Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Theology of Chaplaincy: or "What I am saying tomorrow at a meeting at St John's Village."

Some twenty years ago I was a resident Minister at a University in the middle of San Francisco and at the beginning of every academic year I would meet with new students and give a little speech. “You need to know I have no power in this place,” I’d say, “I don’t  hand out a syllabus or course description, I don’t write evaluations or recommendations, I don't end up our time together by giving you a grade, but I aim to be a safe place in a dangerous journey.”

There would be a silence after that, and some of the students would look at me and never speak again. Others would go on to say hello, be polite, and maybe let a relationship grow over time.  But a few, some, of those present would start to explore with me the places where an open-ended open-hearted conversation held in confidence and great respect might lead.

So I had students coming to talk to me about sex before marriage, about cheating before final exams, about the deaths of grandmothers at odd times. I had students coming to me to talk about why they were studying to be accountants when they wanted to play music or serve coffee for a few years following graduation. I had students coming to me because they were so damn happy they had to tell someone, or they were so scared and lonely and they didn’t want to be alone with that. And I tried to honour everybody because it all mattered.

These people were beginning the first act of their lives: they were sometimes tentative, often courageous, occasionally prone to make great splattering mistakes; but it was an unspeakable privilege and joy to be invited to share the road with them for a time. I feel much the same about being the interim chaplain in an aged care village with adjacent terrace housing.

We’re in the third act here, but the questions are as important and the emotions can run as high as in the first. They still have to do with what wants to happen, with where the meaning is, with what matters in the end. It still has to do with testing limits as well as letting new possibilities emerge.  And it is still a great responsibility and an awesome privilege to accompany people on the way.

I am a man formed in a particular understanding of history and spirituality and psychology and poetry and politics and piety called Anglican Christianity; but I’ve learned much from a Sufi poet named Rumi, lived some years ago in a Buddhist temple for four months and loved it, and probably have picked up more practical wisdom from good Hollywood comedies and brassy Broadway musicals than I ever expected. So please know that I don’t have an axe to grind or a matched set of beliefs to sell; feel free to ignore me if you like or use me as you wish; and if you cared to share a part of your journey with me, I aim to be a safe place. 

Monday, August 04, 2014

Eulogy for DB

One of the big Greek words in the New Testament,  is “Kenosis”: Paul uses it to speak of how Jesus empties his life out of love, becoming a servant to God's people. As I understand it, the original word had pre-Christian roots and "Kenosis" happened when you emptied a vial of oil over an altar dedicated to the Emperor and proclaimed that, "Caesar is Lord."

But the early community following Jesus in what he taught and who he was, the people who found their lives renewed by his life, took that word, kenosis, differently, not giving their lives over to those popular powers and principalities that promised such mighty paybacks, (and had such great publicity and great plans for the future), but instead poured out their lives in love to any or all in need or trouble so that the good news of Jesus, that God is love, might be "all in all."

From what I hear about D... B... from her family as well as from residents and staff here at St. John's;  was she was one of those; a moving picture, a kind of icon, of that outpouring love; with a disciplined willingness to work for the good of the other, and to enjoy that interaction, that conversation, with the other. From what I hear she was one of these people who see the crucial connection that, in loving one another we allow love to grow us greater in love, and that’s a gift, a grace, that no worldly God, that no Caesar can conceptualise, that finally aims to make us fit inhabitants of heaven by the gifts we give on earth.

Rogers and Hammerstein have some great lines, and towards the end of Sound of Music, when Maria sings, “Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay, love isn’t love ’til you give it away.” In his eulogy  Graham has given you a sense of how D... spent her days, and two days ago in the main office here I heard people talking about how D..., when she first arrived here, offered to help with the typing and the office work.

For some people the greatest gift they receive is the gift of spending their lives on earth sowing seed that others might thrive, making life easier and better for those around them, often preparing others for a harvest they themselves will never see, and some of the wisest and kindest people I know say there’s no better ways to spend your live than that, and I believe they’re right.

I have a favorite joke that never fails to evoke a great silence: never getting many laughs, yet I love it so. Here it is: after the funeral of a well beloved community member two men are standing outside and one turns to the other and says quietly, "Did he leave much behind?" And the other replies quickly, "He left it all."

The plain truth is that nobody gets out of here alive,and Christians believe that even God gives it all away in Christ, so the good news is that we are called, asThomas Merton puts it, “ to forget ourselves on purpose… Join in the general dance" and pour ourselves out in the love of God to the very end, and then some.

Nobody knows what heaven might be like, though the hope of it keeps coming back through human history, but my sense is that somewhere, beyond all our preconceptions, in that great admissions office in the sky, someone has just suggested she might help with the typing and the tidying up, and I have no doubt at all that the offer has been accepted.

Well done, D..., may we follow your lead, may we enjoy the journey in letting love live. And may you continue to be a blessing to us and to God, and may God bless you now and always.