I am labeling this blog “Part 1” as I think this is the first of many. In my “Meet Brian” page I end this way,
This 10-week pilgrimage is my most ambitious cycling adventure yet and is intended to bring my two worlds together and end this spiritual schizophrenia once and for all!
I say it almost teasingly, but there is a very serious undertone of truth to it that fueled the imperative to embark on this pilgrimage. The truth is I often feel like I am straddling two worlds and not even yoga can provide enough flexibility to maintain this theological split.
Yesterday, before I even embarked on the bike an image and a phrase emerged for me and I experienced it immediately like the first break in the clouds. Even with this pilgrimage, I suddenly felt a shift from having to push and break through some psychological barrier to a feeling of being able to relax into the journey. I admit I still have 3000 miles to go and many weeks and we’ll see how long this lasts. There may be more barriers still awaiting me.
Here is what came to me. I don’t see myself so much as a “pastor of the faith” than I do a “chaplain of the spirit”. This is a very important distinction for me. I am ordained (certified) to serve in the role as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA). For me, however, this is secondary. This is just one expression of how I can serve people and the community as we work toward reconciliation, justice, healing, grace, and peaceful contentment.
What I am beginning to realize is that it’s not me who is spiritually schizophrenic while the world is whole and integrated. It’s that as a pastor to a very diverse community, I am holding and mirroring the schizophrenia our churches and communities already express. Isn’t it ironic that the Presbyterian Church is showing signs of splitting at the seams, and as I hold the church in my heart, I am feeling a split taking place as well.
What is especially revealing to me is this. I didn’t feel this when I worked outside the Church in chaplaincy type roles. I worked with families on hospice care for a time and served as a chaplain to an assisted living center. What I discovered is that as a chaplain I was able to honor the religious/spiritual/philosophical values of each person with whom I met. As a chaplain one is trained not to impose one’s own religious worldview on the client, but to listen for the clues and the language of the client in order to aid in their healing, their growth, and their presented issues. Their story takes precedence over my story. Their faith is more important than my faith.
As a chaplain I learned to speak the language of each client. I learned to listen for the images, the stories, the beliefs, and the values of each person. In order to facilitate healing, if I needed to bring in the “saving blood of Jesus” I did it. In another rooom the lessons of nature with their seasons of dying and regeneration became more appropriate. I could talk New Age spiritualism, Martin Buber’s “I and Thou”, Buddhist acceptance, and Christian theology and not feel that I was speaking out of both sides of my mouth.
Some might call this waffling. Listening for the clues, the language, and the stories of each person and then adopting those in order to facilitate healing and growth, love and acceptance. In the context of chaplaincy this was not only important, but vital to the role and the process.
So what is this spiritual schizophrenia about? I only feel it when I am back in the Church serving in the role of minister. Even though I have not changed I feel this not-so-subtle shift from being a “chaplain of the spirit” to a “pastor of the faith”. I just don’t buy into it, but I see how difficult it is for people to understand how I can speak “Godtalk” on Sundays and then meet with our Movies and Meaning group and rarely let the name of God slip from my lips. Maybe it looks like I don’t really know what I stand for. It sounds very similar to the politician who says whatever he or she needs to say in order to get elected.
This is the point. I WILL say whatever I need to say…not to get elected or to be liked but to aid in one’s growth, one’s healing, and one’s sense of connection and communion with the world. That is what a good chaplain does. I do know what I stand for. I stand for honoring YOUR story, YOUR life, YOUR faith, and YOUR values. Does this make me wishy-washy? I don’t think so.
I think I am on to something. This spiritual schizophrenia is deeply rooted in my ordination vows to be a “pastor of the faith”. The truth is, however, I consider my own personal faith and the faith of the PCUSA as just two tools in a large tool box intended to bring justice, peace, healing, and reconciliation to people and to the community. Chaplains come with a tool box of many faiths, philosophies and spiritualities to serve and heal. Traditionally, pastors have been trained to use the one set of tools from their own faith tradition. The world is too diverse and too rich for me to have just one set of tools. I may be a pastor, but I can’t help but to listen to the world and serve the world more as a chaplain.
I can see Part 2 emerging. Chaplains have the luxury of only working with one client at time meaning we can dance between different faiths and beliefs client to client. What does it mean to preach to a communityof the faithful when one has a chaplain’s heart?