Tuesday, September 29, 2009

There's no such thing as Secular

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers:

"I had a french pastor friend who wanted to become a saint. At the time i was very impressed with him, but i had to disagree and said in effect that i wish to learn to have faith... I discovered later, and discovering right until this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. one must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint or a converted sinner or a churchperson, a righteous person. by this worldly-ness i mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems and successes and failures, experiences, and perplexities. in doing so we throw ourselves completely in the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world."
i was once told by a conservative associate of mine that the bible is easy to understand and has just one message. he then went on to say that he knows God's will and lives completely in christ. he later made clear his wish that i'd come to christ as he did, then i'd know the Truth. i then asked how he could be a person of faith if there were no mystery to his life? faith is the very act of NOT knowing what is going to happen but going anyway? what's the phrase? but for the grace of God go I?

in my view, the opposite of faith is certainity. no need for faith if you know how things are going to turn out. faith is a funny thing. faith is living in the mystery and just having this glimmer of a feeling that things will work out in your favor. usually things work out when you're not focus on yourself but another person. funny how that works out huh? it's the christian paradox: the only way we find ourselves is in others, the only way we believe is trusting the unknown. Faith uses a lot of prayer. and prayer does not change God, but it changes who prays.

we must live in this world. faith is not something you go to or keep in a church and only visit it on sunday. faith is something that is lived in every second of everyday. faith like this finds God in music, movies, and others and takes joy. Take joy when you see an old friend or family member. take joy at accidentally encountering someone you know at Saveway, God is there. Take joy at the random conversation you had with a complete stranger on the the Metro or while walking your dog. God is there. God is there, just below the surface, playing hide-and-seek and hoping that God is seen in the mudane day-to-day.

Having a faith like this helps you go into that room... you know the one. that room in the hospital on the CPE rounds that no one wants to go in. or that room in that house on your block where "that family" lives. or that nursing home with the lonely senior who has lost their life partner. or that prisoner that has so much regret and no hope. too much hurt, tragedy, suffering. Faith like this is knowing that in these rooms, there is no hope... and you go in anyway.

be mindful! God is out there. have faith to put yourself out there where God is.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dealing with Violence: Fight Club's Assumptions

my good library buddy here at the seminary sent me this review of Fight Club. The author concludes that "The result of Tyler’s and the narrator’s use of violence is, unsurprisingly, violence without end." i wish the author would have written a longer article as to how he sees that this would be the result of Fight Club. I mean, i think i can see it, but i need it explained lest my own assumptions get in the way.

and i think that's where i'll start, my own thoughts on what Mimetic Theory and Fight Club assume about the nature of humanity and what not.

Mimetic theory's main assumption is that human beings are not inherently violent, that somewhere along the way violence was introduced and then others learned from there on and the cycle is continually renewed. When we turn to human history, with a citation found from this article by Alfie Kohn stating that some of the points made by critics of biological determinism are:
  • Even if a given behavior is universal, we cannot automatically conclude that it is part of our biological nature. All known cultures may produce pottery, but that does not mean that there is a gene for pottery-making.
  • Agression is no where near universal. Many hunter-gatherer societies in particular are entirely peaceful. And the cultures that are "closer to nature" would be expected to be the most warlike if the proclivity for war were really part of that nature. Just the reverse seems to be true.
  • While it is indisputable that wars have been fought, the fact that they seem to dominate our history may say more about how history is presented than about what actually happened.
  • Many people have claimed that human nature is aggressive after having lumped together a wide range of emotions and behavior under the label of aggression. While cannibalism, for example, is sometimes perceived as aggression, it might represent a religious ritual rather than an expression of hostility.

 But then there's another side of science that takes the opposite track. I think this is the side that Fight Club assumes, that humans are inherently violent and aggressive. This is the belief, popularized by Sigmund Freud and animal researcher Konrad Lorenz, that we have within us, naturally and spontaneously, a reservoir of aggressive energy. This force, which builds by itself, must be periodically drained off - by participating in competitive sports, for instance - or we'll explode in some awful violent action.  in some ways, Mimetic Theory assumes this as well with the scapegoat mechanism.

