For now, that which we were is what we will be…

“I will argue that the postmodern church could do nothing better than be ancient, that the most powerful way to reach a postmodern world is by recovering tradition, and the most effective means of discipleship is in the liturgy.”
James K.A. Smith, PhD., Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?; p.25

Richard Norris

Canon Dr. Richard A. Norris, Jr.
Died, Friday evening, April 22 at his home.
Graduate of The General Theological Seminary and Professor of History and Historical Theology 1964-1977. In recent years, Visiting Professor of History and Historical Theology. Professor Emeritus of Union Theological Seminary.
I noticed over the past few months that he seemed to be slowing down (even beyond his normal slow pace). He was a brilliant man, and this is a true lose for the Church. Now, I am sure he is lecturing up in heaven, after being straightened out a bit as we all shall be.
Remember thy servant, Richard, O Lord, according to the favor which thou bearest unto thy people; and grant that, increasing in knowledge and love of thee, he may go from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in thy heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Me in Latin

I have to submit information for graduate, already! The GTS diploma is amazaing and spectacular – all still roll-printed by hand and in Latin from nearly 200 year old plates.
So, we can have our first and middle names printed in English or Latin. What the heck, why not Latin!
Rovertum Leonem Griffith, Jr.
Robert: is an English name meaning “bright fame.” From Old German meaning “bright famous one.”
Leon: Greek form of Leo (Latin) meaning “lion.”
Griffith: is the Anglicanized form of the Welsh name “GRUFFYDD.” From Old Welsh “Grippiud.” The second element of the name derives from Welsh iud “lord, prince” but the first element is unknown. Gruffydd ap (son of) Llywelyn was a Welsh ruler who fought against England in the 11th century but was eventually defeated.
So, I am really Bright Famous Lion Prince, Jr. Or, something like that.
That’s kind-a fun. I cannot believe nearly three years have passed.

Finished

It is finished! All done with the final set with an hour to spare. The last set, the ethics question, however, was a total wash! I finally had to say that I had no clue, and I just wrote what I thought. The person proctoring our exams asked me, “Where is your bibliography?” I had to say, “I didn’t use anything but my own thoughts.” I am probably in big trouble.
Frankly, all I care about is that I’m finished! Now, to find a job.

GOE – Sets 3 & 4

I am brain dead! Our third and fourth sets are now over.
Each “set” relates to one of the seven canonical areas the Episcopal Church expects its priests to be familiar with. Each set consists of one or a series of questions to be answered in essay form. For half-day questions (6 in all) we have 3-1/2 hours to answer the question and are restricted to three single-spaced typed pages. For the single full-day question, we are given 7 hours and six single-spaced typed pages.
The seven canonical areas are:
+ The Holy Scriptures
+ Church History, including the Ecumenical Movement
+ Christian Theology, including Missionary Theology and Missiology
+ Christian Ethics and Moral Theology
+ Studies in Contemporary Society, including Racial and Minority Groups
+ Liturgics and Church Music
+ Theory and practice of Ministry
Tomorrow, Wednesday, is a day off. We resume the GOE’s on Thursday, which is the full-day set on the topic of Theology. Only two more days!!!

GOE Set 2 and the Law

I was a bit concerned about the second set (question) we had to deal with yesterday. We were allowed no reference materials whatsoever – nothing, just our grey-matter. I think I did well, but we shall see.
Two sets today, the first coming up in two hours. We have a tradition at GTS where the juniors make breakfast for the seniors during the GOE’s. They did a great job yesterday, and I’m about to have another round.
I’m reading through Romans right now, and I keep coming back to the Law, as in the Levitical Code. I simply see nowhere in the Christian testament where we are called to observe the Levitical Code. We are not under the Law! Jews, yes, Christians, no. Read Paul’s letter to the Galatians!
So many conservatives strongly desire that we adhere to set rules, as the Law prescribes, but as Christians we have only two: 1) Love God with our entire being; 2) Love our neighbors as ourselves. That’s it! In those two is the summation of the Law and the Prophets, but we are no longer bound by the Code. This is why, I think, many conservative Anglicans want to return to strict adherence to the 39 Articles.
In fact, much of the Moral Code will be lived out by default by simply living into the above two; the Law will be written on our Gentile hearts, so to speak. That is different than saying we are bound to obey the Ceremonial Law, the Moral Law, or the what is it called???. This means ambiguity. Some people simply cannot abide in ambiguity.
The other problem faced by those who say we are still bound by portions of the Levitical Code is the cafeteria-style manner in which they pick-and-chose which specific laws to demand obedience to and which ones to discard. Many say Christians are still bound by the Moral Law, which Jesus brought with him into the New Covenant. But, even if that is the case, which I do not believe it is for Christians, most conservatives will still pick-and-chose which of the specific moral laws to demand adherence to and which ones to ignore. And they do ignore many of them. It is too convenient, and too easy.
I’m not a liberal, but I’m becoming more convinced that I am not a conservative, either. A “moderate,” perhaps, but I really think all the labels are breaking down. And of course, those who cannot abide in ambiguity or change or uncertainty will not be able to accept anything breaking down.

