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Monthly Archives: June 2007

A few years ago, a spot appeared on my right foot. It would bleed, just a little bit, leaving spots on my socks. Over time, it got worse. No amount of bandaids and neosporin led it to heal, and after a few weeks, it actually seemed to be growing. It bled more, but it also turned into a little mound, a lump. Thinking it was either cancer or stigmata, I decided to go to the doctor. I made an appointment at the student health center of my college and showed up expecting a full diagnosis and prescription for treatment. Instead, the intern who examined my foot sat six feet away from me, on the other side of the room, squinting at my foot through her thick glasses. After a moment, I asked if she wanted to see it closer-up. She ignored my question and simply said, “Well, it looks like a wart, but warts don’t bleed.”

That was it. No ideas on what it was, where it came from , or how to care for it. All that medical training sure went a long way.

What went wrong? She wouldn’t get close enough to see my wound. As I’ve gone through CPE this summer, I’ve realized how important it is to get close to people emotionally and spiritually to effectively minister to their wounds. The professors at my seminary who taught my pastoral care class talked about how empathy and compassion are impossible for anyone but Christ. I do believe this is true, but I’ve discovered that I honestly use it as a cop-out to avoid truly getting close to people in my life. I’ve long savored the depiction of God given in Psalm 139 as the only One who knows everything about me, but I’m learning that this image of God was never meant to prevent us from experiencing intimacy with other people as well. My biggest struggle with CPE this summer, and in turn where I am growing the most through the program, is that it’s making me less afraid to get close to other people’s pain, and in turn I’m growing less afraid to show other people my pain. It’s interesting that what I’ve talked about here more in terms of ministry and mission is really teaching me about authenticity and how genuine ministry and mission can’t be done without authenticity.

In the end my foot ended up being ok. I went to a podiatrist who, after a much more careful analysis, said “Well, I don’t know what that is, but I can cut it out of there for you, if you’d like.” Trusting her expertise this time, I agreed. The mini-surgery took place that day, in a couple weeks my foot was healed, and I’ve never had a similar problem since then. I never found out what the source of the bleeding spot was and I never knew what to make of it until now. Surely ministry is both more effective and more rewarding when you’re next to someone instead of squinting at them from across the room.

Two days ago, a seven-alarm fire destoryed a large warehouse in the Kensington nieghborhood of Philadelphia, home to The Simple Way. The fire and its aftermath left eight families homeless, did other damage to the neighborhood, consumed all the belongings of two of The Simple Way’s members, and destroyed the facilities of the after-school program run by The Simple Way. More information and details, including pictures, are available on their website. Please consider donating to help provide relief for the members of the community and for the The Simple Way – this is an incredible chance to take tragedy and turn it into something that shows Christ’s love for the world!!

A lot of people I talk to see CPE as a hoop to jump through on the the way to ordination – some sort of extra hurdle that ministry preparation committees place in front of seminarians as a nightmarish hazing ritual.

For me, that is (now) not the case.

While my committee on preparation for ministry “strongly recommended” that I complete CPE, and while I wasn’t exactly looking forward to an emotionally stressful summer, I’m now learning to love my CPE experience. Part of that love has come from seeing CPE as a chance to be missional in my ministry.

This works two ways. The first is that in visiting the sick we are following Christ’s example in mission. Applied to pastoral care in a hospital, Thomas Oden wrote “As God himself came to visit and redeem his people (Luke 1:68), so we go on behalf of God’s Son to visit and share that redemption in our own arena of service” (Pastoral Theology p. 171). For a Christian to walk into a sick patient’s room, unexpected and likely unwelcomed, is to literally follow Christ in the incarnational way in which he visited us. Nevertheless, we are called to do this. In John 20:21, Jesus says to his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” We are sent into the world with a mission to participate in God’s redeeming work, and every part of a Christian’s vocation has potential to be a part of that mission. This summer, I am learning to participate in God’s mission through the emotionally trying but incredibly rewarding practice of CPE.

Second, we are promised not just that we follow Christ in visiting the sick, but that we meet Christ in the experience. In Matthew 25:34ff., Jesus is speaking about the final judgment and he says:

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (ESV, italics added)

There Jesus is, hidden in the skin of the oppressed, the sick, the hungry, and the imprisoned. Do we grasp the incredible power of this idea as a practical spirituality? I didn’t until this summer, and after three weeks of CPE, I’m still just beginning to. So now I go to CPE each day expecting to see Christ in the patients whom I visit. Often, I find that I leave patients’ rooms having been ministered to by them as much I sought to minister to them.

One last thought: Four years ago, I spent a summer in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I taught English and did relational evangelism with Thai, Buddhist, college students. Though I did not then and still do not feel called to a career as an overseas mission worker, that summer transformed my life. In the same way, though I do not feel called to chaplaincy as my specific ministry in life, I know this summer will change me as well. There’s something about living in a different culture, being immersed in community, and engaging in service for Christ, all for a short period of time, that opens the doors for the Holy Spirit to transform lives. I look forward to seeing what sort of mischief God will be up to this summer and in months to come as I process the whole experience!

On Father’s Day, Eileen and I will be running in a 5K race here in Pittsburgh to raise money for Prostate Cancer research. Most people are familiar with the Race for the Cure for breast cancer, which functions in a similar way. This particular race is especially important to us, though, because I have an uncle who is a prostate cancer survivor and we want to support efforts to help more men like him fight against this cancer. If you’re at all able to donate, please click here. Thanks!!