her husband and a blessing. She said, "Thank you." I told her, "You're welcome - I'll see you soon."

As I gathered my belongings and put on my coat, she watched me intently. As I turned to leave, she reached out for my hand and said, "I love you." I was taken by surprise. I took her hand and she pulled me towards her and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I wished her a Merry Christmas.

Like I said, you never know what will happen!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Angels among us

I'm preaching on Sunday the propers for the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels - a/k/a Michaelmas. It's one of those big feast days in the Church - right up there with All Saints, Christmas, Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas) and Easter.

I'm working on my sermon and I find it is hard for many people to believe in angels. I mean, believing in the Triune God is hard enough, adding angels, archangels, seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, powers, virtues, and principalities ... well ... it scatters the imagination. It seems easy to just rationalize all this as some metaphoric way of explaining something that we can now likely explain with science.

Let's be clear ... I cannot see angels or archangels but I'm convinced some people can. Most of us move into concrete rational thinking around the age of 7 and we stay there for much of our lives. Before the age of 7, children see all kinds of things and when people get close to death they start to see things again. I have patients who report that their long dead relatives are in the room. Some report seeing people they do not know. Often the dying will describe these people as coming "through the door" - but when the dying person points to the door, they are pointing to the ceiling, or the corner of the room, or a solid wall. At least the wall looks solid to me.

I have a patient from England. She was pretty lucid when she came into hospice but occasionally talked to people who were in the room but invisible to me. Others called this hallucinations but I'm not so sure. About 4 weeks ago, I went into her room. She had her brow knit and was looking at the wall next to her bed. I asked her what was going on and she said she was "worried about that staircase."

"Which staircase?" I asked.

"The one right there behind you."

I turned around, looked and said, "Oh! That staircase. What's wrong with it?" (For the reader's information, I did not see a staircase. I saw a wall. But she saw a staircase and who was I to tell her there wasn't one there?).

"There's a man at the top of the staircase and he says I have to go up the stairs. I've had a stroke and I can't go up the stairs. He says Charlie has to go too and he's in a wheelchair - he can't go up the stairs either." (Charlie is her husband).

My patient was lucid enough to know she could not walk nor could her husband Charlie. But the man at the top of the stairs (the man I could not see) was telling her she and Charlie would have to go up the stairs.

"Well, did the man say you have to go right now?" I asked.

My patient looked up, past my shoulder, to where I guessed the top of the stairs might be and said, "Well ... no ... we don't have to go right now."

I took my patient's hand and said, "Then you don't need to worry about it. When it is time to go up the stairs, I promise that God will strengthen your legs and Charlie's too. You both will run up those stairs like the wind and you'll be light as a feather."

"You really think so?" she asked.

"I know so. God will never ask you to do anything that He won't give you the strength and ability to do."

She looked over my shoulder again and smiled. "Well ... that's a relief," she said.

St. Michael is the patron saint of dying persons and holy death. Was he at the top of the stairs? I can't say for sure but a messenger from God definitely was and one day, she'll climb those stairs.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Homesickness

I've lived in Maryland for 22 years after leaving my home state of California. This coming May, I will officially have lived in Maryland as long as I lived in California. I don't often get homesick - especially when gas lines explode and take out a whole neighborhood (not the first time this has happened either) or when earthquakes hit at 2:47AM waking you out of a sound sleep.

But there is one thing I miss terribly ... good artichokes. For some mysterious reason, I cannot purchase good artichokes in Maryland. They are all pathetically small, with dehydrated leaves (you can tell when they start curling inward from the edges) and brown spots all over them. They are just nasty looking!

My parents took a road trip to Columbus Ohio to visit friends who are also "California ex-pats." They went to Trader Joes (one of the best California exports ... ever!) and found beautiful, full, green artichokes ... for 99 cents each! The nasty ones we get here in Maryland cost $1.99 each ... highway robbery!!

