Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thought for the Day: Leaves in Fall

I was driving back from working out today and in a yard that was ahead of me I saw a magnificent maple tree that appeared to be glowing in florescent colors of red, orange, and yellow. The tree was stunning. As I drove by I looked at a few individual leaves and noted the color of each. The leaves in and of themselves were beautiful, but the collection of all of them together was what made the stunning image.

So, in this way, the Kingdom of God can be compared to a maple tree in fall. Each person is gifted and beautiful in and of themselves bearing the glory of God in themselves, but it is when we exist together that colors blend into a rich palate of vibrant color that is the Church. Therefore, let us bless the giftedness and uniqueness of our brothers and sisters and strive demonstrate God's love to on another. In so doing, we show the world the love of God.

[Jesus prayed] The glory which you have given me I have given to [my disciples], that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:22-23

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pastoral Care: It's Not About Me

In some circles these days there are discussions about who should be the focus of Pastoral Care. Military, hospital, and other chaplains (and Pastoral Counselors) have debated to what extent the religious views of the care giver should be expressed in care of the "care receiver." In the U.S. Navy there is controversy about a prayer offered for all of the crew of one vessel that was prayed "in Jesus' name." If the prayer was prayed on the behalf of ALL people, should the Christian chaplain pray in Jesus' name. In my training and experience, Pastoral Care is about me offering care the reflects the faith tradition of the person that to whom I am giving care. I had a moving experience today that reflects just this point.

I have been seeing an older person in therapy for several months that has been diagnosed with cancer. (Please excuse the cumbersome language avoiding pronouns in this piece, but I want to protect the identity of this person.) When I first met this person, they were not expected to live longer than 4 to 6 months and our sessions focused on preparing for death and issues of faith. The chemotherapy that this client has undergone has been successful in treating the cancer and this person is now a candidate for surgery and the chances of long-term survival is now better than 70%.

Almost every time I met with this person we talked about the fact that this person was never baptized by their family in the faith tradition in which they grew up. Since reaching adulthood, this person has had a personal sense of faith, but has not been connected with any one congregation. As this person has faced the possibility of death, the issue of not being baptized has been brought up as a matter of concern. We have spent several sessions discussing what their beliefs are about baptism and how it is related to salvation for them. We have discussed the historical traditions and meaning of baptism in those traditions. Each time we came to place where this person felt that something was missing from their life, but not being sure exactly how all the pieces fit together for them.

As we met today, we came to this same issue of baptism again. There was a greater sense of urgency than usual because this person is facing a potentially healing, but dangerous surgery. This person could not find peace in the possibility of death with uncertainty about eternity. This person could articulate faith, but felt incomplete. After a lengthy discussion and at this person's request, I agreed to perform a baptism in my office today.

As a Baptist, I do not believe that baptism saves anyone. I also believe that baptism should be done in the context of a community of faith. I believe that baptism by immersion is the appropriate (though not only acceptable) mode of baptism. However, after discussion today, I retrieved a bowl of water from the kitchen. I prayed with my client and then sprinkled in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. My client reported that they felt differently. They reported that they felt more relaxed and prepared for surgery and more connected with God.

I performed a religious activity that did not fit with my faith understanding in order to provide care for someone who found it meaningful. In the larger picture, I am not sure exactly what this baptism means, but I have no doubt that I provided good Pastoral Care today and I felt the presence of God in a mighty way. What a blessing.