22 December 2011

Always worth a read.

Fr. Richard Rohr is, in my opinion, one of the most sensible mature pastoral voices speaking into the current Christian context.

He started blogging in November and I have just found his blog: Richard Rohr: Unpacking Paradoxes.

For my money, he is always worth hearing or reading.  I look forward reading his blog.

17 December 2011

Thank You For Calling

Thank you for calling This Catalog. My name is Pam. How can I help you?

For the last three weeks, I've being working as a temporary order taker at a mail order catalog company. It's a seasonal job and I started doing it at the beginning of December.  Each week has had it's own unique pace which has been interesting to observe.

It's the first time I've ever had any kind of call center job. The other day, I sat next to another temporary order taker who said that she normally does data entry and isn't used to dealing with people. I said that I normally deal with people but I'm used to doing it face to face and I'm not used to typing while I'm doing it.

Here are a few observations.

First, the vast, vast majority (98%?) of the callers are very pleasant and friendly. Now, this is a catalog where folk are calling in to buy stuff they want, so I hadn't expected to get a lot of grief. Still, I was positively surprised - given the volume of the calls we take - just how patient and pleasant most people are, even when they are calling in with a problem. A really positive experience.

Second observation. Being hostile and aggressive to get what you want is a very inefficient strategy. This is has been interesting to observe. I'm sitting at my desk taking orders, being efficient and not making any mistakes as I take people's orders. Someone calls with a complaint and they are pleasant, and I resolve the problem without too much fuss. Then someone calls and starts venting and insulting and raising their voice and my efficiency goes out the window. Magically, I can no longer even manage to type and the more I try to help, the more mistakes I make. And you'd be surprised the number of people who act aggressively from the beginning of the call in the expectation that this will make the order taker work faster.  In fact, they are very effectively making me work more slowly.

Third observation. It's really easy to tell who has ADD and who is hard of hearing. The ADD people sound like they have a 300-lb gorilla trying to get through their front door but still somehow manage to take15 minutes place an order (we're supposed to finish each order in 4 minutes or less). And, when I ask you "Can you confirm your billing address for me?" and you respond "Thank you, I want the black socks in a size large" and I'm already screaming down the phone with the out-going volume at the maximum, I know it's going to be a difficult call.

And, speaking of four minutes or less, there are the people who call in thinking that they are going to manage to order 5 items in the 30 seconds before their El Train comes who get upset about how long the call is taking when you ask them to confirm their name and address.  Then there are just the odd calls.  I actually had someone call me on Friday who got angry at me when I asked her for her name and address; she asked "Can't I just order the items without giving you my name and address?" and then hung up on me when I said I needed to know that information to send her the items.  Hello? It's a mail order catalog!

This is Pam speaking, how can I help you?

01 November 2011

Boundaries and Clergy Burnout

In my previous post, I talked about Boundaries and Sin and my next thoughts are on the matter of Boundaries and Clergy Burnout.

I think that there is probably something like "Laity Burnout" which results in people who are otherwise devoted to God either changing church communities or dropping out of church altogether.  I also think that Clergy Burnout and Laity Burnout are directly related to some of our fuzzy thinking about sin and boundaries.

Please don't think that I don't have sympathy for Laity Burnout - I do.  The problem with Clergy Burnout is that, because clergy usually make their living at what they do, they may feel more trapped than lay people feel.  Clergy also can't complain publicly about their experience the way that lay people can, that would be pastorally and professionally inappropriate.  I think many clergy also feel that they can't reach other to those within church structures who are assigned to give them pastoral care because then they would be seen as ineffective pastors.

Assuming that the clergyperson does have a genuine vocation to the ministry and isn't getting burned out simply because ministry is not their God-given vocation, I think that the number one cause of clergy burn-out is bad boundaries.

The problem is that the Church often inadvertently teaches that God wants God's followers to have bad boundaries. 

Inadvertently (and, in some cases, intentionally) we teach that "love your neighbor" means "give your neighbor whatever they want, whatever they think they need, whenever they want it."

Thus, we believe things like "God wants us to give money on a regular basis to the local neighborhood con artist" and we'll back this up with the biblical verse on giving to anyone who asks (Matthew 5:52) while we'll completely ignore the text that states that the person who refuses to work isn't allowed to beg from the community (2 Thessalonians 3:5-15).  We think we are being kind and loving and nice by giving money to the con artist but what we are doing is enabling them in their maladaptive behavior. 

The problem for clergy is that congregations also often want the pastor to enable them.  Each and every one of us is addicted in some way to maladaptive behaviors and most of us will find changing these behaviors painful.

What is so exhausting about being placed in the role of Enabler is that the Enabler has to work significantly harder than everyone else to maintain the appearance of the community being dynamic and vibrant and whole.

As a small example, assume that 3 bible study group leaders drop out of their positions over the course of two years.  Each time Pastor Boundariless is pressured by his congregation to take over the role of leader and, at the end of two years, he has added a quantity of work to his schedule that is not nearly as insignificant as his congregation might think.  If you expect good quality scholarship at each class, it's not only going to take some preparation on the pastor's part, but it's also going to be a lot better if he's not exhausted.

There is also another way I think that the Institutional Church of many denominations is enabling the lay people who belong to them:  the myth that if the Pastor is a Really Good Preacher with a Really Good Strategic Vision, that new members will come flocking to churches.

There is a myth of Magical Thinking that all we have to do is be Genuinely Faithful and people will come flocking to our doors.  Of course, none of this falls as a "should" or an "ought" on the heads of the congregational members.  The "shoulds" and the "oughts" fall on the Pastor because "We are paying her" (to enable us in doing exactly what we want to do and to take the blame when our dysfunctions are found out).

Of course, at the end of the day, the only way to cease being an Enabler is to say "No" and to say "Stop".  That takes a lot of growing and a lot of courage, particularly if the prevailing theology of your community has it that being an Enabler is being A Good Christian and that refusing to exhaust yourself by trying to do the impossible is Being Selfish and Sinful.

Ultimately, as Christians, we need to get our theology straight about boundaries.  That doesn't mean we won't have disagreements about where the line in the sand should be drawn.  But hopefully, we won't argue that the act of drawing a line in the sand is unChristian.

