Two weekends ago was the birthday of my late grandfather, who died a decade ago. I just finished a social work class on end-of-life issues, and that class had me thinking a lot about him, the impact of his death, my own life and legacy, and how that has all changed and morphed over these past ten years.
So I’m going to spend a few posts reflecting on this. Today I wanted to share how the experience of his death shaped my life personally and professionally.
But first, a little about him. Due to a mispronunciation by the first grandchild, we called my grandfather “Peep”; and Peep and Mammaw’s house was where the entire family came for weekly dinners and holidays. He was the quintessential man of his age: the quiet, stoic, Texas man’s man. He was my mother’s father, the patriarch of the family, and exerted a great centrifugal force in the system. His death left a large hole which I don’t know we’ve recovered from, honestly.Continue reading
My wife will tell you I have a “both sides” problem. I reflexively think through hard things by trying to see them from all sides and treating them equally. But inevitably, while this makes me think I’m acting “enlightened” and “objective”, that’s largely an illusion–and quite often, it does more harm than good.
At least when I employ it, it gives me a false sense that I am hovering above the conflict and that I am not actual mired by my own bias, defensiveness, and not actually being affected by the conflict itself.
But too often, rather than nobly making space and elevating other perspectives and voices, it leads me to prioritize my own voice and simply invalidate that of others.
And that’s precisely what happened in 2012 after the death of Trayvon Martin.
After Martin’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman, I watched the struggle and lament from black America, and felt an odd disconnect. I felt like I could “see both sides” and “understand” why white America was confused why this particular moment was so galvanizing for blacks.
I wrote a blog post about my frustration that me, as a white man, did not feel like I was culturally “allowed” to speak to these issues. The post is bad. I’m still incredibly embarrassed and ashamed of it–but I’ve kept it online (with a note) to document change and repentance.
I had great friends that really laid into me about that post. They took me to task, were patient with me, fully articulated their thoughts, and demonstrated the implications of and ideas behind the things I was saying. It gave me a lot of pause and made me wonder what I was missing–because while I trusted them, I simply couldn’t see what they were seeing.
* * * *
Around that time I watched a special by the comedian Dane Cook at Madison Square Garden. His final joke of the night was about religion. To set it up, he began with “I was raised Catholic…” but was interrupted by cheers in the crowd.
He stops, takes note, and says, “Peace be with you!” and in return tens of thousands of people responded in unison with the ancient liturgical reply: “And also with you”.
Now, huge numbers of those people had probably abandoned their Catholicism long ago, and yet the repetitive week-in, week-out liturgy of their Catholic upbringings had embedded itself in their psyches so they knew how to reflexively respond in that moment to the words of the liturgy–even if they had left the Church decades prior.
I don’t know how or why this happened, but it was in that moment that everything my friends had been telling me about race and privilege clicked for me.Continue reading
I’m currently in a class on caring for those at the End-of-Life. At the beginning of this course, we were given an assignment (which you can do yourself) to give us a baseline as to our feelings and experiences around death and dying, and begin cultivating an awareness of how we cope with it.
I thought I had a good sense of my relation to death in my life, but this really clarified and confronted me in some profound ways. I saw just how unacquainted I am with death, and struggled to recall times it had entered my life.
The first death I knew of was my great-grandmother, with whom I had an oddly strong connection. But I was 10 or 11 at the time and heard about it from my mom, I think, while we sat in the car in our driveway. I remember numbness and confusion, not really knowing how I was supposed to feel. I felt solace in how religious she was, and I felt a responsibility to carry on her “legacy”.
But still, we did not return from Virginia to Texas for her funeral. This meant that my first funeral for a little boy at my church who had drowned. I was maybe 14 at the time. I did not know him, nor his family, and had no connection with them other than we went to the same large church. I went more out of curiosity and was confused at how detached I felt.
My biggest acquaintance with death was that of my grandfather. It was the first dead body I saw, and I was present for the hospice care and process of dying and grief over the course of a couple of weeks or so. But I will have more to say about this death another time.Continue reading
I am back in school. After having received my Masters of Divinity several years ago, I am now completing the other half of training for my desired career path: a Masters of Social Work.
I’ve been working in the social work field for over a decade and have known that I’ve wanted to move towards more clinical therapy-type work. All along, I have imagined this would be your run-of-the-mill outpatient counseling with adults dealing with addiction, marital issues, mental health concerns, etc. I have respected those that work in inpatient settings, with kids, with the elderly, and such–but I have not imagined that would be my route. And I still don’t.
