Monday, August 29, 2011

From A Free and Merry Spirit

A (very) rough outline of the Green Team's presentation to LTSP's new students.  I'd greatly appreciate your input!
When someone asks me why we should care about God’s creation, the first thing I think of is Psalm 8:

1O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory above the heavens.
3When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;
4what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
5Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
6You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,
7all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
8the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

My favorite part of this Psalm is in the first and last verses: O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  It’s my favorite because that’s where caring for creation really begins: recognizing the beauty and majesty of God’s work and our connection to it.  Sadly in our contemporaneity we are often cut off from many aspects of creation… to put it in Dr. John Pahl’s words we often separate ourselves from sacred places, instead favoring the artificially sacred of a trip to the mall, a “pilgrimage” to Disney World or the worship of “perfection” in our own homes.  As Psalm 8 joyfully exclaims, God’s creation is full of amazing gifts, and it’s equally amazing that we as imperfect people are tasked with caring for it.  When separated from God’s creation though we become unable to see many of God’s gifts to us through the eyes of grace… we no longer experience that sense of wonder in creation and therefore no longer feel as compelled to care for it.

“Compelled” is in an important word to emphasize here because why and how we care for creation reflects Lutheran (and I imagine most Protestant) theologies… we don’t do good works in order to earn something, but instead do good works solely out of love for God.  As the second generation Lutheran theologian Andreas Musculus would say, we do good works “out of a free and merry spirit.”  We should care for creation out of a free and merry spirit as well, which is why it’s so harmful to guilt people into recycling, turning off the lights and composting.  That’s why this year at LTSP we are so intent on not only improving our stewardship of creation, but also providing fun and fulfilling ways of reconnecting with creation.  Dr. Pahl makes a great point near the end of his book Shopping Malls and Other Sacred Places… the sacred isn’t just in beautiful mountains, forests and rivers, but it’s the bustling streets of our cities and in our own imperfect bodies as well.  LTSP's Green Team and Environmental Stewardship Committee will be working hard this year to help our community both care for and joyfully connect with the sacred of creation, wherever it might be found.

Down in the Flood: A Reflection on CPE

The following was taken from my CPE final evaluation:

I often think about and relate to emotions and experiences through song lyrics (hence why I’m huge Bob Dylan fan) and I’ve found one of his songs particularly helpful in theologically reflecting on Clinical Pastoral Education this summer. It’s called “Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood),” originally released the Basement Tapes album in 1975:

Here's the lyrics:
Crash on the levee, mama
Water’s gonna overflow
Swamp’s gonna rise
No boat’s gonna row
Now, you can train on down
To William’s Point
You can bust your feet
You can rock this joint
But oh mama, ain’t you gonna miss your best friend now?
You’re gonna have to find yourself
Another best friend, somehow
Now don’t you try ‘an move me
You’re just gonna lose
There’s a crash on the levee
And, mama, you’ve been refused
Well, it’s sugar for sugar
And salt for salt
If you go down in the flood
It’s gonna be your own fault
Oh mama, ain’t you gonna miss your best friend now?
You’re gonna have to find yourself
Another best friend, somehow
Well, that high tide’s risin’
Mama, don’t you let me down
Pack up your suitcase
Mama, don’t you make a sound
Now, it’s king for king
Queen for queen
It’s gonna be the meanest flood
That anybody’s seen
Oh mama, ain’t you gonna miss your best friend now?
Yes, you’re gonna have to find yourself
Another best friend, somehow
While the lyrics alone exhibit a tattered, worn, chaotic yet also hopeful quality that certainly reflects my CPE experience this summer, the music amplifies that tone even further. The imagery of Dylan’s “Down in the Flood” combines with the Biblical story of Noah to make for very powerful theological reflection. Much like Noah and in the song, “If you go down in the flood, it’s gonna be your own fault,” I actively chose to show up for CPE this summer, and I chose in particular to work through my past on the oncology floor. Noah made a free choice to build and populate the ark, but in doing so he was attempting to follow God’s call… I humbly hope that I participated in CPE this summer for much the same reason. While Noah and his family didn’t drown in the flood, it’s hard to deny that he didn’t suffer… Noah would have faced the ridicule of his community for building a giant ark on dry land, would have lost friends and extended family members to the flood, and would have had to live in cramped quarters with a whole lot of stinky animals for forty days and forty nights. Worst of all, Noah would have had to float past thousands of drowning individuals on his ark, knowing there was nothing he could do to save them… their wickedness aside, as a righteous man, Noah would have felt compassion for those individuals. Even if he wasn’t drowning, Noah was definitely still down in the flood.

I imagine Noah being emotionally and spiritually torn apart by his experience down in the flood. Why did God only choose Noah and his family to survive? Would the storms eventually stop? How could God let such suffering happen? These and other difficult questions surely must have been coursing through Noah’s mind… I was drowned in many similar questions this summer. I wondered why it was my patients and my mother that had cancer and not me. I felt guilty for being angry at God for both the loss of my mother and needless suffering and death of so many people I met in the hospital. I felt despair that cancer was still a leading cause of death despite decades of research and millions of dollars spent. Worst of all, while I could be present with patients and provide them with comfort and guidance, I couldn’t cure them… I couldn’t pull them out of the flood, and more often than not when they either passed away or were sent off to hospice, I eventually had to float away safely on my ark, letting them drown.

The chorus of Dylan’s song goes, “Oh mama, ain’t you gonna miss your best friend now? Yes, you’re gonna have to find yourself another best friend, somehow.” These lines make a whole lot of sense. My best friend… the many roles and characters I played in front of God, myself and others were drowned down in the flood. Noah’s significantly more harrowing experience, scared and saddened by having to float by dying friends and family would have surely stripped him even more bare… he never would have been the same. He certainly grew from the experience, even signing onto the covenant with God on all our behalf. As I move forward into my second year at seminary, developing into new roles and making a new best friend of myself, I humbly hope that I will be likewise bettered by my time this summer, down in the flood.