Monday, June 30, 2008

I Think You Got That Wrong

I don't know if you can read the sign in the photo below; I took the picture with my cell phone from a moving car, so it's not the best resolution. At any rate, the sign reads, "Don't Let Me Come Down There - God."*

I turned to One Ring and said, "Who would have thought? A church that is actually opposed to the Second Coming of Jesus!"

Of course, the big question is, how exactly does one prevent God from doing anything? After all, if God is all powerful, doesn't it necessarily follow that God can't be stopped? Well, this church apparently thinks that it can put a halt to any Divine plans. I'll have to call them and ask about it, because they must have one heck of a powerful ministry, if they can stop God cold!

* And yes, I know that the sign should read, "Don't Make Me Come Down There! - God." It's just far funnier imagining that the church actually wanted their sign's message to read the way it does!

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Something to Think About As We Approach Independence Day

On Sunday, One Ring read a quotation from the "This I Believe" series on National Public Radio. I found it very powerful, so I thought I'd pass it along.

I believe in the pursuit of happiness. Not its attainment, nor its final definition, but its pursuit. I believe in the journey, not the arrival; in conversation, not monologues; in multiple questions rather than any single answer. I believe in the struggle to remake ourselves and challenge each other in the spirit of eternal forgiveness, in the awareness that none of us knows for sure what happiness truly is, but each of us knows the imperative to keep searching. I believe in the possibility of surprising joy, of serenity through pain, of homecoming through exile.

And I believe in a country that enshrines each of these three things, a country that promises nothing but the promise of being more fully human, and never guarantees its success. In that constant failure to arrive - implied at the very beginning - lies the possibility of a permanently fresh start, an old newness, a way of revitalizing ourselves and our civilization in ways few foresaw and one day many will forget. But the point is now. And the place is America.

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It Is Decided

Going to be a lot of changes in my life. I just fired off a volley of emails in which I accepted a position as an addiction therapist here at the hospital. Unfortunately, the wheels of progress turn exceptionally slow, so it looks like I will be a chaplain for another month or so before all the red tape and paper work is sorted out. Then I get to start a completely new career.

Seems strange, really. For the first time in over fourteen years, I will not be engaged in a "ministry" related field. Oh, sure, it could be argued that addiction therapy is a type of ministry, but it does not really involve religion and spirituality (yes, I know the 12-step program is based on the Judeo-Christian spirituality / religions).

Okay, fine. I'm doing the same thing I've always been doing, just with a different group. But I will be doing it without the church. Why? Because this sort of work does not fall under the official rubric of ministry. So they do not endorse it as such. As far as their concerned, I've just fallen off the grid. Should I ever decide to re-enter church work, or hospital chaplaincy, I'll have to jump through all kinds of hoops and cut through gobs of paper work and red tape. So, for now and for the forseeable future, I'm performing live without a net. Not that they ever offered me much of a net to begin with.

At any rate, looks like at some point in the near future, the Pirate Chaplain is going to drop the "Chaplain" and become "the Pirate Therapist" or some such. I'll be keeping the same web address, never fear. It's only my life that's changing. The internet is eternal - so long as the bills get paid! : )

More later on today. I'm on the hunt for caffeine!

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Friday, June 27, 2008

The Employment Dilemma

As the saying goes, it never rains, but it pours. So now I have a welcome, but difficult, dilemma.

Which is better, a job with little security and no benefits, but pays very, very well and involves interaction with a lot of people, or a job that doesn't pay that well, has benefits and security, but requires a great deal of solitutde and driving?

As I mentioned earlier, I had two interviews with the hospice firm. It's now down to me and one other person for at least one of the two positions offered. Thing is, the job involves a ton of driving in an area far from my home. Traffic being the way it is around here, we're talking a lot of time spent on the road, alone, with little interaction with colleagues. On the plus side, there's job security and very good benefits. My income will be just so-so, however.

Meanwhile, I was all but offered the addiction therapist "fee base" position here at the hospital. Fee base means that I work on a renewable 6-month contract for an incredible amount of money. On the down side, there are no benefits, including no vacation. So if I don't work, I don't get paid. I'll also have to pay for my own health insurance, retirement, and so forth. There are permanent positions that are coming open that I may be able to jump to, but until then, I can be terminated due to lack of work, funding, or any other reason (or lack thereof) with little or no notice.

Which would you choose? Obviously, we're all in different places in life, but if you were married (with no children) to a wife who was a Ph.D. student (so we're going to be moving in roughly 3 years), which would be more appealing? By the way, the chaplain job opportunities here with which I've been fighting for the last several months are all but dead and buried. Looks like there's just no way I can make that work.

More on this as I find out more. I'll probably be making a decision within the next week or so. I'm exhausted from the job search limbo. One of my deciding factors is based on my contemplating this question: where can I do the most good for the most people?

In the meantime, though, I'm trying to get the advice of as many people as possible. So, again, what do you think about this?

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Oh, Where to Begin?

The day is over, thank the Lord! As promised, here is the running update of all the drama in my life. I'm serious, I really need to get this shirt:

First, The Job Drama!

After being told to get my paperwork in to human resources, I spent this morning preparing the last of the paperwork, printing out reams of documents, looking up addresses, and so forth. Only to be told by human resources that no, I could not apply for the chaplain positions at this time. Why? Because first round goes to the chaplains who already have jobs and are in the system! The people who don't need employment are the first to be considered. Yeah, that sounds fair.

Over on the hospice agency end of things, the interviews went well. Although I was less enthusiastic after the second interview, I was told that it is down to me and one other person. In fact, one of the questions the interviewer asked was, "Why shouldn't I hire the other person?"

My response was, "Well, not knowing the other person, I can't really give you specifics ..." She laughed and then I gave a BS-laden response on why I'm the best possible hospice chaplain since sliced bread. I was told that I should have a response from them within the next two weeks.