31 October 2011

Boundaries and Sin

I was born in 1957.  A year that, I am led to believe, was the peak year of the Baby Boom in the US.
Theologically, I think that my generation has a lot to answer for.  We were the babies born (in the US) at the height of post WWII affluence.  Not only were we looking forward to a level of economic prosperity that our parents - who grew up in the depression - only dreamed of, but we were also quick to throw off the shackles of institutionalism, bureaucracy and rigid social expectations.
Many of us, myself included, were raised in religious environments that emphasized how sinful and bad we were.  My stock joke - which really isn't all that funny - is that as a kid I thought the Gospel message was "Jesus died for your sins, so the Father has to let you into heaven.  However the Father is absolutely livid that He's been bribed like that because He hates you."
In reaction to this sort of theology, my generation responded in two ways.  Firstly, many simply left the Church and Christianity entirely.  Secondly, many of us adopted a theology of "cheap grace" - which I outlined in my previous post.  Briefly, "cheap grace" means that we give people the impression that just because God wants to forgive everyone (who repents properly), that God will forgive everyone regardless of whether they are sorry and regardless of whether or not they want to repent.
Another way of saying "cheap grace" is "no boundaries".
I like the "no boundaries" way of looking at the problem of sin because it brings the problem of sin and cheap grace quickly into focus.  
My generation often behaved as if boundaries didn't matter and we often didn't teach boundaries to our children.  No wonder the next generation is reacting in the opposite direction:  boundaries galore, including a lot of boundaries that make the love of God too narrow.
Human beings have a way of doing this.  Black-and-white thinking and jumping from one extreme to another.  If the boundaries I had were too rigid, then do away with them altogether.  If the boundaries you had were non-existent, then put in some rigid boundaries so that everyone knows where they stand.  If the punishment I received was too harsh, never punish anyone for anything.  If no one seemed to care what you did, then impose strong punishments so that the values you're upholding have meaning.
Some wise common-sense thinking will quickly help us realize that there is a more central position:  boundaries which maintain the values of love of God and love of neighbor which are enforced consistently and lovingly.
For the most part, it seems to me that that is the witness of Scripture about Jesus' behavior.  OK, yes, he knocked over the tables in the Temple once.  But in many stories, Jesus forgave the sins of an individual with compassionate understanding, warned the person to truly repent and to not repeat the sin and sometimes even healed them.
Generally speaking, having and enforcing boundaries does not require harshness on the part of the enforcer, it requires mainly consistency of enforcement.  Preaching about how much God hates us when we breech the boundaries isn't going to result in better behavior, it's going to result in a character-assassination of God, not to mention bad theology (God doesn't hate us).  Making up a lot of zealous boundaries like "God wants women to be subservient to men" or "God hates LGBT people" or "God will cast you out if you believe in evolution" doesn't result in better boundaries, it simply perpetuates bad theology.
Yes, sin is bad.  Yes, sin damages us. Sin can keep us in hell.  Sin estranges us from God.
The solution is good boundaries born from wise theology.  The solution is consistent enforcement of those boundaries.  The solution is compassionate, mature enforcement of boundaries.

Sin and Hospital Chaplaincy

Sin and Hospital Chaplaincy - a strange title?  Not from my perspective.

If you were to ask me what are the most important spiritual care tasks I perform, I would have to say that hearing patients' confessions is probably right up there at the top of the list.  Comforting and praying with patients is probably the most requested spiritual care task, but I think that hearing confession is one of the most important.

But isn't confession just for Catholics?  And how can a swingeing theological "liberal" like me hear confession when all I want to talk about is God's love and when I don't want to talk about God's condemnation of sinners?

Well, I'm here to tell you that confession is not just for Catholics.  You'd be surprised the people who want to confess their sins to another, embodied, human being.  Lots of Protestants want to tell you their worst sins when their lives are in danger and they want the reassurance of God's forgiveness from someone they see as God's representative.  (I believe all baptized Christians are God's representatives, by the way.  As my Baptist supervisor says, you can be a priest to any individual as long as that individual ordains you for service to them.)

So what does this theological liberal say when someone asks me "Do you think God will forgive me?"  My first question often is "I don't know. What did you do?"  I usually follow this up quickly with "I believe that God wants to forgive everyone, so if you're asking me if God will forgive you or that God can forgive you, the answer is yes.  But if you are asking me to assure you that God has forgiven you of a specific sin, then I need to know what the sin was but, more importantly, I need to know how you have repented.  You need to make things right not only with God, but with the person against whom you sinned, if that's applicable."

Tough stuff for a theological liberal?  And how does that fit with a theology of unconditional grace and forgiveness?

My theology of unconditional grace and forgiveness is my belief that God wants to forgive every person and that God will forgive every and any sin.  There is no such thing as an unforgivable sin.  There is no such thing as an unforgivable person.

But....unconditional grace is an entirely different thing than cheap grace. Here is an example of cheap grace: "God forgive me for being with a prostitute yesterday night and, by the way, you and I know full well that I intend to do it again."  Not only is this not repentance from a theological point of view, but from a simple human perspective, we all know in our hearts and our guts that this is not repentance.

We can run away from this fact all we want, but if you are a cardiac patient who is conscious and awake and you know that, medically, you might die any minute, believe me that you know darn well that this is not a repentance.  And that's probably why you're calling the chaplain in.

The patient asks the words "Will God forgive me?" and the answer to that is yes.  The question that the patient should be asking, however, is "Will I be able to benefit from God's forgiveness if I don't really intend to amend my ways?"  The answer to that is no.

So what happens to that cardiac patient?  If the patient dies without having had the opportunity to confess to his wife, to amend his life in faithfulness to his marriage vows and to demonstrate his repentance, will God have forgiven him?  I don't know.  And neither does anyone else.  This is why we leave judgements of the human heart to God.  God knows if a person is genuinely sorry and I believe genuine repentance is possible, even without having had the opportunity to demonstrate one's repentance.

The real tragedy of sin is that so many people live in the hell of unforgiveness for many years.  And if you visit a patient whose life is in danger and who wants to make a confession, you know that it truly has been hell.