So who can tell me where to buy a decent artichoke in Maryland? Do they exist at all or are they a figment of the imagination like the Snallygaster and the Blair Witch?

Monday, September 6, 2010

What makes worship good or bad?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately especially in light of funerals, of which I attend many. For the three or four of you who follow my blog, you know I'm an Episcopal priest. Our tradition has pretty structured liturgy and my liturgical style is pretty broad. I can run the gamut of liturgy from contemporary/informal to smoke slinging/chanting Anglo-Catholic. But even with a structured liturgy, I've seen some pretty sloppy stuff go on.

Personally, I find it gets much worse in more free church, non-denominational traditions. Don't get me wrong, I've seen some very good and moving worship in these traditions. But the likelihood of running the worship into a ditch goes way up when the pastor gets to make up the liturgical road map as he/she goes.

Case in point, I've been to a lot of very Protestant funerals in the free church style (Baptist, non-denominational, Pentecostal). Some have been well crafted ... dare I say ... well structured. Others have gone into the ditch and never returned. I went to one which was officiated by a local Baptist pastor who obviously took the time to prepare the service. He had an order of worship, it was punctuated with appropriate music, his message was clear and on target. Admittedly, there were elements which are alien to my tradition - eulogies of the deceased and an "altar call" of sorts asking those present to make a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as their Savior - but these were expected within the tradition of the family and were appropriate. What was clear is that this pastor had prepared and organized the service well.

I've been to other funerals where the officiant did not prepare or if they did prepare they hid it well! These are usually services where the pastor seems to be enchanted by the sound of his own voice. These services are disjointed, the message sloppy, no music, and prayers that consist of three topic points and a poem. I've heard clergy say they don't want to "stifle the Holy Spirit" so they don't write much down. Personally, I'm beginning to think that not "stifling the Spirit" is a cop out for shoddy preparation.

It reminds me of a line from one of Barbara Brown Taylor's books wherein she said she has experienced preaching where she really wished there was a "pulpit police" to slap the cuffs on the preacher and take him away. Sometimes I wish there was a "liturgical police" to do the same during sloppy worship.

It could be this is because I'm seeing mostly funerals and, let's be honest, most clergy only do funerals periodically. I do funerals a lot ... really. To me, the funeral or memorial service is the last chance the deceased person has to share their faith with others. As the officiant, you are giving voice to a person who can no longer do so in the land of the living. It seems to me this calls for even more careful planning - but sadly that doesn't always happen. I guess my love of liturgy, regardless of tradition variants, makes me cringe when I can see the officiant just threw something together. I guess knowing too much makes this a professional hazard.

So the forum is open ... here on the blog and on my Facebook notes tab. What makes worship work (or not) for you?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tikkun Olam

I had a "first" last week. I went to a Jewish funeral. I had academic knowledge of Jewish funereal customs, but there's always a disconnect between knowing about something and actually doing it. Just ask anyone who is about 6 months out of seminary on their first call. "Gee, they never talked about this in seminary!" is a common refrain.

I had a patient who was in hospice care for just shy of two months who was Jewish. Now he and his wife (who was Christian) admitted that he wasn't a "very observant Jew." He participated in yahrzeit (the annual commemoration of the the death of a loved one), but that was about it. His sister and her husband were very observant - all of them belonged to Beth Shalom, the oldest synagogue in Frederick, Maryland.

I hadn't yet met the new rabbi at Beth Shalom but my patient assured me that the rabbi had visited him from time to time at the nursing home. This patient was open enough to allow me to be his chaplain and assist his prayers in ways which honored his Jewish heritage. During our time together, I supported both he and his wife with quiet presence and assurance.

