The Taser's Edge

Turkey Day Comes Early

In February I got a job,
In June I started a job,
In November I started looking for a job,
In March I got offered two jobs,
In April I turned down two jobs,
In May I finish this job,
Come June I will be unemployed.

Sounds like a poem, and as everyone knows, poems (unless I am mixing them up with Disney movies) always have happy endings.

Yes, May 31st will be the last day of my chaplaincy residency at Duke Hospital and Duke Hospice.  This is an occasion of thanksgiving…

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

Why is it a time for thanksgiving?

  • I didn’t just end a job and I didn’t just leave it.  Truly I completed the job I signed up for over a year ago.
  • At the end of this marathon-endurance-requiring year, I am finishing up like you are supposed to finish a race–totally exhausted, nothing more to give.  My final eval from my final unit says basically that.  One of the reasons I could never be a competitive athlete is the fact that you’re supposed to use up all the reserve of energy you have by the time you cross the finish line.  To me, the pain isn’t worth it.  Yet in this chaplaincy residency, the pain has been worth it.  I hit a wall and kept running.  Then it seemed like another wall, and another, and another, and another.  And at the end of this race, I can truly say that I used up all my reserves.  I have nothing more to give (1:23 on viewer’s left).  Doesn’t feel like a good thing to my worn out spirit, but the sense of achievement is (or is becoming, as perspective is a work in progress) terrific. 
  • I have security.  When it began to seem like I would end this residency without a job beyond it, I could commiserate with the so many unemployed today.  But there are a lot of differences.  Holly has a job so I will continue to have food to eat, a roof over my head, a reliable car (which was itself a gift), and even Netflix.  We have savings.  We don’t have kids to worry about providing for.  And then, even if Holly did lose her job and we ran through ‘everything’ we have, I could easily name 5 or more households who would take us in.

So many things I could pick out of that Prayer of Thanksgiving from the Book of Common Prayer which speak to me this afternoon at the end of this year: “all you have done for us…wonder of life…mystery…blessing of family and friends…surrounds us on every side…tasks which demand our best efforts…accomplishments which satisfy and delight us…dissapointments and failures…dependence on you…Jesus Christ…in all things.”  Amen!

V(isual) to the L(iterary) via the B-I-B-L-E

It is apparently a terrible idea to schedule back-to-back interviews for CPE residencies.  After the first one, I kept thinking of the image of Mel Gibson’s character being disemboweled at the end of Braveheart.  It’s disappointingly difficult to find stills or video of that, but this is a similar visual representation:

Now imagine if one of these fellas had to get up for an interview 23 hours after this torture ended.  That would be similar to my experience yesterday.  Even though the torture was lighter for the second interview, for some reason, hours after participating in the image above, I didn’t want to be so vulnerable again.  I might have even been a little defensive.  Shame on me in CPE Land.

Fortunately, I had some encouragement (which may sound more depressing than encouraging, but refreshed me yesterday morning) from the readings from the Daily Office.

2 Corinthians 4:1-12

Therefore, having this ministry by the grace of God, we do not lose heart…We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair….

And then in Mark 10:32-45, we have Jesus announcing his own coming death, and the way of the faithful Christian disciple as a sharing in that death.

With all this death talk, I am thinking of the strangeness of the Christian “Good News” of death and how it sounds to the non-Christian friends who I know read this blog.  The short explanation is that we Christians believe in death AND resurrection to new life.

As for a literary description of the strange, strange world of CPE, let me share an excerpt from John Cheever’s Falconer:

The cream of the post-Freudian generation were addicts.  The rest were those psychiatric reconstructions you used to see in the back of unpopular rooms at cocktail parties. They seemed to be intact, but if you touched them in the wrong place at the wrong time they would collapse all over the floor like a spatch-cocked card trick.

Hmm…depressing post overall, possibly incredibly depressing if you are reading this and wondering how your friend or loved one wants to do this.  Two reasons which are the same reason.

  1. I am called to it.
  2. I find joy in it.


Some final thoughts before beginning my residency

This morning I am sitting in a Duke South lobby area.  I have been here since 6:40am, when Holly dropped me off on her way to work.

Not a great day to start a new job.  In the first place, I am not great at changes/transitions, and this is major.  After 20 years straight (except that one semester off of undergrad), I am leaving school and getting a real job for which I have been specially trained and equipped.  That is, I have had a full-time job before, but it was at Walgreen’s for a couple summers.  This is different.  This is the beginning of a career, not necessarily of chaplaincy but of ministry.

