Friday, August 31, 2012

The End of CPE

My year of CPE is over and done. I walked out of the hospital last Friday a very different person, a different (better!) minister than I walked into it one year ago. I’m reflecting, processing, praying about this past year and how it will carry on into my future ministry.

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What is CPE?
CPE stands for Clinical Pastoral Education. There are two components – 32 hours/week of ministry, in my case, at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt (MCJCHV), and 8 hours/week of group educational time. In that group time we wrote and reflected on our ministry and patient encounters, read and discussed books, had didactic sessions on specialized topics, presented projects, and explored our group dynamics and relationships. All things considered, it’s an intense year, not only for the types of situations I encountered in the hospital but also the amount and kind of personal growth that takes place.


Lately, I’ve been reading through Proverbs with the She Reads Truth group, and if there’s a book in the Bible that could sum up CPE, I think that’s it. Wisdom and how to develop it, heeding correction, all of that is what I’ve learned through CPE. My three years of Divinity School were primarily about building up knowledge – theology, church history, Bible, etc. But my year of CPE was about wisdom. As the saying goes, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting a tomato in a fruit salad.” Gaining wisdom has helped me be an effective minister with the knowledge that I learned in Divinity School.


Admittedly, I went into my CPE residency as kind of a last ditch option. Not currently living in the diocese where I’m canonically resident and there not being any other options for full-time, compensated ministry, I contacted the CPE center which just happened to have any empty spot. And at the end of the year, I would whole-heartedly recommend a residency year to anyone interested in ministry, not just chaplaincy. I learned more about myself, ministry, God, and love than I ever imagined, and I got to do it in a safe and educational environment with people supporting, listening, and challenging me.


So, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last year. And now, I’m ready. To use a wine metaphor, I came out of seminary unoaked: definitely drinkable but lacking some mellowing, depth, and structure. CPE Residency was 12 months in an oak barrel. As someone put it at the church where I did my field education and recently supplied, "you’ve really come into your own.” Alright, God, let’s do this thing.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Holla at the Collar

Several weeks ago, I went to a wine tasting at a restaurant bar with a girlfriend of mine. Because I had come straight from the hospital, I was still wearing my work clothes, including my clerical collar. We sat at the head of the bar, talking, enjoying our wine, and splitting a pizza. Little did I know, I was creating a big stir. Eventually, a couple came up to us and said, “Excuse me, but are you a nun?” I smiled and told them that no, I was not a nun; I am an Episcopal priest. They looked pleasantly surprised and informed me that they were Catholic. The next time I went to the same restaurant bar, this time with my husband, the bartenders were highly amused that so many people had been curious about the woman + collar + drinking wine bit. Over the past year that I’ve been wearing the collar in the buckle of the Bible belt, I’ve received some different reactions, most notably confusion and ignorance. This article by Catherine Caimano confirmed what I had been suspecting – most people have no idea what the collar means, particularly when it’s a woman wearing it.

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Another time, I ran out for lunch shortly before Easter weekend. The cashier asked me if I had any big plans for the weekend. I laughed, gestured towards the collar, and said, “Yeah, it’s Easter weekend.” He just looked confused. As Caimano puts it, the purpose of wearing the collar or any kind of religious habit is “to identify the wearer as religious, as someone who bears the traditions of the church even in the secular world and sometimes calls into question the values of that world.” But what good is it if people don’t really know what it means?

I live in a very religious part of the country, but as one of the bartenders in Amerigo put it, “People assume you’re either Baptist or Catholic.” There’s not a lot of room for anything in between and not a lot of knowledge of religious practices outside those two expressions of Christianity. I still fight to be recognized as an educated, called, and ordained minister on some days. Families at the hospital have referred to me as “that nice lady who prayed with us” and not as pastor, priest, minister, or chaplain simply because they don’t have a religious framework that puts together female and minister.

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I love wearing the clerical collar. I love what it represents, even if I have to explain it, and I hope that more people will be like the couple who asked me if I was a nun. Because yes, I am a woman, and yes, I am 27 years old, and yes, I drink wine with my friends or husband at a bar after work sometimes, and yes, I am a priest, and yes, I love Jesus and serve God and God’s Church.

The bigger issue, as Caimano names it, is one of living in a world where Christian signs and symbols are no longer the lingua franca. We (I) can’t just assume that everyone knows what the collar means or what a priest does, even (especially) living in the Bible belt. And that makes it even more crucial to talk about it.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ancho Lentil Tacos

The humble lentil. I often forget about lentils as an option, particularly in Mexican-flavored dishes, because black beans are the obvious choice. Abby introduced me to this dish from Post Punk Kitchen, and I made it for the opening dinner of my ordination weekend festivities. When I added it to last week’s menu, I realized that a) I hadn’t blogged it yet and b) it had been a while since I’d made it. Joe also gave that rare reaction that’s like, “Ancho lentil tacos for dinner? Yes!”

I was trying to steer away from the usual loads o’ carbs I normally eat, so I wrapped my taco filling in some Boston lettuce leaves. It was good, but I felt like such a girl eating stuff out of lettuce leaves. My point being that this filling is very versatile. You can wrap it in lettuce or tortillas or put it on top of a salad or just eat it plain. The cheese and sour cream/Greek yogurt un-veganize it, though I like the filling just as well with a squirt of lime, a slice of avocado, and some cilantro. You don’t even really need ancho chili powder (just sub regular chili powder), but it’s the smoky, roasted flavor that makes this so satisfying to me.

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Ancho Lentil Taco Filling
source: Post Punk Kitchen
Serves 3-4

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups cooked lentils (from about 1 cup dried)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons hot sauce

Spice mix:
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground ancho chile
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine all of the ingredients for the spice mix and set aside. Also, keep a cup of water within reach, so that you can add splashes as you cook.

