I have this project I have been working on for months now, in the quiet early morning hours set aside for study and writing, in coffee shops and in anytime I can poke around the edges of life. It is my passion project. Perhaps you have one too and know what I am talking about but in case you haven’t found yours yet, it is the thing that I love dearly, tend to faithfully and want desperately to create for the world. A few months ago a dear friend told me about a grant that they applied to which helped them take time and space away from the immersive work of ministry to write about their passion project. So I applied. And then I forgot about it. But it turns out that someone else thinks my passion project, the one with questions and research might have the potential to help others, too.
I am incredibly honored to share that I am one of the 2020 recipients of the Louisville Institute’s Pastoral Study Program grants. The Louisville Institute offers pastoral leaders the gift of time and the resources to investigate issues related to the Christian life of faith, North American religious practices and institutions, and/or major challenges facing contemporary society.
For six months in the spring I will be taking a slower pace for my ministry as I work to research and write about grief, medical trauma and parenting. Sounds simple, right? As I am still so overwhelmed to receive such a wonderful opportunity to work publically on something I have been working on privately for several seasons, I thought it might be best to share a small excerpt from the grant for you to get a glimpse at the work I will be undertaking.
Here is an excerpt from the project in case you are into good, nerdy research that might help other people wresting with the same questions:
“The heart, both organ and metaphor, has captured the imagination of modern medicine and faith. We speak of faith as being a “matter of the heart.” We sing that God might “tune my heart to sing thy praise.” We often talk about salvation and forgiveness as “a change of heart.” However, the church has little to say to those experiencing medical trauma when this organ – this center of life – does not work as expected. This is doubly so for the fifteen thousand children born each day with a congenital heart defect. How do we construct a practical theology that ministers to families who have been through medical trauma?
As medical intervention for historically life-threatening or terminal diseases has increased, the number of people – and specifically children – who experience medical trauma and grief has increased. Perhaps the death of a child is less common, but the diagnosis and treatment of a child still remains a common and difficult experience.
American culture has become simultaneously detached from our bodies while at the same time becoming obsessed with wellness. The church has the opportunity to minister to families by breaking through this contradicting narrative, offering an alternative vision: one that fully incorporates the experience and trauma of broken bodies into an understanding of God and how we live as mortal beings in the world. The acclaimed cardiac surgical pioneer Dr C Walton Lillihei once said about the risk of his research, “You don’t venture into a wilderness expecting to find a paved road.” What if the church could create liturgy that provided trail markers to guide families through the wilderness of their child’s mortality? What if by talking more robustly about our mortality we shaped our living in light of our dying?
The question of how we minister to families and create spaces that hold their experiences of mortality and grace is central to the church as we continue to minister in an ever more technologically advanced society. It is no coincidence that, as the church struggles to be “relevant” to a new generation, our metaphors for near-death, trauma, and grief are in need of updating in these new cultural and medical realities. It is crucial for the church to offer a counter-liturgy that makes meaning of our mortality and creates a sense of embodiment, over and against the liturgies of American culture that echo prosperity theology and worship wellness.
James K.A. Smith decenters liturgy that is solely the act of thinking beings; this will play a significant role in constructing a theology and liturgy that starts from a place of embodiment. In a challenge to the church’s approach that is centered in the Descartes notion that we are primarily thinking being Smith asks “What if that is actually only a small slice of who we are? And what if that’s not even the more important part?” What we risk in avoiding these hard stories and conversations about trauma, children and suffering is avoiding the questions that really matter to a generation of families who benefit from modern medicine but often bear its invisible scars.”
I cannot wait to see what this project holds in store for my own faith and for a community of parents that I adore. If you are interested in keeping up with me during this research and writing time, I will be sharing updates from time to time in my bi-monthly newsletter and here on the blog.