No, You’re Not Crazy…

I just got back from a conference of chaplains (National Association of College and University Chaplains–NACUC), which was a great opportunity for me to meet others in the field, and especially to sit down with more experienced chaplains and talk about experiences of ministry in a campus setting.

The location of the event was great–it was almost 60 degrees in Decatur, Georgia, the whole time I was there.  The workshops and speakers were wonderful–Barbara Bradley Hagerty (NPR‘s religion correspondent), professors from Emory, the wonderful people of the Fund for Theological Education), and Jan Fuller from Elon University.  

But here’s the best thing that came out of my time at the NACUC conference–hearing, again and again, the words, “No, you’re not crazy.”  This was usually in response to me starting off a question with the words, “Am I crazy, or…?”  It was such a blessing to hear from my colleagues that the patterns and pitfalls of campus life that I have experienced in my short seven months of chaplaincy are not abnormal.  It was good to hear that my anxiety about not having anything to do at Christmas time was o.k.  It was an absolute joy to hear from one experienced chaplain that it takes a few years before you even begin to feel like you can start in this job.  By that, I mean that the best part of the whole conference was meeting the wonderful people of NACUC!  

If anyone who is involved in campus ministry or chaplaincy ever reads this blog, and you are not already a part of NACUC, you should totally join!  It is a multi-faith, multi-generational, multi-campus organization that helps chaplains identify and network with one another in a wide variety of ways.  In many ways, the conference is just an excuse for all of us to get together to say to one another, “No, you’re not crazy…I’ve been through/seen that myself, and here’s what I did with it…”

If you’re not a chaplain and you’re reading this, you should do whatever you can to find a group of colleagues/friends/relatives/strangers with whom you can do the same.  Sometimes, it’s very helpful to hear from someone else that the trials and tribulations and surprises of our lives are not unique or unusual.  It’s good to know that what we’re going through has been gone through before, and that we are not alone on this journey called life.  As you walk along, it’s helpful to have someone to walk with, someone with whom you can laugh and talk and share the journey.  It’s good to know that you have someone you can lean on, and who can lean on you when they need it.  And, it’s good to hear, “No, you’re not crazy…”

Take it from me, you’re not.  

Blessings,

David

Headspace

Recently, I’ve been saying goodbye to a lot of people.  They’ve been with me for a long time–some much longer than others, some for only a short time.  Some have been with me almost all my life.  

No, there haven’t been a lot of deaths around me lately.  What I’ve been doing is saying goodbye to the people who have been residing in my head, rent-free, for a long time.  

There’s the angry parishioner, with his myriad complaints about the my preaching, my family, the way I keep house, church finances, Christmas Eve services–you name it, there’s a complaint for it.  Sometimes, I replay conversations I’ve had with past parishioners over and over in my head.  Sometimes, I’m saying what I wish I had said at the time.  Other times, the conversation plays out exactly as it did the first time it happened–word for word–I have a very vivid memory for complaining parishioners.  

So recently, as I’ve been replaying some of these conversations in my head, I’ve ended them like this:

Me:  Thank you for your critique.  I have noted it, many times over, but now I’m going to have to ask you not to bring it up any more.  In fact, I’d like for you to leave.

Parishioner:  But, I want you to really feel bad about what you’ve done (haven’t done, done wrong, etc.)!

Me:  I realize that, but your presence in my head is not healthy for me, and I can pretty much guarantee that the real-life version of you has long since forgotten this particular encounter, and I think it’s time I gave it up as well.

Parishioner:  But…but…I have more to say…

Me:  Then say it to someone else.  I’m giving you over to Jesus now.  You’re his problem.

Parishioner:  [Silence]

Some of them have tried to come back, but mostly they’ve stayed away.  Voices of long-past acquaintances and friends go away quickly if you ignore them long enough.

I’ve also kicked out some random angry and upsetting people I’ve met throughout my life–like the sarcastic Pittsburgh airport shuttle driver, the guy who hit my car head-on (twice) in Chicago, the teacher who made me stand during lunch in elementary school because I whispered to my neighbor, and so many others.  Some of them have needed a letter of eviction–I’ve actually had to write to them (though I didn’t physically deliver the letter), in order to get them to cease and desist.  The people who live rent-free in our heads can be difficult to get rid of!  They’re worse than stray cats you can’t seem to shoo from under your front porch, or house guests who just don’t know when to GO HOME.  

Maybe I’m different. Maybe I hold onto these things far longer than others do in my situation.  But I suspect not.  I suspect that we all hold onto grudges, and past hurts, and frustrating people who just keep coming back into our heads, seeking our time and energy. If I’m right, and I’m not the only one who deals with this, then I say we should all kick out these unwanted and unwelcome head guests.  Let’s all say goodbye to the creeps and the jerks and the malcontents who occupy the square footage of our brains.  Let’s take back our headspace!  

But when you do kick out those who’ve overstayed their welcome in your noggin, do it nicely, with a smile–after all, they’re going to be homeless now, and nobody wants to be in that situation.  Give them over to Jesus instead–he loves them, even when we can’t.

Blessings, and keep your cool,

David

Some Haiku for a Friday

I’ve got kind of a busy morning today, so I’m going to keep it short–like, 17 syllables short.

