Sunday, October 30, 2005

Some Hallowe'en Cannibalism

Is it called cannibalism when one pumpkin eats another pumpkin? (Click on the image for one with a little more gruesome detail.)

Happy Hallowe'en from Frankenpriest and Bride of Frankenpriest!


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Manitoba Diocese in the News

It's not everyday that you see the words Manitoba, Anglican, and Bishop in one secular news story. I wish that it was better press, but we also taste the bitterness of the animosity in our Communion. I'm not sure what motivated +Jim, but some ECUSAn's have seen it as part of a larger pattern of anathematization (check the comments). Could it really be part of a vast liberal conspiracy? Seems unlikely to me. Others think its just lampoon-worthy. To be honest, I don't think the paper itself looks all that bad.

This is not my bishop or diocese, by the way, but a neighboring one.

Pray for us all, Canadian Anglicans, ECUSAns, and anyone else frustrated and angry within our Communion. Many of us are already in pain from the wounds of this battle, and even actions in a diocese very far away can feel like another kick to the kidney. God help us!


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Creepy Christianity

Here's one for anyone who wants to get a little creeped out:

Perhaps Lil' Markie is not so lil'.

I can imagine a little kid turning, and saying, "mommie did that man swallow Lil' Markie?" Maybe he's just channeling the little rascal.

Even creepier, though, is this song:

Diary of an Unborn Child.

Imagine putting this on the tape deck as your child is falling to sleep.

For more on this really, really, weird stuff see The Secret of Lil' Markie Revealed.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Dying and the Discipline of Watchfulness

Death and dying have become a regular part of my routine at the hospital. It's astonishing to think that death and dying might become routine; but they are, if you think about it, no less routine than life. We see as many deaths as we see new lives. What distorts the notion that death is as prevalent as life, is that we think of our time in terms of living. We are more likely to say that we are living our life, rather than that we are dying our death. We just don't want to think of dying as something we do each day, despite that it is just as true to think that we are living each day.

This sounds macabre. Having accompanied so many patients and their families in dying over the last few weeks, I have sometimes felt this connection between life and death to be macabre. During this time, I have also feared the calls to the bedside of a dying person, I have at times felt the call to be a tremendous burden.

Other times I have felt the invitation to be a great honor. What greater honor could there be than to be asked to bear God into one of the most significant events that a family goes through – the dying and death of a loved one?

This invitation may be an honor. But an honor can remain a fearful burden.

A saying of one of the desert fathers came to mind this week. In a list of four types of watchfulness, or the guarding of the heart that leads to virtue, St. Hesychios the Priest ends his list with a spiritual discipline that has intrigued me since I first read it. St. Hesychios writes "a fourth type [of watchfulness] is always to have the thought of death in one's mind."

I have found this intriguing because I didn't understand it. The best explanation I came up with was that the thought of death chastened a person by the fear of judgment. But this never seemed quite right.

As a CPE group we recently watched a documentary about death and dying, and a person in that documentary who had terminal cancer said something striking. He said that when you know you are dying, and it is fall and you're not sure that you will see the spring, when you do see the spring you experience it like it is a miracle.

I had never thought of death in this way, that the experience of dying might reveal the holiness of God and God's world. And it led me to wonder if this might be what St. Hesychios had in mind. Always remembering death is not just a chastening, it is also a reminder that the Holy Trinity suspends each day in being. Perhaps, by the remembrance of death, we might recognize that the transcendent One holds each part of creation in existence. Maybe the remembrance of death that I am experiencing does not necessarily lead to fearfulness and dreariness, but instead to a life marked by miracle.

This is the great gift I am beginning to receive each time I am invited to the bedside of a dying person: the reminder that each moment is lovingly held by God, that each object and person is hanging by the threads of the holy. Remembering death is not necessarily a discipline that cultivates fright or fatigue. It may be a discipline that cultivates the remembrance of the holiness of all things, and that every part of creation, each moment and each person, each life and each death, is made in holiness by it's holy Maker.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Postscript to "Living in the Suck"

Lest, after my last post, I have left youu too deep in the pit, please take a moment for this brief reflection on hope. If you are coming to this post first, please take a minute and read my previous post, Psalm 142: Living in the Suck, before reading this one.


Despite the voice of frustration and bitterness that we hear in Psalm 142, there is a Christian tradition of reading the Psalms in a way that does not lessen their existential depth, but does point to a greater reality than our own subjective feelings. Thomas Merton is a recent exponent of reading all the Psalms Christologically. In _Bread in the Wilderness_, Thomas Merton writes:

" Not only do many of the Psalms literally foretell the suffering and glory of Christ, but David is a "type" of Christ. The Psalter as a whole is "typical" of the New Testament as a whole and often the particular sentiments of the Psalmist are, at least in a broad sense, "typical" of the sentiments in the Heart of the Divine Redeemer. Even the sins of David belong to Christ, in the sense that "God hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all." "

What Merton is driving at is that in the same way that the Psalms express the common voice of the human condition, it is exactly this human condition, given voice by David, that Christ takes on in the incarnation. That is, we are not abandoned in our sarcastic and bitter cry to God; instead, we are accompanied by the one who himself cried "Oh God, why have you abandoned me?"

