Category Archives: Reflections 2013

My soul resource in suffering

Now that I have begun my residency for hospital chaplaincy, I have had plenty of opportunity to reflect on my view and process of suffering. In a recent conversation with a friend, I was asked my view on suffering as it pertains to helping others work through their own suffering and being able to internally deal with my own suffering and that suffering I hear on a daily basis. How do I not become overwhelmed? How do I translate my views in such a way that helps the other despite differences in theology or spiritual paths? What is even appropriate to share with others about why suffering happens?

Why does suffering happen anyway? My immediate response is one of, “I really don’t know.” There is some suffering that simply cannot be explained. I have heard from many different places that we live in a sinful world, that humanity is inherently sinful because of what Adam and Eve did in the garden when they disobeyed God. So because humanity is sinful, we do sinful things, and of course that is why we need to repent and believe the right things about Jesus so that we have access to his transformational power to change our nature and at least not have to suffer for all of eternity. In my thinking, this doesn’t cut it in so many ways. It still doesn’t answer why I and so many others still have to face suffering in this life. It also seems like a minimization of someone’s current troubles in order to fit them into a system of beliefs that moves them from focusing on the pain here and now to hope in something that they or we haven’t experienced yet. It doesn’t fit with my belief in a God who suffers with us and doesn’t want his children to suffer. I have also heard people say that suffering happens to teach us something. While God doesn’t want us to suffer, he allows it to happen to us so we can become stronger. I could never give this to someone as a reason for why they are suffering. “God wants to teach you something.” What kind of help does that give when someone has lost their child or their loved one, or they are faced with the loss of a limb or cancer? Continue reading My soul resource in suffering

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Quotes from my brain during transition time

So we moved! Wow… after some crazy amounts of driving, a very packed schedule sleeping in many different places, we have landed in Portland, OR. I think the best way to write about this time is to quote my brain… yes, a few of the things that have been tumbling around during this last week. And no, I don’t think I can really give you every thing that has tumble through there.

“Lord Almighty, can we please be done with this driving?”

“Seriously?!? is my side view mirror broken on this huge-ass moving truck? And right where I need to see the cars behind me…”

“Seriously?!? is Kat really crying again?”

“Ok… this house is not what we thought it would be. Way too much money for this condition.”

“Oh boy, Kat is NOT going to like this.”

“Nope. She’s crying again… I guess not.”

“Wait, this window is painted shut… wait, so is this one… um, this back door doesn’t open!”

“Where is my beer?”

“Does beer help my back?”

“Is Coco running around the neighborhood already?”

“Great, you mean you have to draw my blood for this job? This may not be good…”

“Hey, why am I on the floor again… Oh yah, I fainted. And I have to do it again in one week?”

“If I drink a beer before giving blood, will it help with the fainting?”

“Finally… movies in the living room. And the books on the shelves. It’s starting to feel like home.”

“Birds on the feeder. Coffee in our new kitchen. Bacon. Ahhh”

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“God… Brendan is so amazing. Thank you for giving us such a wonderful and hilarious boy.”

“Who is this woman I married?!? We have been through a lot and our love is still growing… Ok… 6:30 am wake up. Hey she got a card for our anniversary. Is it too early (or too late?!?) to run to the store to get some flowers and a card for her… I suppose if I hurry I can get back before she gets up.”

There’s probably about a hundred more I could list here, but this gives you a general idea.

Another year and grateful, grateful, great-full!

One the eve of my 33rd birthday, I can really only think of gratitude and humor at the year I am moving beyond. While it hasn’t been an easy year, it has been better than some, and though full of insane life transitions, I would say I have been gifted with some good Bettger resilience, some extremely wonderful community, and just a little (or a lot) of grace and gifts from a good God.

So let me “name the ways”:

