malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Month: January 2010

The Problem with Clergy

In the Christian Church, the role of professional clergy (pastor, priest, etc.) is antiquated, cumbersome, and ineffective in the world in which we live. The concept of professional clergy setting certain people “apart”to do ministry, or as the ones who know more about connecting with God, or that which is sacred in the world is misguided.

And over hundreds of years (it hasn’t always been this way in the Christian church since Jesus lived), we have looked to the clergy as the one who “ministers,” the one who can pray for us, or visit us when we are sick emotionally or physically, and the only one who can baptize, offer the bread and wine in communion, marry us, bury us, and lead our worship services.  We have been terribly wrong.

The clergy person has almost always been male and heterosexual. A group of men got in a room and decided that might be best.  We have said that others are not eligible.  What a shame, what a loss, and what a mistake of interpretation of Scripture on our part.

And depending on the religious tradition, the clergy person has had someone with authority lay hands on the person’s head and say that he can now do certain things from this point forward that other people in the church cannot do.  We have missed the mark.

Sadly, this has caused us to lose our way in the world, to have so many needs go unmet because we were looking to the clergy as the ones to “do the ministry.” And so we are disappointed when the clergy person doesn’t come see our family member in the hospital, or our loved one in the nursing home.   Our expectation has been flawed from the beginning.

This may seem odd for me to say since I am a third generation clergy.   I have been a minister on church staffs in three different “denominations” of Christian churches and  I am now a member of a fourth.  And when I include being a chaplain in a healthcare system with my church experience it spans over thirty years as an ordained clergy.

But I am here to tell you, we are all the same, “lay persons” and “clergy.” We are called to care for the widow, the orphans, the sick, and the poor.  We are called to care for our neighbor.  And who is our neighbor?  Anyone who is in need–emotionally, spiritually, or physically.

Every one of us is called to be God’s Presence to others.  Every one of us.

Wayne Oates, my mentor in seminary, used to tell a story about when he was training in a hospital in a large, open ward where dozens of patients were crammed in next to one another.  One of the patients started screaming at the top of his lungs, “Where’s God? Where’s God?  I need God!  Can someone tell me where’s God?” Wayne, a young humble student at the time walked over to him and stood by his bed and said, “Sir, I am sorry but I am the closest thing to God you’re gonna find around here today.  How can I help you?”

People often wonder “Where’s God?” in the midst of the storms of life.  And the truth is, we are the closest thing to God that many people will ever experience in life.

We will never meet the needs of all the hurting people with professional clergy. All hands are needed on deck.

Open your hands, they will be needed today.  You are the closest thing to God others will find.

Singing from the Heart

I park about 6-7 blocks from my work each day so that I get a little extra exercise.

Yesterday I was walking from my office to the car and I came upon a young woman in her 20’s who was singing at the top of her lungs. It was a happy song she sang with her head tilted back not caring who could hear her.  It was a gift she was freely sharing.  I admired her confidence as she sang a Capella.  I could hear her a half block away and I watched her free spirited body language as she walked with bold, long purposeful strides.

When she saw me about 10 feet from her, she did not skip a beat in her song.  I smiled and interrupted her and said, “Whatever you do in your life, don’t stop singing.  Thank you for sharing your song with the world.”  She smiled and stopped for a moment.  “I’m singing about California, I love California.  Have you ever been?” she asked.

“Well, yes, I have,” I responded.  “What part?” she said quickly as she cocked her head to one side.  “San Francisco,” I added.  “That’s where I am from,” as she walked away starting her song once again for the world to hear.

As I walked I heard myself singing.  For me, it was old gospel hymns that I sung as a child.  All of these songs were learned in my early years growing up in the church as a preacher’s kid.  It was good medicine for my heart to sing several verses of each.   I was surprised I could remember the words to multiple verses.

When I sing, I often wander off key and lose my way.  Kind of like life.  Sometimes I start over, other times I just keep on going.  There are no “American Idol” judges to stop me anyway.

And so this morning as I walked the several blocks to work, I chose to sing out loud.

Whether you sing in the shower, in the car, or wherever, I hope you’ll sing.

If you are not a “singer,” that’s ok.  Singing is simply a metaphor for expressing what is in your heart to others.  What makes your heart sing?

Can you find a way to touch the deep well that is within you where fresh, clean water flows to the surface and out into the world?

The world is thirsty for such water.  Thirsty for love, for joy, for hope.

Sing your song.  The world needs your song.

Whatever you do, don’t stop singing.

The Constance of Change

My daily work is teaching me that change is the only constant in my life.

Things do not go according to my calendar on many days, and today was one of them. I’m learning that change gives me an opportunity to think, to pray, to be creative, and to listen.  If I’m open to learning these needed lessons, that is.

I thought I was going to start today with a staff meeting, send applications to potential students for our summer Clinical Pastoral Education Program, attend a committee meeting on Patient Satisfaction, and supervise one of my volunteers in her work in one of our ICU waiting rooms.

I’m learning that some days, one out of four is not so bad.

A call came into our office about an employee who died suddenly during the night, and the co-workers needed support.  I spent a few hours with caring, medical professionals who were in shock and grieving.

And yet they had to continue taking care of their patients and families as if today was the same as yesterday. But it was not the same.  A person they loved for decades was not at their side according to the schedule posted on the door.  Just yesterday, this co-worker was doing her job with expertise and compassion, teasing her colleagues, and going home to her husband and children.  But today was different.  Very different.

