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.