A Dancing Revolution: Theodicy and Black Bodies- Part One

As I began to read the history of Lindy Hop I was blown away at Lindy’s roots within the African American community in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance Era.  This is my attempt to make sense of ways in which this community can teach us to think and act in theologically innovative ways.  This is part one of three.  I think.

Even more futile than explaining pastoral theology is explaining the difficulties of theodicy to an individual or group of people experiencing crisis.  I think specifically of a father at Duke Hospital, tears streaming down his face, unable to see man cryinghis daughter as she bled profusely following the birth of a healthy son.  He looked me square in the face and asked, “Why can’t I go back and see her?  Why is this happening?  Where is God?”  In these moments there are no correct answers.  One thing we can do is join in the other’s experience, legitimizing it as we join in a lament as old as human history: “Why is this happening?  God where are you?”  These painfully disorienting moments are ripe with opportunity for discourse with God, as the acknowledgement of negative realities are catalysts for the most profound professions of faith.

Despite our deepest yearnings, our world is hopelessly disoriented; children are slaughtered in their schools, parents are faced with an empty seat before the tree on Christmas morning.  Tragedy is part of human experience; no wonder Jewish Scripture devotes an entire literary genre to lament.  As Walter Brueggemann notes in the Message of the Psalms, psalms of lament claim all things, even the gravest tragedy, belong in conversation with God. Speaking the truth to God about ones situation is not an unfaithful act, but a bold professions of faith.  Speaking about life as it is demands humanity experience life as it is (joy and crisis alike) amidst a conversation with the divine. This act of inviting conversation about life’s tragedies with God and community offers opportunities for healing in a communal sharing of the human experience.

One reason it remains difficult for the Christian community to absorb the suffering of tragedies such as Sandy Hook is because we have yet to learn the skills of faithful lament from suffering communities who have gone before us.  There is a conversation between Israel and Adonai, slaves and God, Indians and the Great Spirit but this conversation is not ours, neither is it our experience.  No, we must learn to listen in on a Salvewhippingconversation not our own.  Hearing the stories of a particular community’s’ faithful lament offers us the opportunity to live faithfully in the midst of our own crisis.  One such community is the African American population within the United States.  With the first caravel stealing Africans as property, centuries of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement and the state of implicit racism today, African Americans have bore the brunt of American hostility, their marks of oppression outwardly visible.  The African American community has much to teach us in the ways of faithful lament and protest, if we bring ourselves to listen to the story.  So gather ’round and listen well to the story of Lindy Hop’s beginnings amidst the cultural revolution known as the Harlem Renaissance.

Chaplains Gone Wild

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If you ever wondered what chaplains do when we are not visiting patients, this is the post for you!  The following is a small recap of The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center Pastoral Care Christmas Retreat.  That was a mouthful…

This year’s retreat was at a Catholic retreat center.  It was warm and cozy, with plenty of statues of Mother Mary.  We engaged in a few traditions we have here at OSUMC: among them are singing songs with Chris, goofy games with Imani (she uses them to help her patients on her unit bond with as families), the ceremonial arguments over the white elephant gift

20121214-121411.jpgexchange led by Hanci and food made with love by the entire department.

The highlight every year, however, is the resident performance!  Check out this years performance of the twelve days of residency.  All in all it was an absolute blast to see the full-time chaplains and our supervisors kick back, joke around and enjoy the Christmas spirit.  I hope you enjoy the videos!  They crack me up every time.

The Way We Move: The Beginning of a Metaphor

Theology and experience are intimately intertwined, much like the endless knot, one can only speculate as to where one string begins and the other ends.  This ancient symbol represents the dynamic spiritual path as it Endless Knowchanges through time, always controlled by the divine.  There is a way in both theology and experience inform one another, yet where theology ends and the experience begins remains ambiguous.  Much like the endless knot, we do not know where experience ends and theology begins, or vice versa.  So intertwined are these two, that they are one.  Because of the nature of theology and experience both are necessary for a robust theology of pastoral care.  And yet, weaving a knot so intricate is not the work of a logician, but an artist.

Pastoral care providers step into the midst of highly stressful situations, be it death, surgery or what have you and in the midst of the confusion and anxiety make an effort to know the other as they truly are in this moment.  This means wading into the deep waters of someone else’s life in all its beautiful brokenness, amidst their interpersonal connections and deep introspection.  There is a sense in which, to know unquestionably what we must do in these situations, and how God would have us act, is almost certainly to have gotten it wrong.  In these moments, it is not about getting pastoral care right, but participating in the dance of pastoral care.  What is needed in these moments SwingOutis an artist who is willing to move with the other, feeling his/her emotional rhythm, reading and following their movements, noting where they are in the midst of intense emotion and aiding in inhabiting a healthy place.  This is the work of an artist, a dancer.

The language of dancing opens space for an appropriate language about pastoral care.  Dancers inhabit ambiguous spaces, defy everyday boundaries and accept any who would join in the dance, all within their bodies.  Like Christ they embody otherworldly realities of hope, equality and grace.  The task of pastoral care theology is not in definition, but the development of a  language and consequently a means of thinking about pastoral care that affirms individuality within community, the need for accepting ambiguity and the fluidity of grief and hope.

In avoiding definition, we also avoid reification and affirm the reality of pastoral care’s fluidity.  As I will show later, ambiguity is essential to Christianity and thus, developing a language for meaningfully expressing ambiguity is essential to providing pastoral care.  This ambiguity is not, as some may think, the great tragedy of pastoral care, but rather the beauty of its art.  It allows us to hold hope and tragedy together, affirming the reality that both are good and both are from God.

Raison d’être

My Duke-ness #brilliantarrogance oozed from my pores as my first CPE unit came to a close here at The Ohio State University #GoBlue!. I was finishing up a paper on pastoral care as swing dance. I spent hours pouring over my theological argument, intricately forming appropriate analogies. I was excited to share my hard work and receive feedback about my thoughts. It was like my first Christmas as a father, eagerly awaiting the response of my children to Santa’s gifts. It looked more like this. My paper proved to be insightful, well-written, inaccessible and unpractical #Duke-ness.

This blog’s raison d’être is the exploration of my own theology of pastoral care #cuzineedit. I feel this an appropriate and meaningful task as I am a pastoral care provider. My hope is that you will join with me in this endeavor, acting as my community in offering feedback in whatever way you find appropriate: positives/negatives, weaknesses/strengths, clarity/unclarity #yougettheidea. It’s kind of like I’m asking you out on a date w/ me, or at least my thoughts. I hope it goes well.

I look forward to our relationship.