  • 20130827_151225I am so thankful for my angels… my wife, Kat, and my absolutely perfect son, Brendan, Also, that little guy who is on the way for January. Thank you for not making Mommy’s asthma flare up. (notice I didn’t mention the dog… though, Coco, you aren’t all that bad)
  • So thankful for the friends and community, not just in Bend, but around the country. There are countless ways that we have been supported this last year, even just in meals, potlucks, a place to hang out, moving couches, cutting hair, watching Brendan. And then there are the men from Illuman. Supporting my own calling, my leadership, my giftedness, and my journey. And those in my spiritual direction community who have done more of the same. And for friends in MN… so good to reunite after all this time.
  • I am thankful for our old house, while even though we couldn’t wait to get out, gave us good shelter, room to grow, and allowed us to live on less income.
  • 20130904_153041Thankful for our tax return, because without it, we wouldn’t have been able to make this trip to WI and MN for 5 weeks.
  • And for this trip… a time to rest, to be away, to transition and to spend more time with my family than I have in 6 years.
  • So thankful for my family, especially my parents who are the best grandparents I have ever seen.
  • Thankful for the chance to offer spiritual direction. It truly is a calling, truly is a gift, and to be able to join others on their journey of discovery and challenge, well… it doesn’t get much better than that. Finally certified this last year, and I’m so glad it took as long as it did.
  • Thankful for the books, so many I can’t even remember them all, but most definitely for the whole series of Game of Thrones (all 7000 plus pages of you) that got me through the winter and through school bus driving.
  • I am thankful for Kat’s family. The inlaws… for always challenging me to be better than I am and to live into my potential.
  • 20130901_084638Thank you, to Mother Earth, for holding us, feeding us, hurting us, and carrying us.
  • Thankful to my chicken that gave her life, even though violently, so we could eat. I will never forget that experience.
  • And yes even thankful for the school bus job. After all, it has to be the last job before moving to a new city.
  • So grateful for the upcoming chaplain residency, and for the opportunity to experience the next stage in my “delivery system”
  • Thankful for the Lord’s timing. It is just too ironic, synchronistic, or whatever you want to call it, to be anything else.

There are so many more, I could write for pages. Nevertheless, I can’t wait for what is to come. And just as with any given day, I look to the future with a mix of anxiety over the details and anticipation for the surprises, this next year will surely contain its fair share.

Building tools… is this only how far we have evolved?

An idea came to mind this morning as I was reading The Te of Piglet, by Benjamin Hoff. In his chapter, “Things as they Might be,” he writes to the pervading unhappiness that can come with living in our modern society with its layers of untruth, its mistrust and abuse of the natural world, and worship of technology. He includes a lengthy quote from Joseph Chilton Pearse which includes:

Our real criterion of value becomes the culture’s body of knowledge offering or promising enhanced tool production, possible domination of nature, and so some security. Potential is seen as an increase of tools. The training and education of children is designed to lead to better tool invention, production, consumption, and handling. 

He goes on to say that our body of knowledge is focused primarily on tool development, but this eventually “splits us off from our lives and creates anxiety and unhappiness, [conditioning] us to believe religiously that escape from our misery lies in perfecting that body of knowledge.”

So for the sake of my own process and reflection, I have to play this out a bit.

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I would say that it is pretty universal understanding that the use and creation of tools is a trait that marks species apart from others as intelligent more further evolved. It is one of the many things that sets humans apart from the rest of the natural world. The development of tools has allowed our civilizations to grow and expand. As tools get more sophisticated so does our knowledge and as our knowledge begins to expand so does our ability to create more sophisticated tools.

But is this the end of the line? Does human evolution hinge on our ability to use and create more sophisticated tools? How dependent ARE we on the tools that, frankly, others build for us? What is the answer for most “problems” we face whether they be mechanical, emotional, or ecological? Most likely it involves some derivative of the following… If there is a problem that needs fixing, we just need to find the right tool to do the job. (substitute “medication”, “theory”, or “professional expert created technology” for “tool”)

But there are other marks of human distinction that set us apart. Self-reflection, the ability to creatively and generatively nurture and care for other species, emotional intelligence, the conscious awareness of the divine, the ability to embrace paradox. And there there are those things we share with other species: a sensitivity to our own body to feed and exercise it in a way that sustains health, connection and communication with the natural world, instinctual perseverance to survive in the midst of environmental chaos, existence as part of the circle of life and death and cooperation.

These things are the things that I fear we may be losing in our dependence on technology that others have developed for us.** If our human evolution stops at the limit of tool creating (using, consuming, and distributing), we are lost.
What is the answer then? I don’t know honestly. I don’t know how to pull myself out of the tool addiction and I don’t know how you would either. Much of me thinks that awareness is the first step. Another deep part of me believes that time spent in nature is another significant help. Not using or abusing nature for our own human-centered fulfillment, but listening to the wild world around us. Talking to our more than human brothers and sisters. Praying, while in nature, to the Creator, the pervading Spirit that exists within all and sustains all. Cooperating with the natural order of things in our daily lives (living with seasonal awareness, eating our food locally, buying consciously). It is about paying attention and knowing that we are not the only agents of our survival or existence. There is a bigger world out there.