Meanwhile over in the addiction therapy ward, I spoke with the director today about a rumor of a position opening up. She said that there is a precarious temp job open that does not have benefits, but pays extremely well. They have a position possibly opening up in August, but that depends on the powers that be over on Mahogany Row (where the really nice offices are!). The downside of applying for that position is that I would have to jump through all the hoops that I've just spent the last several months leaping through. Again. For a different department. For the same HR department. Sigh!

In other non-work news, Tigger and Pooh and baby Boo came and went. They arrived Tuesday evening, and left Wednesday afternoon. Way too short a visit, though it was great to spend what time we could with them. Boo is super cute, and Barney got along great with her, which was quite the relief. Anyway, we're looking forward to October, when One Ring and I are travelling down to Disney World, are meeting the gang there, and can spend time with them again!

There may be more stuff to report on, but the clock says 4:00 now, and I really want to end this day. So if I forgot to mention anything, it will have to wait until tomorrow. Have a great rest of the day!


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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

On My Way!

Today I have my second interview with the hospice firm. Miracle of miracles, my boss happened to call last night to tell me that he wouldn't be in until later and to cancel a meeting. I reminded him of my interview and told him that I'd be taking a long lunch - and he told me to just take the rest of the day off! Coolness and happy dances all around!

All of this is really fortuitous, because Tigger, Pooh, and baby Boo are arriving this evening. One Ring and I did some straightening up, but there's still a lot of cleaning to be done. Barney is shedding like a fiend due to the warm weather, so the fur is flying. Which means that this afternoon will be spent cleaning and vacuuming. I'm just hoping that I have some energy left when company finally arrives!

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Monday, June 23, 2008

And the Day Improves Even More!

Huzzah! My 1:00 meeting was cancelled. Not only that, but there aren't any crises on my floors. Woohoo! That means I have time to take a break and get ready for my assessments at 2:30. Those should last until 4, and then the day is done!

In the meantime, I'm doing more religious research. I need to find a transcript of a lecture that the Rev. Dr. Walter Brueggeman gave to the Southeast Conference of the UCC a few weeks back. In it, he supposedly said (I wasn't there, so I'm hearing this second or third hand), "God isn't omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent," which of course flies in the face of orthodox Christian views. According to the story that our pastor told One Ring, the next day the minister who was giving the sermon at the morning worship service said, "God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent!" Ahh, you got to love passive-aggressive religious debate! : ) Anyway, we'll see if I can find the talk.

Okay, time to wander over to the other building and see what I can stir up. I have to present a verbatim this week, so I hope that something interesting happens (in a good way, of course!).


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I Had Hoped For Moments Like This

Well, the job search is in full swing. As I posted earlier, the interview on Tuesday went well, I have another one scheduled for this Tuesday, two more jobs posted for positions here, and I just got a phone call from the substance abuse treatment ward asking me to apply for a position that they have coming up! Sure, I'm not trained or qualified for addiction therapy, but hey, it looks like they think I can do the job!

It's still way too early to think that I'm out of the woods and my career is about to take off ("And everything's coming up roses!" as Ethel Merman sang in the movie Airplane!). But it's a whole lot better than it was a few weeks ago, when there was nothing on the horizon and the hospice jobs here looked like they would not materialize. I'm just praying that this change for the better maintains some momentum!

In other news, I ended up not going to the Tibetan Buddhist center yesterday. One Ring got in late Saturday night, and I was just too tired to get organized and make the drive in to Nashville. I do plan on going again, if for no other reason than to ask the "big question" - okay, my "big question" - namely, "If everything is seen as being 'empty,' that is, devoid of independent and permanent existance, what is up with all these divine beings and deities that are spoken of as if they were exceptions to emptiness?" We'll see if I can make sense of that. I like the place, like I said - they even have a course coming up in Tibetan! (doing the geek happy dance) - but there are days when I have trouble believing in one Divine being, let alone a whole pantheon that I wasn't expecting to show up in Buddhism!

Yeah, I'm neurotic, I know. : ) And curious to a fault. Take this morning for instance. Chaplain HQ sent us a list of religious traditions that they recognize. Most of them I recognized, but some (such as Bon, Cao Dai, and the Fourth Way) I have never heard of. So some moments of today are going to be spent doing research. Just for fun, of course. The odds of me running into a Cao Dai practitioner in suburban Tennessee are pretty remote, I think!

Today looks to be a pretty smooth one. Meetings and spiritual assessments in the afternoon, followed by a cleaning session at the house. We just found out that Tigger and Pooh are stopping by on their whirlwind family reunion tour tomorrow, and our house needs some fixing up. I've got a headache coming on, and every so often my vision goes kinds squirrely. I'm fearing that I may have a migraine coming on. Haven't had one of those in a while. Now would not be a good time for one (like there's ever a good time!).

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I Knew It!

All through high school and college, I wondered why guys who were, well, just plain evil kept getting the nice girls. I was the guy to whom the women would run and complain about their boyfriends, but when I would ask them out, I would get the dreaded response of "But I think of you more like a brother . . ." Gag! Anyway, I knew that being a jerk was somehow attractive to women back in the day, but I never could understand why.

Well, now New Mexico State University has started research on this mystery. Here's an article on their research. 'bout time, I say!

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Searching for . . . Something

As is probably evident by the name of this blog, I've been looking for something for a long time. Answers, meaning, hope, peace, whatever. I've been all over the world, from Siberia (don't go there) to the cathedrals of Europe, to the ancient Mayan temples of the Yucatan. Everywhere I went, I met people who thought that they had all the answers. Along the way, I got my Masters in Divinity, which basically just taught me to question everything more and harder than I already did. Mind you, this didn't make me all that popular with people I dated, worked with, or otherwise met in day to day life ("You actually believe that sh*t?" is not a good way to begin a conversation, I discovered!)