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sautee the onion and garlic in the oil with a pinch of salt for about 3 minutes, until lightly browned. Add spices and toss them for 30 seconds or so to toast.

Lower heat to medium. Add lentils, a few splashes of water, tomato paste and hot sauce; use a spatula to mash them a bit as they cook, until they hold together. If your spatula isn’t strong enough to accomplish this, just use a fork. Do this for about 5 minutes, adding splashes of water as necessary if it appears dry. Taste for salt and seasoning; you may want to add more spices or hot sauce. Serve warm with the toppings of your choice.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Reflections on the XXX Olympic Games

I love the summer Olympics. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up in a football family or a soccer family or a baseball family. I grew up in a running, swimming, and biking (and sometimes all three in the same event) family. I spent weekends at swim meets. I watched my brother from steaming hot bleachers at track meets. So the way other people feel about the Super Bowl or the NBA Championships, that’s how I feel about the summer Olympics. Thanks to NBC’s weird broadcasting deal, I didn’t get to see as much as I would’ve wanted, but I did get up super early on both Sundays to watch the marathons live. I’ve devoured commentary and re-watched videos and been brought to tears by some wonderfully touching moments and stories. And I wanted to write about it.


1. During the Olympics, I wanted to push myself harder in my workouts. I am, by no stretch of the imagination, a fast runner. But watching each athlete perform in his or her sport, and thinking about the training and time commitment that went into that performance was and is very motivating. Even as a slow amateur athlete, I want to do more. More hills, more miles, more core work, more strength, more form drills, more speed. I’m not ever going to be in the Olympics. I probably won’t ever qualify for the Boston Marathon. But I want to be the best slow-ish amateur athlete I can be.


2. There was a big to-do made about the women in these Olympic games. Every participating nation sent a female athlete! Look at the gold the women brought home! And yet…the NBC coverage of women athletes was embarrassing. Did you know that women can have families and still be professional athletes? Wow! And how many times did we hear correspondents ask male athletes how they balanced training and family life? Not to mention the rude and crude remarks made about women’s bodies and appearances by men and women (Gabby Douglas’ hair anyone?). The patriarchy is alive and well, my friends.


3. In America, we’re mainly accustomed to Protestant evangelical expressions of faith and thankfulness in a sports context: Tebowing, thanking God for a touchdown scored, the gesture of one finger towards heaven, etc. So it was fascinating to me, as someone who straddles the Protestant/Catholic divide, to see equally heartfelt and faithful expressions from (mainly) Eastern Orthodox athletes. At the beginning of the women’s 5000m race, I noticed Dibaba crossing herself. And when Ethiopian Meseret Defar won, she unpinned an icon of the Virgin Mary and child and held it up, kissed it, and draped it over her face. It was stunning and beautiful. I also noticed many of the East Africans in the men’s marathon crossing themselves when they finished.


4. I love when athletes freak out. Mo Farah and Galen Rupp; Carmelita Jeter finishing the 4x100m relay with a world record time; Missy Franklin; Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings; the look on Stephen Kiprotich’s face when he grabbed the Ugandan flag and headed for the marathon finish line with a big, goofy smile on his face. Pure joy. It’s a beautiful thing to see, and something our world needs more of. It’s a good reminder that they’re called the Olympic GAMES. Get out and play.


5. Watching the Olympics has given me a different appreciation for my own body. Not that I’m nearly as fit or gifted as these athletes, but my body shape is a lot more like Jessica Ennis than Jessica Biel. It was refreshing to see women who looked a little like me – muscular legs and strong arms and shoulders. I bet they have trouble finding jeans that fit too. So instead of cursing my body because I’m never going to look like Jennifer Aniston, I can celebrate that my body does a lot more than look pretty. It runs marathons and works out aggression in spin class and can hold a plank. I wouldn’t mind a six-pack though.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Church of Her Own*

I’m a planner. I like having a plan. I like knowing where I’m going and what the next step is going to be and what it is going to look like. Unfortunately, life doesn’t really look like that. It’s how I ended up at Vanderbilt instead of an Episcopal seminary. It’s a big part of the reason why I’m doing this CPE residency year. I make plans; God laughs. Wash, rinse, repeat.

photo (19)

So as my year as a chaplain at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital was coming to a close, I began to panic. Different positions would become available, and then they would be filled. I even interviewed for a position in Memphis, knowing that I would be living three hours away from my husband if I were to take it. I cried, certain that God had called me to the ordained ministry only to torture me. I lived in the margins – neither parish priest nor chaplain, at home in neither Tennessee nor Texas. I prayed furiously for guidance. And then, the call came.

Following a whirlwind few weeks of meetings and prayers and conversations, the decision was made that the Bishop of Tennessee would appoint me as priest-in-charge of Church of the Epiphany, Lebanon, TN. I’m excited and scared and nervous and happy, which is one of my main ways of figuring out if I’m going where I’m supposed to because God knows how to keep me on my toes.

Otherwise, I’m still running every freaking day (68 days and counting). I’m CPE project-presenting, worship-planning, Bible-reading, sermon-writing, and Olympics-watching. I’m trying to say good-bye to people I love at a place where I have done ministry. I’m trying to imagine not coming to work each morning and walking past a statue of a frog playing the fiddle with a light-up belly. I haven’t bought a single vegetable from a Farmers Market all summer. I haven’t cooked anything that wasn’t semi-homemade in weeks. I was asked if I was a nun while drinking wine at a bar with my friend. Basically, I love my crazy, mixed-up, holy, wonderful life.

*Title from this book