Richard Dawkins (yes, THAT Dawkins) argued in the Selfish Gene that "The general principle that behavior evolves to serve selfish ends has been widely accepted; and the idea that humans might have been favored by natural selection to hate and to kill their enemies has become entirely, if tragically, reasonable."
How about we mix the two? Let's mix that the idea that aggression is a natural tendency that must be drained periodically (Fight Club) and violence being a learned behavior (Mimetic Theory), then we see a larger, fuller picture emerge. Innate tendencies such as competition and pride mixed with the way in which a society functions can bring about the need for violent action due to the circumstances of a situation. After all, we are creatures of circumstance. We adapt and react to the world around us, and because of this there are times when we must engage in violent activity. However, we can use culture as a means to create a situation where competitive means for survival are unneeded, but until there is a united effort to reform the way we interact with the world, violence is just an unfortunate consequence. so therefore a united effort is needed to reform the way we interact! That is what Fight Club does. 


 Going back to Tyler's vision that Fight Club is after: 
"In the world I see - you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you'll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway."
This sounds rather peaceful, tribal. A return to simplicity.  Fight Club, as i interpret it, attacks the dehumanization that is taking place in soceity. In 8 simple rules, it provides structure, friendship, vulnerabilty, and an empowering outlet in a life that otherwise depowers and dehumanizes. when you punch another person, you see the immediate result and reaction of the other person, not so when you gossip about them or post blog entries about them ;-). in some ways, it is a more honest and open form of violence, one i feel more comfortable with as it doesn't beautify it or refine it. it's real, it hurts, and there is consquences like loosing teeth and explaining away blackeyes.

i think in the Fight Club model, empathy is the result. shared experiences of the fighters bind them together in a true community. like the priest hugging his opponent after a fight. or how every member mourns their martyr "Robert Paulson."

of course, to say that Fight Club is the answer and a means to end the cycle of violence or perpetuate it infinately is pure spectulation. the movie doesn't give us what happens after the buildings blow up. it does give us plenty of evidence to speculate ON, but never enough to go one way or another.

i stand on the side that Fight Club presents a "system shock" model that is counter-cultural and that leads to true community and a new means of ordering society. much like the system shock model we find in the gospels that lead to a new community that the rammifications are still being played out 2,000 years past.

it's hard to figure out, can Fight Club's violent means reach a nonviolent end? My deontologist leanings (right ends by way of right means) cringes at the thought... but my Christian leanings say otherwise (paradox of the Cross and blood of Christ). not to say that these are separate from each other, but it's the best way i can catagorize and try to explain how my thinking is torn.

how do you see it? can peace be reached through violence? or is it like Gandhi stated "There is no way to peace, peace is the way"? is humanity inherently violence and will we ever get over it? by what means can we escape violence?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Autumn Changes

i love the fall. there's something serene about the whole time. the feel, smell, and look of it just brings me peace. my fav. holiday is in here (Halloween) as well as my fav sport (football). it's just awesome!
i look forward to the jeans and t-shirt weather. watching football with my wife while enjoying a few brewskies, esp. Sam Adams' October Fest (best beer in existence!). curling up with a good book in bed after a long day of walking around and enjoying the leaves. watching Eve play in the leaves is gonna be really awesome. watching some scary movies or Hocus Pocus or Sleepy Hollow with some red wine is incredible relaxing too.
this fall is a little different. i start my last year of seminary and that brings with it some peace and some sadness. i'll be soon parting with friends i've made over the past two years... friends i've laughed, challenged, been challenged by, traveled to Egypt, and explored vast theological and ethical questions.
CPE is also bringing a new sense of peace this fall. I feel like I have come into my own.

