Friday, December 10, 2010

Already, and not yet...

(Audio coming soon...)

It's getting colder these past few days. I'm sure you’ve already made the annual trip to the attic to pull out the winter coats. It’s colder, the nights are longer and now that we've had Thanksgiving and eaten quite a bit too much, there seems to be only a short sprint between now and Christmas and the depths of winter.

Living on the Pacific Coast we're quite sheltered from “real” seasons, which is in many ways a great joy. But just the other day I was thinking about those long dark winters back in New York state, where for weeks at a time you're lucky if the thermometer breaks twenty degrees during the middle of the day. The snow, which can be so beautiful for the first few weeks, eventually turns into a dark, muddy mess. It clings to the undersides of your car, it is pushed by snowplows into giant hills in nearly every parking lot or open space and long after the Christmas lights have come down, the trees left on the curb – long after the parties and revelry of New Year's have dimmed, long after the presents have been opened the pies and cookies have been eaten, people settle indoors to wait out the winter.

It can take awhile.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Good English Mystery

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Do you remember the board-game Clue? As a child, Clue was one of the those guilty pleasures, along with Monopoly, Risk, Life and a host of other games, that kept my friends and I entertained for hours at a time. We would move our multi-colored pieces around the board -- which came in the form of an idealized English Tudor Mansion -- complete with a conservatory and a billiard room, while our alter-egos tried to solve the heinous murder that had taken place there. There were only so many potential suspects and murder weapons, and so eventually it would be discovered that Colonel Mustard had offed the hapless victim with candlestick in the Dining Room.  We kids would giggle with glee and the process would begin again. Mystery solved.

Clue is terribly English, a fact you can discern that just from the setting, and it pays homage to a long literary tradition buoyed by names like Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. Like the game Clue, Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot will always solve the case. There’s no question that the inspector’s powers of deduction will break-through the complex and overbearing motives of the murderer -- and usually, on a dark and stormy night the inspector will lock the potential suspects in room and reveal, step-by-step, the fruits of his investigation. Elementary My Dear Watson, case-closed, there’s no questions about the verdict and we’re all home in time for supper.

That’s one kind of mystery. It has a clear beginning, middle and end. It’s amendable to logic and deduction -- there’s never any question that a clever mind will discern the answer. And so by definition Christie and Doyle and Clue are logic problems and not real mysteries.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Leaps of Faith

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When I was about 12 years old, my parents took me to a summer camp deep in the mountains of Western North Carolina.  On those hot summer days there were plenty of activities to keep even the most energy filled adolescent busy: camping and hiking and even sailing on the lake when the sun burned the clouds away.  But that wasn’t all. I'll never forget one afternoon when our counselor announced that we’d be “building teamwork” today. He took us up into the hills and led us through a rigorous ropes course, as the Carolina sun caused sweat to pour down our brows and soak our cotton t-shirts.

When we finished the course, our counselor, with a gleeful grin, led our weary group towards one final exercise: an aluminum step-ladder that sat in the shady corner of a soccer field.  He told us that we were about to engage in a “trust fall.”  For those of you who never had the pleasure of being a scout or attending a rustic summer camp, I’ll let you in on a little secret. A “trust fall” is as silly an idea as a well-meaning Boy Scout leader could invent. The basic concept is that a few lucky souls step up to the top of the ladder while their comrades position themselves in rows facing inward on either side. The trusting, (or perhaps foolhardy) young person falls backwards blindly into the supportive embrace of his peers, and not, as luck would have it, past them or through them.

At the front of our little group were the Eagle Scout types -- the ones that volunteered for the three-day overnight hikes, the ones who could scale the climbing wall in record time and who took pride in their ability to build fires with one match and some damp kindling --  and of course, they were the first to volunteer for the trust fall, jumping up and down, “Ohhh! Pick me!”  But the counselor looked right past them, looked back towards the fringes of the group, and made an attempt to meet my eyes, which were probably focused squarely on the ground. “Dominic,” he said, in a  paternalistic bass, “why don’t you give it a try?”

