Sunday, July 22, 2012

Love Back

This is an editorial written by Michael Johnston and published in the Denver Post: 

On Friday, 4 million Coloradans went to work and played football in their front yard; strangers opened doors for each other; and people gave blood, offered shelter, served hot meals, held grandkids, played pick-up basketball and committed unnumbered acts of kindness and gentleness.
One Coloradan dressed up like a villain and believed that by showing up at the site of America's mythical hero, he could slay our actual heroes.
It's true there was no Batman sitting in the theater to fly down and tackle James Holmes, as he hoped there might be. He had tactical assault gear covering his whole body, ready for America to fight back.
But love is more organized than that. Love has cellphones and ambulances, nurses and doctors, complete strangers and policemen and emergency responders always at the ready. Love has nurses who will jump out of bed in the middle of the night and get family members  to watch their children so they can rush to the hospital and save the life of someone they've never met. Love has first responders who will walk into a booby-trapped building to save the lives of neighbors they will never meet.
It must be lonely being James Holmes, spending too much of the first part of your life planning alone for an act that will leave you sitting alone for the rest of your life. For the rest of us, life is crowded. Love is always one movie seat away.
We are a team that loves each other and will fight for each other, and if you punch us in the mouth, we will fight back.
Yet America's awesome strength to fight is overwhelmed by its irrepressible strength to love. James Holmes took 12 lives Friday. Love saved 58 lives. Policemen on the scene in minutes, strangers carrying strangers, nurses and doctors activated all over the city.
But we didn't stop there. Love saved the hundreds of other people who walked out of the Aurora movie theater unhurt. Love saved the 5,000 who went to see Batman all over Colorado, and the 1.2 million who saw it all over the country, who walked in and out safely with their friends, arm in arm. Love guided the 4 million other Coloradans who went to bed peacefully Friday night, and who woke up this morning committed to loving each other a little deeper.
The awe of last night is not that a man full of hate can take 12 people's lives; it is that a nation full of love can save 300 million lives every day.
I sat this morning wondering what I could do to help: give blood, support victims, raise money, stop violence. How could we start to fight back?
My friends texted that they had plans to take their kids to Batman tonight but were now afraid to go. Others who were going to play pick-up basketball or go out to dinner were afraid to leave home. They thought they would hunker down in their home and wonder, "How do we fight back?"
The answer is we love back. We deepen our commitments to all the unnumbered acts of kindness that make America an unrendable fabric. We will serve more meals, play more games, eat more food, listen to more jazz, go to more movies, give more hugs, and say more "thank yous" and "I love yous" than ever before.
So while James Holmes settles into a jail cell, wondering what we will do to fight back, we will love back. We will go to a park and play soccer, we will go to the playground and restaurants and movie theaters of our city all year.
He should know not only that he failed in his demented attempt to be the villain, but that Batman didn't have to leap off the screen to stop him, because we had a far more organized and powerful force than any superhero could ever have.
In a movie theater in Aurora 50 years from now, one of last night's survivors will be waiting in the popcorn line and mention that he was in Theater 9 on that terrible summer night in 2012. And, inexplicably, with an armful of popcorn, a total stranger will reach out and give that old man a huge hug and say, "I'm so glad you made it."
Love back.
We've already won.
Michael Johnston is a Democratic state senator from northeast Denver

How in the world are we to respond to the Aurora shootings?

In my role as a hospital chaplain, as well as with my friends, I had a ton of conversations about what this tragedy means and how it has impacted all of us.  The media coverage has been a deluge.   