I have realized how structured my life is and have come to the realization of why this came about. Growing up, I had no father. I felt as though this was a big deficiency and that if I could lose something as important as a father, than I could lose anything and everything in a heartbeat. I was a breath away from chaos and felt very vulnerable. I didn’t like this feeling, so to gain some control I developed ways of thinking and doing that produced definable and verifiable results. It was only later that I realized how capable my mother was and how lucky we were to not have my father around. Thomas Aquinas was taught in my Catholic school and I fell in love with his theology and the scientific method. I develop systems and strategies to understand the chaos, I am always working within a framework.
On the flipside, however; I also know how systems can leave many out. Being from a “broken home” I heard how this distortion of the family system and the sin of divorce are ruining society in my church. No matter how good a Catholic I was, I was still working from a negative space. I would never be fully accepted. So my systems then became less rigid, more flexible, more chaos tolerant.

All this was fine until I stepped into CPE. I thought I had a good handle on the world but I am now realizing how na├»ve I am. I keep going back to the image of stepping out from behind the telescope and observing the sky in its entirety. I am now over the initial shock. I feel more at home in the hospital as I have a better understanding of what the culture is like. I can empathize more now that I have the process down (and why the process looks like it does to meet the demands it must). I see how I can fit in. Initially I thought that I could never be a good chaplain. Like I’m lacking some integral part. I was trying to fit into a mold I would never go into. I painted myself as some purely intellectual person but that wasn’t true. I operate out of my head, but it is informed and balanced by my heart. I am a Myers Briggs “T” and do not have to become an “F” to do this job. I can track, feel, and yet synthesize what the patients are going through. I can name things that they already know, but don’t know they know it.

For example a woman yesterday was talking about how she feels under-appreciated by her husband. This feeling causes guilt in her for thinking about it and she doesn’t talk about it with her husband and thus she keeps feeling misunderstood, under-appreciated, and guilty. All I had to do was say “Wow, it sounds like you’re feeling trapped in this cycle.” And that was it. She broke down and cried and stated that was exactly it and then talked herself out of the cycle. All I had to do was be there and repeat her words back to her. Granted this is a “minor” situation, but it helped me realize that I AM equipped for this job. The brain always seems to be trying to figure out what the heart already knows and put words to it. I can help here. I can be a non-anxious presence in the midst of death, trauma, and heartache.

I can’t control everything and I have no desire to. My desire is to respond. Sometimes the best response is no response at all. I want to help others to respond as well. Many times they already know the way; they just need to say it to someone. A stranger works best here in these situations it seems because there’s no prior relationship there and therefore no judgment on the part of this stranger. This is the kind stranger example set by The Good Samaritan. I just show them the door that they always knew was there. I can show them this door, but they have to walk through it.

There were times where I just was, I didn’t reflect or try to “do” anything. I let the patients and the families do the doing. What they asked for I did (provide information, prayer, get them water) and when they asked me to go, I went. I feel like I was able to let go and move and not feel spent. I am now looking forward to my next shift. I am surprised at how much I’m enjoying this program and how much I’m learning.

I am learning how natural the process is for me. As natural and easy as the changing colors. For this is the season of change and change can be SO beautiful.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What Fight Club Says about God and Community

Barry Taylor (Entertainment Theology: New-Edge Spirituality in a Digital Democracy. Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Academic, 2008.) holds Fight Club up as a prime example as what it means to be Postmodern Gothic. There is a transgressive nature in the mindset of the Gothic and the dominant message is “learn to live with mystery” and this is accomplished by sharpening one’s instincts (Taylor 142). So then the Gothic radically embraces passion, learning how emotions like fear, terror, horror, and sadness (as well as the more fiery passions of anger and rage) are means by which people learn to fight back. Fight Club does this to help people liberate themselves from a system that is draining the life away from their souls and keeping them from forming a true community. They find a new code of living through being shocked out of their old ways of doing things. They are able to “come to terms with the world around them through a renewed sense of self through their commitment to a new code of living” (Taylor 143).

For Tyler, dominant ideologies and cultural values exist to be subverted. The means of constructing identity is based on communal relationships, particularly with men although Marla becomes a bigger role as the film goes on, instead of material capitalistic measures.