At this point in my life, I am ordained in a denomination with which I often have a love / hate relationship. I love that they're willing to take a stand for minority rights to the point which drives the mainstream nuts (gay marriage, racial reconciliation, anti-war protests, and so forth). At the same time, the churches I've worked in and now attend often seem so disorganized, confused, and, well, random (if you accept people who have differing opinions, you get people who have all kinds of opinions - it's a double edge sword) that it seems like nothing productive ever gets done.

So I took a vacation and decided that now was a good time to fully immerse myself in my long-time interest in Buddhism. Working as a chaplain actually gave me a great cover to do so, since the hospital is more concerned with me showing up on time and visiting patients than where I spent my Sunday mornings! So first I went to a Zen center in Nashville, but found that not only was there no one available to answer questions - they did not have a leader, or roshi - they mostly just sat around complaining about their previous religious experiences in local churches, temples, and synagogues. Not good.

From there, last week in fact, I went to the Tibetan Buddhist center. I chose Tibetan Buddhism because I've been following the unrest there, have been reading books (Dalai Lama, Pema Chodron, Chogyam Trungpa, etc.) and were impressed by their ideas. This group has a leader and is connected to a larger organization with ties to Tibet (and they have a bookstore!), so I could ask questions and get some answers. They recommended a book written by their leaders, two brothers who fled their monastery in Tibet when the Chinese invaded. I've been reading it all week, and, well, here's where the problems come in.

When you've been raised and educated to turn a critical eye towards claims of the supernatural, be it the parting of the Red Sea to the Virgin Birth, you end up being very skeptical towards EVERY claim that smacks of the unreal. This morning I turned on the television and saw that there was a show about UFOs over Puerto Rico. Nope, not buying that for an instant. Pictures are too fuzzy and there's no physical evidence. Nothing scientific, in other words.

It's the same with religious claims. Last night I read the following:

"When great masters like Buddha Shakyamuni and Guru Padmasambhava realized the emptiness of all phenomena, they were able to do things like sit and walk in the sky and leave their hand prints and footprints in solid rock. Anyone who has the same realization of the true nature can do these things" (Opening to Our Primordial Nature, pg 91).

Now I realize that Tibetan Buddhism inherited a huge amount of mythological input from Hinduism and tribal religions in the region. But for a 21st century person (me) to just accept this stuff outright is extremely difficult - if not impossible. And it really left an odd taste in my mouth, the way going to church on Christmas Eve felt right after I had read a collection of essays pointing out potential errors in the story of the Virgin Birth. Everything sounded right up until then . . . and then you realize that what you thought you knew has disappeared like smoke. At some point, you come to the conclusion that just about everything is a metaphor for something else. The hard part is getting to that "something else."

On the plus side, knowing what you don't believe in is almost as good as knowing what you do believe in. Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Well, maybe the unexamined faith is not worth having, either. If that's the case, then I'm moving in the right direction.

By the way, I've added a new link to the side bar. It's Dharma Punx - Noah Levine's website. Basically he was an angry punk rocker who rebelled against the unfulfilled promises of the '60s - as we all have to one extent or another. After the usual drugs, sex, rock and roll and violence (and a prison record to boot), he discovered Zen and is now an instructor in LA. And he does all this without giving up his punk rocker desire to burn down the BS in the world. I can respect that. Hopefully, One Ring or someone will get me his books for my birthday (next month. I'm pretty difficult to buy for, so I have restrictions placed on my purchases during the month of June. Plus money's tight!).

Sorry for the length and rambling nature of this post. Seems there's a lot on my mind today. Well, time to get cleaned up and head off to do some errands.


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Friday, June 20, 2008

Now If I Could Only Find My Desire to Work!

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At Last, The End

Of the week, that is. I was once diagnosed as severely depressed, so now I have to qualify statements like the above title so as not to get hit with emails from friends and relatives asking about my well being. Funny how life goes. I once considered suicide as an option, and now I work with people who are either consciously or unconsciously committing suicide through substance abuse.

Speaking of substance abuse, I watched A Scanner Darkly last night. Odd film. I enjoyed it, even though Keanu Reeves was in it, playing the same character that he always plays. Seriously, you could have taken any of his characters, from Neo in The Matrix series to the FBI agent in Point Break, and put them in this role, and it would have been exactly the same.

Obviously, I'm not a fan of Reeves. But still, it turned out to be a good movie. Didn't hurt that it was based on the novel of the same name by Phillip K. Dick, which is at least semi-autobiographical. Apparently the guy had a deep knowledge of psychosis caused by excessive drug use; there's a list of "fallen" friends who either died or were turned into human vegetables by heavy drug use.

The movie had its share of twists, but most of them I figured out right before they happened. I won't spoil the plot, but I will say that the film's use of animation - it's the same style as one brokerage firm was using for a while in its commercials, a weird sort of cell shading on top of live action - works. The opening scene, where Rory Cochrane's character is experiencing DTs and feels like bugs are infesting every inch of his body, is well done and darkly humorous.

Is it a buy? No, not really. But a good rental if you're looking for a movie that presents the darker side of drug usage, corruption, and has an (un)healthy dose of paranoia. The decline of Reeves' character into madness is pretty interesting to watch, too.

Other than that, nothing much interesting going on. I made it through the first day without One Ring okay, save that I almost lost Barney. Somehow he got the backyard gate open, and escaped into the front yard. I was taking a nap at the time, so I didn't realize his absense right away. Scared the crud out of me. Fortunately, his interest in some yard debris kept him close to the house, and I was able to get him to come back. This morning, I made dang sure that the house and gate were secured.

Let's hope that's the last time that happens! I'm going to get him microchipped, next chance we get.

Okay, that's all for now. I've finished my first counseling session of the day, now it's time for floor visits. Have a good one.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

No More. Please, No More.

