Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reflections In the Face of Death

By far, the most humbling experiences I have had since starting my ministry at Trinity eight months ago have been hospital visitations. One day a week, I visit our members who are in area hospitals. Some folks are sick, some are having babies, some are dying, and some are healing. But all of them have one thing in common- the desire for God's peace in their lives.

Naturally, folks do want to feel better and move on with their lives- that's why hospitals exist and praise God for that gift. But hospitals can be scary places (and by that token, let me note that I have a newfound respect for medical personnel), and patients usually desire something that medicine cannot offer. When one is in the hospital, with doctors and nurses running around, machines beeping, and uncertainty everywhere, anything to take a bit of fear away is welcome. And it is my hope that God uses me on those visits to spread God's peace in places of darkness.

Of course, I would appreciate if he could save some of that peace for me. Sometimes hospital visits frighten me. Before entering seminary, I had been into a hospital room three times in my life- and one of those was when I was born. So I've been able to keep a comfortable distance from those places where death is only inches or minutes away. But since I have begun to visit folks in the hospital, I have had to, for the first time in my life, face questions that truly put my own life into perspective- questions about the relative brevity of my time on this earth and my true purpose. As I see persons in their 80s and 90s fight for every last breath, I begin realize that, yes- believe it or not in my young age, I will be in that spot one day (if I'm lucky). I suppose the thought had crossed my mind before, but standing beside someone experiencing that sort of suffering really brings home the reality of that part of my future.

In these moments my mind races to find meaning and the proper perspective in life. Lines from Ecclesiastes rush into my head: "to dust you shall return", "all is vanity", and "chasing after the wind"; my aspirations of climbing up the ecclesial ladder crash down; and dreams of title and respect fade to vapor. I begin to wonder about the grander metaphysical aspects to life and the soul: Is life just a blossoming and subsequent decay? Is there really an eternal soul? Come on, really?

While some of these thoughts sound morbid and contrary to what I will actually affirm about Christian doctine concerning the soul. But I think they are just the kind of ideas and questions that Christians- especially young folks like myself who turn a blind eye to the reality of death- need to consider. So what if I get a promotion and a little more respect? So what if I've got a fat bank account and a house in the Bahamas? Where is God really calling me to be? I think that if we can really wrestle with the reality of death and be present with those suffering and dying, we can start to view life as the act of grace that it is, and we can then begin to appreciate and be joyful over the claims of resurrection and new life. That, to me, is the start of true peace.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Getting Connected

In my former life as a banker, I had a coworker who talked about his church a lot, but rarely talked about his faith. When he discussed his church, the topic was either the church volleyball and softball teams or a fellow church member upon whom he could call for prospective business. "The church is a great place to make business connections," he always said. In my typical non-confrontational manner, I never told him how ridiculous that statement was. But I wanted to reply, "That's hardly why it exists."

So you can imagine my surprise when some of the staff here at Trinity proposed that we find a way to get Trinity members connected to one another professionally- and that I was appointed to head it up. At first, I was a little unsure about it-we don't want church members to treat the church like the Rotary Club. But, my colleague Dave Barnhart pointed me to the words of our Methodist godfather (I don't like to use the term "founder", because founding a new denomination was not his intent) John Wesley. In The General Rules, Wesley wrote that we ought to "[do] good, especially to them that are of the household of faith or groaning so to be; employing them preferably to others, buying one of another, helping each other in business, and so much the more because the world will love its own and them only." (For you UMC geeks, that's paragraph 103, page 73-74 of the 2008 Book of Discipline).

And I think Wesley was on to something here. If the church is supposed to be the visible manifestation of the body of Christ, why not extend our unity to our livelihoods? Of course, there is always the danger of treating the church solely for business purposes (as I think Wesley was aware), but I think that if the membership of the online community and the church itself are carefully monitored, this is a ministry that can truly produce some fruits for the community of faith.

The final product of these deliberations is the Trinity Business Directory- an online community where Trinity members can promote their businesses, post their resumes, and seek the employment of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Feel free to peruse it and even offer some suggestions to the website administrator (yours truly). Who knows? Maybe you'll be able to find that babysitter you've been looking for, support a fellow disciple of Jesus in his or her profession, and get to connected a little deeper into the body of Christ.