Last Monday, I heard this patient had taken a turn over the weekend - he wasn't eating or drinking anymore and his weight was only 85 pounds (down from about 140). I called Beth Shalom to leave a message for the rabbi. Rabbi Murray Singerman called me back and we ended up meeting that afternoon with the patient's wife to discuss Jewish burial customs. It was a wonderful learning opportunity. Murray shared with us that the highest form of altruism in Judaism is to prepare a body for burial and bury the body. The community does this as an unselfish act - the dead cannot express their gratitude. I helped Murray make contact with the funeral home and made sure that our staff and the nursing home would not accidentally violate spiritual boundaries by bathing the body (which they would normally have done).

Murray prayed with our patient - in Hebrew and English. He recited Psalm 121 and said the Shema. He told us as we were leaving that the next day was Tisha B'av - a day of fasting and mourning. I wasn't familiar with this observance ... but I would learn about it quickly.

Our patient died in the middle of Tisha B'av ... right at the stroke of midnight! Tisha B'av is the day in the Jewish liturgical calendar which commemorates the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 586 BCE by the Babylonians and in 70 CE by the Romans. Murray called it "the darkest night of the Jewish year." How ironic that the Almighty would call his "not-very-observant" son home in the middle of this dark night!

The funeral was scheduled for Thursday morning and I went to represent our hospice staff. Murray gave a wonderful homily which integrated the desolation of grief with the desecration of the temple. He also said that the Sabbaths which follow Tisha B'av are the Sabbaths of Consolation which will lead up to Rosh Hashannah. The Sabbaths of Consolation feature readings from the halftorah (the prophets) who speak the words of comfort promising the restoration of the Jewish people. This is also our consolation and promise in a journey of grief.

I went to the cemetery along with the family and Murray explained the Jewish traditions which we would observe. We would be burying the body - which comes as quite a shock to most Christians who have (unfortunately) had their burial rituals sanitized of this tradition. We processed to the grave and watched as the casket was lowered into the ground ... and just the ground ... no vault liners (Jews having been doing "green burials" long before it was fashionable). Murray explained that the first three shovels of dirt are put into the grave by the family using the back of the shovel. This symbolizes our reluctance in performing this act. Our patient's wife placed the first shovel of earth onto the casket and his immediate family followed. The rest of the mourners present, including me, also shoveled earth into the grave.

Once everyone had shoveled earth into the grave, we all sat down and Murray, with his sleeves rolled up in 90+ degree weather, kept on shoveling. He explained that we needed to cover the coffin. I realized that Murray, the deceased's nephew, and I were the only ones young enough and physically fit enough to shovel all that dirt. So I got up and grabbed a shovel and began filling in the grave. What a sight ... a priest and a rabbi shoveling away on a hot summer day to bury a good man!

The Jewish people speak of their ethical responsibility to repair the world. This is summed up in the words tikkun olam. I came away from this burial in awe that our Lord had provided this moment of grace where I could participate in a very holy moment. I believe taking care of the dying and dead and their loved ones is part of repairing the world.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Best Pauline paraphrase ... evah!

I was very blessed to have a patient in the past month who made quite an impression in his one week in hospice care. This fellow had pancreatic cancer and there was no more the oncologist (who happens to be our hospice medical director) could do.

When "J" got the news from the doctor, his response was the best paraphrase of Paul that I've ever heard:
"Well, I got friends and family here - and I love them a lot. And I got friends and family in heaven - and I love them and miss them a lot. So I figure either way, I win!"
Romans 14:8:
"If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's."
Either way ... we win!
 

Friday, June 4, 2010

Start talking ... now!

"Give it to me straight: do I have much time left?"

This was the question posed to me by a new patient just recently. She had cancer and it was spreading ... quickly.

"No, your time is growing very short."

Last week, she was walking throughout the nursing home. This week, she is bed bound.

"Will I be healed?"

We live in a "fix it" society that believes medical technology can fix anything. We deny that we will grow old, get sick and die. We forget that healing isn't just about the body.

"Yes, you will be healed, but not in the way you might have expected. Your cancer will not go away and will likely take your life. But your spirit will be healed and God's perfect healing for all of us is on the other side of the grave."