When you are a patient or family member, it is easy to forget that the medical staff standing in front of you are people with lives, issues, and feelings too.  We are all the same.  Some days we are patients, some days we are medical professionals.

But every day, we are part of the human family.  We love, we die, we grieve, too.

And so today, I reflect on what this change can teach me.

How does this change the way I think or live?  How do I pray for my colleagues?  How can I be creative in my compassion and care of them?  And how can I listen to what they can teach me?

God help our patients, families, and today, especially our employees.

God’s peace, comfort, and strength to all of you.

The Distraction of Envy

Do you ever envy other people’s talents?

Dr. Michael Saag is a friend and a world-class HIV researcher and physician.  But it is his ability to quote entire dialogues from movies he has seen that makes me laugh hysterically.  Especially comedies.  He can have an entire room rolling on the floor by quoting a scene word for word.  I just shake my head in disbelief at his photographic memory.  Sometimes, I can’t even remember a movie’s title I watched last night!  Woe is me.

What talents do you envy in others? Maybe it is someone who can sing, or play an instrument, or some other gift you wish you had?

The more we envy the talents of others, the more likely we will miss and devalue our own.  Envy is a marvelous distraction from self-discovery.

I Corinthians 12: 12-26 says that all persons who claim to be a child of God are all connected to one another like the human body, and all parts of the body are equally important.  The hand doesn’t say to the foot we don’t need you, or the ears have no right to envy what the eyes can do.  And so it is with our talents and gifts.

So how do I know what my gifts are? How do I identify my gifts so that I can use them to further the work of the Creator?

For me, a starting place in discovering my own gifts is the answer to this question:  “What do I love to do in helping others?”

There is a reason why you love to do a certain thing for others.  It is a holy whisper in your ear to say, “That’s one of your gifts.”

I have discovered that I love to be with people when they are in a crisis. This sounds really strange to some of my friends.  It is the last place they would love to be.  But that’s what is so cool and diverse about gifts.

Gifts are not given to be compared, they are given to be shared.

So what do you love to do when helping another person?

Write a note?  Make a phone call?  Give a ride? Cook a meal?  Take care of someone’s child or parent for a day?  Teach a class?  Cut the grass of a neighbor ‘s yard?  Offer a listening ear?  A helping hand?  An encouraging word?

Name it.  Claim it.  Share it.

But don’t compare it.

Feeling Guilty Is Not Enough

As I watch the evening news tonight, I see stories about the people of Haiti and what they are going through following the devastating earthquake.

One story is about a five year old child (see above) being told that she will have to have her leg amputated in order to live.  She screams in fear at the news echoing the shrill sound of her mother’s voice at her side who grieves her daughter’s fate.

I just start sobbing, real tears, sitting on the couch, surprised by the deep emotion I feel for the parent and little girl.

Another woman is pulled out of the rubble alive (see below) after several days without food or water following the earthquake.  I feel hope.  She probably would not have been found if her husband had not been persistent with the rescuers asking them to please keep looking, “I know she is alive,” he pleaded.  And he was right. What struck me about this woman is when they pull her out of the hole on a stretcher, she breaks out into song thanking God that she is alive.

She is singing.  Thousands of others are not so fortunate.

When natural disasters happen like this, I want to help. I just don’t know how.

I feel guilty. I am the rich of the world watching on tv.  I have a beautiful home, a great job, a loving wife and children.  I can walk a few steps and get all of the water I want to drink.  I can take a long hot shower like I did last night.  I never miss a meal.  I have electricity, cars, and so much more.

We will send money over the coming weeks and months.  But it seems like so little for those who are suffering and grieving so much in Haiti.  My heart breaks.  I pray for them.

I must face this truth and take action. I own more than I need.  I give away too little.

I want to change the way I live.

Feeling guilty is not enough.

I want to live more simply.  So that I can give more.

Otherwise, my faith, my life, is without authenticity and integrity.  God help me.

God help the people of Haiti.

Yes or No?

I want to say “yes” to people. I want to be liked.  I want to be the person others come to when he or she needs my time, my skills, or my resources.

And yet if my compass is simply to be liked by others and say “Yes” to them, I am in big trouble.

I will lose my way. I will look up one day and say, “Who am I?  What do I love to do?  Where is my passion?”

Each “Yes” I choose means that I have to say “No” to something or someone else.  I can only do a finite number of things.  Each “No” I say makes room for the possibility for a new “Yes.”

I am trying to live more simply in 2010.

I am learning that living simply requires me to make one of two choices:  “Yes” or “No,” over and over again, every day.

My prayer is that I will choose wisely.


Simplifying Life

As I begin the new year of 2010, I’m thinking about simplifying my life.

Basically I mean owning less stuff. The time I spend in maintaining cars, fixing things around the house, and keeping up the yard makes me wonder who really owns what?  It wasn’t always like this in my life.  I used to want to “own more.”  But no more.

I’m also watching and learning from the finches and grossbeaks on our deck flutter as they enjoy our bird feeders this morning.  And I am reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 6,

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,* or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?*

34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.'”

As Mary and I consider this next step of living our lives in an empty nest, all I know is that I want our nest to be smaller, simpler, less cluttered.

How about you?  Do your things own you?  Or do you own them?

I’m ready to simplify my life so that I can fly.

Want to join me?

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