There have been several categories of responses in the media:

1. With better gun control, this wouldn't have happened

2. With better mental health care, this wouldn't have happened

3. There has got to be a reason for something this horrific, so maybe let's look for a supernatural cause.  
     This has got to be the most painful thing yet.  I stumbled across this blog post from Tony Jones,

 whom I respect immensely, and felt compelled to respond.  If you scroll down long enough, you will see my comment, but here is the text of it:

Tony, thank you for this post. As a chaplain at a hospital in Denver I spent about 10 hours today talking with patients, their families, and staff about this tragedy in and among the myriad of other tragedies that happen at a trauma center. I have no doubt that evil exists in the world and that evil was behind this act (but I feel like personifying evil and blaming it on Satan is a convenient excuse that exempts us from looking at our sin and how our own actions perpetuate evil), but more so, blaming it on Satan is an attempt to explain something that is completely unexplainable. But it is a damn good thing that the grace of God is also completely unexplainable. This city is my home, these people are my people, and what I hear coming up from my community is love. Love in response to unspeakable tragedy, not just for the victims but the shooter and his family as well. THAT is where God is and what God is doing in Colorado. Those who are blaming the shooting on Satan are not here and are not experiencing what we are. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

The fact of the matter is that this event is horrifying and there is simply not an answer for why it occurred. Someone who has made up their mind to do something such as this, there is no stopping them.  In my opinion, no amount of gun control or mental health intervention could have prevented this specific situation. However, this event is an important realization for us as a nation.  

But how then shall we live?  As a person who identifies as part of a specific Christian community and as a member of the greater Body of Christ, I am challenging us to respond in love.  To respond with care and concern for ALL of our neighbors in addition to those who are personally impacted by this horrifying tragedy.  This is not the time for asking why or how, this is a time to be together in love and to FEEL.  As a Christian person, I hope to bear witness to the real and painful things in the world, to dwell within them, but also to proclaim the promise of Grace and light in God.  

On friday evening my church community House for All Sinners and Saints gathered for Beer and Hymns in the basement of a local bar.  We sang together and sat with each other in the midst of pain and when nothing seems to make sense, we sang praises to God, for that is what we do when there seems to be nothing else to do.  At the end of our evening, just after singing How Great Thou Art which is our community's custom for each Beer and Hymns, we sang the Holden Evening Prayer liturgy together as a vigil for all those impacted by the shootings in Aurora. I had the honor of being cantor for my community that night, and as we lifted up our songs and prayers to God as incense, it felt like we reclaimed just a tiny little bit of what is good and right in the world.  Amen.  

Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison

This last friday morning, at approximately 12:30am, evil came to the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, CO.  At the midnight showing of the newest installment in the Batman series, a man, who can only be described as diabolical, opened fire into the crowded theater 9.  I woke up at 5:00am that day, headed to work the early shift at the hospital that morning.  That afternoon my pastor sent an email to our community asking us how we were personally affected by the events.  Below is the reflection that I sent.

I just got off a nearly 10 hour shift at St Anthony hospital.  I was house chaplain today, which means I am the lead chaplain for the department and respond to all the major events in the facility.  When I woke up today at 5:00am and saw that my Facebook feed was ablaze with news of the theater shootings, I knew today would be a day I remember what I was doing for the rest of my life.  I wasn't sure yet if anyone had been transported to our hospital, but I knew that I needed to get there.  Our hospital had been put onto mass casualty alert. Something like this fucks with your sense of control (even though the idea that we ever had control in the first place is a farce), your sense of safety, your sense of what is good and true and right in the world.  Part of my job as house chaplain is to offer the daily overhead prayer.  What in the world do you offer at a time like this?  While we did not take in any victims from today's shooting, my hospital received a number of the victims of the Columbine shootings 13 years ago and the staff was very much reliving that tragedy today.  

I spoke this prayer overhead:
We pray to you almighty God. You are our refuge and our strength, a very present help in time of trouble. Do not let us fail in the face of these events. Uphold us with your love, and give us the strength we need. Help us in our confusion, and guide our actions. Heal the hurt, console the bereaved and afflicted, protect the innocent and helpless, and deliver any who are still in peril; for the sake of your great mercy in Jesus Christ our Lord. (ELW Pastoral Care, page 386) 

It is surreal to wake up and realize that suddenly, the world is just different. Yet, while the world is irrevocably changed, and today the world mourns, my hospital was full of people whose world changed tragically today too.  