Sometimes it is spiritually and emotionally healing to let go of a futile fight. There is peace when we can stop raging against a progressing illness and just be there.

"Will I make it to North Carolina?"

Her daughter lived there and this patient wanted to visit her there. Her daughter was here now to take care of her mother.

"No, I don't believe you are strong enough to get to North Carolina."

"Can I go home to my house? I don't want to be here."

Most of my patients want to go home. Sometimes they mean the house they lived in for many years ... sometimes they mean their heavenly home. In this case she meant the former as it was more peaceful than the nursing home where she was.

"Well, I can't promise you that, but I'll see what we can do. In the meantime, we're committed to keeping you comfortable in body, mind and spirit."

"Does my daughter know how bad it is?"

Too often, families have a sense the end is near but fear talking about it with each other. The dying family member doesn't want to upset anyone and the other family members don't want to upset the dying person either. It's often an unintended conspiracy of silence which doesn't help anyone.

"Well, she's in the hallway with your nurse and it is our practice to be compassionately honest with people about what is happening. With your permission, I'll tell her what I've told you." My patient nodded.
 
The patient's daughter was clear about her mother's poor prognosis and I told her it was ok to talk about it with her mom. This patient did get home to her house for her final days and her daughter was able to be with her to the end. She lasted just 11 days in hospice care.
 
If there's anything I'd like to shout from a mountaintop it is to start talking about your end of life plans with your loved ones ... now! If you have trouble getting started, check out the Five Wishes web site at http://www.agingwithdignity.org/five-wishes.php. The site has the Five Wishes form which includes both the advanced directive for medical care and a medical power of attorney form. In addition, there are sections about what kind of comfort care you want at the end of life and what you want your family to know. The form is legal in 42 states and can be used in the other eight states in combination with state issued forms. There are videos and helpful books to assist you in having these conversations with your loved ones.

Friday, May 28, 2010

And now for something completely different ...

I can't believe I haven't posted anything since ... um ... March!! Mea maxima culpea!

It has been a bit crazy at hospice. We have four teams that consist of registered nurses, certified nursing assistants (who are worth their weight in gold!), social workers and chaplain(s). The (s) is because not every team has multiple chaplains and that would include my team. I'm the "lone chaplain" in our group and this can make things rather crazy. My patient load went from 32 to 23 in one month ... and that doesn't count the ones who "passed through" rather quickly. I had 11 deaths in the past month and multiple funerals at which I presided ... in addition to all the regular patient visits. So the blog went ... well ... AWOL!

I took a "comp day" off today since so many of my funerals were on Saturdays (last week was a graveside where I spent 20 minutes at the grave and 3+ hours in my car!). So I "did lunch" with my good friend Katrina Marie and then went to buy a toilet. Yeah, I know ... you are SO thinking "Wow! A toilet!!" What can I say - it's life in the fast lane.

I found a super low flow toilet on sale (bonus) at Lowes. Forget the extra $100 just to get it in bisque ... gimme the PWT (Plain White Toilet). Well ... after pullling the old one off I found some water damage to the wood floor underneath. (N.B. Yes, Virginia, you do need to raise the toilet flange with a spacer if you put in 3/4" wood flooring! Let's hear it for the original contractors who shortcut this one!). One more trip to Lowes to get a spacer kit and another wax ring and it all came together pretty well.

I am astounded at how a simple toilet swap caused all my tools (hand and power) to migrate into my house! I'm thinking it would take a crescent wrench (doesn't everything job require these?), a couple of screwdrivers, and a paint scraper (to get that nasty wax off). Eventually the Dremel made the migration (to cut off the extra long toilet T-bolts), the cordless drill ... until the battery went dead ... which cause the electric corded drill to visit along with the extension cord, then the hacksaw, then a few more screwdrivers, and the really BIG channel locks.

But ... it's a really cool toilet! High geek factor! Low water usage! I can just hear my water bill taking a nosedive. Life is good.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Dalits Among Us

The term "Dalit" has roots in Sanskrit where the root 'dal' means "to split, crack, open." Dalit has come to mean things or persons who are cut, split, broken or torn asunder, scattered or crushed and destroyed.