Tyler does not turn to religion, although the language is frequently used in the film. The Narrator talks about the feeling of Fight Club as being in a Pentecostal church. The grunts were like speaking in tongues and the fights were like dancing. The Narrator seeks a nirvana, however; not salvation first and foremost. “And then, something happened. I let go. Lost in oblivion. Dark and silent and complete. I found freedom. Losing all hope was freedom.”

Even more overt is the scene where Tyler seems to declare that he is an agnostic:
Tyler Durden: Shut up! Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God?
Narrator: No, no, I... don't...
Tyler Durden: Listen to me! You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you. This is not the worst thing that can happen.
Narrator: It isn't?
Tyler Durden: We don't need him!

Here we see the complete rejection of all that has rejected Tyler. In the philosophy of Fight Club, salvation is letting go of everything and depending on the community. This is very much like the church described in Acts. The renouncement of property, the subversion of the dominant culture, and finding identity not through the institutions of the day but in one another are all paralleled. The statement of "We are God's unwanted children" comes from Tyler's family system. He is trying to get's his father's attention and this morphs into trying to get God's attention, as noted in this trailer:

The first two rules of Fight Club echo Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, not to tell anyone of his being the Messiah. Word gets out and both movements take off. So is Tyler Durden a Christ figure? I would argue yes and his Christ figure is more in keeping with the Jewish-Christian church than the current idea. The idea of the Messiah as a political agent, anointed by God but completely mortal, that overthrows the oppressors. This is exactly what Tyler does, even going so far as to die at the end and even have a duel-nature. Tyler is both spiritual and human. This could be more along the lines of a Gnostic image of Christ and the real question at the end becomes who dies? Does the Narrator shoot Tyler and is still the same? Or, in Tyler’s death (the Brad Pitt version) we know have the Narrator fully “put on the mind of Tyler”? I would go with the last statement. In the ending scene of the film, we have the Narrator and Marla watching the buildings blow up in a quasi-romantic happy ending. The film then messes up and shows a rather graphic picture of a penis, just like Tyler used to splice into children’s films. This shows that the movement is very much alive and it’s real. Tyler is now in the projector booth and the audience should beware.

Fight Club’s dim view of institutions, including religious ones, are much like the postmodern suspicion of all things systemized. We see a member of Fight Club in the movie try to pick a fight with a priest, smacking the bible out of his hand and spraying water on it. The next scene shows the very same priest wining a fight and hugging his opponent. Even the leaders of the institutions are taken by the message of Tyler.

This idea is best summed up by Robert Capon when he states
“The gospel of grace is the end of religion, the final posting of the CLOSED sign on the sweatshop of the human race's perpetual struggle to think well of itself. For that, at bottom, is what religion is: man's well-meant but dim-witted attempt to approve of his unapprovable condition by doing odd jobs he thinks some important Something will thank him for. Religion, therefore, is a loser, a strictly fallen activity. It has a failed past and a bankrupt future. There was no religion in Eden and there won't be any in heaven; and in the meantime Jesus has died and risen to persuade us to knock it all off right now" (Capon 166).

Tyler has the same thing in mind. All systems fail, all we need is trust in one another, and to be honest with ourselves. We get our identity from being in community, true community, open and vulnerable. Fight Club embraces the uncertainty of the postmodern life, experienced as is, in the collapse of the supporting structures of modernity, in the loss of traditional social ordering. Reconfigurations of what it means “to be” are explored in every way possible and what emerges is a new idea of what constitutes family and community much like what came out of Christ’s teachings some 2,000 years ago.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Fight Club is a 1999 movie starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonam Carter. This movie ranks right up there with the Matrix... every time I see this movie, I see something new.

The Narrator hates his life. His sense of self is rooted in his condo, his clothes, and his Ikea furniture; he works a job he hates so he can buy shit he doesn't need (to paraphrase Tyler Durden). Jack is miserable, he can't sleep. His insomnia suggests that his life lacks substance. He says, "With insomnia, nothing is real. Everything is far away. Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy."