I'm exhausted. Really, truly beat. I didn't think that I did all that much out of the ordinary, aside from getting One Ring to the airport, teaching my class, doing one counseling session, and then getting out to do that memorial service. But I guess the running around and heat got to me, because now I'm dead tired. I'm actually thinking of sneaking off early (I just checked - I'm not on call today! Woohoo!) and taking an hour sick time. Or I may just fall asleep in the office until its time to go. Either option sounds good to me right now.

Tonight is going to be an seriously boring one. And that's a good thing. I have a movie coming in via Netflix - I think it's A Scanner Darkly, or something like that - and I need to water the new plants. That's all I plan on doing.

Oh, One Ring called. She's safe in LA. Everything is going good, except that Southwest apparently doesn't feed people on cross country flights. So she's now looking for food. She's already met up with some of the people from her school, so they're travelling in a group, which makes me feel much better.

Well, that's all from here. I'm going to surf the net and crash until it's time for me to go home. And in honor of my feeling dead, I give you this Haunted Mansion related quiz I just stumbled upon:

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Updates Galore

First a brief news flash: My interview went very well. Everyone smiled and laughed in all the appropriate places (as opposed to, "You think you're qualified for this? Ha ha ha ha!), and a contact I have on the inside said that the interviewers were impressed - must have been with how I balance the Bible, Koran, Dhammapada, and Tao Te Ching on my nose at the same time while singing the finale from Les Miserables; that gets them every time! I'm interviewing for a second position at the same hospice firm on Tuesday, so please continue to send happy thoughts, prayers, meditations, etc.

But that's not all that's been going on here!

I just dropped One Ring off at the airport on my way to work. She's heading to LA for a conference on Pastoral Theology - and no, I can't explain what that is, so don't ask! According to her professor, people who attend these shindigs are more likely to get hired, since they're a lot of meet and greets in addition to the workshops and lectures. So I sent her off with a fond farewell and a request to get something nice for me (if she comes back with anything "Lakers" on it, she's in trouble! Celtics rock!). So it's just Barney and me doing the bachelor thing until Saturday night, when I get her at the airport. I'm just hoping the house is still standing when she returns. Barney has a way of doing things like that.

One Ring's father came into town on Tuesday with a friend of his - a really nice man from Morocco - and did an awesome job landscaping our property (yes, we often put house guests to work, so don't come looking for a free meal!). We planted three trees in our backyard, and buried Peanut's (our Dachshund who died in July) ashes under the middle tree. Then we planted some more flowers in our front beds. One Ring's dad surprised us by replacing a dead tree in our front yard with a nice crab apple tree. Hopefully One Ring won't get a job too quickly; I'd like to see these trees grow a little before we move!

Work here is getting more and more tiresome. I think going on exciting interviews has changed my perspective somewhat. In about 30 minutes I have a meeting that sometimes resembles the Bataan Death March in terms of length and suffering, then I teach my spirituality class, which leads directly into a counseling session, followed by a quick trip out to the Veterans Community Center for a funeral of one of the vets who was a regular there. I'm officiating, and just printed off the service. I hope it goes well.

Then it's back to this side of the fence for more fun with patients. At least tomorrow looks to be an easy day. I should be able to catch up on anything I miss then. I promised my instructor that I'd be at kung fu tomorrow and Sunday, so I'm hoping life here will go smoothly. Speaking of which, I emailed him about the great Praying Mantis style controversy. If I have time over lunch (assuming I get lunch today), I may post what I learned.

Okay, time to get my patient rosters ready. Let the craziness begin!

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Friday the 13th Comes Late

When I was in high school, my mother ran a day care out of our house. Most of the children would arrive before I left for school, so I had to establish some ground rules. The first of which was, "Do not talk to Scott before breakfast." This quickly became a game with them, as they would gather around the table, standing silent until I took the first bite of cereal, before immediately letting loose with a cacophony of chatter. But even more fun for them was the use of my cereal bowl as a fortune telling device.

I would fill my bowl up with cereal - usually Cheerios, which float - and then add the milk. The result would be a teetering tower of cereal, a disaster waiting to happen. Then I would try to get the bowl from the counter to the table without spilling anything onto the floor. The children would then comment on how bad my day was going to be based on how many Cheerios hit the ground.

So today is the day of my big interview with the hospice firm in Nashville. I dragged myself into the kitchen, poured my cereal, and made my way to the sofa and coffee table. Sure enough, first one, then a half dozen Cheerios fell off my bowl and were quickly scarfed up by Barney the dog of destruction. Said One Ring: "I'm sure it doesn't mean anything. Everything is going to go well today!"

Cut to my drive to work. I got stuck behind dump trucks, and so arrived after all the good parking spaces were taken. Then when I finally reached my building, I took off my sunglasses and heard a crack! The right bow had broken away from the frames. More grumbling, followed by silent prayers that this end soon.

I have a presentation due tomorrow, so I went to work on that, but the computer was running slow, so it took longer than normal. The copier then jammed on my originals. On top of that, I looked at my watch to check my time - I had a meeting this morning at 10 - and saw that it was reading 1:01 on January 1! Huh? So I had to fix that. No biggie. As I was getting ready to leave, one of the high mucky mucks in the office where the copier sits said to me, "Oh, FYI. The surprise inspectors are here today to look at the long term care facilities. Be on your best." Yeah, ALL of my wards are long term care facilities!

Heck with that, I said. I skipped the meeting and headed back to my office. The door is locked, and I'm not opening it for anyone until it's time for me to leave!

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Tibet, Buddhism, Kung Fu Pandas, and Other Weekend Stuff

This past weekend took on a very Asian theme for us at casa de pirate, though it was not planned as such.

On Saturday afternoon, One Ring and I went to see a matinee of Kung Fu Panda. I was very pleasantly surprised at the quality and message of the film. Jack Black's voice work for the main character was hilarious, although I was a tad disappointed that Jackie Chan (the voice of Monkey) didn't have a larger role. The best part, I thought, was the very opening, where Po the Panda is having a very teenager-like dream of being such a great kung fu practitioner that his enemies "are blinded by the brilliant glare of his awesomeness!" Lord knows I can remember having a dream or two like that!

