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.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Watch This Space

Siblings, I haven't been regular, much less frequent, for some time. Well, change is coming. A few of you know. More of you will know soon. By spring, many things in my life will be different.

This is good news, or will be once I've shared it more widely. It is good for me and for my Best Beloved, and we have been planning it literally for years. I haven't started something really new and (largely) unshaped in some time.

And time is part of my hope. I hope that I will have time to share more. It will shock no one to hear that over these past years I have continued to be opinionated. I have just felt reasons I couldn't share, chiefest among them time. So, I have hope that I'll have time to return to being noisy and thinking out loud.

So, watch this space.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

What I Did on my Summer Vaca.... General Convention: Responding to the Opioid Crisis 2

I wanted to give an update on my earlier post from before General Convention. Specifically, I wanted to update readers on C037 Responding to the Opioid Crisis.

As most of my readers know, each resolution addressed at General Convention requires public testimony to the designated legislative committee. As I noted in my earlier post, I was on Legislative Committee 8 Social Justice and United States Policy, and it was our committee that addressed resolution C037.

In the testimony we heard moving testimony about the impact of the opioid crisis on individuals and families, and about how the Church might be engaged. We also heard another issue addressed. We heard about the problems of patients with chronic conditions and especially chronic pain whose access to appropriate medications was being affected by legislative and regulatory responses to the opioid crisis. In fact, this is an issue I'm also aware of. The Center for Practical Bioethics, one of our great resources in Kansas City, has had among its programs the PAINS Project. (That project has recently transferred to the Academy of Integrative Pain Management [AIPM].)

It is important to realize both concerns are accurate. There is a crisis in the United States, and especially in more economically distressed populations, in addiction to opioid drugs; and while that has turned in the last year or two from abuse primarily of prescription drugs to problems with heroin and imported synthetic fentanyl, control and proper use of the prescription drugs is important. There is also a crisis of poorly managed chronic pain, and patients who need the prescription drugs, and sometimes in unusual dosages, not only to just manage from day to day but to continue to function, to work, to participate in life.

So, when you look at the link above to the finalized language of C037, you'll see we addressed both. We retained concern about the opioid crisis, and continued the request for a task force in the Church to address it. We also acknowledged the proper uses for those drugs and called on the Church to understand and to advocate for those who appropriately need them. Really, I think we did a pretty good job of recognizing both problems, and in speaking to the Episcopal Church about the two needs.

Take a look at the final resolution. Consider how both problems are appearing in your own community, even in your own congregation. Recognize as well that sometimes that's how resolutions get "perfected:" testimony changes how your Deputies and Bishops understand an issue, and how we see God's call to the Church. 

Saturday, July 07, 2018

General Convention: Thoughts from the Floor

So, we are gathered again at General Convention. There are many matters, each of them weighty at least to someone. If you’re ever blessed to be at General Convention (and, remember, I believe every Episcopalian should spend at least some time at General Convention as a Visitor, if not otherwise), take time to watch a legislative committee. If you can be there in the first week, watch testimony. There must be an opportunity for public testimony on each and every resolution, and it is often in those committee hearings that the most moving rhetoric is heard, the most moving stories are heard.

And this morning - indeed, even now - we are considering action that could start the process of revising the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. We spent an hour on that yesterday, and will spend another half hour today. That may not sound like a lot of time for something this important, but that’s only the discussion in the House of Deputies. There has been extensive discussion, and opportunity for testimony in the legislative committee, and there will be discussion on this in the House of Bishops. And that, of course, assumes that not changes happen in the process. This starts in Deputies; and if what Deputies send is amended in Bishops, it will come back to Deputies; and if amended again, back to Bishops; and…. Well, really, that’s enough. As Convention adjourns at a fixed time, if it hasn’t been settled before that time, the measure - this or any measure -  fails for lack of completion. That’s not a shock to those of us who’ve been around a while. Each Convention many resolutions - more than 100, certainly - fall this way.

And this morning, we are considering Prayer Book revision. Yesterday many voices were heard. We couldn’t hear everyone who wanted to be heard. We had to extend time just to consider amendments, and we won’t get to all those, either. However, I don’t know that this is necessary, at least to inform the body. I listened yesterday and heard a great deal of emotion, and a number of moving stories. That said, I heard only a few themes.