The setting starts out in offices and the narrator’s condo, pictures of sterile, light colors, juxtaposed to the darkness that the narrator is launched into after his condo blows up. So there are two images of the human condition. The first is one of being imprisoned. The cell is not stark, in fact it’s extremely comfortable and filled with all sorts of things that will bring personal fulfillment. Despite the clean and polished look, the colors here are unnaturally bright, stark, and alienating. There is nothing welcoming here.

Events unfold and the Narrator meets Tyler Durden whose ideologies are antithetical to the narrator’s: while Jack represents the material self, Durden represents the spiritual self. When Jack returns home from a business trip and finds out his condo blew up while he was gone, he calls Tyler for a place to stay. While the two chat over a pitcher of beer Durden explains to Jack that the "things you own end up owning you," suggesting that losing all his belongings may have been the best thing that ever happened to Jack. From this point on Durden helps Jack develop his spiritual self. Jack moves into a dingy home where he has nothing: No more Ikea furniture, no C.K. clothes or DKNY shoes. So the second image, the one of freedom, is largely shot in dark colors and at night. This image of freedom is everything that the prison is not; it’s dark, dirty, and squalid. The colors however, are warmer earth tones that eventually get softer as the movie progresses.

The mood is set largely by the narration. His tone and style is cynical and ironic and nonlinear. His thoughts are disjointed and there are flashbacks within flashbacks. He is trying to figure out what happened up until where we first meet him, with a gun in his mouth strapped to a chair. There is a lot of foreshadowing and use of sardonic humor. There is also rage and anger at the world.

Tyler articulates the problem of the film,

" Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damnit, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We are the middle children of history, with no purpose or place. We have no great war, or great depression. The great war is a spiritual war. The great depression is our lives. We were raised by television to believe that we'd be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars—but we won't. And we're learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed-off."

Identity is the prime concern of Fight Club. The Narrator describes his childhood as one where his dad leaves and “sets up franchises” with other moms every six years. The dad tells the Narrator to go to college, get a job, and then “I dunno… get married?” This formula leaves the Narrator in a dead end job without a sense of self. To compensate for this lack of identity, the Narrator spends his time wondering “What dinning set best defines me?” He tries to get his sense of self from how he’s told by advertising; namely to define one’s self through brands and material goods. This path is ultimately unsatisfying as he cannot sleep at night.

The Narrator’s job is interesting to note, because it is a soulless one.
He works for an auto company, “a major one”, and investigates auto accidents caused by a malfunction in the car’s design. What he does is officially called a “recall coordinator which apples the formula of “Take the number of vehicles in the field (A), multiply it by the probable rate of failure (B), then multiply the result by the average out-of-court settlement (C). A times B times C equals X... If X is less that the cost of a recall, we don't do one.” He justifies this in his mind by saying “On a long enough timeline everyone’s survival rate drops to zero.” The jokes used by the recall coordinators are trying to make light of the horror that they are confronting.

He then becomes addicted to self-help groups where “Every night I died and was born again. Every evening I was resurrected.” This is until Marla Singer comes in and ruins it by joining his “Remaining Men Together, Men with Testicular Cancer” group. “Her lie reflected my lie” and the Narrator can no longer sleep. Marla is completely different from the narrator. She has no regard, stealing clothes from a laundry and pawning them for money. She crosses the street without looking. Her philosophy of life is described that “she might die at any moment. The tragedy, she said, was that she didn't.” When asked why they are “tourists” in these groups, the Narrator and Marla find common ground:

Narrator: When people think you're dying, they really, really listen to you, instead of just...
Marla Singer: Instead of just waiting for their turn to speak?