Usually I'm immune to such things, but watching the movie actually made me more excited to be studying kung fu. I've been feeling a little blase about the whole thing, in part because I discovered recently that the praying mantis style that my current school teaches is different from the praying mantis style that my old school taught. It's an issue of Northern vs. Southern Chinese styles, where the Northern school mimics more of the arm motions of the animal. The Southern school seems more to resemble Wing Chun (Bruce Lee's style before he created Jeet Kune Do). Silly, I know, but I really got into the Northern school back in the day.

Anyway, watching the movie got me a little enthused about learning this school's system, so I was gearing up for class on Sunday. Unfortunately, my instructor called and said that, due to the Father's Day holiday, we weren't having class. So my enthusiasm will have to wait another week.

Sunday morning, however, was pretty interesting, as I was finally able to visit the Tibetan Buddhist center in Nashville! Very neat. And, I might add, very confusing. Even though I've been studying Zen for years, and have read quite a bit about various Buddhist beliefs, I was still pretty lost. Thank goodness they had a book - much like a hymnbook - that had all the chants printed out, as well as a bulletin that said what was going to happen then. By the end of the period (service?), I was keeping up. I even bought a book written by the two monks who fled from Tibet back during the Chinese invasion (okay, China says they already owned Tibet, while many Tibetans say that they were pretty much independent - as with most things, it depends on who you ask!) in 1959. There's a bookstore attached to the meditation center, so I was hooked. When it comes to bookstores, I'm a junkie! Anyway, here's the book I bought.

Like I said, it was an enjoyable experience. Will I make it part of my regular religious practice? Maybe. Will I convert? I told One Ring that were it not for my current work as a chaplain and my long standing ties with the UCC, I might consider it. But, by and large, there's no need. Buddhism is a non-theistic philosophy / religion, and Christianity is theistic. As such there isn't really a conflict, despite what my more conservative members of the faith say. That's not to say that I don't think about it, when I hear of crazy church people or the rants of members of my own tradition. For now, though, I read, I meditate, and I try to muddle through my own theological dilemmas in order to find out what is real and true in the universe (assuming that anything in the universe is "real" and "true"!).

Oh, and I mowed the lawn, too! My father-in-law is coming into town with a friend of his in order to help us spruce up our yard. I'm pushing for a bamboo grove in a corner of our backyard, but I don't think I'm going to get it! If you talk to One Ring, put in a word for it, will ya? Thanks. : )


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Oh, Crud.

If you've been reading this blog for more than a couple of weeks, you may recall my mentioning the proposed creation of a Bible-based theme park near where I live. The debate over said park has been fierce, but interesting, as the opposition doesn't want to appear to go against the Bible, per se. So the argument has been over parking, congestion, strain on resources, destruction of farm land, and so forth. In the end, Rutherford County voted to nix the idea. No problem, the developers said, we'll just go to Davidson county (yep, that's the one I live in!) and try there.

Well, now the news is even worse. According to an article in this morning's Tennessean, we could be looking at not one, but TWO Bible theme parks.

Trinity Broadcasting Network, home of Paul and Jan Crouch(she of the many colored wigs) and Benny Hinn, et al., is proposing to move some of its exhibits from The Holy Land Experience in Orlando, Florida to Trinity Music City in Hendersonville, TN.

Despite market analysts saying that now is a really bad time to start a venture like this, and the incredibly bad track record of religious theme parks in the United States (The Holy Land Experience is the ONLY operating theme park left; all the rest have long since shut their doors), the developers from both sides say that Middle Tennesee can and will support the ventures, both in terms of attendance and economic support. You can read the whole article here.

As for me, though, I'm just chalking this up to one more reason to leave Tennessee!

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Godzilla's Back!

I have to make this quick, because work has piled up and I've been lazy. I just discovered that there will be a new fan made Godzilla / Gamera movie coming out online on July 5th. Now I know, most fan films are virtually unwatchable. But once you consider that Japanese monster movies are about the monsters - until recently mostly people in rubber suits, and now sometimes done in CG - and have horrible acting anyway, fan films aren't really a bad alternative. This is especially true considering that Toho and whatever company makes the Gamera films have pretty much put the kibosh on creating any more. Plus, by combining the two monster franchises, they are creating a match-up that could never happen in the professional world.

Even better, to avoid copyright infringement, the new movie Godzilla: Zero Hour will be free and available for download!

I'm telling you, my inner child is going nuts! :)

Okay, back to work.

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I just saw that I crossed the 5,000 hit mark! I find it incredible that this (sometimes) meaningless rambling has been read that many times. One Ring must really be bored at work!

Thanks, everyone, for being interested in my world.

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I'm Here, What More Do They Want?

Walked in this morning to a very excited boss. He said that he had found a way to hire two chaplains instead of the one that we were given permission to hire (see yesterday's post). Thing is, they're 3/4 time positions instead of the full time positions. Good news is that this may scare off some of the 300 odd applicants, and clear the way for yours truly to get the job. Unlikely, but possible.

Last night we had dinner with One Ring's brother, who entertained us with stories of his Peruvian adventures. Tonight I have to burn his pictures onto a disk - I'm apparently the department of photography in our household - and get that and his camera back to him. All of that either before or after Kung Fu.

I've also been working on the animation that you see on the right hand side. I went to Meez to create it after seeing another blog with it. Pretty cool, although it is somewhat limited in its themes as is definitely geared towards people much younger than me! Still though, I've been able to set up several different themes, from my interest in Kung Fu to my walking Barney the Dog of Destruction. Even better, Meez is free, although if you want to get some outfits and backgrounds it costs "coins," which can be obtained either by playing games (how I do it) or paying cash (oh, hell no!).