These are some haiku that I composed as I was thinking about my last Chapel sermon, which was about the call to make peace by turning the other cheek.  

Matthew 6:38-39

“An eye for an eye,”
No!  Please, turn the other cheek.
Eyes are too precious.

And Another, on the Same Theme

If you resist them,
evildoers will just be
encouraged by it.

v. 39

If you strike my cheek,
I will turn the other one
and embrace you

Or,

If you strike my cheek,
I will turn the other one
and embarrass you.

Martin

Martin, you did dream,
and your dream inspired us all.
May we also dream.

Peace,

David

An Open Letter To A Non-Believer

Dear Atheist Friend,

First of all, let me begin by saying two things:

1.  I am sorry for all the horrible things that have been done in the name of the Church, Christianity, Christ, or the Cross.  I agree with you that the Crusades were horrible, genocidal events that pitted so-called “Christians” against anyone who didn’t agree with their faith.  Yes, it was Christians who enslaved Africans in this country for over 200 years, in an act so nonsensical that no one alive today thinks it was even remotely a good idea.  And yeah, there are people calling themselves Christians today who speak all manner of evil things against non-Christians, homosexuals, liberals, and anything else that moves or breathes upon this earth.

2.  I am not sorry for calling myself a Christian.  Even given the above, I am not ashamed to say that I am a follower of Jesus Christ.  I do not shrink from stating that I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the same God who has existed throughout all eternity, who created the universe as we know it (and all that we don’t yet know about it), and who loves with a love that is unimaginable by human understanding.  I believe in God.  And I believe that God believes in me.

And see, here’s where there’s probably going to be some misunderstanding, because you may want to take my statement of faith in God as a reason for lumping me together with all the terrible, disgusting things that have been done throughout history in the name of faith.  You  might want to put me in the same category as the conquistadors, the crusaders, and freaking Fred Phelps.  And if I didn’t care about you, I’d simply let you do that, and write you off.

But I want to be your friend, so let me explain why that would be a mistake.  Because if I were to write you off in the same way that you’ve written me off, then I’d be doing us both a disservice, and I would be feeding into your preconceived notions about who I am as a Christian.  It would be easy for me to say that I don’t care.  It would be easy for me to just give up.  But that would defeat the purpose of me writing this letter, which is to show you why I’m a Christian.

I am a Christian because of relationships.  It began with my parents, who were strong Christians, leaders of the youth group at their church, who took me to church when I was a kid.  My parents have been through a lot in their lives–good times and bad times, ups and downs, but they always had two relationships at the forefront of their lives–with each other, and with God.

I was introduced to a relationship with God at an early age, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I made that a personal relationship.  You have to understand, my teenage years were filled with a lot of confusion and turmoil–mostly internal.  I was struggling with my own self-image, and I felt really lonely–a lot.  It was through relationships that I had with some friends who were really strong Christians that I came to understand that my struggles were really over what my purpose in life was.  I didn’t know what I was meant to do, and I felt empty most of the time because I felt like there was no future for me, or that the future was at least going to be very bleak.  So, I began to read the Bible, and I went on retreats and met people who had this relationship with God, and who seemed to have a real sense of purpose in their lives.  And I began to have a relationship with God, and through that I began to realize that I was created by someone who loved me very deeply, who would do anything for me, who even came to earth in human form so that I could relate even better.

Now, I’m not suggesting that those who don’t believe in God don’t have a sense of purpose in life.  In fact, many of the non-believers I’ve known in my life have been purposeful, driven, caring people.  But I do know that my testimony is that I was without a purpose before I really met God, and now I wake up every day feeling like there’s a reason for me to be here that goes beyond being a success or just being a nice guy.  I know now that God wants me to build relationships with other people so that they can also come to find their purpose in life.

For me, faith in God isn’t about having all the right answers, or having a one-way ticket to heaven.  I don’t spend a lot of time condemning my non-Christian friends to eternal punishment in hell.  For me, it’s about relationships.  And I feel that there’s something bigger out there than you and me, and I choose to call that “God,” and I choose to believe that God came to us in the form of Jesus, and that Jesus’ purpose wasn’t just to die for my sins and the sins of all people (although that is part of it), but that he came to teach us about love, compassion, and grace in human community.  For me, faith in God is as much about faith in my fellow human beings as it is about faith in the biblical texts or the doctrines and dogmas of the Church.

There is so much more I’d like to say, and I may say it as time goes on.  But I just wanted to begin this conversation with you so that you know that my goal in trying to get to know you is not about converting you to my way of thinking, but about my desire to have a relationship with you that goes beyond “Christian” and “atheist.”  I want you to know that there are people–reasonable people–who believe in God, and who would never say the same things about you that you have sometimes said about them.  There is a community of loving, caring, Christians who just simply want to introduce you to the God who changed their lives, and to let you make your own decision.

I don’t pretend to think that this letter will change your life, but I hope it’s helped change your mind just a little bit about us crazy Christians.  And I hope you see it for what it is–an invitation to dialogue about purpose, the meaning of life, and the place of a higher power in the midst of all that.

Your Friend (I hope),

David