18 October 2011

Directing hatred at sin is self-defeating

In my previous post, I admitted that I think that God hates sin but I stated that I'm nervous about the use of the word "hate".

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines hatred as:
a) Intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger or sense of injury; b) extreme dislike or antipathy
To put it crudely, is the Gospel message that God wants to punch sinners in the face? Or even that God wants to beat the daylights out of sin?  I don't think so.

For one thing, I think God is smarter than to constantly focus on what God doesn't want. I hold before you Creation for my evidence.  Creation is not a process of negating.  It's a process of of making all things new.  I also hold before you human psychology (we are supposed to be created in God's image, if you'll remember).  Psychologists will tell you that if you constantly tell yourself - for example - "no beer, no beer" what you're brain is hearing is "beer, beer";  ironically, you will be reinforcing the very behavior that you are seeking to stop.

Focusing on sin, even focusing on the destruction of sin, won't eliminate sinning.  It may very well increase sinning. 

This may seem a bit simplistic, but it's true:

If you're worried that this was said by the Buddha instead of Jesus or YHWH, I'll point out that the Great Commandment, is love God and love your neighbor.  Our "Prime Directive" is not about what to hate but rather about whom to love.

And, in God's wisdom, God somehow managed to put this "Prime Directive" into our sense of natural justice.  It's the central tenet in all major religions and altruism (loving one's neighbor) is also considered the highest ethical good by secular ethics.

15 October 2011

God Hates Sin

The topic of sin has been on my mind recently and I thought it might be good to blog about it.
I suspect that both friends and foes (as well as friendly foes) might be surprised to hear that I believe that God hates sin.  
However, I suspect that no one will be surprised to hear that I believe that God loves sinners.  Not just because that latter idea conforms to what you probably already think of my views.  But also because "God loves sinners" is a deeply Methodist doctrine.  A Methodist emphasis (although not a distinctive) is that we hold the concept of prevenient grace dear to our hearts.  In plain English, this means we believe God wishes to be in relationship with all people who have ever lived.
However, that doesn't mean that God likes sin.  On the contrary, sin is what keeps us alienated from God rather than in relationship with God, so it's a no-brainer that God hates sin.  So, yes, God hates sin.
It's not actually so much the concept of "sin" that worries me.  It's the concept of "hate".
What do you think of when you hear the word "hate"?   Each individual will probably hear differently.  
When someone says "I hate it when I ask you to do something and you ignore me" do you hear the other person simply saying "I'm coming here today with a totally neutral request to ask you to change your behavior" or do you hear some negative emotion behind that?
Now, let me ask you another question.  
How do you think that someone who has been physically abused by a family member would hear that sentence?  How do you think that someone who has been sexually abused by someone bigger and stronger would hear that?  How do you think that someone who has been emotionally abused by someone close to them would hear that?
What do you think that someone who has been abused hears when they hear the word "hate"?  What do you think they hear when they hear "God hates"?
And what's the relevance of my question?  Well, social scientists believe that at least 33% of women have been abused by someone close to them during their lifetimes and that at least 25% of men have also been similarly abused.  Social scientists also suspect that these numbers may be under-reported.
So, as Christians, do we really want to send the message that "God hates something or someone or even some action" to the 33% of the population who is hurting and most in need of healing?
I can hear some people now objecting that this is the sort of thinking that has led to the wishy-washy, anything-goes abandonment of values that got the world into trouble in the first place.  I think we can take a stance against sin without preaching "God hates" (behaviors or people) and I intend to address that in my next post.  
I'm going to suggest that both sides of this question are at fault:  both the law-and-order advocates as well as the advocates of passivity.  The problem is not that God loves sinners or that God hates sin.  
The problem is that human beings engage in black-and-white thinking and behave in reactionary ways.  Christianity is supposed to encourage wisdom, among other things, so I think it's the duty of Christian teachers to point to wiser ways of behaving.  Wiser than "That's OK, let's not have any rules or boundaries" and wiser than "If we make God look like a Tough Guy, people will be too afraid to sin."

05 September 2011

Spiritual But Not Religious - Bring it on!

A number of my Facebook friends have been "liking" a post by The Rev. Dr. Lillian Daniel entitled Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me. There is also a longer article posted here at The Christian Century website.

I'm actually a fan of Day1 ministries and, when I first saw the article, I didn't think too much of it. But there have been a number of "likes" and a number of comments about this article's honesty.

And I'm uncomfortable with all the positive comments and I'm trying to figure out why.

The first reason I'm uncomfortable is because of what I learned to call "parallel processing" in Clinical Pastoral Education.

The story in the longer article about the man who was born into a particular Christian denomination and felt hurt and injured by it is one that I can very much identify with.

I spent about ten years outside of the Church, as someone who was "spiritual but not religious", too afraid to seek out any Christian community lest I be told yet again that God loved me but didn't like me and that He (masculine gender with a capital H) expected my unquestioning subservience to men as a sign of my commitment to Him.

So I'm glad that, during that time, I didn't meet a clergyperson who said "Please stop boring me" in response to my spiritual struggles of that time. It was a time of genuine spiritual journeying for me. It turned out to be a period of genuine liberation back into the Christian community. And I might well have been completely done with Christianity altogether if someone had said that to me at the wrong time.

But my second niggle is this: I think a lot of the discussion I've seen is conflating "head religion" with "heart religion". (I realize these are awkward terms, but I'm using them deliberately right now in order to avoid more well-known terms over whose definitions we might be tempted to argue.)

On the level of "head religion", the Rev. Dr. Lillian Daniels makes lots of a very valid points. Theology seems to be one of the few areas where people who have never studied think that they know as much - or often think that they know more - than those who have studied. It's also ironically one of the few areas where it's actually difficult to come up with something that someone hasn't thought of already; and often that someone who thought of your brilliant insight before you did lived 1500, 2000 or 5000 years ago.

There is most certainly a type of liberal Christianity which seems uncomfortable standing inside the historic Christian tradition and which is embarrassed to own the truths, the tradition and the historic understanding of Christianity. A type of liberal Christian who tells someone "Well, your truth is as good as mine." And Daniels is correct, I think, in telling us to stop pandering to this point of view.