Friday, August 20, 2010

CPE Closing Remarks

Given at the graduation from Clinical Pastoral Education at UC Davis Medical Center, August 20th, 2010. -DM

Good Morning. So, I have to be honest with you, the graduation, at least for some of us, has been a long time in coming.

My name is Dominic Moore, I’m a student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Now, If you’re a seminary student like myself, you hear stories about Clinical Pastoral Education long before you ever encounter it for yourself. From time to time, you run into these upper class students in the hallways and you ask them about CPE and a far-off look comes over them, as if they’re recalling some distant and yet powerful memory. “Good luck,” they’ll tell you with a mischievous grin, “you’ll just have to find out for yourself.”

And I did find out for myself. CPE is everything that I had heard and more.

Now some of you are here because you know one of us, and others, well....  “Free Breakfast” right?  So what exactly is CPE, Clinical Pastoral Education, you might ask, and why is it such a target of both love and animosity from seminarians and pastors around the country? Why do my classmates talk about it as if it was one of the most difficult experiences of their lives, “the hardest thing I ever loved,” in one case?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Weeping for Joy

An essay written during Clinical Pastoral Education at UC Davis Medical Center. -DM

The call finally came. It was a call I dreaded, had feared – had hoped would never come. But it came and there was nothing to do but answer it.

The nurse's hushed voice spoke volumes. “Fetal Demise” she whispered over the telephone, using euphemism like a dam to hold back a river of tears. But in truth I already knew the reason: "Birthing and Delivery" the pager read, knowing too little.

Inside the room, a bright July afternoon dulled to twilight gray, filtered through drawn window blinds. The young woman, just into her twenties, sat in silence and I entered like a trespasser, to proffer my badge – and do what? I didn't know. What was there to say in that dark room, muffled in mourning and fearful expectation? For the moment I let silence envelope us.

“Did I sin?” she asked, from behind hollow eyes. “No!,” I was moved to answer, “It wasn't you, you didn't do anything wrong...” Assurance without hope – the “why” of it hanging limply overhead, unspoken. “Does she have a name?” I asked, but quickly wished I hadn't.

“Joy,” she whispered.

And then I wept, and wept, and could not stem the weeping. Our hands clasped in anguish, her sorrow welling up from the pit and the terrible death she bore bearing down on us both, burrowing into the spirit. And there was nothing to do but pray for Joy, and weep for Joy and beg that God would carry this Joy, whose own mother would never hold her, into the arms of silence.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


"The First Mourning." William-Adolphe Bouguereau. 1888.

What I learned...

I wrote this piece for the Fall issue of "Crossings," the CDSP newsletter.  -DM  

    I can't remember his name, afterward there would be too many others; but every other detail of that night is fixed in my mind, outlined in fluorescent. The pager buzzing me awake at three in the morning, the cool darkness of the CPE on-call room, the worry in the eyes of the night-shift nurse, the family weeping in fear and exhaustion from their vigil, and finally, him, the one whose name I can't recall. They had just decided to place him on comfort care, they told me, the morphine drip opened wide to cancel out the pains that ravaged his body, to apply a final panacea to the AIDS that stole the life of this twenty-two year old man, dying in front of me. The rasping, shallow gasps from behind the oxygen mask told the story plainly, and each time he skipped a beat, each mind in the crowded room thought, but never said, that it might have been his last.

    In my own weariness and exhaustion I fumbled foolishly with the prayerbook, praying silently that two years of seminary, systematic theology, church history, field education, would somehow prepare me for this terrible space of suffering, grief and death. I placed my hand on his forehead and I began to pray, the words feebly filling the space between our two bodies: “...a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock...” Words that sounded more confident than their speaker, bursting with the promise of life everlasting: “Receive him into the arms of your mercy...”

    Fredrick Buechner says that all religion is “wishful thinking.” I think that's another way of saying “faith.” It's faith that bread and wine are Body and Blood. It's faith that words printed on tissue paper can change the world, it's faith that what is unseen is more important than what is seen, and finally, it's faith that my shaking hands and bleary eyes and quivering voice can find service in the Kingdom of God. Seminary helped me find the faith, hard-won and wavering though it sometimes is, to get out of the way and let the Spirit do its work.