The office is taking a field trip of sorts today to a discount shoe store that's a local phenomena. Turns out my boss is a male Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Phillipines who was famous for her extensive shoe collection. My sneakers are falling apart, and I need a new pair of sandles for the summer months, so we'll see what they have. More on that later.

Anyway, I'm off to find caffeine.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

And The Day Rolls On

My spirituality class went well. Then I had a roller coaster of a meeting with a patient who is self-destructing and praying for death (not literally, but he's living like he is). Then I decided to take my lunch break and managed to spill clam chowder (New England, of course) all over my shirt.

On top of that, it looks like the opportunities here at the VA are shrinking. They're hiring one chaplain, not two like we've been told for the last six months or so. My desire to drink is growing rapidly.

Now I need to get this soup off my shirt and get over to my other office space for my afternoon appointments. Oh, well. The day will improve. It has to. Force of will and all that, you know.


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Good Morning!

I think I'm dead.

One Ring's brother got home late last night from his trip to Peru, and he was going to crash at our place, so I stayed up getting the house ready. When One Ring arrived, though, he had decided to head on home. Don't blame him, and certainly am not upset for being made to stay up and clean myself, but I am really, really tired this morning. So I'm chugging down a coke and trying to get ready for my spirituality class, which starts in about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, I spent yesterday afternoon - after I got home from work - watching Ghost in the Shell. Awesome film, and clearly an influence for the Matrix movies (the Wachowski brothers have admitted as much).

One of the neat things about the movie is that it asks the question of what it means to be human. As most of the characters have had some sort of cybernetic augmentation, at several points they ask existentialist-type questions about the nature of their reality, such as "What is life and death to someone who theoretically could live forever?" and "Where is the soul - or ghost, which is the term used in the film - if every part of the body can be modified, removed, or changed?" It's a useful question to ask ourselves.

In my work, I deal with people who have just those issues, although they rarely ask those types of questions. One of the largest problems for returning vets from the wars in the Middle East is the incidence of traumatic brain injury (TBI). While deaths are remarkably low (just over 4,000 for a war that's lasted 5 years is pretty amazing, all things considered), the incidence of injuries that require long term care, such as TBIs, loss of limbs, spinal cord injuries, and so on, are staggeringly high.

Oftentimes, the patients will ask - in one way or another - about the nature of their person hood, their humanity, their wholeness, in light of their losses and disabilities. I've heard the same question asked from women who have had mastectomies and hysterectomies necessitated by the spread of cancers. "Am I a whole person - a woman - after all these parts of me have been removed?"

The answer I give, when it's asked of me, is "of course you are." But that doesn't make the question any less haunting.

So what is it that makes us human? What is it that makes us consider ourselves a whole person, and do we need to reassess the criteria we use to make that judgement? I think so. And I'll probably write more about this later.

For now, though, I need to run and teach my spirituality class.


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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Now This Just Made My Day!

Okay, for years now, One Ring and I have been under pressure to have children. It hasn't helped that in the past year, just about everyone we know has either had a child or is now pregnant. And I won't even mention One Ring's mother's hopes and dreams!

As for me, I'm happy handing the little tykes back to their mommies and daddies and calling it a day. I'm a big enough kid myself to think of actually mustering the maturity required to raise a little one. Thought actually scares me from time to time, to be perfectly honest.

But when I heard about this, I thought, "Maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all!

My people, I give you, Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of Metallica

All I can say is that my baby is gonna rock and rock hard! : )

And with that, I'm going home. Have a good night everyone!

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So, How's Your Day Going?

Hopefully not like mine:

Well, the good news is that my boss got the VA Headquarters to accept my application materials. However, they were quick to respond by saying that I have a snowball's chance in hell of getting through the rating factors and the insanely complex process to my current boss's desk. I already knew that, but it was nice of them to remind me.

Ironically, two departments have told me that they wish for me to stay on as "their" chaplain. They've seen me in action, watched me calm down the chaos in their patients, and basically do my job (apparently, that's a rare thing around here). So both the substance abuse treatment program and a psych ward (to which I'm not even assigned!) have said that they want me on board. But can I? Nope, because of the way that the system is set up.

So I am really hoping that next Tuesday's interview goes really well. Really, really well. As in, hired on the spot. As much as I'd hate to leave this place, I need to be able to bring home more income in order to support One Ring in her studies.

For giggles, I decided to take a look and see what else the VA needed in terms of employees. Just on the off chance that I could apply for another job that doesn't have an absurd application process. I didn't find any, but I did see that they want to hire a pharmacist at $91,000! Someon told me that drugs were more interesting than religion, but did I listen? Noooooooo!

In other news, my 2:00 and 3:00 appointments were both given passes off campus, so I'm here for the next hour or so with nothing to do. Good thing is that my presentation for tomorrow is completed, so once I get home, I can crash and relax!

Okay, more later.


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Monday, June 9, 2008

15 Minutes!

And I am so out of here. My attitude hasn't improved much, unfortunately. I'm considering doing some meditation exercises on the drive home so that I don't end up brooding all night long about how irritated I am at the VA chaplain service HQ. Probably just go home, shower and crash, though. :) So much easier than actually facing my emotions and the thoughts that surround them and, by doing so, deal with them. Nah, so much easier to just seethe!

But I know better ...

In the first section of the Dhammapada, entitled "The Pairs," is this entry:

``He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,'' in those who harbour such thoughts hatred is not appeased.
``He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,'' in those who do not harbour such thoughts hatred is appeased.

This popped into my mind as I was typing this passage, trying to kill these moments before I can flee this furnace office space and head home. Basically what it means is that so long as I classify myself a victim - of the system, of an individual, of fate, of God, or anything else - I cannot escape hatred. It will always exist within me, growing like a cancer until it consumes me and destroys me and all I hold dear. Only by working with these thoughts and emotions can I move on towards wholeness and healing, not only in this minor case of irritation with the VA, but with all of the injuries that we suffer in our lives.