However, on the level of "heart religion", I believe that "spiritual but not religious" is often a genuine journey of searching for many, many people. And I'm uncomfortable with dissing that genuine search by telling someone to stop boring me.

I don't think that genuine "heart religion" - the kind of religion that ultimately locates us in a relationship with God and with other human beings - is something that we simply appropriate without some kind of struggle to make it our own. No human relationship is without its give-and-take and I don't believe a relationship with God is either.

Somewhere along the line, in order to have genuine "heart religion," we must question, listen, compromise, apologize and maybe even argue and forgive.

To the "Spiritual but not religious," I say: I'm happy to listen to you.

Don't expect me to pretend I'm not a Christian. Don't expect me to apologize for being a Christian. And, because I'm human, don't expect me to be able to tolerate forever being told how silly or stupid my faith is or how my theological education is worth nothing.

But I'm willing to listen to your story with respect if you are willing to listen to my story with respect - yes, even without trying to convert you. I trust in God that much that I don't need you to believe as I do.

21 July 2011

Great is Thy Faithfulness

A sermon preached on Wednesday June 20, 2011 at the hospital chapel: Great is Thy Faithfulness

29 June 2011


I love how God sometimes gives us gifts out of the blue. A gift that a friend and I received a few months ago came in a mutual conversation where we determined that the emotion she was experiencing was the emotion of regret.

I mention this because people in our culture today don't think too much about the concept of "regret". And we think too much about things like blame, guilt and anger. When things go awry, I think that we often reach for states of mind like guilt, blame and anger when what we're really feeling is regret for a situation.

Here are a couple of examples of regret.

A woman leaves home very early in the morning for her early-start job. Her disabled husband is asleep, as usual, and she decides not to wake him up. Later in the day, she learns that he had a stroke in the middle of the night and she is wracked with guilt. If only she had tried to wake him up at 5:00 am, she would have realized that he was unconscious and called an ambulance.

A grandmother is looking forward to seeing her grandchildren over the weekend when her daughter rings to tell her that something important has come up and the grandkids won't be able to come over. The grandmother gets angry at her daughter and blames her daughter, even as the grandmother is telling herself that her daughter couldn't possibly have foreseen this event and that it's not her daughter's fault.

In my opinion, both of these situations are examples of regret. They are also situations where our culture is often more accustomed to reaching for the describers of "guilt" (in the first instance) or guilt's opposite number "blame" (in the second instance).

What's the difference between guilt/blame and regret?

The purpose of guilt is to alert us human beings to the fact that there is a moral or ethical choice for which we have a responsibility.

So, in the first example, if the woman had tried to rouse her husband, found him unconscious and then shrugged her shoulders and decided to go off to work anyway, then she should feel very guilty indeed; she had a moral responsibility to her husband's well-being that she abdicated.

Why is it important to understand the difference between regret and guilt/blame? Because if we understand the difference, we have a method of moral discernment. We will know how to avoid blaming people (ourselves or others) who didn't actually act unethically or immorally. We also have a process of discerning when someone does actually need to be blamed and when an action needs to be named as wrong.

And, finally, we can also learn to feel some strong feelings of regret in situations where there is no actual blame. The woman in my first example, for instance, will have strong feelings of regret. And strong feelings of "if only". And those feelings need to be mourned and cried over. What she doesn't need to feel is guilt, however.

22 June 2011

Church Growth

Graham has an excellent post on the subject of "church growth":
"…when did trying to follow Jesus, humbly, become overtaken by management speak?"

18 June 2011

Reflecting on the holy feminine

"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death."

It was a death in the middle of the night at the hospital. When you are the Chaplain on-call, you work your usual 8:30 am to 4:30 pm shift and then you pick up the night pager from the Spiritual Care office. From 4:30 pm onwards, all spiritual emergencies in the hospital are in your hands.

What will these emergencies be? Someone who has been given some bad medical news, and is scared in a way they never thought possible? A mother who has been in the hospital with her gravely ill child for the last two weeks and has reached her wits' end? An hysterical relative beating his head on the brick wall (I actually witnessed this)? Or a family who is sad, but calm; who knew that their elderly relative was dying, had a chance to say their good-byes and who are experiencing a sad sort of peace?

It was the latter situation that I walked into at 1:45 am one early Spring night when Administrative Services paged to let me know there was a death. I wakened out of a sound sleep and tried to come to my senses, to prepare myself for whatever state the family would be in.

As I opened the door into into the large room on the Palliative Care unit, I encountered approximately 25 family members as well as the deceased. The patient was elderly, an Irish-American matriarch. Her visitors were about 18 female relatives and about 7 men.

As I entered the room, it was quiet and peaceful. Some family members were crying quietly. A number of eyes looked at me and a number of mouths smiled sadly.

"Thank you so much for coming in the middle of the night, Chaplain. The priest gave mom Last Rites the other day, and we are thankful for that. We know she is with God. But we wonder if you would say a prayer for her while we are all here?"

As I usually do, I asked about the deceased and what the family wanted to pray and I tried to incorporate that into my prayers. As I also usually do with Catholic families, I suggested that they join me in the "Our Father" and "Hail Mary" afterward.

I hope a prayed a good prayer of commendation and blessing for their matriarch. But it was the "Hail Mary" that I remember. Because somewhere in the middle of the Lord's Prayer, all the men stopped speaking. And, along with these 18 other women, we were praying this prayer asking Jesus' mother to keep us all in her prayers up until the hour of our deaths. And we stood in the presence of this family matriarch who seems to have taught her family some small thing about dying well or they wouldn't have been there in the first place. Holy Mary, mother of God, were you praying for this sinner at the hour of her death?

13 June 2011

Christian Non-Violence Explained

Christian non-violence is very easily explained: "Thou shalt not kill". Jesus wasn't kidding about all that "hippy stuff that he laid on pretty thick".

All killing is a sin. When Joe kills your brother, it's a sin and it's a sin when you kill Joe in retaliation. It's a sin when Protestant Northern Irish kill Catholics and a sin when Catholic Northern Irish kill Protestants. It's a sin when countries kill in war; killing done by a State doesn't automatically make killing alright and blessed by God.