  • We need to study the Prayer Book so that we can better worship with new and renewed language.
  • We need to study the Prayer Book so that we can better worship with the language we have now.
  • We need to have better translations so that new communities we are encountering can worship in their own languages.
  • We need to have better translations to serve communities already among us not yet worshiping in their own languages.
  • We need to embrace new forms in worship that will be meaningful to our children and our young people.
  • We need to hold to our current forms for our children and our young people.

If it begins to sound to others that the same points are being used to argue both for and against undertaking a process of revision - really, not even a process of revision, but a process to study revision - well, that makes sense, because that’s what it has sounded like to me. To study and understand our liturgy; to have our liturgies in our various languages “to be understanded of the people” among us and who might be among us; to speak to our children and young people: these are matters to be addressed in our liturgy, whether we revise or not.

There was, however, one further theme, and it also cut both ways.

  • I’m afraid if we revise we will lose who we are and who we have been.
  • I’m afraid if we don’t revise we will lose who we are and who we are becoming.

Personally, I think we need to pursue revision. Blessed Marion of Sewanee, when he was teaching me and my seminary about the 1976 first text that would become Book of Common Prayer 1979, he was explicit that the then existing Standing Liturgical Commission thought this a Prayer Book to be revised in 30 years. They thought indeed, as I recall, that no Prayer Book ought to last longer than 30 years, as the language was certain to change.

However, there is a different issue that concerns me, and that is fear. Whether we pursue revision or don’t pursue revision, please God do not let us be driven by fear but called to mission. To understand our liturgy as it is and as it might be; to reach the communities among us and the communities we encounter; to reach out in faith with our children and young people - all of these are wise and necessary, with or without revision. Let us pursue them, then, because God calls us to them, in whatever language.  And if we revise (and, really, sooner or later we will revise), let us, like the wise householder, take both from our old treasure and from our new. I have faith we can be who we’re becoming without losing who we are and who we’ve been. I have faith that if we go forward in faith, doing what is needed to pursue God’s mission, we will have what we need. What we will lose is what no longer services God’s mission. What we gain will be only what serves God’s mission. Who we will be will be who we need to be to pursue God’s mission - which is, really, who we are. Where we fall short is not in who God has empowered us to be, but how clearly we embrace who God has empowered us to be. Our language will change, as it changes constantly; and as a result our liturgy will change. God will not change, and will not change God’s ability to use us for God’s mission.

Friday, June 29, 2018

General Convention: Responding to the Opioid Crisis

I’m getting close to General Convention, and there are a couple more resolutions that relate to health and healthcare. One is C037 Call to Respond to Opioid Epidemic. The text is below:

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 79th General Convention call all dioceses and parishes in The Episcopal Church to respond to the opioid epidemic with training, pastoral care, advocacy, and liturgy; and be it further
Resolved, That dioceses and parishes be encouraged to: partner with First Responders and others in the medical community to host trainings on how to administer Narcan in the event of an overdose; partner with other faith communities and recovery programs in their local contexts to offer pastoral care to those affected by this epidemic; partner with other faith leaders to advocate with local and state government regarding policies and laws to promote healing and wholeness for those affected by this epidemic; and to lift up the needs of those affected by the epidemic in the Prayers of the People; and be it further
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention direct the Office of Government Relations of The Episcopal Church to advocate for the federal government of the United States to address this as public health crisis, affirming that opioid addiction is a disease, which needs adequate resources for treatment options; and be it further
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention direct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to develop additional liturgical resources to address the needs and concerns of those whose lives have been profoundly affected by this epidemic.
THis is certainly not the first resolution relating to addition, including to opioids. At the same time, it is certainly timely. In addition, the call to the Standing Commission for Liturgy and Music suggests responses that are within our tradition of addressing important needs with both social and liturgical responses.

The call to make Narcan more widely available could save lives. In the hands of more professionals, and especially of those who are in the field, could be helpful indeed.  Whether that can extend beyond professionals could be debated.

However, this is a worthwhile effort. I do expect it will pass, if perhaps adapted. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

General Convention: Disaster Resilience

I've continued to look at resolutions to General Convention that have some relation to healthcare topics. One recently added that I want to hold up is D007: Disaster Resilience Policy. As the text is somewhat lengthy, I won't copy in the whole thing, but I do encourage you to read it.

The larger points of the policy are to commend Episcopal Relief and Development in their past work of disaster relief, and to encourage dioceses and congregations, working with ERD, to develop not only short term but also longer term resources and plans to respond to disaster. That longer term response is the point of "resilience:" that to rebuild and restore after a disaster takes a long time, and a longer commitment of resources and effort.