However, here in my second semester, just as the Christian Church is in the season of Lent, I am taking a course on End-of-Life Care, and it’s shaping up to be one of those courses that will profoundly affect me in the long run.
I’m taking the class not only because my desire in clinical work is to try and bring some greater sense of wholeness, health, and dignity to the hardest parts of human existence, but because death is an aspect of human life I’ve not had a lot of experience with. I’ve had some family members, a few acquaintances, and plenty of clients die over the years; and I’ve walked with others in their grief over the loss of others. But still, I’ve had relatively little training and direct experience with it.
Also, while religious faith can provide a structure and a sense of resilience, coping, and meaning in the face of death–that’s certainly been true for me–it can also sometimes serve as a distraction from our mortality. It can be used to minimize death, prevent us from taking it seriously, or keep us from really grappling, internalizing, or accepting it.Continue reading
… save Democracy together.
Good things sure do happen in Philadelphia.
A few weeks ago, my fiance Amanda and I got our wedding license. We’re getting married on October 18. Of all the surprises in that process, though, the biggest was me breaking down crying in the middle of this Chester County Courthouse office while signing papers. It took me a little bit to figure out why I was so emotional, and what was going on inside of me. But here it is.
First and foremost, I love this woman. I’ve known this. But (especially if you know some of my story) it was so powerful and surreal to see another human being willingly and joyfully sign on the dotted line to actually spend their life with me.Continue reading
While my church isn’t meeting in person due to social distancing, my pastor has been putting out weekly video reflections (with some announcements at the end, but don’t let that scare you off). I thought today’s was beautiful and moving and I wanted to share it with you all.
I proudly voted for you in your first two terms to the Senate. I know you have a justified and well-earned reputation for being fair-minded and keeping the interests of the country first, even above the interests of your party.
I am concerned, however, that your silence about the impeachment proceedings these past few weeks may indicate that you will simply vote along the party line on votes that would do incredible damage to the structural and institutional integrity of our Constitutional process of holding the Executive accountable for its actions.
Yesterday marked the beginning of Advent 2019, a period of time which the Christian Church has historically set aside to meditate on Jesus’ coming into the world at Christmas. It’s usually a time of reflection, meditation, and preparation, leading up to the full-on celebration that is Christmas.
To help focus us in this time, people at my church designed a prayerbook built around the women named in the genealogies of Jesus in the gospels: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.
You can find downloadable and and web versions of the prayerbook here. Or, if a direct link is easier: PDF / EPUB / MOBI (Kindle) / Web.
Different people put together the daily prayer liturgies, reflections, art, poetry, and seasonal meditations, so there’s variety and depth for those that appreciate and connect with such things. Though it is a product of a particular church congregation, it is put together in such away that anyone, anywhere could engage with it and benefit from it. So download and share it widely and sit with it deeply. We all hope it will be a useful way to stop, reflect, and connect during this season.
I have a very dear, long-time friend who is open about being on the autism spectrum. This has given him the gift of seeing the world and its details in beautiful ways, allowing him to do what Emily Dickinson implores of us, to “tell all the truth but tell it slant.”
Below is a text message he sent me this morning that, with his permission, I’ve turned into a poetic form for you to enjoy. (When I asked him, his exact reply was “You go ahead, Paul!”) Continue reading
Finally starting to tear into Ulysses. I’m finding it not nearly as intimidating as it’s made out to be. But there are many more pages to go. If you want to join me in the reading, check out the reading helps and plan.
it is time
to think about Christ
I keep putting it off.”
Longing and lusting
Raging and seizing
I feel far, Lord.
But I know you’re here. I know it.
It’s the nature of the matter; a matter of nature, I suppose.
Perhaps only now I feel at the deepest existential depths:
“I believe! Help my unbelief!”
Warning: this post talks about self-harm and suicidal thoughts. If you are experiencing this, you can chat online with the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call at 1.800.273.8255.
We are in the final weeks of the Christian season of Lent: a time where we focus on the fact that we are not yet who we will be, and that we still live in much darkness, weakness, and self-obsession. On its own, this could become masochistic or over-indulgent depending on your personality. But this is why Easter comes on the other side as a call to cast off the brooding and soul-spelunking to rise into the highest heights of celebration and freedom the Resurrection offers.
But still, this time lends itself to sadder reflections. The other day, my coworkers and I were sharing stories of social work clients we’ve worked with over the years and I was brought back ten years to my first time encountering a suicidal client when I was brand new to the field.