And: Just because you think it's OK to kill a certain category of person and I don't think it's OK to kill that category of person, that doesn't mean that I hate you, and it doesn't mean that I think it's OK to kill people like you. All killing is wrong. Simples.

11 June 2011

Women are People

I went to an interview last week. My current one-year contract will end in August and I need to find full-time work. One of the nice things about having a one-year contract is that your current employer fully expects you to get another job and you don't have to sneak around behind their back interviewing. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm really awful at being sneaky.

Since I'm looking for Chaplaincy jobs, I went to an interview with a healthcare organization which is still sufficiently unknown that you probably wouldn't be able to guess its name. I had my first interview with the (male) Executive Director and the (female) Assistant Director.

Have you ever walked into a room and instantly felt a rapport with the other people? It was like that. They told me enthusiastically about their organization and how it was the best place they had both worked. This statement was backed up by genuine and enthusiastic example after example and I came away from the interview feeling "Wow! I want to work for these people! They seem genuinely committed to their patients' well-being."

Then the trouble started. The second interview was to be with the Chaplains. They are all male, I was told. No problem, I said. My previous profession was still dominated by men and I've often been the only female on a team. I've never had problems working with men.

Of course, you never know how you are perceived by others. But I walked into that interview room with the Chaplains feeling incredibly positively.

About half-way into the interview, the obvious leader of the group asks me "As you can see, we're all men here. Would you have a problem being the only woman?" Answer, absolutely not...etc. etc. (as above).

"But, if you were a part of our team, would we be able to have the same kinds of conversations that we have now?" My mind is boggling as I try to imagine how a group of male Chaplains has a conversation that would be inappropriate for a female Chaplain to hear. Answer: "I have no idea what kinds of conversations you have now, so I can't answer that."

"Are you sure you wouldn't have any problem working with a group that is all men?" Answer. "As I said, I have worked in a lot of majority-male situations before, and I've never had a problem. But if you would have a problem working with me, then, yes, I would have a problem with that. Why would anyone want to work somewhere where they were not wanted?"

"You're not....(5 second pause for thought)...one of those...(pause for thought)...flaming feminist man-haters, are you?" (Hey, good job you paused to consider your words, huh? Who knows what might have come out if you hadn't stopped to think!) Answer: "As I said, I've worked with men for over 15 years. But if don't want to work with a woman, then I have absolutely no interest in working where I'm not wanted."

When I recounted this story to my female supervisor back at work she said "Welcome to the Christian Church in America."

I know this doesn't just happen in America. I recount the story simply for the sake of telling it because I think these stories need to be told. Christians talk about how their views are discriminated against in civil life and here we have a bunch of male Chaplains working for a non-church healthcare organization who are being sexist with impunity. So, as with many secularists, it's hard for me to have sympathy with this perception.

10 June 2011


It is hard to escape the conclusion that God does not do his work in us apart from the experience of suffering and pain….

If this is true, then churches will need to be places where such trials and tribulations can be openly admitted, dealt with and learnt from, rather than avoided and shoved under the carpet.*
Read more at: Connexions: House of Pain

* Graham Tomlin, Spiritual Fitness: Christian Character in a Consumer Culture (London / New York: Continuum, 2006), pp. 125-27.

08 June 2011

"Getting" Jesus

Hat tip to Graham. And Christians wonder why non-Christians don't want any of our "Good News". It often seems that non-Christians "get" Jesus better than we do.

Some tid-bits from the video:
If you're a Christian who supports killing your enemies and torture, you have to come up with a new name for yourself.

...Christians have been lawyering the bible to try to figure out how "love thy neighbor" can mean "hate thy neighbor" and how "turn the other cheek" can mean "s***w you, I'm buying space lasers". Martin Luther King gets to call himself a Christian because he actually practiced loving his enemies.

...Jesus lays on that hippy stuff pretty thick. He has lines like "Do not repay evil with evil" and "Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you." Really. It's in that book you hold up when you scream at gay people. And not to put too fine a point on it, but "non-violence" was kinda Jesus' trademark. Kinda his big thing. To not follow that part of it is like joining Greenpeace and hating whales.

28 May 2011

Being Real

Over at his blog, my friend John Meunier asks the question When is Honest Too Honest? It seems that over at Chad Holz's blog, he has posted about dealing with a specific sort of addiction.

So John wanted to ask the question, what sort of information should we suddenly let people know from the pulpit? A fair enough question and I answered John with an "I don't know" before reading Chad's post.

But on reading Chad's post, I find myself wanting to ask a different question: When can the church learn to be real and to deal with real issues that real people face on a daily basis? If I am reading Chad's post correctly, he admitted that he was addicted to pornography and entered into a twelve-step program to deal with his addiction. He preached on the subject and it was not well-received by the congregation.

I can totally understand that. And I can totally understand that it would be a shock for the congregation to learn about their pastor's addiction one Sunday morning from the pulpit, but I'll leave that question of the use of the pulpit to John's blog.

What I'm more interested in is why we can't "be real" in church. I'm more interested in why twelve-step programs seem to provide more spiritual healing than our faith communities. I'm more interested in why people feel that they can't ever admit to the minister that they are angry at God, afraid of God or not sure about God.

And I'm interested in why we all - lay and ordained - collude in what often seems to me to be a centuries-long culture of enabling each other's fear and addiction.

This is a think-piece. I don't have any answers here. What I do know is that if we can't admit to ourselves and to at least one other person what our real stumbling block is - hatred for our father, anger at God, shame at being addicted to pornography - whatever our imperfection (aka sin), we haven't got a glimmer of hope of beginning our spiritual healing.

The church is, by and large with some exceptions, invested in maintaining our belief that we don't really sin - or that we don't have some thoughts, feelings or behaviors that we think are shameful or improper. And then we collude in helping others maintain their belief that they don't really sin.

I also believe that the shame that keeps us from being real, and our institutional enabling of allowing ourselves to hide our sin, means that we don't really believe in God's forgiveness or grace. Our actions speak louder than our words and our actions say: "We don't really believe that being wrong can be forgiven. And we don't really believe that we can become holy."

