Tuesday, July 21, 2009


When I served at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, I had a clunker of a car. I got to know my mechanic well, and one day he asked me about my ministry. I explained that I was a Clinical Resident Chaplain and spent a good deal of time on various wards. He looked at me with a pained expression. "I could never do hospital work; I care too deeply about the pain of people; it would hurt too much to see them suffer." I smiled and said, "The challenge for the medical staff is that occasionally a few act like they've got your job." We can treat people as problems, or as individuals with unique needs and hurts.

The way to help people is not to be dispassionate, nor to be empassioned, but to show compassion. The English word compassion is derived from a combination of two Latin words, com and pati, which together mean "to bear with" or "to suffer with" This means caring about people's pain--but with a plan to help them through it. Just having the right words to say isn't enough. We need to spend time with those who hurt; compassion is often a non-verbal ministry. Just being with them can be just what the doctor ordered.

Henri Nouwen claims that, "We learn compassion through the life of Christ, who clasps Himself to us in our moments of greatest pain and who is our companion in suffering." As we identify with our Savior's woundedness, we become, in Nouwen's words, "wounded healers."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Blended Worship

In between traditional and contemporary worship is "blended" worship, a blend of formal and informal elements. This is similar to the "General Protestant" worship I conducted as an Army Chaplain, trying to cover all the bases of diverse military congregations. I sometimes refer to this as semi-formal worship, in that there are elements of liturgy but also informality (and the liturgy is written in modern language). The old hymns are sung, accompanied by our pipe organ, along with modern praise choruses, done accoustically (unplugged). This seems to best meet the needs of people, respecting the styles of old and new. Some churches hold two separate services--one traditional, the other contemporary. I suppose that's not a bad idea, but I like bringing what I think are the best elements of both styles together. The intent is to be all things to all people, and to make worship meaningful, while recognizing that our "audience" is God. He is worthy of our praise, and our goal is not to entertain but to honor our thrice-holy Lord.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Grief and Creationism

While I was preparing a funeral message, I happend to be reading Madeline L'Engle's Genesis Trilogy. Shortly after the death of her husband Hugh, Madeline got involved in the debate over origins, how the world came to be. She pointed out that the only question worth asking is whether or not the universe is God's. How the world came to be isn't as important. She stated...

"If I should find out tomorrow that God's method of creation was something quite different from either creationism or evolution that would in no way shake my faith, because that is not where my faith is centered. Thank God. If my faith were based on anything so fragile, how could I have lived through my husband's dying and death? How would I continue to live a full and loving life? My faith is based on the wonder that everything--all the laughter, all the pain, all the birthing and living and dying and glory, all our stories, without exception, are given dignity by God's awareness and concern."

Because this is God's world, life and death both have meaning. How do people who see human existence as an accident find any comfort in death? My comfort is that expressed by CS Lewis who said, "there are better things ahead than anything we leave behind."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mark Twain on GRACE

Hardly a theologian, nonetheless Twain had a pretty good concept of God's grace:

“Entering Heaven is a matter of grace, not merit. If entrance were based on merit, your dog would get in and you would not.”