And since I'm on the topic, here's another verse from the same chapter of the Dhammapada:

Mind is the forerunner of (all evil) states. Mind is chief; mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with wicked mind, suffering follows one, even as the wheel follows the hoof of the draught-ox.

Mind is the forerunner of (all good) states. Mind is chief; mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with pure mind, AFFECTION follows one, even as one's shadow that never leaves.

And with that, I'm out for the day. Have a good one!

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I'm Hot. Very, Very Hot. And Tired. Very, Very Tired.

It is 9,000 degrees C today here at the VA. My office has some air conditioning, but everytime I go out into the hallways, I quickly begin to sweat. Then I was invited out to lunch by Whirling Dervish, with the hope of meeting an old friend who was in town (he didn't show), and got absolutely drenched. So now I've decided to skip a meeting and cool off before I have to trudge on over to the other side of campus (and outside again, as that office building is not attached to this one) for the afternoon fun and games. I don't regret skipping that meeting. In fact, if I had my way, I'd just go home now.

And it's not just because I'm hot and tired that I'm over it and want to go home.

At Whirling Dervish's urging, I called the VA chaplain headquarters to confirm that they have received my application packet and were processing it. The clerk who answered asked, "Are you a veteran?"

"No," I answered, thinking, and if you had opened my application to page one, you would have seen that!

"Well," she replied with an oh, so snooty voice. "You can't apply, because we're not accepting applications now, and won't be for some time."

Okay, just to catch you up to speed (in case I haven't told you this story about a million times by now), several chaplains, including me and Whirling Dervish, were supposedly banned from applying for the upcoming VA positions because we had missed an arbitrary and virtually nonexpressed deadline. After much fighting and name calling by my boss, we were given permission to apply. And now they're telling me that I can't? And the woman I spoke to, the same woman who was involved in the scraps with my boss, claims to have no knowledge of the outcome of that battle!

And to think, I used to wonder why the system is so incompetent. I now have the reason. They are cloning bureaucrats and keeping them as clerks! For one, it doesn't matter if there are any side effects from cloning. Brain didn't develop? No organizational skills? No problem! And two, if nothing ever gets done, nothing ever has to get done!

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Religious Violence!

Normally, when we hear of violence breanking out in a church, we tend to react with a sense of horror and compassion. However, when the church is the newly formed Jedi Church in England, and the assailant is dressed like Darth Vader, I suppose laughter is allowed!

Yep, it really happened. Apparently, the creator of the church and a couple of other Star Wars obsessives fans were making a short film to explain their faith and doctrines (with lightsabers?) when Arwel Wynne Hughes, drunk and dressed like Darth Vader, hopped a fence and began beating Jedi Church founder Barney Jones with a crutch (his lightsaber must have been at the shop). One other person, Barry's cousin, was also attacked. You can read the full article here.

This kinda reminds me of the old Saturday Night Live sketch "Goth Talk," where the show was always being ruined by the host's older brother!

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Morning Report

Nothing much going on this morning. My 9:30 appointment is a no show, so now I'm just sitting in my office, next to my boss, trying to look busy and interested in what's going on around me. I don't think I'm doing well!

There is good news, though. Yesterday, after being a bit of a pest, I was finally able to land an interview with a hospice non-profit firm! It's not for another week and a half - the 18th, to be specific, but still, it's something. I know that I am cleared for another residency for next year, but - all things being equal - I really don't need one to do the work. Most chaplains only do one residency. I've got two under my belt and a third on the way.

10:01 Sorry for the delay in writing, just had a drop in patient visit.

Won't bother you with the details. This was just one of those sad cases where a guy's life is a mess and he's trying to put it back together. Type of case where I end up thinking that I've really got my stuff in order. Which is odd, because most of the time I feel as if everything is spinning out of control. I guess the point is no matter what is going on, whether life is chaotic or stable, we still have to deal with it. And learning to deal with whatever happens is one of life's great lessons. This patient needs to learn to cope with his issues, just as I need to learn to cope with mine. By the way, I bought a book recently by Pema Chodron, entitled Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion. Great book. I lent it briefly to Whirling Dervish, as we're both dealing with loads of uncertainty as we face a job market that seems almost hostile to chaplains, especially chaplains of our particular theological leanings (probably as close to Unitarian Universalist as one can get without actually joining that tradition - of course, Whirling Dervish may disagree with me on that point; it's just my humble opinion). When I found it in the bookstore, One Ring heard the title and said, "BUY IT!" When Whirling Dervish told his wife about the book, she said, "You need to get it. NOW!" So there you go.

Okay, time for me to get busy. I need to run up to the hospice floor and see what's going on there. Then lunch and an afternoon spent in the substance abuse treatment center. I really need to get to kung fu tonight, as I've missed the last two weeks (and received an email from my sifu essentially telling me to get my tail in gear!). Then on Sunday I'm going to the Tibetan Buddhist temple to see what that's about. I love religious exploration! : )

And yes, I'm in a much better mood today.

Peace out.

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Now Don't You REALLY Want to Visit Nashville?

This week, if you care (and I really don't), is the Country Music Association's Annual Festival out here in Nashville, TN. And in an effort to draw visitors and increase business, the Hotel Preston - which is near Opryland - has a new marketing scheme up its sleeve: The Redneck Special.

For a low, low price of only $149, here's what you get, in the hotel's own words:

Live like a local at the Hotel Preston with our Redneck Package. Only the best…bag of pork rinds and a six pack of PBR (that’s Pabst Blue Ribbon for you tourists) awaiting your arrival. And for some in-room tv snacks, RC Cola, Moon Pies and Goo Goo Clusters all made in Tennessee. Then, belly flop in our luxurious outdoor pool and don’t forget…no sun block allowed for that deep red tan! And experience the Trailer Park Resort in Nashville where you can compare your mullet to the wall of fame.