The Last year

Today begins Orientation for the class of 2007. I went to chapel this morning for Morning Prayer for the first times since spring, and it felt good to be there with the new Juniors. I so vividly remember (easy, since it was only two years ago!) sitting in chapel our first day – everyone was dead quite and everything very still. I smiled, because all I wanted to do is break the silence and uneasiness by doing or saying something silly. Three years of study, relationship building, challenge, frustration, and excitement lay ahead. Now, two short years later, I look at the new Juniors and know what is going through their minds, feel the uneasiness over what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. In 45 minutes we head to the Refectory for lunch – new chief, no more water streaming down the walls, no more soot falling all over everything, and we begin again the ritual of communion with one another.
I have been involved with new student orientation in one form or another for the past 20 years, and this is the first year I am not. It feels funny – I feel like I need to be doing something, and I feel a bit left out. The experience of seminary, and particularly of General, is remarkable. I think much of it is unhealthy and unbalanced, but hey what do I know? We make it through and what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?
I am feeling butterflies in my stomach. Why? Because, being my last year, everything I experience from day-to-day will be the last such experience of seminary life and M.Div. degree preparation. It is all leading to GOE’s, graduation, and (gulp!) being a priest in Christ’s one holy and apostolic Church. Our attention and vision will increasingly leave this place and be focused on other things. This is all good, of course, but I have no idea what I will be doing, no idea of where I will be going, and suspicious of whether I will find a position. This is also the year that all hell will break loose over the controversies of the past year. The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Communion are in for a very bad year, I fear, and both entities could be very different come May 2005.
My God, what have I done? It is all too easy when there are three, two years yet to go, but when the last year has arrived and all things lead to an ending, it simply is not easy. I’m not ready. I know nothing. I could work for a non-profit. I could find another position working with students within a university. Being a priest, however, I just don’t know. God help me! God help them!!!