In the second place, I am not good with the unknown, and this is all unknown.  Yes, I did my CPE internship at Duke Hospital and my M.Div. at Duke Divinity, and I already know Durham, so I already have a leg up on some of my fellow residents, but there is still a lot I don’t know.  Where will my clinical area be?  How well will our group gel together?  (After my semester internship in which the group members became good friends, but after hearing horror stories of what happens when group members don’t get along, and all with the knowledge that either way we will be together from today until the end of next May, this is an important concern.)

Then there are the longer term questions.  I have no idea how deeply and in what ways this residency year will affect me, my relationship to Holly, to God, to the church, to my calling.  Where will we be headed in a year?  It’s a lot of big stuff.

With all that boiling in the back of my brain, I found Friday-Sunday of the past week filled with the thought that Sunday was the last day of my life.  It wasn’t.

But it was the last day of Prudence Wakefield’s (our beloved greyhound’s) life.  I hadn’t made the connection between those two thoughts until today.  Yesterday afternoon Holly took Pru out for a hike with Courtney and her dog, Lucy.  It wasn’t 85 degrees, the walk was in the shade, but then Prudence started acting strange, finally jumping under some bushes, apparently to try to cool herself.  Holly rushed for some water, they hustled Prudence into the car (carried her), but she died on the way to the vet in the back of our car.  Heat stroke, we assume, as we have some friends in our church small group who also lost a greyhound to heat stroke out on the Outer Banks a few years ago.  In short, it was awful.

Holly and I distracted ourselves with a few episodes of Entourage online (a supreme distraction if ever there was one).  Courtney and Max surprised us by showing up long enough to drop off a pizza.  And we received many promises for prayers and kind thoughts for us.  Thanks, everyone.

Then Holly and I got up this morning (I didn’t sleep past four, anyway) and went to work.  Then I got here and realized I don’t have my wallet (including the picture ID I need for orientation stuff today) or a pen, two things which I carry with me even when I take a bike ride.

It’s 7:57.  Orientation time.  Really, I am okay.  I am well.

Praying the Psalms

On June 1, I will begin my CPE residency at Duke Hospital.  Until then, I have very little to do, but as my mind likes to begin eating itself when left idle, I have been working at creating a schedule for myself for the sake of structure (which is just as healthy for 25-year-olds as for 5-year-olds).

So how do you prepare for a CPE residency, an experience which by definition is something which you can’t prepare for?  I decided that I would try to begin learning the Psalms.  Not memorizing the Psalter yet, but perhaps compiling a memory bank of what Psalms speak to particular situations.  Right now, I have a scrap of paper in my Bible marking the beginning of Psalms, covered with lists of Psalms, verses from Isaiah, and verses from Revelation to be read at people’s bedsides.

But I also thought I would seek out some expert opinion.  I’ve assembled this crack team to begin with:

1. Praying the Psalms by Thomas Merton–Words cannot express how much I love Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain, a book of which I own multiple copies, because I buy it every time I see it in order to give it away.  A modern saint’s spiritual autobiography seems much healthier to collect than, say, The Catcher in the Rye.  But back to Praying the Psalms, I just read the very brief  book this morning.  In it Merton speaks of how we as Christians need to move through three stages of relating to the Psalms: (1) knowing that the Psalms are good prayers but not really doing anything about it, (2) beginning to pray the Psalms out of that conviction, and (3) “entering into the Psalms,” where we live in their world and they are brought into our hearts as part of the normal furniture.

Wonderful writing as always.  Regarding why the Church still uses the Psalms: “The Church indeed likes what is old, not because it is old but rather because it is ‘young'” (7).  Yes!

And regarding why the Psalms are so important to our prayer lives: “There is no aspect of the interior life, no kind of religious experience, no spiritual need of [hu]man[ity] that is not depicted and lived out in the Psalms.  But we cannot lay hands on these riches unless we are willing to work for them” (44).

And then there are the other three as-yet-unread ones (each of which linked to more info):

Lewis is Christianity's "Stairway to Heaven." Wonderful work but frustratingly popular for my snobbish ways.

Since this is the best edition, I bought it even though I already own a dog-eared copy of Life Together.

Winner of 1985's coveted Hottest New Cover Art Award.


On Thursday afternoon, I finally had my interview for a CPE residency at Duke Hospital.  ‘Finally’ because I was sick on Monday and had to reschedule.  It was brutal, although I didn’t realize until today.  As I prepared for this interview and the one at UNC, I kept thinking to myself that they were going to be my first real job interviews.  And UNC was.  They asked questions like, “Tell us about a particular incident during your CPE internship in which your theology was challenged.”  I had those incidents.  I can answer questions like that.