First chance I get, I'm moving. Far, far away!

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Yeah, This Pretty Much Sums It Up

Let's hope one of the candidates can figure out how to fix this mess!

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Down Time

I had a busy morning, but my "to do" list ended about an hour ago. Now I have another hour to chill until my final appointment of the day comes in. He confirmed it earlier this afternoon, so I don't have to release the pit bulls. Lucky him.

I'm feelnig rather un-motivated this afternoon. I brought a translation of The Diamond Sutra with me for sedation reading material, but getting to the point where I actually pick up the book and read is more difficult than I thought. So I figured I'd blog instead.

Lucky you, getting to hear my ramblings! :) At any rate, I've been enjoying (insert heavy sarcasm here) the on again / off again withdrawal of Sen. Clinton from the nomination race. I've worked for places that had poor communication between staff members, but this is just silly. And I'm so ready for this to be over. Really. I'm excited at the prospects of history being made in my lifetime, but I am concerned about the Democratic Party. Ira Glass said the other night that "The Republicans, after 8 years of horrible approval ratings, a very unpopular war, and a President who is viewed almost as poorly as Nixon, could still win this. And I'm saying this as a Democrat ... with love in my heart ... and hate."

In other news, Whirling Dervish finds out tonight if he can get placed as a part time minister of a church about an hour or so from here. It's a very chaotic place, having driven insane away two previous pastors in less than a year. The money looks good for him, but the church sounds like the basis of a horror novel. Hmmm, maybe I should see what happens to him and then write the novel ... THAT might be a way out of this mess! Sorry, Dervish. Love to help you, but you're art in progress! :)

Changing the subject, One Ring and I have decided to table the discussion on rescuing another dog until after the summer is over. Barney the Dog of Destruction is occupying most of our time as it is, and with both of us working full time hours, it would be hard to acclimate a new puppy into the house. Plus I'm demanding a much larger bed if One Ring plans on allowing both dogs to sleep there!

Okay, I'm going to try to get some reading done. Which means I could be blogging again in ten minutes or so ...

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Monday, June 2, 2008

Final Thought Before Heading Home

Thankfully, the day is done. Didn't think it would end, but it did. Now I have to race home and get my brother in law to the airport. But I thought I'd leave you with this quiz.

Star Wars Horoscope for Leo

You add a whole new meaning to self-assurance.

You are a nurturing person with great physical strength.

Like many Leos, you will see that your mission for good is completed.

You are very optimistic about the future.

Star wars character you are most like: Princess Leia

Trust me - I look FAR worse in a bikini! And let's not even get started on my optimism (or lack thereof!).

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UCC and Obama News

By now you've heard that Sen. Obama has decided to leave Trinity United Church of Christ, where he has maintained his family's membership for 20+ years. He was married there, his children were baptized there, but due to the political blowback from clips of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and a guest speaker that reflected views that are not his own, he feels compelled to leave. It's very sad, since this basically means that it's more politically expedient to be unattached to a body of worship.

What's not being reported is the UCC's response, which can be found here. It's nothing earth shattering, or surprising, but I figured I'd link to it, nonetheless.


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Morning Malaise

As opposed to "Morning Mayonnaise," which is something else entirely.

For some reason, I have spent the last couple of days in a funk. No real reason why, other than the current lack of job opportunities in the area and various theological conundrums that roll through my mind on a regular basis. But if I am dealing with those issues constantly, why was this weekend particularly rough?

Not a clue. I tried to pay attention to my dreams, which often lend some clues, but they seemed to just reflect the usual - I'm trapped somewhere and trying to escape, or I've somehow returned back to high school or college and am taking an exam for a class that I've never attended. No surprises from that corner; they're all anxiety or stress dreams. So I'll have to keep meditating on this and see if I can go deeper to figure out what's going on. Usually, the answer is right in front of me; just takes me a while to figure it out.

In accordance with my lousy mood, I didn't go to kung fu on either Friday or Sunday, finding appropriate excuses for each day. Friday was a celebration with One Ring over the rescue of "Bun-Bun" (as One Ring calls the baby bunny), while Sunday was due to an excessively long nap brought about by difficulty sleeping on Saturday. So this Morning when I rolled in to work, there was an email from the instructor waiting for me. Insert sheepish look and self-loathing brought on by laziness here.

On the plus side, I did get to see Ira Glass, host of This American Life on Saturday when he gave a lecture in Nashville. Basically he played some clips from the show, talked about the nature of working in radio, and compared his radio show to his Showtime series. Very informative, and also very funny. If you go to the website, you can listen to the radio show. It comes on here at 6 pm on Sundays, so I'm thinking about downloading episodes and burning them to CD so I can either listen to them at work or during my commute.

One Ring and I also led the first summer class of vacation Bible school. For those of you who normally don't encounter such things, VBS is usually a time when children show up every day for a week and learn a series of Bible stories set around a central theme. Usually these themes are spin-offs of pop culture. Well my church, being weird, decided that it's easier to have a summer long VBS with a selected, homemade topic. This year the topic is social justice, with a different cause and organization discussed every week. We talked about the local SPCA, how we rescued Barney the Dog of Destruction, and made dog treats and scarves for the puppies to wear during adoption fairs. It was fun, but very tiring, and led into the super long nap that I mentioned above.

Well, the only other thing going on right now (aside from yet another patient skipping his appointment with me. Grrr!) is that I'm planning on attending a Tibetan Buddhist temple on Sunday in lieu of my normal worship. According to everything I've read and heard thus far in my spiritual journey, there is no conflict between Christianity, which is a theistic (obviously) faith, and Buddhism, which is non-theistic (but not atheistic, which is a different thing entirely). Should be interesting. Hopefully the activities there will help me with everything that's been going on in my head and life. We'll see.

Okay, time to head off to the floors and visit some patients.


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