The Dalits, also called the “untouchables,” “outcastes,” and most recently “slumdogs,” comprise nearly one quarter of India’s society, with population estimates of 250 million people. The term “Dalit” means “those who have been broken and ground down deliberately by those above them in the social hierarchy.” Dalits live at risk of discrimination, dehumanization, violence, and enslavement through human trafficking every day. By all global research and reports, the Dalits constitute the largest number of people categorized as victims of modern-day slavery.

While the ethnic Dalits refer to the people of India who are outside the caste system (hence the term "outcaste"), I've been thinking this is too narrow of a definition. Every society has their class of "untouchables," whether we want to admit to it or not.

As painful as it is to acknowledge, we have Dalits in America - and they are not immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. My work with hospice has brought me into contact with people I believe are the Dalits of our own society. I have visited patients who live in substandard housing infested with roaches, bedbugs and rats - not because they want to, but because they are poor. This housing (if you can call it that) exists right under the noses of those who would never be caught dead living under these conditions. These conditions and the people who live in them are invisible ... untouchable.

I have visited patients who are addicted and who come from families for whom addiction has been a way of life for many generations. These people are adults who likely began life addicted to drugs or with fetal alcohol syndrome. They didn't start life on the 50 yard line ... they started life so far back in their own end zone that they were in the parking lot of the stadium! These people are invisible ... untouchable.

I have visited patients who have mental illness. We fear "losing our minds," so we avoid them and hope that by doing so we can escape contracting a mental illness ourselves. These people are invisible ... untouchable.

I have visited patients whose families placed them in the care of facilities (assisted living or nursing homes) and do not go to visit them. Sometimes I hear the excuse that "it's too hard to visit" or "I can't stand seeing them like this" or "They don't even know I'm there." These excuses mask our own fear of growing old and our staying away allows us to indulge our own denial. These people are invisible ... untouchable.

All of my patients are dying. It's the BIG fear we all face but would rather deny. If we can move the dying away from us to a place like a hospital (where 75% of deaths occur) or a nursing home, then we can indulge ourselves with the illusion that we won't die. The dying are invisible ... untouchable.

Jesus told us that what we do "to the least of these" we do to him. We will be judged, as a society and as individuals, on how we treat the least among us - the Dalits.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Anywhere else, we'd call it "Over Sharing"

There's something rather refreshing about working in the dementia unit. When you work with people at the end of their lives, it's remarkable how all the burdens of propriety are shed as time grows short.

I was visiting a facility to see a patient of mind only to meet another resident who was from Germany. I asked her where she was from in Germany and her response was "Hof" ... the town just down the road from where Beloved Husband lived when he worked in Germany for a manufacturing company. We talked about Hof and she invited me to her wedding (she invites everyone to her wedding ... and it's always on Saturday). I asked her if we would smash plates (a local custom in Hof) and she said, "Sure! I have three cases of plates." I promised to join her for the party and the wedding.

This week, I returned to the facility and saw this resident again. She asked me if I would come to her wedding, and I assured her I would. She then said she didn't want to come to America, but she did because her son called her from Waynesboro to tell her Karl was with him (in Waynesboro). She said, "Karl?! You mean the man who took my virginity?" ... Um ... yeah, that Karl.

Anywhere else, we'd call this "over sharing" ... in the dementia ward, it's just another day of reminding ourselves that these elders of ours had a life that was far more colorful than we give them credit for having!

Friday, February 12, 2010

What Baptism Can Do For Us - Part III

You are an Evangelist of the Gospel

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
– Matthew 28:19-20
As baptized members of the Church, we also become Evangelists who spread the good news of God in Christ to others. The Greek word from which we get the word “evangelist” is euangelion – which literally means one who tells good news. Unfortunately, the word “evangelist” has become loaded with expectations and images that often bear little resemblance to good news.