We are addicted to our false image of Being Good and to our false belief that God is not really gracious and forgiving.

And so churches become places where pastors who get help for a sex addiction are at risk of getting the sack. Like any family which is deeply invested in a systemic addiction, we have to expel from our midst those who are on their way to recovery.

Isn't it time for the church to become a different kind of community?

24 May 2011

In Memory of Robert A. Berardinelli

Robert A. Berardinelli (Bob), long-term resident of Waite Hill, Ohio and more recently of Hudson, Ohio he entered into rest May 21, 2011. Beloved husband of Ursula (Sandi) Berardinelli (nee Kohls), married for 55 years. Dear father of Pamela Garrud (Trevor), Christina and Raf (Roxanne); cherished grandfather of Rina. Bob was preceded in death by parents Anthony and Anna and brother Raymond. Bob was founder and President of Continental Title for 25 years, a founding member of the Italian-American Cultural Foundation, a member of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity, a Korean War Veteran, a supporter and Board Member of Willoughby Fine Arts Association and Breckenridge Retirement Village as well as a member of many professional societies. A Service of Remembrance will take place on Friday, June 3rd at Lake Forest Country Club in Hudson, Ohio at 11:00 am. Family will receive friends before the service at 10:00 am. In lieu of flowers, it is requested that contributions be made to the charity of your choice.

14 May 2011


Feeling nostalgic for UK hymn tunes:

30 April 2011


What does it mean to believe in something and how does belief differ from faith? Well, I don't know exactly. People seem to make this dichotomy over and over but I'm increasingly coming to the opinion that belief is lived out in our actions. If we say that we "believe" something but we live our life in a way that is inconsistent with our purported belief, then we don't really believe it.

I often think of "those daring young (wo)men on the flying trapeze" when I think of belief. If you believe in your ability to make safe contact with your partner, you don't need guide-wires. If you want to believe in your ability to make safe contact with your partner but don't dare go without the guide-wires, then you don't believe. Although you may want to believe. As a side comment, this photo on the left of one trapeze artist catching another in mid-flight without guide-wires was in the minority on my first search page. If you do an image search for "trapeze artist", you get a lot more options like the one on the right: people using guide wires.

I think we all use guide wires at some point in our faith lives. As a culture, for instance, we say "In God we Trust" but what what we really trust in is the stuff on which that slogan is written: The almighty dollar. We say that we believe that Jesus is our Savior but we live our lives as if our accomplishments are our Savior or our children are our Saviors or our lifestyle is our Savior. Most of us are practical atheists although many of us want to believe.

Of course, owning up to our unbelief is difficult. Particularly if you're a Christian. And even moreso if you're a Christian minister.

I write all this by way of asking questions and in the hope that there is something valuable in being transparent and truthful and open. I hope that God is gracious enough to deal with my own unbelief and I have an intuition that this is where the heart of God's grace lies.

But I think we Christians need to own up to the fact that our deeds don't match what we say we believe and that is why we are wide open to the accusation of hypocrisy from those outside the Church. And we are even more hypocritical when we declare that we believe in Jesus but we just can't live as if we believe. That's the dissembling that most folk but us see through in a heartbeat.

Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief.

29 April 2011

Saved by our ideas about Christ?

Excellent post by Craig Adams: Hopeful Inclusivism. Craig writes:

Think about it a minute. This means that no one can come to God the Father except through the grace & mediation of Christ. There is only one source of light and grace for all people. From Jesus’ perspective these words can be taken to mean: "there is no access to God except through my mediation."

Too many modern evangelicals have misunderstood it to mean: "there is no access to God except through consciousness of Christ." We know there is salvation in the name of Christ. How God will judge those outside of the faith is none of our business. Christ is the Way — not our experience of Christ.

22 April 2011

15 April 2011

More Hell

There is still a lot of talk about Hell in the Christian blogosphere in the aftermath of Rob Bell's book "Love Wins".

A question for readers coming out of these discussions:

True or False? "If you don't believe that God sends (most) non-Christians to a torturous hell, then you are denying the Lordship of Christ."


02 April 2011

The Scandal of the Gospel

Over at Connexions Kim Fabricus posts an excerpt worth reading from my favorite author, James Alison from Alison's book Faith Beyond Resentment.

You can read the post here:James Alison on a closer look at the Gospel Scandal. A small snippet:
In fact, the obvious reading of the gospels suggests that the real scandal is the possibility that when God himself becomes present in the midst of a particular human group, those who are scandalised are not scandalised by the heaviness of his demands. On the contrary, they are scandalised by the fact that God himself does not fit into the scheme into which, according to them, God should fit. It is not that God is too sacred for ordinary people to be able to bear it, but that he is so little sacred that religious people find it impossible to bear it.
James Alison, Faith beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2001), p. 178.

27 March 2011

"Last Rites" / Sacrament of the Sick

Here is an article from our local paper which fits my experience as a hospital Chaplain: Catholics Who Seek Last Rites are Advised to Plan Ahead

The retired Catholic Bishop Anthony Pilla of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese points out:
"So many times people don't want to be anointed because they think that might mean they're going to die.

"But it's not just a sacrament for the dying," he said. "It's for the sick and the recovering."

Pilla said he even recommends the sacrament -- now commonly called the Sacrament of the Sick -- to expectant mothers, people facing surgery and the elderly.

This has been a public service announcement by your friendly foreign female Methodist minister.

26 March 2011

Thoughts on Hell

I feel that, for my own sake, I need to write a post on hell. I doubt I'm going to say anything that anyone else hasn't said already but I feel that I need to do this for my own benefit.

If you want a thorough-going review of where the concept of hell appears in Scripture and what its function is, I recommend the recent posts by UMC pastor Ben Witherington: Hell? No?, Matthew 10:28 - Why Anihilationism is not Universalism, and And Now - The Case for Permanent Residence in Hell.

I certainly can't do even half the job that Ben did. My only point would be that the broad concept of "hell" certainly does appear in Scripture. Although I think that the popular concept of hell is generally quite different than the many and varied images in Scripture.

So why are so many people getting their virtual knickers in a twist over the debate about whether hell exists and who God might send there other than the fact that Rob Bell has recently written a book on the subject: Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived?

