Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Praying for the UMC

 Not quite 10 years ago now, during the 2009 General Convention I stopped to reflect on the arguments then current about, as I call it, making all God’s sacraments available to all God’s children; which is to say, about the fullness of life in the church of my LGBTQIA siblings. Central to my thoughts was the difference between an individualistic perspective and what I call a communitarian perspective – that is, the difference between whether an individual’s identity is understood best buy the individual, or best in the context of, and under authority of, a community. If you’d like, you can re-read that post here.

Now as I watch what is happening among our United Methodist siblings, I am very much aware of the same issue. For so many of us, especially in these United States, an individualistic perspective and an individualistic understanding of how identity happens is the source of the preference we offer for the lives and experiences of so many.  Unlike the Anglican Communion, though, the United Methodist Church has continued to function with all of its various international participants as full members and one church. That is, unlike the Anglican Communion, where a new nation has the opportunity to establish a new and autonomous national church, conferences of the United Methodist Church in Africa have exactly the same participation as conferences in United States.  So, many participants in this general conference come from cultures that are not individualistic, but are profoundly communitarian. In that perspective, it is perhaps illogical not to humbly, if not happily, embrace the definitions of the majority.

 As in my reflections in 2009, from my observation outside it appears that no minds are actually being changed. It appears that there is little or no way forward that grants meaningful authority to the live experiences of our LGBTQIA siblings, or even of those of us who don’t fall into those communities but would support them. These are profoundly different ways of understanding how identity is established and recognized, and they are, by and large, fundamental and unreflected perspectives. And, as I have often told couples preparing for marriage, it is the unreflected assumptions that come back to cause us pain.

 Pray for our United Methodist siblings, both those who wanted to support the One Church Plan and those who supported the Traditional Plan. The United Methodist church, at least in the United States, is going to fight itself restructured. This will be a very difficult task, even  if it seems authentic. Remember the words of Jesus: “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Remember also our contemporary reflection: but first, it will make you miserable.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

So, the Decision Is Made

So, after some consideration, the name of the blog has changed. Yes, it has been “Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside” for a long time. I was at bedsides for a long time - near enough to 40 years. However, I am now retired, and “at the bedside” just doesn’t apply in the same way.

This is not to say that I will never be “at the bedside” again. Right now, though, I don’t have any plans for that. Indeed, at the moment I simply don’t have any plans. I have already been encouraged to try a fair number of volunteer opportunities. Soon enough I will make some decisions; but not yet. 

In the meantime I am still observing from the high ground. There are a couple of meanings of that. First, for the last seven years I was employed I was a Director for a health system and a major teaching and referral hospital. Most of my work was from the high ground - or, as is thrown around (perhaps too) often in organization speak to take “the 30,000 foot view.” While I still saw patients, the vast majority of my work was to see things from the institution and system level, and to see and help others see how chaplains contribute. 

And now I’m on the high ground in an entirely different sense: in retirement we live about 1,000 feet higher above sea level than we did. We’re up on the Plateau in Tennessee, with a different perspective on many things - although perhaps not as different as one might imagine.

But I’m still Episcopal, still a priest, and still at heart a chaplain. I’m still thinking and observing, and I’ll still be here. Some things have changed, and more have remained the same. So, I’ll still be thinking out loud, now in this new location.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

On the Principle of Double Effect Writ Large

A news item caught my attention in the last few days. (From NPR. If I say "I heard on the news," there's a very good chance that's where I heard it.) The story was Veterans Claiming Illness From Burn Pits Lose Court Fight. The gist of the story is that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have reported significant health problems that they attribute to trash burned close enough to barracks that troops experienced long term exposure breathing toxic chemicals in the smoke. They have sued the contractor who did the burning, and the federal courts have said they can't sue because the contractor was only following orders. Parallels to the Agent Orange fight of Viet Nam veterans have been noted.

And then in the story there was this comment: "That fight shifts to Congress, which is where burn pit veterans will have to turn next, now that they've lost in court." But, Congress has already made some changes that may well affect this case.

Congress has acted and the President Trump has ordered that veterans have more access to non-Veterans Affairs health care. That could, I think, be a significant difference between this case and Agent Orange. That could mean comment from a lot of physicians that the VA doesn't supervise, and whose comments the VA can't restrict. That could mean more research and more information on what these vets are actually experiencing, and what the likely exposures are. Ultimately, that could mean more information that an administration can't restrict, and that officials can't avoid.

I'm not a veteran of armed service, and I have great respect for those who are. More particularly, some veterans, and specifically Viet Nam veterans have been important people for me. I've also been in health care for 40 years or so. On both counts I've noted the Agent Orange issues over the years. There is too much history of an issue affecting veterans that officials wanted to avoid. By making it easier for veterans to seek care outside the VA system, they may well have made avoidance harder.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Thoughts Before Dawn

"You're getting ready to retire, and here you are!" the nurse said. I answered, "The Director still takes call."

So, here I am,  up before dawn, because even in my waning days in active chaplaincy, I still am taking call. That seems hardly of note, except that the calendar on my wall says that this morning so early starts an Ember Day, the third of the Advent season. Notably, the prayer on the Book of Common Prayer for the third day of any Ember Day series, is "For all Christians in their vocation."

Which has to say something to me in this early darkness. I am in the midst of my vocation changing, but that doesn't mean it's going away. I don't know just what it will look like, but I will continue to have a vocation. God will still be calling me, not just to ministry, but to the specific ministry of a specific moment.

That's hardly a new thought, to me or to anyone else. I have a long history of encouraging others by saying, "The question isn't 'To what is God calling me;' but 'To what is God calling me now'" That Pentecostal streak in me can even see that as a moment-by-moment question. That call that I hear in Brother Lawrence to "practice the presence of God" embraces that the call is constant, whether whispered, stated aloud, or grabbing me by the scruff of the neck.

And so we pray for all Christians in their vocation:

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of your faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers, which we offer before you for all members of your holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

even as I pray now to discover mine.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Buddhists Are Right...

and all things change.

I wrote last month to "watch this space." The reason is that I am retiring from my chaplaincy position at the end of January. I have been involved in ministry for almost 40 years, and for almost all of that in hospitals, either full or part time. I'm ready to pass this one to another.

So, what about chaplaincy? Well, I'll still be a resource person for AEHC, and should have more time. I'll still be active in APC, if not so often or so frequently. Beyond those thoughts, I haven't made any specific plans.

And what about this site? I'll still be sharing thoughts, and perhaps more than in the past few years. The fact is that as a System Director I've had less to say. Some of that was greater responsibility and less time for anything else. Some of it was that, as a System Director, it felt harder to be sure people knew they were getting my opinion, and not the system's director.

At the same time, I've continued to be opinionated and to do my best to stay informed. So, I'll still be communicating. Now, will this change this blog? I haven't decided. The name may need to change, as I won't be at the bedside (or at least not nearly as often). On the other hand, I may not feel the need.

In any case, things will change, as they always must. Hang in with me, and let's see how things develop.