CPE Final

Yesterday, Thursday August 13th, was the final day for CPE. I am ever so glad.
The most significant moment of CPE, at least as of right now, has to be the following:
I walked up to my floor and got the census from the unit secretary. As I walked around the nurses’ station, there was a man standing there who did not look too happy. I walked past him and did some paper work. When finished, I walked past the man once again and acknowledged him and he said, “Hey, I want to talk to you.” “Okay,” I thought, “what is going to happen here.” He complained quite vigorously about the nurses who he said were ignoring him, being rude to him, and treating his wife badly. He said she had just been transferred from the ICU and had soiled herself. The man was trying to get someone to take care of his wife, according to him, and was getting nowhere. The issue was resolved and later that day I stopped in to see the woman.
She had been in the hospital for about two weeks. As I talked with her, I kept noticing the tube coming out of her nose and leading to a small reception tank. At first I was unsure what was going on, but as we talked I noticed a green liquid flowing through the tube out into the reception tank. There were green flakes passing through the tube as well. The woman had given birth two weeks prior to my first visit. Her baby was born with a high fever, so he was immediately taken to the NICU. The baby was big (9 lbs+), so she had a C-section. She quickly developed an infection that put her in the ICU. The green liquid was flowing out of her abdomine.
So, her baby was two weeks old and she had not yet seen him. She was so devastated and missed him so much. It was hard. She was very concerned because she felt her baby would not know how much she loved him and how much she missed him. I told her I would go down and visit her baby and tell him how much she loved him and missed him. I did that. The baby was beautiful (and big! – the nurse joked that they were going to take him home and put him right into pre-school). I prayed with the little guy and his nurse. He was almost over his fever. She was so thrilled when I went back to her room and informed her that I told her new son how much she loved him and how much she missed him. The patient had a huge smile on her face.
A few weeks later, after many visits, I entered her room to find her very depressed. Through a series of events, because she was not yet ready to leave the hospital and other reasons, her baby was taken to a foster home. She saw and held her baby once, but now she did not know when she would ever see him again. She had faith that her family would be back together at some point in the future, and that she had to heal, but she was so sad. After she told me what was going on, she looked at me and asked, “Can I ask you a question?” I said, “Yes.” She then asked, “Why do you do this?” I was speechless. I could not answer her right away. For some reason, I had not thought of why I did “this” on a grand scale. Immediately, I was involved in CPE because it was a requirement, but her question was bigger then that.
I told her that I did “this” because through the very difficult times in my life I have always experienced God’s presence, strength, and comfort. I did this because I have seen in my friends and family over time the same experience. I did this because I want people to know that even through their suffering and in what may seem their darkest hour that God is always there to help them, to strength them, and to give them comfort, despite the circumstances. So many people ask why God is doing this to them. I told the patient that I do not believe God does any such thing to people, but has promised us that He will never leave us or forsake us in the midst of our trouble, as devastating as the trouble may be, and that we can always rely upon God. I want people to know that. In a nutshell, that is why I did “this.” She is so afraid that when she becomes well that her son will not know who she is. I told her that he will probably have to get used to her again, but that he will never forget who his mother is.
The experience with this woman and her son gave me the most authentic experience of CPE. With this incident, I felt the most connected with the patient in a very real and tangible way – I helped ease her suffering with the simple act of telling her son that she loved him and missed him. And finally, I was able to receive an honest and sincere question about why I did this kind of thing. A question from her that stopped me dead and caused me to reflect in the most authentic way yet about why I was sitting in a hospital room visiting patients whom I did not know doing what I could to help ease their pain and anxiety.
I prayed with every patient but one. I sat for hours listening to the most intimate details of patients’ lives, had wonderful conversations, and read Psalms to patients who never regained consciousness. I grieved with families who lost daughters, cousins, friends, and husbands.
While I know that hospital chaplaincy is an important ministry, I also know that it is best left to those whom God has called to such a ministry. I am not one of those people. I am glad for the experience, but I am even more thankful that it has ended.

CPE-14 – The Final Days

I visited my last patient on Friday. I cannot remember the last time I felt so happy that something was ending. I think hospital chaplaincy is an important ministry, and I know, from what patients have told me, that I made a big difference in some of their lives, thankfully.
It isn’t so much that I do not like visiting patients – that is okay in-and-of-itself. This is not, however, my ministry. I am not enlivened, strengthened, or energized by doing this stuff. In fact, I am exhausted by it.
I have had the privilege of meetings some very interesting people. I have had the privilege of praying over and reading to comatose patients who had no one else present with them. I have had the privilege of being with patients when they died – with them when they passed, watching, waiting, present with the body even after all the doctors and nurses have left. I have listened a lot, talked a lot, and prayed a lot – all very worthwhile. I am just glad it is almost over.
I responded to a medical code one recent afternoon. There were 10 doctors and nurses working to revive the patient, a very emaciated elderly man with MAC. I stood outside the door for an hour looking in, the room filled with staff and equipment. I prayed for them and the patient. I talked with a couple of the resident interns and the social worker. At one point, one resident asked if I wanted to go in the room even while the staff continued to attempt to revive the patient, but I said, “I will be soon whether he survives or dies.” Survives or dies. I was there for the patient either way, even when the doctors and nurses could do no more for their patient. Who else will wait with a person when all have given up? He had no family that was willing to claim him. There may no longer be breath, no longer blood flowing, but this mass of chemical compounds was still wonderfully and fearfully made in the very image of God, worthy of dignity and respect.
So, next week is all about wrapping-up. Final evaluations will be on Monday and Tuesday. A memorial service, exit interview, and group lunch will be on Wednesday, then, finally, the Health Care Chaplaincy’s final banquet on Thursday. That’s it. My CPE experience will be completely over. Hospital chaplains do make an incredible difference in the lives of many patients.
Oh, I am on-call today until 11:00 pm tonight. Who knows what could happen between now and then…