All of our problems, like those given voice in the Psalms, are not solved by God, but are instead borne by Christ. By God becoming one of us in Christ, we have a travelling companion who knows the road we walk. This is not hopeful because now we know that all will be well, though we do know this to be true in the long view. But for now, though we may be deep in the pit in this moment, and we honestly encounter that suck as just plain suck, we can at least encounter it with someone else who has been here too. And the one who is here with us is the Christ, the one who is both God and man. That it is the God-man that knows the suck as well as anyone else does, gives me some solace and hope, even if I remain in the suck.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Psalm 142: Living in the Suck

I shared this meditation, on the daily lectionary Psalm for Friday morning, with my fellow chaplains on Friday. I hope you enjoy it.


There is a brutal honesty in the psalms. Psalm 142 is no exception. And what we encounter in Psalm 142 is not hope, or praise. Psalm 142 is a complaint, a truthful and frank grievance about how bad it is when things suck. Even what might look like words of hope are thinly veiled accusations about how things are not as they should be. It is not a psalm that looks forward to the time when things don't suck. It is a psalm about living in the suck.

The first two verses tell us what kind of psalm it is:

1 I cry to the Lord with my voice; *
to the Lord I make loud supplication.

2 I pour out my complaint before him *
and tell him all my trouble.

It is a psalm of supplication, of complaint. But as soon as the psalmist begins the complaint, bitterness is revealed in the guise of praise:

3 When my spirit languishes within me, you know my path; *
in the way wherein I walk they have hidden a trap for me.

God knows where the psalmist is headed, and knows what is coming next. God knows where the traps are on the psalmist's path. The psalmist knows there are traps, but not where they are; God knows where they are; God is not letting the psalmist know where the traps are. For the psalmist to say "you know my path" is not to praise God for His knowledge, but to complain that God does not share this knowledge. What looks like praise of God's knowledge is a veiled accusation of God's unwillingness to let us know what will preserve us from the hardships of life.

The psalmist continues:

4 I look to my right hand and find no one who knows me; *
I have no place to flee to, and no one cares for me.

5 I cry out to you, O Lord; *
I say, "You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living."

If God is a refuge, God is a refuge that the psalmist cannot find, at least in this moment: as we will see in verse 7 the psalmist has not found refuge, but is instead in a prison. Nor is the psalmist now in the land of the living, but is instead in a land of torment:

6 Listen to my cry for help, for I have been brought very low; *
save me from those who pursue me,
for they are too strong for me.

7 Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your Name; *
when you have dealt bountifully with me,
the righteous will gather around me.

The psalmist is not in a refuge, or in the land of the living. He is in the land of his enemies, and they are pursuing him. And verse 7 is again bitterly pious: we already know that the psalmist is surrounded by strangers and uncaring people. This last verse is not so much about hope, as it is about the fact that the psalmist is in prison, surrounded by those who do not care for him, and that God is not dealing bountifully with him at this time. They are words of accusation. God is able to save the psalmist and lead him into the land of the living and to place him among the righteous, but does not. The psalmist is left running for his life, in the land of uncaring enemies.

There is a freedom in this honesty. The psalms are our voice, the voice of the human condition. And in Psalm 142 we encounter the reality that sometimes things suck, and that we are tempted to cover over the crappiness of life with pithy and meaningless pseudo-pious phrases, like "all things in God's time," or "I'm sure things will get better, I know," or "God has some purpose in this." These are all tempting words for the chaplain visiting a sick person, and even for that same chaplain who feels alone, tired and even abandoned by God in their work.

What this psalm teaches us is that there is a time to let our praise of God's knowledge and power be spoken with a bitter ironic edge. There is a time to complain to God and tell him that he could be doing more for us, but is not. Sometimes it is ok to just live in the suck, the suck of the human condition given voice for us in the Psalms.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Guess Who Was Misdiagnosed

I went in to Employee Health today, and I learned that I do not have chicken pox. I have a case of contact dermatitis. So I'm back at work, without even crusting over.

I was looking forward to that.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Guess Who Has the Chicken Pox

Or, in med-speak, guess who has what is likely a localized atypical reaction to a varicella vaccination.

I never did get chicken pox as a kid, so when I began to work at the hospital, Employee Health decided that I should be immunized. This way, if I came into contact with chicken pox at the hospital, I would probably not get it. I agreed with them: the last thing I want is chicken pox as an adult.

Well I got the chicken pox, through the very attempt to avoid it. An itchy irony.

Thankfully it is only a few bumps on my right forearm. I feel fine, and it doesn't look like it will spread. I am, however, contagious, and Employee Health sent me home. I can't go back to the hospital campus until I have "crusted over," which will mean that I am no longer at risk of infecting anyone else. Until then, the risk to patients is too high.

I will miss being at the hospital, but I do secretly hope that I don't crust too quickly. I might finally sit and read Athanasius's Letter to Marcellinus, and even watch some more of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1. Perhaps I will get a few posts up here on the blog, which I have neglected since I started at the hospital.

I hope much less secretly that this minor irritation does not get any worse.