I was, though, struck by one further sentence: "That the General Convention urge the U.S. federal government to fund and support not only immediate, but also long-term community and economic recovery from human-caused and natural disasters in the 50 States and U.S. Territories in equal treatment,...." [emphasis mine] That seems particularly apt, especially in light of the recently reported Harvard study estimating that in Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria resulted in thousands more deaths than have been reported by official agencies. The study uses the criteria of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the justly-famous CDC), and reflects both those who died directly (flying debris, floods, etc.) and those who died because the healthcare and social systems around them were destroyed and not quickly rebuilt.

While there can be arguments whether responses of governments at all levels have been adequate in our recent disasters, including Maria (in 2017 territories and states of the United States were also struck by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma), there's a strong case to be made that federal resources to the states affected were significantly and proportionally greater than those provided to Puerto Rico. I can't speak to whether the response to the U.S. Virgin Islands was more similar to the states or to Puerto Rico; but the differences between that territory and the states has been widely reported and evaluated. In that light the call for equal treatment for territories as for states seems especially poignant.

By the way, please remember that the Resolutions in the Virtual Binder for General Convention are available to anyone. Link to the Virtual Binder, or link through from the General Convention web site, and you can see what's proposed. Remember that what's proposed may not be what's actually debated and voted on; but's it's where we'll start. So, take some time to look and see what might interest you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

General Convention 2018: Environmental Racism

So, it is another General Convention year. We'll be meeting again (yeah, I'm in it one more time) in Austin, Texas, July 4 through 13 - and some of us will arrive earlier or stay later. As I say every three years, "General Convention is coming. Pray hard!"

So far, only one resolution has been entered in the topic of Health. That is resolution A011,  "Oppose Environmental Racism."

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 79th General Convention affirm that fossil fuel-based power plants are the single largest source of carbon dioxide pollution in the United States and major contributors to climate change; these emissions not only threaten the environmental stability of our planet, but also the health of young children and their families, disproportionately affecting the poorest among us; and be it further

Resolved, That the Church recommit to and direct the Office of Government Relations and the Episcopal Public Policy Network to oppose Environmental Racism expressed in such ways as the locating of extraction, production, and disposal industries where they disproportionately harm neighborhoods inhabited by people of color and low income communities. And to oppose coal, gas, oil, and uranium extraction and its subsequent transportation which threaten the health and sanctity of communities and the livelihood of future generations; especially as such industries are located disproportionately nearby low income communities and neighborhoods inhabited by people of color.

The resolution has been put forth by the Advisory Council on the Stewardship of Creation. They have described the concern about Environmental Racism in the body of there solution. While their report does not go into further detail, it does highlight three Eco-justice sites, all of which would seem to qualify.

I would expect to see other resolutions that would speak to health. In the meantime, we can consider how addressing Environmental Racism could serve the health needs of our neighbors.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Instructed Eucharist, Part 2

I was asked by a colleague to prepare an instructed Eucharist for his congregation. Here (in two parts) is my instruction.

At the Peace: We reform the community

Since the days when we were preparing for our current Prayer Book, we have made a deliberate break at this point in the service. While I acknowledge that it can feel like a disruption, we do it for two reasons. We do it because it is what our Christian forebears did, as far back as we can clearly document; but perhaps that may not in itself seem reason enough. So, we do it for the same reason they did it. We do it to move out focus from the whole Christian community to our local community, to this congregation.

We are making the transition in our work together from the general to the specific, from the tradition writ large to it’s very local expression. We are preparing to gather at table; and, like most other such gatherings, we take time together to greet our fellow guests. Jesus told his disciples, “I no longer call you disciples. I call you friends.” Paul said, “We are adopted siblings in God’s household, inheriting siblings with Christ.” So, as friends and family gather it is only natural that we greet one another. And there is one detail we have retained from our Christian forebears. We have taken for ourselves their greeting: “I wish you health; I wish you wholeness; I wish you peace.”

Liturgy of the Table: We participate in the heart of the story

If we are a people of story, it should come as no surprise that we gather around the table. After all, whether we gather as families or as friends, the table is a place where stories are told, stories that help those families, those communities, connect and understand themselves. 

