Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Run Away

"As long as we are trying to run away from our loneliness we are constantly looking for distractions with the inexhaustible need to be entertained and kept busy."

from Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out (London:  Fount/HarperCollinsReligious, 1997), 27.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

New Season, End of Year One

What a year.  It's strange going back to school after any kind of absence.  It's strange learning and training to do something you love after wandering through a post-graduate liminal length of time of entry-level jobs and self-questioning.  I learned this year that going to seminary neither fixes nor exacerbates your problems--it merely exposes them, taunting you, "What are you going to do about it?"  Exposure certainly feels like exacerbation, but self-honesty helps one to see the situation clearly.

I reported last that I was probably taking Hebrew, maybe doing CPE, and definitely taking a June intensive.  Well, scratch all that and reverse it.  I'm neither taking Hebrew nor a June intensive but am 100% for CPE.  I've just finished my first week.  I'll explain for the non-initiated:  CPE stands for something like "Clinical Practical Education" and is a required 400 hr service-ministry internship for all ordinands in the diocese of Pittsburgh.  Many people in the area spend a summer at the VA hospital, daily learning how to hold to God's light vis-a-vis the stark realities of life and death, mortality and disease--and deal with the attendant emotional stress, no less.  

Our program at the jail is not federally certified, so I could not count it towards becoming a chaplain, but it has been approved by the diocese to count towards the ordination process.  It is therefore not officially "CPE," so our chaplain has retitled it "Pastoral Reflection Group."  Why the jail, then?  Well, the jail is 40 minutes closer and the program costs $200 less.  And the chaplain is awesome.  Let me tell you about Denny Ugoletti.

Denny (Dennis) is my dad's age, bright-silver haired and about 5'8".  He grew up here, in Western Pennsylvania, before and after the collapse of the steel industry.  A speed-reading former boatman, Denny delivers both simple Bible truth and wise theological reflection in the blue-collar cadences of steel-town Italianglese.*  He's goodfella as well-read pastor.  He's been a jail chaplain for nearly twenty years and is ordained in the Assemblies of God.  Robert Webber's Ancient-Future Faith rocked his ecclesiology without negating his pneumatology and so he's been at Trinity full time this year (that's another way of saying it changed the way he thought about church without quenching the Spirit).  He is a riot to have in class, as his sharp wit comes at you sideways through the Scorsese-dialect.  My recent favorite ad-lib was at the talent show when, asked to read a joke from a sheet of paper, he stopped mid-setup, free-associating into a real-life story much funnier than whatever cheesy joke he'd been assigned ("You're giving birth to a rug!").  In short, I can't imagine learning jail ministry from anyone better.

It's strange, the way the heart works.  I own the curious combination of a fiercely rational mind and a heart which feels so deeply that it readily clouds my judgment and analysis; I am intellectual-passionate.   Both mind and emotions were on full throttle this year, each spilling over into the other, making it difficult to always sort out my proper responses (please forgive me a little vaguery on these points).  But if I say that being trained and evaluated to do that which I have always had eyes for--namely Christian ministry--has brought a deeper level of stress than undergraduate life managed, perhaps you understand.  Before I cared because of vague notions about having a "job" once I graduated, now I care because it's the most important thing I know of.  No pressure, right?

Only this week have I made peace with a place of pain I've carried with me most of this year.  I literally have been under academic pressure since Labor Day last year through the last assignment I submitted this Wednesday; once this semester's deadlines passed I have finally had the clarity of mind to clean heart and home.  Bryan and I made some real progress on the apartment Thursday night and plan to do more today.  I really want to cook more this summer.

*Italian-American English.  Pronounced ee-tal-yan'-glehy-say.