Here are some thoughts:
+++ If you're out looking for converts, it's easier to convert someone who has hit rock bottom in their life and/or is scared shirtless. Evangelists have always noted how relatively easy it is to convert those who are really desperate. One great technique is to try to cause someone to become desperate by frightening the Bejezus out of them. Either convince them that they are a totally worthless human being or that they will go to hell if they don't convert. Literally, we keep trying to scare the hell out of people. Which doesn't work if God doesn't actually hate people enough to send them to eternal torture.

+++ In consequence, the popular version of Christianity that many people believe is that The Gospel Message is "You are a sinner and headed for hell but God sent Jesus to die for your sins. If you accept Jesus as your savior, you will be saved." That's what a lot of people think it means to be a Christian, so no wonder they don't like it if hell gets demoted to a non-Gospel issue. As someone once asked me "If we're not certain that non-Christians aren't going to hell, why would anyone want to be a Christian?" Yes, the person who asked me this was someone who was constantly proclaiming how good God is and how wonderful it is to follow Christ.

+++ A lot of us use fear to motivate ourselves and others. You know what? I do this too. Someone recently asked me what I do on days when I feel emotionally overwhelmed and don't want to see patients. I laughed and I replied that, if I'm being brutally honest, what I do is I try to scare myself with the reminder that if I spend days not seeing patients, I'll lose my job. I don't want to operate that way - and it's certainly not the recommended way for a Chaplain to motivate herself - but that was the honest answer: fear is what gets me off my butt. If we remove the fear, we might have to find another motivation.

+++ Many Christians seem fixated on the idea that if God loves us Christians then this love necessitates hating everyone else and sending them to hell. We seem to believe that there is a limited amount of divine love and mercy to go around and that God can only spend it on certain people. Along with many other Christians, I find it to be a monstrous image of God that God would "save" an immoral and unethical Christian who "said the sinners' prayer" but that God is ready and eager to damn a non-Christian who lived a moral and ethical life and who imitated Jesus. (Yes, I know about grace and I know that understanding the Gospel is always a balance of love and grace, but I'm not going into that here.)
I do believe that there are images of "hell" in Scripture. I also believe that these pictures are many and varied and sometimes even contradictory.

I don't believe, however, that belief in God's sending people to eternal torture in hell is an integral part of the "good news" of the Gospel message.

As Christians, we need to learn that there is Good News in the Gospel of Christ without us imposing more bad news on everyone else. My blogging friend, John Meunier, just blogged on Acts 10:34-43. Now, there is some good news. Unless, of course, we think that God can't love us unless God hates someone else.

22 March 2011

I Got my Book Today!

I got Rob Bell's "Love Wins" today.

I promised my friend Allan R. Bevere that I would post a review of it over on his blog. I hope I stick to it and read the book soon. I'm a bit of a scatter-brain when it comes to books and I have about seven on the go at the moment.

Here's a paragraph from the introductory chapter which indicates what Bell himself thinks the book is about:
Of all the billions of people who ever lived, will only a select number "make it to a better place" and every single other person suffer in torment and punishment forever? Is this acceptable to God? Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?
I'm looking forward to reading the book.

21 March 2011

The Gospel Message

Image taken from: Slap Upside the Head[1]

I'm not much in the mood these days for posting long posts, but something someone said on a friend's Facebook thread got me thinking. It was that "the Gospel message" is: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

Now, I'm hardly going to disagree with this. And, just in case you harbour a sneaking suspicion that I do disagree with the statement, let me assure you that I wholeheartedly agree with it.

My question, however, is: "What does it mean to believe in Jesus as Lord?"

You know, we talk about how our faith is supposed to be relevant to our everyday life and, frankly, unless we unpack what exactly it means that Jesus is our Lord, I don't see how we make "good news" out of this statement.

What I learned as a child was that I should "accept" Jesus as my Lord: that is was some kind of cognitive agreement like: "Oh yeah, I believe in gravity. I believe that it's fact that when I let go of something it falls to my feet." "Oh yeah, Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth, that's a fact."

So what?

I think we need to unpack that statement a lot more if it's going to be "good news" for me, for you or for our world.

What do you think?


[1] I am simply crediting a website for a great illustration. Please let's not be distracted by the general content of the website.

Jesus Hates Taxes

Jesus Hates Taxes With thanks to a Facebook Friend

16 March 2011

Missional Church

This is one of the most insightful articles on the subject of "mission church" that I've read in a long time, particularly from a US perspective which often still seems to insist that "If we get our marketing right, they will come back". Uh uh.

The Death of the Funeral Society

08 February 2011

Oh, Number Two!

When I posted on the subject of Creating Godde in my own image, I expected some negative reactions, but the kind of negative reactions the post received has been rather interesting.

Setting aside the whole "feminist issue" for a minute, one of the more interesting comments was from a fellow Methodist who objected to my first comment that I was waiting for the inevitable **** to fly. I wrote four asterisks, and my colleague pulled out the old card of "Let's all be horrified that an ordained minister (and a woman at that?) has made a scatological remark."

I'm going to put myself on a limb again, but I don't believe that there is anything immoral or unethical with making scatological remarks. I accept that some may find such words distasteful, but I think possibly the greatest worry is about being indelicate.

We also have all these "cute" words for excrement (is that a naughty word too?) like "number two" and "doggy do" and "poo poo". Are four asterisks really all that much more offensive? And, for that matter, what really is wrong with the words "shit" or "crap"? (yes, I dared to write them)

It's a topsy-turvy world. I wonder if those who take offense at four asterisks are writing letters of protest to the television programmes that are showing people jumping up and down shouting "Oh my God! Oh my God!"? (Are you offended that I dared to write those words? It's technically taking the name of the Lord in vain, but my bet is you're not nearly offended at that as what I wrote in the previous paragraph.)

Or what about getting outraged at articles that spin the truth so that people are presented in the worst possible light or presented as meaning something that they didn't mean? God forbid that those with sensitive constitutions should see four asterisks, but, hey, tell as many half-truths as you like and hope that others will interpret everything in the worst possible light.

We don't care about truth or taking the Lord's name in vain, but don't offend our eyes or ears with Number Two.