And for us, this is an essential part of our story. Indeed, more than anything we have done so far, this is a part of the story in which we are fully participants. We hold this as essential because Jesus himself said to his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And beginning from that night, his followers have been doing it ever since.

Note carefully that word, “remembrance.” I am sure you have heard before, but I will tell you again, that word does not mean “remember” in the sense we do. Rather, it means to relive the event, to experience it again. We are not simply recalling the past event. We are participating in the ongoing event that is, as Jesus described in Matthew, “the banquet prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” For that reason a Christian story teller I once heard said it is not the Last Supper; it is the Next to the Last Party.

As we are a people of words, if you read In the Prayer Book, and I hope you will, you will find there are many ways we tell this part of the story: two in Rite One, four in Rite Two, plus guidelines for shaping our own. And there are more, for General Convention has approved another four “for trial use.” Why so many? Because no one of them tells the story completely, much less perfectly. No one of them reflects the breadth of our tradition.

There are, though, points that all have in common. All speak to the full history of God’s work with his people. All speak of Jesus’ ministry in the world. And all include the words of Jesus: “This is my body. Take and eat. This is my blood. Take and drink. Do this to relive this with me.” The Lord himself is our host; and like the first disciples we receive as from his hand.

Dismissal: Carrying the story into the world.

However wonderful the meal, however wonderful the company, the time comes for the meal to end and for the company to leave. And so we also rise from the table.

Our first words as we rise are to thank our host. He has served us, shared himself with us. He has given his body to us that we might be his body in our life and times.

And then our words ask that we be sent. We have said that we gather in Eucharist to be formed as Episcopal Christians and to be conformed to Christ. So, we ask that we might be sent into the world to inform, to allow the wider world to see just what formation and conformation can mean. We know that can be challenging. We want to inform at our best, always a challenging proposition. So we ask for strength and guidance. Remarkably, this once we don’t ask for words. Rather, we ask for help that our witness may attract and our ministry may inform. 

Formed that we may conform that we may then inform: that is our intent when we gather in Eucharist. We come in from the world to encounter Christ in story and at table. We return to the world polished a bit, reshaped a bit, better to live, better to serve, better to share the story. 

Instructed Eucharist, Part 1

I was asked by a colleague to prepare an instructed Eucharist for his congregation. Here (in two parts) is my instruction.

We Gather in Community

You may have participated in an Instructed Eucharist before. I know I have. However, my intent is that this one will be different. This is not going to be a step-by-step instruction of “this is how we do it.” Rather, it will focus more on what we intend to do. 

I have a couple of reasons for this. The most important is that, across the history of the Episcopal Church, and even across the history of Christianity, there have been many different ways of doing things. Some of us have heard, “We stand to praise, we sit to listen, we kneel to pray;” but, then, many Christians, and some of us, hardly ever kneel. As you enter, do you kneel, bow, or just take your seat? Make the sign of the cross or not? These are matters of personal piety, decisions for you to make in your relationship with God. They are not matters for judging another person or another congregation as right or wrong.

The themes and purposes of the liturgy, though, do not change. My intent is that after this morning you will be able to see them lived out in another person or congregation, Episcopal or otherwise, even if they seem to live them out differently than we have at Resurrection; and that seeing them lived out, you will be able to embrace our common Christian life.

So, to begin: to begin with, we gather. More important, we gather with purpose. We gather for formation – to be formed as a community, and to be conformed to Christ.  For that formation process we share in liturgy, from the Greek “the work of the people.” It is what we do, how we celebrate. Pay attention today as we celebrate together. 

Liturgy of the Word: We gather to hear the story; with prayers we begin to shape the story.

As individuals and as communities we are formed by stories. As Christians we are formed by the stories of those who have walked before God – by the stories of our Hebrew forebears; of those who walked with Jesus, God’s Story made flesh; and of those who ever since have sought to bring that story forward. 

That is why we are people of the Word and people of words. The Word Made Flesh is how God shared God’s story with us; and our words are how we share stories with one another. So it is we begin with the Liturgy of the Word: our work together with the Word.

We begin by hearing the Word – hearing it again, for we follow cycles that bring us through the stories again and again. In reading Scripture we hear and recall the story. In sermon and homily we have the opportunity to reflect on how the story is meaningful in our life and times. In our prayers we seek to apply the story in our life and times; for, we are asking God to act, to continue to shape the story. In Confession we acknowledge that we are accountable for how we participate in the story, or how we fail in the effort. In response we hear again the declaration of God’s Word: forgiveness offered for all.