Our present day culture has been greatly influenced by broadcast media and Christians of various denominations have used the media as a means to spread the Gospel message. Dating back to the early 20th century, preachers such as The Reverend Billy Sunday, Aimee Semple-McPherson, Billy Graham and others began to use radio, film and eventually television to spread the Christian message. These preachers were eventually called “televangelists” and they have influenced the spiritual landscape of the American culture. The approach of these evangelists can be quite confrontational in nature challenging us to make a decision for Christ and presenting the dire consequences of eternal damnation for those who do not. This image born of televangelism is largely how we have come to internalize what the word “evangelist” means. For some, this image of evangelism is distasteful and even offensive. If, however, we return to the root of the word evangelist, we can begin to reclaim what being an evangelist really means – one who tells the good news of Christ.

What is “the Gospel?”

To be an Evangelist of the Gospel requires us to first explore what the word “gospel” even means. The word “gospel” comes from the old English words “god” (meaning “good”) and “spel” (meaning “news” or “tidings”). The good news or good tidings is that God came among us into our human existence in the person of Jesus Christ in order to reconcile the world back to a right relationship with God. In essence, Jesus Christ opened for us a way back to God. No matter how far we stray, as Christians, we have a way back to God through Christ’s reconciling death on the cross to save us. This is good news!

Too often, we narrowly define the “gospel” as the accounts written in the New Testament: specifically, the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. While the written accounts of the life, ministry, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are important, it is also crucial to realize the gospel is more than just these written accounts. The gospel also includes the ongoing good news of what God in Christ is doing in our lives today. The only gospel we can authentically share is the good news of how we have experienced Christ’s redeeming love in our own lives. As baptized Christians, we are living, breathing, walking, and talking gospels. For those whom we meet, we may be the only gospel they have ever seen.

What Is the Work of an Evangelist?

If the Gospel is the good news of God in Christ, what is the work of an evangelist? The work of an evangelist is to tell the good news. St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the Gospel always, when necessary use words.” Evangelists preach the good news of God in Christ by living authentically as Christians through all that they do and say. It’s “walking your talk” or as Father Richard Rohr calls it “lifestyle Christianity.”

There are many who can give “lip service” to Christianity by making intellectual assents to belief statements. But to really be an evangelist, you need to live the message of Jesus Christ – through works of love, mercy, justice and reconciliation. Living the message of Christ is much more challenging than just making statements about what you believe.

Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Love is the mandate Christ gave us when he told us to “love one another as I have loved you.” Evangelists preach this in both deeds and words, reaching out in love to all people.

Evangelists need to have spiritual discernment in order to be effective in sharing the message of Christ. Just because you can tell the good news of Jesus Christ does not mean that every moment is an appropriate opportunity to do so. We need to be discerning and ask for God’s guidance before we share the message. Before you talk to a friend about Christ, it is critically important that you talk to Christ about your friend.

What Is Not the Responsibility of an Evangelist?

Evangelists are responsible for telling the good news of God in Christ. What evangelists are not responsible for is the outcome of telling the good news. That’s right – as Christian evangelists we are NOT responsible for the end result of our sharing the good news and that in itself is good news for us.

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus said:
“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:3-9)
As Evangelists, we are responsible for sowing the seeds of the good news through our words and deeds. Notice how the sower did not worry about where the seeds fell in this parable – the sower was only responsible for sowing the seeds. We are likewise not responsible for whether or not the seeds sprout, grow, are snatched up or choked out. We are responsible for the sowing seeds of the Gospel message through our words and actions.

God only asks us to share the gospel message of our lives. We are responsible for that alone and we need to leave the outcomes to God. Often we will not know how our witness will impact another person. What we need to do is trust that God will use our witness to work a greater purpose. As God said through the prophet Isaiah:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
We do not always know the purpose of our sharing the good news and our vision of “success” is often different from God’s definition of it. God is responsible for the outcomes – we just need to sow the seeds.