But as I walked down the halls of the Neuro ICU, the wife of a patient, whom I have prayed with daily, whose husband suffered a catastrophic stroke last week, rushed out.  She was crying tears of joy, her husband had opened his eyes.  She proclaimed "God is good!  God has been here all along even when it didn't seem good!"  I hugged her, and agreed: God is good and even more importantly on a day like today, God has been here all along.  

So, as I sit here utterly exhausted, I cling to that promise...indeed, God has been here all along.  Words are cheap in a situation like this.  We can only feel.  The questions of why and how are rational responses to an irrational act.  It cannot be explained.  It's a damn good thing that God's boundless grace and the peace that passes all understanding cannot be explained either.

Monday, July 16, 2012

What in the world is seminary and why would you want to go?

When I tell people that I am in seminary they tend to give me a blank look.  If people happen to know what it is (which happens VERY infrequently), they just are not sure what to say.  So here are my thoughts on what seminary is and why I am enrolled in it.

This article from the Huffington Post Religion blog is a great place to start.

Serene Jones Why Attend Seminary?

But here are my collected thoughts on what seminary is:

I. A place of learning:
This should be obvious, but this goes well beyond an ordinary institution of graduate education.  Yes, we read more books in a 10-week quarter than should be humanly possible, we write papers, I even survived 20 weeks of learning Koine Greek that enables me to read the New Testament or Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible).  However, seminary is also about reexamining assumptions held about religious truth, some that have been held for a lifetime.  It is about bringing your personal baggage to light now, because undoubtedly, it will come up later in your ministry.  It is helping others to examine, grow, and strengthen their own beliefs and look at their own baggage and how it hinders them from growing closer to God.  We learn how various religious beliefs interact with, hinder, and enhance one another.  

II. A place of professional development:
Granted, I am enrolled in seminary as I prepare to become an ordained pastor, some of my peers are studying theology from a purely academic standpoint.  My education involves not just didactic sessions, but real, practical applications of what I am learning.  Right now I am about six weeks into CPE to learn more, read this article from the ELCA, which is an absolutely indispensable part of my preparation.  I am moving to St. Paul, MN next January to continue my classes at Luther Seminary (known as a Lutheran residency) and I am very eager to start my contextual learning at Humble Walk Lutheran Church.  I also have a full-time, yearlong internship in some sort of setting that is yet to be identified.  

III. But why would anyone want to go to seminary?

All I can say here is that I am in seminary because I am preparing for ministry in the ELCA, and ministry is my vocation.  Vocation, in my understanding, is the one thing that you can't not do.  This calling of ministry in and through the church has chased me through most of my life.  This is really not an easy journey.  It is pretty expensive both in terms of money and of time.  I am really thankful for the education that I am receiving because I am preparing deeply for ministry.  Denominations who have "preachers" make me nervous.  Preachers are often self-identified, charismatic leaders who may or may not even have a college education.  In fact, there are even child "pastors" who allegedly feel the calling of God to preach, and go on to spew hellfire and brimstone from pint size pulpits.  I think a preacher with a self-appointed call is one of the most damaging things for Christendom.  So as tiresome as my myriad of requirements can be, I am really, really thankful.  I have people holding me accountable, I have the opportunity to discern and clarify my sense of call, and I have a wide support system.  Seminary gives me the opportunity to examine how my belief system interacts with the world around me.  It is teaching me how to think critically, articulate my theology, and put all that into practice.  

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Pray for rain

Credit Christian Science Monitor

Pray for rain for Colorado.  We have had almost a month of devastating fires.  This is a funny internet meme that I pulled from Facebook, but the real truth is not one bit funny.

We are so in need of rain.  Our state is burning up and people are going crazy.

Credit Denver Post

Look where I get to live

This is right by my house in Denver's City Park