Marla becomes the basis of Tyler Durden. For all intensive purposes, when introduced to Tyler, he appears to be another character in the story. As the narrative progresses, we learn that the Narrator and Tyler are actually the same person. This is evidence of how fractured the Narrator’s identity is. Tyler is free in all the ways the Narrator wishes he could be. This feedback loop created by the Narrator is similar to what he is rejecting in the culture. The conversation at the bar between the Narrator and Tyler shows how different they are:

Tyler Durden: Do you know what a duvet is?
Narrator: It's a comforter...
Tyler Durden: It's a blanket. Just a blanket. Now why do guys like you and me know what a duvet is? Is this essential to our survival, in the hunter-gatherer sense of the word? No. What are we then?
Narrator: ...Consumers?
Tyler Durden: Right! We're consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty, these things don't concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy's name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra.
Narrator: Martha Stewart.
Tyler Durden: Fuck Martha Stewart. Martha's polishing the brass on the Titanic. It's all going down, man. So fuck off with your sofa units and Strinne green stripe patterns. Of course, I could be wrong…

Tyler rejects “the basic assumptions of civilization, especially the importance of material possessions.” He states that “You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.” He seeks to destroy the idea of “self” and replace it with a more communal model. The old capitalistic model is father and his company is using is sucking the meaning out of life. The self must be destroyed in Tyler’s mind and one must truly let go of all they think they know and think they want out of life. Even going so far as to intentionally get into a car crash. This serves to teach empathy to the Narrator, as that was the first time he has been in a crash. He studied them for a living but now he knows what being in one is like.

Tyler starts off using the system to gain money. He sells soap to department stores for large profits—the ironic thing is that the fat he uses in the soap is stolen from liposuction clinics. In a sense, he is “selling rich women their own fat asses back to them.” This evolves into a bigger vision. “In the world I see - you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you'll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway.”

Though making the soap and forming Fight Clubs around the nation, Tyler takes it to the next level and creates Project Mayhem. The sole goal of Project Mayhem is to blow up credit card companies and set the record back to zero. It is a biblical jubilee year.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Doubt: Movie Review

Doubt is THE movie based on the play.. staring Amy Adams, Meryl Streep, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

on the surface, this movie looks like it's about whether a priest molested a child in the 1960s. but it is about so much more!

it is about "how do we know what we know?" namely, the postmodern problem. issues of "knowing" and "knowledge" are constantly brought up and questioned. the authority doesn't know anything more than we do... however, there is a bright side. Hoffman states that "Doubt can be a powerful a bond as certainty." meaning all the creeds, religions, and institutions and their claim on truth has garnered many allies... but saying "i don't know" can garner just as many.

we see the conflict of the old guard and the new... traditional catholic versus vatican II. authoritarian power relations structure versus a progressive, empathetic style. views of humanity being good and bad.

doubt has so much more than just molestation doubts... it's about how ppl bond and separate. the basis of community is if we confess our frailty and our skepticism, that is the best way to form strong communal bonds. Streep and Hoffman don't do this between the two of them, although they both connect to Adams, and thus their bond never solidifies.

i found this movie absolutely breathtaking. it's a minimalist show with nothing fancy, no swelling musical notes to enhance the mood or even bright colors... but it is spellbinding and it will be with you long after you watch it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


i spent this past weekend in Ohio, hang'n out with some of our oldest and bestest friends. it is such a blessing to be able to share the journey with those who we were able to see fall in love, get married, and have kids. now we're all have'n a blast chase'n after kids, and we're in awe that we're all together.

but there's an added layer on it. we're all of different faiths. one of my buddies converted from Christianity to Judaism, as this is his wife's faith. he is devout and they are both really involved in their community. the other couple is an inter-faith couple. and i, of course, am in seminary, so that puts Kate and I squarely in the "Christian Camp." so here's the whole spectrum from total Conservative Jewish to in between to Emergent Christian (if i have to label myself something...).

but this weekend has shown that despite our different religious traditions, we're able to COEXIST. we're friends, closer now, despite the difference. but how? how can we still be friends when there's this gap of faith? won't the difference in religious affliation tear us apart? would we be argue'n with our Jewish friends on the doctrine of the Trinity or convince'n the inter-faith couple to decide which tradition to follow, instead of being some sort of heretical mutt spirituality that will just confuse their kids?