I knew that Duke was going to be different.  A friend had told me that one of their questions was, “When was the last time you were angry, and what did you do about it?”  On the basis of answers to questions like this, they decide who they want offering spiritual and emotional care to the patients at Duke Hospital.  (Okay, they do have a file on the semester I spent with them, a big application I sent in, and five letters of reference.)

I knew it was going to be different, but I wasn’t prepared for this.  Four people on staff–CPE supervisors, staff chaplains, etc.–and me in a room.  The questions began harmlessly enough, but then they pressed and pressed: “As I look at your verbatim [report of a pastoral encounter], I see the pastoral care and counseling aspect, but where is the clinical aspect?”  Gulp.  Mind racing: What does clinical mean in this setting?  Did I already learn this?  Should I ask? I asked.  He clarified.  I answered.  Kind of.

And later: “As you’ve been talking to us, I know that you’re sick but I noticed that you’ve cleared your throat a couple times, and that you’ve buttoned and unbuttoned your suit coat.  Did you notice that, too?  [I hadn’t.]  Now I know even Freud said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but could you tell us if you’re experiencing anxiety right now?  If so, could you just let yourself rest in that experience and describe it to us?”  W-o-w.  What do you say to that?  You spill your guts.  This is not a regular job interview.

Like I said at the beginning, at the time I didn’t realize how brutal it was.  It actually felt kind of good being pressed to see new areas for growth in myself, blind spots uncovered as well as some old growth edges that still could use some work.  I thanked them for the interview, and I really meant it.  They had grilled me, but I had some wonderful things to think about whether or not I ever heard from them again.  (I kind of think I will, because I’ve heard vulnerability is what they look for.)  I went to my precept that afternoon and my comments were marked with emotional honesty…very important to a discussion of Nicomachean Ethics.  Really, it’s not a joke that my mouth was freed up to say what I really thought of particular arguments and conversations, and that is a good thing.

The next morning, Friday, I got up and messed around on the Internet most of the day.  Today, Saturday, was more of the same.  At some point in the late morning or early afternoon today, I realized that this interview has sent me eddying sideways for at least a little while here.  Into the doldrums.  Being pressed that hard to see that I still have real issues to deal with made me feel like the progress that I’ve made thus far counts for nothing and is nothing.  All my hard work of self-discovery through being personally honest and through practices of journaling, prayer, meditation, and honest relationships, and I still have these massive blind spots.  And with the hopelessness accompanying how little I felt that I’d come, along came the complete loss of drive and momentum toward the future.

What I’ve done these last couple days is to reduce this process called sanctification–a lifetime of having my tightly wound, terrified soul gently unwound and reshaped into the image of God–into too basic terms.  Am I done yet?  Nope.  Am I a failure?  No.

I am better.  Better than ever before.  Whole is not here yet, but whole is coming too.  I believe it.  Now if only I could get back to work.

“With all our heart and with all our mind, let us pray to the Lord, saying, ‘Lord, have mercy.'” Amen.

A Big Step (or at least Pre-step)
January 6, 2009, 7:45 pm
Filed under: Life, Ministry, Social Justice | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Merry Epiphany!  And I’m Anglican now, so that counts and whatever.

Today was my first interview for a real job–a CPE residency at UNC Hospitals.  It went well–they said so–but I’ve felt a bit rough since.  It’s just so big.  I’m a pioneer camping in Independence, Mo.,  and tomorrow’s the big day.  There’s a vast wild country in front of me.  It’s already fully inhabited, but I don’t know that yet.  I’m thinking I’m the first.  And that God is with me.  On that point I’m right.

I haven’t yet begun to see the blessings God has in store for us.  Of course I must have had my eyes closed.  What is Duke?  What is Durham?  What is All Saints?  What are all these friends after all?  I am blessed.  I am privileged.  99.998 percent of the world’s population, past and present, wouldn’t have been taken seriously in that interview today, and yet for some reason I was.

I can’t claim that as my just deserts.  God gave me brains, good parents who pointed me college-ward, birth in a place and time where this could happen.  I could call that fortune or good luck.  I have called it bumbling.  But I’m wrong.

And what does what I’m saying say about the families huddled with their children in Gaza tonight, waiting, waiting?  I can’t say God caused those particularities, of course.  But at the same time I can’t not say that God gifted me with mine, and that God is good.

Lord God, Father of all peoples, we pray for peace in Gaza, for peace on earth under your Holy Spirit’s hovering wings, in the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.  Amen and Amen.