05 February 2011

A Thought Experiment - Did I ask you to breed?

Here is a thought experiment that is born out of two recent stimuli: 1) the recent discussion on the repeal of the Health Care Law and 2) paying my property taxes.

Some of my politically conservative Christian friends and colleagues have been opining about how God doesn't like it when the government forces people to look after other people. So this got me thinking about my property taxes.

You see, 66.95% of my property taxes are going to our public schools. In a town that voted Republican, in a county that voted Republican, in a State that ousted the Democratic Governor for a Republican one. We are really Republicans around here. I can vouch for that because I keep hearing about how all the government wants to do is tax us and take away our freedoms.

It's kind of ironic. I voted twice for an increase in our property taxes for the purpose of funding schools and not only do I not have children in the local school district, I don't have children full stop. I did it because I believe that we have to look after one another in society and that the education of the children in this community is about the good of the whole, not about me.

I figure I'm something of a mug. My neighbors apparently believe that there is something ethically wrong about helping me with my healthcare in the event that I can't pay for it, but that there is nothing wrong at all about me paying for their kids' schooling.

So, my proposal is this: It is ethically wrong to expect other people to pay for your kids' education. Did I ask you to breed? If you can't afford their education, then don't have them.

Let me review my property bill. 66.95% to the school district can go and I'm not going to pay the $22.71 for the zoo, either since I never go there nor the $50.23 for the county parks or the $77.40 for child services. You can strike off my bill the $154.80 to the Board of Developmental Disabilities and the $104.48 for the County Mental Health Board since no one in my family is benefiting from either of their services. I'm also not paying the $20.30 for the bond retirement since I didn't live here and couldn't vote for it.

So now that I have refused to pay taxes to entities that me and my family do not directly benefit from, I have reduced my tax bill by 86.68%. I can see the attraction of the principle of "It is unethical to make me pay for community services that I don't want and that don't directly benefit me." Tea Party, here I come!

30 January 2011

Are Women Human?

My friend, Dave over at 42 has just pointed to a brilliant blog entitled Are Women Human? which, according to it's subtitle is dedicated to "Debunking complementarianism and other myths of gender"

For those who don't know what complementarianism is, it's the view that men and women are equal in the eyes of God except that God has reserved leadership for men and "followship" (my word) for women. Or to slightly misquote George Orwell's characters in Animal Farm it's the idea that all people are equal but some are more equal than others. I think that the sound-bite "Are Women Human?" captures this idea perfectly. Check out the blog.

27 January 2011

Creating Godde in my own image

I’m coming out of the closet: I have decided to create God in my own image. Really, I have.

I’m going to call Her Godde. Godde is a white middle class woman. Or, in your case, Godde might be an African-Caribbean young woman, or a disabled elderly Latina.

Someone else’s God might be a 3-month old Asian boy with a congenital heart defect or even a white, middle-aged, middle-class man.

I’m absolutely, utterly serious. Here’s the deal.

Christian theology has long asserted that God has no gender and that God is neither male nor female. Yet, if we’re being honest, Western Christianity traditionally pictures God as a powerful white male who is not elderly but old enough to have power and influence and still be physically virile. The CEO of Exxon, perhaps.

Jesus, despite his ethnicity and cultural context, we have pictured as a younger version of the CEO-God. Of course, Jesus was certainly male. And we’ve also been happy to envisage him as white and powerful, a sort of up-and-coming CEO to God’s Chairman of the Board image.

So, if Jesus is divine and male then God must also be male. And Jesus called God his Father, so that must be the way that Jesus wanted all his followers forever after to refer to the first person of the Trinity, right?


British Methodism – I speak only for the tradition in which I was ordained rather than trying to speak for other traditions – affirms that every person is made in the image of God and that we each bear that image within us.

Bearing the Imago Dei does not mean that any one of us bears God’s complete image. Scripture tells us that God created both male and female in God’s image. Thus, woman is not a complete image of God. And man is not a complete image of God. But together we complement each other and bear something that is closer to the image of God than one gender or the other on its own.

Many conservative Christians are not only happy – but indeed eager – to point out this complementarity of gender when it suits their purposes.

So, tell me why tradition, and much of conservatism, insists that we must think of God as male and that we must conceive of the male human being as being a complete image of God and the female as representing no aspect of God whatsoever?

But here is why I am really creating Godde in my own image: because I realised that I have spent over 50 years not being able to get in touch with the Imago Dei in which I was created because “everyone knows” that God is a man.

Did I think that God is a man? No, I did not think that. Did I believe that God is a man? I didn’t believe that in my head, but I sure believed it in my heart and in my gut. God could not be part of me because God is not a woman. Even if I have “received the Holy Spirit” and the Spirit is in me, the Spirit is a man (not in Greek or Hebrew, but certainly in popular Western thought).

Of course, God is not black either. Or disabled. Or gay. Or transgendered. If you’re any of those things, you have to think that the Imago Dei inside you is a straight white male. A foreign invader. Not really part of you. You bear no image of the divinity. But if you are ready to confess to God your sin of being female, black, gay, disabled, or whatever, then God will be happy to put his “normal” corrective image within your field of vision, even though you will never be able to change the way you are.

So, I have decided to create Godde in my own image. And I hope that you too will create God/Godde in your own image in the same way. I’m not going to pretend any more that God is a powerful, white middle class male CEO. And if you don’t believe that either, maybe together we can begin to change the world one person at a time.

16 January 2011

Love Divine (Blaenwern)

"Love Divine" to the proper tune.

And Can it be That I should Gain

Feeling nostalgic and thought I'd post one of my favourite hymns.

02 January 2011

I Know You Know

Dear Mom:

You know how you give me those things that you don't want? The stuff that you don't want to throw away because they might come in handy and someone could use them? Like the containers that lunch meat comes in? Or the disposable plastic cake carrier that the "Royal Dairy" (let the reader understand) ice cream cake came in?

Well, I'm going to walk out your front door and put them in the garbage bin. And you know that. And I know you know that. And you probably know that I know that you know. It's just that you can't bear to be the one to throw them out, so I'll do it for you.

Just sayin' is all.