The Taser's Edge


A Job, A Joy, and Now a Familiar Feeling

Yesterday morning at about 8:30, I got a call from one of the supervisors at Duke University Hospital, offering me a CPE residency for the coming year!  Speechlessly exciting.  Even as I write about it again, it makes me excited for the next year and all the possibilities it holds.

I have to admit that I also have other, more negative, feelings surrounding it.  Guilt, because I felt like I didn’t want it as much as some people who may not have gotten it in the end.  And fear.  Even in my excitement and joy at accepting the offer, something in me was telling me that I should get ready, because I was going to start worrying about it.  I don’t know if  self-warning became a self-fulfilling prophecy or if that’s just truly how my mind works.  Hear God, act in what I believe is faithfulness, and then worry about every decision after it.  I did it with Anglican Missional Pastor, and now I’m doing it again.  Is it a cycle caused by my expectations or by something else?  As you can see, overthinking is part of my make-up.

This morning, though, in my worry, I felt like what I needed was some worship.  And the first song I listened to was “You Are Mine,” track 1 off of Karla Adolphe’s Chair and the Microphone, Vol. 3 (connected to Enter the Worship Circle, if you’re not familiar).  The chorus is just so good:

When you walk though the water, I will be with you
When you pass through the river, the waves will not overtake you
When you walk on the fire, the flames they will not touch you
You are mine, you are mine, you are mine

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.  Amen.



Doldrummin’

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.



Organ Trafficking, Organ Transplanting, and My Family

In this week’s issue of Newsweek (January 19, 2008), there is an article on international organ trafficking–“Not Just Urban Legend” by Jeneen Interlandi.  It’s incredibly interesting and you ought to read it.

The article begins with a picture of a Brazilian man with a scar on his back, marking where his kidney was removed, a choice he made in exchange for $10,000, the price, for him, of a car.  But apparently, hence the title reference to the urban legends about people awaking in and ice bath to find they are lacking an organ, it’s not always voluntarily.  And although the article doesn’t directly speak to this, it seems hardly voluntary to offer someone living in the slums of India or Brazil or wherever else an amount of money which is a lot to them but which costs a fraction of the money that the organ broker will make in the transaction.

While at Duke, I attended several Palliative Care conferences, which Duke Palliative Care team holds each week.  One of the conferences was specifically about the ethical considerations of organ donation and legislation, and while Newsweek makes it clear that the wealthy can circumvent the difficult-to-enforce rules, Duke Palliative Care made it clear that the wealthy also know how to work within those rules better.  They have the finances and often the education needed to better understand and work the system.  For instance, the qualifications for getting on a transplant list are complicated, and many people don’t realize that they can get on a list quite a while before their organs actually fail.  As is often the case, the haves will get more and as for the have-nots….

Organ transplants are a particularly personal issue to me, considering that my mom’s dad’s (Papaw’s) family has been ravaged by polycystic kidney disease.  For info on PKD, check out this and this.  Tragically, the disease has also shown up in my mom’s and her cousins’ generation.  When I did my chaplaincy internship at Duke Hospital, it was always most chilling to me to look at a patient’s chart before entering the room and to see any kind of kidney disease.  According to the article, kidneys are Americans’ most-needed transplant, and “in the United States, the average wait time for a kidney is expected to increase to 10 years by 2010.  Most dialysis patients die in half that time, and the desperate don’t always play by the rules.”  My family members will be on that list, and while we definitely are not among the haves in terms of money, hopefully our experience, some education, and determination can pick up some of the slack.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.  Amen.