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**I only know this because I see it in myself. Even tomorrow, I will be upgrading my iPhone for a Galaxy S4, named the “life companion phone.” 

Medicating the symptoms

In an email conversation recently with a dear friend, we addressed the dilemma of pharmaceuticals and the epidemic of depression that so many are getting diagnosed with. What causes depression anyway and how revealing it is that many doctors are now saying their knowledge of these so quickly medicated “disorders” is more limited than they may have previously admitted. Here were my thoughts:

Thanks for all the thoughts. This is all so complicated, that’s for sure. I don’t obsess about this, and I won’t really take the time to go through all the videos. It does make me mad though, and I have some strong opinions, just from listening to many different people and also listening to my heart and soul. I suppose my thoughts come from A LOT of exposure to people’s thinking and ideas over time and their deep soul-searching and prayer with God. I have also seen a lot of people with effects from antidepressants and have observed their lifestyles.
You are right, in that most people are selling something. It’s the world we live in. But some people have a deep passion for helping people and the best way they know how is to market their research and sell products that are going to make a difference in people’s lives. We have to make a living, right? And it is much better to get paid doing something that helps people or that is our deep passion than something that rips people off or lies to them about what is going on. I think this is perhaps the case with pharmaceuticals. I think some people might need meds if they are seriously depressed, but as Kat just said (referencing something we heard on NPR), a lot of docs take advantage of anxiety and give meds rather than tools to help with the process. It seems to me that people then get entirely dependent on drugs to curb their anxiety (which our culture exacerbates!!) while at the same time having to deal with the side effects of those drugs leading to other drugs, or finding the “right cocktail” of meds for them.
Personal example/admission, I LOVE coffee. I love the taste of it, the routine of it, and my body loves the effect of it. Only at certain times of the day though. And while I am drinking half-caf now, sometimes I drink too much and get shaky. There is nothing that helps with coffee shakes like a couple sips of beer… even if it is at 10am in the morning (usually when those jitters hit me). So I take one drug for the other. Now, I am a conscious guy and I can do this intentionally without getting too locked into the pattern, but I think for the majority of the public, theirs practice is many times worse.
What I believe is that we live in a culture that is busy, hurried, anxious, loud, distracted, and selfish. We want what we want and we we want it now. We are too hooked on screens and television programming, which is geared to get us to watch more. We watch violence on tv which causes fear and keeps us indoors watching more violence. People are willfully ignorant because they are afraid of what it will mean to admit the truth. The whole thing with GMOs and maltreatment of animals makes me so incredibly sad and angry, but I know that people want chickens with fat breasts and apples that are big and resistant to all kinds of bugs. We don’t want to see the animals die, we just want to pop a tray in the microwave and pretend that its meat. Too much sugar and too much tv. Video games, cell phones… all of it willful ignorance. Oh yah, and debt.
I do think people can break out of it all though. Plotkin says we have nature deficit disorder, which is entirely true. If people would get out into the wild world, where they could not control things, they would find themselves healing. We also don’t have the tools to listen to our hearts or to God, however people want to refer to the divine mystery / Creator. I do not think the church is helping with this much AT ALL. Yes there are some, but there are so many who just want a community of people who have similar values, can feel good about affirming the same good news (that I am going to heaven), and who aren’t going to cause them to think to hard or change their lives THAT much. There are many people that talk also about being part of a meta-narrative, meaning a belonging to a bigger picture, or having a cosmic consciousness. Plotkin give some really good insight into this in the book I gave you. When people begin to see where they fit, and they really feel it, so much anxiety is GONE. But our society does not want us to feel this. So much control and influence is being paid for (billions of dollars) so that people stay small.
Because of all of this, I don’t think that “depression” is really being helped that much. The average person feels depressed and wishes they were better, but they don’t want to help support someone else get through that depression. They don’t know how. And they don’t want to work hard to get out of it either.
Don’t get anxious about all of this. I know you tend to. Don’t run away from it or try not to hear it. Anger is ok. Let it fuel you to be different. But don’t let your frustration, fear, anxiety, worry, or desire to be better be the things you talk about all the time either. Don’t be known for the things that you are against. Just be different and love people. Listen to them. Encourage them to be outside in nature or together with other people. Be the one who brings healthy food or doesn’t eat sugar or refuses soda. Sign off Facebook. Read things that help you, really help you, to increase your awareness and to grow.
This got long. I love you ,
Nate