A message from your chaplain

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Posted by w0ep on April 20, 2020 at 6:33 am

[Yesterday’s run: 3 miles]

To the Grandview Park Baptist School Class of 1980

You elected me as your chaplain in the fall of 1979. I didn’t become a pastor or much of a spiritual leader and the height of my formal theological education was David Board’s theology class. But I would like to claim my position on this occasion of the 40th anniversary of our graduation to do a chaplain-like thing.

Here we are, 40 years since our graduation from high school. I hope they have been good years. But I suspect yours were like mine, a full measure of experiences from despair to delight.

I saw something in the news about the Corona virus. They listed statistics about the ages of the people most affected, and the age range from 40- 60 they labeled “middle age”. I always thought middle meant half way. Do they expect people will start living to 120?

You know, when I was a student, when the year was winding down toward final exams I would take stock of my grades to see if I was in trouble. Mostly I was a B+ student without working too hard. So I would take stock and see that I maybe needed a little more effort in one course or I had some other course pretty much under control, all aiming for my usual outcome. If I got a C that was a little disappointing. If I got an A, good for me.

So things usually turned out the way they had in the past.

I’m sure after 40 years you can look back like I can and see a string of past events that are a mix of failure and success. But a lot of who you are and where you are at probably reflects who you were and what you started from 40 years ago.

In addition we each have this structure of life, patterns and obligations that we’ve built around ourselves in order to have some stability and control.

I have bills that I have to pay at certain times of the month. And they send me new statements every month. And I have income that arrives at predictable times. I have these obligations and reminders and arrivals and departures. I have people that I know, most of them are good for me but some maybe are not. But I have relationships now and there are expectations and agreements and promises and contracts. And I muddle through it all in my usual B+ don’t-work-too-hard way.

With the combination of our genetics, our experiences, the life structures we build around ourselves, sometimes it is easy to consider all of the deciding is over. I am who I am and if that’s not good enough then too bad.

I am who I am

I understand that attitude. The problem is that I can’t sustain this. And neither can you. The structures of control are just not as effective as they once were. If they ever were. One of the features of the current virus scare is the spotlight of uncertainty it has put on such basic things as getting groceries or having a job that doesn’t require you daily to risk your health.

Well, it’s not very chaplain-like of me to point out your troubles (and mine). I think a chaplain is supposed to be a comforting person, someone who gives hope. That may explain why I wasn’t very good at it, not the comforting part. But maybe I can help a bit with the hope part.

I had kind of a pivotal time in my life shortly after we broke up. I moved away and I was on my own and I had to decide if this stuff I had learned about God and the Bible, even just the concepts of religion and faith, if any of that was going to be an ongoing thing or just left behind. Was I going to go to church. Was I going to pray or read my Bible or what. I look back now and I see myself a bit like a bird getting pushed out of the nest. And some parts have stuck with me and other parts haven’t. Church going has been pretty easy, up until recently anyway. Praying is harder and Bible reading is probably the hardest. Real Bible study of the self-directed kind is really hard.

Some of you I’m sure have done just fine without any of that. It was something you suffered through in school. You closed the door on it and haven’t looked back and as far as you can tell things have turned out about the same or better than it would have anyway.

I really am not getting in your face about it either way.

But, I’ve noticed that most people have some things they would like to change. And with our current trajectory and natural aging we’re going to have less physical strength and probably less money, fewer resources in general to fight off our troubles.

My advice as your chaplain, which I can back up with Bible stuff if you want, is ASK. If there is something you need, ASK FOR IT.

That sometimes works with people. Frequently it does.

But really I’m talking about asking things from God. And I am 100% in favor of the God-if-you-are-out-there type of asking. Ask for wisdom. Ask for faith. Ask for a better car or money to pay the bills (or smaller bills), or less pain in your joints or to lose weight or quit smoking or that the neighbor would stop playing loud music so you can sleep. ASK FOR IT

What little experience I’ve had, the people who wanted to make a change in their life who have had some success doing it, they ASKED for it. I’ve seen that happen even when I’m not sure they knew who they were asking.

ASK. That’s my message.

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  • On April 20, 2020 at 8:06 am Jill Tassell Osborne said

    Excellent, Chris!!!!!! Thank you so much. I couldn’t agree more.

  • On April 20, 2020 at 9:19 am Mark walter said

    Good thoughts Chris!! Thank you. The song I remember most from then was the Statler Brothers “Class of ’57 ( had their dreams)”

  • On April 22, 2020 at 12:22 am Jonathan Howard said

    I wish the virus was taken more seriously 3 months ago by our leadership. But we were, instead placated. Nothing to worry about. Gone by April. Growing up I learned about the Great War. Lusitania. Trench warfare. These things were taught in school. But it wasn’t until later in life I learned about the Spanish Flu ,that happened in the same era. Probably from something I saw on PBS. Pandemics aren’t sexy.

    Interesting to think about high school. I can’t recall the last time I did that. I still have a McD uniform that I wore from that era. But that’s pretty much it.

    I have friends with high school and college age kids. The mindset is more competitive than it was for me. High GPA and college focus. And lots of extra-curricular things. Also the classes are more fun than I remember mine being. But what do you expect when you take biology where the doctrine is Biblical fundamentalism? – Noah and the flood really happened. I could have gone to public school but that meant getting up earlier and taking the bus. I had no idea what Physics or Calc was until college. I had some serious catching up to do there.

    As for paying bills, in recent news I read about how 70,000,000 people have debts in collections or don’t have enough cash for an emergency. This after ten years into a long (but slow) recovery. These folks may have had medical bills that put them over or maybe they just buy things they can’t afford. Our consumer culture is all about the “ask for it” concerning material goods.

    In graduate school I “asked for it” – straight A one semester. I made my presence known by being respectfully inquisitive. Went to see professors at office hours. I learned how to use the finance calculator without thinking. These were the days when you got your grades over the phone. I called in and listened after the semester. Straight As – five classes (which was a heavy load, all thing considered). I always took five classes as the cost was the same as if you took four, or close. But I never cared about the grades except that one semester. (Nobody has ever asked me about my college GPA.)

    40 years since HS is _old_. I’m right behind you. I’m fine with it – it’s part of the deal and in the West we have modernity, which makes it more fun and less struggle. We go camping for enjoyment. Get away from it all by foregoing electricity and running water. I’m thinking there must be several billion people who think doing that is nuts.

    • On April 22, 2020 at 6:57 am w0ep said

      That’s interesting.
      Things were opening up, more self-actualization, in our 20’s.
      Now I think maybe it will be the other way over the next 20-30 years
      where we will have less to work with, fewer choices. And I wonder
      about whether I’ve equipped myself for that.

      Recently my weight has started sneaking back up. I lost quite a bit
      by counting calories and I’ve started to think maybe I should start
      counting again. But I don’t want to. So I have this power and I
      know it works but I just don’t want to do it. Which means my
      motivational circuits are still a mystery in some sense.

      So I am somewhat fascinated by your turn in graduate school
      and even my own “will I go to church” moment. What is that extra
      element that was missing and then arrives? If someone says
      “I need help with this” it seems to make a difference.
      Maybe it is only the recognition of the problem… but a lot
      of people go to drug rehab then get out and do more drugs.
      There is a corner to be turned.

      I’m not a materialist, I think there are spiritual forces at
      work in the world around us and that calls for help will sometimes be answered.
      Maybe I’m wrong about that, but I haven’t been convinced otherwise.
      And one test of a theory is to work it and see what happens.
      So ask and see what happens.

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