As Episcopalians, heirs of the Anglican tradition, and of nearly two thousand years of Christian tradition, we use words selected with great care. Remember, this is to form us and to conform us to Christ. So, from generation to generation we ask our scholars to review with us again those words that can be resources for our formation. It is not that these are the only words we may use, but they provide the framework we use so that, over time, nothing important is lost. Think of it this way: think of how our Olympic athletes have trained, an image that Paul also used. All train hard, but not all train alike. The downhill skier does not train like the artistic skater, nor the biathlete like the curler. We train for the Christian faith and life, in the Anglican and Episcopal tradition. Like the athlete, we have some things in common with any person of faith. We also have these words and habits that shape the distinctive ways we are formed for life that is generally Christian and specifically Episcopal.

So, pay attention to the words. We say of Scripture that we should “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest;” and I invite you to do the same with the words of the liturgy. Certainly, let them sink into your heart. And, also, let them rattle in your mind. Hear them. Hear the words and the stories, both to embrace them, and also, like Jacob, to wrestle with them. We are formed best when, like athletes, we both embrace the story and also are conscientious about how we might improve in it.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

How "Episcopal" an Episcopal Chaplain - Response 1

A colleague of mine (I started to say “younger,” but these days most of my colleagues are less experienced than I, if not always actually younger) approached a number of us with questions. He is in the process of ordination in the Episcopal Church, and his questions fall into the general range of just how Episcopal an Episcopal chaplain needs to be. By the chaplain’s request, I won’t identify his diocese or the location of his ministry. However, I do feel I can adress his questions.

So, just how Episcopal does an Episcopal Chaplain have to be? In one sense, that is a question of identity. I am committed to serving each person, and to do so as best possible in the tradition that the person brings. At the same time, I do not identify as an “interfaith chaplain.” I don’t really have a sense of what that means, inasmuch as each chaplain is rooted in his or her own tradition (or, at least, should be). I can be multifaith in my service; but I am a chaplain formed in the Episcopal Church.

One consequence of that is that the Book of Common Prayer informs everything I do. That’s not to day that I carry it with me (well, there is that really good app from the Church Pension Group that’s on my phone) or explicitly use it with every patient. I am in the unusual position of an Episcopal chaplain serving an Episcopal health system; and yet that level of use of the Book of Common Prayer is not an expectation.

Rather, I have been formed in the Episcopal tradition, and that language is ingrained. Folks comment at how easily I pray extemporaneously; but in fact the forms, the phrases, the words of the Books of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church (1979, certainly, but also 1928) are the forms and the vocabulary out of which my “extemporaneous” prayers are based. It’s perhaps like how important is it to continue your finger exercises on the piano, even if your performance mode is going to be jazz.

I would also note that, while I am most facile with the American Book of Common Prayer, I have looked for other resources in the larger Book of Common Prayer tradition. I have use those rites and liturgies approved by the General Convention. I have drawn from the Prayer Books of other Anglican bodies. In part, this is because of my seminary education. Marion Hatchett taught his students at Sewanee to assess the needs of the congregation, and then draw, not just from the current Prayer Book, but from the full breadth of the Anglican tradition, and even of the Christian tradition.

It is also significant to me that the Episcopal and Anglican tradition that worship is to be “in a tongue… understanded of the people.” That allows me plenty of latitude to draw from the context to make the prayer meaningful to the person and persons, and to the moment. The patient and the patient’s tradition is certainly part of that context. To seek to respond to the individual’s tradition does not seem to me to betray my own. Rather, it shows the hospitality and the community that are central to the Anglican worship tradition.

I am also a part of that context, and where I can do so authentically I draw on my own experience, both Episcopal and otherwise. I grew up, as I sometimes say, “breathing Southern Baptist air.” I have a pentecostal streak (“not all that wide, but it goes all the way through”). I think that also contributes to my Anglo-catholic liturgical sentiment (yes, I believe Anglo-catholic liturgy is how most Episcopalians touch that part of body and spirit touched in Holiness churches by charismatic experience). And there is someone, somewhere in the Episcopal Church living within the Prayer Book tradition with each of those traditions. It is not inauthentic for me to share with the patient for whom one of those experiences is central to his or her spiritual practice.

So, how Episcopal does an Episcopal Chaplain have to be? I think that is affected by how broad we understand the Episcopal tradition to be.