because we learn from each other. we have in the past... my buddy taught me how to properly iron, his wife taught me the importance of not wearing blue with black (and i just LOVE sending Kate with her to shop!). The other dude taught me all the best trails in the DC area and his wife is a great resource for books and movies to watch. watching the interfaith couple talk and navigate their traditions is inspiring and i am constantly impressed and learning new perspectives and ways to compromise. the discussions on religion are RICH because of the different perspectives. we all bring something to it. there is room for us all and we don't get too hung up on the differences, mainly the nuanced similarites.

it reminds me of a verse from my own tradition, James 3:13 which states
The wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise of harvest of righteousness.

there's no ownership on wisdom, it comes from everywhere and anyone can have it, from the 3rd grade educated kid to the 80 year old Harvard Dr. wisdom knows no creed, race, socio-economic status... but it's hard to keep open, to try to include it all. even ones that i'd rather not look for or try to accept.

as evidenced by a recent conversation over at Jason's blog , how do i as a Christian honor my own tradition without superceeding my friends? how can i seek to honor the Jewish roots of my faith without overstepping?

i don't know. but i do know that our friendships will last and that our children will know themselves as friends of the family before they know of the differing traditions. to them, there will be no separation, only honoring and inclusion.

so that's what i'm hope'n to do. to honor wisdom in all forms.. to seek understanding of interpretation and see how it's practically played out. Grace will abound, wisdom will be honored, and everyone is gonna learn something (even if it's not what to say or do...).

blessings to all who are on the journey, seeking to know God (or put "existence" if you're uncomfortable with God-talk) and thanks for your words, insights, challenges, and considerations.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Sometimes the path leads places I don’t want to go, like to seminary or to places where I’ll be vulnerable. Or even to the Emergency Room. CPE is something i'm required to do and it stands for Clinical Pastoral Education. I work as a chaplain from now until Dec. 15th. Funny for a risk-adverse guy like me who has been in the ER only three times in his life.... i don't like hospitals and can't even watch Discovery Health without feeling queasy. i was in the room for Eve's birth, but that was a bit different, being with strangers is another story.. so i'm worried.... but i've found that this is what believing in God does for me, to lead me to the uncomfortable places and to wrestle before I cross over to the other side of the river. Am I wrestling with God, an angel, or myself? I never know. I just know that where I am at is different than where I was.

I have just followed around a veteran chaplain for a day on the floor, so my experience has been limited thus far. It has spawned a slew of new thoughts and considerations. I have been kicking around the idea of whether or not “religious” people are different from nonreligious people. I thought that there really was no difference aside from one day a week. But seeing the work that is being done in Lancaster General Hospital, I think that there’s more to it. Religious people do things that no one else will do. it's like they're jump'n right on the tracks of the oncoming Suffering Express! Going into these hospitals and listening to stories and hearing of the suffering people are in boggles my mind. Then I notice that no atheist is in a chaplain role. To put oneself right in the way of suffering is something I only see being done by those who subscribe to a belief system.

Then there’s the belief system to consider. In seminary, I attack any logical inconsistencies in my own as well as my fellow classmates theologies but in a chaplain role I found myself just listening. Even when I feel the hairs starting to stand up on the back of my neck, I consider where the other person is coming from. I empathize. From shadowing the vet and hearing my supervisors talk, this is what chaplains are supposed to do. They are largely into hospitality; care for those in trauma making sure nothing is lost in the chaos and visits and prayers for those who are in long term. They don’t run around and tell people what to believe and they aren’t there to make others feel better, although people do after a visit. Largely they are there as a sounding board, to let the person who is suffering know that they aren't alone.

Maybe that’s enough. To know that you aren’t alone, that someone is with you. Just like I find comfort that I am not alone and I trust that God is with us, Immanuel.
So I am already learning a lot! I like my peers and the diversity they bring and how they make me consider various aspects of my own faith like miraculous healing and what I make of Jesus’ role as a healer. I am only nervous about doing my first Code T or T Alert and hope I will be shadowing someone during that time.

All in all, I feel supported and excited to be learning new things and discovering “blind spots” in my own thinking and theology. I’m looking forward to seeing how God is at work in the world beyond my limited scope. I am nervous about trauma but the support from both the LGH staff and from my family is very reassuring.