Making Disciples

Through your baptism, you become a disciple of Jesus Christ and in turn also become an evangelist who tells the good news of what Christ is doing in your life by both your words and your deeds. Jesus commanded us to “make disciples of all nations.” By virtue of your baptism, you are called to share the good news of your faith journey with others who are seeking to grow closer to God so that they may become disciples of Jesus Christ.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Taking a bullet

Just when you thought I'd fallen off the face of the earth ... I'm back. ;-) The bathroom is still in a shambles but the new cabinets are installed and look quite nice. Tile floor and bath deck next (more demolition before that happens), then the paint, then we are done. I will be glad when it ends.

In the midst of all the stuff at home, I'm now almost 2 months into a new position as a staff chaplain with Hospice of Washington County. After being involved in an arduous 8 month long search process which ended last August with the other candidate getting the call, I was quite honestly fed up with all of it. There is no ideal way for a pastor/priest to enter congregational life - searches have their pitfalls (and they are many) but so do placement processes where the congregation gets no say in who is sent to be their spiritual leader. After what our daughters went through with the anxiety of a possible move and given their ages, I vowed not to do this again until they were out of the home. Searches are not kind to families at all!

This past fall, I began to look at other options. My time as a paid Assistant Rector was running short and my position at Calvary UMC was not going to become full-time ... and I needed full-time employment. So when I saw the ad in our local paper for chaplains at Hospice of Washington County, I sent my resume into them. I really wasn't sure I was cut out for hospice chaplaincy, but one of my seminary professors once said, "Talk to everybody. You don't know what the Holy Spirit might have in mind!" Well ... long story short ... I was offered the position on the spot at my interview. How refreshing to work with an organization that can make a decision without dragging it out ad infinitum!

My new boss, Steve, is a joy to work with as are the other four chaplains on our team. Steve's mother Sue is the Executive Director and she has worked very hard to create a work environment that is supportive of all the employees. I am very blessed to be there!

Working at hospice with people who are dying does change your perspective about what's really important and what's not. Steve and I were talking about this and his comment to me was, "The theological positions I'm willing to take a bullet for now are very few." I liked that image and it makes me wonder if this isn't how we should frame the question within the context of congregational life.

From my past work in congregations, I've witnessed people (myself included) taking hard and fast entrenched positions which, in light of the reality and finality of death, really aren't worth taking a bullet for. Church politics, personality clashes, arguments over whose scriptural interpretation is the "right one," threats of schism and power plays ... they all seem very foolish and childish. Too many times we cling to these issues as if they held ultimate importance - they don't! Faith in Jesus Christ, and him crucified, is of ultimate importance - everything else lags far behind.

What are you willing to take a bullet for? Have you held onto something which, in the face of death, really doesn't matter? If you don't know, go spend a few hours with a dying person and let them teach you a thing or two about priorities.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

But it was just supposed to be a paint job...

Back last month I was stripping wallpaper and now ... what started as a paint job has turned into a full fledged bathroom renovation. Ugh! But after 18 years, vinyl tile discolors everywhere you put a bathmat (and who doesn't have bathmats?), cabinet finishes wear out and discolor ... and then there's that unused second sink rough in that the former owners never got around to connecting to a real sink! It turned into what Bob Vila likes to call a "you might as well."

Last week (yes, after Christmas) I used my new Dremel Multimax to rip out all the vinyl tile which exposed the water damaged subfloor which resulted in a sawzall job to take out the damaged floor. And now the floor is on the mend, the tile is picked out, the cabinets will arrive in a couple of weeks and then the flooring and tub will be tiled ... and not by me or beloved husband but a licensed contractor. I can do demolition but I prefer to leave it to the professionals to do the construction right.


So if you ever wondered what clergy do when they've had way too much heavy theological thinking on their plates, now you know. Never doubt the pastoral value of swinging a sledgehammer!